Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Congress is a tough room

Last week Stephen Colbert testified in front of a Congressional committee, and it was a horrible waste. See for yourself:

It wasn't a waste of the government's time; let's not pretend that Congress' time is that well spent.

No, it was a waste of some pretty funny material by Colbert. The committee and the others in the room didn't even chuckle. (Well, the room did give one modest laugh at the end.) They acted like they have absolutely no sense of humor whatsoever.

Ah, it's all making sense now.

Monday, September 27, 2010

$#*! Some Man Said (a lesson yet to be learned)

[The following story is completely true, with no embellishment whatsoever.]

Recently I was in the waiting room of a doctor's office and a white-haired, elderly man came in accompanied by someone who didn't stick around. As they came in the companion asked him if he remembered the doctor's office. As he hobbled over to a seat behind me he replied in a genial tone that he did.

As I sat and filled out the paperwork on a clipboard (requisite for the first visit to any medical professional) I heard him chuckle as he read one of the magazines he'd picked up from the waiting room; I don't know which magazine it was, but he chuckled at it several more times so clearly it struck his sense of humor repeatedly.

At one point I heard him get up and amble over to the counter behind which was one of the ladies of the staff engaged in whatever activities occupied her time. He asked her if she wanted to hear a joke, and she replied "Sure."

"What do you call an elephant combined with and a rhino?" he started.

"I don't know—what do you call an elephant combined with and a rhino?" she said, making that clear effort to repeat the setup question.

"Elephino." Although I couldn't see him, I imagined him doing his best to shrug to play up the way the hybrid of the animal names sounded like saying "Hell if I know." The woman laughed in a way that seemed to be at least partially genuine and not entirely patronizing.

Emboldened with that success, the man rattled off a couple more such riddles, both of which elicited chuckles that grew a bit more patronizing than genuine.

Undaunted, he proceeded with yet another. "How do you get a one-armed Polack out of a tree?"

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Winning and losing

In a world without insecurity there'd be no schadenfreude, but hey, we're hardly in any danger of such a world emerging any time soon, so let's acknowledge that unjustifiable joy.

Avoiding the guilt of feeling happy about another's failures requires that other to be perceived as something of a pompous or arrogant jerk who is deserving of having his downfall be applauded. The easiest places for this is in competitive pursuits—namely sports and politics.

Especially sports.

Given that many of us are not professional athletes we probably harbor some latent envy of how those guys were lauded back in high school. Combine that with the exorbitant salaries garnered by even minor players and the inflated egos of the more "colorful" players, coaches, and owners, and it gets easy to delight in their losses.

It's not good, but it's understandable, and relatively innocuous.

Just the other day I saw that the Cowboys had lost their second game, and felt a tiny cheer escape me. A couple weeks back I gave an excited air punch when I saw the highlights of a Yankee defeat (something of a rarity this season). Those games had no bearing on any team for which I may have been rooting; I was merely glad to see those teams go down.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010


Coming to grips with the fact that nobody gives a crap about what you say is a very important skill to develop in contemporary society.

Not that any of us will do that.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Running Mild

Tonight the new Fox sitcom Running Wilde premiered. I watched despite everything I'd heard about it.

And at the end I turned to my wife and said, "Well, it wasn't as bad as I thought it would be."

I was a big fan of Arrested Development, the previous Fox sitcom with Will Arnett. This new show even has that show's creator. And a small role for the always-funny David Cross.

But I didn't laugh or even think "Ah, that was funny" except for one line of dialogue.

However, this really shouldn't have been a surprise; the pilot was largely re-shot, as noted in this interview Arnett gave on NPR's Morning Edition, which closed with this exchange between correspondent Neda Ulaby doing voiceover, Time Magazine critic James Poniewozik commenting, and a quote from Arnett.

