Wednesday, March 31, 2004

Faux Slamma Jamma

One of the first stories I saw on CNN this morning was about a girl basketball player named Candace Parker winning the high-school slam-dunk championship (competing against All-American boys). My bullshit meter lit up immediately.

A story I read later in the day mentioned that the competition was set to be shown on ESPN tonight. Sounds like a job for the PVR ...

And thus I present Cap'n Ken's Too-Deep Analysis of Insignificant Events. Tonight's episode: Lady is a Scam.

I recorded and watched - frame-by-frame, backwards and in slo-mo - the "competition" just now. Let's compare the girl's performace and scores to the guys'.

In the first round, our heroine's first dunk was a basic-as-it-can-be one-hand "dunk" that barely slid over the rim. She scored a 70 (out of a possible 80). Her second was the exact same dunk, except that she passed the ball behind her back during the dribble (not while in the air). That got her a 75.

Here's an actual photo of her fabulous style:



I'd show you a picture of one of the more-spectacular guy dunks, but apparently nobody took any.

But among the moves and scores for guys in the first round were:

A 360-spin, one-hander: 77
Bounced off the floor; caught; one-hand slam: 71
Bounced off the floor; caught; two-handed pump: 75
Bounced off the floor; caught; two-handed tomahawk: 68
Two-handed slam, touched on backboard first: 71

Each and every dunk made by a guy in the first round was superior in style and execution to the girl's, but only two of them scored higher than her 75.

Thus, after the first round the girl was in fourth place, having performed two dunks that I could pull off - albeit on the 9' 10" goal in the park by the cemetery - back in college.

Then, in the final round (the top four advanced), she did the exact same dunk as her first, and scored a 69. She then did the exact same barely-over-the-rim dunk again, except she came at the rim from the front and got a 75. Her final dunk (you get three in the final round) was the exact same dunk as the one before, except that she put her arm over her eyes for one step during her approach (again, not in the air or anything), and the judges went damn nuts. She got a 79 (the highest score of the night).

Having finished fourth in the first round, she had gone first in the final round. Her 223 points (74.3 average score) was completely undeserved, but not unbeatable (the top two finishers averaged 75 a dunk in the first round).

So the guy who finished third in the first round stepped up - and proceeded to muff two of his dunks (you're allowed one muff) and put himself out of contention.

Then the guy who finished second stepped up - and muffed two dunks, taking himself out of contention.

Finally, the guy who finished first stepped up - and muffed two dunks, taking himself out of contention.

The guys were forced to try too-difficult dunks to try to compete with the inflated scores given the girl, and each one blew it.

So she won - by default. The judges pumped up her scores because she's a girl. I don't think they expected her to win; it was probably meant as a "feel good" move "Aw, isn't that sweet - a girl made the finals."

But their tiny little Affirmative Action program backfired. They inflated her performance too much, and the guys who should have won blew it trying to compete with the charity.

Of course, you didn't see that part on the news. Do a Google News search on Candace Parker dunk and you'll find headlines such as:

"Women's Basketball Hits New Heights"
"Parker slams boys to win dunk contest"
"Girl makes giant leap for womankind"
"Dunker leaps over gender gap"

The lead of the ESPN.com story read:
There are moments, stunning indelible moments, that transcend sport, crumble barriers and create icons. ... On Monday night, in a cozy high school gymnasium southeast of Oklahoma City, a 17-year-old high school senior named Candace Parker turned in the latest moment.
Jesus tapdancing Christ.

It's a huge hunk of bullshit, people. But I guess that doesn't make as good a story.

Turns out the music just sucks

Researchers at Harvard and UNC have determined that file sharing has only a limited effect on record sales. Their findings, of course, drew quick rebuke from the RIAA (they're lucky they didn't get sued, I guess).

But what they found reflects exactly my habits in "illegal" music downloading, and I guess it holds true for others.
"While downloads occur on a vast scale, most users are likely individuals who would not have bought the album even in the absence of file sharing"

Exactly.

I grabbed Jermaine Dupri's "Welcome to Atlanta" off of Kazaa some months ago, mostly so I could burn it out on a CD and piss off the wife by blaring it as we're driving around the 'hood. But there's no chance in hell I was buying whatever album it's on, nor would I have bought the single. Therefore I stole exactly $0.00 from Jermaine and his record company.

I also got a bunch of David Allan Coe's old X-rated country stuff from Kazaa. It cracks me up, but I wouldn't have bought it. So Coe's also out $0.00 thanks to me.

The list goes on an on. If anything, these artists are ripping me off by getting (a very tiny bit of) free publicity every time somebody riding with me or standing nearby gets an earful of a downloaded song.

Monday, March 29, 2004

I arrived home this evening to find the new issue of Rolling Stone in the mailbox. No, Ben "Ice" Affleck was not staring at me from the cover; this was the RS "Immortals" issue.

This is the first of three special issues scheduled this year to celebrate the 50th birthday of Rock & Roll. RS sets the birthday, by the way, as July 5, 1954 - the day Elvis recorded "That's Allright" at Sun Studios. Sounds reasonable to me.

So "Immortals" sets out to rank the 50 "most important performers in rock & roll history". They got 55 people who know rock & roll - from David Geffen to Rick Rubin to Pete Townshend to The Edge to Chrissie Hynde - to create a list of the 20 most important figures in rock & roll, then they computed the votes to come up with the top 50.

