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Friday, June 21, 2013

“I Hate Going Anywhere With You.”

I hear that every so often. I also hear:
“Mr. Crankypants”; or,
“Well, fine, but *I* liked it.” And my favorite:
“Someone needs a nap.”
To be perfectly honest (as much as I can be, trapped in subjective egoism) I am, without equivocation, a pain in the ass to take to a piece of entertainment that I have to fork out $$$ to witness. (I'm equally as picky with free stuff, but paying for it gives me extra self-righteousness.)
There are two tines on this bitchfork: having to pay exorbitant prices for entertainment and having to pay exorbitant prices for entertainments that cheat me out of my due: a logical, sensible, truthful plot that resonates with richly developed, somewhat sympathetic characters not overshadowed by ever-increasing smash-and-bang CGI, that, as the patron saint of Messrs. Crankypants everywhere, the unsurpassed God of Nasty, Pete Townshend, so eloquently put it: “It's all Shepherd's Bush entertainment; you smash a guitar and a thousand geezers go “Aaahhhhh.”
And the second tine: paying $$$ for a plot that wraps itself up so neatly and impossibly, wherein the hero and/or heroine escapes almost perfectly intact with their cohort of sympathy-inducing straggle-ons from a series of disasters so complete and nearly Armageddon...ic... that it boggles the mind. (At least Shelley Winters and Gene Hackman had the decency to die in the “Poseidon Adventure.”)
Money, right? Who's got it these days? My local ubermegamultiplex charges up to $14.00 for one movie. How much is that in minimum wage hours? (Hmmm... in New York State it's $7.25/hour. If the average digital eye candy runs 2 hours 20 minutes, that's 2.33333333 times $7.25, which comes out to... carry the logarithm... $16.91 in minimum wage hours. You come out ahead by $2.91, not counting snacks, in which case you lose about another $15 if you go for the suitcase-sized Raisinettes and an über-vat of cola-flavored high fructose corn syrup.
And live theatre's even worse. Local prices range from $28-$60 for a two-hour show. The benefit is that you get real people hoofin', singin', and emotin' all for you. (Way more expensive, but I can work with real folk sweatin' it out just for me.)
Regardless. I don't have tons of disposable dollars to throw away without a second thought. Even if I did, I'd want my money's worth. I want someone to have sweated over the script, who actually put something of themselves into it, something honest, something true, who gives me something I have to think about. That I can take away. So when I go to the theatre and the plot only adds up to so much instead of where it could have gone if the playwright had preferred spilling some metaphysical blood across the page instead of just pushing sociological buttons without real exploration in order to be current/edgy/daring, I get annoyed. I hate it when the plot cheats out by settling for a more heart-friendly ending instead of biting the bullet, taking the hard road to existential truth and reaching maximum emotional potential. I'm not asking for The Most Profound Script Ever Written; I'm asking for some attempt at logic and truth.
Ya wanna know one of my all-time favorite endings? The last 48 seconds of “Hudson Hawk.” Previously in the movie (SPOILER ALERT FOLLOWS HERE!!!) Danny Aiello is seen going over a cliff in a limo which (a) plunges a hundred feet and smashes into the base of said cliff, and then (b) explodes in a huge fireball. Given the understanding that he is still in the doomed limo, we assume that he is clearly and totally dead, by way of being mangled, exploded, and roasted. Yet, surprisingly, he reappears at the end, riding a convenient donkey, only mildly bruised and lightly scorched. Comrade in crime Bruce Willis expresses due shock, (with more than a touch of nudge nudge wink wink) and asks the miraculously reconstituted Aiello how he survived the crash.
“Air bags!” Aiello replies joyfully. “Can you fuckin' believe it???”
“But what about the fire?” Willis asks (somewhat paraphrased by this writer).
“Sprinkler system!! Can you fuckin' believe it???”
Why is that a great ending? Because by asking if we can fuckin' believe it, the movie harpoons and lampoons every Hollywood cop-out bullshit truthless ripoff climax crowbarred into a substandard plot specifically intended to keep audiences smiling on their way out of the megamultiplex.
Okay, granted. I don't realistically expect much from blockbuster, high-energy, low-brainage movies like the reboot of “Star Trek.” Yeah, it was killer on character, and that's what was important after decades of adoring fandom for Shatner, Nimoy, Kelley, et al (and followed by Picard and company). I enjoyed the hell out of the new kids on the nebula, but scientifically and plot-wise . . . ? It was (thank you, Spock) illogical, ridiculous, and insulting to a gerbil's intelligence. Flying into a black hole. Really. And people call me picky. What's next? Swimming across a river of lava?
But Star Trek is only a symptom of the disease. The level of what I'm expected to ingest these days without question is staggering. (Oh, and on a side note: did anybody else shudder at the sight of a crashing spaceship in Start Trek II that destroyed several people-filled skyscrapers, killing no doubt a thousand or two, only to have a character escape the crash by leaping off of the ship onto a . . . whatever. Really?? Even after 9-11?)
Entertain me. If that's what you offer, then do it well and do it with respect for my intelligence. Thrill us as best you can and if you can possibly raise the bar, then OMG please jack that shit up. You won't turn us off. Trust us to rise to the occasion. Don't settle for formula; use the formula to break new ground, give us something we won't forget. Surprise us. And don't try to engage me with important  issues only to fail me with nothing important to say about them. Don't fluff my ethical spirit. I expect to not be treated like an idiot. (Although there is the argument that I possibly invite it by walking in and paying the high price (at least at the megamultiplex, anyway)).