ULABY: James Poniewozik finds it encouraging that "Running Wilde"'s creators seem to be approaching the process with a great deal of humility.
PONIEWOZIK: The fact that they recognize that there were problems gives me some hope.
ULABY: Hope fueled by Will Arnett's history with "Arrested Development" and its creator, who built this new show around him. Arnett says that's why the reshoots came almost as a relief. They're eager to do whatever it takes to make their sophomore sitcom a hit.
ARNETT: Look, we're excited at the potential to actually have people watch the show while it's on the air, as opposed to it having to be a DVD cult hit five years after its last episode.
ULABY: And hopefully the burden of high expectations won't trip up "Running Wilde" as it finds its footing. 
Notice that Ulaby does not suggest the producers are eager to make the show funny or good, just to make it a hit.

I think we've identified the problem. Alas, I fear it won't be around long enough to become a cult phenomenon down the road, because I don't expect I'll be watching it further while it's on.

Sorry, Will. At least your wife's show is good and funny.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Rally around the rallies

Last week Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert announced events they are holding in Washington, D.C. on October 30. Both are obvious responses to Glenn Beck's "Restoring Honor" rally from last month.

The Daily Show's is the "Rally to Restore Sanity," which purports to represent the 80% of the population who are not in the extreme for either side of the political spectrum and who don't tend to be heard by the alarmist parts of the media.
The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Rally to Restore Sanity
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical HumorTea Party
It's the parody of Beck that's the opposite of Beck.

Colbert's response is the higher satire of his show, which will seek to "keep fear alive" and defend those in the media who get ratings by talking about of what their audience should be afraid.
The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
March to Keep Fear Alive Announcement
Colbert Report Full Episodes2010 ElectionFox News
Those pundits and quasi-journalists are what Colbert trenchantly skewers by seeming to be the worst of them, and so his rally is ostensibly ratcheting up what Beck did.

Some will interpret these events as efforts by those comedy programs as striving to exert legitimate political influence as Beck seems to strive to do.

Those people will be missing the joke.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

More Portland Adventures

Over at the photo site I've added some more posts of last month's trip to Portland, Oregon, featuring the sites below.
CLICK HERE to see them all.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Human Growth Hor-moan

The key to progressing as a human is finding new and innovative ways to screw up.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Firing the arcade, abandoning the hype

(Many blogs are geared toward keeping on top of breaking news. My site has mastered the fine art of commenting long after nobody still cares. It's all about finding one's niche.)

Listening to a Soundcheck podcast from a few weeks ago where two music critics debated Arcade Fire. This was back when the band's latest album, The Suburbs, was #1 on the charts.

One was fond of the new album, the other not so much. The latter was turned off by what he considered a humorless self-importance, the former liked the subtleties to be found upon repeated listens. In short, it was the same sort of "why is there so much hype?" exploration of Arcade Fire that the Culture Gabfesters tackled a few weeks ago.

All that comes to mind of any novelty is that when they opened the discussion over to listeners (the podcast is a recording of a live radio program on WNYC) and encouraged comments on the show's web page the overwhelming number of them (as reported by the producer) were negative. But of course they were; it's much easier to express one's dismay when there's something achieving popularity that you don't believe is worthy of that status. That's what riles up those who would be inclined to chime in on such a forum. It's much easier to tear them down than it is to defend them (and those who did referenced their live show really being the selling point, not so much the albums themselves, which seems to be fairly universally agreed upon).

No one is arguing that the album or the band is bad, that they're utterly talentless; they merely refute that the hype surrounding them is warranted by the quality of what is produced. And certainly one can hold that opinion, but at that point it becomes a statement about the speaker's personal perspective on hype than it offers any specific insight into the album or band. For my money I'd much rather have a band like Arcade Fire—whom I do consider to be talented and worth hearing, even if they're not the best band around—atop the charts than flash-in-the-pan, manufactured pop stars (I'm looking at you, Ke$ha). That gives me much more hope about the future of popular music.

Monday, September 13, 2010

The young folks and me

One night last week, just after I got off the train, I crossed the street from the platform to the sidewalk. There were three teenage girls walking down the sidewalk from the perpendicular direction and in order not to bump into them I had to pause for a moment before stepping on the curb. As we passed the girl closest to me looked at me and said: "Hi. You're tall." Without skipping a beat I replied, "Thank you," and kept walking.