And all in all it's a pretty well-done list; certainly much better than anything VH1 has come up with on its "rankings" shows. Here's the breakout:

1. The Beatles
2. Bob Dylan
3. Elvis Presley
4. The Rolling Stones
5. Chuck Berry
6. Jimi Hendrix
7. James Brown
8. Little Richard
9. Aretha Franklin
10. Ray Charles
11. Bob Marley
12. The Beach Boys
13. Buddy Holly
14. Led Zeppelin
15. Stevie Wonder
16. Sam Cooke
17. Muddy Waters
18. Marvin Gaye
19. The Velvet Underground
20. Bo Diddley
21. Otis Redding
22. U2
23. Bruce Springsteen
24. Jerry Lee Lewis
25. Fats Domino
26. The Ramones
27. Nirvana
28. Prince
29. The Who
30. The Clash
31. Johnny Cash
32. Smokey Robinson and the Miracles
33. The Everly Brothers
34. Neil Young
35. Michael Jackson
36. Madonna
37. Roy Orbison
38. John Lennon
39. David Bowie
40. Simon and Garfunkel
41. The Doors
42. Van Morrison
43. Sly and the Family Stone
44. Public Enemy
45. The Byrds
46. Janis Joplin
47. Patti Smith
48. Run-DMC
49. Elton John
50. The Band

Now, I'm not going to act like I know better than 55 rock "experts", but I have to take exception with a few things here.

First, dead people got way too much of a boost just because they died young. Hendrix at 6? I wouldn't put him quite that high given his early exit from this Earth. He had the potential to be top 5, but staying alive should count for something.

Also in the "dead boost" category, see Marvin Gaye, Otis Redding and Nirvana (they must have been Geffen's No. 1). Great artists, all, but they ended up higher than they would have if they hadn't kicked it early. And I really take issue with Nirvana being at 27, above The Who, The Clash and The Doors. Sure, Cobain & Co. (thanks to Mr. Geffen) changed the face of rock in the 90s, but was it even for the better? We have them to thank for ... what? Incubus? Can you really put Cobain/Grohl ahead of Daltrey/Townshend, Strummer/Jones and Morrison/Krieger?

And death didn't seem to help Buddy Holly and Janis Joplin. Buddy's only 12? Sure, he died young, but look at what he did in less than two years. Just three years after the birth of rock & roll, he reinvented it. I say swap him with Jimi (6) and Jimi with Aretha (9) and things are better at the top. And Janis at 46? That's just wrong, man.

I'll try hard not to go off about Johnny Cash being down at 31. Obviously, RS pays no respect to country (unlike blues & soul, which place a lot of artists on the "rock" list), so if you judge JC just on his "rock" work, I guess that's about right.

More random complaints:

- Prince is way too low
- The Clash is way too low
- The Everly Brothers don't belong in the top 50
- Couldn't they find two more artists to push Elton John out?
- There's too many non-"rock" folks (James Brown, Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles, Sam Cooke, Muddy Waters, Marvin Gaye) in the top 20. Like Cash, they belong, but not that high up on a "rock" list
- Willie Nelson should be here

As I mentioned, I think this is a pretty good list. But I'll give my top 10 for what it's worth:

1. The Beatles
2. Elvis Presley
3. Bob Dylan
4. Chuck Berry
5. The Rolling Stones
6. Buddy Holly
7. Led Zeppelin
8. The Clash
9. Jimi Hendrix
10. Little Richard

Saturday, March 27, 2004

Salazar endorsement withdrawn

As much as I hate to do it, I'm pulling my "endorsement" of Theida Salazar, a candidate for the Georgia House of Representatives. Loyal readers of the Wisdom will remember that Salazar or someone associated with the campaign found and returned my wallet when it went missing at a Braves game last year.

And although I'm still grateful that I got my wallet and cash back fully intact, now that Salazar has a website up and I know more about the candidate, I have to withdraw my support.

First off, it turns out Salazar is a dude, not a lady. Is Theida a guy's name? I have no idea, but I'd assumed it to be a woman's name. That's not a factor in the withdrawal of my support, but worth noting.

And the fact that Salazar is a Democrat and supporter of unions also wasn't the main reason I'm withdrawing my support; but he certainly didn't win points with me there.

What I can't abide is Salazar's butchering of the English language, as represented on his website. My impression is that Salazar - despite what seems like a Hispanic name - was born and raised in America, and therefore should have a decent grasp on our language. But here are some gems from Theida's site:
"I am committed to serving this diverse district with the same degree of excellence it embodies. I was born and raised here and this is where my foundation as a citizen, and leader were developed."

This is his mission statement. The first sentence makes no sense whatsoever, and he manages to misuse both a comma and the word "were" in the second.
"The need has arisen to effectuate progressive leadership in the 44th district. We currently are stagnated in our inability to elevate ourself due to ineffective representation.

...

Finally, their is a dire need to alleviate apathy amongst the community in community interaction and political involvement.

...

I have a referendum that networks, markets, and advertises people based upon their efforts in the community. This is the motivation, and inspiration needed to effectuate a change post haste."

Beware those who use big words to no real effect and don't know the proper forms of "their", "there" and "they're". And stay far away from people who use the word "effectuate" ... twice.

The last bit in the Salazar manifesto refers to Theida's big idea - Honesty Incorporated. This, according to Salazar's bio, is what Honesty Inc. (he's the founder) does:
"This organization attempts to alleviate the apathy we have in community involvement. Our objective is to inspire growth and elevation in the community by marketing, networking, and advertising those people who strive to make a difference. In essence, you perform some venue of community service, and we advertise your services (profession) to the public."

Sorry, I should have told you to take a Tylenol before reading that.

So, after suffering through Salazar's site, I feel it's time to effectuate a change in my opinion of Theida - post haste.

I do still have him or a staffer of his to thank for returning my wallet. So thanks, Theida. And good luck with Honesty Incorporated.

But you're an idiot.

