Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Kut the Kards

Perhaps there’s hope for humanity, and the world isn’t composed entirely of idiots after all.

I’m referring to the epic failure of the Kardashian Kard, a prepaid debit card introduced earlier this month by the monumentally untalented Kardashian sisters of E! Network fame.

Before it was pulled, only 250 of the cards – or “Kards” – were purchased, meaning that even the financially unsophisticated target audience who supposedly aspires to emulate the lives of luxury, extravagance and unflinching exhibitionism that are the creed of Kim, Kourtney and Khloe weren’t biting. (And what is with prolifically-breeding nut job reality show families, like the Duggars of 19 and Counting, and their penchant for naming all of their children with the same first consonant?)

Complaints of egregious fees caused banking officials to look into the matter, quickly resulting in outcry from regulating agencies like the Consumers Union and Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal. Aside from having to prepay the card to use it, cardholders could have racked up an additional $100 in annual fees on top of charges to cancel the card, add money to it, withdraw funds from an ATM, or even speak to a phone representative.

The family’s provenance doesn’t exactly inspire fiscal responsibility, considering its fame was launched by a graphic sex tape leaked by oldest sister Kim. Or that these spoiled, sniping young women are the offspring of O.J. Simpson’s pal Robert Kardashion, who may have helped to discard the bloody clothing and weapon used in the murder of Simpson's wife Nicole and Ron Goldman. Or that these girls have made a very profitable career out of horrifying their wizened stepfather, former Olympic athlete Bruce Jenner, with their general vulgarity, shallow consumerism and tacky public hookups.

It’s almost like a biblical pronouncement, and for once the money lenders were swept out of the temple. What next, Kardashians?

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

A Grizzly Scenario

One of the most ludicrous pieces of delusional nonsense I've read lately comes from a conservative columnist named S.E. Cupp. Attempting to analyze the woefully unprepared former governor's supposed popularity, she writes:

The reason Palin has become such a lightening rod, a kingmaker and a punching bag, a celebrity and a power player, is simple. It's because she's so gosh darn happy.

(A kingmaker? What does that even mean?)

You only have to see Palin speak to detect the thin veneer of upbeat boosterism that frames every inane utterance. She trowels on the soccer mom platitudes, playing up to her image as a woman of the people; it was the mannered falseness of her delivery that Tina Fey isolated and satirized so successfully. 

This is not a woman who is happy, regardless of how "flippin' fun" she says all those calculated family outings on her reality series are. As a Vanity Fair profile recently illustrated, the town of Wasilla, Alaska is littered with the rubble of citizens and former friends so burned by Palin's self-serving machinations that most will only speak to the media anonymously for fear of retribution. Her own staff has had to advise her to back off on her attempts to eviscerate her online critics, and her handlers, during her candidacy for Vice President, soon realized she was a hot-headed horror-show that even the most experienced spin team couldn't sculpt into something that resembled a viable candidate. 

Former future son-in-law Levi Johnston, who had unlimited access to the Palin household, described her as a negligent, abusive wife and mother who issued draconian chores to her children, sparred constantly with and threatened to divorce her supposedly perfect husband Todd, and referred to her own Down's Syndrome child as "the retard." 

Here's more of Ms. Cupp's tragic misdiagnosis of the situation:

"...nothing raises the ire of cynical liberals more than a happy-go-lucky, totally unburdened, freethinking and self-assured conservative woman who has everything she wants and then some. And without anyone's help."

Here's how I would amend that blurb:

"Nothing sickens liberals more than yet another inexperienced failed politician being groomed to become another puppet of the far right."

No wonder we're cynical.

Stop Being Crazy

I’ve got news for you: you’re not that crazy. How do I know? If you were among the small percentage of the population currently wandering the streets in tattered ballet slippers pushing a baby stroller filled with colored Easter eggs shaped from your own excrement, you probably wouldn’t be reading this with anything close to comprehension. I’d even wager that the poopy-pushing nut job yodeling outside your local Starbucks isn’t nearly as insane he would like you and society at large to believe. He stops speaking in tongues long enough to open the door for you in expectation of a tip, doesn't he?

