Sunday, August 19, 2007

Un-news, Celebrity trash, and the big 30.

Neil Postman should be rolling over in his grave right now. TMZ is ready to bring their own Television show, and NBC is going to put it where Wheel of Fortune is now. And that in itself is okay, because they are putting Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune on the WATL channel together. The significance of this is that they believe that a show by TMZ is more important and will draw more ratings than a classic game show that has been a staple of people's lives for years. And you know what, they're right.

The concept of un-news, a show about the celebrity nonsense that is created up by Hollywood, is one that has been around for a while. Entertainment Tonight has been on for ages, but with the concept of the Internet, and more importantly, the ability for anyone to take pictures, shoot video, to make news by themselves with online blogs, youtube, myspace...etc..., proves that news is everywhere, and is easily sold to those who could make money from it. People thrive on the idea that superstars rise and fall on a whim. A person on a pillar is positioned so that someone can knock the pillar over. It is the way that this world works, unfortunately. People are so ready to see the downfall of the famous, and the media knows this, so anything they can do to bring about gossip and maliciousness, they will do. Because it sells. Perhaps this started with the O.J. Simpson trial; certainly it exploded with it. And Michael Jackson, and now the teenage girls that seem to be so much in the news.

And this would, in some small way, not be so bad. My life isn't really effected by these idiots that take such perverse pleasure in ruining somones life. Nor is it effected by the celebrities that decide, for whatever reason, to deliberately take those plunges into controversial actions in order to make their sick form of celebrity even more acute. It does bother me a whole lot when the actions of such teenage sluts (for that's what they are), effect the lives of people I care about. And not always in a conscious way. The lives of Brittany Spears, or Paris Hilton, demonstrate that the lives of the controversial and morally questionable can actually be desirable. It causes teenage girls who want to emulate their "role models" to do things that they would not normally do, like not eat, or have promiscuous sex or do drugs...etc... And with people that I care about, this bothers me.

But does showing the filth of today's society bother the media at all? No, it does not, and for justifiable reasons. According to the media, people are attracted to those stories... the Nielsen media group says as much, and so it's what the majority of the people want, and since that's the case, the media is going to provide this. And whatever the majority of the viewing public wants, that's the best thing for the media because they want the largest possible base of viewers to sell advertisements from sponsors. Which makes the stations money, and which causes the viewers to go out and purchase those products. A very justifiable excuse to promote the denigration of today's ethics and morals through showing the downfall of role models, and putting that in a positive light. So while this is news, according to the media, I call it "un-news," because instead of having at least a neutral effect on people's lives, or even a positive one (it is necessary to know the weather, the stock reports, consumer information, even the sports reviews, for entertainment purposes), instead it shows a negative side of life, and places them all in a positive way for the people that want to emulate them. So I would suggest a boycott of any news stories that would show "un-news." It would be the only way to effectively change the material being thrown at us everyday. Not that I expect this to happen, but I do know that when TMZ starts their show, I will not be watching.


I could take this in any number of ways now, but I choose to take lyrics from a gospel song by the Gaither Vocal Band:

The call of fortune made me a pilgrim
To journey to fame's promised heights
But as I climbed, the promise faded
and wind blew lonely all through the night

Mark Lowry does such a great job with this song. I think it all boils down to realistic goals.There is so much hope placed in the lottery, in American Idol, in grand dreams with slim chances. And while it's good to work towards your dreams, focusing in on realistic goals (joining the High School Chorus rather than dreaming of American Idol with no steps in between.) is a much better way of doing what you enjoy without putting (excuse the cliche) all your eggs in one basket. Because sometimes the price you pay for going for an unrealistic goal is too great. For athletes, steroids take too high a stake on the body. And sometimes the things that future actors or singers will do bring nothing but misery and pain. When goals are not achieved, or they seem to far out of reach, sometimes people will take other measures to escape from the perceived failure of that goal. Drugs, sex, running away... etc. All to attain a dream that was too high, too unrealistic. Further, the constant bombardment of the controversial lives of people like Spears or Lohan (who was such a great actress before she flushed her life down the toilet), only further emphasizes that those behaviors will help achieve the lifestyles that they are currently living. It's so sad, and when I think of people with such promising lives ahead of them, wasting it on such frivolity... There are so many wonderful things to be done that does not require entertaining people or even having large amounts of money. I am content with my life (although I have goals and desires to make it better). If I died today, I would be satisfied with what I've already done, with the people that are a part of my life, and of the people I have helped and the memories I have made. It's all good. It doesn't take a lot of money or having done something incredible to achieve this. :) ***

I'll stop rambling now. It is my birthday today, and I'm 30 now. And I'm happy.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Steroids, creating a level playing field

There has been a lot of conversation recently about Barry Bonds and the home run records he has broken, as well as the Home Run chase of 1998. Everyone saying how they are all cheating, and that they all have to have an asterisk put by their records. Recently, there have been books released defending the actions of Floyd Landis, the bicycle racer. There are growing arguments about these and other athletes about how using enhancing drugs to build muscle, to achieve greater records, to get better contracts, whether or not their accomplishments should even be recorded if they have been convicted of using them. Well, I want to play devil's advocate here, because there are many points where steroids, et al..., could be considered justifiable....

