Thursday, December 27, 2007

Yes, I live in Las Vegas. No, I haven't heard of your favorite lounge act from 45 years ago.

Just wanted to wish everyone a merry Christmas and happy New Year, from all of us here at Petty Annoyances. I'm in New York for a week, and wanted to report just briefly on a disturbing phenomenon - another demerit on the long list of things I can't stand about the elderly. I've been mingling around all these holiday parties, and you better believe that the elderly love holiday parties. I think these holiday parties afford the elderly two, rare chances. First, they get to wear their sunday best, which for them must be an increasingly rare proposition. And two, they get to enjoy a kind of professor emeritus status that I know they covet dearly.

So as soon as the word gets out that I'm visiting from Las Vegas, it doesn't take long for the following to occur. An old guy, cheese dip and/or crumb hanging from lip, will buttonhole me in a corner for this conversation:

Old Guy: "Rowsdower. Rowsdower."

Me: "Yes, hi! Hello."

Old Guy: "Come over here. I need to ask you something." (We retreat to a quiet corner)

Old Guy: "You're from Las Vegas?" (His mouth opens and closes even when not speaking)

Me: "Well, I'm from here, but I live there now."

Old Guy: "Have you ever heard.... ..... ..... ........ of the Pineapple Brothers?"

Me: "No."

Old Guy: "They used to play there. They were huge."

Me: "Where did they play?"

Old Guy: (seemingly annoyed by the question) "Oh I don't know."

Me: "Well about what time period?"

Old Guy: (Incredibly dismissive) "Oh.... a long time ago."

Me: "Well.... what about them?"

Old Guy: "They were huge!"

And then the conversation sort of runs out of steam.

And this happened 3 years ago, more than once. It happened 2 years and 1 year ago, and now it's happening this year. Old people learn that I am from Las Vegas, and are seized with the desire to know if I have heard of some ancient lounge act.

"You know who I used to love in Las Vegas?"


"Sally Hanmeister and the O-Kay Cabaret. Have you ever heard of them?"

"No. No I haven't."

"Oh, they were huge! We saw them on our honeymoon!"

I've known for a long time that old people like to play the "That didn't used to be there." game when driving by offices and gas stations. But apparantly hearing the words Las Vegas triggers a deep, long forgotten well of memories - a rich new vein of conversation topics that have no point except to briefly exist and then taper off into nothingness.

"Have you ever heard....................................................... of Big Doc Brownnose?"
"The Wallapaches?"
"The Sassafrass Band?"
(Brief pause while old guy licks every square inch of his lips)
"Herbert Moonpie?"
"Toucan Willie?"
"Glen Potsticker and the Bakers' Dozen?"

Me: "No."
They were huge!!!

Really, if a Vegas act has been gone for more than 1 year, there is only a very small chance that I have ever heard of them. An act from 1961? Sure, yeah, I read about them all the time in my subscription copy of "Old!" Jeez. At least the pastries at these parties have been top notch.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

The Disgust that Star Trek Characters Have When They Travel Back to Our Time

Now just to warn you, this post will go so deeply into the dorkiest reaches of nerdland, that even seasoned geeks may want to take a pass. But for those of you who have watched basically all the trek shows and have a reasonable comfort level with the characters and storylines - maybe you will be sympathetic to this longstanding annoyance of mine.

Have you ever noticed that in the dozens of times when trek characters have been magically transported to other historical eras, they are always utterly delighted and enchanted by the opportunity to spend a little time in history, EXCEPT when they visit "our" time, in which case they are always filled with contempt and disgust?

It's true! Be it a) a time travel episode, b) a holodeck adventure or even c) just being visited by people from other times - Trek characters are guaranteed to have this over-the-top infatuation for whatever era they're in... unless it's the late 20th century. There's no better way to get Captain Picard giddy as a schoolboy than to put him in Napoleonic France, or Robin Hood England, or some such. You with me? You send Picard to Victorian England and before you can blink an eye he's got a pipe, a deerstalker cap and he's excitedly solving mysteries. But you put him in 1990's California and it's all he can do not to spit on everyone he encounters.

The best example of this that I can think of is the Next Generation episode where three 1980's Americans are unfrozen and end up on the enterprise. Picard is entirely uninterested in them (even though history is his greatest interest). Plus, he's quietly disgusted that they froze themselves in the first place (even though they did so, it is revealed, to save their own lives) and he reacts with pure contempt and hostility when they ask to speak with him.

Do you think for a single moment that he would have reacted the same way to, I don't know, someone from the WWII French resistance? I think we all know he'd have been fawning and drooling all over them and inviting them back to his quarters for high tea.

Why does every historical era generate these warm fuzzies and excited curiosity except our own? Here's my theory. I attribute about 60% of the present-day-disgust thing to the sci-fi convention where the futuristic people have to express amazement at how primitive and backward we are. It's just a convention. So when McCoy calls the 20th century doctors barbarians (or something like that) in Star Trek 4, that's really the only point. We're so used to being the advanced society, that aha! Here's how it feels to be the primitive society! It's drama and pathos on the cheap, but that's TV. Now logically, the disgust should apply doubly to even earlier historical eras, but then there'd be no point. You don't see Picard strutting around Elizabethan England saying "Bows and arrows... How primitive!" because there's no bow-and-arrow wielding audience who will thrill to the idea that hey, maybe we ARE primitive?

And it's not all that realistic, because if I was transported back in time 150 years, I wouldn't strut around main street saying "Hmmph! Horses and carriages. What ignorance!" It would be more like "Horses and carriages! Awesome! Can I have a hay ride?"

So that's about 60% - the need to excite us with the concept that weeeeeeee are the primitive people. But then there's that other 40%. The nasty part. And I think maybe I'm going to have a hard time articulating this, but there's some sort of weird moral-agency/anti-capitalism/anti-American thing going on. I'm serious. Like every human society pre 20th century can be forgiven for their vast sins, but "present day" society cannot. We are guilty. We are culpable. It's moronic.

Look, Roddenberry cooked up an interesting premise for the future of humanity - I'll grant him that - but this over the top disdain for capitalism is uncalled for. Can't anyone from the future acknowledge that just maybe capitalism was a powerful engine of progress? Here's a few bits of dialogue from the episode where the evil 20th century businessman is unfrozen on the Enterprise:

   These are not like any other
humans I have ever encountered.
I find them fascinating.

From what I have already seen
of our "guests", there is very
little to redeem them. In fact,
it makes me wonder, how our
species ever survived the
twenty-first century.

How about this exchange? (Ralph is the
evil 20th century businessman)

   I do not think you are fully aware
of your situation, or the time
which has passed.

Believe me, I'm fully cognizant
of where I am, and when. It is
simply that I have more to protect
than a man in your position could
possibly imagine. No offense,
but a military career has never
been considered upwardly mobile.
I must contact my lawyer.

Your lawyer has been dead for

Yes, of course I know that, but
he was a full partner with a very
important firm. Rest assured the
firm is still operating.

That's what this is all about...
A lot has changed in three hundred
years. People are no longer
obsessed with the accumulation of
"things". We have eliminated hunger,
want, the need for possessions.
We have grown out of our infancy.

You've got it wrong. It's never
been about "possessions" - it's
about power.

Power to do what?

To control your life, your

That kind of control is an

Really -- I'm here aren't I? I
should be dead and I'm not.
That's what money did for me.
That's the kind of power I'm
talking about.

All of this occurs after Picard has already gotten seriously pissed off that the 300 year old people even wanted to talk with him at all. And Ralph, despite being a ridiculous caricature, still gets the better of the exchange.

How about the Voyager episode where the crew is magically transported to Los Angeles in the 1990s? The very existence of earth is threatened! But by who? A hostile alien race? A mad scientist? A sentient blob of antimatter?

No actually, it's this evil corporation:

The CEO, motivated by pure greed, intends to launch a time machine that will cause devastating effects on the environment. Does he care? Of course not. Cue the diminished seventh chords and the mustache twirling.

Where's the boundary between the pure delight time travel, and the "you disgust and offend me" time travel? Is it somewhere around JFK? The World War II episodes are pretty safe. Wasn't there an original series episode where they all become Al Capone era Chicago gangsters? Wasn't there a Voyager holodeck episode about racing drag cars in the 50s? Clearly, there's a little wiggle room in the 20th century. Maybe the hatred and disgust sets in around the Jimmy Carter years.

Man do I hate Picard's moral preening. He'll wax spiteful one minute about the foolishness of humanity in creating nuclear weapons, and then the next minute he's defening his decision not to interfere and stop an alien genocide. (It would taint the purity of their authentic culture, you understand.)

