Thursday, January 28, 2010

This Just In...

I am becoming increasingly annoyed with the prominent news media; and to a larger extent, disincline to feel that the information they purvey has much relevance to my daily life. What I am seeing, hearing and reading does not jive with my understanding of what network media refer to as journalism.

Recently one of the major TV news programs ran a story about the economy; the interviewed a woman, working as a graphic artist, about how she thought the economy is faring. With thousands of potential experts upon which they could draw among them, economists, government officials, business or financial managers, the news media instead offered their millions of viewers the uninformed opinion of a very nice looking nobody. What am I supposed to do with this nice lady’s uninformed opinion?

Local news is much worse regarding this kind of reporting. Often covering the scene of an accident or fire, for example, they ask the neighbors what they “think”. These interviews usually consist of the subject’s reaction to the event; the opinion provides no substantive additional information regarding the news item. The reaction of people to an event is NOT news.

A major criticism of 24-hour news networks is that they need to make every moment of every item sound as though there is imminent threat or peril. A good friend of mine started having trouble sleeping at night soon after his extended cable TV service was installed. He was being constantly barraged with news stories about terrible crisis and danger which was about to befall us at any moment.

Of course, the media has to keep an impending sense of urgency otherwise news becomes boring (it is already for me) and people will stop watching… and their accompanying commercials. Not only is the sky falling but it is in continual freefall if you subscribe to any of the 24-hour news programs.

Public opinion options
Occasionally I would get excited about one issue or another and write letters to the editor to my local newspaper. At our newspaper letters could not be anonymous. I fully support that concept; if you have a strong opinion about an issue you ought to stand behind it and put your name to it. But newspapers, on their online versions, and television station web sites, allow for reader-viewer comments. Because these are facilitated through anonymous user profiles, anyone can say anything with almost no impunity. Of what use is that? How does that lead to responsible public discourse?

To me, the anonymous opinions posted on these sites carries the same level of consideration I would give to the cowards who hide their faces under white hoods. Why else would you hide in shame?

Projection and speculation.
Much of what is offered as journalism is not reporting what has happened but projecting and speculating on what someone thinks is going to happen next. A plane crashes and “experts” are called in to speculate regarding what they think “might” have caused the crash. Speculation is not news – wait for the investigation to be completed then report the facts.

In situations were some grievous policy error or judgment has resulted in some type of loss, the media often starts asking “who is going to get fired”. We Americans really love firing people. We even have an entertainment show with billionaire Donald Trump; viewers hanging on every second until he utters the two words we breathlessly await fall on someone other than ourselves. Sick.

Human interest stories
Increasingly the nightly network news has some soft fluffy cuddly story about someone doing a selfless or generous activity. Noble as these acts are, why are they news? Millions of people give selflessly to others or their community daily and routinely. Why is this on the national news?

Forgotten coverage
I would think that one of the saddest aspects of being one of our soldiers stationed in our current wars is that they are forgotten. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are now “old news” and not worth covering least the media bore their audience.

In another week the tragedy in Haiti will be off the mainstream media's radar. Old news.

I would like every news organization, television, and radio, print, to end their programs every night with the following information updated daily: The number of soldiers killed to date in our theaters of war, the amount of the national debt, and the number of people in this country with no health coverage. Let viewers see that every night.

At the publication of this post:
Number killed in the Iraq and Afghan wars: 5,304
Amount of the national debt: $12,100,659,615.75
People with no health coverage: 46 million (estimated)

Monday, January 25, 2010

The Winnebago Man

If you have been following this blog for any length of time, you will know that I am highly critical of the crap that is shoved through my cable under the guise of "entertainment".

And making it all worse are the commercial advertisements which have now expanded to take up about one-third of the content I am increasingly bored with on TV. There is now an advertisement for a stop smoking drug called Chantix which runs a full two minutes! I timed it.

The worst of the worst are the local merchants who do their own amateur commercials. I think there ought to be a law against it, frankly. Some of these Mom-and-Pop home grown commercials are almost too agonizing to watch.

