Thursday, August 25, 2011

A Brief Stupid Interlude

OK, let me just say that although I haven't posted in about a week, this isn't the start of another 3 month stretch of silence. I've just been pretty busy the last couple of days, as my job is one that gets a lot busier when really big hurricanes are pointed at my fair city. So in all likelihood I won't have the time or energy to post anything through the weekend.

Therefore, I want to post what may be my favorite in a series of commercials from All State starring Dean Winters (you might know him as Dennis from 30 Rock, dummy). I'm well aware that these are really stupid commercials. But much like the Geico cavemen, I can't help but laugh every damn time I see them. This one in particular is my favorite, so I'll probably watch it for a chuckle while my house blows away in a couple of days.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Welcome To The Bahamas As Imagined By Ebenezer Scrooge

I think that the thing that most pisses me off about rich people is their inability to comprehend the reality that 99% of us live in. Only a rich man, for example, could have possibly come up with those "Recession 101" billboards that have littered the Philly landscape lately. One in particular states that "Bill Gates started Microsoft during a recession." Oh, well isn't that grand. I guess all I need to do is be lucky enough to create (or should I say steal) a once-in-a-lifetime idea and all my troubles will be over! Goodbye, financial turmoil!

This distorted world view can be the only explanation for the Seasteading Institute, an organization heavily backed by billionaire Peter Thiel that seeks to "build sovereign nations on oil rig-like platforms to occupy waters beyond the reach of law-of-the-sea treaties." These islands will implement libertarian ideals, which Details magazine describes as including principles such as "no welfare, looser building codes, no minimum wage, and few weapons restrictions." So yeah, essentially these guys want to build miniature Bankocks in international waters so that they can squander their money the way they see fit and not blow it on complete wastes of time like the public good.

And Peter Thiel, one of the program's main backers? You may remember him as the guy who recently told kids not to go to college. OK, so maybe those were not his exact words. But he's funding a program to give entrepreneurs fellowship grants in the six-figure range to keep them out of college, claiming that colleges are a classic "bubble" and are not worth the money. This is a man who made his money in the computer industry, and he has the balls to call anything a bubble? And to top it off, this is what he looks like.

LinkI'm gonna go ahead and let the picture speak for itself here

Now, I'm not naive enough to think that college isn't insanely overpriced, especially compared to what it used to cost. But to take the stand that college isn't worth bothering with anymore means you're willing to ignore the fact that college grads stand to make, on average, almost a million dollars more in their lifetime than people who only have a high school diploma. And those with master's degrees or doctorates increase their lifetime income even further.

So investing money in an expensive college is a risk, considering the job market is growing smaller and more depressing by the day. But we can't all be entrepreneurs. I don't know about you, but I don't have a billion-dollar idea just sitting in my back pocket, waiting for some bored billionaire to invest in it. And let's not pretend that being an entrepreneur is risk-free either. I can't help but imagine how many guys put their life-savings into an idea that could truly help the world, only to fail miserably while the guy who invented the Billy Bass laughs his hillbilly ass off in his log mansion.

Order now and I'll personally come over to your house and hit you in the face for being so stupid

So the fact that smug assholes like Peter Thiel got lucky and pulled Pay Pal out of their asses does not mean they understand how the world works. It means they just so happened to come up with the right idea at the right time and got an obscene amount of money from it. They should not be the people from whom we're taking our cues on society.

These libertarian "utopias" are a perfect example. I'm actually looking forward to watching this experiment fail miserably. Think about it. These guys are looking to build and maintain structures in the middle of the ocean while ignoring concepts like "building structures to code" and "paying fair salaries to the workers."