And I do expect some evidence of respect for my capacity of disbelief suspension. I do expect--and will always continue to expect—that writers and producers will understand that my forked-over, hard-earned shekels will be given their full value and exchanged for a plot that at least tries to impress me, rather than simply making me go “Aaaaaahh.”

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Anna's Prophylactics Shock

So that's what I heard right after I heard “You may experience death.” I believe I can be excused from not hearing “anaphylactic shock” after the shock of hearing “you may experience death.” Blame it on age; I don't recoil as fast as I used to.
Okay, look. I'm 53 years old. Three years ago I missed being hit by a bolt of lightning the size of a tree trunk by less than a foot. The damn thing blew my chunky ass off a rock face and dumped me eight feet away. I survived viral meningitis when I was eight; the doctors told my mother not to get her hopes up. I was almost beheaded on the number one IRT train playing Chicken in between the cars. (The memory of that one still makes me twitch uncontrollably.) I had five concussions by the time I was nine. FIVE, people. I had pneumonia three times before my tenth birthday. A quack doctor almost killed me when I was five by botching my fucking tonsillectomy. Chronic asthma caused me to spend two weeks in an oxygen tent a year later. My appendix burst when I was seventeen. A giggling four-year-old girl in Baghdad in July 2003 threw a live mortar in my direction. Into a three-foot pile of other live mortars.
Somehow I have survived until now. Hopefully I will continue to survive for many years to come. (Sometimes I wonder if I am actually indeed dead and just too obnoxiously stubborn to decompose.) I distinctly remember that in the 7.5 nanoseconds after/as the lightning hit (Canadian lightning, by the way) as I felt it course up through my limbs and through my body and as I felt my body get blown off the too-solid Earth, that my internal dialogue was this: “Really? This is it?? This is just fucking stupid.”
I'm a member of the news team for WRFI 88.1 Ithaca Community Radio. One of the stories I had to compile for today was of a woman bicyclist who was killed as she pulled out of a parking lot. Rear-ended by someone who was texting at the wheel. And just last week a dear cyclist friend was broadsided by some pathetic dipshit who was texting as she was making a turn in a very busy intersection. Luckily my friend escaped with nothing more than severe bruises and some very severe shock. And the week before a man I know only tangentially lost two of his grandkids in a freak automobile accident.
As I said, I'm 53. I have outlived Jesus Christ, Michael Jackson, Dylan Thomas, John Lennon, Edgar Allan Poe, Mata Hari (with whom I share a birthday), Elvis Presley, John Belushi, Keith Moon, Gilda Radner, Baruch Spinoza, Wendy O. Williams, Joey Ramone, Douglas Adams, Malcolm X, Steve McQueen, Hervé Villechaize, Che Guevara, Dimebag Darrell, Vincent Van Gogh, Lady Di, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Napoleon, Houdini, Shakespeare, and Frank Zappa.
(But not Keith Richards. Yet, anyway. Rock on, brother.)
The point is this: According to my allergist, I can be completely undone, my ticket cancelled, made cosmologically redundant, shorn of my mortal coil, harried into Potter's field, made to assume room temperature, hear the fat lady finish, pick parsnips with a step ladder—all of these--by a fucking wasp. Maybe. Possibly. No one wants to say for sure, but in the interests of possible malpractice suits, it has to be there on the table.
Because they have discovered that I am critically allergic to yellow jackets and several types of wasp.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with anaphylactic shock, let me catch you up:
According to
Anaphylaxis is a rare, generalized, potentially life-threatening allergic reaction to a particular substance (allergen) to which individuals have previously developed an extreme sensitivity (hypersensitivity). The reaction typically occurs within seconds or minutes or, more rarely, up to a few hours after exposure to such an allergen. Allergens may include insect venom, certain foods, medications, vaccines, chemicals, or other substances. An anaphylactic reaction may be characterized by development of an itchy, reddish rash (hives); a severe drop in blood pressure; swelling and obstruction of the mouth, nose, and throat; abdominal cramps; nausea and vomiting; diarrhea; and severe difficulties breathing. Without immediate, appropriate treatment, the condition may rapidly lead to a state of unconsciousness (coma) and life-threatening complications.
Pretty nasty stuff.

