Monday, September 28, 2009

Good Old Civil Disobedience

If you read the Pennsyltucky entry from a few days ago, you might be interested in this follow-up, which talks about a march protesting the Pennsylvania arts tax.

I've got mixed feelings on this, partly because it's Monday morning and my brain isn't awake, partly because the idea of an organized resistance of artists sounds like a really nerdy stand-up routine. "And a battalion of sculptors staged a carve-in today..."

Artists are, by definition, not the most organized of individuals, and usually not the most combative, so for them to actually band together in any type of organized civil disobedience speaks volumes about how troublesome this issue is. Unfortunately, in our society, artists tend to not be taken seriously when matters of state are being resolved, so it's still unclear what the outcome will be.

For now, Pennsylvania continues its march toward being the most backwards state in the union.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

A Note to MLB

So, I'm blogging live from my couch where, with beer and pretzels, I'm watching the second game of a double-header between the Phillies and the Marlins. Now, I won't comment on the Phillies' ongoing game of musical chairs in the bullpen, but I have to take note of the pathetic attendance at "Land Shark" stadium. It looks like a high school baseball game where only the parents and girlfriends make up the audience. That's pathetic.

The Phillies are the current world champions and the Marlins are in the running for a playoff spot. All they can drum up is a paying attendance of a couple dozen? Okay, let's think about this. It could be the ticket prices, because anything on the lower deck will cost north of $50. It could be that Florida just isn't a baseball state. I mean, there's no early bird special, because tv sports don't run during the week at 4:30. It could also be that Major League Baseball has bitten off more than it can chew. What do I mean? Simple: there's too many damn teams.

It's not longer special to see a big league game, because there's a stadium in almost every city, and your team is always on TV. So, many games are played in almost empty stadiums to crowds watching only in their living rooms. I'm not such an old fart that I'm gonna start complaining about the good old days of baseball, but I will say that maybe it's time of the leagues to contract. Fewer teams would mean higher quality players, and will make a trip to the park a true special event, possibly worth the ridiculous ticket prices. Meantime, stop showing games from empty stadiums. If you people don't care enough to see your home team live, why should I watch your pathetic town's excuse for a ball club?


Generally, I've argued against this derogatory moniker for our commonwealth. I live in the Philadelphia portion of Pennsylvania, so we're largely urban, partially cosmopolitan, steeped in history, and rich in diverse culture. The only people to generally call us backwards are New Yorkers, and they feel that way about everyone who isn't a New Yorker, so you don't take that one personally.

I have officially revised my opinion, however, in light of this week's budget dealings out of the state capitol. This backwards state is now, in an attempt to balance the budget, going to levy a tax on arts-related events and institutions. You can read today's coverage from the local papers by clicking here. When this kind of move gets legislative traction, I have the feeling we may be insulting Kentucky, rather than Pennsylvania, by blending the names.

In whatever world it makes sense to tax the arts, which are chronically underfunded, I can't help feeling the cultural end of days is near. It's like taxing mass transit to offer automobile rebates. The irony is, of course, that this tax will mostly penalize Philadelphia and Pittsburgh which are rich in artistic and cultural institutions, and not so much the rest of the state where they guzzle gas and eat squirrel pie, hunted by theirselves with them semi-auto guns we nazi liberals cain't take away.

I suppose I shouldn't make fun of them like that because it's cultural elitism, but... maybe someone should drag them -- not necessarily into the new millennium -- but at least up to the enlightenment. Because you know what? Philly and Pittsburgh count for the largest portion of the state tax revenue. Without the income we provide, there is no state budget. At. All. So having state legislators from backwards counties taxing culture would be like us taxing, hell I don't know... squirrels?

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Leno a-go-go

Did I miss something? I must have, because from where I was sitting, The Jay Leno Show looked and played exactly like the Tonight Show, just at 10, instead of 11:30. This is what Leno took 3 months off to come up with? Yeah, he got a new set, but he didn't get a new set of anything else. It's the same old white guy brand of humor with musical guests selected to connect with the kids. Overall, the show was not only boring, but uncomfortable. Jay clearly doesn't do well in the "two chairs" interview format and even Jerry Seinfeld's Schtick couldn't make it less painful to watch.

