Category Archives: Entertainment and music

Dumbness or aging?

Please untwist thy matronly lingerie. I speak only of myself.

If any of you younger folks would like to speak of a situation when you forgot something that was once spectacularly obvious and automatic, this would be most welcome. I need it.

The secret weapon that revolutionized my motoring experience is the combination of the Ipod and a stereo to which I can connect it. It is not my way to be an automatic adopter of new technology. If it were, by now I would probably have forsaken my truck, which is older than every traditional college undergrad today (except for a few who went on LDS missions, and next year, they fall off the scale as well). If it were, I would not have a flip cell phone with rudimentary Internet capacity. If it were, I would use that Internet capacity and install ‘apps.’ If it were, I’d dump my landline. You get the idea.

When I found out that I could load all my music onto the computer, that became worthwhile. When I found out that I could load it all into a device smaller than a pack of cigarettes, that became worthwhile. When I found out I could use that as my motoring music source, it was finally time to replace the failing factory AM/FM radio and speakers in my truck with a real stereo and speakers that did not, on inspection, resemble papier-mâché projects. That was about six years ago.

I don’t much interact with my Ipod. I rarely get around to updating the music library, because to do that, I’ll have to figure out how to get MediaMonkey to do so. Itunes? It’s malware. What I do is dial up a playlist through the stereo’s knobs and buttons, start it, and forget about it for months. Every so often it locks up, I reboot it, figure out which playlist I want for the next few months, and interact with it only to change the volume or pause it when I’m at a drive-through window.

Today I thought it was done for. ‘No Device’ on the stereo faceplace. I disconnected the Ipod, rebooted it, and could not navigate it. Could not scroll through menus. The center button seemed to work, and the back button, but if you can’t scroll through a menu, you can’t do much.

I stressed. I rebooted it many times. I agonized. I wondered what it would take to get a new one (now that I have tunes in my truck, I can’t go back). I found out that all the new ones have far less storage. I thought of taking it to the Apple store. I decided to let the battery run down all the way, reboot it, recharge it, and try again.

Losing patience with the slow erosion of the battery, I picked it up and tried to use it. No longer stressed and irritated, my hands remembered. On this device, one scrolls by running a finger clockwise or counterclockwise around the circular thing. It was fine; I had just forgotten, cognitively, how to operate it. But when I was resigned and unrattled, my mind dredged up the proper operation. The only problem was that I don’t touch the thing often enough to keep its functions in my active memory.

Now I’m trying to figure out whether this makes me a technoboob, or a budding Forgetful Old Person. (I plan to decline all the bullshit laudatory titles like ‘Honored Citizen,’ ‘Senior Citizen,’ and all that. A part of me can’t wait to be a good-tipping, easy-to-please old person dining out, being kind to waitstaff. And if anyone points out the ‘senior menu,’ my plan is to smile and say quietly to the waitress, “Actually, ma’am, the truth is that most old people dining out are pains in the ass: entitled, stingy, and crabby. We should be charged more, not less, so I will be glad to order off the normal menu.” I grew up with a parent and grandparent who were abominable restaurant customers, and once I was old enough to stop imitating their bad behaviors, I went the other direction.)

So what’s the verdict? Does the above digression pretty much speak for itself? Technoboob or codger-in-the-making?

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New Weird Al soon…and Gangnam Style parodies

News has come that on July 15, Weird Al Yankovic will release a new album: Mandatory Fun. Going by the cover, I deduce that the title track will be a North Korean-themed parody of South Korean rapper Psy’s Gangnam Style.

Gods, I hope so. The video should be classic. No matter what, though, any new Al is a must-buy for me.

In the meantime, I’ve decided to distract myself from real estate headaches and associated frustrations through work. In addition to editing a manuscript, this is a good time to become a Gangnam Style parody aggregator. Because looks can be deceiving.