Friday, March 26, 2004

Framed followup

I owe you Wisdom fans a payoff on my hunt for frames for two LSU National Championship pieces I picked up last month. If you recall from my first piece, Michael's wanted a total of $325 to frame a front-page poster from The Advocate (The Baton Rouge daily, not the national gay newspaper) and a Sugar Bowl print.

And that was Michael's "50% off" "sale" price. They wanted me to believe I'd normally pay $650 to frame this stuff.

Of course, I passed on this deal and turned to my friend, the Internet, for a better solution.

I ended up finding Frames by Mail, a site specializing in custom frames at affordable prices. I just picked out my frames, entered the dimensions and in a couple of clicks I had an order in.

A week or so later, the frames (already assembled) arrived at my door. I unpacked them, stripped the backing off the plexiglass pieces and put my prints inside.

They look good.

And the price? Just $71.27 for both frames, including FedEx delivery.

Take that, Michael's.

Mr. Trump will see you now

Word is that Jim Miller, the executive producer for CNN's Anderson Cooper 360 and Paula Zahn now has been canned, reportedly because of "inappropriate" remarks and behavior toward female workers within CNN.

I'd never heard of Miller before today, but if he's the guy responsible for the kickass bumper music (including Radio Clash) on AC 360, he'll be missed.

Thursday, March 25, 2004

Music milestone

Over the past two months, I've managed to earn 15 credits at iTunes from the Pepsi free download giveaway. This gift of music would mark an important milestone in my life; the first music I would purchase in purely digital form.

I began to think back to the other music-purchase milestones in my life. And here's the ugly truth:

• First record - Ray Stevens' "The Streak". My dad went to college with Ray Stevens here in Atlanta, and I'd known about him because of that. When The Streak hit big when I was 7 or so, I had to have it.

• First album - Bill Joel's "Glass Houses". Yes, I'm ashamed about this, but I'm man enough to own it. At 13, this seemed like pretty good music to me, and "It's Still Rock & Roll To Me" does have references to skinny ties and punk rock. In my defense, I have two older sisters, and they had nice collections ranging from AC/DC to Kiss to Devo and The B 52's, so it's not like I usually listened to lame things like Mr. Joel.

• First album on cassette - I really don't have an idea what the first cassette I bought was, because our m.o. was to buy dirt cheap blank cassettes and copy our friends' albums. The only pre-made cassettes I remember buying back in the day were Rank & File's "Long Gone Dead" and Beat Rodeo's "Staying Out Late with Beat Rodeo". They must have been on some kind of mega-sale.

• First CD - Elvis Costello's "My Aim Is True". I actually bought this CD before I owned a CD player. I was just so impressed that something as cool as Elvis was available on CD. It was also my way of making amends to the musical gods for my initial negative reaction to Elvis when my buddy Dave introduced his stuff to the group. I hadn't opened my horizons beyond fast and loud at that point.

And so now I've hit the latest milestone - the first digital download purchased. I've sucked down hundreds of tracks through Napster, Kazaa, etc., but I've never paid for one (for the record, I have purchased a number of CDs of artists I first found "illegally" online).

But I realized something as I was in deep thought - determined not to repeat the tragic "Glass Houses" purchase - about this decision: I really didn't care much about buying a song online.

Personally, I don't see a lot of value in buying songs online. I'm not a fan of "singles". If I like a song, chances are pretty good I'm going to like that artist's whole album, and I'd rather just buy the physical CD (I like liner notes). And if I want to sample a new artist, I don't believe grabbing a tune through Kazaa is such an evil thing. I imagine the Kings of Leon are happy I downloaded their stuff, which led to me buying both their EP and their LP. I became a fan of theirs directly as a result of "stealing" their stuff online.

But I've got 15 credits to burn, so let's see what kind of stuff I can find for Pepsi to buy me:

• Johnny Cash - "Hurt". I'm using my first official online music purchase to pay tribute again to The Man in Black. There's not a lot of music I get emotional about, but if Johnny's version of Hurt doesn't affect you, you're less than human.

• Joe Strummer & The Mescaleros - "Redemption Song". And the second song serves as a Joe Strummer tribute. "Redemption Song" is released after his death? And he also has a version of it recorded with Johnny Cash released after both of their deaths? I'm starting to scare myself. Let's move on.

• Dash Rip Rock - "Leave Me Alone (With My Bottle)". Somehow or another, Dash's "Ace of Clubs" album made it to iTunes. I'd just like to see the look on my old buddy Bill Davis' face when the 6-cent check from this iTunes sale arrives at his house.

• Jet - "Are You Gonna Be My Girl". It's a catchy tune, so for once I'll make my introduction to a retro-70s throwback band a legal one.

• Anthrax - "Got The Time". Back in college, I fell asleep on the couch one afternoon with MTV on. I dreamed I heard a speed metal version of Joe Jackson's "Got The Time" and was freaked out the rest of the day. Turns out I wasn't dreaming. It's about time I owned the Anthrax version.

• Kiss - "She". Kiss' album "Dressed To Kill" was released on my 8th birthday, and when I discovered that a few years later, I always thought it was cool. And "She" is a favorite of mine.

• The Cramps - "Tear It Up". iTunes has "Songs The Lord Taught Us", which is again pretty cool. In high school, the record store at the mall had a copy of this, and every time Lee and I would stop in, we'd try to convince them to sell it to us for cheaper than it was marked. They never would, and I doubt they ever sold it (at least not at full price).

That's 7 of my 15 tracks, and I think enough for tonight. I'm open to suggestions as to how I should spend the other 8.

Monday, March 22, 2004

4 out of 5 dentists agree

So I was at the dentist this morning for the fourth of five scheduled visits. No mouth-guard fittings today, though. Just a cleaning. My first in three years, I think.

