Sunday, March 31, 2002

DO WE EVEN REMEMBER THAT WE LIVE IN A REPRESENTATIVE GOVERNMENT?


I love baseball. Baseball is just as was said in Field of Dreams, a thing that connects us all to our country's past, a thing that connects us to our fathers and their fathers. Baseball is the American game. Bunting, banners, color guard, even presidents throwing out the first ball, all are a wonderful part of the tradition of American baseball.


So you can imagine that I'm anxiously awaiting the playing of tonight's opening game at Anaheim's Edison International Field.


And you can imagine how horribly depressed I was to see President Dumbya on the giant television screen at Edison Field, as large as any banner ever flown with a picture of Mao Tse-tung or Saddam Hussein.


Why are we, as a nation, so inclined to deify presidents when we fought a revolution 226 years ago to do away with despots? Am I being overly sensitive? Perhaps. I just know I like it when our president's visage doesn't look over throngs of thousands like he's the Ayatollah Khomeini of the United States.


SMALL FOOTNOTE TO OPENING DAY RANT


President Dumbya aside, the Angels now appear to be wearing major league uniforms again. Good for them.

Wednesday, March 20, 2002

COULD A STATUE OF SUPERMAN HAVE SAVED US ON SEPTEMBER 11?

Sometimes I'm behind, what can I say? I read today that Minneapolis, on May 8, will unveil a statue of Mary Richards (viz., Mary Tyler Moore) in her signature fling-her-hat-into-the-air pose from the opening credits of the 1970s Mary Tyler Moore Show.

That's wonderful.

Then, I read further, the statue is a gift from the TV Land cable network. Apparently it has a "landmarks" project, and "Mar" (as Murray called her) isn't the only television sitcom character to make it to bronze. In 2000, TV Land gifted New York's Port Authority Bus Terminal with a statue of loveable buffoon bus driver Ralph Kramden (viz., Jackie Gleason) from the classic show, The Honeymooners.

Having had my photograph taken in Tokyo as I stood next to an eight-foot bronze statue of Superman outside the Warner Bros. Store, it's plain that this idea charms me.

I don't know the marketing guys at TV Land (if they're listening, hey, call me), but if I could talk to them, here'd be some statues on my short list:

- Fox Mulder from The X-Files outside the FBI Building in Washington, DC. (It would need to be backlit in blue.)
- Adam West from 1966-68's Batman outside any Gold's Gym.
- Archie Bunker from All In The Family at 125th Street and Lenox Avenue in New York's Harlem.
- Barney Miller from the show of the same name to sit at a giant desk at 1 Police Plaza in New York City.
- Ricky Ricardo from I Love Lucy at Miami International Airport.
- Perry Mason from the show of the same name doing a little cross-examining outside the Los Angeles County Courthouse.
- Hawkeye Pierce of M*A*S*H outside the Veterans Administration Building in Washington, DC. (Smaller ones could be scattered at every VA hospital in the country.)
- Sgt. Bilko at the main entrance to the Pentagon in Arlington, VA.
- JR from Dallas in dowtown Big D (if there is such a place) and Capt. Nelson from I Dream of Jeannie at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, FL. (Or maybe it would be fun to switch the two.)

Your suggestions?
I WISH SOMETHING WOULD POP UP AN UNPLEASANT PART OF THEIR ANATOMY

It's possible this will sound silly to the type of person who cruises the Internet at the speed of broadband, who has a DSL connection, or who complains about the slowness of his T1 line. If that's you, I have one thing to say: You're way ahead of the curve, pal.

For the bulk of us who are in the great 68% of computer users who haven't stopped washing our clothes once a week in order to save a few drachma to upgrade to the newest, latest, greatest, we access the Internet at speeds slightly less than optimal. My own computer -- which is at least five years old now -- came equipped with a 33.6 modem that I haven't upgraded. My employer has a T1 line -- but the computer he's provided me is even older, slower, and lacking in memory than my computer at home.

The problem is, my advertising brethren seem unable to fathom that such devices exist. They assume that I've logged onto the Internet solely to look at their ads, usually stuffed with streaming audio and video requiring plug-in after plug-in (none of which my employer, for instance, permits me to install, anyway).

So while I'll be attempting to look at the latest news from the world -- Cheney's in an undisclosed part of Jordan, we're sending troops to Indonesia, we're targeting Iraq, and suddenly no one's reporting on the state of nuclear alert between Pakistan and India -- these bleeping little popups will interrupt the flow of data to the screen I want to look at and suck my computer's memory and the telephone line's bandwidth to ask me if I want to apply for a credit card, refinance my home loan, or buy a digital camera that's apparently made specifically to spy on beautiful women who appear to be on the verge of disrobing.

I can stare for quite a while at a screen while this irrelevant activity prevents me from getting on with my day (or my employer's). Often the screen itself is enough to cause my browser to choke, gag, freeze or bomb. Often I get error messages.

