Wednesday, February 27, 2013

White People Problems

If the contents of my spam folder on any given day are an indication, there are almost literally numberless ways one can cadge a fair-to-decent living on these here intarnetz. So, uh, I have to ask -- did a new bidness model start up Sunday night, where commenters are getting paid to start with some variation on "I'm way too cool for school to own a teevee/watch the Oscars/see a Hollywood film" and end with some form of "....Seth McFarlane was waaay out of line with [pick a random bit]"? Because that's really what it seems like.

Look. I get that there is, sadly, an honest-to-Jebus industry around this one night, where overpaid ninnies strut and preen and stroke each other all night, and media minions press their noses up against the kewl-kids' restaurant window to sour-grapes their way through the ensuing week. Aside from England, bless its barnacle-encrusted hull, no country has mastered the art of making the truly inconsequential seem meaningful the way the American PR industry has. The vaunted ceremony and "pageantry" are, in and of themselves, more than a little unseemly to begin with, though in much different ways than McFarlane's stock in trade.

And McFarlane has become obscenely wealthy peddling the same cheesy frat-boy and bathroom schtick over and over again in Family Guy (not to mention its iterations in American Dad and The Cleveland Show). Some of it works, some not so much, some is just played out at this point, which McFarlane himself has tacitly acknowledged in more than one interview.

But it's undeniable that McFarlane has genuine layers of talent that aren't really out there in great quantities -- he's obviously a very gifted voice actor, can actually sing well, and clearly reveres not only many of the '80s fetish objects he routinely skewers, but also big-band classics and somewhat deeper cuts (in this day and age) such as the Hope/Crosby Road movies. McFarlane's sensibility is clearly much more fartsy than artsy, but he's also not your typical bonehead Jackass fan.

And that's more or less what he did, at least for the 70% or so of the show that I watched. Yes, the Captain Kirk/We Saw Your Boobs thing went on way too long, like most Family Guy bits, but even that is part of McFarlane's schtick, the meta joke of taking some stock borscht-belt dead fish and beating you over the head with it until there's nothing left but a dorsal fin and a bad smell. Which is to say, there were absolutely no surprises. They got what they paid for.

The show producers sought McFarlane in order to pull the young male demographic, not usually the Oscars' sweet spot. Apparently it worked in that regard, insofar as any young males would have been an improvement for the show. But the legitimacy of the show itself has played out, and it's like the producers don't quite understand that; I would be willing to wager that the number of people who really have the urge to see, say, a musical salute to 50 years of James Bond movies, is at the very least dwindling, if not almost completely non-existent.

So they brought the Family Guy guy in to provide some edge on what is essentially a bowling ball of a show, something with no edge whatsoever. Everybody keeps clamoring for Tina Fey, and I agree she is wonderful and would make a great host for anything, but maybe they were watching a different 30 Rock than I was for seven years, because I saw a show that routinely had some of the raunchiest and most thinly veiled double-entendres this side of South Park. Plus, you know, at least as many cutaway gags and non-sequiturs as Family Guy. I mean, I love Werewolf Barmitzvah and all, but there's not a huge amount of qualitative daylight between that and the giant chicken gags (which was obviously the point).

Fey is very clever in incorporating her natural "cool nerd chick" persona into the things she writes, but in her SNL days as well, she was never shy about getting her hands dirty for a laugh. Fey might be slightly more respectful of the process, because she has a family and still makes movies, where McFarlane couldn't care less, since he's rich enough to not have to care, and clearly just wants to spend the rest of his life banging every sweet young thing in Hollywood. But they're both pretty raunchy when they want to be, and frankly, that's what this puffy-shirt of an annual stroke-fest needs in the first place. Whether it's politically correct or not is -- or at least should be -- irrelevant. It's not like he called a nine-year-old the C word.

I'm not saying they need to bring in Gilbert Gottfried to do a roast or read excerpts from Fifty Shades of Grey, but I will unequivocally say that three hours of group fellatio bookended with weeks of fawning adulation and passive aggression is a dead entertainment model, except for the Kardashians.