The rules for using technology in different sports (the latest, the greatest) differ widely, and mostly because of financial reasons. In NASCAR, if a team doesn't have the money to invest in their cars as the more widely known teams, then those new innovations in the cars would be a distinct advantage for those with more money. To level the playing field, NASCAR inspects and fines those drivers whose mechanics have used parts that are not sanctioned by the sport. However, new and improved golf clubs or balls are frequently used, making longer shots attainable. So why does Jeff Gordon get fined, but Tiger Woods does not?

It is therefore reasonable to assume that new technology in the fields of human development, such as vitamins, hormones, steroids, drugs...etc... should either be allowed, or not. It becomes clear from the above argument that the leveling of the playing field is caused not because of cheating concerns or because of a concern for the health of the players, but rather because not everyone can afford to take pills to make more muscle mass. In a true consumerist society, there would not be a concern for the health of players, and indeed, there are some who feel this way. It would be better, and far more profitable for the athlete in question to take steroids, be wildly successful, and be paid muchas dollars, and then worry about the effects of steroids later. It is reasonable to assume that health technology will continue to develop drugs that will change the mass and density of muscles, creating more superhuman athletes than the natural born athletes of years past. It is also reasonable to assume that steroids will be created that have less negative effects on the human body. What then if the drugs have no discernible negative side effects?

We have already reached the time when all records broken are done with the help of some aid, technology, or development that people like Jim Thorpe did not have in the early 20th century. And so the records should probably stand side by side, as those of the natural era, and those of the technological era are achieved so much differently. Not an asterisk, but rather two different records.

And there will be further records broken, and achievements made with the creation of artificially enhanced human organs... eyes, or arms, or regulatory systems that will make tiring at the end of the game a thing of the past. Science fiction has already seen this played out in novels, and it is safe to assume, much like cell phones, the internet, and other incredible advances, that one day, those bionic additions to the human body will be accessible to those people, like athletes, to afford them. How then will we regulate them, and when records are broken with the keen perception of an eye that is not human, will those records have to have asterisks as well, or will they be totally new records?

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Book Reviews: Harry Potter 7 & The Book of Lost Things

Book Reviews: HP7 and The Book of Lost Things by John Connolly.

First off, let me say that I loved the whole Harry Potter series, although there were some books that were better than others, as any book series would be. The seventh book is not my absolute favorite (that would be 4 and 6), but it is not the worst, either (5). The last book, is, however, the spring to complete the philosophical nature of the books, and bring together a mythos that rivals the best of English Literature or American Movies. I will defer the actual review to Orson Scott Card, who I mostly agree with. The interesting thing about his review is that he starts off by describing how and where he read it. I think this important, because there are very few books that can universally be described in this fashion. I can recall where I was reading Sorrows of Young Werther, but that's just because it was an epiphany of Romantic thought inside my conscious mind. Or Lord of the Rings, and that is probably one of the few book(s) that can be talked about universally in this fashion. Nor can any book be compared to movie premieres like Rowling's works have been with the decorations, the fanfare that comes with the release of each one. My Leaky Cauldron sign has gone home with me, one that I used for three release parties, as well as my grandmothers 1850's rice kettle and my big blue stuffed snake. Rarely does a book have a significant effect on the countries' economy as HP has done. The movie industry was hurt because everyone spent money and time on the book rather than going out to see a movie. It is significant to see the way that a book effects everyone's lives outside of the book itself to realize just how important and amazing it is.

As for the book itself, the seventh volume, the philosophical, moral, literary arguments have already been made. I find it ironic that the themes of the last book are almost Christian in nature, which would surprise a lot of people that are trying to keep the books from school libraries. Of course, the ironic thing is that the movie that's coming out this December, the Golden Compass, was written by Philip Pullman, a well known atheist, whose last book is spent making God the bad guy. .But most of those arguments are spelled out more clearly on OSC's website, which I gave the addresses for in the last blog entry.