Whenever possible, I nip these things in the bud. As soon as I see one assembling in the front window, I try to click the "close" box before it scurries, like the vermin it is, behind the main browser window. Note to advertisers: When I do this, you've paid for an impression that was never made. If I miss, I close it at first opportunity. Yes, you've made an impression. Unfortunately, I use that information to make a brand preference for the competing product.

Clearly I'm in the target audience for these messages. After all, the whole purpose of the Internet is to provide a precisely targeted advertising medium. So then these advertisers are ignoring the needs of their target consumers.

Therefore, a modest proposal to the programmers for Internet Explorer and Netscape: A backdoor for consumers only that enables me to access the personal financial information and accounts of the creators of these web ads any time they appear on my computer screen. You want to slow me down, that's fine. I'm taking your American Express card and flying to Las Vegas for the weekend. Including the gambling and the strip clubs.

If that isn't sufficient, perhaps we can simply have a little button in the browser that enables us to send a debilitating Trojan Horse to every computer and server at the company whose ad interrupts me online. And let's not forget the various agencies that participate -- the web design company, the ad agency and the ad server.

Not good enough? Then perhaps we can build a central Internet database and slowly add the e-mail address of everyone at the offending company to it. When it's big enough, we can just subscribe them all to the Teenage Androgynous Amputee Bisexual Bestiality E-Newsletter.

Who's with me?

Saturday, March 16, 2002

SO WOULD THE DALLAS COWBOYS BE FRITZ THE CAT?

Stuart Elliott, the New York Times advertising columnist, asks this trenchant question:

"Aren't the New York Yankees tempting fate, or at least encouraging the taunts of fans of the Boston Red Sox, by agreeing to let the Richards Mint sell porcelain figurines of a Walt Disney character dressed in a Yankees uniform and calling it 'Mickey Mouse, New York Yankees.'"?


It does lend itself to make one wonder... are there other good cartoon matches for sports franchises? Popeye for baseball's Seattle Mariners? Has Kellogg's ever done a Tony the Tiger promotion with the NFL Cincinnati Bengals? How about George Jetson for the NBA Houston Rockets?

Here's an interesting idea: Let's give the government mascots. Perhaps the Supreme Court would be more accessible if instead of old guys (and token old women) in black robes, we thought of the Super Friends. The Joint Chiefs of Staff? The Power Rangers. Our president? Quick Draw McGraw. And of course, Vice-President Dick Cheney would be The Phantom.



Friday, March 15, 2002

TERRORISM: ISN'T IT PRETTY?

Our director of homeland security, former Pennsylvania Governor Tom Ridge, has invented a scheme to help us understand the scale of the threat facing our homeland (fatherland? Ċ¸berland?), something that even the first graders among us can understand. Five colors of the rainbow ranging from green (lowest threat) to red (even Captain Kirk can't save us) are all we 275 million Americans need to know about evildoers and what evil they might do to us.

Hope you're not colorblind. ("Sorry, honey, I thought it was a blue alert, not a red alert. Are you angry that Buffy and Jody were vaporized?")

I guess it makes sense. We're all familiar with "DefCon" from various cold war films and novels of the 1960s. (As opposed to "Def Jam," which, I'm sure, many folks would tell you was "da bomb" and not quite THE bomb.)

And as humans, we love to categorize things, don't we? We've arranged life into 13 phyla -- putting ourselves at the top, natch. We've classified stars by color and size. And don't get me started on people. One nose too large, one waist too thick, a few square yards of skin too dark, and that's all we need to know about that person across from us on the bus or walking through the airport metal detector.

Of course, this is the kind of crazy thing that happens when six thousand years of human history results in aiming a half-million pounds of jumbo jet at a few buildings. And it's so frighteningly clear that you can connect the dots between the building of the pyramids and the collapse of the twin towers without all that much difficulty. It's the new party game: Get from Tutankhamen to bin Laden in six moves or less.

But about our new rainbow of death. We're right now at alert stage yellow, which is right in the middle between it's-safe-to-walk-bare-ass-naked-downtown and o-my-God-they've-blown-off-my-ass.

So let me ask Tom Ridge and his new kind of Rainbow Coalition -- President Dumbya, Dick "The Undisclosed One" Cheney, Rollin' Colin Powell and Condoleeza "Wild" Rice -- if we're only in the middle of the scale, why on Earth are we already lining up support to overthrow Saddam Hussein? If that's a three response, what did Dumbya do when his daughters got caught drinking, chop off their beer-hands at the wrist? Fine, it isn't fair to point out that if we hadn't supported the muhajadeen we wouldn't have had Osama bin Laden and if we hadn't supported his war against Iran, we wouldn't have had Saddam Hussein, and if Bush the Elder had taken Hussein out in the first place we wouldn't have had to leave it to junior. But let me simply say that all I perceive from this is that our foreign policy since 1979 has been an extra-long Three Stooges movie. They're plumbers, see, and as they try to fix a leaky bathroom faucet they wind up destroying the tub, dismantling the kitchen sink, putting the kibosh on the water heater and flooding the basement.