Well get bent, you late 20th century hating, all other historical era loving, prime directive obeying lackey. Go dunk your head in some Earl Grey.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

These Women-Only Rooms at the Gym

Here's another issue that, like my position on refusing to buckle-up on command in the back seat, I can't get anyone to agree with me on. This despite the fact that I'm absolutely right on the merits.

My gym here in Vegas (to remain anonymous) is a relatively new facility. Well appointed. Well staffed. The water fountain water is usually cold. Plenty of parking. So, generally, not a bad gym. But, a crowded gym. And I tend to go after work during their evening rush. Sometimes, you have to squeeze in a set between other people. Sometimes, you're standing on line for an elliptical machine.

So, there's this room on the first floor, for women-only, that has the works: nautilus, cardio, free-weights, workout-mats, plenty of space. And never full, by the way. I see one or two women in there, max. I don't exactly know how much good stuff there is in there, since I can't see the whole room from the door and I can't just stand there squinting through the window lest I look like some kind of perv. Who knows what kind of xanadu lies around the unseen corners? What could there be back there? A climbing wall? A smoothie counter? I don't know.

It's not fair. Why should I have to stand in line for a cardio machine while plenty sit unused in the ladies-only room? What happened to equality? What happened to the great principles of Susan B. Anthony, Sacagawea, and others who have appeared on our one dollar coins? Do they mean nothing?

Now let me explain exactly where I stand on this. If the gym wants to install a ladies-only workout room, I don't object in theory. But, they must do one of the following:
1) Give men a discount on membership, proportional to the reduced availability of the facilities
2) Open a mens only room of equal size and appointment.

That's all. Doing one of those thing fairs it up entirely. Notice, the whole issue of why women want these separate rooms is irrelevant to the complaint. They don't want to be hit on and/or intimidated. Personally, I think they should quit whining and grow some tougher skin, though I admit that men who try to pick up women at the gym are engaging in the worst brand of slimy behavior. The solution should be to curb the behavior, not to segregate the genders. But that's a digression. If the gym wants to create a womens-only room, that's fine - so long as you give me the mens-only room or the penis discount on membership. That would make it fair.

Of course, I don't think you'd see much enthusiasm for a mens only room. So, uh, let's go with the membership discount as the preferred alternative.

I put the issue to a female friend at work, who as you might expect, took a contrary position. "Deal with it." was the substance of her rebuttal. She got quite animated and seemed to have as strong an opinion about it as I did. I pressed her for a more robust argument, and she actually came up with a savvy one. She said something along the lines of "You never hear women complain when we get overcharged at the dry cleaner. Or for a haircut."

Me: "Haircut? But women get all that fru fru shit done when they get their hair cut. Men's cuts are simpler."

Her: "What about women with short hair who just want a simple hair cut? Why should they get charged double?"

Me: "hmm.........."

Her: "Whatever you pay at the dry cleaner for a shirt, they charge double for a women's shirt, even though its the exact same process."

Me: "Really? That doesn't seem fair. Wait a minute. Aren't women's shirts all silky and scented and dainty and what-not? Don't they require extra care?"

Her: "No! It's the exact same process!"

So okay, she's got a point. Now, my position on the womens-only room at the gym is unchanged. Two unfairs don't make a fair. But I now hereby stand for haircut and dry-cleaning gender-based pricing reform. And I am against all other such bullshit raw deals.

Someday, when I'm on a one dollar coin, you'll all realize I was right.

Sunday, November 04, 2007


Is it me, or is "Awareness" completely worthless? All this ribbon wearing, all the marching - can someone articulate what the point is? What does it accomplish? "We want to promote awareness." What does that even mean?

Let's say you care passionately about an "issue". And by "issue" I mean one of the issues that currently is represented by an awareness ribbon. Wikipedia has a list here. If you really want to make a difference for, for example, cancer sufferers, wouldn't you donate money? Volunteer at a hospital? Lobby for more public funding for research? Something along those lines? How exactly does wearing a ribbon, or marching to promote "awareness" do a damned thing? Who, specifically, in the audience of the awareness pageant wasn't already aware of cancer? And, if their awareness is temporarily heightened, what exactly does that achieve?

I am unconvinced that "awareness" does anything at all besides advertise the do-goodedness of the ribbon wearer and/or provide a outlet for frustration for people who want to make a difference but have no idea how. "But girls need to know the importance of doing regular checks for breast cancer." Agreed. But isn't communicating that message the rightful job of parents, teachers and doctors? Why exactly do you want that message communicated via parade? Isn't that less effective?

Someone coined the word "Slacktivism" to indicate someone who pretends to be an activist but doesn't actually do anything besides making the most superficial and lazy gestures. Ribbon wearing is cited as textbook example of slacktivism. Now, I actually don't agree 100% with this perspective. I can be an incredible slacker activist if I sit at home in my underwear, eat doritos, and occasionally click my mouse to donate money via paypal to cancer research. In my opinion, that's 100 times as valuable as a high energy, ribbon wearing dude who spends all his free time promoting "awareness". The awareness guy is doing diddily shit, accomplishing nothing except fueling his own superiority complex, while I'm greasing the wheels on actual research.

But of course, he cares so much that he sees it as his mission to educate others. By not wearing a ribbon, clearly, I must care less than he does about cancer.


Not Helpful

This sort of ties back to my old complaints about political protests on the streets. What do they ever accomplish? What CEO ever heard the commotion on the street below, walked over to his venetian blinds, pushed them open between his index and middle fingers, looked through the crack at the throng of determined protesters on the street and said "My God. What have I done?" Nooooooo one. And what has ribbon wearing and "awareness" ever accomplished, besides giving useless people a vague sense of accomplishment? Nothing!

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

The Tidal Wave of Condescension You Get From Your Doctor When You've Researched Your Own Symptoms

God forbid I should intrude on their staggering expertise. How dare I presume to deign to even imagine that I might actually contribute something to the conversation. Shouldn't I just keep my mouth shut when I'm sitting up there on the crinkly paper? After all, only one of us went through half a dozen grueling years of list-memorization, followed by another half dozen years of taking urine samples on graveyard shift. So what could I possibly know about my back pain?

Plenty, I think. I could read a layman's primer about it on the internet - maybe go through one of those symptoms analysis websites - maybe ask a few questions on a few forums - and then maybe develop a highly reliable working understanding of the common causes of back pain. But is that going to impress my internist? What do you think?

Look, obviously the doctor has the real expertise. Obviously he's drawing from a much deeper well when he diagnoses me. But that doesn't mean I'm not going to do some cursory homework before I pay for the doctor visit. I typically don't go to the doctor until I've exhausted all possible over-the-counter type avenues and done as much internet research as I can. But if I tell the doctor something like "It's got all the signs of a slipped disc." then my friends you have never seen such drippingly hostile, barbed, venomous condescension.

It can take one of two general forms. One reaction is the pissy one. It's the "please don't waste my time with your amateur theories" exasperation. These doctors take it as a personal insult that you would even offer some kind of analysis of your own condition, because it implies that you don't view them as the incense-waving, all-knowing shaman that they want you to think they are. The second common reaction is the tidal wave of patronizing, infantilizing condescension. The doctor takes on the attitude of a man who finds his dog looking at a newspaper. "Awwwwww, who's reading the paper! Who's reading the paper! C'mere little guy - is the Dow up today! Who's my big boy!"

WTF? You wouldn't get this from any other kind of professional. If you told your mechanic the brakes were feeling a little sluggish, and that maybe it was a weak piston on the caliper, would he blow up in your face? Would he say "Hey, who's the mechanic here?" Would he say "Suuuuuuuure it's the piston on the caliper! What a bright young man you are! Do you want to be a real mechanic some day?" No, of course not. He'd say "Okay, I'll check it out."

I'm not telling the doctor what I think the problem is because I want a pat on the head, It's because a) I'm doing him a favor, and b) because I would like to be an active participant in the process. I'm trying to be the Robin to his Batman. The Igor to his Frankenstein. I am just... trying... to help.

What doctor ever tells you to study up on your condition and recommends a book? What doctor ever invites you to become more educated on the principles of diagnosis? They don't, do they? They enjoy your ignorance. They savor it. Not necessarily because they're panicky that you'll read a book and put them out of business. It's because they've been taught since day one that they will be the keepers of the sacred knowledge. That's the doctor's reward as he slogs through med school - he knows the exclusive club he's about to join. But it's not enough that he has this mastery. Everyone else has to be ignorant.

Again, compare it to almost any other scenario where the layman comes to the specialist and tries to demonstrate that he's read up on the specialist's work. The specialist would normally be flattered. At least, he'd feel a little warmth toward you that you had taken the time to learn something about what he does. There'd be no belittling sneer. No "You've read the holy book!?!" anger and venom.

