Wednesday, February 25, 2009

I Can't Haz Billion Dollarz?

I am very excited. I get to do a follow up article! It's like I'm a real journalist. How often do you get to be angered by something more than once? It's like lightning striking twice, and hitting you in the shins each time. Very exciting.

In one of my more popular posts, I reported on Leona Helmsley, loaded Hotelier and frequent feature in the New York Times crossword puzzle who passed away back in 2007. In a move which is part out of love of animals, and part out of spite for her free-loading family, Mrs. Helmsley left her $6 Billion estate to a charitable trust dedicated to the welfare of animals, and dogs in particular. She reportedly got this idea from Hotel For Dogs.

Now 6 Billion dollars is the type of thing that you go to court for. That is just what Leona's freeloading brother and grandsons did. Much to the dismay of Leona's Bichon Frieze, today a court ruled that the trustees are free to assign benefactors as they see fit. Mrs. Helmsley's relatives say they will use the money for charities which covers ", medical research, human services, and education... ." This of course translates into "... our wives' plastic surgery, wives' experimental plastic surgery, hookers' plastic surgery, and putting our kids through college... ."

I'm not a huge fan of this ruling — if I will my heirs to flush my estate down the toilet in small denomination bills, they better damn well do it, or I will haunt them. However, there is apparently legal precedent that leaving billions of dollars to a dog is insane.

That's right, someone has left there entire estate to dogs before.

But, it is probably for the best that this ruling went down the way it did. The Helmsley estate is worth more than the GPC of some small countries, and I have never been one to trust charities... doing things for free, sounds fishy.

Above: Slum-dog, not Billionaire. Still cute.

Are the Oscar folks caving to peer pressure?

Granted I haven't yet watched the Oscars this year, nor have I seen the majority of the nominated movies, but something just doesn't feel right about a lot of the results (and nominations). The two awards I agree with, although I haven't seen more than a few clips from the movies, are Sean Penn for Milk and Kate Winslet for the Reader. But Slumdog for best picture? Heath Ledger for best supporting actor? Penelope Cruz for best supporting actress? Oh, and Robert Downey Jr. nominated for his role in Tropic Thunder? Either the Oscars are really trying to please everyone this year or the other movies must have really sucked.

Don't get me wrong, I really loved Slumdog Millionaire. It was sad, happy, and everything in between. The story was heartwarming and the characters were great, so was the music and cinematography. But it was ridiculously cheezy and unbelievable, or at least the whole destiny crap was. Some parts were pretty predictable and by the end I wanted to scream when they showed that scene of Latika at the train station for the 8 bajillionth time. I left the movie feeling happy I'd seen it, and did recommend it to a few people. But I wasn't going around saying, "You MUST see this movie immediately!!!" like I did after seeing No Country For Old Men last year. So either the Oscar folks were afraid that the world would egg their houses if they rejected it, or perhaps they simply wanted to pick a feel good movie (if death and betrayal make you feel good) since we're living in some fairly depressing times. 

Heath Ledger did a great job in the Dark Knight, but I'm sure the other actors did great jobs in their respective movies as well. I kind of feel like if Ledger hadn't died, his nomination would have been similar to Johnny Depp's nomination in Pirates of the Caribbean. A nice head nod of appreciation but no real expectation that he would win. Although, looking at the other nominees, everyone else looks boring-oh and Robert Downey Jr. is in this category too. What competition! Would he have won if he hadn't died? Maybe, but I'm not so sure. And once he was nominated, how could he ever lose? 

Penelope Cruz's win really pisses me off. Marisa Tomei did a great job in the Wrestler, but the writing for her part sucked so she didn't have a great chance of winning. But I've heard that Amy Adams and Taraji P. Henson did great jobs in their roles! And Penelope Cruz? She played the same part she's played a million times. Crazy Spanish woman who seduces main character, comes off as kind of evil, and then shows that she has her weaknesses so that we all fall in love with her? Oh I've seen that one! Was it Blow? Or was it perhaps the Italian Non ti muovere? Yeah, I'm pretty sure that's the one (although Cruz is technically supposed to be Italian, not Spanish, in this movie)

So kids, this year's Oscar lesson: You too can win awards if you just remember to take too many sleeping pills and play the same role again and again until someone eventually pays attention to you.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

How wrong was I!

It's finally Oscar night! I'm so excited, I just got to watch three hours of Tim from Project Runway pretend that it is cool for Penelope Cruz to wear an 8 year old dress, and it is finally time for Hugh Jackman to come on to stage! Oh my god Hugh Jackman! He is singing AND dancing! This is amazing! He can pick up Ann Hathaway? That means he can totally lift, like, 35 lbs!