Presumably, it comes down to whether you like Leno. He's never been a particularly daring, or insightful comedian and as he ages, his humor has become noticeably rigid. You need a rim-shot after every punch-line. As a performer, he's about as supple as an I-beam. He can't roll with punches in his set or in his interviews. It's like watching Don Rickles' stand-up routine circa 1957. That might have been okay 40 years ago, but on prime time?

Leno's been doing the "headlines" bit since even I was a kid and of all the things to carry over, it seems the least likely to translate to today's audience. Newspapers are dying faster than his jokes, but he still wants you to send him headlines? That's the definition of "behind the curve".

The "interview" with Kanye West -- an accidental coup since the rappers were booked well in advance of Kanye's MTV VMA performance -- was ridiculous, serving only West's own narcissistic desire for more airtime, when what would have been fair would have been to bump him altogether and give the platform to Taylor Swift.

I'm well aware of the economics involved in making the show, and how low the threshold is for Leno to be considered a success in prime time. Hell, he's even cheaper than a reality show to produce. But if this is all he's got up his sleeve, we'll all be bored to death by sweeps.

Friday, September 11, 2009

In Memorium

As we, nationally, have a day to reflect on the events of 9/11, I wanted to point out something that seems to be getting lost in the shuffle: this wasn't a day that only affected New Yorkers. The impact was not only felt by those directly connected to the towers or the Pentagon. The lives lost are worthy of remembrance, but we must also acknowledge the toll that was taken on the country as a whole.

I clearly remember the panic in my mother's voice when she called me. I was a father at home with two young children and didn't have the TV on. After my mother called me, and I saw the images, my first thought was to get my wife out of downtown Philadelphia, because no one knew where the next plane was going to hit. No one knew what was happening, no one knew what was safe. The fear and anxiety of that day still lies close to the surface of many Americans, not just those in Manhattan.

We all lost something that day, as a country.

What A Bas-turd!

I was asked to defend my listing of Inglourious Basterds as one of the crappiest movies of summer (see Useless List side-bar), so off we go. So you understand where I'm coming from and don't think this is purile Quentin bashing, you need to understand a few things about my personal film philosophy. Film is primarily a visual medium, one that immerses an audience in a story they experience in a very visceral way. It's a manufactured reality wherein, if it's manufactured correctly, you are unaware you're experiencing something manufactured. In other words, you get lost in the experience of the story. Thus, anything that takes you out of that experience is a flaw.

How can you tell when you've been taken out of that experience? When you find yourself wondering things like, "I wonder how hard it was for Brad Pitt to keep his jaw jutted and talk like he had a can of beans up his ass?" At that point, you're one step away form making mental grocery lists and the film has lost you.

The causes of this wandering of attention are legion in this film, and across Tarantino's films in general. The main flaw for me is the incessant, pointless dialog. Many people who love his films, love this inane chatter, but dialog is the purview of the theater, where, because of physical limitations, life must be lived out loud. When this much dialog is jammed into a film it feels fake and stagey. And when it comes right down to it, when the characters are prattling on, they aren't that interesting. If they're not interesting, I don't care about them; if I don't care about them, I'm wondering about Brad's jaw again.

I could discuss the disturbing identification with the Nazis or the palpable hatred of women that runs throughout the film, but I don't want to sound like a politically correct turd, so I'll pass over that.

Let's just move on to the real reason this film was at the top of my crap list for the summer: it was boring. QT ratchets up the tension to the breaking point in individual segments, then just lets the moment pass on by, like you're watching an old friend depart. Long after you've stopped caring, THEN the big bang will come along, more often than not in a flurry of incomprehensible action. That's most noticeable in the underground bar scene, for which the ending was telegraphed a good 20 minutes (felt like 2 hours) before you get to it.