Look, doctors - it's only natural as the internet matures we will see self-diagnosis websites that just get better and better. True, it's very hit and miss right now. But even now, I guarantee you for any weird symptom you can do a google search and find 5 people all complaining of the exact same problem, followed by the advice of doctors advising them what it might be about. In the future, trust me, Dr. Clippy will be running circles around you.

"Paging Dr. Clippy. Dr. Clippy, you're needed in surgery. Dr. Clippy."

Dr. Clippy will be able to upload your medical history, then ask you 100 questions, then narrow down the diagnosis possibilities with what I promise will be a ridiculously high batting average. You doctors need to understand that the vast chasm of highly specialized knowledge between you and the average Joe is about to become irrelevant. You doctors - you aren't particularly great geniuses. Your great skill was memorization. You're a bunch of walking medical encyclopedias. And Dr. Clippy, who's a much more reliable memorizer of facts, is about to be able to diagnose anything that you can, and there's not any reason to think he can't do it much better.

So when I come in with (gasp!) an opinion about my groin pain, maybe at the very least you should take it seriously, and lose the 'tude?

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Why are Actors All so Damn Fruity?

Remember, in high school, the clique of drama-club guys? That group that was always in every school play? The skinny, turtle-necked guys? Sometimes a little goth? Maybe a little with the tight pants and the scarves and the berets, carrying around dog-eared Eugene O'Neil paperbacks? Not necessarily homosexual you understand, just... deeply fruity.

My problem is that, and this has been confirmed to me over and over, the actors we watch today in TV and film are merely the adult versions of these people. Which is to say, anytime you cast a movie or a TV show, every part has been cast from this same limited, anemic, fruity pool of talent. If you're looking for a gifted 25 year old actor, then you're looking for someone who made a commitment in adolescence to study the craft of the stage. Which is to say, an overly sensitive, highly artistic fruit of a young man. That's how you get a gifted 25 year old actor. Which is fine I guess if you're casting a Woody Allen movie and every other scene takes place in a gallery party or a SoHo loft. But when the time comes to cast some real manly men, you can't get any real manly men. You can only get a sensitive drama-club guy doing what he thinks is an impression of a blue collar, masculine dude.

To be fair, occasionally you get someone like Schwartzenegger, who broke into the business just because of his physical attributes, and not because of any "muse". So sometimes, you can pluck someone from real life and make an actor out of them. But it's rare. And actually, I tend to enjoy those performances the best. But generally, we're stuck with fruity actors trying to portray non-fruity non-actors. Sometimes they succeed. Usually they don't.

Leo as.... Howard Hughes?

Adrien Brody mans it up in King Kong.

Isn't it a weird let down when you watch your DVD extras and see these interviews with the actors, and you discover to your amazement that someone like Tom Wilkinson, in real life, is not some bad ass at all but is instead someone who talks about his "muse", and gets very animated about Shakespeare, and waxes romantic about some theatrical golden age, and so on? And you're like "This is the real Tom Wilkinson?" "A art-house fruit whose dinner table conversation is probably completely insufferable?" "Tom, Tom! Say it ain't so!"

Tom Wilkinson: Bad Ass

Fooled you!

And it gets worse. The guy in the film who plays his son was his school's drama-club weirdo. The guy playing the villain was his school's drama-club weirdo. The entire cast was each, individually, their own high school's sensitive, fruity, drama-club weirdo. Down to the last carefully coiffed guy. And these our our idols! Our sex objects! Our national celebrities who have the ear of the entire media whenever they have any opinion on politics, culture and law! The drama club clique!

The problem, at the most fundamental level, is that those who become actors were drawn to it at this impressionable high school level - and not because they were particularly good at it. No one has a childhood where the dad says "Wow son, you sure do know how to act! Have you considered studying it and maybe pursuing it as a career?" Not a chance. Rather than ability, it's a defect of ego and character that draws someone to dramatic performance - these people who constantly need to show off, be the center of attention and get a round of applause. If it was really about talent, then the high school drama coach would be more like the football coach. He'd try you out, tell you honestly that you had no talent, and you'd be gone. But the drama coach admires your passion and wants to nurture it, no matter what your abilities.

I say we elect a new profession as the pool of talent for all future movie casting, future celebrities and commentators on politics and culture. How about locksmiths? It can be like a rotating stewardship. I guarantee the acting would be better and the characters more authentic.

Friday, October 05, 2007

How Can Lotteries Claim They Have a $1 Million Jackpot When the Winner Only Gets About $250,000?

I've never personally won a large lottery or gambling jackpot, but boy will I be pissed when I do. For those who don't follow these things, the way these enormous lottery jackpots work is like this: If you win, say, 100 million - you can either accept the money in 20 annual payments of 5 million each, or, you can just take 50 million right now (approximately) and walk away.

What this means, to put it as plainly as I can, is that you've only won 50 million. You didn't win 100 million. Sure, you could stockpile your 5 million payments for 20 years and then show me the whole 100 mil, but you could take the 50 million lump sum, invest it safely, and produce the same 20 year outcome. In other words, you've only won 50 million.

And then, even after you've been given the $50 million instead of the $100 million, you've got to give half of that to Uncle Sam. To put it simply, this blows.

So we've ended up with a state of affairs where any posted jackpot or huge cash prize is really only going to net you ONE QUARTER OF THE WHOLE THING if you actually win it. Does this get anyone else as angry as it does me?

How about I sponsor a lottery, only 1 dollar to enter... And the grand prize is a cool million. Yep, I will pay you a million dollars. However, the prize will be paid out in the form of an annuity payment of $1 a year. For a million years. Don't worry, it will be a trust and payments can continue to go to your descendants. Or... if you don't like that idea - you can take one single lump sum payment of $14.28. Which, assuming a generous interest rate, is how much my prize is actually worth.

But hey! A million dollars right! No. No it's not a million. And this lump sum, annuity payment bullshit is no different. It's just a lie. That's all it is. I propose that all stated jackpots and lottery payouts be publicly advertised, displayed and posted as the post-lump-sum, after-tax amount. So if the prize says 5 million, and you win - you actually get handed a tax-free check for $5 million. Am I wrong? What position would you rather be in? a) You win a $5 million jackpot and get handed the tax-free check for the whole amount, or b) You win a $20 million jackpot, and then you find out later that it really only adds up to about 5 mil?

In situation A I'd be jumping for joy. In situation B I'd be seriously pissed off. The local TV reporter would put a mike in my face and say "So Rowsdower, how does it feel to win $20 million?" And I'd be like "Uh, that's... $5 million, Jim. It's just $5 million." He: "Did you ever imagine you'd be a millionaire 20 times over?" Me: "Well, like I said, there's no $20 million. It's only $5 million." He: "How are you going to spend $20 mill-" Me: "Look would you shut up about the 20 million please! It's JUST 5 MILLION."

This is just common sense everyone. Let's stop inflating our jackpot promises up to these lofty imaginary numbers. Post-lump-sum, after-tax figures only. Sure, the powerball will never get up past 50 or 75 mil anymore, but I think we'll all be a little happier for the honesty.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Women Who Want to Fight Over the Baby's Last Name

Some women want to keep their names after marriage. Good for them. Some women don't want the prefix Mrs. either. Fine. Great.

And now, more and more, there are some who aren't satisfied with that and want the baby to have their last name, too. And that, readers, is where I have to draw the line. Now, I have no kids. I speak purely hypothetically. But I would never consent to letting my kids take their mom's name. And I would resist hyphenation with every last fiber of effort.

The women I've spoken to have put forward a few arguments. The weakest ones are the "I went through pregnancy and labor and childbirth and you didn't" arguments. You did so voluntarily, is my response. No one put a gun to your head. Going through pregnancy doesn't entitle a person to some kind of compensation, like a paycheck.

The only argument that has merit is the obvious one, that men and women are equal - and that there's no reason for the child to always be named after the man. I have two responses to this. I think that either, independently, is satisfactory. The obvious retort here is that naming the baby after the mother isn't any fairer. There's no truly fair solution except hyphenation, or selecting an entirely new name. The problem with hyphenation, as others have pointed out to me, is that it's not a long-term solution. Will the great grandchildren be named Johnson-Merrick-Douglas-Finklestein-Shanks-Paisley-Wainright-Gibbs? And the problem with selecting a new name is that no one seems particularly keen to do it.

So the first problem with the "It's not fair" argument is that there's no fair solution being proposed. But now, allow me to introduce the world to the second compelling reason why women shouldn't be fighting this battle and should just gracefully concede it. This second reason is one that is intuitively understood by all men everywhere, but I've never really heard anyone articulate it before.