After the lady picked the little bits of tartar off my teeth, she reached for the high-powered dental "polisher". She offered me a choice of polish flavors (peppermint or cinnamon) and we had a quick chat about the wide variety of flavors available today.

I told her my favorite as a kid was grape, and she said nowadays there are all sorts of kid-flavored polish flavors. Grape ... raspberry ... lemon/lime ... and the new "cookie dough" flavor.

Wait a minute. Cookie dough flavor? What happened to the days when the dentist preached the evils of all things sugary to kids in the chair?

I guess it's a sign of today's society determined to endulge the every wishes of kids. I imagine the logic goes that kids will be happier at the dentist if they can get their teeth cleaned with a cookie dough-flavored paste. The hygenist said the kid flavors today are like "Baskin-Robbins".

Yes, I know the paste isn't actually cookie dough, and I imagine it has no sugar, but if kids get the "sugar is good!" message from the freaking dentist nowadays, no wonder they're all fat.

Saturday, March 20, 2004

I've Got Mail

I got a letter in the mail yesterday from my mortgage company, ABN-AMRO. It was addressed to "Fulton County Tax Commissioner" at my home address.

No, I'm not the Fulton County Tax Commissioner. In fact, I don't even live in Fulton County.

The letter seeks to recover $3,881.06 in taxes ABN-AMRO paid "in error" on Fulton County properties the company "has no financial interest" in. As proof of this mistaken payment, the letter also includes eight pages of properties the company paid taxes on, including the payments made "in error".

As further proof, the company included copies of two canceled checks - one for $6,255,363,64 and the other for $2,017,985.71.

Now, y'all know the Cap'n is a fine, upstanding citizen, and that's a good thing for ABN-AMRO. I imagine there are a fair number of folks who'd be more than happy to get the routing and account numbers for a checking account that can clear more than $6 million.

And this is actually the second time I've received this letter (it's marked "second notice"). The first time - being the fine, upstanding citizen I am - I spent 15 minutes on the phone trying to reach somebody at ABN-AMRO to tell them the Fulton County Tax Commissioner does not actually work out of my house. I had to leave a message at the number provided in the letter, and I figured that would be the end of it.

But no.

This time, I'm not going to call them. I figure I've done my part. I let them know about their screw-up the first time, and if they can't figure out that the address they are mailing the letters to is not the address shown on the checks they provided copies of, I really can't help them.

For the record:

Fulton County Tax Commissioner
141 Pryor St., SW
Suite 1100
Atlanta, GA 30303

Friday, March 19, 2004

Everybody eats berries

Tonight, the wife and I watched Intolerable Cruelty, the Coen Brothers' divorce-lawyer flick starring George Clooney and Catherine Zeta-Jones. True to its press, it wasn't a great movie. The Clooney character was sharp and entertaining, and the film had its moments. But overall, not a top-notch Coen effort.

The backstory (as presented in the "making of" part of the DVD) is that the Coens wrote the screenplay under contract some years back, never intending to direct the film. The script fell in to the hands of Ron Howard's Imagine outfit, and somehow after the success of O' Brother, the brothers were talked in to directing it as an Imagine production.

And therein lies the problem. A Coen film without Coen control isn't really a Coen film at all. And it showed.

But what I found amusing about the DVD (the last in my now-canceled Netflix free trial) was the "bonus material". The Coens are well-known as directors who care very little about DVD bonus material, and it says a ton about their work that I buy their DVDs anyway.

Obviously, however, their Imagine contract called for the brothers to provide "bonus material" for the DVD.

Thus we have a section on the disc called "Filmmaker Approved and Assembled Outtakes". Not really an A+ marketing tag, now is it? After watching it, I figure Ron Howard and Brian Glazer decided they had to distance themselves from this piece, thus tagging it unquestionably as a Coen work.

The section features four parts, two of which are blooper reels from Clooney (90 seconds) and Zeta-Jones (60 seconds). The other two parts are as follows:

1) "Paul Adelstein in 'Everybody Eats Berries'" - Adelstein plays Clooney's sidekick/lackey and this bit is an outtake reel from a wedding scene where Adelstein is talking up his gift: berry spoons. The reel is 35 takes (yes, I counted) of him saying "Everybody eats berries", intercut with a few takes of Clooney's response "And nobody needs berry spoons." And that's it.

2) "Rex Rexroth's Home Movie" - Rex Rexroth is the first husband of Zeta-Jones' character, and he has an odd association of trains with sex. So his "home movie" is a three minute, thirty-three second loop of silent, black-and-white train footage (a bit of the footage is playing during the movie in his death scene). Again, that's it.

So, as much as I wish the Coens would do a little commentary track every once and a while, I really dug their dig at DVD bonus material.

I guess it was also in the contract that Imagine had to run whatever the brothers came up with.

Tuesday, March 16, 2004

Yo, Ben ... you hard, bro! HARD!!

So I get home this evening to find the new issue of Rolling Stone in the mailbox. And staring at me from the cover was this image:



Yep, that's Ben Affleck. A torn-sleeved, unshaven, big-armed, tattooed, pissed-off-looking Ben Affleck.

And he's not shooting a remake of the classic Al Pacino film "Cruising", which makes the cover shot that much more amusing.

Apparently Ben's gone "hard". The R.S. article focuses, of course, on Ben's split with J-Lo and how he plans to get his career out of the toilet following Gigli. He's quoted in the piece as saying:

"My plan? I'll disappear for a good long time, and not be this person."

You mean the Bennifer person? Or the would-be Papa Roach member on the R.S. cover?

