Thursday, December 6, 2018

Vote Now! The 2018 Miserable Crank Awards: Day Four

Today is the last post for voting for the 2018 Miserable Crank Awards. Go vote for each of the categories now!

Voting for day one includes Government, Technology, Sports, and Embarrassment.

Voting for day two includes Business, Popular Trends, and Incident.

Voting for day three includes Entertainment, Person, and Inconvenience.

Vote in each of the categories above, and then the final vote is below. Remember, this vote is for the absolute worst thing of 2018, regardless of category. You can vote for something different or re-vote for something you voted on an earlier post; it doesn't matter. Whichever gets the most votes below wins the overall award, and whoever the runner up for whatever category it was out of will win that category instead. Remember: you need to vote in the previous three posts (ten categories total) and vote below.

Remember, voting ends on Friday, December 14th, 2018, so the polls will be open for a full week after today.

[Voting is now closed.]

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Vote Now! The 2018 Miserable Crank Awards: Day Three

Here are the candidates for day three of voting for the Miserable Crank Awards of 2018. Don't forget to vote on the Day One Categories and the Day Two Categories!


Sinclair TV
Local TV has its own certain brand of amateur-hour absurdity. This was brought to the fore when the Sinclair Broadcast Group, which owns almost 200 local stations across the nation. By far the largest such owner, they had sent out that stations should read an "anchor-delivered journalistic responsibility message", which was a weirdly worded, conservative-fueled screed decrying "fake news." It was released like an independently-produced editorial, but its eerie similarity from multiple professional anchors across the nation just made it seem like rank propaganda.

Solo
While the Star Wars chapter about a young Han Solo wasn't a disaster, so to speak--it made worldwide $400 million dollars and was favored by critics and fans alike (well, except for Star Wars fans, who hate Star Wars with a passion unparalleled)--it still ended up being a bomb. It didn't help that the entire movie had to basically be reshot and directors changed halfway though, meaning its bloated $300 million budget before marketing was going to be a certain failure almost immediately. 

First Man
The Neil Armstrong biopic didn't start off great--any buzz the movie had was blunted immediately by conservative critics, who lamented that the single solitary iconic visage of the moon landing--planting the American flag on the moon--was not included and, thus, a slap in the face to the nation that actually pulled it off. Audiences themselves weren't thrilled, who seemed to be more interested in a move about the moon landing and not about Neil Armstrong. And Ryan Gosling didn't seem interested at all, sleepwalking through a movie meant to epitomize one of the greatest achievements of Western Civilization.

Chris Hardwick
In the #metoo era, a lot of people were caught in the crossfire, in various degrees of seriousness. Some managed to navigate the issue--see Ansari, Aziz--while others can probably pull it off if they lay low for a bit--see Franco, James. But Chris Hardwick's situation was...different. After his ex-partner Chloe Dykstra alleged (without naming names) a litany of verbal, emotional, and sexual abuse, it was clear she was talking about Hardwick--and as such, he was removed from most of his projects. When Dykstra declined to participate in any investigations, and there didn't appear to be any evidence one way or another, he quietly re-entered the industry. It wasn't a good look for anyone--Hardwick, who almost certainly did some of what was alleged based on what others have said; Dykstra, who wasn't willing to give additional details or even officially name any names, nor the organizations who employed both, who were stuck whatever decision they made.

The Happytime Murders
Everyone loves the Muppets, right? And everyone wants the Muppets to engage in sex, violence, and profanity, right? Wait, no!?! The long-awaited Happytime Murders, a movie that supposes a world where humans and puppets co-exist (similarly to Roger Rabbit) was a pet project of Brian Henson of the Henson family, although not really a "Muppet" move. Despite the star power of Melissa McCarthy and some decent writers, it ended up being an embarrassing bomb.


Roseanne
The return of Roseanne was one of the crowning achievements of this era of remakes and reboots. Set up on network TV--desperate for viewers being chipped away by streaming services--it was met with exceedingly excellent rating. Which, of course, meant that star Roseanne screwed the whole thing up by tweeting some racist things, bringing the whole thing down. They have continued the show without its star, rebranding it as "The Conners" (Harper, paging Valerie Harper) to solid if not fantastic ratings.