In the end, this film isn't about Nazis or Jews or WWII or even Brad's jutter, it's about films. That's infuriating. There are references from Once Upon a Time in the West to Cinderella, with the Marx brothers and Dirty Dozen thrown in for good measure. It's like the film was assembled by the ultimate idiot savant fanboy with turrets. It's a kind of filmmaking that draws attention to itself at every turn, pulling you out of the story. You always suspect QT is lurking behind you, winking, "did you fucking see that, pretty fucking cool, huh," with every celluloid reference to better, more original films.

Tarantino continues unabated his post-modern scrapbooks masquerading as original films, and based on box-office, he's going to make more, so I'm going to stick out my jaw and look for a can of beans. Maybe it'll make the next film more interesting.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Bookstores Suck

I never thought I'd write those words, but Borders really blows. Today is the drop date for what many critics are calling the last significant release of a CD for the entire format: the Beatles Remasters. If you've avoided the hype or aren't that into the Beatles, fine, but honestly, I was ready to plunk down a big chunk of cash to listen to those discs today. Since I didn't pre-order online, I figured I'd drop by a store and actually buy one retail.

Who would have imagined that any store selling mass media would not have a copy of the box set? Not just one store either; both the stores in my area were sold out. I don't live in the middle of nowhere, some place where they still rail against that newfangled rock-n-roll. I live in the Philly area and we tend to take music seriously, so you would think that the stores would have actually stocked a new release someone was likely to buy. Except they didn't, or at least didn't have enough. I humbly ask: what the fuck?

Now that Borders has put almost every independent bookstore out of business and then essentially become the wal-mart of people who read, Borders can't even properly handle their supply of product. I realize I'm talking about music and not books, but they can't handle the book business, either. If you shop in a Borders regularly, it can't have escaped your notice how many linear feet of books have disappeared from your store lately. As their quarterly earnings tumble, Borders continues to scale back on inventory, rapidly turning into a big fat version of an airport kiosk. I've got nothing against bestsellers, but I find the whole turnabout ironic: Borders put all the independents out of business because their big-box bookstore could carry a deeper selection of books. Now, unless you want to purchase 30 or so copies of Twilight, you're probably going to be shit out of luck with books, as well as I was with cds.

I tried: two different stores and an hour out of my day traveling around just to support a bookstore. I was willing to pay a little more for it to support the retail establishment. Times are tough, right? I'm also the kind of guy who buys something from them on principle, even if I don't need it, because I love going into stores and looking at books and I don't want them to disappear. Now, I've revised that notion. Under this business model, they deserve to go down the toilet. You won't find anything in their doors that hasn't already been pre-sold to you, and you can get that cheaper elsewhere.

So, I went home and ordered my box set from Amazon. It took about a minute, will be delivered to my door cheaper, and I didn't have to use any "member coupons." Borders hasn't really been Borders for a bunch of years and when the shadow finally fades, I don't think I'll miss it after all. I've got a library right across the street.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Bang for the Buck

Today, the New York Times reports that America is the world leader in arms sales. I suppose it's good to be the tops at something, since in the past few weeks every statistic that's come to light has proven our health care to be inadequate by world standards. We sure can sell hard machinery to kill people, just not fix the political machinery that prevents saving them.

$37 Billion dollars is the magic number for US arms sales, accounting for almost 70% of sales, worldwide. World. Wide.

There's an obvious irony here. Where are the huge public debates about the ethics of selling arms? Billions of dollars made on selling weapons to kill people in emerging nations doesn't really send the right international message, does it? Should we replace the stars on our flag with bullets?

Fixing healthcare should be a no-brainer. Helping people, especially those less fortunate, to meet basic human needs, is never a bad thing. Yet that message has gotten lost in the scuffle of verbal assaults. We're losing a battle of American Identity and we're morphing into a petty nation that focuses and touts our differences rather than celebrating our common humanity.

Saturday, September 5, 2009


From today's news, life imitates art as a great white prowls Cape Cod, looking for seals, or other blubber-coated mammals.