So now I have to carry on my person--at all times--a pair of Epipens. (No, this is not a endorsement of a product. Not a paid one, anyway.) Each of these devices contains two things: a solution of epinephrine, and (as you can see) a huge fucking needle with which I will have to stab myself in the thigh in order to introduce said epinephrine. (Knowing me, I'll probably stab myself half a dozen times just to make sure. I'll probably die from blood loss instead.)
I understand that we all live with a basic idea of the fragility of life, that at any given moment, without warning, without decent mental or spiritual preparation, we can be cut off. And no, it's not fair. Lots of things on this planet are not “fair.” But they are inevitable, unchanging, irrevocable, and you sure as hell can't argue with Death. You can't play chess with it, you can't offer up a substitute, and you can't bargain.
But we, that is most of us in the modernized first world, live largely and nearly free from the ever-looming shade of the Grim Reaper. Most of us don't worry about where we're gonna sleep, what we're gonna eat, what we have to wear. Or when the next roving band of psychopathic killers will wheel through our village, bringing savagery, turmoil, and tragedy. Or if some mysterious virus of which we have no access to treatment from will arrive in the form of conquistadors or monkeys and wipe us the fuck out. And on the other hand, while we may not be as rich as Ted Turner, with all of his access to top-level medical care, many of us aren't begging for scraps. In short, most of us are, despite the Rube Goldberg model of medical care here in the good old U.S. of A., in varying levels of relativity, fortunate.
So we go our (somewhat) fortunate ways and we keep the notion of The End in the backs of our heads. Wouldn't do much good to whine about it anyway; it's like relatives; you gotta put up with them eventually. Most of us pretend to forget about it and get on with our existences.
We can't ever truly forget it, though, so we dally with it, in literature, movies, and such. We “explore” the theoretical possibilities of an afterlife through religion or philosophy or paranormal science. We seek answers. Any clue at all would be helpful, but it's all a joke. No one's come back yet to tell us what's on the other side. Could be nothing: could be the complete and utter absence of being and consciousness. Could be reincarnation. Could be fluffy clouds and harp lessons and a giant old guy with a big beard. To posit the myriad phenomenae or to profess its supposed truth, what you will: it's all nothing more than ontological masturbation, no matter what anyone says.
And for the thousands of our kith and kin who are nearing the exit door, who know for certain the direction and sometimes the forward distance of their lives, death becomes a Kubler-Ross progression. Finally settling on acceptance and knowing the end is way more than a theoretical concept, actually seeing it ahead, feeling it, may sometimes help the journey become less frightening; there is a knowledge of what's to come, and demystifying the near future could possibly aid in the mental ability to move through the days that follow.
Our modern day idea of death is unlike any that has come before. Think of it: it's only been within the last hundred years or so, through medical advances, that humankind has managed to stave off the immediacy of death. We've made life last significantly longer. For the first time in our history as sentient, upright beings, we can effectively postpone Death. We also possess the means by which we can make it easier, more bearable, and less painful. We can even refuse it entrance, as in the cases where individuals are kept at a basic functioning level, a technical sort of life by biological reasoning; all by machines.
But even this is no cure; it's only a stopgap measure. We can't cure Death, and I'm sure we shouldn't try. For one thing, we already number over six billion on this planet; just think about trying to find a decent apartment.
I've been lucky so far (knocking wood). Epinephrine and I now have a close, no doubt lifelong, relationship. That's okay. One more thing to adapt to.
And life does indeed go in circles. As with the moment where I met the lightning, I now think: Really? Fucking wasps??? That's just so unbelievably stupid.

