8/17/2015

Dangerous novelties

A dangerous novelty is something that people are attracted to, but could potentially be toxic.  For example, the alcoholic drink absinthe seems like a noble drink, but if too much is consumed, it can make drinkers very ill, thanks to the poisonous tree wormwood.

A person who is slick and savvy enough to woo people to join their cause, only to discover their ulterior motives are detrimental, is a dangerous novelty.  Dictators have gained power through charisma and smooth talk, only its people are then ensnared in poverty, misery, and the endless threat of violence.

In the eight years as President, Barack Obama turned from a historic novelty to a slick politician.  For all his charisma and rhetoric, people actually think he's still the solution to the nation's ills, if you consider capitalism and Christianity immoral.  His British counterpart is poised to take over the Labour party and introduce plans that would make old school Communists leap onto their tables and lustily sing Le Internationale.

When we're fed up with the status quo, we turn to the comfort of the charismatic, the ones who say, "Follow me and we'll (fill in unrealistic, but tailor-made promises here)!". The only problem: they find bugaboos and scapegoats for the masses to revile, hoping that enough lies sweep them into power.  Once in, those tailor-made promises evaporate, and the path to misery, regret and resentment begins.  Freedoms erode, indoctrination goes into hyperdrive, and dissent is snuffed out, first by ostracism, then by force, and finally by torture.  The only escape is death.

Should we avoid dangerous novelties?  Yes - if the maxim "if it's too good to be true, it is" holds, then those who are skeptical have every right to be and warn frequently; those who are blinded by dyspeptic populism and huge amounts of envy must be forced to witness those who were victims of that same rosy glassed look.

7/27/2015

Goodbye, Olympics

The death of Boston 2024 was deserved after many people discovered the real sports going on: greed, eminent domain seizure, squelching dissent, political favors up the wazoo, and warped aristocracy gone autocratic.

Had the Olympics been more of the spirit of sportsmanship and fair play, without looking at the althletes as meal tickets and goo-goo eyed tourists as walking ATM'S, Boston 2024 would have had a decent shot.

As Boston-based politics being parochial and only to serve insiders, not the public, the Olympics was faced against potent antibodies - throughout the political spectrum - that endured ten years of the Big Dig and $12 billion in cost overruns, a public transit authority that regularly flatlined during the winter, and the wholesale destruction of neighborhoods that were the playthings of corrupt political hacks (see: West End) or profit-hungry developers (see: the South End).

The USOC, to its credit and wisdom, pulled the plug before Boston citizens could recreate the American Revolution.  A brazen attempt to hector people to support an Olympics that passes off losses to the public while pulls in a tidy profit is part of the reason that the virtual pitchforks and torches were in full play.  

The IOC, the international, self-styled kleptocracy masquerading as leaders, with egos as expansive as the Orient Express, all but demanded its Boston citizens to bow to them, shine their shoes, and refer to them as "The Right Most Excellent So-and-So of the Olympic Diktat." (I can bet you the salute to these people would have been two middle fingers in a perpetual up-and-down motion.)

Boston wasn't going to get fooled again, especially with that kind of arrogant preening.  The USOC and IOC figured that we played by different, less-easy-to-slide-things-under rules and resistant to "just the way we like it" stasis and decided it best to pull the bid.

Whoever gets the 2024 Summer Olympics had better read up on the others in the past two decades, where corruption, gouging, transit chaos and radical protests were the norm.  Then they should plan and prepare accordingly - not just for the crowds, but for the criticism.

7/24/2015

Taking back MTV and TLC, or Draining the Pop Culture Swamp

I grew up with MTV when its primary source of programs was rock concerts and music videos, i.e. music.  I remember the days when MTV had unbelievable contests where an entire band would appear in the winner's home town, two souped up sportscars in hand, or give away front row seats to a band's entire concert schedule throughout the US.

That was in the eighties.  MTV was run by people who appreciated music, not ones who paraded every form of low common denominator in front of the screen, the point-and-laugh-at-the-irredeemible menagerie.

That goes double for TLC, which used to be the Learning Channel and has become "learn that all the drek we produce is for ratings."

One reporter has a great idea, but I have an even better one.

It's time to forcibly reclaim MTV as Music Television and TLC as The Learning Channel by cancelling every single show that does not involve music nor involves learning.

That also goes for A&E (Arts and Entertainment), the Discovery Channel, the History Channel, and any other channel - flush anything not related to the subject of the channel.

