Sunday, January 23, 2011

Jack LaLanne 1914-2011

Godspeed, Jack LaLanne. The memorial he would want? Get off your butt tomorrow and get your heart pumping.





Monday afternoon edit: Mark Evanier, who seemingly has a story about everybody, told his Jack LaLanne story earlier today.

It's A No-Repeat Olbermann Weekend!

Bill Carter, writing for the New York Times Media Decoder blog, checked in with a few new scraps about the Olbermann departure. The thumbnail version: It was a bit more of a mutual departure than it seemed on first blush, and all the parties involved spent several weeks hammering it out, which is why Olbermann didn't appear at the promotional presentation for advertisers on Thursday. His exit agreement--shades of Conan O'Brien--includes limitations on when he can go back on television and forbids any public comments about the agreement itself. The latter condition might not have been the cleverest idea in the world, since in the absence of any real information from NBC Universal other than a "future endeavors" statement, the free-speech conspiracists have taken up the vacuum.

The limitations, as with my imaginary Irish friend Conan, all pertain to television, with nothing restricting radio, public appearances, or Internet beyond the aforementioned blanket restrictions on the exit deal. The prevailing Interweb meme right now is that Keith should set up his own Huffington Post-style website and become the Bizarro Roger Ailes of the Internet. Please insert your own Charles Foster Kane jokes in the comment field below.

I wouldn't be doing my bit for the greater good if I didn't mention Tim Goodman's list of "10 Things Olbermann Should Consider Next" for the Hollywood Reporter, and honestly, if #1 would guarantee an eventual on-air bare-knuckle brawl with Glenn Beck, I'd actually have to watch Fox News more often. Goodman wouldn't have thrown around "Letter to America" (under "Go To England") if he had remembered Alistair Cooke ran with that title for nearly 60 years.

Of course, one of my shrill, annoying Internet pals seems to think KO should re-team with Dan Patrick and ride the Versus gravy train to Hell with a "uber-sports show." I'm just introducing that to the conversation so Net Pal will stop his whining about it, but if it does happen, he'll be insufferable.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Keith Olbermann and the Tale of the Peanut Butter

When I look for the news on television, I have a simple request, one which apparently is so unreasonable that most cable news channels have forgotten how to do it. I want the actual news. My idealized (and apparently hopelessly naive) layperson concept of journalism comes straight from the VOA's original mission statement: "The news may be good or bad for us -- We will always tell you the truth." Anybody who presumes to explain what it all means without first giving a truthful account of what happened? They're just wasting my precious time, and yours, and the time of everyone we know. We're supposedly adults, and we don't need a cookie and a story at bedtime. So naturally, I have little or no use for most American-owned cable news channels, especially between 8 and 11pm, when the opinion shows take over.

Keith Olbermann, the now-former host of MSNBC's Countdown, was one of the few commentators for whom I made time, although not as often in the past year, when the aroma of partisan politics in concentrated doses made me start questioning the nature of adulthood in America. I can't really say that the reason I watched Olbermann wasn't because he backed a lot of the same horses I did (and yeah, I know I just said the "cookie and a story" thing, but I'm not made of stone, people), but his opinions were rooted in provable things, not rumor and innuendo. I never got the feeling that he reverse engineered the facts he was presenting and threw out the ones that were inconvenient to a pre-slanted conclusion.

Some people--and that includes a high-profile competitor who always refused to mention Olbermann by name--might debate that point until they're blue in the face, but I never saw one kill a story friendly to the host's viewpoint while a show was in progress, explaining on the air that on further review, the main points of the piece didn't stand up to scrutiny, therefore, no story. That was Olbermann, who has actually shown the integrity to publicly retract statements in a field where the simple idea of correcting your errors--basic journalistic ethics, in other words--is seen by some as a sign of weakness, where the field leaders' approach to mistakes is to keep talking and hope nobody notices.