I want to go more in depth in reviewing John Connolly's The Book of Lost Things.Think of Hemingway writing a fairy tale, and add the bluntness of Koontz or King. Sparsity of description, vagueness of color in the land of Faerie, which, by necessity must be vague. The novel is an amazing addition to Ende's Neverending Story or King's Eyes of the Dragon. Perhaps the most intriguing parts of the book are the stories in which Connolly takes the original Grimm or Andersen fairy tales, or tales from mythology, and twists them into horrible, although strangely realistic, tales that, for some reason, fascinate David, the protagonist. The coming of age tale, the Bildungsroman, also blends into this novel, recalling Tolkien's Hobbit or many of Orson Scott Card's works. You feel sympathetic or repulsed by each character in the tale, and this is significant, because Connolly uses little description or dialogue by which to establish reader emotions. You identify with the characters because of a priori knowledge, or in other words, the characters are real because we have encountered them many times before, in stories and in our own real lives. The Crooked Man could be Mephistopheles, or Satan, or Rumpelstiltskin, or the villain of King's The Stand. There are characters representing the stepmother, the oppressed worker, the hopeless Romantic, the societal outcast, etc... amazing story-writing, and I agree with him in one the interviews he gave on his web site that this should be a stand alone book, without sequels, because it is one story among many in the land of Faerie, and that David's story is told to the fullest, and needs no follow up. I read this book right after HP7, and it was the perfect "rebound" book, as it were, with no "series commitment" to be made, but a deep and thought-provoking novel that kept it from falling flat after J.K. Rowling's tome.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Happy Birthday!, Reprise, Gorillaz, Michael Vick Redux.

First off, Happy Birthday to my Yurble, who turns 1 year old today. I joined Neopets one year ago (although I could have joined it much earlier, like in 2000), and I can tell you that it's an addictive, wonderful way to waste time on the World Wide Web. The TNT has done a great job of making the virtual world one that makes you feel like you're at home with it, and, despite their recent attempts at the "Neomall," the site is totally free. The Altador Cup was amazing (although we didn't win, Mystery Island came in 5th place), and the plots recently have been engaging and fun. I look forward to getting 1 million NPs, leveling up my Yurble, and being able to beat the bosses at the end of the plots. And if you want to join Neopets, just let me know, and I'll send you a referral card.


In Borders a few days ago, I rang up a customer, a mother, with her daughter (about 5 or 6) and her grandmother. All throughout the transaction, which was kids books for the child, she begged for candy, interrupting her mother, which told her no firmly. Which was all good, until her grandmother stepped in and bought her the candy she was whining for. All that did was reinforce the idea that her grandmother loved her more than her mother did, because Materialism, in today's society, is Love. I've already written blogs about this, November of 2006, so I won't re-hash that, but it was worth noting that sometimes, if the parents say no, the grandparents say yes, and that's not always a good thing.


i've been listening to the Gorillaz CD Demon Days, which is not something I would usually listen to, but it caught my attention when it was being played over the radio at work. It's what I call a concept album, because it's not one that you listen to for individual songs (although "Feel Good Inc" was a single hit), but rather it is a work of art, a masterpiece where images are painted through sounds. And I've looked at the Lyrics, and found that, for the most part, they don't really make all that much sense, but that, in this rare case, it doesn't matter. The words themselves make a landscape of sound (the word "soundscape" was used for Paul Simon's latest flop, Surprise and so I don't use that term). And this makes sense, because, according to the Gorillaz unofficial fansite, that was what the band creators were attempting. It was a sojourn through night, through the terrors and dreams and sounds and issues of the night time, with social commentary thrown in. Very well done, and although I do skip the tracks where a lot of rapping is done, I appreciate this work much more than other hip-hop/rap music. The last three tracks make up a theatrical story that, along with the video of Feel Good Inc., produces a world that is at once mesmerizing, foreboding, and nostalgic, all at the same time.


Okay, since I said something about Vick in my earliest blogs, I'll say something about the recent events as well. I think that we can all agree that Vick has talent athletically, and that he could have been a really good Quarterback (see my earlier post, October of 2006). However, that has now all been flushed down the toilet because of his own choices. There is nothing to be done for him now except prayer. We all have the urges to do things violent or wrong, and we have to abide by the laws that society and our culture sets down for us. Moreover, we have to understand that the choices we make that effect other people (or animals) must be made with their best interests. Obviously Vick has made the wrong choices, and the sad thing is, that he might not learn from the bad choices, even if he does wind up in prison. We can only pray that he does. If football (organized violence) isn't violent enough, then go find a good video game to beat people up on, and not taking things out on wives, friends, strangers, or animals. I think that's one reason violent video games can be a good thing, although there are many arguments to oppose that theory.

And why, oh why did they trade Matt Schabb to the Texans?????? Well, hopefully Joey Harrington can thrive under Patrino, and he can return to the excellence he had at the University of Oregon.

Next time I'll post my review of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows without spoilers (I think) and the appropriate links to OSC's reviews and arguments. I'm sorta waiting until he does his review to post mine, so I can link to it.