29 November 2009

The Sky Is Falling!

(Photograph copyright 2009, all rights reserved)

All right, all right. I give in. More correctly, I can't help myself. See, I have this "thing" if you want to call it that, about people who earnestly declaim on subjects that are utter nonsense, quoting twaddle from unknown Internet people and chain letters as if it were.....well (said the irreligious and occasionally blasphemous writer who can say these things because no one's the boss of her here).. like Gospel.

All right. There were a lot of things that led up to this, not the least of which is an utterly ridiculous movie. Ok. The world is going to end in....2012. Truthfully, I have no idea why people are saying this now, except that it has something to do with the Mayans or the Aztecs....or was it the Inuit? Some First Nations group who are all conveniently dead and can't answer any questions or go over the calculations for us. We'll just have to believe them. Er...we'll just have to believe what "someone" is TELLING us about what that particular First Nation had to say because they're all dead. A long time ago. Really really. After all maybe Someone in Authority got a supernatural e-mail about it or something and naturally knows more than us, the Great Unwashed.

Anyway, a great many people are taking this seriously it would seem, so I just had to look into it. Of course, I'm just barely old enough to remember that the world was ALSO supposed to end in the 1980s a bunch of times, and there were a whole lot of people who were convinced that the End was coming every year of the 90s, and let's not forget 2000, either. A lot of people have toxic out-of-date canned goods and stale water left over from that one!

(Disclosure: The Boy and I spent the evening of Dec. 31, 1999 on a beach in Hawaii drinking vast quantities of very good champagne and waiting for the world to end. We may not have noticed it, being half snapped at the time, but I do remember lovely fireworks....or maybe it WAS an Apocalypse and we all just missed it altogether. It was a great deal of fun, though.)

After that non-event (there wasn't even any turbulence on the flight home, sorry guys), I've ceased altogether taking news of our Coming Doom seriously. I consider these dates to be good excuses to throw dinner parties and drink a great deal of wine and my friends are all happy to be fed by me if I supply the wine, too. It's a win-win, and the next morning, we can all crow about it and brag that the world ended and none of us even had hangovers. My kind of party.

I see that my views on this are echoed by Sybil Adelman . This is a lady with the right idea. If the world is REALLY going to end and there's nothing we can do about it, then why not drink the wine and have the fun? It's not like we'll be around the next day to whine about the credit card bill from the restaurant, right?

So I Googled 2012 predictions and found...a whole lot of very earnest stuff about the whole situation. There are sites like the-end.com, 2012predictions.net, 2012endofdays.org, and they all say pretty much the same thing. We're doomed, the sky is falling, The world is going to Hell LITERALLY this time, and our gooses are cooked unless we.....do whatever the crackpots that own the web sites tell us to do, most of which appears to be to buy their book. One wonders why they're SELLING the books if the world is going to end, anyway? Do they think they might need money afterwards?

Sigh. In the spirit of Apocalypses (Apocalypti?) everywhere, Smagboy kindly sent me a link that has a reasonable list of prior dates when the World Was Going To End. There are elaborate mathematical formulae provided for many of the dates and they all include something religious (but not necessarily Biblical) that has the reasons for it. Now, at the time, a LOT of people were utterly convinced that the world really was going to end. Seriously. Even the illiterate types who didn't even know what year it was....you'll have to read the list.

I have to kind of laugh at all of this. I suppose that some people find some sort of "meaning" in their lives contemplating the end. No doubt there are a lot of bitter folk who see it as an "up yours" to the universe. Judging from what I've seen about it there are a LOT of people who take it very seriously, though, and to them I say this .

21 November 2009

What?! No More Oprah?

(Photograph copyright 2009, all rights reserved)

Well, it's true, all true. The rumors that have been roaring around Chicago for months have been proven right. Oprah Winfrey is shutting down the show. It's been 25 years, and according to the lady herself, that seems a nice, round number for the last show. Of course the last show isn't going to happen until AFTER the 2010-2011 season is over. You all know this, it's been all over the news. We heard about the "tearful goodbye", all of the emotions flinging around and all the drama. Apparently the networks are scrambling, business people are freaking out, and according to a bunch or articles in the Chicago Tribune, the Chicagoan on the street thinks it's all pretty much no big deal.