I'm guessing nothing will happen right away because these guys will be really careful to dot their "i"s and cross their "t" first. Then, they're going to start letting small things go in the name of saving a few bucks. Maybe they won't put on that new coat of paint or install new carpeting. Next it'll be a lighting system that can surely go another few months without inspection or maintenance. Eventually something will need to be repaired, but it will be much more cost-effective to use a metal cheaper than steel to reinforce some of that rigging that holds up the island. And finally, one day, while I'm online trying to pay my cruelly expensive student loan payment, I'll get a chuckle reading about how a couple hundred libertarians sank to the bottom of the ocean while clutching their remaining sacks of money. It'll be great.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Get to Know a Horror Classic: Night of the Living Dead

Boo, motherfucker! That line would account for about 85% of the scares in I horror movie if I'd written it. But while I have absolutely no business creating a horror movie, that doesn't mean I can't appreciate ones made by people who know what they're doing. I've already alluded to that fact a few times before, but after reading Shock Value last week I feel like taking a tour of some of the classics I've never seen. And maybe I'll take the opportunity to revisit some great ones from when I was a kid.

This week, I'll start with the zombie movie that led the way for all other zombie movies, George Romero's Night of the Living Dead. Made in 1968 in Monroeville, Pa, only a few hours away from where I currently sit, Night of the Living Dead isn't terribly new by today's standards. A small group of people are surrounded by a swarm of ghouls who want little more than to chow down on them. But before Night of the Living Dead, this scenario was unheard of, and it paved the way for a whole host of zombie movies (about 50% of which seem to have been made by Romero). What I wanted to know, though, is how does the movie stand on its own, rather than as a piece of horror movie history?

Well, the first thing that has to be said is that this movie it looks very dated. Even though it was made well after color was put into widespread use, its shoestring budget forced the use of black and white, so it looks like something out of the 40s or 50s as opposed to the late 60s. While this was a flaw for me at first, it actually made the harsh violence that much more shocking when contrasted with the old-style feel the movie has. If someone glanced at the screen, they might expect this movie to be a campy flick about giant radioactive ants or some poor guy stomping around in a crappy rubber suit. Instead, they'd get this:

That is a brutal piece of film work. Sure, there have been gorier scenes since, but the very concept is extremely dark. Firstly, Romero essentially killed a kid, which is usually taboo, even in horror. Secondly, the undead child then proceeds to kill both of her parents. And Romero has no qualms about drawing out the mother's murder, keeping the viewer believing that someone would come down and save her at the last second. Instead, the undead child repeatedly stabs her over and over again. Definitely not something for the feint of heart.

Speaking of harsh, the ending is definitely not geared for folks who want the good guys to win. Ben is not only maybe the only black protagonist in a 1960s movie not played by Sidney Poitier, he's also one of the only black men ever to make it to the end of a horror movie in the history of horror movies. But unfortunately, he only survives the zombie attack to be mistaken for one of them and shot in head by a gaggle of hillbilly zombie killers.

The shot takes place at around the 4:15 mark, but what's worse is the build up. If I'd seen this without knowing what was going to happen it would have been tense, but I think it's even worse knowing what's coming. You want him to make it so badly, and he'd be just about to do that if not for Jethro and his posse. So the fact that Romero teases you with the possibility of a happy ending only to pull the rug out from under you is a real kick in the gut.

Night of the Living Dead is not without its drawbacks. The acting is wooden in a lot of areas and there are a lot of scenes that drag on for way too long (how long can we watch a guy board up windows while a catatonic woman babbles to herself?) but all in all it's still a worthwhile watch, especially when you consider you can see it for free pretty much anywhere since Romero didn't have the foresight to copyright his work. I'm hoping that's a mistake he corrected when he made the sequel, Dawn of the Dead, which I'll likely get to in a later post.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Yeeeehaw! I'm Gonna Be President, Sumbitches!

Ah, Rick Perry. His brand of crazy shitkicker is exactly what we need in this field of weak ass Republican presidential candidates. Screw the Tea Party and their posturing, neo-Conservative bullshit. Michelle Bacchman and Sarah Palin are in a dead heat for this year's Upper Class Twit of the Year competition. And Mitt Romney, I almost can't even get the words out...Mitt Romney is a Mormon!