Women: if your men have to raise children who have your last name, they will be the laughingstock of men everywhere. Men know this, and this is why they will put up enormous resistance to the idea. They may not even care about passing on their name. They may not even like their name. But what they do care about is having every other guy they know and will ever know - including men of the future who have not even been born yet - think they are a whipped, neutered little pansy.

And this isn't just some idle fear. "Who cares what other people think?" you might be saying. "Why should bowing to the prejudices of others have any bearing on our decision?" Well, what if your husband needs to get a job someday? What if he needs to make contacts? What if he needs to make a sale? What if he needs to impress clients? What if he needs to build his reputation or influence others, for any reason, at any time? Wouldn't it be nice if he wasn't mortally handicapped by everyone snickering behind his back about how his wife made him forfeit his own family name so he couldn't pass it on to his own kids? Does she make him pee sitting down too?

Maybe somewhere out there are some hippyish dudes who either don't care or who actually respect the choice. Sure they may exist. But will they be the dudes your husband needs to impress to get that account or make the sale? That's a big N-O.

So that's your dilemma women. If you actually win this fight you are dooming your man to a lifetime of humiliation and disrespect. And if you don't really care about that, then you suck. Count your blessings. Enjoy your advantages in other areas. You live longer. You have higher emotional intelligence. The whole multiple orgasm thing. When have you ever heard a man whine and say he was entitled to something because of his shorter lifespan? You don't. Yes, naming the baby after the man is unfair, but that's just life. The baby last name fight is just not a good place to stand your ground.

Friday, September 14, 2007

200 Annoyances

181. Old people who are just now reaching the stage of email proficiency where it seems like a great idea to send out massive amounts of forwards to everyone they know.

182. The bottom third of the tortilla bag.

183. Sitting at the exact jurisdictional border of two waiters, and neither thinks he's covering your table.

184. People who use the counterfeit verification pen on small bills.

185. People who, when choosing donuts for the dozen-donut box, round out the selection with a coconut donut and a peanut donut. This is done out of some misguided belief that there needs to be complete variety in the donut box, and ignores the reality that not a single person on earth prefers the peanut or coconut donut. If I ran the show, when people chose one of these donuts, the clerks would be instructed to say "Ma'am, are you SURE you want a peanut donut?"

186. Celebrity game show contestants who play for animal charities.

187. A pick-up or SUV whose headlights are at the exact altitude to bounce off my rear view mirror directly into my pupils.

188. Wikipedia entries that inform me, in scholarly prose, that whatever I'm looking up is also the name of a manga/anime/videogame character/band/soap opera episode title/nickname of a wrestler/name of a fictional town in a graphic novel, etc. Who. gives. a. SHIT. Can wikipedia please create a separate site for this meaningless information?

189. Getting the white gumball.

190. When your birthday is too close to Christmas.

191. Foul smelling water in the gas station courtesy window wipe bucket.

192. Bad action/fantasy/sci-fi movies that have the arrogance to end with a sequel tease when it should have been abundantly clear to everyone that there would be no sequel.

193. Kids who make a big production out of adjusting the side mirrors to impress the driving tester.

194. That wheezing laugh. The one fat people have where it sounds like a pig is dying.

195. When news anchors ask their field reporters to describe something they're witnessing on a scale of 1 to 10, no reporter has ever said 4. Or 6. Really the whole 3 through 7 range is never used. This bugs me.

196. These spam emails with subject lines like "RE: your dental plan". Doesn't it cross the spammers minds that this implies I wrote an email with the subject line: "your dental plan"? Why would I write an email whose subject line is "your dental plan"? Wouldn't it be "my dental plan"? This seems like such a basic error yet I see it all the time. Try harder, spammers. Work for it.

197. People who take the elevator to the second floor at the gym.

198. Google not customizing its logo for Memorial Day or Veterans Day.

199. "That's one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind." Am I the only one who has always secretly felt that this just isn't a great quote? That the sentiment isn't really that profound? That the word choice was pedestrian? That its very quotability makes it seem manufactured and canned? Even when I was kid, I always thought "That was the best he could do?" I mean, I can't say anything, cause it's a "Great Quote". But c'mon. We needed a home run that day, and this wasn't it.

200. For the entire 20 year lifespan of the VCR, people have made the casual claim that they could make me a copy of a VHS tape. "Oh don't worry," they'd say. "I'll just hook up two VCRs together." But it never, ever happened. Was there any claim on earth more frequently made but with less actual follow through than the offer from a friend to dub a VHS tape to another VHS tape via linked VCRs? No one ever, not even once, ever did it. Granted, VCRs are almost entirely obsolete now, but it just must be stated for the record that no one, despite thousands of casual promises to the contrary, actually linked up 2 VCRs to make their buddy a copy of something, ever. And don't bother writing me saying that you did do it, and what the hell am I talking about. Think about it. Did you *really* hook up two VCRs at home to dub something? You really brought the bedroom VCR into the living room and sat there on the rug trying to make sense of all the cables? No. No you didn't. So why did you tell people you could? You just wasted their time.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Undead Army Post Mortem (plus predictions)

To recap the discussion about Dr... you know, the guy running for president who was the subject of the last column. I can't actually say his name, because then the undead army will hone in on this blog again and batter me with insane comments. It turns out they use to get minute by minute updates on any mention of... Dr. Grandpa, let's call him, in the entire blogosphere.

You may have noticed I didn't permit any comments on the last post. Not that they didn't try. If I hadn't turned on comment-moderation there would have been an endless chain of them - each one mentioning "Dr. Grandpa" and thereby triggering a new radar blip on technorati, thus bringing in a fresh wave of traffic and comments. Here is a sample of what the undead army had to say:

" flash: No other declared Republican candidate has any chance to be elected President in 2008, either. So if not having a chance to win means you shouldn't be in the debate, then that worthless thug Giuliani, that doddering old fool and fascist pig McCain, that cult member and all around worthless Ken doll Romney, the genocidal maniac Tancredo, and the medieval Young Earther trailer trash Huckabee and Brownback shouldn't be in the debates either. Maybe the networks can just shoot a picture of empty chairs and broadcast it as dead air for two hours instead of having a debate at all."

By the way, did anyone see Dr. Grandpa get smacked around the other day at the New Hampshire republican debate? I'm starting to think he actually adds something to the mix. No matter what our differences as republicans, be we worthless thugs, fascist pigs or young earthers, we can all rally around Dr. Grandpa and use him as a punching bag. No matter how many Dr. Grandpa rabid supporters are in the debate audience cheering his every word, it's still nice to see someone like Huckabee dress him down as he stands there blinking and uncomprehending.

Now I'll make a few predictions about the order in which the remaining republican candidates will exit. First out will be Duncan Hunter. Not because his is the most hopeless of the remaining candidacies, but because he actually seems like a sane person. Someone who might actually realize they're not going to win, and, as such, closes up shop. Duncan Hunter, I salute you. (presuming you do it)

Next will be Tancredo and Brownback, in indeterminate order. These guys aren't vanity candidates, and they aren't moonbats like Dr. Grandpa. They're issue candidates. Immigration and abortion, respectively. They're running to support their issues. Therefore, the hopelessness of the candidacy doesn't really phase them. As long as they can get airtime to promote their pet cause, they'll stay on the stage.

Then, Huckabee. He's got it in his head that he's a contender now - and until he's disabused of it, he won't drop out. But he isn't a contender. And he's reasonably sane. Look for him to exit sometime early next year.

McCain might drop out. Maybe. He's going to get crushed in all the early states, then he's going to designate a state as his "last stand" state, where he'll spend all his money and spend all his time. Basically, this was the Joe Lieberman Delaware strategy of 2004. McCain will pick his Delware... and proceed to get crushed there too. Just like Lieberman did. Hopefully at that point he'll have the good sense to exit.

The remaining 4: Giulianai, Thompson, Romney and Dr. Grandpa will slug it out to the bitter end. Look forward to a few debates where Dr. Grandpa gets wayyyyyyy too much airtime. Giuliani will win the nomination, and Thompson may be a good choice for a running mate. Too early to tell on that.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Ron Paul's Internet Army of the Undead

You know, loyal reader, that I can't stand the presidential candidates who have no chance and yet insist on clogging the debate stages. To briefly recap why, it's because I think that the process of selecting a good president is fairly important to the country. As poorly as the debates are currently formatted, they are still the best forum to see our potential presidents defend their positions under cross examination. In my opinion, having to suffer equal time for a Chris Dodd or a Ron Paul is no different, literally no different, than mandating that presidential debates have to devote equal time to a clown that comes out and does a unicycle and bowling pin routine.