Next year they'll bring back Billy Crystal to dutifully clean up yet another hosting snafu that they asked for. The talkerati will sharpen their snark crayons to a nub and talk shit about some 125 lb. tubbelard in a tight dress, and the usual 'net suspects can convene to remind each other that they're still too cool to watch this shit, but they heard it was really fucking boring.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Star Bores

Why don't more people call Beyonce a "genius"? Um, because she isn't, at least not a musical genius. A genius at self-promotion and self-regard, sure. Consider just the past several weeks -- the inauguration, the Super Bowl, and now a 90-minute promotional ad for HBO. (To add insult to injury, the HBOZ channel, usually a repository of action flicks and midnight Skinemax cold-shot titty movies, just finished showing the "documentary" on a continuous loop for 24 hours straight. I wish I was making that up.)

It's always peculiar when an adult gushes over any pop star to this extent. That's really all Beyonce is, and as such, she's very competent at it -- great voice, energetic performance, standard material. From what I hear, most of the final rounds of American Idle and Teh Voice have quite a few examples along that line. Again, though, there's a difference between true genius and mere competence.

I think part of this "phenomenon", this general cultural effort to maximize the merely mediocre or even marginal, is at once a vestige of the recording industry and the result of reality-teevee marketing. Record companies always (and seemingly only) thrived on having tentpole products around which to position the rest of their catalogs. And it's hardly worth mentioning that with the proliferation of the bizarre, the mediocre, and the borderline retarded, in terms of what they will now make a "show" "about", and around whom, anyone can become a star.

And when anyone can become famous, whether or not they're talented, talent tends to marginalize as a salient factor. In other words, even if Beyonce was half as incredible a singer as she seems to think she is -- and she is a very good singer -- it wouldn't matter. Her appeal prevails among the sorts of folks who find, say, celebrity pregnancies interesting or even compelling, the sort of moron who will find the most mundane and commonplace activities enthralling, so long as someone they've heard of is doing them.

But that is the hallmark of the fairweather fan; eventually the famous person du jour gets played out, either leg-humping their latest project until everyone's sick of hearing the name (which, between the pedophilia scandals, is part of what happened to Michael Jackson), or whoring their personal life out until no one but the most ADD morlock can stand it anymore. Seriously, is there still anyone out there with an IQ over 50 who cares what any of the Kardashians are keeping up with?

This will happen with Beyonce and Jay-Z as well, as it happens to almost everyone sooner or later. Fans move on; attention spans are short; the types of "music" thetwo of them do is interchangeable and disposable, more a product of songwriting, arranging, and producing than any innate ability either of them might possess beyond brand-building.

Wealthy people who not only have the balls to complain about how rough it is at the top, but then strap on an extra pair to tell the world what photos they are allowed to publish, and who always have to be the center of attention in everything they do, wear thin more quickly than they might realize. An asshole is one thing; an asshole who has no conceivable reason to be an asshole is quite another. In the meantime, I don't spend sixteen bucks a month on HBO so some spoiled princess can commandeer time to tell us all how awesome she is. At least not willingly.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Random Appreciation -- King of Jeopardy

Forget the State of the Union, son, the new president is Leonard Cooper:

This kid has balls of titanium, and will do something great in the future, you watch. In Jeopardy terms, that all-in daily double at the end was a somersault-tomahawk-dunk over LeBron James' head, a Hail Mary from his own 10-yard line, down by 6 and :55 left, that somehow goes to the house. This is the coolest thing I've seen all week, maybe all year so far. That was definitely like a boss.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Law of the Jungle

Continuing in a long line of truly wretched attorneys general, and not content with his other hobbies of griefing potheads and selling guns to violent Mexican drug cartels, Eric Holder and his DoJ have apparently found their latest high-profile quest:
The complaint, which can be seen here, describes what an FBI agent involved in the case called an “extensive, sophisticated, organized scheme.” A ring of people, ranging from a 31-year-old credit counselor in Philadelphia to a 74-year-old jeweler in northern New Jersey, allegedly conspired to make up fake identities, pump up credit profiles with more false information, and then run up huge unpaid credit-card bills.

All 18 people named in the indictment were charged with the same count of conspiracy to commit fraud, which carries a maximum penalty of 30 years in prison and a $1 million fine. Only 13 have been arrested. One is out of the country, and authorities are looking for the other four, according to a spokesman for the U.S. attorney for New Jersey.