What we need is a man's man. A guy who's willing to blow the back of a coyote's head clean off should it so much as look at his dog the wrong way. A guy personally responsible for winning the war against Mexican drug cartels. We need a man who is "authentic, a truth-teller, and a job creating machine." Therefore, God must favor us mortals as the New York Times announced that Governor Perry will be making a definitive act to run for the presidency.

But Governor Perry's balls are far too large to just say "I'm running for president." And it goes without saying that taking part in the Iowa Straw Polls are for women and San Franciscans. That's why Governor Perry's definitive act of running for president will apparently be waving his dick at his opponents from South Carolina and New Hampshire this weekend. South Carolina is obviously going to be on Team Perry from the get go, but I wouldn't be surprised if New Hampshire buckled under his manliness and voted him in as well.

I, for one, cannot wait for his campaign. Ever since Donald Trump proudly stepped out of the race after single-handedly forcing President Obama to release his birth certificate (which was obviously forged) we've been left without a voice of justice for the real America. We've found that voice, and now the country is back on track to return to its former glory.

Or, if nothing else, Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert will have plenty of material for the next few months.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Shock Value: People Who Like Horror Can Be Smart, Too

I finished a great book called Shock Value today. Well, that's not the full title. The full title is Shock Value: How a Few Eccentric Outsiders Gave Us Nightmares, Conquered Hollywood, and Invented Modern Horror. But you're crazy if you think I'm going to keep typing that bastard of a title. I'd probably write SV if I didn't think it sounded like a new sexually transmitted disease.

And that random nugget of stupid actually segues nicely into the reason I liked this book so much. It's author, Jason Zimoman, is able to talk intellectually about what draws people to horror, specifically the New Horror of the late 1960s into the 70s. As he describes the work of classic horror directors like John Carpenter, William Friedkin, and Brian De Palma, he has a knack for discussing these films without looking down his nose at them like the majority film critics. At the same time, he also avoids the fanboy ravings that people like me would be prone to use. Whereas I'd be pointing out that most critics are stuck up douche bags and horror movies kick ass, Zinoman takes a very calm, scholarly approach to his topic.

Zinoman's inner fanboy does peek out subtly a few times, however, towards the end of the book as his tone shifts to one of wistful regret as he describes the horror movies followed the revolution of the 60s and 70s. He doesn't dismiss work in the 80s, 90s, and 00s entirely, but there's a sense that something about those movies just isn't the same. Even later work by the directors he discusses in the book is relegated to afterthought. I realize this is a book about a specific genre in a specific era, but when talking about Brian De Palma's later work, he briefly lists the gangster movies that De Palma made. The fact that these movies were Scarface and The Untouchables means absolutely nothing to Zimoman.

Another great aspect of the book is that it takes you through all the crap that these directors had to go through just to get these movies made. While reading about the ties that the production of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre had to both Texas politicians and the New York mob, I couldn't help but think what a dull story the making of Avatar must be. I guess it would go without saying that the stories about people breaking into Hollywood are more interesting than those who are thriving there, but Shock Value brings that comparison into focus.

Now, while I'm trying very hard to emulate Zimoman's scholarly approach to writing about horror, I must admit that the best thing about Shock Value for me is that Zimoman pointed out some cool horror flicks to watch. One of my secret shames is that I call myself a horror fan but I still haven't seen Night of the Living Dead or The Exorcist. I'm a child of 80s horror like Friday the 13th and Nightmare on Elm Street. But Zimoman has me excited to finally give the classics a shot, along with a number of other titles which, lucky me, are in Netflix's Watch Instantly selection. So check back in the future as I'll probably be sharing my thoughts on them in the coming weeks. And, yeah, I'll probably babble quite a bit.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Wow, They Really Let This Place Go

Yeah. I really followed up on that promise to just get back to writing for writing's sake, didn't I? I have little in the way of an excuse other than I've recently had some pretty big changes at work, it's been hot as hell lately, and, well....I really just haven't felt like it. I was having a hard time for a while finding the motivation to write, so I figured I'd just step away for a while. Then, after a couple of posts from the Mrs. made me realize I really was neglecting this old girl, my new problem was that I didn't really have a whole lot to say. But, we're in luck today because after about a month of taking the train into Philly for my new job, I'm ready to bitch about other people again.