Saying that Paul or Dodd provide opinions and unique points of view we may not otherwise hear doesn't impress me at all. This isn't some kind of open mike night, shoot the shit, political roundtable, dorm room jam session where we say "Hey, wouldn't it be cool if we abolished the IRS?" No. It's a presidential debate. It's a place for actual candidates with an actual chance of being president to spar with other actual candidates with positions that actual people actually take seriously.

If you really feel we should abolish the IRS then good for you, but you have a lot of hurdles to clear before you can justifiably take your case on network TV to waste my time with it in a forum that's supposed to be about weighing the merits of serious candidates. Get your man's polls out of the basement before you bring me these goofy, nutjob ideas.

Now, I have a special dislike for Ron Paul, more so than the rest of this year's crop of no-chancers. I dislike him on a personal level for two reasons. (And by the way, all pro-Paul comments on my site will be immediately deleted. I'm not interested in a dialogue with Paul's undead army, only in demoralizing them. Anti-Paul comments though are welcome.)

The first reason I dislike him is his politics. Anyone who advocates an immediate, total pullout of Iraq without even pausing to consider our responsibility for the genocide that would surely follow, can't be taken seriously. And then there was his specific comment in that one debate, the comment where he said: "They (the 9/11 terrorists) attack us because we've been over there. We've been bombing Iraq for 10 years." And: "I'm suggesting we listen to the people who attacked us and the reasons they did it." Here's the whole, fun clip.

Yesssssssss, we should listen to the people who slaughtered 3,000 Americans wholesale. Why did they do it? I'm sure that if we just stopped our cowboy rampage in the middle east just long enough to hear out the radical Islamists, hear *why* they did it, instead of shooting first and asking questions later, then maybe WE would learn something. Of course, I'm guessing we'd hear "You stationed your troops too close to our holy pile of sand." but maybe I'd be wrong. Maybe there's a good, compelling reason for the slaughter of 3,000 innocent people, and we just haven't stopped to listen.

Or, maybe Ron Paul is an ignorant tool? I don't know, I'll just stay agnostic on this one.

The second reason I have a special dislike for Paul is that he commands a tireless, crazy, internet army of the undead. Maybe you've seen them. They're the people who swamp, swarm and overwhelm any internet based poll, discussion, survey, comment space, Q&A, or kaffeeklatsch where Paul is being discussed to offer unreserved praise and unrestrained support for "Dr. Paul".

Nothing wrong with showing support for your candidate, you ask? Why not give your guy a shout out, especially because he's a longshot and could use the boost, you say? Well, because, see, it's a lie. Ron Paul's national polls are in the basement. He consistently, consistently, comes in no higher nationally than 2 or 3 percent among republicans. These polls, the reputable ones, use random sampling. That is, they pick numbers at random out of the phone book, or use some other equalizer so that the sample for their survey is as unbiased as possible. When sampling is done in this responsible fashion, Paul weighs in - consistently, as I said - at 2 percent. (And at, the world's largest betting exchange, he's currently a 17-to-1 dog)

So when some outfit like ABC News or Drudge has an online poll after a debate, and Ron Paul wins it by something like triple the votes of the next highest guy, well.... it's a lie. It ain't so.

Paul didn't win the debate by some absurd triple margin. Indeed, he probably wizzed it down his withered leg. He merely has way more fanatical web-troopers willing to swarm the online-vote-button. And the saddest part about all of this has to be the gameplan of the undead army. They think - seriously - than they can sway people over to Ron Paul by swarming web sites and deluging them with Pro Paul comments. This is their honest to God strategy for winning. Like someone out there is going to be fooled by a rigged debate poll. And these comments they leave on websites. They always start with some neutral sounding paragraph about how much they like the website and have enjoyed reading the contents, and then the second paragraph always begins the same way: "Now personally, I support Dr. Paul." Suuuuure you do buddy. This approach always has the faint aroma of the Mormon missionary who thinks he can loosen me up by asking me if I saw the big game last night before he tells me that he found Jesus.

How did you guys get together anyway? Were you all Lyndon LaRouche supporters, who had nowhere to go after he retired? So you wandered the earth like masterless samurai, waiting for the next hopeless candidate where you could practice your crazy arts? I don't suppose it would mean anything to you if I said that Ron, sorry, "Dr. Paul" doesn't have the remotest chance of winning anything? Does that give you pause for even a second? Does the fact that he came in behind the amateurish Tom Tancredo in the straw poll get you even the tiniest bit depressed? The straw poll! The one event where you can actually bus in your supporters and essentially buy your votes! He couldn't beat Tancredo, the guy who's been casually threatening to nuke our enemies. Couldn't beat him! When you can press a "Vote Here" button online, you guys are all over it like stink on a monkey. But getting a few thousand people into Ames, Iowa - that's a little complex for your armchair generalship, isn't it?

What's the day after Ron Paul's candidacy is over going to be like? Will there be one of those muted, reflective get togethers - one of those somber parties with wine, easy listening music and balloons - where you reminisce and talk about getting back together in 2012? Somehow I don't think so. I think you're all going to move on without a flinch to your next crazy project. What will it be? Rigging the online polls for People Magazine's Worlds Sexiest Man? Stocking more canned food in your fortified, underground bunker? Joining Woody Harrelson's hemp crusade? How about endorsing Tony Cox, the longshot's longshot?

Maybe Ron Paul will run as an independent after he loses the nomination? Won't that be fun. Then we get an additional half-year of you people.

There's really nothing else to say. Except, perhaps: "Go away. Your elderly, confused candidate has no chance. Every word you say is wasted breath, and every line you type is someone else's wasted time. Go bang your head against a door with gradually increasing force until you stop liking Ron Paul. Then apply a cold compress and just cry it out."

Sunday, August 19, 2007

How Can Elmer's Glue Keep Calling Itself a Back-To-School Supply?

Nearly every August, when I'm hit with all the back-to-school ads, I see an enormous amount of Elmer's Glue placed front and center.

Can you believe this racket? What kind of a coup is this for Elmer's Glue? It's frickin' glue! You don't need glue in school! I mean what, for a crafts project? For sticking pipe cleaners on construction paper? Something you do in kindergarten and then never do again? For this you need four bottles of glue?

I remember we had white out in school. We may have even had a jar of rubber cement. But outside of shop class, where was the glue? My family owned, I think, a single container of glue, which more than amply met our glue needs for the entirety of my primary education.

Normally, I'd be pointing my finger at Elmer's, crying shame, and demanding that they stop pushing glue as a back-to-school necessity. But the thing is, I don't believe Elmer's is the real culprit here. Oh sure, they're riding this free publicity for all it's worth. But it seems like Office Depot type stores and stationers are pushing the glue all on their own. Like they perennially find themselves long on glue as autumn approaches and are forced to push their inventory like a waiter would push an overstocked Bordeaux.

And the parents are partially culpable as well, for buying into the glue scam. "I can't let Jayden be the only one without Glue!"

But then again, maybe the stationers advertise glue in their back-to-school sales to provide some kind of visual ballast in the ad. I mean, you've got erasers, rulers, mechanical pencils, notebooks. It's all so dry. So boring. It actually reminds you of, well, being in school. Not good. But the glue says fun. It says active. It says you're doing something.

So I checked out the Elmer's website, and yeah, they're milking this for all it's worth. If you don't have a tube of glue in your bag on the first day of school, then you're one sorry motherfucker. I mean, can you believe this site? Teacher's corner? Lesson plan tips? This is a company whose sole purpose is to manufacture polyvinly acetate polymer adhesive. But they want to tell me how to make sure children don't hog space at the water fountain. So yes, they're milking the whole back-to-school ambassador status.

Do you think maybe that in the ye-olden days of American school that glue really was a vital school supply? And that as glue has gradually been phased out as an academic tool, the back-to-school retail industry just hasn't caught up yet? That would probably be the most charitable way to look at it, so maybe I'll just leave it at that and give everyone the benefit of the doubt.

Thursday, May 31, 2007

People, You Don't Need to Cut Holes in the Soda Can Plastic Rings Anymore

Every so often, I still see someone piously taking out the scissors to thoroughly carve up a six-pack plastic ring, or "yoke" before disposal. When I see someone do this, they throw me that look. The "I pity you" look. It's the look that says "Maybe YOU don't cut up the plastic rings, Mr. Choke-a-fish, but some of us have a little compassion."

What the sanctimonious yoke snippers don't seem to get is that they already won this fight. You don't have to cut up the six-pack plastic rings anymore because they're all photodegradable now, and have been so for almost 20 years. US and Canadian law demands they be photodegradable, and the one company that makes them, ITW Hi-Cone, bends over backwards to demonstrate how environmentally friendly they are. Did you know they're all made from post consumer product and are made from 30% less material than a generation ago?