[editor's note: Ben's "disappearing" act begins tonight with a guest spot on Larry King Live]

His look, though, reminds me more of Donnie Wahlberg of New Kids on The Block (both Affleck and NKOB hail from Boston - coincidence?). Sure, you may look tough, but you still dance and sing, pal.

Sunday, March 14, 2004

Sex and The Campus

My old buddy Scott down in Baton Rouge sent me a link Friday to a piece in the Reveille, the LSU student newspaper. It was a column called "On Top" by a student writer named Jessica Pivik.

The lead of this particular column was "If diamonds are a girl's best friend, hand jobs are a close second."

I think I'm supposed to be offended by such crass material being published in my alma mater's student daily. But what really offends me is that the Reveille would green-light such a lame ripoff of Sex and The City.

"On Top" apparently made its debut this semester, and according to her staff bio, Jessica fancies herself to be some kind of relationship expert. In describing "On Top", Jessica writes "Guys, you will learn from me. Girls, you will relate to me."

Fair enough. I imagine most LSU students are still immature enough to either learn from (guys) or relate to (girls) a sophomoric "relationship" column. And maybe pointless references to oral sex ("Valentine's Day, it's the oral sex of holidays") and tortured cucumber analogies come across as clever sexual insight to LSU students.

But the five columns Jessica has written so far read less like Carrie Bradshaw than Terry Bradshaw. She's out to shock and create controversy, but she should spend more time listening to her professors and learning how to write.

I can forgive her because of her youth and inexperience. God knows I wrote some crap back in my LSU days (for the record, I was never a Reveille staffer). But even at 19 or 20, you should know the difference between a clever idea and a third-rate ripoff.

Thursday, March 11, 2004

Insulted by Netflix

I started up a free trial of Netflix last week (mostly as the quickest way for the wife and I to see Lost In Translation - watched it last night; damn, damn fine movie). I used to be a Netflix customer a few years ago and aside from Webvan (R.I.P.), it's my all-time favorite Internet service.

We dropped Netflix a couple of years ago after getting the PVR and after having Eyes Wide Shut around for about 8 weeks before we watched it. The anger we felt after finally watching that P.O.S. is what prompted us to get rid of Netflix.

But now we're back in our trial. I'm going to cancel the trial, but only to trigger the special, super-secret offer they throw at you once you cancel your $20 a month service (brilliant tactic on their part).

Anyway, the night I signed up for the trial, I got sucked in to rating movies in order to build my "recommendations" list. Netflix uses your own ratings of different movies to come up with recommendations of other movies you may like. After rating 148 movies, the film Netflix most thinks I would enjoy is:

Wet Hot American Summer

I've never heard of this movie, but it shows up as 4 1/2 stars (out of 5) as a recommendation for me - the single highest-rated film on my list.

According to Netflix, W.H.A.S. is recommended to me because I gave 4 stars to The Royal Tenenbaums and 5 stars to The Big Lebowski. I'm not sure how they draw that association, since these three films share no actors, writers or directors.

And here's a sampling of critic reviews of W.H.A.S. posted on Netflix:

"I want to escape, / Oh, Muddah Faddah-- / Life's too short for cinematic torture." ... Roger Ebert (1 star)

"The writing here is rarely funny, and often trite and predictable." ... Claudia Puig (2 stars)

"Most of the scenes fall flatter than a lead souffle." ... Maitland McDonagh (1 star)

So what gives? The member reviews are much more favorable, but keep in mind that 78% of the American public is incompetently stupid.

I sent the link above to the wife, who replied "that's not on its way to our house, is it?"

No, she need not worry about that. But it is my life's goal now to rate enough movies to drop W.H.A.S. to no more than two stars.

Viacom back on Dish

Well, the Viacom stations re-appeared on the Dish this morning. Dish and Viacom struck a deal overnight and got the channels back up within 20 minutes of signing the contract.

Personally, the impact was pretty minimal - about the only thing we missed that we can't recover with the PVR later was two nights of The Daily Show.

Observers are saying this worked out to be a bad move by Dish, and I'm sure there are subscribers who got so pissed off that they called the cable company or DirecTV within hours of Viacom going dark.

But I still stand behind Dish. Even if the terms they reached this morning were no different than what was offered before the blackout, it sets a precedent for the company in their future dealings with content providers. Charlie Ergen has showed he's not willing to just roll over and accept whatever terms Viacom, Time-Warner or Disney decides to throw out the next time a contract is up.

So Charlie stuck it out and probably lost a few customers. But his stock price (always important in public-company land) is pretty much unchanged since Tuesday and his stance probably will help keep Dish's content costs down, which means better value for customers, which means more subscribers in the long term.

Viacom, on the other hand, won nothing. The best case scenario is that they got the terms there were looking for initially, but in the meantime their stock dropped 3% on the blackout, they no doubt spooked some advertisers and they come off looking like the bully, thanks to Charlie's populist, "aw shucks" persona.

In the eyes of (most of) Charlie's customers, he's a hero. And in the eyes of Time-Warner and Disney, he probably looks like a nut. But a nut who is willing to take their channels off the air and freak out the market if you try to screw him.

Wednesday, March 10, 2004

This is hockey

In Vancouver, police are considering charges against a Colorado Avalanche player who broke the neck of a Canucks player during an on-ice fight Monday.

Meanwhile in Indiana, the minor-league Indianapolis Ice have signed Tonya Harding as a gimmick for a promotion they are calling "Guaranteed Fight Night".

Hopefully, somebody's neck will get broken then, too. That would rock!!

Tuesday, March 09, 2004

A little more Dish dish

Since the Google Gods have determined that the Wisdom is your best source for information about the Dish Network / Viacom flap, here's a bit more information for you.