I chose to interpret a simple statement about the one aspect of myself over which I have absolutely no control—my height—as a compliment. It seemed nicer than agreeing, "Yes, I am," which may have come across as condescending.

Never let it be said I don't know how to connect with the younger generation.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Fahrenheit Four-Fifty-Whaaa

It's too late for this latest incident, but for future reference: Perhaps the best way to stop bigoted idiots from burning books (or merely threatening to do so) is to ignore them, rather than turn their ploy into a national media event (which presumably is exactly what they want).

Oh, who am I kidding? With multiple 24-hour cable news networks and the entire blogosphere out there these days just waiting to be baited by such egregious attention grabs and those outlets having nothing but time to fill, they're just primed to keep being manipulated, which will only cause these stunts to continue.

Eventually only the morons will be heard.


Thursday, September 09, 2010

Will nature make a man of me yet?

A couple weekends ago we were in a Starbucks in San Fernando, and as we waited for my wife's coffee I heard a familiar song on the sound system: "This Charming Man."

For those who don't immediately recognize the title, it's a 1983 song by The Smiths. I was in high school when the song came out.

To give a bit of perspective (from my perspective): I remember how when I started buying CDs and sought the band's second album, Hatful of Hollow, I could only find it as an import (and at the time I ended up paying something like $25 bucks for it). That disc did not feature the aforementioned track, but that it was so tricky to find their music points out how when the song was new, it was not the sort of thing one heard on the radio outside of college stations (or KROQ) here in the U.S. (although it did chart in the U.K.). And now it was playing as background in a chain store.

However, that it had become essentially muzak is not where I'm going with this. I concede that the song and I are not as young as we used to be, and we are both more mainstream now than we were back then.

What came to mind was this: Although the song was over 25 years old it still sounded good; it didn't sound like something from a bygone era in music. In part that's because it's a good song that holds up, and in part that's because, arguably, the music industry never moved past the sound of the '80s, so it still fits in with music coming out now. And in case it's not clear: That's not a bad thing.

However, I thought of how in the mid-'80s a song that was around 25 years old at that time would sound if coming over the speakers in a coffee shop. Would the sound from the late '50s/early '60s seem dated in the mid-'80s?

Monday, September 06, 2010

Worst. President. Ever?

Some people believe that Obama is the worst president ever. Maybe, maybe not, but let's acknowledge something.

"Best" and "worst" are merely terms that get applied to inspire debate without the possibility of empirical resolution, but suffice it to say that over the course of over two centuries every single one of the 44 occupants of the Oval Office* has been viewed by some portion of the American citizenry as the worst president ever—and likely that started while he was still presiding over the Executive branch. The same "worst" moniker was used for George W. Bush during his time, and was attributed to Clinton in his time… and you get the idea.

So while there can never be absolute agreement about whether our current Commander-in-Chief or one of the previous 43 is the "worst" person to hold that title, it's difficult to argue that the leading candidate for that "worst president ever" role will someday be replaced by a president in the future.

Whether Obama's tenure lasts two more years or six, eventually there'll be a new person behind that desk who (in the view of at least some) will be screwing up the country in ways that we, in 2010, cannot yet imagine.

The future's so bright I gotta wear shades.

* Using this figuratively. Obviously some preceded there being an Oval Office.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Alternate ruminations: Quasi-politics edition

Think back to 2008. Remember that election thingie? Now imagine that the McCain/Palin ticket had convinced more voters to cast ballots for them and they were now in the White House.

Question 1: How bored would Sarah Palin be by having to actually govern and not be able to Twitter?

Question 2: Would she have quit by this point to focus on tweeting and thus exerting more influence over politics than the VP does?


Regardless of your opinion of the actual results of the last election, can we all agree that if Palin were ever to run for president and get into the Oval Office that it would be a step down in power from what she wields now (at least ostensibly so)?


Speaking of TV punditry: When will the Emmys recognize the cable news shows? Shouldn't the likes of Glenn Beck and Keith Olbermann be recognized for their contribution to farcical entertainment?