There’s no denying that life is difficult. Or that the chaos and confusion of the modern world exists way out of proportion to the ability of our marginally-evolved brains to process and absorb it. Recent advances in our technologically-enhanced culture may already be rewiring the way we process information and formulate thought, so that very soon the average person will have difficulty locating a hamburger joint around the corner without consulting the ubiquitous hand-held device downloading signals from orbiting global positioning satellites. Our elected officials don't seem to have our best interests at heart, and big business makes a show of ecological awareness while befouling our air and water. And, as a rapidly growing population teems across the imaginary borders of our tiny blue planet, it’s natural to be a bit anxious about the subsequent distribution of our dwindling resources in the face of inevitable warfare and climate change. But does that justify succumbing to the seduction of medication and mediation, succumbing to an industry for which society had no need just a few generations ago?

What would you say fuels your neurosis, your psychosis? Financial worries during a time of economic uncertainty? A parent that never loved you? The fear of dying alone? The inability to find fulfilling work? Unhappy childhood experiences, followed by an adulthood that has been less than satisfying? I’ve just described the human condition, and there has to be a better way to navigate it than for us to collectively shell out billions of dollars to supposed practitioners that will only pretend to listen to our woes without supplying any applicable answers and trick us into “feeling better” by dosing us with complex combinations of pharmaceuticals.

At this exact moment, there are thousands of relocated Somalian refugee families thriving in the once-abandoned industrial cities of northern New England. Are they filling the waiting rooms of the local psychologists and therapists to sob and obsess about the civil war that displaced them, the ethnic cleansing efforts that drove them from their ancestral homes onto the sleet-frozen streets of Lewiston, Maine to serve as taxi drivers and kitchen crews? Not generally. Like any of us who have survived torture and turmoil, they have nightmares, they exhibit caution in strange surroundings, and they apply themselves to make the most of the current situation in which they find themselves. What about the young Chinese and Indian adults who work seven days a week and must pay, out of their meager earnings, to reside in squalid factory dormitories owned by American retailers, so that our overweight, over-indulged children can slink off to school with $6 backpacks?  Do they doubt their self-worth, and trouble themselves into a state of emotional instability because of their circumstances? No, they seize the opportunity to provide for their poverty-stricken families back in their villages and home provinces, and embrace the one afternoon they have off each week to date, dance, and dream of better things to come.

The simple fact is that throughout history people have persevered because they must. Cultural mass-insanity is a by-product of a leisure culture, one with enough time on its hands to feel sorry for itself, to indulge in weakness and childishness, and, worse, to allow itself to become so insecure it seeks solace in false cures and foolish promises. In short: suck it up. Life is hard. And you can stop being crazy now.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Half-Baked Alaska

It's hard to image what, exactly, the intention could be behind the new reality series Sarah Palin's Alaska.

If she really has presidential aspirations -- and we know she does -- then why give us this intimate little glimpse into the Palin household? My guess is that the reasons are two-fold: first, she simply can't resist the revenue that her celebrity began generating just two years ago when John McCain tapped her as his vice presidential running mate. This is the woman, after all, who walked away from her role as governor of her supposedly beloved home state in mid-term -- a position that pays a paltry $125,000 a year. She's managed to rake in an estimated $12 to $15 million so far.

The second is that it provides an opportunity to project a carefully-controlled portrait of the Palin family. We see Sarah exposing her brood to the natural wonders of the Yukon -- not missing an opportunity to compare the local wildlife with her own "grizzly mama" persona, even though they were actually watching Alaskan brown bears. And we see her being the firm and attentive mom she'd like us to believe she is, telling daughter Willow that no boys are allowed upstairs in their home. Nice touch, considering that with daughter Bristol one definitely got through the gate.

What you won't see on Palin's reality program, however, is a heart-warming interaction between Sarah and her husband Todd. He coordinates the fishing trips and glacier hikes like some hired hand, but there's no sense of marital happiness here, because that kind of connection can't be scripted. She even has him build a hastily-constructed 14-foot-tall fence to block the view of the writer next door who Sarah says is working on a "hit piece" about her.

And the most appalling thing about the show? It was the biggest series premier in TLC's history, with over 5 million viewers.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Cover Up Your Sheep

If anyone needed proof that the American public is still complacent enough to accept even the most ludicrous spin from authorities about disturbing topics, here it is.

I'm not a conspiracy theorist. But it's pretty obvious to even the most casual observer that the so-called Mystery Missile seen ascending into the sky just off the coast of Southern California the other evening was not a plane. Yet today news web sites and newspapers across the country are proclaiming "MYSTERY SOLVED."