See, Chicago likes to "claim" Oprah, but Is she really a Chicagoan? Consensus is not really. Yes, she DOES own a ridiculously expensive condo in a downtown tower and she can certainly afford it. If nothing else, she's a smart business woman. Sure, she occasionally shows up in the city - mostly to film her shows in the windowless studio she built in the relative wilderness of the Near South Side.

As for where she LIVES - well that would be California. Has done for many, many years. I can't say I blame her for that. The winters here can be pretty awful. I guess I can't blame her for never mentioning any of her supposed home city's world class restaurants, history, architecture or museums. I haven't watched the show for (ok, I'll admit it) a good decade and a half. Maybe I missed it. After all, it's a national show and it wouldn't do to appear to "local" in character, right? The viewers probably couldn't be expected to process that the show is created in the vacuum of the tasteful, yet bland studio that is actually in the third largest city in the US.

Oh! I forgot. She DID have that massive, self-consciously "cool" party on Michigan Avenue this summer. Now THAT was an event all right. Hundreds of police and armed guards zealously guarded the Port-a-Potties against people who had been standing outdoors for twelve or so hours waiting to see the fun. Even AFTER the people were allowed to pee, they found that there were nowhere near as many as needed. Oh yeah, I did mention that the party was on Michigan Avenue, right? Yes kids, that party made it virtually impossible to enter many office towers for literally thousands of people who actually had to get to work that day. That was fun, too.

That party caused a whole bunch of disasters for the people who actually LIVE in this city, but hey, it was great fun, right? And it wasn't Oprah's fault - it's not like she even knew any of the bad stuff was going on until the next day. No, her priorities were right where they've always been; with the celebrities that she imported for the show, the cameras, and making sure that all of the people who were invited to the party were smiling for the cameras. Nothing was allowed to interfere with making a perfect show, including the people who live here.

You might already have guessed that I don't have much time for Oprah and her show. I always thought that she was just a little too...too... I don't know...self conscious? That doesn't sound right. She always seems to me to have gone straight for the schmaltz and substance be damned. For years she's filled the air with horrible, ghastly stories told by people who she hugs and calls "survivors". I can't help but think that she studied ratings, had a bunch of focus groups and built a guest profile that would appeal to the most possible number of people. The guest had to be:

1. Either attractive adult or a cute child,

2. Had to either suffer a horrendous illness or injury,

3. OR had to be an abused woman (more on that later).

This person was absolutely required to cry attractively without getting swollen eyes or a drippy nose for one full hour if necessary. Oprah would then hug them, wipe off a tear or two (thank you Maybelline for that waterproof mascara), talk to some sort of "expert" or two about the problem, then shill for the expert's new book on that very subject.

There were celebrity interviews, too. Everyone who was anyone had to be on the Oprah show if their movie or book was coming out. That's life on talk shows in general. I feel for the actors/writers, etc. who have to schlep around the country flogging their work and having to answer the same insipid questions a thousand times. I found it all pretty tedious to watch. Who wants to hear people talking about their book? READ the bloody thing!

She's crossed some lines, though, and this is where my boredom started to become active dislike. Her trite yet popular talk show seemed to morph into something that I was truly uncomfortable with. There was the disaster of a school that she started in Africa which ended up being a "dating" pool for pedophiles and it just got creepier and creepier as far as I'm concerned.

The book club, for example. An endorsement by Oprah could send a writer to the top of the bestseller charts, guaranteeing for some that their (very and perhaps more worthy) books would never be published because they were too much of a risk. Initially all of these books were the same. Someone gets the crap kicked out of them and lives to tell the tale. The end. Then there was the great car giveaway fiasco, wherein the mighty Oprah gave everyone in the audience a car.....THEN found out that the audience would have to pay tax on it as income. She offered to take the cars back, but those that opted to keep them had to suck it up.

Lately there's been the kerfuffle about her celebrity "causes". Perhaps the biggest screwup in the history of the show was the Jenny McCarthy fiasco. For those of you who don't know, dear Jenny believes that she personally cured her son of autism, which she blamed on vaccinations. When it came out later that her son had never had autism, but a seizure disorder that was easily treated, the silence from Oprah and her crew was deafening. No, Oprah had a NEW cause - an anti-science, conspiracy theory driven, dangerous cause that got her massive amounts of attention - vaccines are evil, kids and it's ok if thousands of children die of preventable childhood illnesses as long as the evil pharmaceutical companies are prevented from sticking them in the arm! I found this jaw-droppingly awful. I still can't process that Oprah seems to believe this. I thought she was smarter than that.