Logan Paul
YouTube personality Logan Paul (man, there's a lot of YouTube personalities on the list this year), popular with a lot of preteens, drew ire and shame by celebrities and professionals alike when he released a video from the "suicide forest" in Japan, where an actual victim of suicide was shown. Called tasteless and unsympathetic, he was temporarily banned from many YouTube channels and took a break, returning with a video focusing on suicide prevention.

Papa John
John Schnatter, founder of the Papa John's pizza chain, is no stranger to controversy, having previously made public comments about the NFL National Anthem issue. He finally crossed the line while on a conference call, using a racial epithet and other questionable statements. He ultimately resigned his chairmanship.

Michael Avenatti
The lawyer for Stormy Daniels and a perennial thorn in the side of Donald Trump, he was feted by many activists as a lawyer who got things done, especially in a climate where Robert Muller's official investigation seemed to be moving at a glacier-like pace. He wasn't quite as well-liked by moderates, who saw him as a camera hog in it mostly for Michael Avenatti, and for his support of the shaky Julie Swetnick allegations against Brett Kavanaugh (see below), which may have helped him get confirmed. He even started showing up on polls of the Democratic nominee for President. It all came crashing down, more or less, when he was charged with domestic abuse, and then Stormy Daniels announced that he had taken many steps, including a defamation lawsuit against the President, without her permission.

Brett Kavanaugh
After perennial Supreme Court swing vote justice Anthony Kennedy announced his retirement, the race to pick his replacement was messy. Brett Kavanaugh, already a solidly conservative choice, was met with opposition immediately, as others noted that this would upset the traditional balance of the court. This was amplified when accusations of sexual misconduct came to light, and Kavanaugh's confirmation hearing became a microcosm for the liberal vs conservative divide, the #metoo movement, and a rallying point for abortion supporters and opponents. With a lack of hard evidence, Kavanaugh was squeaked in to the Court.


Straw Bans
In 2018 it became a bit of a cause celeb to come out against straws. Many national restaurant chains started to make straws optional, while some states (like SURPRISE! California) made this mandatory. Banning straws has such a laughably small impact on, well, anything, it feels like virtue signalling at its finest, and was met with a relatively forceful pushback from the disabled community, many of whom require straws. It also enables a bit of crowding out, as people feel like banning straws is "doing their part" and then not taking more effective actions.

Romaine Lettuce
Huge swaths of lettuce were recalled this year due to possibly being affected by the e. coli bacteria. Most vegetables are hard to track the provenance of, so while the outbreak is almost certainly contained to a small distribution, there's no quick and easy way to track it down--and so lettuce met a genocide for a few weeks this winter.

Vape Flavor Restrictions
As the popularity of vaping and e-cigarettes increased, it's no surprise there was some opposition from its appeal to kids. Despite being safer than cigarettes, it's still not healthy, and many "flavored" vape secretions (or whatever--I don't know what the hell is going on) were banned from retail sale (although still available via other outlets).

Swimsuit Competition Cut From Miss America
Bowing to pressure from many feminist and other groups, the Miss America contest finally did away with the Swimsuit Competition portion of their pageant. Or most people assume, since no one has watched the Miss America pageant since 1985.

Build-A-Bear
Earlier this year as a promotion, the Build-A-Bear Workshop chain--a popular toy store allowing kids to customize their stuffed bears--announced that they had a "pay your age" day. Given the high cost of the bears under normal circumstances, this was so hugely popular that it caused disruptions in many of the stores in the United States and the UK, and the promotion had to be shut down part of the way through the day.

 [Voting is now closed.]

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Vote Now! The 2018 Miserable Crank Awards: Day Two

Here are the candidates for day two of voting for the Miserable Crank Awards of 2018. Don't forget to vote on the Day One categories or the Day Three categories!


Mark Zuckerberg's Congressional Testimony
The 2016 election brought with it many scandals, and a lot of them involved Facebook, in a variety of ways--including the behavior of Cambridge Analytica. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg put on his best Data face and offered his testimony, which did little to convince anyone that the social media giant intended to do anything about false information on its platform.