That doesn't even cover the Special Comments, the pure opinion pieces which asked pointed, necessary questions at a time in recent history when when being a questioner was equated by a significant part of the country as treason. Arguably, he went to the well a bit too often and dissipated the cumulative impact, but that doesn't completely nullify the strongest of those pieces. I'm still waiting for that hyperbolic atmosphere that made Special Comments necessary to dissipate, by the way. It doesn't look like it'll happen this year. Forget about it happening next year.

As a result of all this and more, Olbermann presided over the highest rated program on MSNBC, which is why it was baffling on the face of it when on Friday night, he announced that we were watching the final Countdown...and from the way he phrased the announcement, he seemed just as surprised as we were.



There's a rumor spreading--and for the moment, let's mark it as just that--which claims that NBC Universal's new corporate owner Comcast is pushing for a more ideologically "balanced" MSNBC, and the termination of Countdown is the first maneuver in that direction. That would be a mistake, but not because I take any joy from the I-said-you-said model of partisan bickering. The problem with the "one from each side" theory of fairness is that in the new ultra-partisanized way of looking at reality, where sources are, as often as not, insular to the point of being almost incestuous, you can almost always guarantee that at least one side is going to be working from faulty data at best, outright lies based on wishful thinking at worst. Then there's another nightmare scenario, which has happend a lot in the past ten years, when both sides of the punditocracy base their opposing viewpoints on the same wildly inaccurate garbage, and as a result, both opinions are equally useless.

The most alarming part of it all is when some lazy armchair analyst--and it's the Internet, so that's a 24-hour cycle in itself--decides that if are two extreme differences of opinion, then the truth must lie somewhere in between. If one side is (or, God forbid, both sides are) wrong, wrong, wrong, the end result of splitting the difference is still a fraud, no matter how good your intentions are.

This is how I explain it: On one end of your kitchen counter, you have an open jar of creamy, creamy peanut butter. On the other end, you have a jar containing (and for some reason, I'm using the family-friendly terminology here) a whipped cow pie. Never mind where you found it, never mind why you put it in your blender in the first place. For our purposes, it is still warm, still steaming.

You've decided that you want a sandwich, but five minutes ago you ran head-first into a heavy wooden door...locked. When you regained consciousness, you realized you wanted to make a sandwich out of something, but of course, you've just sloshed your brains around and you're not entirely sure which jar is which anymore. So just to play it safe, you scoop an equal amount out of each, mix them together, and spread them on your bread. Then, you take that first bite.

The flavor? It ain't gonna be peanut butter, bub.

To bring it back home, in a field where cattle business has become the rule of law, Keith Olbermann is, if not pure peanut butter, at least well within the FDA guidelines, and I'm keeping my fingers crossed that he reappears sooner rather than later. Still, the overall situation gets worse every year, to the point where I'm pretty much done with television as a primary news source. Ideally, the Internet should help us be better informed about everything, but in practice it's equally useful in the false validation of lies, biases, and bigotries, which means you have to be an even more vigilant consumer than ever, and that's just exhausting if you have other things to do with your day. The long-withdrawn FCC mandate, where broadcast news was part of the community service requirement and not just another profit center that could be tarted up or even discarded like another element of the entertainment division, has almost become one of those nostalgic throwbacks to another world, like button candy and five-cent Cokes. Thirty minutes was what you had to work with. Somebody sat behind the desk, told you what happened in the world, and left you enough breathing room to decide things for yourself. We never suspected how good we had it.

(As always, I do this as no one's representative, and speak for the only person whom I have a right to speak for. Just to be completely honest, I did edit a couple of sentences for clarity a few hours after this post went live. That's what happens when you act as your own editor.)

Friday, January 21, 2011

Gogo Para Presidente!

Submitted for your approval (via Youtube user bbahalt), here are host segments from The Rudy and Gogo World Famous Cartoon Show, TNT's slightly baffling mid-1990s Saturday afternoon repackaging of the usual MGM/Warner Brothers cartoons in the Turner Entertainment library.