Below is "The Winnebago Man, an example of one of these amateur commercials... actually the outtakes from shooting the spot. Now THIS is the version that I really would rather watch on TV:

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Scoping Things Out

I just received a reminder letter from my Gastroenterologist; it has been ten years and I am due for another Colonoscopy. Wow, has it been ten years already since a cold light-emitting flexible video camera was snaked up my ass?

I honestly don’t recall the procedure. They asked me if I wanted to remain awake and watch the inside of my intestines revealed on the monitor. I instead opted for the miracle of Versed; “I don’t want to know what you are doing to me”, I told them at the time.

One of Versed’s interesting side effects is that it thoroughly wipes out your short-term memory; particularly any memory of the procedure itself. I had the unsettling thought: what if it isn’t really an anesthetic at all? What if all the Versed does is make you forget the horrible torture you just went through?

After the procedure and while in recovery and the Versed began to ware off, Nancy related to me how odd and humorous my behavior had been under the influence of the drug. I was particularly spunky, apparently, and somewhat scurrilous with the nursing staff. Also I had asked Nancy about fourteen times if she had eaten already. She was quite amused by my behavior coming off of this drug.

In any event, I had survived the procedure and was later eager to help my wife in kind when it was time for her Colonoscopy. Now the worst part of the entire procedure is the preparation. You see, one must completely “flush” out the entire digestive tract. This requires ingesting an industrial strength laxative then drinking gallons of thin lemony water. The volumes of liquid one is required to consume makes you feel at though you are going through a pledge ordeal at the hands of your college fraternity. Gallons, I swear.

However, Nancy did well throughout the entire routine. While they were busy “scoping” her, I went to the hospital cafeteria and had a meal. By the time I returned, they had just wheeled her sleepy body back into recovery. Now, knowing as I did that this drug has interesting memory effects, I decided to experiment on her a little bit.

I informed Nancy that for lunch I had eaten a chicken sandwich, fries and an orange drink. She nodded in understanding. My testing of her had begun.

After a bit of time passed I queried her. “Nancy, what did I have for lunch?”
Slowly, like Chancy Gardner in “Being There” she methodically responded: “A chicken sandwich, fries and an orange drink.” I am very surprised she remembered, however I can tell by her expression she is investing a lot of energy into remembering this one fact.

More time passes and I again ask her if she recalls what I had for lunch. More definitively now she responds, “A chicken sandwich, fries and an orange drink.” Ok.

Just then the doctor bursts in and begins to brief her on the results of her procedure. He shows her photographs taken of her colon and tells her how well it went. The doctor explains that her colon looks great; no polyps or anomalies were found and she is in great health. The doctor gives her a cheery goodbye then leaves.

Thinking that this is perhaps my last chance to test her memory I ask her a final time what she recalls I had for lunch. She briskly responds with, “A chicken sandwich, fries and an orange drink.” Ok she has beaten my test; I am defeated.

A few minutes later the nurse comes in to check on Nancy to see how she is doing in recovery; she tells Nancy that she can dress and go home pretty soon.

Nancy then looks directly at the nurse and unflinchingly asks; “So when will the doctor be in to tell me my results?”

Saturday, January 16, 2010

If There's A God In Heaven...

The Television news is all about the devastating earthquake in Haiti currently. Of course, not in the news are the millions of people in other parts of the world dying due to war, starvation, economic manipulation, anarchy and dwindling resources. Haiti has the media eye right now. In a week, it will be old news.

My wife was telling me that back in 1958 her school was gathering used shoes to send to the poor people of Haiti. That’s 52 years ago – things haven’t improved all that much.

What I find most disturbing in the Media coverage is all the references to miracles, praying and God – deeply disturbing.

What is the “miracle” exactly? That thousands of people died; some quickly, some agonizingly slowly, but a handful were saved from the rubble? When will the miracle happen for the man whose arm is crushed and is waiting for medical personnel to amputate it while it festers with maggots?