Starbucks' Racial Issues
Starbucks had not one but two unfortunate racial incidents in its stores this year, a keen embarrassment for the progressive-leaning coffee chain. First, a manager kicked out some African-American individuals because they weren't buying anything, contra to the company's policy of not doing that, and when they didn't leave had them arrested. They then tried to solve the problem by launching a "Race Together" campaign, a laughably tone-deaf attempt to start conversations about race and...coffee?

Moviepass
It seemed like a good idea on paper--customers pay a small monthly fee of ten dollars, and they get to see as many movies as they want. OK, maybe it wasn't a great idea on paper, and it certainly wasn't in practice. The innovating company found itself in financial issues over the summer, right when the blockbuster movies were coming out, and had to find additional funding to pay the bills--the huge bills customers were racking up by going to the movies too much. After fudging around with various gimmicks, like surge pricing and movie restrictions, they retooled their plan, but not before the customer base was decimated by their frantic and unstable services.

IHOB
International House of Pancakes is known for one thing--well, two, if you count a place to find drunks eating sixteen pancakes with boysenberry syrup. As a rather blatant marketing gimmick, they changed their name to iHob--with a B--and let people guess what it stood for (apparently not botulism). Turns out it was burgers. Which is a perfect drunk food, so they know their market, but its weirdly insistent decisions regarding its marketing was more trouble than it was worth.

Toys R Us
The toy retail giant had been on the teetering edge of bankruptcy for a while now, thanks to a combination of mismanagement, online stores, and leveraged buyouts. It finally all just collapsed this year as the entire chain just folded. The iconic brand drilled into kids nationwide was no more. While the brand itself will be licensed out in various forms (including the mascot, Geoffrey the Giraffe), the iconic brand drilled into kids' nostalgia nationwide was no more.


Yanni/Laurel
It's the gold-or-blue dress of 2018! A weird little recording made the rounds on the internet, where playing it back sounded like the word "Yanni" to some people and "Laurel" to others. Everyone got in on the act, with even major newspapers posting it and having everyone weigh in. As usual, some scientists came out and told us all why, but why do that when you can just argue with people?

Eating Tide Pods
Oh, you wacky millennials! When will you learn not to do stupid shit? Of course, I'm stretching the definition of "millennial" and "stupid shit," but it's hard to focus coarse judgement otherwise. A handful of popular YouTube personalities decided to take up the Tide Pod Challenge, which was nothing more than eating little packets of detergent. The Tide Corporation (or whatever) had to come out and release an actual announcement telling people that laundry soap was not intended to be edible. 

Fortnite
Just, no.

Middle-Aged White Women Calling The Cops On Black People Doing Normal Stuff
With many aspects of racial tension at an all-time high, it's not surprising that middle-aged white women decided they needed to do something. Given almost comically Dick-Tracy-villain level nicknames like BBQ Becky and Permit Patty, these triumphant women called the police after seeing black people...having a barbecue. Or selling bottles of water. The nerve!

Tik Tok
Sure, it seems like a fun little app where preteens can lip-sync along to their favorite songs, but it has the unfortunate benefit of being a popular thing of young people doing explicitly annoying things. And while it's the spiritual successor to the much-lamented Vine app, it also has the unfortunate reputation of having some weirdly adult content.


Parkland Shooting
Another year, another mass shooting. This time in the Florida high school in Parkland. This one seemed a little different than previous shootings--a few iconic students got more than the normal amount of headlines, and it seemed to be the breaking point for a lot of politicians previously on the fence.

Pennsylvania Priest Scandal
An investigation into the various Catholic Archdiocese in Pennsylvania led to the revelation that over the course of the past few decades, hundreds of priests assaulted thousands of children throughout the state.(This doesn't include those abuses uncovered in Philadelphia, which was the subject of an earlier investigation.) While a lot of the facts known aren't a surprise, the numbers alone shook a lot of people.

Border Issues
Take your pick--is it the family separation policy, that was eventually reversed after an agonizingly long delay and still hasn't been fully implemented? Is it teargassing women and children? Is it the caravan making its way up north? Is it the still-not-built wall?