The big question here remains "why?". Viacom will tell you Dish is being unreasonable; that the fees they are asking for are in line with what Comcast, DirecTV and everybody else in the world pays to watch MTV, VH1, BET and Comedy Central.

But I don't think the issue is really about subscriber fees. According to Dish's latest press release, Charlie Ergen & Co. are as bothered by "strong-arm" tactics used by Viacom as they are about the rate increases. According to Dish, Viacom is not only demanding that Dish carry all channels it offers, but also wants to re-negotiate the carry deals still in effect for some Viacom channels.

If it was just about subscriber fees, I think the deal would have been closed long ago. According to SEC filings, Viacom makes about 29% of its cable channel money ($2.4 billion a year) from subscriber fees and 71% ($5.8 billion) from advertising. Dish Network represents about 10% of Viacom's cable households, so the company is risking around $820 million in annual revenue (advertising and subscriber fees) to press Dish for more subscriber money.

Viacom - according to their own press release - seeks a rate structure that would have Dish pay Viacom "less than 5%" (read: pretty much 5%) of what Dish currently generates from the average customer.

Dish had 9.08 million subscribers at the end of October and generated an average of $50.79 per month from each subscriber.

That means Viacom wants $2.54 per subscriber per month. If they got that, they'd generate about $274 million annually in Dish subscriber fees. Today's numbers indicate they get about $240 million a year from Dish subscribers.

So Viacom is putting $820 million in annual revenue at risk in order to generate $34 million in incremental revenue? Is Sumner Redstone really that shortsighted?

I don't think so.

I imagine the charge Dish made against Viacom (that the company is trying to pressure Dish to carry crap channels like the new Nick one by threatening to withhold Viacom-owned CBS stations) is the meat of the issue here. Viacom wants to ensure that all of their channels get the widest distribution possible in order to raise ad income (and subscriber fees), and they don't see why a company like Dish should be opposed to forcing these channels (and the cost of them) on to their customers.

And until 3 a.m. eastern this morning, that business model had worked just fine. God knows cable companies don't mind charging their customers for whatever a content provider wants them to pass along. But as Viacom is finding out, Charlie Ergen don't play that. His company was created on the prospect that customers would get more from their TV provider; that the company would actually put the customer's needs first. I've dealt enough with Dish Network to have experienced this firsthand. No long waits on the customer service line; very frequent updates and improvements to my DishPVR software and good communication about what's going on with the service. If Dish could teach this kind of customer focus to its installers, they'd be a great company.

So, for you Dish customers who are ready to call the cable company so you can watch Nick and Jessica, just keep in mind that Dish's decision to go dark with the Viacom channels is an effort to protect your interests along with theirs. If you've hated Dish Network up until now, go ahead and switch.

But if you, like I, can remember what it was like to suffer under a cable company and appreciate what Dish has and is trying to do for you, stick it out. It's not like MTV and VH1 don't re-run all of their shows 1,000 times.

RE: Dish / Viacom - the media is starting to understand

Now that we're two or three days into the shooting war (as opposed to the cold war that had been on since January) between Dish Network and Viacom, the media is now starting to understand the situation and - in some cases - report some accurate information about it.

The Associated Press finally understands that all 9 million Dish subscribers have lost the Viacom stations, and CNN actually has a fairly informative piece on it at cnn.com.

(to be fair to my Bloomberg friends, they also have a decent piece up now, too.

There's still a real lack of analysis out there, however. Dish and Viacom are both spinning the issue hard, and God knows most journalists (who can't even get the number of subscribers affected correct) aren't going to dig deep here.

Dark channels

Well, the Viacom channels on Dish Network went dark at midnight last night (turns out the deadline was midnight Tuesday). Now, instead of Comedy Central, MTV, VH1, BET, etc., we get a message directing us to channel 101, where they're playing a recorded message from Charlie Ergen over and over.

I'm still supporting Dish in this mess, but it's frustrating to not have good information about the dispute, what terms Viacom wants and what Dish's expectations are. There's not enough good reporting on the issue out there, so all we see is the propaganda from both sides.

I saw a bit saying Viacom wants six cents per month per subscriber for all of its channels, but I have no idea if that's accurate. Dish says Viacom wants to raise per-sub rates 40% over the life of a new contract, but without the details, that means little.

In the meantime, Dish is crediting its subscribers $1 per month for not having the Viacom channels. MTV, Comedy Central and VH1 probably make up 30% of our viewing time, so that's little consolation for me.

And here's a note to the media: If you don't know the facts, don't write the story. This morning, most pieces about this dispute say the Viacom blackouts are only happening in markets where Viacom owns the local CBS affiliate, with about 1.6 million subscribers affected. Sorry, that's wrong. In markets where Viacom owns the CBS affiliate, CBS is off the air, along with all the Viacom cable channels. In markets where Viacom does not own the CBS affiliate, CBS is still on the air, but all of the Viacom cable channels are blacked out.

Monday, March 08, 2004

Three Times (as expensive) A Lady

Ever wonder what it takes for the marginally-attractive to maintain themselves as shallow Hollywood hangers-on?

Well, thanks to the nasty divorce of Lionel Richie and his wife Diane (a former "dancer") and The Smoking Gun, we have a great shopping list for would-be golddiggers looking to make the jump from "dancer" to "celebrity ex-wife."