Oh, don't go accusing me of supporting Osama bin Laden. Or even giving his al-Qaida pals aid and comfort. It ain't like that. But dear lord (whichever one you pray to), let's hope that while we're all going color-happy here and sending in the troops in whichever country looks more yellow-orange-reddish to us, that we actually make the right calls. Because, really, there are a lot of targets here in the US, and we haven't even begun to consider all the ways that evil can be done without a commercial airliner.

Thursday, March 07, 2002

THE SINS OF YOUTH

When I was young, I read comic books. They were an important part of my life. One day I might even go into some detail about how my moral code came more from Mort Weisinger's vision for Superman than the Catholic church.

But.

What was frustrating to me as a youngster was how most adults -- and even older kids — seemed to not be interested in what I found fascinating.

And now, today -- well, comic book super-heroes are all over the world. Just a random sampling of what's available now and soon:

- SPIDER-MAN, which opens in May. Marvel stock has doubled since January and increased 500% since 2001's low.

- THE HULK is due in 2003, directed by Ang Lee

- SUPERMAN 5 is in development, to be directed by very-hot (thanks to BATMAN 5 is in the works

- The WB is developing a television pilot called BIRDS OF PREY, featuring DC Comics characters Black Canary and The Huntress

- Upcoming parody THE HEBREW HAMMER features Adam Goldberg as an Orthodox Jew

- Kevin Smith, who has worked in both comics and films (can any comic fan not appreciate MALLRATS?) has been writing for both DC and Marvel Comics

- Sean Connnery is set to appear in the 20th Century Fox version of Alan Moore's LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN

- Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner are lined up to appear in an adaptation of DAREDEVIL

And there's more every time I turn around. Comics are where the cost of imagination is unlimited. It costs just as much to make a blow-everything-up-heavy-on-the-cool-graphics comic book as it does a talking head comic book. As opposed to the cost of your typical Arnold Schwarzenegger flick versus your average Sundance entry.

Like most things, it's probably a trend, but it'll keep me looking at flicks and the tube for a little while longer.

Vote here for your favorite comic adaptation — past, present, or future.

Sunday, March 03, 2002

OSAMA BIN BIG BROTHER

I have yet to put a lot of my thoughts about life post-9/11 into print of any sort, including quick e-mails to friends. We've personally been very lucky; people we know who worked in the World Trade Center weren't there at the time, or got out before the buildings collapsed.

Since then, we've been considering all sorts of "homeland" security measures.

First off, let me point out that "homeland" reminds me far too much of "fatherland." The latter was a nation that used intimidation and the perceived threats of ordinary citizens to perpetrate all manner of hideous crimes.

Poor nomenclature is one thing. But consider, if you will, some of the other things proposed in the wake of Osama bin Laden's September attack on the US, and think -- really think -- about whether they make sense.

For starters, a national identification card. How dumb an idea is that? Giving the US government -- does anybody remember Waco or Ruby Ridge? J. Edgar Hoover? Nixon's enemies list? -- a weapon by which to maintain a database of our photos and important information is just scary, and I'm one of the six Americans left who still thinks government is capable of doing more good than evil.

If we want something that will let people get on an airplane without being subjected to an intrusive search, then perhaps the way to do that is to have some reliable third party create a special air ID card.

And remember, kids: Next time someone who won't have to report your income to the IRS asks for your Social Security number DON'T GIVE IT OUT!

Saturday, March 02, 2002

INSTANT MOVIE REVIEW: THE LAST SEDUCTION

You saw it all coming, and you loved it, didn't you? Kind of like THE SIXTH SENSE, but Linda Fiorentino is much prettier than Bruce Willis.
FADE IN:

MIKE'S CUBICLE - DAY

Mike sits at his desk behind four-foot-tall felt-and
particle-board walls. Papers are stacked on his desk in a
manner comprehensible to none of the office staffers who
pass by. His hands are on the keyboard. As we ZOOM IN on
the screen, we see that the letter K has been typed for
six solid lines.

Mike is asleep.

JUST OUTSIDE MIKE'S CUBICLE - CONTINUOUS

We see Mike just out of sight of his file cabinet.
Coworker #1 walks by, pauses briefly, shakes head, moves
on.

Time passes. The camera remains fixed.

Coworker #2 walks by, pauses briefly, shakes head, moves
on.

Coworker #3 walks by, pauses briefly, shakes head, then
strides into the cubicle. This is ELIZABETH, MIKE's wife.

ELIZABETH:
Wake up, oh husband of mine.

MIKE:
Mmmmffph.

ELIZABETH grabs a sheaf of papers from the desk and
whacks it across his head.

ELIZABETH:
It's clear you need some herbal tea with
gingko biloba. It will make you more
alert.

MIKE:
Okay.

Mike's head falls on his keyboard.

That story is true, more or less. Every day at work, now, my spouse brings me a heaping Starbucks promotional cup full of herbal lemon ginger tea. I drink it dutifully, and it isn't bad tasting. I may actually be receiving benefits from it.

But imagine, if you will, the dutiful spouse who starts feeding a new substance to her husband. Is it really lemon ginger tea... or is it something more sinister?

Yes.

Perhaps... Mountain Dew?

Anything but that!