First, of course, the original. It went viral to a level ensuring that, even if you haven’t seen it, you’ve heard of it. My own take: the cultural influence of hip-hop goes far beyond conventional US stereotypes, and this is some of the best evidence for that. It isn’t all gangsters, family dysfunction, and violence. That’s just one very visible (and media-emphasized) manifestation of hip-hop culture. And yeah, it does touch on race. I grew up listening to Irish folk and country music, both of which glorify a whole lot of dysfunction and violence. That’s even more true if you consider alcohol a drug, which I am not sure how anyone cannot. To dismiss rap (the music of hip-hop culture) as One More Reason The Country Is Going To Hell is narrow-minded and media-buffaloed.

Some time back, a band of creative central Kansas brothers came up with Farmer Style. It had me laughing from start to finish, the more so because I’m from Kansas. I know their world. And don’t be taken in by shortsighted Cletus stereotypes enhanced by the gentle drawl I myself grew up with. If I had to guess, one probably got his degree in agronomy, one in animal husbandry with a minor in veterinary medicine, and one in business administration. I’d bet that the sister will end up in accounting or dairy science. These are educated people; they live where they live, and do what they do, because they like it. Kind of like my aunt (bachelor’s in zoology, doctorate in psychology) and uncle (bachelor’s in civil engineering) managing the family ranch. They have the help of my cousins, one who works in IT, another with a master’s in speech pathology.

Then my Australian mate Paul turned me on to Battler Style, a parody by two Sydney DJs. If one didn’t know they were broadcasting professionals, one might have imagined them a couple of exaggerated-accent yahoos just like those they’re having fun with. While I’m laughing (as the DJs themselves cannot help throughout the video), I’m noting that it’s both good music and highlights a real aspect of Australian culture: a mix of mockery and pride. In Australia, a ‘battler’ is a member of the working semi-poor, getting by in some way or another. You might not see many of them at the Sydney Opera House, but they too are Australia.

At that point, I got to digging around on my own. Gunman Style is an Asian-themed parody of Western movie themes. A Westerner myself, I understand the white hat/black hat mentality they’re laughing at. This too is good music, an elongated variant of the original done by guys with squirt guns. It takes smarts and talent to produce stuff like this, in much the same way as Snoop Dogg is such a savvy and instinctual businessman.

I found this, a video-only parody of the original by a Navy/Marine Corps medical outfit in Afghanistan. Even though it doesn’t include parody lyrics–probably because they would have gotten in trouble–just the visuals are funny as hell. Somewhere in Afghanistan, there was an officer staff that understood a valuable thing: you don’t have to be a raging jackass in order to lead. Things like this keep morale alive in places where the reality varies from uncomfortable to awful. The best part is the one outside the Sani-Cans, finishing with one guy in the head.

Then there’s a Korean parody in English making fun of Kim Jong Un, and very effectively. Even if what it refers to is a humanitarian tragedy, I for one couldn’t help but laugh. Just the right mix of cheesiness and truth.

This one, making fun of Mitt Romney, busted me up. I like the fact that the lyricist stayed completely off his religion, which many people did not. It’s a little dated (though it might not end up being so), but watching the people dance with croquet mallets, it’d be hard not to laugh. And after doing that, here’s one that made fun of both parties for the 2012 election, but made more fun of the incumbent.

You can probably find more if you dig around YouTube, but I think this’ll do. If you know of any more great ones, feel free to drop a link into a comment.

Big Brother 15: CBS’s gigantic disconnect

If you were ever tempted to believe that ‘reality’ TV accurately reflected the events that occurred during taping, this should fix that wagon.

In case you have better taste than I do, Big Brother 15 is the current season of CBS’ reality’ franchise, in which some 14-18 ‘houseguests’ take up residence in a sound stage mocked up to resemble a large ‘house.’ They get little to no news from the outside world except in the most serious cases, such as 9/11, when one contestant had a relative in the WTC (happily, the relative was uninjured). Each week, contestants compete to become Head of Household, which has perks, including nominating others for a live eviction vote. There are more twists and curves involved than a debate with my wife, but that’s the game in a nutshell. It lasts between two and three months, with taped shows airing twice weekly and a once-weekly live show. Live camera feeds are available for subscription, which makes it impossible for CBS to cover up the full story. Even when they cut all the feeds, contestants are sure to discuss events spontaneously after the fact.

