Wednesday, December 21, 2011

10 Short Thoughts Not About Glenn Gould

I just read the Maclean's year-end "Newsmakers 2011" issue. It contains a series of articles about the supposedly most newsworthy people and events of the year. With this issue, we hit a new journalistic low.

It's a given that a few people on these annual "most intriguing", "most interesting", etc., lists will be women who are there solely because of who they slept with. However, this issue features Pippa Middleton - who is on the list not even because of who she slept with, but because of who her sister slept with.

At least her sister finally got a promotion this year, after eight years of casual / temporary status as the Royal Penis-Warmer. Pippa's most newsworthy activity appears to have been showing up at the wedding.

To be clear, this is not meant as personal criticism of Miss Middleton. She may be a very intelligent and capable person. She may be very accomplished in the field of whatever it is that she does. However, none of that makes her particularly newsworthy.

No, this is meant to mock the media, and by extension its audience - that's us, folks - for being overly concerned with her. She isn't the problem, the people giving her undue attention are the problem. There's no discernible reason for anyone to be talking about her in "news" articles or magazine profiles.

Or in blog posts, for that matter.


Although I accept that there is truly nothing new under the sun, I sometimes strive for some semblance of originality. A while back I scrapped a drafted article / joke because I had expected "penis-warmer" to be a something of a rare term, but Google told me otherwise. I was surprised, especially by how many of the results were product listings on eBay (with optional what cozy?!?).

That said, I have high hopes for the revised term used above, "Royal Penis-Warmer". As I write this, there are no Google hits for that phrase.

Soon there will be one.

The Walking Dead (the comic, not the TV show) has been disappointing me of late. I'm getting a little tired of the last page cliffhanger/shocker that completely fizzles and is completely forgotten about within the first three pages of the next issue. Kirkman's going to that well just a bit too often.

An occasional commenter here, TB, has a blog of his own now. If you think I'm cantankerous sometimes, you should buckle up, go over there, and take a look.

I'm still not writing much here lately, I know. I've been posting comments some other places, though, like the Forge forums, Comics I Don't Understand, and Slashdot. I can often be found in one of those places when I'm not doing much here.

I've also been known to show up in comment threads in places like Jim Shooter's blog, Roger Ebert's blog, Crime Justice & America, and Ken Levine's blog.

That last one is probably my favourite, because Ken Levine actually responded to one of my comments in a later post (the one I linked). In this culture, getting my (fake Internet) name mentioned by a guy who knows some famous people is better than money!

The Supercommittee failed to reach a budget deal. By most accounts, the Democrats on the committee refused to consider any proposal that included any spending cuts, and the Republicans refused to consider any tax increases. No shocker, really. But it gave us a great chance to play Mediawatch! Here's how to play:

Think about the blurbs you heard in the media about this. The headlines, the soundbites, the text crawls at the bottom of the screen, the snarky remarks from "unbiased journalists" and late-night comedians. Notice how many of them blame the stalemate entirely on the Republicans "refusing to compromise" and completely ignore the equal but opposite intransigence from the Democrat side.

Oh, sure, some of the long articles mentioned the Democrats' equal role in one of the "continued on page 26" paragraphs - we're just talking about the short versions that are all most people will perceive.

But remember, only Fox News is biased. Well, and Sun News if you're in Canada.

Here's the scary part of playing Mediawatch. Consider any newsworthy topic of which you have some deeper knowledge. Now consider how ridiculously distorted you find the media's reporting on the matter.

Now consider that most people don't have deeper knowledge of most topics, and all they know is what the media feeds them.

Now consider that that includes you. The media usually talks about subjects where you don't have any particular insight. It's statistically inevitable, just because of the sheer volume of information on the world. It's humanly impossible to know very much about very much.

And when out of one of your comfort zones - which is most of the time - you only know what they tell you, and then usually only what was in the headline, sound bite, or crawl across the bottom of the screen.

Notes for historical purposes:

We got six trick-or-treaters this year, and most of those were kids whose parents specifically drove them here because they know us.

We have no snow to speak of yet. We've had flurries, and a few times enough to cover the ground (barely), but it's all melted away again so far.

My son's current obsessions are Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword and Roblox.

I don't like bad arguments being used in support of positions with which I agree. To that end, I wish people who oppose capital punishment - as do I - would stop saying that it has no more deterrent value than life imprisonment.

The problem with arguing about the deterrent value of capital punishment is that there's a ridiculous time lapse between a criminal being sentenced to execution and that execution being carried out. The lapse is so long that a death sentence is effectively the same thing as a life sentence.

Oba Chandler was executed recently for a crime that was committed in 1989, and of which he was convicted in 1994. 17 years after conviction, 22 years after the crime. With gaps like that, of course there's no extra deterrent value involved. Criminals know full well that execution is not a credible or imminent threat. It's too remote to be taken into consideration.

I'd be interested in seeing statistics on how many criminals die of natural causes - e.g., old age - while on death row. I wouldn't be surprised if it's more than are actually executed.

In all but completely informal conversation, and sometimes even then, I'm a stickler for terminology. This is because correct use of terminology demonstrates comprehension of the subject. Incorrect use of terminology demonstrates the lack of same.

My wife and I started watching Breaking Bad a few weeks ago, from the first episode. It's great. We have only one episode left to watch - the fourth season finale, which is the last episode to date. We'll probably watch it tonight, then commence complaining until season five begins.

I like it because it's neither formulaic nor predictable. It took me many episodes to accept that I could almost never accurately predict what would happen next. Most TV shows and movies, including my nevertheless beloved Walking Dead (the TV show, not the comic), are predictable enough that at any point I can tell you more or less how any given scene will develop and/or resolve.

Not so Breaking Bad. It's a constant stream of nothing but curve balls. The writing is so good that I'm amazed that Vince Gilligan, the series creator, worked on the X-Files. I was not a fan of the latter show, to the point where I only made it all the way through one episode (the one Stephen King wrote). I thought the X-Files was trash, frankly, nothing more than rehashes of Scooby-Doo episodes, and it was painfully obvious that the writers had no idea how to resolve any of the longer story threads. I remained aware of the X-Files because my wife liked it (she has the entire series on DVD, and still re-watches them all from time to time), and because I worked in a comic shop in the late 90s.

The acting is also first-rate. When I first started watching Breaking Bad, I thought of Bryan Cranston as Hal, the goofy dad from Malcolm in the Middle. Hal is long, long gone now. There's not a trace of him in Cranston's performance by this point. It would be odd to go back and watch Malcolm reruns now, because I'll probably think of Cranston as Walter and wonder when somebody is finally going to drive that little punk Reese out into the desert and give him the bullet he deserves.

Giancarlo Esposito deserves every bit of praise he's gotten, too. He can express more with the slightest facial twitch than most Oscar winners manage in their entire career.

Enough rambling. Here's a picture of what it takes to get me to throw out a t-shirt. The last time I wore this shirt was to a Maplenoise show in September. It was in this condition by then. Partway through the concert, my wife suggested that I put my jacket back on. The shirt is solid black with orange and red letters - all of the light colour is a pillow I stuck in it to display the extent of its decrepitude. It's a Rez shirt, from the early 90s or so. The writing is (was) a Biblical reference ("For our God is a consuming fire, Hebrews 12:29"), written in the shape of a flame.