Leave them out in the sun for more than two weeks and they disintegrate. Throw them in the ocean and they float to the surface and disintegrate. There's really nothing bad you can say anymore about six-pack plastic rings. They're used in arts and crafts. The days where you could see humorous sights like this are long, long gone.

But cutting up the rings is just one of those leftover behaviors that you can't get anyone to shake off. It's been drilled in so well that you have to cut up the rings. It's a relic. It's like how every gas station still screams out "UNLEADED" 30 years after it's necessary. It's like the people who are still fighting the battle against styrofoam and preaching about saving the whales.

That's it for today. I was actually working on a grand treatise about which supermarket items it's okay to buy the generic versions of, and which items really demand a brand-name purchase - but now that I've taken such a hard stance against branding, maybe it wouldn't be appropriate anymore. It's just... diet coke is so much better than diet rite... I have to admit I'm conflicted here.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Don't Be a Dusthole

That's right readers, don't be a dusthole. For at least the last year or two there have been these billboards all around Las Vegas cautioning drivers not to "be a dusthole". I see one on my commute every day, and sometimes I'm stopped at a red and I get to just stare at it. Here, have a look:

Here's my problem. After living with this billboard in my neighborhood for several years and contemplating it more than once, I have to confess: I STILL HAVE NO FUCKING IDEA WHAT IT MEANS. And I'm a guy, not to toot my own horn here, I'm a guy with some experience at breaking down ads and deciphering all the hidden insults. But this billboard has been my kryptonite. This ad is just a wall of incomprehensibility. I *want* to know what it's talking about so I can scoff at its presumptiveness and go drive through a little dust just to show it who's boss. But I can't just drive through some dust, cause, this is Vegas and there's dust everywhere, I drive through dust every day, it accumulates on my windows faster than I can clean it, and - for the love of God what the hell is the point of this billboard!

Am I supposed to swerve out of the way when I see dust? Am I supopsed to avoid dust if I see a pile of it on the median? Am I supposed to judge an oncoming dust storm and steer in the opposite direction? And no, those aren't sarcastic asides, those are my actual theories for what the billboard means. I can't just dismiss this appeal to "steer clear" of dust as the rantings of an insane person, which is what it feels like - because someone actually cared enough about this issue to design a public awareness ad campaign, craft the ads, and pay for billboards all around town. So someone with money clearly cares about my driving habits with regard to dust avoidance, but in all of their planning they forgot the most important ingredient - the ingredient that makes your billboard make sense.

So the plan today, right here with you the reader, is to go on the internet, track down the sponsors of this billboard, and find out finally, for once and all, what steering clear of dust actually means and why the Dusthole, pictured, is such a poor dust-steering-clearing decision maker. So here we go...

Okay, I'm back. And now finally, I do know what steering clear of dust means. But I will say, that was not an easy search. I had to deploy all of my googling prowess to track this info down. I did all kind of searches for "air quality", "Las Vegas", "billboard" and "dusthole" and came up with nada. Actually, surprisingly, all I found were other blogs also expressing confusion over the dusthole.

The breakthrough came when I found this site, which you really need to see for yourself. It didn't solve the mystery, but at least now I had a name for the dusthole face: "Dusty the Dusthole"

Now I renewed my search for the meaning of the billboard, using the name Dusty. And voila. I found this article from the RJ. It's a long article about the successful ad campaign to raise dust awareness. Bafflingly, it almost completely omits any mention of what Dusty is supposed to be teaching us. I ask again: what does "Steer Clear of Dust" mean? In the name of the baby Jesus, please, what does it mean? But then thankfully, we get this money paragraph:

Reid and fellow commissioners credited the success of the dust-control program in part to public awareness through television ads that featured Dusty the Dusthole, a character with a penchant for stirring up dust by driving fast on unpaved roads and speeding across vacant lots.

So that's it. Driving on unpaved, dusty roads or lots stirs up dust that pollutes the air. Okay, now how was I supposed to figure that out from the "Steer Clear of Dust" slogan and a picture of a guy with Down syndrome? Shouldn't it have been "Don't kick up dust." with a picture of a truck... I don't know, kicking up dust?

The good news is, I don't think I've ever taken a shortcut across a vacant lot, so I can finally feel relieved that I'm not a dusthole. It had been weighing on my mind. And Clark County, by virtue of having an indecipherable billboard, actually succeeded in its mission, which was to raise awareness. Consider me aware.

I leave you now with my favorite Las Vegas billboard, located somewhere around Decatur and Spring Mountain, which I think pretty much speaks for itself. Till next time!

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Willy Wonka Hypocrisy

So I had the opportunity to rewatch this movie recently. The original Willy Wonka. A fine, fine film in my opinion. Has it aged well? Eh, mostly. It does feel out of place that Charlie bumps into an honest to God tinker outside the factory gates. I mean, a tinker? Even in 1971 I'm not sure how many tinkers there were wandering the streets.

Also there's the gum thing. I feel like I grew up in an era that was still recovering from some kind of childhood gum plague. Teachers in school would tell us with the harshest insistence: "Absolutely no gum chewing in my classroom! Do you hear me!" And we're all looking at each other thinking "Gum? Who chews gum? What gum?" So presumably there was a time when children chewing excessive amounts of gum was a huge problem, I just had the good fortune to be born afterwards. No, our problem were those damn curling bracelets that looked like little rulers but they snapped onto your wrist. What were those things? Where have they gone?

But anyways, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory takes a bold stance against gum chewing, and it does feel a little out of date. But dated or not, it is still a great movie.

Well, except for a slightly bigger problem. See, the film has always seemed a little hypocritical to me. How? Well, the Roald Dahl book is a morality tale. Dahl shows us that kids with bad habits get what's coming to them. Take Augustus Gloop for instance:

He's a glutton. He's fat. He eats too much chocolate. He falls in the chocolate river and gets sucked up the pipe. Lesson: don't be such a pig. But now here's the funny thing. Do you know who made the film? Not Paramount or Disney. The film was made by the Quaker Oats Company, and it was made first and foremost as a marketing tool to sell these candy bars:

The actual Wonka candy bar was a complete failure (supposedly it was like a Nestle Crunch bar with graham instead of crackle), but the movie was a big hit. Now if you want to make a film adaptation of a Roald Dahl morality tale about the dangers of eating too much chocolate, do you really think it's wise to use the film as a vehicle to sell chocolate? Don't you think that just slightly undermines the message?

And that's without even mentioning that the book contains another character, Mike Teavee, who's addicted to television:

Why would you make a film adaptation out of a story whose moral is that television is bad for children? Isn't there a bit of a problem there? It would be like, I don't know, making a Cliffs Notes edition of a book about the dangers of using Cliffs Notes. Or taking a book about the sad lives of circus animals, and doing a stage adaptation of it with actual circus animals. It's just not a good idea. Did the filmmakers mind these two casual betrayals of the moral of the story?

So there's always been that hypocrisy with the Willy Wonka film. The film tries to draw moral lessons, and the filmmakers undercut the lessons. But then, with the new, inferior Tim Burton remake, we get a fresh dose of hypocrisy.

See, they've reinvented Mike Teavee. Now he's a video game addict. He's not just vain like the original Mike, now he's violent:

What a smart idea. How bold of Tim Burton to update Mike for the 21 century. It's not just television that rots the brain, it's these damned video games. Good for you Tim Burton! Kids today need to be told what's bad for them. What bold commentary. What fresh insight. What courageous... wait a minute! Hold on! What's this?

Why, it's a video game of Tim Burton's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. "Hey kids, crack is bad for you. Oh and by the way, here, have some crack." Tim Burton, you're a hack. You're nothing. And yeah, the movie sucked. What the hell was up with Johnny Depp?

Do you see now why I hate marketing? Look how they've exploited Roald Dahl and undermined his story. Look how they've sold him out. And for what? To make money? Is that all? Man does this get me cheesed.

Saturday, May 05, 2007


I'm going to have to go into full soapbox mode for this one, so everyone should probably stand back. In fact you may just want to browse out of here.

I think that advertising cheapens and coarsens our lives. It pollutes society. It takes the joy out of everything it touches. It teaches us all the wrong lessons. Any one ad, taken in isolation, is irritating but benign. It's the cumulative force of tens of thousands of them, over years, that cause permanent damage.

Coca Cola, you see, doesn't make you happy. It doesn't mean that the party has started, it doesn't help you bond with the guys, it doesn't take you back to the old days. There are other things in life that really can make you happy; but if you've been tricked into thinking that Coca Cola does it, you're that much poorer. You're further away from the real pursuit of happiness. You've let Coca Cola detour you into a dead end.