It seemed that every celebrity with a crackpot diet, cancer "cure", fitness plan, New Agey bullshit happiness plan, you name it, just went to give Oprah higher ratings. If it sounded too good to be true, she was on it like white on rice, baby. The wackier the better and she applauded all of them, no matter how moronic they sounded. It didn't matter that it was all crap and that she was actually damaging the people who took it seriously. She used her power (I can't resist) for evil, all in the name of ratings and money AND PEOPLE LET HER DO IT.

Oprah has no real science education. She's not particularly brilliant when it comes to literature, or history. She is in the media, though - that's her real metier. Say things that SOUND convincing to a large enough audience and the content is actually meaningless, right?

So. Now she's going off-air. There's still the magazine. She gets to be on the cover every month, too. She's starting her own television network. The New York Times pointed out that these things are full-time jobs and not to be undertaken with the distraction of a TV show. I have to admire her ability to take a silly half hour of TV and turn it into a media empire. When it comes to making money, Oprah could give lessons to just about anyone.

I have to believe it was all calculated. ALL of it. The causes, the giveaways (Lady Bountiful clearly was an appealing alter ego), the parties, all of these are monuments to a massive ego with terrific business sense. Standing back, it's hard to swallow the carefully crafted image of the last 25 years wasn't a massive and very clever manipulation of public opinion for the sole purpose of making money. I think that the mind behind them is extremely clever and the people Oprah has working for her are no slouches. But then, I'm no fan. It all looked so blatant and obvious to me that I chose not to buy into it.

Now fans of Oprah, relax. I'm an opinionated old thing, as you can see if you read all of the above. I hope it doesn't sound like a rant - like I said, I'm opinionated and I hate feeling as if someone were trying to orchestrate my opinion. Besides, the show has another year and a bit to run, and I suspect it will be in syndication for decades to come...Ok, rethink that last. Oprah is too smart for that. The show will be on repeats on HER network for years to come.

18 November 2009

Sarah, Please Go Away Already!

(Photograph copyright 2009, all rights reserved)

Everyone knows by now that Sarah Palin's book "Going Rogue" is out. There are reviews all over the place, major arguments are happening all over the web, and I fully expect a couple of women to come to blows on the el sometime soon. No doubt it will be picked up by the Chicago Tribune and highlighted on the daily police blotter. If that happens, I promise to post links to both the articles and the mug shots.

I've resisted saying anything about it. There are some pretty good reasons for this, not the least of which is that I can't vote in this country - I have a Green Card, but I'm not a citizen. Another reason is that I have no intention of buying or reading the book. Even just based on the reviews so far I can tell that I have better uses for that money (like buying lotto tickets) and it seems like a cubic waste of time.

Still, the reviews and commentary have been pretty interesting all by themselves. Christopher Beam wrote an unauthorized Going Rogue Index that is absolutely hilarious. The Huffington Post has a slide show outlining the biggest lies told in the book and is inviting readers to add to the list. Time Magazine lists reviews from a bunch of sources, both positive and negative. Probably one of the most balanced reviews out there comes from the venerable and respected New York Times . I read their reviews all the time and generally agree with the reviewer. The Times is a safe bet when it comes to reviews that are thorough and authoritative.

The most interesting one I've found so far is from Margo Howard , formerly of Slate Magazine. It's concise and well-written, as is all of her work, but that's not even the most interesting part of it. It's the comments and arguments happening on the discussion board UNDER the article that I'm finding interesting. The readership on WowOwow is mostly women, and women have a lot to say about Mrs. Palin, ranging from (apparently) blind adulation to outright loathing and disdain. It seems there's not a lot of middle ground there.

I know, eventually I'm going to have to weigh in here. After all, even though I can't vote, it was hard to miss all of the election goings-on last year, particularly since I live in Chicago and that's where the President lives. Personally, I like Obama. He's smart, educated and knows about hard work. The Boy met him several times before the election while he was commuting to work in Washington and found the former Senator to be a most engaging and interesting person. I think he was a good choice for President, especially considering the alternative. The last person we need running this country is yet another geriatric heart attack waiting to happen or a former drunk with a gun fetish.