California Wildfires
Another year, another...well, you get the idea. The Wildfires in California were particularly nasty this year, no doubt accelerated by the years of drought the state has suffered from. Even aside from the destruction of so many iconic areas in the Golden State, many people who weren't near the fires still suffered from the smoke pouring in from inland.

Murder of Saudi Arabian Journalist
A sloppy execution of a Saudi Arabian journalist, Jamal Khashoggi, that took place in the Saudi Arabian embassy in Turkey, reinforced a lot of what westerners think of the middle east--unwilling to acknowledge dissent, repression of the free press, and super, super bad at covering up murder.

[Voting is now closed.]


Monday, December 3, 2018

Vote Now! The 2018 Miserable Crank Awards: Day One

It's time for the 9th annual Miserable Crank awards, where we determine the worst events of the year!

The categories are:

    Worst Government Decision
    Worst Technological Advance
    Worst Sports Event
    Worst Embarrassment
    Worst Business Decision
    Worst Popular Trend
    Worst Incident
    Worst Entertainment
    Worst Person
    Worst Inconvenience

Simply vote for one candidate in each category over the next three days. Then, you can vote again for any one event as the "Worst Thing About 2018" on day four. On that day, you can vote for the same candidate as you had in the past or a different one; it's up to you. Whichever one wins the overall vote wins the Worst Event, and whoever the runner-up is in that category wins that category instead. I retain a little bit of judgement and discretion on this one, however, since not all of the candidates are appropriate.

(The second day of voting is for Business, Popular Trends, and Incidents. The third day of voting is for Entertainment, Person, and Inconvenience.)

Voting will end on Friday, December 14th. The results will be posted the following week.


"S***hole Countries"
During a cabinet meeting, when President Donald Trump was going about his usual business of pontificating over the important issues of the day, he lamented the fact that only "shithole countries" wanted to come to America, and why couldn't nice nations like Norway and other not-brown nations get more people to come over here. The language leaked out and caused a bit of a firestorm, although it caused very little surprise.

Election for Georgia Governor
There's always a few elections that are super close and take days, if not weeks, to resolve, and this year was no exception. While races in Arizona, California, and Florida got counted and recounted, the Governor's race in Georgia merits special mention. Complications abound, from the purging of voter rolls prior to the election, to the Republican candidate not  recusing himself as Secretary of State, to the usual amount of Southern Electoral Trickery (TM). Ultimately, GOP congressman Brian Kemp won, which caused a bit of a firestorm, although it caused very little surprise.

Tariffs
Making good on one of his campaign promises, Donald Trump enacted tariffs on a variety of industrial goods, namely steel. While nearly all economists agree that tariffs are a poor tool to use, filled with unintended but perfectly predictable consequences, the administration proceeded anyway. The subsequent closure of several GM plants late in the year (cars use, you know, a lot of steel) caused a bit of a firestorm, although it caused very little surprise.

Military Parade
Early this year, Donald Trump declared that he would like a military parade. Parades in and of themselves aren't new or particularly controversial, although they are usually done when there is some sort of, uh, reason. While the parade was ultimately shelved--it was scheduled for Veteran's Day this year, one of the few shockingly on-point aspects of the entire debacle--it led to an unnecessary amount of logistical bandwidth. 

Summit with Kim Jong Un
Trump, looking for a foreign policy win, declared that he was going to meet with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un. The meeting, which took place in Singapore, was in some ways a qualified diplomatic success, but was quickly overshadowed by the border family separation crisis (and, like, a dozen other things) and ultimately the President couldn't capitalize off of it. 


Elon Musk
Elon Musk keeps on Muskin'. After he publicly made comments about taking his company Tesla private, the Security and Exchange Commission got involved since that's, you know, kind of illegal. As such, he was forced to pay, along with the Tesla corporation, $20 million each, and step down as its chairman (although he remains CEO).

Nazis On Twitter
The internet has always been a bastion of free speech, but for a lot of sectors of today's climate it's not always easy to navigate. So it was with popular social media site Twitter, which saw a rise in publicly self-identified Nazis using the platform to spread their views. Twitter tried to hedge their bets, leaning on their commitment to open dialogue while picking off the worst offenders via a violation of the terms of use. This pleased pretty much no one and it solved virtually nothing.