Oh, but now it is time for the first award! The counsel of elder supporting actresses had come out to present the award. It is my first opportunity to be wrong, and I do so brilliantly! Penelope Cruz! But she is wearing fashions from eight years ago! I suppose this is great for her though, it is amazing that she has overcome our latent stereotypes: that Woody Allen movies can't have good acting. I guess she was channeling Jarvier Bardem, that must be what she is saying in Spanish.

Why are the writing awards now? Is the Academy finally admiting that they don't give a shit about writers? How come space chimps didn't get nominated for an Oscar? Damn you Wall-E! Well maybe they should have been Kung-fu space chimps! I am totally copyrighting that! Don't steal it, this idea is going to put my kids through college!

Now for the technical awards which no one really understands what they mean, and usually get thrown away to whoever spent the most money. Daniel Craig and Sarah Jessica Parker are on stage, I would totally sleep with one of those people. I'll let you guess which one. Benjamin Button just got its first win for make-up, because it was difficult to make Brad Pitt look any more like a twelve year old?

Now, Fifteen minutes of Seth Rogen and James Franco are pretending to be funny again. There is something about them smoking pot and watching every major Hollywood movie produced last year. I don't remember there being this much self advertising in the Oscars. When did Meryl Streep become the new Jack Nicholson? Hugh Jackman has acknowledged her existence way too much. I guess this is what happens when get a Broadway star to host... speaking of which he is now dancing with Beyonce. I might be wrong about the Milk thing, this has been the gayest Oscars ever.

What is it with this whole award gang-bang thing that they have going on? Why do they need five best supporting actors give a dead guy an award? By the way... I totally called this one! This makes me 1-1! But then again, this has been coming since last April. You go ahead and cry Ann Hathaway! You'll probably have to die before they give you any awards.

It's time for the Documentaries, which means its time to check out what else is on TV. Bill Marr... Blah blah blah... Ooooh, shiney car chases and... Benjamin Button won for visual effects? Did you see Slumdog Millionaire? They somehow got that girls skin to get like 8 shades lighter as she grew up! That is totally the same thing as Benjamin Button! Oh, they just took film editing, which is like visual effects but artsy-er.

Now we get a Jerry Lewis montage with Viva La Vida. Which gives me an idea: we should totally neuter Coldplay! Oh man, and that guy totally just prayed to Allah on stage! Here go the ridiculous best song performances! At least they are all Bollywood, which adapts very well to cheesy stagyness. Oh man! They are keeping the Bollywood dancers and beat for the Wall-E song. The auto-tuner is messing up on this guy, way to pull a Kanye! I just got my second call right: Slumdog swept the songs!

Slumdog just took best director, who apparently is the whitest dude ever. Here goes the line-up of former best actress women, they are not nearly as old as the supporting actresses, and a little more French. Oh, damn, Kate got it making me 2-2. But I have my revenge as she now has to fight all the previous Best Actresses to the death. Funny story, this tradition is where Adrien Brody broke his nose.

Ouch! I just lost the best actor too? This is terrible! At least Sean Penn agrees with me that it makes no sense that he won. And Best Picture! I totally blame Stephen Speilberg for this one. Even though it is small consolation that a good movie won.

So to recap, Slumdog Millionaire was the big winner, and I was a loser going 2-3 in my picks for oscars.

Friday, February 20, 2009

The battle of the overly zealous atheists versus the I'm gonna cry about it believers

Religion is always a tricky subject. No matter what you believe in (or don't believe in), chances are that you have gotten into some terrible debate about it. Someone is going to wind up getting defensive. I don't really care what you believe in as long as you accept the fact that my beliefs are my own, and that you try to be a good person because you want to be a good person, and not because someone else told you that you should be. If you want to spread your religion to others show them why they should share your beliefs. Don't tell them that they'll go to hell if they don't-because according to the New Testament, that's not how Jesus got all his followers. And don't tell people they're idiots for believing in a bunch of hocus pocus because that's just going to make people angry.

Typically I've found it's the believers who tend to get all up in your face with the "this is what you should believe in business." From billboards stating "What part of 'thou shall not kill' don't you understand?"-God, to pamphlets at Halloween declaring:

"There is good and bad news for you. The bad news: You are a sinner. The penalty for sin is death."