Even Ambassador Robert Ellsworth, the former Deputy Secretary of Defense who evaluated the footage, never considered that it might be a jet or plane. "It's definitely a big missile," he says, and attempts to determine just what type. Jets don't shoot into the stratosphere at right angles to the earth. And viewed from more than 35 miles away, they appear to hang in the sky despite traveling near the speed of sound -- they certainly don't tear through the atmosphere like an Apollo rocket heading for orbit. They also don't emit broad fantail plumes that track their entire course.

Take a look at the news footage.

What's really shocking about this incident isn't that NORAD and the Pentagon deny any knowledge of what had to be some sort of missile test or, God forbid, an accident or demonstration of might from a foreign nation with a submarine parked just off our shores. What's horrifying is the lack of public concern, the lethargy of our elected officials to find out the truth, and the lack of investigation by the press.

Right, it was just a plane. And I have a big orange bridge I can sell you cheap.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Orange You Thrilled?

Many years ago, I worked in an office with a woman named Doris. Doris had been an affluent Marin County housewife whose doctor husband abandoned her for a younger woman -- which is why, at the age of 45, Doris found herself bitterly typing, in her hunt and peck manner, documents in a landscape architect's office. I suppose it goes without saying that she'd supported him through medical school.

This was back in the days when people still smoked in the workplace, and Doris smoked a lot. Our boss expressed concern for the company's new word processing system, imploring Doris to smoke outside because the particulates in cigaret smoke would certainly clog the equipment's processors. Doris would barely look up during these lectures, but when he left her to enter his large inner office she'd very purposefully blow a lungful of smoke straight into her computer's innards.

One day someone made the mistake of commenting to Doris about the sudden winning streak of a local sports team. Doris took a huge toke on her cigaret and blew a plume into the man's face. "I wouldn't give a rat's ass about it if they played it pantsless in Jello," she replied.

I felt a bit like Doris during the recent World Series, which saw the San Francisco Giants winning for the first time in 56 years. City Hall and Coit Tower were bathed in orange light in tribute to the team's jersey color, homemade fireworks twisted into the sky above the Mission, and the entire city erupted into a cacophony of blaring sirens, honking horns, and hooting fans. A million people attended the parade that pushed its way through downtown. And yet I cared not a particle for this achievement, and had no desire to be a part of this celebration. Why? I simply can't relate, or imagine what it would feel like to care.

I only have to hear that familiar tone of the announcer describing the action on the field, overlayed with the drone of the crowd, to be yanked back to those childhood days when my father would monopolize the living room -- and our one TV at the time -- to watch endless baseball games. I cared about them then as much as I do now.

I know that times are grim, and people will seize any opportunity to express joy and communal happiness. But all through the excitement I kept thinking that if all that energy had been expended toward something that really mattered -- Global Warming, say, or the slaying of horrifying politcal dragons like gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman, or even heartfelt causes that I oppose -- it would have to be more satisfying and worthwhile.

Last weekend I asked my 86-year-old father if he had followed the World Series on television. Dementia is rapidly closing in on him -- "they tell me I saw a bob cat," he said, as though the sighting happened to someone else -- and he sadly said he didn't think so. Days later, I can still see the orange-lit dome of City Hall glowering like a sunburned nose in the middle of the city's face. But the carbon levels are still rising, civil liberties are still disappearing into the ether, and the homeless are still pushing their carts through the Civic Center in its rosy glow.

22 Pounds of Flesh

It's been a while since I posted, and the reason is simple: I've been recovering from extensive oral surgery since October 5th.

I love how the periodontist's office glossed over the seriousness of the recovery process. Basically, they hand you a brochure that chirps, "some people find that they can actually resume their regular routine the very next day!" Right, if their routine consists of writhing on the floor in intense pain in a Vicodin-induced frenzy while cursing the periodontal industry.

One thing they forgot to mention, for instance, was that the procedure would expose the roots of half my teeth, making it impossible to ingest any substance that was even the tiniest bit above or below room temperature. And I had been told that my paltry insurance would at least cover $1400 of the $8200 I paid toward the doctor's master bedroom suite spa or next European vacation. That turned out to be more like $800.

So, it's pretty much over now, and things are returning to normal, or as normal as anything can really be these days. And though I wouldn't have minded losing a few pounds, 22 pounds was a bit much. I'll try blogging more regularly, if only for my own sanity, and see how that goes.