Rudy and Gogo, with its full-volume bouncing-off-the-wall weirdness, is obviously the type of thing that could only happen in a world that had already made its peace with Pee Wee's Playhouse, along with a hint of what would make up the Adult Swim style (minus the profanity, violence, drug-inspired humor, and the general defiling of everything you held dear at six years old). It just screams "Don't get it? Not my problem." But mostly, it just screams...lots and lots of screams. It's very satisfying to find that creator/director/writer Barry Mills was in on the ground floor of Adult Swim, as well as being behind both the absolutely lovely The Popeye Show and the I'd-be-all-over-that-if-I-wasn't-already-with-Popeye The Bob Clampett Show. Whaddya mean, you can watch two classic cartoon shows? This is America...you don't get a harem, bub. Is this The Dunciad or Big Love?

If you want just that Vote Goat song, the one that's been rattling around in your subconscious for fifteen years like a box of hammers in a tumble dryer, another kind Youtube stranger posted that as well...four years ago. Where the hell have you been? The Sabatos Network got the story about this one out of Mills at some point in the recent past, so I get to pass that along to you, too.



And if that's not enough, there's also rudyandgogo.com, an official site loaded with clips and clips and clips...and some interesting stories behind the Rudy's Rockin' Kiddie Caravan CD. Taterhole could run on the Swim now...in fact I'm a little bit surprised it hasn't happened yet. That's why they came up with DVR Theater in the first place, isn't it?

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Flashback: It's Only A Game Until Somebody Gets Hurt

(2011 Eric: To show you how haphazardly this operation is typically run, the following repeat should've come before the one of Thursday. If there's a master plan to this trip down memory lane, it's to get the ammunition ads out of my AdSense banner after all that gun talk last week. I was going through a I LOVE MY CAPSLOCK KEY phase at the time, so please bear with me.)

When you watch as much daytime TV as I do, and make a conscious decision to dodge soap operas, sports and talk shows, you end up with lots and lots of cartoons. When you end up with cartoons, you end up with interminable ads for kids' crap, so every 15 minutes you get assaulted by the embodiment of Shakespeare's "sound and fury, signifying nothing".



Such a racket greeted me in an ad for an obnoxious game called Gooey Louie. If you've dodged this gem, it's a typical plastic cartoon head with a huge honker on his face. The honker is so huge because long rubber boogers are stuffed into it, and the object of the game is to pick them out of the guy's nose. The fun part (besides the fact that this fella talks) is that if you pick the wrong bit of snot out of his nose, his brain pops out of the top of his head, with a sproingy sound effect playing. Delicious.



The ad has a stereotypical mom screaming "DON'T DOOOOO THAT! IT'S GROOOOSS!", which is a typical strategy of pitching to kids. "You parents will HATE IT, so you HAVE TO HAVE IT!" The thing is that if their parents came of age in the 1980s, they're probably getting as big a kick out of it as the kids are. The kids will demand a refund when they don't get the right effect. The big parental protest is probably closer to "I can't believe I paid $20 for this..."

ANYWAY, I started thinking (a dangerous thing for me to do) about what message this game was planting on kids. The really anal types will think it'll teach kids how to pick their noses, but that's downright silly, since they do that anyway. I say it's a philosophy tool, and I tend to say that about a lot of otherwise useless games for little kids.

Think about the typical game along the lines of Gooey Louie. You load up the game, do exactly what it says in the instructions, and a totally random event takes you right out anyway. See, it's a preparation for the disappointments of adulthood, and if that doesn't describe your life at some point, you're obliged to tell the rest of us how you do it.

All this made me think of that other game that helps teach the hard life lessons, Monopoly. I'm not talking about strategy, economics, and land development. I'm talking about the point in each game where it becomes really, really fun for one person and an excruciating torment for everybody else. They kick the chair legs, dread moving that little tin dog another space, and pray for the end to come soon. If they get really sour, they say "You know what? This game is OVER!" and flip the board over in a fit of spite. (REVOLUTION! UP WITH THE PROLETARIAT! DOWN WITH THE BOURGEOISIE!) Well, maybe there is an economics lesson, but not the one the Parker Brothers were thinking of.