Flip the page to see a little smiley face and "The good news: with Jesus Christ you can hope to find your way to Heaven :)"

However, the atheists (at least in Britain) are stepping it up a notch to compete in this "who can be the number one asshole?" game. They're doing pretty well. Here are three examples:

1) Atheist ads on buses and in Underground trains. At first I thought that this was kind of cool. Then I thought about it a bit more and found it kind of obnoxious. Are people going to change their religious beliefs because of a bus ad? I certainly hope not. Will it make people annoyed? Most definitely. One bus driver already refused to drive any bus with the ad on it. And a group of Christians responded with this ad, which I find more obnoxious than the atheist one. 

2) The next two might not be directly fueled by atheists, but there is an overbearing sense of secularization at any cost. A nurse was suspended without pay for asking a patient if she could pray for her. Okay, so she shouldn't have done it, but what's the big deal? Did she say, "If you don't pray, you will die and go to hell?" No, she asked if she could say a prayer so that the woman would get better. She didn't try to convert anyone. Did anyone consider that this woman was being kind? I tutored ESL for a while and one of my students was so happy that her English was improving that she ran outside, brought her husband inside, and asked him to tell me that she was going to pray for my happiness in the future. Did I scoff at her and tell her that this was an unacceptable way to talk to your tutor? No! I thought I was going to cry because her remarks were so heartwarming. 

3) This story disgusts me most of all. A woman's daughter got told off for talking about heaven in school. The mother was brought to the headmaster's office and informed that her daughter should not be discussing these things in school. The woman went to her church and some friends to ask for support, and as a result, may be fired from her job. What??? Oh, guess what? Her daughter is 5! Five years old. You can convince five year olds that rain is made up of God's tears, that monsters will eat them if they don't eat their vegetables, and that thunder is really just angels bowling. How is a five year old going to understand that the God she has been told to believe in her whole life is not acceptable for the schoolroom? Talking about religion when you're young is how you break stereotypes about other religions. I learned when I was about 7 that Jews didn't believe in Santa, when I was 8 I knew that Muslims were the people who made all that noise early in the morning while I waited for the school bus, and informed a Protestant friend when I was 10 that Catholics didn't necessarily believe that all non-Catholics went to hell. Throughout my life I've had friends who've been deeply hurt because of how others view their beliefs. But not discussing it doesn't make religious differences disappear, instead it solidifies them and makes them harder to overcome. That little girl is going to grow up being very confused about what she is supposed to believe in. Is her mom right? Is her teacher right? What has she done wrong? This is a lot for a 5 year old to grasp.

Why should religion be singled out in this way? Why is the kid's mom potentially going to lose her job? If her daughter had called another child fat and said he/she ate too many biscuits, would the mom be in the same spot? No. The daughter would probably be pulled aside and would be told that's not polite, the mom would probably get a phone call, but that'd be it. Unless the kid started bullying other kids or becoming a consistent problem. I firmly believe in the separation of church and state, but I'm not sure that a five year old expressing her beliefs is a violation. Keeping a monument of the Ten Commandments outside a US court house? Yes. Outlawing gay marriage on the principle that marriage is sacred? Yes. Five year old talking about heaven? Absolutely not. 

Saturday, February 14, 2009

A Valentines Day Quickie

I'm totally late on this one, I'm need to start thinking ahead and making my holiday specials before the holiday is over.

As you are no doubt aware, February 14 is Valentines day. That special day of the year when jewelery companies take time to remind you that she only loves you as much as you spend on her necklace. I would like to thank the BBC for this article which I sum up here: Maybe not having a place to sleep tomorrow is sexy, flipping burgers is not. I don't know how these geniuses' come up with this, and the British thought it was their duty to educate everyone else on the planet at some point. Warning, this article is pretty intense, my job is in no way in jeopardy, but I'm scared to death that I might be too stressed to have sex. It even features a picture of a young man crying after failing to "perform" in bed, talk about undercover photo journalism. .

However, some people aren't in a relationship, so have created Singles Awareness Day, mascot seen to the right. I point out, Valentines day has always made people painfully aware that they are single. Apparently, the official way to celebrate singles awareness day is by dressing up and making black and white You Tube videos. (I would have embedded this, but the Aussie bastard forbids it). People are aware of singles, and maybe if you weren't so whiny someone would be interested in you.

Friday, February 13, 2009

I Love Pancakes!

The recession is deepening, you can tell in subtle ways. Fortunately all crises have their upside. Chain restaurants are getting hit hard because people are staying in more, and as a result, the chains have started to make a push for more customers. As a result we are getting little gems like this one from Denny's. I fell asleep watching TV, and woke up to this:

I totally want one!

Friday, February 6, 2009

Every 4 Seconds...