Over the years, there has been plenty of drama on the sound stage. With dozens of cameras and microphones inside the residential portion of the sound stage, CBS has a vast surplus of footage available per week, compressible into about an hour and a half of TV time. You’d expect a lot to fall through the cracks, but you’d like to expect that you got a representative sample of how people acted.

Nothing of the kind.

We’ve had a few near-fistfights, a lot of tears, some sexual activity, plenty of nudity, shouting matches, outright delusions, meltdowns, ejections, a knife held on someone, vandalism, and quite a few objectionable comments. We got to see most of that unfold, most of the time, on some level–it was the sort of TV the producers love. (By the way, the production company is called Endemol. Who came up with that name? It sounds like a medication you’d hear about on pharmercials. “I was always listless and depressed. My spleen seemed out of whack. I had lost my sex drive and had a craving for raw leeks. So, despite never having heard of it before, I asked my doctor about Endemol.”)

This season, it’s gotten bad. One contestant, Aaryn from Texas, has behaved like a narcissistic ‘mean girl,’ throwing out ethnic and homophobic remarks that have earned her the nickname ‘Aryan’ from recappers. Another, Gina Marie from Staten Oiland, hasn’t been much better. Contestants have sarcastically ordered Helen, the affable Asian mom and political consultant from Illinois, to ‘go cook some rice.’ They’ve mocked Candice, a resilient African American speech therapist from Houston, for the size of her derrière (which isn’t even that substantial). Every season of BB has one visibly gay man; sometimes they also cast a lesbian, though it’s always a lipstick lesbian. This season’s visibly gay contestant is Andy, a witty public speaking professor from Illinois. It didn’t take the bigots long to locate the word ‘faggot.’ And none of the racism and homophobia is any secret to anyone in the house; Howard, a sincere, ripped African American youth counselor from Mississippi, has said on the live feeds that he has to bottle up most of what he feels in order to get through the game. I’m impressed that he can. There have also been anti-Semitic slurs. The more of this I learn, the more I respect the minorities in the sound stage, and the more I want them to win simply because their path to victory will be that much harder, thus more well deserved. I want to see them celebrate as, one by one, the bigots get booted.

And this brings us to the gigantic disconnect: the TV show has shown none of the bigotry. I suspect CBS was told by its advertising sponsors: “Do it and we’re done with you.” It’s not that the word isn’t out. Gina Marie (pageant production) and Aryan (modeling) have already been sacked by their real-world employers; the press release from Gina Marie’s employer was corrosive. Thanks to the live feeds, and those who recap them (my brain would suffer irreparable harm), the whole nation knows or can know the truth. Yet CBS refuses to show it, even though people using vile words like ‘nigger’ or ‘faggot’ would certainly spike ratings as people would watch in outrage. What cannot be hidden is Julie Chen’s obvious loathing for the cast. I’ve never felt much sympathy for Chen until now. I can only try to imagine how she felt when Aryan described Helen as the first Asian she’d ever met who wasn’t doing her nails.

Yeah. It’s that bad.

There’s a movement to have the bigots kicked off the show, and of course the usual “We Hate PC” counter-movement. Here’s the thing: if CBS did boot them, they’d have to field awkward questions about why they failed to televise the bigotry to begin with. That would prove to even the most gullible that what they see is not representative of reality. I myself don’t think the bigots should be ejected from the game, because then we wouldn’t get the joy of watching them crushed. I want the targets of their abuse to have the satisfaction and material rewards of well-earned victory. I also believe that it’s important for us to see that, while these attitudes may be in decline, they are not dead, and they still need to be countered and rejected by honest women and men. I do think it’s dishonest of Endemol and CBS not to show some of the despicable behavior, so that the casual viewing public remains hoodwinked, and so that they can duck some of the controversy–and, if my analysis is correct, keep the ad dollars.

Reality TV is unreal. Never forget that–or if you didn’t grasp it, know it now.

Update: one of my favorite blogs, angry asian man, seems to see this as I do.

Naked & Afraid, Discovery Channel

Was watching the first two episodes of this last night. I kind of like the show’s concept, although it’s even more compressed than Survivor–three weeks compressed into forty minutes of edited episode. Short summary: abandoned naked, with a bag and one survival tool of choice. Shortly meeting up with another person of the opposite sex, similarly outfitted. The pair must reach an extraction point within twenty-one days, living off the land.