Google Walkout
Silicon Valley has a bit of a reputation problem, and Google is the flagship of both the modern technological boom and said problems. When internal issues concerning sexual harassment in the workplace apparently went unresolved, employees staged a protest. While it remains to be seen whether this will have any effect, the culture of the industry is unlikely to change anytime soon.

Amazon Picks An HQ or Two
For the past year or so, Amazon has been tantalizingly dangling a sweet treat for many cities to snatch--the building of a new HQ, which includes thousands of high-paying, high-quality jobs. Many cities across America submitted groveling bids, while many decried the inevitable disruption in culture and rent prices. Ultimately, the split the baby and picked two areas well in need of economic development--New York and Washington, DC, because apparently Amazon feels like dumping money down a black hole.

GDPR
Confused by the new privacy regulations regarding online commerce enacted by the EU? Join the club! While the changes are relatively minor for most major companies, it did press a lot of smaller companies out of the way and--most importantly--required most people to check another box in a popup terms and conditions window that they didn't read.


Serena Williams Tantrum
Serena Williams was attempting a victory at this year's US Open, but was struggling against rising star Naomi Osaka. When she was fined for a coaching violation, this quickly descended into a racket abuse violation and then a verbal abuse violation, costing her the game. She then claimed this was due to the official treating her different because she is a woman, despite the fact that the dozens of other contestants were also women and somehow were fine-free by the end.

Gritty
People love mascots, right? Well, maybe. But the reaction to the Philadelphia Flyers new mascot--an abomination named Gritty--was swift and judgmental. A city known more for hurling batteries at Santa Claus and murder than cutesy mascots for their street-criminal-level hockey team, the mixed reaction kind of swung all the way around to the city embracing him as an icon of non-Philly resistance. The rest of us just think he's a Duplo Muppet.

The Crown Jewel
A highly-touted WWE match held in Saudi Arabia, the pay-per-view match was gross all around. Noting that pretty much nothing in Saudi Arabia isn't tainted by some sort of slavery, critics added on the recent murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, the return of disgraced former wrestler Hulk Hogan, and a lackluster performance of the Universal Title bout, and many stars (including John Cena) bailed, and it was a (profitable) mess all around.

FIFA
The World Cup tournament was held in Russia this year. Controversy spread before the contest even begun, with a mix of teams that failed to make the bracket (the US) and many long-time nations locked out due to, well, playing like shit (Hi, Brazil and Germany!), it was all capped off by the usual nonsense that comes from Moscow.

Abuse At The US Women's Gymnastic Team
In a climate of #MeToo, accusations outside of the board room and Hollywood started to get more attention. For over 30 years, Larry Nassar, a medical coordinator for the official Olympic gymnastics organization, routinely sexually assaulted over 150 individuals in various capacities. Stories came to light over his conduct, explaining why he abruptly quit about a year and a half ago.


The Nobel Prize In Literature
One wouldn't think there were too many scandals in the Nobel committee for Literature, but you would be wrong. This year there was no prize awarded--not due to the quality of the work this past year, and not due to any scandals involving any candidates, but because too many of the committee members had to resign due to sexual allegations. While they're award two prizes next year, it's still pretty gross.

Stormy Daniels
Pornographic actress Stormy Daniels (I've, uh, never heard of her) made waves this year by publicly discussing her affair with President Donald Trump (well, insomuch as an affair can happen with Trump). Revealing lurid details about their encounter, she ostensibly broke the terms of her non-disclosure agreement while setting up a whirlwind of defamation lawsuits and other legal maneuvers.

Hawaii Gets (False) Bombed
Want to know how to get people to panic? Send out an official text to the residents of Hawaii that a missile is incoming. The alert was mistakenly sent early this year, to which Hawaiians resigned themselves for the thirty-eight entire minutes before the mistake was corrected.