Here's what it takes - according to Diane's own filings - for the soon-to-be former stepmother of Nicole to keep up her second-rate Demi Moore / Angie Harmon impersonation*:


Lionel (right) and Diane

 
• $3,000 per month on dermatology

• $600 (minimum) per month on hair

• $250 per month on nails

• $1,000 per month on laser hair removal

• $150 per month on electrolysis (I guess the laser can't get it all)

• $450 per month on facials

• $500 per month on personal trainer

• $600 per month on Pilates

• $600 per month on massages

• $600 per month on therapy (mental/emotional, no doubt)

• $10,000 - $15,000 per month (at least) on clothing, shoes and purses

• $5,000 per month on jewelry

• $500 - $1,000 per month on computer lessons

• $500 per month on alterations, dry cleaning and clothing repair.


In addition to these monthly expenses, Diane throws out that "I spend at least $20,000 a year on plastic surgery."

Then there's the $3,000 - $5,000 per month on entertainment and $35,000 - $45,000 per month for the household staff of 8.

Diane throws these figures around in her filing (along with such endearing statements as "I regularly shop at Neiman Marcus, Barneys, Fred Segal, Jimmy Choo, Gucci, Fendi and Dolce & Gabbana.") not to show off her fabulous lifestyle, but rather as a desperate attempt to hang on to it.

She's seeking, you see, at least $300,000 per month in support from Lionel. That, it seems, is the price at which you can buy one's pride.



* [editor's note: This photo above is by far the most attractive shot I could find of Diane Richie. Below is a more accurate representation of the payoff for all this expense]:

Sunday, March 07, 2004

Caught in the crossfire

Our living room has become a battleground.

We're caught in the crossfire of a pissing match between Dish Network and Viacom. I hadn't really known about this war until a few days ago, when semi-subliminal messages began appearing on my screen when I was watching VH1, MTV or Comedy Central.

In near-invisible type, a crawl comes across the screen every now and again which reads something like "Dish Network customers - if you want to keep the following channels: MTV, VH1, Comedy Central, Nickelodeon - you must call Dish Network and ask them to keep these channels."

Then today the wife was watching Comedy Central and saw the same crawl, except the parts that listed the channels were blacked out in an Iran/Contra-type redaction.

This, I suppose, was Dish Network striking back at Viacom for inserting the original message into their Dish Network feeds.

So I news Googled dish network viacom and got the straight poop. Turns out Viacom is trying to force Dish Network to carry each and every one of its channels or none at all.

Dish Network won an injunction keeping Viacom from pulling their channels, but that injunction runs out at midnight tonight. Thus the semi-subliminal lobbying by Viacom and counter-strike blackout from Dish Network.

I guess we'll see what happens tonight at midnight. Chances are the Viacom stations will go dark.

For the record, I'm with Dish Network here. If they caved to Viacom and agreed to carry (and pay for ... which means they'll charge me for) each of Viacom's channels - each at a much higher rate than before - then they are setting a precedent of bending over for the big content players and setting themselves and their customers up for higher prices for channels we may not even want.

At the core of the issue, apparently, is that Viacom wants Dish Network to carry the new Nick GAS channel, and said if they don't carry it, they can't carry CBS, either.

Dish CEO Charlie Ergen said, in effect, f*ck off. And I second that.

In the short term, we may have to give up Nick and Jessica, Carmen and Dave, The Osbornes, The Daily Show and Best Week Ever, but I think that's a sacrifice worth making; a stand worth taking.

Stay tuned (but maybe not to Viacom) ...

Wednesday, March 03, 2004

Bring on the firehoses and police dogs

I really love the fact that more cities have joined San Francisco in defying the "law" and issuing same-sex marriage licenses. There's that kid mayor in New York state and now Portland, Oregon, standing up for the idea that "equal protection under the law" actually applies to gay people, too!

I've read a lot of comparisons of the Bush/Christian campaign against gay marriage to the early days of Hitler's systematic effort to eliminate Jews, and from a persecution standpoint, I guess that's fair.

But I see it a different way. What I think we are seeing is the gay-rights equivalent of Rosa Parks refusing to give up her seat, of MLK going to jail in Birmingham or demonstrators taking over lunch counters across the South.

What's going on in California, New York and Oregon is civil disobedience, led by some pretty courageous politicians. It was, of course, civil disobedience and the establishment's response to it that lit fire to the black civil rights movement in the 1960s.

Playing the role of George Wallace today is George W. Bush. His speech promoting the constitutional ban on gay marriage came real close to sounding like "I say heterosexual marriage now ... heterosexual marriage tomorrow ... heterosexual marriage forever!"

Coming soon, the crowds of gay couples gathering at San Francisco city hall to get married will have the firehoses turned loose on them. Maybe there will have to be a "Midtown Atlanta Burning" incident to convince a lot of mainstream Americans that keeping the gays down is wrong.

Unfortunately, I think homosexuals are going to have a much harder climb that blacks did to equal status in America. There are a whole lot of intolerant, "Jesus hates fags" types out there.

But in the spirit of my little civil rights comparision, I slapped together this image. (Yes, it's crappy - I only spent 10 minutes on it and used a freeware photo editor). Enjoy.



That's Carson from Queer Eye on the tooth-end of the German Shepherd, by the way.

Tuesday, March 02, 2004

... and spit

I had to go to the dentist today. I've been bothered by toothaches for several months now, and it finally got to the point where I figured I needed to be an adult and do something about it. I think Tom Hanks' tooth trouble in Cast Away helped convince me there's no point in putting it off.

I was convinced I had some bad cavity, needed a root canal or would end up getting six teeth pulled. I'm talking serious pain, always when drinking cold stuff and often when i just bite down on something wrong.

But the dentist, after poking and prodding and checking out the x-rays, says I have no cavities, no decay, no internal issues with my teeth.

However, using a very sophisticated process (rubbing an ice cube along my teeth and having me bite down on some special dental stick), he comes up with a diagnosis:

"Micro-breaks" in an upper and a lower in my left side. Tiny little cracks that are very sensitive to cold and - when struck at just the right angle - hurt like a mofo.