(I realize I missed the part about how it takes an excruciatingly long time to play, but you probably don't need to be reminded of that. Even though you just were.)

(2011 E again: While I was searching for the original commercial on Youtube--and no, still haven't found it--imagine my unmitigated joy when I found out the Dutch version of this baffling game bore the significantly more vivid name of Snotty Snotter. Still a bit young for my current age range, but it warms the heart, dammit...)



--Original Tiny Money Land Post: December 3, 2003Link

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Flashback: But I LOVE Chef! (or "Time For Another Space Filler")

(Eric in 2011: Now that I've gotten thoroughly bent over stupid politics (again (sigh)), here's another flashback to the allegedly more halcyon times of 2004 and something else you didn't read the first time! The unspoken question from below: "Why was a single man with no children watching so many kids shows?" The answer is buried under incoherent sobs and a sad pall of self-awareness, which means you won't actually get it today.

(As to where you can find the toy ad commentary mentioned below...well, you should've thought of
that before you made me cry, you evil jerk. All in good time...)

When you watch as many cartoons as I do, you see a lot of ads intended for children, and even if you have no children, you just shake your heads in disbelief. I gave a passing glance to the game ads in previous days, but the pitches for toys and kid foods like Fruit By The Foot and other consumables which promise a hallucinatory experience (from eating candy!) haven't even been touched on.

The current Chef Boyardee ad, for instance, is a genuine head-scratcher. You might know the one I'm talking about: the kid tries to drop a can of Boyardee into mom's shopping basket, mom rightly says "We had Chef last night," and the kid's mush-mouthed whine causes some type of half-assed miracle where the can follows them home and rolls right into the child's overjoyed lap. At least, that's where I think they were aiming, for reasons I'll be more than happy to bore you with.



We'll start with the little girl, who barely showed a flicker of emotion throughout the whole ad, giving the entire production a muted quality almost unheard of in kidvid ad time. At the moment of truth, when the can rolls up to the kid for the happy reunion, the little girl gives us a small but nervous smile, with a genuine sense of unease. Of course, my first thought was "That was the BEST TAKE they could get out of her? Was the casting office closed for the holidays?"

After I ditched those thoughts, my evil imagination kicked in. A few possibilities as to what was going through the kid's head:
  • "This isn't Beefaroni! Lousy can..."
  • "It's the GHOST OF BOYARDEE, coming to seek vengeance on moms everywhere!"
  • and my odds-on favorite, "This can is a sentient lifeform, and now I must open its body and eat its brains."
Well, what would YOU think? Does it make me a social pariah to dwell on these things, or just a miserable failure at finding other hobbies?

--Original Tiny Money Land post: March 3, 2004

Monday, January 10, 2011

You're Not HELPING

So this disintegrated in a hurry...

The post-2001 narrative plays out the same way without fail every time: elements of the so-called leftist media (both real and alleged) wasted no time in tracking down a number of nasty rhetorical flourishes that could've inspired the actions--never mind that there's no evidence about whether the accused gunman actually saw the "rifle-scope" maps the Palin website or had paid attention to

Meanwhile, the conservative-leaning opinionistas have wasted no time in making this about themselves because, hey, you're talking about my buddy Sarah Palin there! So after a few moments of flickering compassion, we're now back to the usual intolerable you-said-I-said horseshit about who's to blame, who sets the tone of hate and misery in this country, and who gets to be the martyr here. None of you jerks are helping because with breathtaking speed, you're ignoring that people actually died this weekend, and the House Representative who was the primary target (assuming she survives, which isn't guaranteed) is likely going to have to endure a long, painful physical (and maybe even mental) rehabilitation because of the bullet that went through her head, all because a mentally imbalanced man disagreed with her. But the hell with the human consequences of violence, it's finger-pointin' time! Finger pointin' time is a wonderful way to diminish an unthinkable act of cold-blooded brutality without having to actually process what the hell just happened!