Tanacon
YouTube personality Tana Mongeau (look her up) was denied the designation of "Featured Creator" at VidCon, a California convention for YouTube and other content creators. IN response, she decided to hold her own TanaCon in the same city at the same time as an alternative...except she didn't do the things necessary to, you know, hold a convention. Except take the money, of course. Long lines were left outside in the hot sun and many of her pre-teen fans were sunburned to the point of medical attention. Security wasn't hired. And while she promised 20,000 people would show, a maximum of 5000 did--at a venue that wouldn't hold a fraction of that.  

HUD Gets Furnished
Former presidential candidate and current Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson recently came under fire for lavish spending for his department, including spending over $160,000 in furniture and other home decor (including a $31,000 dining set). For the record, the official limit for redecorating before approval is needed is around $5,000.

[Voting is now closed.]

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

The Art of Art Bell

Art Bell died a few days ago.

Most of you probably don't know who he is, but he was...well, influential isn't the right word. He was a notable figure in the formation of my college years. He was the host of a little radio show called Coast to Coast AM, pretty much the only offering available for anyone who is driving around at three in the morning.

Coast to Coast AM is an eclectic program, stretching out for four hours every night, consisting of a mix of call-in shows, extended segments, and news updates. What makes them unique is that they focus almost exclusively on the paranormal and conspiracy theories and futurism and a lot of strange bits. The first part of the program might talk about new solar panel technology, the second part might be about the government tapping our phone lines, the third might be how aliens are building bunkers in the midwest, and the last might have the host ask vampires to call in. It's as strange and as fascinating as it sounds. 

I was never a loyal listener--even in my crazy, crazy days if I was up at 3am in college it was because of Master of Orion II, not the radio. But I've always been fascinated by conspiracy theories of all types. I've been lukewarm on the paranormal until later in my life, but I've come around. And I still have a pretty good excitement level when it comes to new technologies. So I'd tune in to Coast to Coast AM every once in a while to get a hit of what the latest weirdo trends are and be happy.

But this eclectic nature was also its downfall.  A fascinating science story would be following by some obvious hoax that the hosts would egg on, seemingly sympathetic. Tuning in would be a gamble, even if you're open-minded about some things. And this sort of show naturally attracts a lot of extremists, which is fine if we're talking about aliens and spooks but not so much when it's political assassinations.

When I started listening in the late 90s, Art Bell was the host, but was sharing those duties with George Noory (and others). At the time, they were both pretty similar in style, albeit Bell always came across as a bit of a crank and Noory a little too easy-going with objectionable guests. (In the following decade, Noory tacked a very different tone, leaning less on paranormal and more on politics, but it was still a pretty good mix of topics.) While there's always a bit of risk when trucking with conspiracies, as we have seen lately, by and large it's a fascinating look into history and psychology. My Coast to Coast experience was probably more with Noory and Ian Punnett than Bell, but Bell was enough of a force to shape the show itself.


The state of conspiracy science wouldn't be what it is without Art Bell, for better or worse.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Wafer Thin

There's been talk that the NECCO company may be going bankrupt, and that makes me very, very sad.

As longtime readers know I love strange and unusual candy, and while NECCO is pretty mainstream they still have a very off-brand vibe. More importantly, if they do happen to go under, a lot of my favorite candies will go away (or, at least get disrupted.)

First things first--let's get this out of the way. NECCO Wafers are trash. They have no taste and when they do have a taste that taste is chalk. They are no good. I wouldn't even use them as ammunition. I know they are beloved by a lot of people, but whoof.

But the rest of their lineup is pretty good, even if a lot of them are different versions of more successful candy. They make Mary Janes and Candy Buttons and the bits of paper you swallow with Candy Buttons and Canada Mints and, apparently, at some point they acquired Clark Bars, which are great because you enjoy them once and then for the next two hours as you lick them off of the back of your teeth. These are all solid offerings and I wouldn't turn down any of them, even if their flagship product is a garbage dump.

However, the biggest prize is the vaunted Sky Bar. For those who don't know, Sky Bars are basically candy bars that have four different sections, each section a different flavor (caramel, fudge, nut, and marshmallow). While I'm pretty sure they downgraded the chocolate they used a few years ago, it's still a very unique offering that I still consider to be a treat. This would be my go-to candy when I would go to pharmacies when I was a kid, a habit I more or less kept up for the next twenty years or so.