One trend I do not like so far, in our limited sample base, is the Jerk Male Factor. The first guy was basically a self-admitted misanthrope who had a sort of Tarzan, Lord of the Jungle attitude, looking at the experienced survival teacher he was paired with as Jane. Yeah, it’s no great revelation that women rarely equal men in size, strength, bone mass, skin toughness and so on. And yet it’s a team effort, in which either person could on short notice have to rely upon the other for the most intimate personal care; where two can always achieve more than either alone.

I grant that a good number of men are stupid enough not to grasp this immediately upon peeling down to the Eden ensemble, but it’s hard to imagine this slowness of perception continuing very long. Hoping to see some guys on the show who start the adventure with the attitude that their partner probably has knowledge they do not. So far, as so often in life, the women are turning out to be the grownups in the room.

The naked aspect is cool, forcing them to deal with issues like foot care. The SF guy who made the bark sandals had the right idea, which makes me wonder: why, in an area full of dropped acacia thorns (which are about the size of needle-tipped Olympic javelins), did that not become a priority sooner? “We must focus on water!” Yeah, tough guy, and if you come up lame, you will never reach that water. Hard to fathom–and he spent 2/3 of the experience barely able to walk due to a badly infected thorn in his foot. Interesting that Ms. Minnesota made a fair effort to make something like a bikini, to cover up for Tarzan and the cams. Ms. Alaska just let it all hang out, including sitting in the murky creek with her legs spread, fishing barehanded–catching three catfish. Now you see why I married an Alaskan woman.

This may be a lot of fun to watch, depending on who they cast. If it were on Fox, you know it would forever be brain-damagingly predictable and transparent, and follow the exact same pattern as we have seen: Sexist Pig First Oinks Loudly, Then Learns His Lesson In Gender Humility. Fox is incapable of presenting anything to challenge the minds of the hyenas on the second episode of N&A, much less a human being with an eighth grade education. Not sure how Discovery’s track record is in this area. If they get the right varieties of people in casting, it could get interesting. Let us see some diversity in attitudes, skills, strengths and ethnicity.

My wife, of course, when she learns that I watch this, will probably offer more succinct commentary about my lack of taste. Then she’ll see my observation about Alaska’s women. If there are no blog posts for a week after July 4 weekend, please send someone over to investigate my fate.

Andina

…Spanish for ‘Andean,’ is the distinctive sound of the Andes Mountains: Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Chile. Sometimes sung in Native languages, sometimes in Spanish, it is the most uplifting-sounding music I know.

You probably have heard one song of Andina origin, though you may not have grasped this at the time: El Condor Pasa, sung by many but made most popular by Simon & Garfunkel. The Andean condor is, naturally, one of the emblematic birds of the Andes. If you heard it accompanied by a flute, that approximated the pan-flute or pan-pipes that punctuate so much Andina. The genre contains a lot of fingered strings (I’m no expert on the different types of guitarlike instruments), sometimes violin, moderate emphasis on drumming, and rapid changes of pacing. Rarely is it a cappella, less rarely is it purely instrumental; mostly it is both sung and played.

Andina groups I like include Ecuador Inkas, Nativo, Quichua Mashis, Savia Andina, Illapu, K’ala Marka and Los Kjarkas. It can be difficult to find for sale, so when I trip over an opportunity, I buy some.

If you’d like to give it a try, visit this video of K’ala Marka up on some ungodly height just tearing it up. In spite of the modern touches and enhancements, if you are anything like me, you will feel and hear something ancient. If I had to pick a song and setting that emblemized what I love about Andina, that one has it.

Hell’s Kitchen with Gordon Ramsay: a culinary Kobayashi Maru

You all saw at least that much of the Star Trek movie in question, right? The Kobayashi Maru was a Starfleet simulator exercise meant to be unsolvable. The trainee could not win. The point was to see how s/he lost. I think that’s what Gordon Ramsay’s about on Hell’s Kitchen, his reality show whereby supposedly the winner gets to be head chef at one of his restaurants. (In reality, not so much. In reality, there’s a good chance that the winner will be more or less kept to the side at the restaurant and advised not to get in the way of the professionals.)