That said...

I don't like Sarah Palin. I just can't. I find her to be an abrasive, badly educated, arrogant lightweight whose main interests are most emphatically NOT those of the rest of the country. The whole business of parading her pregnant daughter around the country while touting abstinence "education" is probably the most blatant hypocrisy we've seen in modern times. Hauling her baby around on the campaign trail along with the other kids is skirting the edge of child abuse. Her made up "feud" with a nineteen-year-old kid is absurd.

Why would anyone who can't answer a simple question about what newspapers she reads think that she's qualified to run an entire nation? Does she sincerely believe that the President, ANY President has every single move rehearsed and pre-written in every situation? I used to joke that we only saw Bush and spouse when they were facing the camera because they didn't want anyone to see the strings in their backs, pulled by Cheney and a couple of other cronies. Looks like Sarah would volunteer for the installation.

I watched the speeches and debates during the latest presidential campaign. I paid attention to what was said on all sides. The candidates made the usual number of gaffes and misstatements, which they either corrected or apologized for over the course of the months leading up to the election. It was business as usual. Sarah Palin added entertainment value. Her life is a train wreck, she can't form full sentences without a teleprompter, and she never, ever acknowledges that she might be mistaken about something. It's always someone else's fault. I was embarrassed for her a lot of the time. It was like watching someone pee themselves, you don't quite know what to do and you WANT to ignore it, but you can't look away.

She'll make an estimated ten million dollars on the book. Hopefully that's enough to make her go away after the book tour. Her supporters have pre-ordered tens of thousands of copies, which guarantees it a spot on best seller lists even if those books molder in warehouses unread.

So what do you think? Am I full of crap? Is Sarah? If you see any reviews that look interesting, post them. I'd like to see them...

11 November 2009

Remembrance Day

I know. For all of you Americans it's Veteran's Day and judging by the local papers, it's all about the kickoff to Christmas shopping and maybe a parade of old guys in dated uniforms showing up at a War Memorial. At least, that's what it looks like when I look at a newspaper. I suspect that it's considerably more serious for many.

However, I am Canadian. Proudly Canadian. We do things differently. Remembrance Day for us is mostly about WWI. Naturally it's expanded, all Canadians that have fought all over the world are honored, but it all started in 1917. At the 11th minute of the 11th hour of the 11th day every year, one minute of silence falls all over the country.

My personal hero has always been Billy Bishop, a pilot who, in an airplane made of balsa wood and canvas, managed to become the Ace of Aces. For those of you who have been to an airplane museum, you know that these things look like toys to us now. It's impossible to imagine not only flying one of them, but taking what would seem like insane risks. I'm quite sure that today's pilots would sooner play catch with a grizzly than face machine gun fire in one of those insubstantial vehicles. Billy Bishop flew and fought in one of them for literally years.

We've all heard (and most of us Canadians memorized) McCrae's famous poem, "In Flanders Fields". Many don't know the background to it. Dr. McCrae wrote it during a twenty-minute break after having spent 17 full days treating and losing young men at the battle of Ypres in 1915. He was no stranger to combat and it's inevitable result - the Boer War was his training ground. He continued his work until 1918, when he died of pneumonia.

I know this is all uncharacteristically serious for me - try not to drop dead with the shock. Someone needs to remember, though. The ads that are all over the place, exhorting us to go shopping and spend money are offensive to me. This day, November 11, should mean more than that. If we can't give one minute of silence for those that have fallen, then we don't deserve what they died to bring us.

04 November 2009

I can't believe this. Ok I can, but yeesh.

(Photograph copyright 2009, all rights reserved)

Ok. I have to post this article Driver in fatal crash, etc. that was in the paper this morning. Last week a woman was struck and killed while at a crosswalk. The driver of the car was drunk and blew through a red light at a terrific rate of speed. His victim was seven months pregnant and died almost instantly. Her baby was delivered at the hospital and might have survived had it not been so dreadfully injured in the accident.

The guy that killed her had 15 convictions for license violations. 15. Un-freakin'-believable. His Mommy said that he "never ran a red light", which tells you what a moron she is. You have to read the entire article, though. As things stand now, license violations are impossible to enforce. They write tickets. People go to jail for a month or so. That's it.