The complaint describes something that resembles a multinational corporation—the enterprise “spanned at least 8 countries” (including Pakistan, India, China, Romania, and Japan), and at least 28 states. It involved the creation of 80 fake companies, more than 1,800 mailing addresses, 7,000 false identities, and 25,000 credit cards. It was as if the alleged fraudsters manufactured a small suburb, in which everyone had good credit at the beginning—only to walk away from big credit-card bills once they maxed out the plastic. The total cost is still being counted. But the U.S. says “final confirmed losses may grow substantially above the present confirmed losses of more than $200 million.”

Credit-card fraud is generally done with existing cards—crooks may hack the number, or get a new card sent to a different address, and then run up a bill until they get cut off. New account fraud is more difficult, time-consuming, but potentially more lucrative. The alleged fraudsters apparently read the personal finance literature on how to build and rebuild credit scores. They would apply for and receive low-spending-limit cards, make a few small purchases and pay down the balance. “This slowly increased the credit score of the false identities,” the complaint notes. Then, after the credit-card companies responded to the good behavior and improved scores by raising the spending limits, they would go on spending rampages and stop paying. This is also known as a bust-out scheme. “It’s not unique,” said Al Pascual, senior analyst at Javelin Strategy & Research. “It’s just that $200 million is huge. A bust out scheme of this scale is unprecedented.”

Ahahahaha. Right, unprecedented. Please, pull the other one. Counting all the unsecured derivatives out there, and the rest of the banksters' little perpetual grift machine, you're looking at probably over $200 trillion worth of potential economic devastation, completely out of control and totally unpenalized (except for the rare Bernie Madoff type who somehow forgot to rent themselves a handy pol or two). It's literally a million times worse than this credit-card fraud scheme, which is certainly sophisticated, but small potatoes in comparison. Yet all the feds do about that is appoint yet another inbred hack, an interchangeable fox to oversee the financial henhouse.

When the next financial collapse comes -- and rest assured, it will, and you and I and every other person not on Wall Street will pay dearly for it -- you can claim to have been distracted, perhaps, but you can't say you haven't been duly warned. The lack of priorities displayed by the authorities should provide enough clues in that regard.

Monday, February 11, 2013

The Audacity of Pope

Let's see if we have this straight:
  • an octogenarian virgin to whom millions of people in industrialized nations pretend to take reproductive advice from, and millions more in impoverished, overpopulated shitholes really do take advice from;
  • a man who has spent most of his life (his deity's most precious gift) protecting and enabling child rapists, pushing women around, and pretending to care for the poor whilst presiding over a massive fortune in money and property, and keeping said poor in eternal poverty by exhorting them to overbreed;
  • a man who has dedicated his entire career to sweeping institutionalized corruption under the proverbial rug;
this man is retiring.

And people give $cientologists a hard time. Hokay then.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Game of Drones

The drone thing is not an easy call -- for one thing, their deployment has doubtlessly saved the lives of innumerable US service personnel who might otherwise be sent into imminently hazardous areas. (Which, yes, is where many of them are, and which is in fact their job, but we do want to minimize the hazards they face, right?) And Anwar al-Awlaki was a bastard on wheels, a traitorous little shit who incited a stateside massacre at Fort Hood, and was damned proud of it. In principle, I have little problem with turning such a person into a gooey splotch.

On the other hand, we do still believe in the concept of due process, don't we? We do try to minimize the "collateral damage" -- although, looking back at any US engagement of the past fifty years, from Iraq to Vietnam and Panama in between, human troops are just as likely to kill innocents as a drone, so that may be a wash anyway.

The most salient factor, though, and one that the current administration and especially its supporters would do well to keep in mind, is the precedent extrajudicial killings grant to future administrations. Given the propensity of large swathes of 'murkins to be bamboozled not just by plutocrat goons but the barmier ideologues who routinely ankle-bite them (and everyone else) in the name of gawwwd, they might want to think twice about granting these sorts of Robert Ludlum powers to the next Ricky Santorum.

Then again, the truly nuttier ones don't ask for legal justification in the first place. What this latest non-debate about one of our supposedly more treasured myths about ourselves shows is that the operating principle of the powerful is and always has been that it's better to (pretend to) beg forgiveness than to (pretend to) ask for permission.