The main purpose, of course, is manufacturing entertainment; let us not self-deceive. Contestants are chosen not for ability to cook, but for likely personality conflict and entertainment value. Several are certain flameouts, and the game will be rigged to keep them around causing drama, conflict and meltdown. Hollywood is in the business of lying to you, and that’s actually praise for its skill; no, Tom Hanks wasn’t actually stuck on an island with a ball, but Hollywood used masterful skill to make it seem like he was. Let us just be realistic, and say without rancor that Hollywood is so much in the business of lying that the idea of truth mattering isn’t part of the game. Expecting it to value truth is rather like expecting major bank CEOs to place value on the public good, or putting an alligator with your chickens and expecting it not to eat them. What the hell did you expect?

Other deceptions include frankenbites (they can, do and will actually make it so you ‘said’ whatever they want), the fact that the whole thing is just a sound stage and that all the ‘diners’ are human props from the industry, and that Ramsay’s not a good tycoon restauranteur. His real-world restaurants keep eating flaming death, so to speak, financially, which suggests that he’s a great cook who could probably win the game running one or three restaurants. One cannot imagine that strong, confident people sit close to his throne and take the kind of abuse he slings on the show, so either we’re being put on and he’s great at pretending to be a complete jerk, or he perhaps has the flaw of hiring only people who will put up with inordinate crap (skill being a secondary hiring concern). That’s what insufferable employers end up with: the few whose main qualification is abuse tolerance. I’ve seen whole companies where that was the key trait for survival.

If it weren’t mostly fiction dressed up to look like reality, reality shows would not need draconian confidentiality agreements in which participants agree to be parted out for transplant organs, caned daily by professional Singaporean caners, forced to watch Honey Boo Boo Clockwork Orange-style, and pay $5 billion in restitution if they reveal the truth.

So Ramsay puts roughly eight males and eight females, all opinionated, boastful, overconfident, foulmouthed, mostly fat, mostly eccentric chain-smokers (in other words, restaurant cooks) onto two teams divided by gender (thus destroying the natural balance of complementary gender traits). He then gets them up at boot camp hours to perform challenges that may sometimes mean zero to the culinary art, but will be funny to watch, such as tackling pigs. The losing side gets some charming penalty, something like ‘scrub spotless the inside of the trash dumpster behind the homeless shelter,’ and of course has to prep both kitchens. The winning side gets pampered, though in one case they were forced to meet Celine Dion without pointing out that she couldn’t sing, which I wouldn’t call pampering.

Obviously, the show has little to do with finding the best chef. If it did, they would not cast prep cooks and fry cooks and line cooks and culinary students and others who, sweating and shirtless, shovel coal into the boilers of the world of dining. (Now picture all the current contestants as stokers on the Titanic. You’re welcome.) The very worst thing about the show’s editing is Fox’s shameless cliffhangering, which seems done by a 12-year-old to appeal to 10-year-olds. You always expect the trashiest of trashy from Fox, and they do not fail to disappoint here. Lots of “My decision is…” [commercial break] and plenty of “The person leaving Hell’s Kitchen is…” [to be continued]. Fox: always low standards. Always.

We don’t see something like 95% of what goes on, but what is weird: even through the deception, contrived stress, and all the other stuff that’s hardly relevant to deciding who can cook and who can lead, Ramsay does accomplish one thing. He does find out who can face stress and keep cool enough to continue trying to retrieve the situation. I can grant that a chef might need that property above many others. In at least this one way, his culinary Kobayashi Maru seems to serve one authentic purpose.

Other than that, well, entertaining bullshit remains bullshit. And yes, I admit to watching it. There are worse character flaws.

The Pac-12 Networks, a.k.a. the Not-works

In July 2011, with many college sports programs playing musical conferences and engaging in games of chicken with each other, the recently expanded Pacific-12 Conference (UW, WSU, the Zeroes, OSU, Utah, Colorado, Cal-Berkeley, Stepford, ASU, UA, USC and UCLA) announced plans for a TV network like what the Big 10 (which has more than ten schools) has deployed. Great, we said, we want to see more football and have our conference doing what big-time conferences do. Revenue sharing would help the smaller market schools, etc., etc. Let’s see the show!