Lawmakers across the country have tried to solve this problem for years. The most effective way to do it is, when someone is caught driving without a license, to confiscate the vehicle they're driving. Period. Gone. Never to return. It doesn't even matter whose car it is - the assumption is that whoever was stupid enough to lend the idiot his/her car is as culpable as the driver. Now we know this works. Other countries just don't have this problem, or not to the extent it exists here.

However....and it's the big however... these laws can't get passed here because every time someone tries to bring it up for a vote, the screaming starts. The loudest faction, and the one that (in my opinion) HAS to bear some responsibilities for these needless deaths, is the one that says that confiscating cars discriminates against illegal immigrants. Seriously. They say that. It's like giving assholes who have lost their licenses free rein to kill or maim at random.

Now I am so liberal that liberals give me funny looks. I think that the whole situation regarding who is "illegal" in this country is ridiculous. (BTW yes, I have permanent resident status.) All you have to do is live in Texas for 15 minutes to see just how crucial these people are to the economy. We need a guest worker program of some sort, because we all know that no "real American" is going to do what these people do for those wages. This is one of those issues that's going to come up and bite us all on our collective ass one day, and so it should.

But the cars... I can't think of a better deterrent than kicking some jerk out of his car on the side of the road, calling a tow truck and letting said jerk walk home after he/she is informed that the car is being sold at auction. Some people will probably have to go through this more than once, but seriously, most people can't buy enough cars to do this more than....I don't know...twice?

I also apply this to people who drive drunk. The first time the car is towed and can be retrieved after a hefty fine is paid. Do it again and sayonara car. Like most people, I'm good and tired of hearing about drunks killing people on the roads.

So what do you think? Does this make sense? It's really the only thing I can think of that would pose a real deterrent to the idiots behind the wheel.

03 November 2009

Question O' The Day, A Messy Poll!

(Photograph copyright 2009, all rights reserved)

Ok. Today I decided that I need a pair of jeans. I don't buy jeans often, but in the last year and a half or so I've had to get rid of seven pairs, so I've been slowly replacing them. Now these were fit issues, nothing to do with wear and tear. In fact, I keep worn out jeans longer than I probably should. I don't need to buy them "distressed", life with me for a pair of jeans is distressing enough.

I discovered, on the trek to buying jeans, that I only like one brand. Levi's. Period. Nothing else will do. They just fit me. No gaping waists, the "long" is just long enough, and they have some room in the seat so I can wear them and breathe/eat/get in and out of the car. Not only that, I buy them at standalone Levi's stores because I hate department stores that much. Besides, if they aren't on sale, they're the same price at either location so why not go for the good service, right?

So today, I trundled off to the store to get yet another pair of Mid-Rise Straight Leg Levi's and did what I always do. I took three pairs each of the two sizes that I'm most likely to wear (no, I'm not telling) in three different washes to try on. Out of a dozen pairs of jeans, ONE fit perfectly. ONE in twelve. I didn't even think about the wash - the ones I bought happen to be a nice flat black - but I didn't care. They fit. I would have taken the faded blue, too. In fact, the number on the size tag doesn't even matter, just the fit. Think about that, and consider what an unholy time suck it is to shop for them.

Now, the sales clerks know this. They will flat out tell you that you should take more than one of each size into the fitting room with you. There's no quality control in the Land Of Jeans. NONE. Not even in the $200.00 plus premium jeans market. Waists can vary up to two inches in each size. Length can do the same. It doesn't matter how much or how little you pay or what brand you buy, that variance is going to be there. I figure this about triples the amount of time it takes to buy what amounts to a pair of work pants.

So, given that quality control in the Land Of Jeans is so lousy (this applies to men's jeans, too), how in blazes does anyone ever manage to buy jeans online? I wouldn't even attempt it. Can you imagine how many returns and exchanges these companies must get? What nightmare.

So here's the poll:

1. What is your favorite brand of jeans? (C'mon now, everyone wears them and everyone has a favorite.)

2. Do you hate shopping for them as much as I do? Are you brave enough to shop online for them?

3. And if jeans aren't your shopping nemesis, what garment do you MOST hate shopping for?

4. What do you actually sort of enjoy shopping for? (I'm a shoe nut. I could spend the day shoe-shopping. Oops. I have, too.)