Friday, February 08, 2013

The Art of Bore

In case you've found yourself wondering where our most beloved ex-preznit ambled off ta, welp, apparently some hacker and Teh Media can answer that li'l riddle for ya. Supposedly "liberals" are unglued about this, but clearly there's nothing to get bent about either way. He's no John Wayne Gacy, is he? Hell, he ain't even Andy Warhol.

Already some art uh-fishy-nachos have attempted some snarkonalysis, but there's very little point to any of that. You've probably heard (via The Departed) the urban legend about Freud saying that the Irish cannot be psychoanalyzed. Well, in all seriousness, I believe you could make the same claim about George W. Bush.

I freely admit to being a total philistine when it comes to art appreciation; there are certainly plenty of individual pieces, artists, and even movements that I can identify as "liking" or "disliking", with some reasonable explanation as to why. Beyond simple notes on color and composition, however, I can't really expound much. Either I can identify skill, technique, passion, and vision, or not.

And let's face it, if the two paintings shown above had come from anyone else -- or no one of any note at all -- nobody would be talking about them in any respect. They are not noteworthy in any particular way, near as I can tell; neither good nor awful, merely there.

One finds nothing at all in the way of passion, vision, ambition, or really even any identifiable emotion or thought here. They're just glimpses of random days, sketched by a hobbyist of unique means but modest skill. Scenes From A Washroom. Who knows, maybe they're part of a series in progress; perhaps the third piece of the Homebody Triptych is Self-Portrait of Upper-Decker. You probably won't want to "download" that one (see what I did there?).

Looked at that way, perhaps these newly-hacked objets d'art really do qualify as a portal into the interior life of the artist, insofar that that's pretty much all it is, all it ever was. George shaves in the shower. Then he watches his feet in the bathtub. It's not like he was going to paint Guernica with Fallujah as stand-in. Himself never was much for self-reflection; these are the musings of a man who is almost completely bereft of uncertainty, or even curiosity.

I mean, really, what did anyone think George W. Bush would do with his post-presidency existence -- build homes for the homeless; give back to the world in gratitude for his impossible luck in life; lend his diplomatic expertise and gravitas to a tumultuous planet; learn to play Bach's Sonatas and Partitas on the violin? It's a small miracle he hasn't yet guested on Celebrity Apprentice or Duck Dynasty.

[Update 2/9/13 3:45PM PST:  'Scuse the post title change, I knew I could come up with a better one,given enough time.]

Monday, February 04, 2013

Boycott Applebee's

Let's make this short and sweet, for the kids in the cheap seats:
  1. Tax the churches, and any and all businesses and commercial properties they own, frequently through the judicious and clandestine use of blood money, but always by the grace of the easily gulled.
  2. Boycott Applebee's, and any other place that ratfucks their wage slaves, not to mention the right to free speech.
  3. Not sure whence came this rash of cheapskate assholes taking out their bullshit frustrations on low-paid waitstaff, but I sincerely hope each and every one of them ends up homeless and living on cat food and the measly generosity of strangers. Not remotely kidding about this. The day you run up a $140 restaurant tab and stiff the server is the day you richly deserve the fate of Job. Fucking scumbags.
That is all. If I've said it once, I've said it a thousand times, but it still bears repeating -- we get the country we're willing to put up with.

Sunday, February 03, 2013

Super Bowl Prediction

From the "better to be lucky than good" department, looks like my prediction from two weeks ago was almost down to the exact points. If only I had put money on it. Good game regardless, and the Niners, who are still young and healthy and rolling, will probably be back much sooner than the Ravens, who will have valuable pieces on defense to try to replace, and who still have to re-sign Joe Flacco, whose rate just went up.

Oh, and....Randy Moss still doesn't get that ring. Haw haw.

Friday, February 01, 2013

Churchin' State

Congrats to the Obama administration for once again finding a way to punt on first down in order to placate the usual gabble of intellectually dishonest poltroons. Funny, the Vatican has also consistently decried the US' wars and military actions, yet Catholic tax dollars still go towards blowing up brown people. Also, too, maybe I missed it somewhere along the line, but I don't recall ever hearing about vasectomies being on the, erm, chopping block as far as mandatory coverage is concerned.

Look, when the church demonstrates half the sense of urgency moral dudgeon over its own institutionalized practice of protecting and enabling serial child rapists, as it does over controlling the reproductive rights of its female employees, then we can all be impressed. Till then, this catering to ancient obsessions over ladyparts needs to stop.