I know how these things go--just like Hostess a few years ago, a lot of noise will be made, eventually someone will buy them out and start laying off people, they rebuild a little bit, probably screw some people over, and by and large we'll still get to buy them in stores. But NECCO is small enough that they may not make it. It also doesn't help that the CEO has apparently started a GoFundMe page--complete with misspelling "Massachusettes"--to save the company. (As of this writing, they've raised about $700 out of $20,000,000.)

So tomorrow, I'm probably stopping somewhere and getting some Sky Bars while I still can.

Monday, April 9, 2018

TV...on the Internet!

On the most recent episode of the podcast We Got This, hosts Mark and Hal spoke with Andy Richter about the greatest invention of the last 100 years.The show rather quickly whittled the list down to television and the internet, which really should be a surprise to no one. [Technically, spoilers ahead for the episode, although quite frankly they pretty much decide in the first five minutes.]

Their argument basically boiled down to two things--television had gatekeepers, while the internet doesn't. Both, of course, have their pros and cons--with people picking and choosing the content, it's hard for a lot of people to get their message out, and it can quickly devolve into a combination of self-reinforcing repetitiveness and nepotism. WIth no filter, however, there's no way to verify if information is true or valid or not.

It got me to thinking about the future of media, and how it is almost certain that television and the internet will eventually merge into something akin to a tiered system. We already see this, to a certain extent--streaming services have profilerated, and while it's certain that the market will have only a few victors in the end, it's almost certain to be the standard for quite some time. (I suppose there's a non-trivial chance that we will move to a per-show model, much like iTunes has as an option, but I find that unlikely--bundles, even smaller ones like the current offerings, seem to balance content and price.)

But I see a future where there's two systems, at least as content media is concerned--the "free" internet, and the cream of the crop bubbles up and is snagged by the established networks/distributors. We still have the gatekeepers, but we also still have the freedom of the internet. In a way, we see this in the book publishing business--self-publishing is easier and cheaper as it has ever been, but this has produced a lot of garbage. A lot. So we still need publishing houses to curate the things that people want to see, while the option still exists if you want to drag through the wild west of offerings. (An added benefit of the "regular" internet is that there's a dedicated army of people who enjoy niche subjects already doing this. You want a sci-fi furry mystery? If it's good, it will eventually be found.)

I am sure there are drawbacks to all this, probably related to news (which probably shouldn't count as 'content media' anyway, but I also think they are forever linked). But that is a deeper, more complex problem I'm not equipped to handle. Doesn't mean I don't have an opinion on it, of course.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

How To Make An Extremely Mediocre Horror Movie

A few weeks ago, we saw Winchester, the horror film starting Helen Mirren about the Winchester Mystery House.

For those who are not familiar, the Winchester Mystery House is a real-life weird thing. The widow (and majority owner) of the Winchester Repeating Arms Company, Sarah Winchester, had an infant daughter die, and  upon consulting with a medium, was told that in order to appease the spirits of those how have died by the arms her husband (and now her) sold, she had to continually build. As in perform constant, 24-hour-a-day construction on the house she owned. As such, she moved out West to California, where for the next few decades the mansion was under constant construction, remodeling, and experimentation. The result is a fascinating building, where doors lead nowhere, stairs spiral needlessly around, and rooms make little architectural sense.

(For the record, while the reason why this happened is probably apocryphal, the construction actually did happen. The theories are pretty much either the spiritualist one listed above, or that she just had money to burn being an armchair architect. Obviously the estate plays up the former, since spooks who are in league with the local construction worker's guild is a better story.)

For the movie, instead of telling the incredibly fascinating real-life story, they chose instead to go with a rather mundane straight retelling of the story involving ghosts.

They did take the above foundation as the starting point. They did, also, come up with a reasonably interesting take on it--the constant rebuilding was that, in order to appease the ghosts, they had to recreate the room in the room of their death, and then sealed. They did also build on the real-time obsessions of Sarah Winchester, such as the number 13.They even come up with a framing device--a doctor who visits to evaluate her mental state on behalf of the Winchester board of directors--that sounds like it could go in interesting directions.(My wife and I toured the place when we went out to California last year.)