First, let me start off that saying the new job is great. I still work for the same image-conscious organization so I still can't get into specifics, but let's just say the days seem to be going much faster now. And since I take the train through the more congested parts of Philly I don't have to with it's mouth-breathing drivers, which is another big plus. But I wouldn't be me if I didn't complain about random minutiae, so let's concentrate just concentrate on the mouth-breathers that I share the train with, shall we?

While the train ride itself is a lot better than driving all they way to work, I'm still looking at about an hour and fifteen minute one-way commute when you account for the drive to the station and the ride itself. That would be fine if nobody went out of their way to annoy the piss out of me along the way. But then, what are people put on this earth for if not to annoy the piss out of me?

My fellow passengers are the most frequent culprits. The most inexplicable such passenger is the old lady who sees me as a harmless young white man who is safe enough to cram in next to on a tiny seat. This has happened more than once, and I just don't get it. I try to make myself an unpleasant person to sit next to on the train. I sit on the side of the train with the narrow benches to make the space next to me as small as possible. This morning I even sat on a seat that was so loose that it sagged under my sizable ass and seemed ready to collapse if anyone else dared try to use it. I was even reading a book about the horror movie revolution of the 60s and 70s, and I'm told that the look I make when I'm reading looks similar to someone getting ready to commit sexual assault. I figured anyone, especially an old lady, would want to avoid someone who could be imagined to look like this:

I'm done with my newspaper if you'd like to read it.

But no, they plop right down next to me with a smile that indicates that it's my privilege for them to feel comfortable enough to ride next to me. One lady even tried to give me a religious pamphlet. I took it from her, rubbed it on my crotch, and shoved it in her face while screaming obscenities. OK, I didn't do that. I politely refused it. But that's actually showing more spine than usual, as normally I'd take the pamphlet and pretend to read it while she sat next to me.

As annoying as old ladies tend to get, they at least don't cause the physical discomfort that comes when a guy who has not applied deodorant in 6 years pops a squat next to me. Why? Why can't you you spend $3 a month and 20 seconds a day to keep me from spending the next half hour gagging into my shirt. And I know that other cultures frown on the use of deodorant and that ranting about it probably makes me seem like a classless schmuck. But dammit, so does vomiting on a train full of people.

To be fair, there are more than just annoying passengers on the train. There are also annoying employees, the most annoying of which is the disembodied voice that blares out over the P.A. system during the trip. It would be sufficient to tell me that our next stop will be in Morton. You don't have to yell that the next stop is MORTON! The microphone is really a fascinating technology. If you talk into it normally, it sends a signal to an amplifier that will project your voice at the appropriate level. Which is especially important when you're telling people that the first car is the QUIET CAR!

Another employee that I never see but would like to hurt is whatever back-office twit decides to keep trains in service that should have been sold for scrap when Menudo was still popular. Remember that sagging bench I was telling you about from this morning? That really should not be an issue, should it? With public transportation prices on a constant rise in Philadelphia, you'd think they could afford to stop using the train cars with broken seats covered in cheap faux-leather and broken air conditioning. Especially considering it's been a balmy 95 degrees for the last three fucking weeks.

Well it appears all that complaining has made me tired. It's obvious that I need to start flexing the writing muscles again, so hopefully (I'm not making any promises) I'll start popping up back here again on a more regular basis. Fortunately, I'll have plenty of time on the train to think about some more pointless shit to talk about. It beats trying to make old women explode with my thoughts.