Such micro-breaks are caused, he tells me, by clenching and/or grinding of the jaw. This, he further explains, is usually related to stress.

I don't think I've ever had a dentist ask me "so, have you been under a lot of stress lately?" (I am) before, but that's what he says is behind it.

The solution? For now, I'm getting a special night-wear mouthpiece made to see if having it in for a few nights reduces my pain. If so, I think I get a permanent one. If not, caps or something like that are in order.

My only frame of reference for an adult having a medical mouthpiece is Richie (Quentin Tarantino) in From Dusk 'til Dawn. Lord knows he had a lot of stress, which may have led to all that teeth grinding, not to mention the needless killing of law enforement officials and bank tellers.

I'm going to ask the wife, in the spirit of Seth and Richie, to say "Cap'n ... Put in your bit" when she's reminding me to wear the mouthpiece.

The flag flap

Georgia is voting today, not only for a Democratic presidential candidate but also on a state flag referendum.

I have to admit, I've not kept up on the latest flag controversy. But after reading in the past week about the upcoming vote and the lobbying efforts of some prominent black leaders, it's captured my interest.

Here's a real quick primer [pronounced PRIME-er for those of you laboring under the all-too-common belief that the word is pronounced PRIM-mer] on our state flag situation:

- In 1956, the state legislature slapped the Confederate battle emblem on the flag as a protest of the national Civil Rights movement.

- In 2001, Gov. Roy Barnes rushed through a new flag that included tiny little versions of other important banners in the state's past, including the 1956 flag.

- In 2003, the state legislature designed a new flag and ordered today's non-binding referendum for voters to choose between this new flag and Barnes' 2001 flag. There's not an option to support the 1956 flag.

Personally, I think all the flag stuff is silly. I, being a 6th-generation Georgian and absolute Son of the South, do take pride in my "heritage" and have a certain fondness for the Confederacy, but I recognize that the Confederate battle flag has long ago ceased to represent any of the feelings I have about the South and the Confederacy. It represents racist rednecks, and I say good riddance.

But here's the thing I was shocked to discover when I actually started paying attention to this new flag flap. The 2003 flag, which I guess is the "official" state flag of the moment, is a near-replica of the first Confederate national flag - the flag properly called the Stars and Bars.

To wit:


New Georgia Flag


First Confederate National Flag

The Stars and Bars is the flag I see as the way for non-racist Southerners to show their respect for the Confederacy and the 258,000 Southern men who died defending it. I have a tiny little Stars and Bars in my office at home.

So the state again has is a flag that incorporates a powerful symbol of the Confederacy. And black leaders are up in arms, working hard to defeat this image of Georgia's racist, segregationist past, right?

Wrong.

Andrew Young and powerful state Rep. Tyrone Brooks are leading an effort to get black Georgians to support the 2003 flag (the one that looks almost identical to the first Confederate national flag). To their credit, these leaders are saying, in effect, it's time to move on. Not approving the 2003 flag would open the possibility that the 1956 flag could rear its ugly head again, and I don't think anyone outside of the Sons of Confederate Veterans wants that.

But it's an interesting dynamic here. On the one hand, there's a symbol (the Confederate battle flag) that is so reviled in the black community (and most of the white community) that it inspires protests, calls for boycotts, etc. On the other hand, there's another symbol (the first Confederate national flag) which also represents the Confederacy, but has black leaders actively lobbying for its adoption.

The obvious difference is the aforementioned association of the battle flag with the racist rednecks. But the core idea (respect for Georgia's Confederate heritage) of both symbols is the same.

I guess the real difference is that most people won't realize the Stars and Bars-influenced state flag is, in fact, a takeoff of the Confederate national flag. Ignorance is bliss, I suppose.

Monday, March 01, 2004

Getting framed

With my cavalcade of LSU National Championship gear now coming in, I'm faced with a task that is way outside my comfort zone. I have to get stuff framed.

Specifically, I have this front-page poster from The Advocate (the Baton Rouge daily, not the national gay newspaper):



And this swell panoramic photo from the Sugar Bowl (which will be married with my own Sugar Bowl ticket):



So I'm venturing into the world of "custom framing". At the Michael's (the arts and crafts store) by my office, they hung a sign out this weekend that reads "50% off all custom framing." Sounds like a deal, right?

Not quite.

I brought in my two posters and ticket to get an estimate. I knew the "sale" was a sham when the framing woman said "it usually runs $70 and up" and my reply of "you mean before the 50% discount" was met with "no, after the discount." The word "usually" is - by definition - not associated with a "sale". So they are obviously not offering 50% off of their framing orders.

I guess the idea is that 99% of the population does not have custom framing done on a regular basis, so there's no perception of what "full price" is, therefore you can double your prices, take 50% off and everybody is happy.

The Cap'n don't play that.

For my 14 x 22 Advocate front page, I was quoted a price of $92 to have it done up in a simple black frame. That means, if Michael's was telling the truth, the normal price for this is $184. To frame a $15 poster. I find that hard to believe.

For the Sugar Bowl print and Sugar Bowl ticket alongside it, Michael's quoted me $232. Yes, $232, meaning they want me to believe this would normally cost $464.

Of course, I balked at that price, so the woman actually suggested I could save a lot of money by paying them just $138 for a glass-less frame and getting a piece of plexiglass at Home Depot to substitute for the real thing.

There's some small frame shop in Grant Park near Six Feet Under I'm going to check out this weekend, but - being not at all familiar with the ways of framing - my question is this:

Is it really going to cost me $325 to get these things framed? I'd appreciate the advice and insight of any of you who are more familiar with this stuff.