That means cancelling the Duggans, Honey Boo Boo, auctioneers, skeletal teenage mopers, attention-seeking nobodies, and anyone else whose only purpose is to be tabloid fodder.  Their fifteen minutes of fame is three hours too late.

MTV can dedicate 100% of its time to actual music.  MTV Jazz, MTV Metal, MTV Classical, MTV Country...give the hits to VH1 and split those up by genre also.  The Learning Channel can be a welcome alternative for college classes, with programs presented by colleges and universities across the nation...all for college credit.  And for thrills, the presentation and defense of a doctoral dissertation, rather than a group of wealthy, screaming, overdramatic women slapping each other for the cameras.  A&E can return from slogging storage wars to presenting national concerts, plays, and other forms of entertainment.

By restoring the actual intent of these networks, serving the public rather than serving a few board members looking to squeeze every penny of profit into their coffers, MTV and TLC and other networks who have lost their way can become respectable again by providing quality programming - not the watercooler tripe that is forgotten when returning to one's desk.

Over the past several months, I've watched classic TV shows that were well-written and entertained the public without shocking them into silence.  With very few exceptions, the programs today range from lukewarm to unwatchable.  I want my real MTV back, and that's what everyone should be demanding.

7/20/2015

Sister Mary Elephant's Diner

Remember the old Cheech and Chong skit where a substitute nun comes in and tries to quiet an unruly class?

It goes something like this:  Class...CLASS...SHADDAP!!!  Thank you.

In this story, however, the owner of a diner had her Sister Mary Elephant moment after 40 straight minutes of a young girl's crying.

I have three nieces and one nephew.  They are for the most part well-behaved, and their parents discipline them appropriately.  My own parents were firmly on the side of "you behave or else I'll take you outside and give you something to cry for," which shut us up almost instantly because we sure as hell didn't want to find out what the end result was.

These parents seem to be the ones who consider children to be small adults, and are very easy pushovers.  Two years old or not, it is disruptive to other customers to have non-responsive, passive-aggressive, milquetoast parents allow their kids to run the place.  (It's equally disruptive to have parents screaming at their children every five seconds because the children can't behave themselves.)

Perhaps it is the beginning of a movement, where people who have been restrained by political correctness all these years decide that if civility or politeness won't correct behavior, perhaps shock treatment will.  Perhaps not in the Parris Island sense, but with enough volume and propelled by furor to get the eyes snapping and the ears opening that what they're allowing to do is impolite, inconsiderate, selfish, and wrong.

Marcy's Diner will carry on with or without people too busy clucking their tongues until their their palate wears out.  For every whiny child, there are 999 others who will be perfectly behaved, polite, and appreciative they're getting a treat.  For every overprotective parent, there are 999 others who mete out discipline appropriately when it's warranted.

The owner is unapologetic, as she should be.  I sincerely applaud her for her tenacity and I'll certainly come up to the diner when I'm in Portland (of course, judging entirely on their menu!)

6/20/2015

Superjerk, Inc.

The former J Crew executive who partied and quoted Hunger Games after a mass layoff deserved to be fired, not just for bring obnoxious, but for using social media to salt the wounds.

One thing you never do after laying off or firing someone is brag about it in public, and certainly not on social media. Any other employer with a soup├žon of humility would have been figuring of ways to keep morale up, for the survivors, not acting like an arrogant fratboy.

This former executive, however, acted like a typical dudebro, waiting until the last laid off employee collected their box before becoming a total executive jerk.  Hence the snotty hashtags, the brazen attitude, the encouragement to dump all over the people who now must look for new jobs and stretch their budgets tight.

It's good that the management above him had the sense to give him a taste of his own medicine by booting him out the door, but other kinds of jerks are so smooth they get booted up the chain, rather than getting a very well deserved walk of shame courtesy of security.  Eventually, Karma intervenes and ejects this person from his lofty post.

Take a look at your hierarchy at work.  Notice the ones who have stayed there the longest, the ones you wonder, "They're too smart to be in the position they've had for so long!  Why haven't they moved on?"  They could be happy and comfortable in their jobs, a valuable and indispensable asset, or they simply feel where they are is good enough.  

In some cases, however, that advancement becones very hard when clique-heavy structure above thwarts them, one that fears outsiders disrupting their chummy little circle, who only wants to be social.  They despise people who "have a clue" because those people will show how inadequate and lacking their skills are, and will go out of their way to sabotage their daily work routine, and try their damnest to make that person leave by making the work environment very toxic.