Right now I'm reading an interview on the Wired Network, with Maggie Jackson about her new book Distraction. In this book, Maggie talks about how our fast paced society is eroding our attention span. Ironically, no one will read her book because it takes too long. If she is such a specialist on attention, she should have made a 15 minute infomercial with the Sham-Wow guy, he knows how to get your attention.

While, I am always skeptical of anything psychologists say, I am writing this while trying to read an interview and watch the Tonight Show with Jay Leno, so there may be something to what she is saying. However, I think that she is a little late on the scene with this. Since the advent of TV, our attention spans have been getting shorter. When working in mass media, the goal is to grab peoples' attention. We have come to expect things to be constantly grabbing our attention, and get bored if this doesn't happen.

We can do a little experiment of our own. In TV there is something called the four second rule, which states that there should be a major change on screen, at most, every four seconds. So after every major change (a camera cut, a major shift in screen dynamics, a dude being mauled by a lion) start counting, you'll notice that you will rarely make it past four before there is another change. This works especially well with commercials and prime time television.

This is where my obsession with advertising comes from. I am always amazed at how well people have distraction down to a science. Whether it is those annoying Green Peace volunteers who stop you in front of Starbucks, or the ShamWow dude on your TV, it is very hard to avoid people who are vying for your attention. It is no wonder that we are conditioned to expect distraction, and feel out of place when we don't get it.

I'm even having trouble concentrating on one thing to be pissed off about in this article. When asked whether there is hope for adults whose attention spans are lacking, Jackson responds, "The only sort training going on now in the office world is meditation-based... ." She inadvertently points at the other source of our attention problem. Rather than realizing that we need to learn to deal with situations where you need to pay attention, we try to make the problem go away by taking drugs. Then again, I suppose no one makes any money when you learn to cope with your problems on your own.

Jackson goes on to talk about what the affects of a ADD society might be. Of course, she has to grab your attention with the hyperbole of saying that we will be plunged into a second "dark age". In this future hell-scape she envisions, people are distraction-junkies whose loyalties belong to those who can shout the loudest. Where we are addicted to gossip, we get our information from sensationalist news, and learn science from watered down newsstand paperbacks.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009


So many things have angered me over the past week that I can't even manage to use proper words anymore. I really wonder about this world sometimes...

1) The battle between footnotes/endnotes and bibliography formatting. Come on guys, do you really have to be different? Why must I put an author's first name first in footnotes but have to put it after a comma and the author's last name in the bibliography? Why commas in one and periods in the other? Parentheses vs. no parentheses. Why? Why are you not exactly the same? Why an indention for the second line of one but not the other? 

2) London's inability to remove the ice from the sidewalks in my neighborhood. Don't you people have an overabundance of salt? It's not like you use much else to flavor your food. 

3) This guy is a douchebag. 100% Douche Extraordinaire. If I had more energy, he'd get a post of his own. 

4) That crazy lady who has a bajillion babies. She claims she's "obsessed" with having babies. But 14? And no husband? How would she even be able to look after all those kids on her own or afford them? She doesn't even have a job! It's not like she accidentally had all these babies, she got fertility treatments after she already had six kids!!!!!!! Oh wait, I know how she'll pay for them. By getting famous. Lame. 

5) News coverage of the lady with a bajillion babies and of Michael Phelps. What was that? Iran is potentially up to no good? I'm sorry, I was too busy being stunned by crazy lady and Michael Phelp's being his usual douchey self to notice. 

Monday, February 2, 2009

How many S's in Punxatawney?

So it has happened, Punxatawney Phil was too hung over from his post superbowl reveling to come out of his hole this morning, and has doomed us all to 6 more weeks of winter. Way to go Steelers, you might have won more Super Bowls than any other team in history, but now I have to pay for oil for another 6 damn weeks!

What is it about groundhogs day which captures our imaginations? Usually when I use an animal to predict the future, I just cut it open to read its entrails. What else could possibly bring us to care about Punxatawnassassipi Pennsylvania. A quick gander at the Wikipedia tells me, that like all great American traditions, Groundhog Day has it's roots in medeval pagan holidays.

Whatever the reason, this holiday fuels small town economies all over the country, and gives morning news show anchors to do for once. It had given birth to a classic Bill Murray movie. There are even some weird spin-offs. Like Bostons Drowned Hogs Day which is a holiday dozens of drunk Bostonians jump into the harbor, and if their nipples go point, we get six weeks without erections.

It could be the cute animal, or the quaint old-fashioned feeling of looking to nature to tell us the future, but something keeps us coming back. Maybe this year, Bill Murray will finally blow up that damn groundhog. (or was that a gopher?)