Sadly, the movie makes none of this interesting.

First off, it relies on cheap jump scares. Jump scares can be effective, even if they aren't very creative, but in this case they just seem out of place. The first few times it happens--when the doctor is looking in a mirror--it's in a scene with no tension, no buildup, and no creepiness. It just sort of happens with no reason.

The character of Sarah Winchester is clinical. Helen Mirren does the best she can with the material, but it goes nowhere. We don't feel sympathy for her. We're not sure if she's supposed to be cold and calculating, or have a hidden agenda, or worthy of emotional investment. Instead, she disjointedly comes across as simultaneously abrasive and then thoughtful. When the doctor first interviews her as part of his examination, the exchange is combative--but it turns out there's no particular reason for this to be the case, because they are ultimately on the same side, and, it's quickly revealed, she invited him to be there because of his background. And when the shit starts to hit the fan, she gets into action right away--and presumably with no help that required the doctor to travel halfway across the country to pull off.

Add to this the weird relationship with the relatives living in the house--are we supposed to hate them? Root for them? We don't know, because the information presented doesn't connect.

And when the "big bad" finally shows up--so what? The previous times he had been shown, it's without importance or interest. He's a secondary character of no consequence, so when the reveal happens there's no emotional resonance. And when we have what is presumably the film's climax with regard to the doctor--again, the information we've been given so far is far too inadequate to car about its resolution.

This was an extremely frustrating movie to watch, because all of the elements were there. It had the needed characters. It took good stuff from the real-life story and filled in the rest with perfectly reasonable fiction. The actors involved were top-notch. But the whole thing just doesn't work.  Every single scene and line of dialogue in the movie feels like it was written independently of each other, and then someone ordered them all together, and then someone was brought in to paste the whole things together with jump scares and poor lighting.


Saturday, February 17, 2018

Woodrow Wilson Would Like A Word

There's a little known episode of history that we should learn about today.

In late 1919 Woodrow Wilson, on an extensive tour to promote the Treaty of Versailles, collapsed in what eventually amounted to a stroke. Incapacitated, his wife, Edith, took over the day-to-day responsibilities of the job, delegating what she could to cabinet members and insulating him from everyone else.

However, late in his term, Wilson gathered enough energy to make one proclamation:

"There is no greater urgency in this world than to carry out that which our founding fathers intended: that everyone eat peanut butter pie on President's Day."

After which he collapsed, never to speak again.

That's right--it's President's Day soon, which means there is more than adequate time to purchase ingredients and bake a peanut butter pie for the occasion. There is nothing more important you can do for your country.

"I may have refused to delegate my authority to someone with a better capacity to uphold the duties of the office, a decision which may have forced the flawed application of a treaty that eventually led to World War II, but damned if this peanut butter pie isn't delicious. #WorthIt."

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Bowl

I like football. No, I really do.

But I haven't watch a game in years.

Well, that's not true. I haven't watched a non-Superbowl game for about three years or so. And this year I'm not even going to watch that.

Part of it is just...fatigue. The NFL has made some boneheaded decisions in the last few years. Usually I take such things in stride--a lot of people do a lot of things I disagree with, and I still consume their media. The world is such a culturally intertwined place that it's impossible to avoid most things. You can take a stand about the NFL's handling of domestic abuse or concussions or the anthem by not watching the games, but at the end of the day you're almost certainly giving even more money to gas station owners, waitresses, and accountants that if you knew their opinions it would probably shock you. But at some point I just shrugged and thought, "I'll pass."

I'm sure I'll get back into it again, but I just haven't had the inclination for a while to see a game. And because I haven't followed the NFL for a few years, I am out of the loop on so many things it will be hard to catch back up.

All this is to say I won't be watching the Superbowl this year. Not only am I not really interested in the teams, but I also no longer have the ability to do so--we cut the cord, as it were, when we moved. The only thing we really lost was live TV and live sports, and while I do miss hockey it just wasn't nearly worth it to pay a monthly charge just for that.

I'm sure I will catch the scores once in a while, but for now, it looks like it will just be slightly cheaper pizza for a day for me.