The remedy for such antics like that at J Crew is to seek, employ and retain humble, tactful, empathetic people, ones who don't see laying off their lessers as an excuse to be loudmouths or to dance on the career graves.  That matters as much as seeking those with talent to do their jobs.  Sensibility and sensitivity are what keeps a company afloat, and keeps from employing superjerks at any level.

6/13/2015

Real comics don't play colleges

My first exposure to comedy was back in 1990, when during freshman orientation Ed "The Machine" Regine referred to yours truly as "Opie on Quaaludes."  From then until I graduated until 1994, that jest didn't cause me to shrilly demand safe space nor did it cause any triggers (although I've always wanted to write to Ron Howard and ask him if Opie did sneak in a little moonshine during the show, because he looked almost too well adjusted).

He's not addressing the college students who don't have time to be perpetually offended - STEM students have enough on their minds (and can make better jokes with some of the material out there).  He's addressing the students who make their entire four years an humorless series of political organizing, extortion in the name of Title IX, zealous pursuits of squelching dissent that would make the Spanish Inquisition proud, and agitating their way to permanent unemployment, prison time, or a grave.

Not every comedian seeks to destroy with their wit.  They seek to entertain, to see the humor in human nature, and to get a good laugh out of hard times.  To these hard-line humor defeaters, comedians care seen as the fearsome evil clowns on the college campus, ones to rip deep-seated beliefs out from under them (implanted by their equally hard-line professors).  To these people, throwing a supernova psychotic temper tantrum will prevent their prejudices and biases from ever being challenged, not realizing they're being mocked behind their backs.

A comedian with smarts would send a prospective college an outrageous technical rider (use your imagination here, including everything that would offend the hypersensitive), plus a hefty financial escrow should things "get out of hand."  Then at the bottom, write, "Just kidding! I know you can't get Columbian midgets who wrote a thesis on the decimalization of Indian currency in the 1950s, or that you can't get 400 pounds of durian fruit from Thailand delivered by the Mother Superior Emeritus from Our Lady of Lourdes convent in Lake Heaton, WI.  But it did make you think a little bit, didn't it?"  

The colleges that aren't offended will get a great laugh and sign the comedian up; the colleges that are offended will needlessly agitate and ban the comedian from their campus for no reason other than they're perpetually offended. And later, when told to lighten up, they blow up into a lengthy tirade about nothing - perfect for a post-Seinfeld episode.

5/24/2015

The indirect lesson of denial

The hardest thing to do is to make an exception to a rule.  It's even harder to say, "If I let one person do it, I have to let everyone do it."

That's what makes this story so hard. as it involved children who couldn't pay being isolated from the carnival, which included bouncy houses, popcorn, and loud music.  The ones who were denied that pleasure were herded into an auditorium with only a Disney movie.

Thinking more about it, however, the principal was showing the children - young as they were - what denial is. Even though the teachers who felt bad for these children tried to make them feel better, the principal was attempting to teach everyone that giving everyone a trophy or medal distorts what real success and hard work means  - and if you do not have those tools to succeed, you will be denied at every turn.  It's easier to learn that maxim now than later and in that instance, the principal was correct to insist on paying, even though it was harsh to deny those who didn't from participating..

Denial or rejection, when warranted and principled, is something these children will have to learn.  In high school, if they fail their classes, they'll be denied prom privileges, their cap and gown, the ability to attend their graduation ceremony, and their diploma.  If they slack off during their last term, their first choice for college, including all scholarships, will be revoked.  In the workplace, if they do the minimum of work, they'll be denied promotions - or even be terminated.

Yes, there are poor people who can't afford to pay $10 - either through happenstance or through a strict budget.  Parents likely told their children, "I have to account for every dollar.  $10 means less for food, electricity, and such, and I'll have to cut back elsewhere."  Then, the difference between sitting in an auditorium with no fun versus no dinner and no electricity becomes a sacrifice, rather than a punishment.  They may not get to have fun with their friends, but at least they come home to a decent dinner and a roof over their heads. 

Indirectly, the principal did these kids a huge favor - showing them that denial now may yield something bigger and better later, if they work hard enough to succeed and are patient enough to wait.  Moreover, you will be bitterly disappointed if you feel everything must be handed to you, above the fairness of others.

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