The assumption, which we could not know was flawed, was that we would be able to see the show. In the words of the immortal, unbearable Lee Corso:  “Not so fast, my friend.”

Fourteen months later, the 2012 college football season kicks off. The Pac-12 has failed to reach agreement with just about everyone, which is a pretty good sign the conference got very greedy. A number of games are televised on the Pac-12 Not-works, but very few people can watch them on TV. A few clever souls find other ways, naturally, but only the hardest core of fans would do that. Those who do, find out that the Pac-12 Not-works have sold zero advertising, so the not-work fills the space with commercials for itself. Yes. I must have seen the Stanford swimmer’s segment a dozen times. Every few minutes, its ten viewers are treated to advertising telling us how fantastic the not-work is.

That isn’t marketing. It’s masturbation, and comical masturbation at that. Seriously: while having failed in your most basic mission, which is to get on TV so you can sell advertising, rather than spare me a bunch of commercial breaks, you are going to go on and on about your virtues? Do you not understand that when the only advertising content you have to offer is to rhapsodize yourself, you have failed? You are a conference comprised of twelve research universities, all with educational claims to fame and pride, which attract some of the best and brightest people in the world, and you leave the house without your pants? Mr. Larry Scott, you are a Harvard graduate. For the gods’ sake, put some trousers on. No one needs to see you this way.

Not that the satellite and cable providers are any prizes in the area of doing what’s best for viewers. DefectiveTV, which is what I have, engages in a ‘playground recess hair-pulling skirmish of the month’ with some content provider just about every month, taking its message to the blacked-out channels to explain how those nasty stupids at (insert network name) have been unreasonable, pulled their content, and tried to force us all to pay through the nose, but only DefectiveTV stands Promethean in defense of our fair prices and sweet reason. Yeah. When every recess, the same kid is always in a fight with someone, always comes whining, and never takes any responsibility for even being half the problem, guess what. It’s obvious where most of the problem lies.

The much-vaunted Pac-12 Networks are Not-works. They are a failure. At this point, we would be better off without them, since the games they show would otherwise be picked up on other channels, all of which seem not to consider themselves too ultra-special to get a deal worked out and be on the air.

Every year, it is a little more about pure greed and big money, and a little less about athletics and education. I will always wish UW well, but I can see a day where, if this trend continues, I simply won’t care about watching the sport. At which time I will cease to be an advertising consumer, be it for idiotic pickup truck commercials appealing to my machismo, idiotic insurance commercials appealing to my gullibility, or idiotic beer commercials appealing to my pedestrian tastes.

Mr. Scott, you and your networks are a failure.

The best ass-covering you could come up with was to blame it all on the other side, and sick your athletic directors on the public, encouraging them to switch providers. (For some of us, with no provider in our areas that carries the Not-works, a non-starter.) “Waaaaaaah! They started it! Waaaah! Punish them!

It’s looking positively Congressional.

Just another area of America in which the stupidity of the public is taken on faith by the wealthy and powerful, and where, if said public notices something wrong and complains that ‘this is bullshit,’ the public is fed a line of crap and told to stop being difficult.

I’ll give you difficult. Mr. Scott, so far you have boloed this exercise. You are a no go at this station. You snubbed BYU/Utah, the perfect regional, rivalry and research fit for the conference, simply because a Mormon school icks out Left Coast schools, with all that honor code and right-wing political stuff–as if that were relevant at all to research or athleticism. Instead, you brought in Colorado, which is about as Pacific as Wyoming and has a minimal existing rivalry relationship with Utah. Mr. Scott, if this is how you roll, I wouldn’t hire you to manage a Division 5 conference, much less a I-A BCS conference. You have failed. The results speak for themselves. You are the John Boehner and Nancy Pelosi of collegiate athletics. Enjoy that prestigious distinction.

In the meantime, Commissioner Scott, go to hell.