Do we have to have a martyr? We don't need people positioning themselves as victims of principle in situations where there are real casualties. You really want to pick out martyrs? It's not Palin or Beck (poor things for having to change their websites because people called them names). It's not any of you self-important, pompous armchair pundit jerks. It's Christina-Taylor Green. She was nine years old--born September 11, 2001, as you all know by now, and even at nine, she understood what it meant to be a 9-11 baby. She was proud of her country, wanted to get her head around the process of governance, and her mother said that even as young as she was, she wanted to get all the parties together for a better country. All that ended Saturday. The only thing she did wrong was show up to meet a US House Representative. Congratulations, baby pundits, you've just trampled on her grave.

If I was writing the "what does it mean, Frank" articles, I'd start with Christina and stop just short of the "j'accuse" nonsense, but maybe that's why I don't get paid the news-channel-and-book-deal money for my opinions. Go figure.

I am really at the end of my rope with American politics and the people who sift through it, but that's okay. We're not mortal enemies locked in bloody combat. We just disagree. That's something more than a few people in my country seem to forget, but no matter how bent I get at times, it's the point of view I try to come back to. There's always a chair for you, but maybe we could talk about our dogs next time for a change, and how lucky we are to be alive so that we can do that.

Saturday, January 08, 2011

Arizona

A few random and hopelessly inadequate thoughts about what happened in Arizona today:
  • Partisanship doesn't make a man crazy, but it has the power to push crazy in horrible directions.
  • Is it any surprise that if you use hunting and Nazi metaphors to characterize your political opponent, some sick jerk is going to get it into his head to go Nazi hunting?
  • Can we please put the guns and the war rhetoric down and just go back to arguing? It's the most pathetic hope in my paintbox right now, and with each passing week it seems further and further out of reach. This is how the 1960s felt to a lot of people.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Wired Vaporware 2010

Hooray, we finally have our Wired Vaporware 2010 list! Wait a minute, Duke Nukem Forever is at the bottom of the list? What bizarre alternate universe did I fall into, and who's president here?

Monday, January 03, 2011

Flashback: It's All In How You Tell 'Em

(Beginning today, and on-and-off from there, will be a few reposts of the least-baffling selections from my old abandoned blog, Tiny Money Land. Here's hoping more people read them this time...)

In lieu of original material (it's coming, I promise), here's a few random selections from a facsimile of Joe Miller's Jests, or The Wit's Vade-mecum, the most popular of the first-wave joke books (published in 1739). All the flaky style issues are as they came out of the original book, so you can't pin that one on me, but it does show that the classics never die, no matter how hard we try to kill them:
  • A melting Sermon being preached in a Country Church, all fell weeping but one Man, who being asked why he did not weep with the rest? O! said he, I belong to another Parish.
  • A Gentlewoman growing big with Child, who had two Gallants, one of them with a wooden Leg, the Question was put, which of the two should father the Child. He who had the wooden Leg offer'd to decide it thus. If the Child, said he, comes into the World with a wooden Leg, I will father it, if not, it must be yours.
  • A Gentleman happening to turn up against an House to make Water, did not see two young Ladies looking out of a Window close by him, 'till he heard them giggling, then looking towards them, he asked, what made them so merry? O! Lord, Sir, said one of them, a very little Thing will make us laugh.
  • A Countryman passing along the Strand saw a Coach overturn'd, and asking what the Matter was? He was told, that three or four Members of Parliament were overturned in that Coach; Oh, says he, there let them lie, my Father always advis'd me not to meddle with State Affairs.
  • A Gentleman said of a young Wench, who constantly ply'd about the Temple, that is she had as much Law in her Head, as she had had in her Tail, she would be one of the ablest Counsel in England.
A longer selection will be made available on request, or an even longer one if there are no requests. That's my set for tonight...please remember to tip your wait staff...

(2011 note: Since I first ran this one through the mill, Google Books posted a full scan of Joe Miller's Jests, so now you can beat yourself over the head with it at full strength, if you're so inclined.)
--Original post: Oct. 2, 2004