I've tried to resist this programming. I know that ads promise things, like happiness, that have nothing to do with their product, but I don't think I've escaped the effects. I know I've been programmed to think that going out and buying something will make me feel better. The act of buying and the act of owning have been drilled into me as the source of personal fulfillment.

Just a brief disclaimer now. All of this is not a prelude to saying that we need to a) renounce materialism and go live on a commune, or b) find Jesus. I'm actually a big cheerleader for materialism, in the sense that I think that all of our material conveniences and comforts are necessary stage-setting for the real pursuit of personal fulfillment. My swiffer doesn't provide happiness, but it cuts the cleaning time in half so that I can spend that surplus time doing something meaningful (or, more typically, playing Grand Theft Auto). For that reason alone I'm grateful for the swiffer.

It's "branding" that has to go. Branding is evil. Branding is responsible for this cheapening of our lives. Here's my amateur theory on the subject.

I think in the old days of consumerism, the really old days, there was no government oversight, no money-back guarantee, snake oil salesmen selling you mysterious tonics and potions, and lots of bad science floating around. If you bought something, drank it, and were allergic to the wrong thing, you could keel over and die. This is why good products, back then, had to trade on their name. If your toothpaste said "Colgate" on it, then you could be relatively assured that it was good toothpaste.

I seem to remember as a kid that a lot of advertising would stress the word "guarantee". Our product is guaranteed. Works every time or your money back. Company founders would appear in their best suit in the ad and give their personal word that the product was guaranteed to work as promised. You don't see that too much anymore. No one makes "It really works!" the focus of the ad these days. Now it's more likely to be a 30 second skit with a joke and some sexual innuendo with the product as a central prop to the play.

The reason why the "guarantee" ads have disappeared is that everything is guaranteed now. By the time something gets to your supermarket shelf, it's passed every conceivable test for safety and effectiveness. And if something still manages to go wrong, you get immediate service recovery. And if something still isn't resolved to your satisfaction, you can sue the bastards.

But the whole reason that Brands and Jingles and Catch-Phrases existed was to convince you of the quality of the product. Now that the quality of any product on any shelf is always guaranteed, what do we need the aggressive sales pitch for anymore? I've always conceded that commercials can sometimes function in an instructive way - for example showing me a upcoming movie that I wasn't aware of, or alerting me to a going-out-of-business sale, or announcing hat day at the ballpark, etc. But there's no longer any need to tell me to use Colgate brand toothpaste.

Because, now, there's no difference between Colgate, Aquafresh and Crest. None. It's all the same thing. Any ad that tries to persuade you that Colgate is superior is just a phenomenal waste of time, money and energy. At best, it annoys you and spoils an otherwise pleasant 30 seconds. At worst it actually succeeds in persuading you that Colgate is better.

So how can a commercial persuade you that one branded commodity product is better than another branded commodity product. The method that marketers have discovered is to persuade you that the toothpaste offers something more than just the normal toothpaste-y goods. One way is to differentiate the brand by inventing lots of different toothpaste categories, like Tartar control, extra whitening, maximum strength (?), etc.

But the problem with that is that Aquafresh and Crest will quickly mimic any successful toothpaste differentiation you can cook up. They'll have their own Tartar control product. So now what?

Now is when you get really sneaky. Now is when you decide that toothpaste can actually transport you into an entirely different lifestyle or social class. If you make an ad that shows a woman scrubbing with Colgate before hopping gleefully into bed with an attractive man in what is obviously a well appointed house, you're pitching a lifestyle. If you see that commercial enough thousands of times, you might actually start to associate Colgate with great sex and fabulous wealth.

And yes, I'm by no means the first person to make this case. In fact it's been made to me in several classrooms - sadly though it's been made by teachers who actually endorse this kind of marketing, and who clearly admire the strategy.

Modern marketing says that you don't pitch the product, because that's futile - all of your competitors have the same product. You have to pitch something that's out of reach, something that's otherwise unobtainable. Colgate doesn't just clean your teeth, it also leads to great sex. You don't need to demonstrate how Colgate can provide great sex, you just need to put them in the same picture frame over and over.

Now this indeed might be the best way to boost toothpaste sales. I can't fault the theory on its successful track record. But I wonder if the professors and faculty in my school's Marketing Department have thought about what they're helping to do to society. (Jeez, and I really hate writing sentences like that last one. But it's worth it. The message has to get out.)

What it does is promote a gnawing sense of insecurity that whatever we currently have isn't good enough. This bombardment of film footage that we are constantly subjected to that equates product ownership with happiness - it messes with our programming. I know my programming has been permanently altered. If someone were to ask me right now: what's the best laundry detergent on the market? Without hesitation I would say "Tide". But, Tide isn't better than any other detergent. All of those detergents: Wisk, Gain, All, Cheer, Tide - all of them - they're all the same. That smug sense of satisfaction I get when I take my Tide to the laundry room and see all the poor saps with their generic supermarket detergent. How I pity them! They can't afford Tide. Maybe I should be charitable and give them a cup? Give them a taste of the good life... See how Tide has twisted my brain?

And these professors, these educators are going into the classroom every day and instructing the next generation how to perpetuate the deception. Does anyone ever raise their hand and ask why we should devote so much time and strategy to convince total strangers that Coke is better than Pepsi, when it's actually not better? That would be a fun question to ask in class.

What can I possibly hope for here? Will ads ever die? Sometimes, when the product becomes so commoditized that no one can even pretend to claim that their brand is better, then the ads go away. Like... I don't know - salt. No one makes ads trying to claim that their salt is the bomb. Unless I just haven't seen them. I can't recall any salt ads where the woman takes the salt down from the cupboard and the muscular, manly husband comes up behind her and puts his arms around her and nuzzles her neck. "Mmm... smells delicious honey. Is that Morton's Iodized table salt?"

Well, yep, I'm definitely plummeting down from the coffee high now, so it's time to wrap it up. People, don't be fooled by ads. All those different brands, they're all the same. Okay, maybe a laundry detergent connoisseur can detect the slightly different bouquet of Cheer and prefers it to Downy, but whose fault is it that he got the idea in his head to have a detergent preference in the first place? Can one really have a preference? Can one really express individuality through brand choice?

All right, I'm done. No more soapbox today.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Ads for States

Isn't it true that there are certain businesses that just shouldn't advertise? Especially on TV? When you see a lawyer standing in front of a wall of books saying "Have you been injured in a motorcycle or automobile accident?" - doesn't that ad accomplish the exact opposite of what it intends? The only thing it tells me is: do not, under any circumstances, use this lawyer. A lawyer who advertises on TV cannot logically be a good lawyer. I'm not saying he's not a lawyer who can't make money from rolling the dice on car-accident cases, but still - he isn't a good lawyer.

And so it is with states who pump out the ads on TV. Here's the rule of thumb. The more feverish the state's tourism office seems in its advertising, the more it boasts, the more they deluge you with their ad campaign, etc. the less you'd ever want to go there.

How many times have you ever seen an ad that says: "New York. Excitement awaits!"
How about never? "The District of Columbia. Come see our rich history." Nope. "Texas. Saddle up and ride!" Haven't seen it. These places don't need ads. These are states that are confident in their ability to draw a crowd. They don't need to strut on the street corner that is a Jeopardy! commercial break.

By contrast, no matter where I go in the US, I am carpet bombed with ads for North Carolina. All the freaking time. The beaches. The surf. The lush landscapes. The history! The peaceful bucolic countryside. zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

Every damn state has natural splendor. Even New Jersey and Delaware and Rhode Island and Kansas has its share of natural splendor. No matter where you are in the USA, you are probably no more than an hour's drive from as much natural splendor as ANYTHING North Carolina has to offer. What am I saying? I'm saying you can't make "Come see our natural splendor" the central focus of your state tourism ad campaign. A few states like Alaska can get away with it. But North Carolina is just barking up the wrong tree here.

With the NC ads I get this distinct whiff of the old orange juice ad problem. The orange juice ads would remind us how healthy orange juice is and then say something like "Doctors recommend drinking a glass of Tropicana orange juice every day." Well why does it have to be Tropicana, doctor? The same goes with North Carolina. "Like beaches? Like, uh, ferns? Like crickets at night? Like clement weather? Then come to North Carolina!" Well why? Why North Carolina? What temptations and delights can NC possibly have to distinguish it from whatever state you're already in? If what you want is a beach trip, aren't there a dozen states with better beaches? How about Civil War sites? Aren't there far better places to go? Lush countryside? Sleepy towns? What? Tell me! Why would I possibly set foot in this mediocre state?