How are the Prayers working, at the moment? Many believe God has some “plan”, apparently to have children starve or die of disease. Are people praying to ask God to change his Plan for their sake?

Many are giving Thanks – thanks that the other person died instead of them or THEIR loved one. What are the victims themselves thanking God for?

Of course, there are learned men and women who go to university and have academia bestow upon them titles like Doctor of Theology. These people have the incredible luck of being able to intellectualize God and produce incredible volumes of justification “trash” in the form of books and papers, explaining to us how intricate God’s plan really is.

The interesting thing is, if you completely take God out of the equation, things pretty much progress as one would expect them to. Natural disasters happen with predictable regularity. Some people recover from dreaded diseases, some people win the lottery or are hit by lightening within statistically predictable expectation.

As a friend pointed out to me, if there is a one-in-a-million chance of something happening, with Six billion people on the planet, that event can happen 6,000 times every day.

Some people are surprised that a few of us mere mortals may even have the ability to thwart the power of and omnipotent God; for example, by wearing seat belts or having regular medical check-ups.

When I was little I thought my Teddy Bear would protect me from monsters at night. I later learned that Teddy was merely an assembly of cloth, cotton and thread. But I wasn’t frightened at that discovery because I also learned that there were no monsters.

I know that many find a belief in God very comforting… well that is precisely what it is for. But for me, I would rather know an uncomfortable truth than believe a comforting lie. The truth is that God does not exist outside our imagination.

Lyrics to an Elton John song that never made the charts (for obvious reasons):

If there's a God in heaven, What's he waiting for
If He can't hear the children, Then he must see the war
But it seems to me, That he leads his lambs
To the slaughter house, And not the promised land.

Monday, January 11, 2010

"Avatar" - Film Review

Avatar. It is poised to be one of the biggest box office hits ever. One critic called it the “perfect” film. Well, maybe. I saw it and was prepared to not like it – I was surprised, I liked it… a lot!

Film is an interesting medium; it runs on a continuum between being an Art Form on one end and a Consumer Product on the other. The way the media industry cranks them out, one would easily assume this film would be yet another Consumer Product. Perhaps in America, they mostly are, unlike foreign films (European in particular) which decidedly lean more toward Art.

The crafted art film is both beautifully visual and has an engaging plot. I think of Amelie, for example. Whereas American film plots are annoyingly predictable and are recycled repeatedly under different film titles. Foreign films, or the occasional American film, such as Memento or The Usual Suspects try to diverge from the standard predictable plot line.

So where does Avatar fall within the Art – Consumer continuum? I would say about half-way, actually. The plot line is almost entirely the same as Dances With Wolves. Yet it has been brought to the screen with a renewed freshness through stunning computer graphics and 3D effects.

There is sexual tension but no sex. There is combat but no blood. There is violence but it is not violent. Yawn potential? No, I was engaged. The characters seemed quite real, and yet fantasy was effectively infused in this film to make for compelling fiction.

Of course the computer graphics are what the news media has focused on. But often CG is rendered with inane and even silly design and can completely ruin a film. Consider when the boy on the bicycle in ET became airborne, peddling his bike across the sky, they ruined the film making it into an alien Mary Poppins. Likewise, when Close Encounters of a Third Kind revealed the alien smiling like the Pillsbury Dough Boy, they dumped the film into a bucket of schmaltz.

But the set designers of Avatar clearly put a lot of thought and science into the design of the geography, botany and biology of the set. I found my self believing that such life could likely evolve on some distant planet. The science was imaginative but believable; and breathtakingly beautiful as well.

I could easily position myself as a film snob and find elements in which to criticize this film. But I won’t; I liked it… very much. In an era where I often don’t bother to watch a new release in the theater, preferring instead to wait for it to come out on DVD, I am glad I saw it in the venue for which it was designed: Large screen 3D.

See Avatar yourself in 3D, then return and post your reviews here. I would love to hear other opinions about this film.