I give North Carolina Kitty Hawk and that's it. I'm sure there's a good exhibit there, and then probably a decent crab shack next door. Fine. That's one interesting morning you can spend in NC. Other than that, there's no reason to visit. The info on the state quarter pretty much satisfies all my curiosity about NC.


And doctors too, of course. Any doctor that advertises on TV is a doctor to avoid. In fact, there's really only one method to find a good doctor. What you do is mention to a trusted friend that you've got this recurring sinus infection, and then the friend leans over and tells you in a conspiratorial tone: "I have this great Ear Nose & Throat guy. The best. Give him a call. Tell him you're a friend."

Then you call the guy, and you find out that a) He doesn't take your piddling insurance plan, b) he doesn't take cash patients, and c) there's a 6 month wait for an appointment. That's how you find a good doctor. You don't just scan your PPO book for the guy with the closest office, and you certainly don't trust a doctor who advertises on TV.


And hoo boy, you do not want to go anywhere near a institution of higher learning that sees fit to market itself to a mass audience. I suppose if you're completely unskilled and unemployed, and you see an ad for some vocational technical school, then that's okay. Something like DeVry. But if it's an actual 4-year college or university with aspirations to seriousness and respectability, then what the hell are they thinking? When was the last time you ever saw "Harvard. A fine education... at reasonable prices."

There are just some places and people: doctors, lawyers, universities and states - whose success depends on a perceived self-confidence. By advertising, you cheapen yourself. You expose yourself as struggling in the contest with your competition. You send out the warning beacon to stay far away.

Now go on and sue me, states! That's right, take your best shot! (These state tourism offices can be litigious. Just see what the state of Maine did to a blogger who dared criticize its ad campaign)

Sunday, April 01, 2007

These "Unrated" DVDs of PG-13 Movies

Isn't this just the biggest crock?

I'm afraid I missed the long, slow buildup to what is currently an enormous cinematic debacle. Just as you don't see an ant or a roach until you've got a full blown infestation, it wasn't till recently that I scanned the aisle at Blockbuster and Hollywood Video and realized that every third title is "Unrated and Uncensored!"

Again, what an enormous, stinking load of bullshit this is. To add 2 seconds of bared breast to your unpleasant PG-13 comedy and then release it as Unrated! like it's a long lost cut of Behind the Green Door - it makes me want to give up all civilization and become Amish. Then kill a lot of people. And then become Amish again.

Here's a condensed version of this sad story. Once upon a time, back when ratings were a whole lot stricter, there were movies that were too violent/disturbing/sexual to get an R rating. But it was the kiss of death to accept an X rating, because the porn industry had eagerly claimed that letter as its own. So if you were unwilling to cut the film down to an R, you screened the movie where possible as "unrated" and hopefully made a few dollars. Unrated meant X, but not porn.

Then we got NC-17, which was supposed to eliminate the gray area, but it didn't work because theaters still wouldn't screen NC-17s and most stores wouldn't carry them. At this point, moviemakers essentially gave up, and resigned themselves to not making movies that couldn't pass by with an R. We, the public, are the losers. In a way, the pendulum has swung back towards permissiveness, since the R rating keeps getting more and more lenient. I'd say it now captures most of what was previously NC-17 territory. Can any movie get an NC-17 for violence alone? At one time I'd say yes. Now, no.

So that's the history of the "unrated" label that the American Pie marketers are now feverishly trying to exploit. Never mind that today's young audiences don't know that "unrated" used to mean taboo, the tactic seems to be working all the same. So now you've got one of these Mr & Mrs Smith or Date Movie! type movies, and they're barely squeaking by with a PG-13. The studio strategy is to edit a blatantly R version of the film for the MPAA and ask for a PG-13 rating. The MPAA falls for the ruse perfectly by demanding a list of 15 specific cuts and changes to get the PG-13. But the studio doesn't care. They threw 40 things in there which deliberately challenge the PG-13 rating. If they have to remove 15, that means they get to keep the other 25. And they get the PG-13 rating.

So now, when it's time to release the DVD, you put the 15 cuts back in and you simply don't resubmit the new edit to the MPAA. Now you've got an unrated version. But here's the thing: The "uncensored" parts that you're now reincorporating into the movie were conceived as bits that could possibly slip by the MPAA into a PG-13 version. In other words, they're weak-R. They're barely-R. They were filmed with the intention of being part of a PG-13 movie.

So when you see something like this in the comedy aisle, stop and take stock of all the ways you're being insulted and deceived.

1) Nothing in America is censored. A DVD that claims to be uncensored is really just saying "We, the studio, chose to self-censor this movie earlier because we knew we could make more money. Now, we can un-censor our own product, because, again, we can make more money."

2) The bits that are now uncensored are weak, weak R-rated shots, some no longer than a single second. Go rent Fast Times at Ridgemont High. Even a tame R rated movie like that has acres more nudity than an uncensored Taj. Go rent The Sure Thing.

3) An attempt is being made to confuse you into associating an unrated PG-13 movie with the Unrated movies of yore. The real unrated movies. Doesn't that piss you off?

4) And what the hell is Blockbuster and Walmart and Target and Best Buy doing? Don't they have these high and mighty policies about only stocking movies with certain ratings? So now anyone can sell an unrated movie at Best Buy? What happens when Henry, Portrait of a Serial Killer comes out as unrated on DVD? What will the Best Buy policy be then? Or Delicatessen?
What kind of cartwheels of logic will be necessary to ban some unrated movies but keep others?

On my recent trip to Blockbuster I asked about their ratings enforcement. Do they treat their unrated movies as R's or PG-13s? Or more than R's? Answer: a blank stare. Kids can rent R rated movies at blockbuster if the account says that they have permission. Do the unrated movies count as R's? Apparently it's at the discretion of the guy at the counter. So..... no.

But don't get me wrong. What's bothering me isn't the idea of kid seeing a tit. It's the rank hypocrisy of Blockbuster. The pious rental chain that won't stock NC-17 fare, the chain that strictly enforces the rating system. I guess when you dangle an extra $3.25 in front of blockbuster their principled position kinds of melts away. And you know, it's not just the hypocrisy. And it's not just the studio's presumption of my stupidity. And it's not just the way that they market their movies to confuse and deceive.

Unrated movies used to mean something. An unrated video meant that you were about to see some seriously messed up shit, or at the very least some bush. Movies that could shock and appall. Exciting movies. Dangerous movies. Movies where buttery fingers could at any minute slip up Marlon Brando's anus and it was par for the course.

And now every third movie on the aisle is unrated, and so of course it ceases to mean anything. Pornographers, in the 70s, exploited the ratings process and turned it into a form of advertising. Single X.... how about Triple X! (question, was there ever a Double X porn movie?) Now, national lampoon is doing THE EXACT SAME THING. Using the MPAA process (and the MPAA are themselves spineless and unprincipled) as a way to promote product.

Roger Ebert is right. (Not something I say every day) The rating system is broken. The whole idea of going back and forth with the MPAA to get the most graphic and explicit R or PG-13 that you can goes against the entire spirit of what the ratings are for in the first place. It also guarantees that the limit of what's acceptable will just keep moving north. Ebert wants an "M" rating, for movies that are too harsh for R, but aren't pornographic. But he's misguided in thinking that this would work. NC-17 was the M rating. That was supposed to be its function. But it failed because it's never going to be in a theater's interest to take a film that comes with a built-in limited-audience handicap. The theater will always be better off posturing and saying "We only play family fare here", (as they show Hostel on 3 screens).

No, there really is no good solution. Eventually the establishment will take a stand against the proliferation of these unrated DVDs, and then blockbuster will clean up its act. Until then, sit back and enjoy borderline R movies that boast that they're Uncensored!

Porn in my PS2

Speaking of arbitrary ratings and smut, why is it that when I put porn DVDs in my PS2 I get prompted to authorize parental control level 8? What in God's name do I need to put in there to get prompted for level 9 or 10? Cause the scale on the screen goes to 10. You may not be aware how disheartening it is to put in some serious porn and find out that you've triggered only this medium-high response from the PS2 parental control. Here I thought I was going to watch some hardcore shit, and the PS2 is treating it like it's one of the lesser Emmanuelles, or a Victoria Secret catalogue or a Oui Magazine.

What do I have to do to get the 10, Sony? What do you want? A snuff film? Nazi medical experiments? I'll do it! Just tell me! I want that 10.

The scary thing here is that according to Sony's logic, they have envisioned a situation where a parent might permit a child to watch anything up to and including hardcore porn, but absolutely nothing more adult than that! You hear me buster! Level 8 and that's it! Now be a good boy and watch your Seka.