Friday, January 8, 2010

New and Improved

Even though this country is now suffering through record unemployment since the Great Depression, I suspect that way too many “Marketing” people still hold their jobs in major corporations. Their job is to keep their jobs by convincing management that their product or service, whatever it is, needs to be “improved”.

Gone are the days when a product, that works perfectly, remains intact over time. No, everything, no matter how good it is, needs to be “improved”. Marketing people do not understand the concept of, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. They can’t – they have to “new and improve” everything.

My wife’s favorite shampoo now makes her head break out. My once preferred deodorant now reeks of some perfume additive. The shower cleaner we previously used, which stank to high Heaven but still worked, no longer stinks and no longer works. The list goes on.

Of course software is among the worst offenders of continual and unnecessary upgrading. There are way too many software engineers working today. They need to all find part time jobs at Starbucks. Yes, we all have shared this problem of software upgrades. I just installed Windows XP on my machine two years ago. Since then the disastrous Windows Vista has come and gone, replaced by Windows 7. Of course, to upgrade to Windows 7 I would need to upgrade my computer also.

I have an old DOS program called Reflex. I have used it for over a decade to balance my checkbook. I have that many years of records of my checking activity. It is simple and easy and I can bring it up and use it in minutes. It is long since obsolete and the company that made it out of business. But it works… at least it did work. When I copied it to my latest computer, it is incompatible with my processor. It won’t work. On my next upgrade I am going to have to find something else.

Of course computer engineers love to upgrade applications. They put so many features in a word processing program that most people will never use. All people want is the ability to write, correct, edit and spell-check. I would guess that 98% of the features in most word processing programs nobody knows about, let alone ever uses. I paste text from MS Word into Notepad to strip out all the formatting and crap so I can re-paste it into this blog. Guess what, Mr. Software Engineer, that is MORE work for me, not less.

I am so thankful that the auto industry did not go the route of the computer industry. Had it done so we would need to buy new cars as the gasoline is upgraded, buy tires specific to our make and model of car (Toyota Camry brand tires). Our cars would shut down twice a day and we would need to reinstall the engine. We would have to go to driver training for every new car we bought because all the controls would be different.

Engineers need to think about refusing to improve things that don’t need improvement – Except for medical technology. I want that little hand held gizmo that Dr. McCoy had on Star Trek. Wave something over me to diagnose my ailments. I am supposed to call to get scheduled for a Colonoscopy soon.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Facing Facebook

Perhaps I'm missing something, or maybe I am simply a product of my generation, but I still don’t see what the attraction is to Facebook. The confusion stated when it was suggested to me that I have a Facebook presence to help promote my film. However, Facebook tells you right up front that it is not to be used for “commercial purposes”. What then?

Upon opening my Facebook account, I immediately began receiving requests from people to be my “friend”. Not wanting to appear rude, I accepted friendship. Of my now several hundred some odd friends, I can count on one hand the friends who I actually and personally know. The rest I believe should be characterized as “acquaintances” or perhaps “contacts”. I have a completely different definition of what I consider a friend. As one comedian recently put it… “A friend is someone who you can phone at midnight to pick you up at the airport”.

I did brifly connect with my sixth grade girl friend, well actually it was more of a crush I had on her back then. But she soon abandoned her Facebook page; apparently some guy she was dating now started stalking her. Well, so much for that.

I don’t get the “applications”, they seem nonsensical to me… and why do they end up wanting my cell phone number so often? (I don’t give that out to anyone but real Friends). Now advertising is weaseling its way into Facebook. I already have a strong opinion about advertising and how it is ruining the internet like it already has ruined TV. I am having enough trouble figuring out what is going on here without dealing with “Click Me Now” come-ons.

I am no Luddite by any means; I blog, construct web sites, and conduct a lot of business online. I don’t care to use Instant Messengers because I don’t feel the need to be “connected” every second simply because I’m awake.

Facebook appears to have little to offer me and I don’t really have any thing useful to contribute to anyone else by my being here. I am wondering if my Facebook page went bye bye if anyone would really notice.