Monday, June 10, 2013

POL 358: Civics and Security in Post 9/11 United States • Mid-term exam

You have 15 minutes to complete this exam. Each question is worth 5 points. Use only a number two pencil. Cheaters will be waterboarded.

I. Multiple Guess
Question 1: The line between totalitarian state and judicious use of surveillance is:
a)             Tricky
b)            Blurry
c)             Nonexistent

Question 2: Our president is:
a)  Dedicated to protecting our personal privacy and upholding our inalienable rights as laid
     out in the Constitution and Bill of Rights
b) Completely unaware that the NDAA allows indiscriminate arrest and detainment of any 
     U.S. citizen anywhere in the world
c) The hand puppet of Wall St

Question 3: Totalitarianism only happens in other countries
a)             Yes
b)            No
c)             What other countries?

Question 4: The right to privacy is guaranteed in the Bill of Rights
a)             Yes
b)            No
c)             I haven’t read it recently
d)            I haven’t read it. Ever.

Question 5: The government has the capability to observe you through your webcam
a)             Yes
b)            No
c)             Oh shit

Question 6: The NSAs new Utah Data Center, which can collect and analyze over 5 zettabytes (1 billion terrabytes, or more than an entire year of global internet traffic) is totally unlike the Star Wars Death Star because:
a)             Darth Vader is really some actor with James earl Jones’ voice
b)            Susan Rice does not have cinnabuns glued to the sides of her head
c)             We say so.

II. Essay questions
The next two questions are based on the following passage:
The Fourth Amendment – Protection from unreasonable search and seizure.
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
1)            Define “probable cause”
2)            Does internet use fall into this category of protection? Why or why not?

The next three questions are based on the following passage:
Fifth Amendment – due process, double jeopardy, self-incrimination, eminent domain.
No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.
a) Are we currently in a “time of War or public danger”?
b) Describe, in detail, the most recent period in U.S. history that we were not in “a time of War or public danger”
c) Explain how a U.S. citizen can, in a criminal prosecution, legally be deprived of his/her liberty within due process of law and still be denied the right to an attorney or a speedy trial

III. True or False
Pick one from either column A or column B:

“It’s for the public good.”                                                     Truth              Bullshit
“There is a credible and distinct difference                      Truth              Bullshit
between ideas that are meant to change
society and terrorism.”                                                        
“Coercive questioning is necessary to detect                     Truth              Bullshit
and prevent terrorist activities.”
“We know where the line between homeland                  Truth              Bullshit
security and fascist despotism lies and we will never
cross it, no matter how dire things become.”
“We don’t spy on Americans.”                                             Truth              Bullshit
It is always best to trust the experts. They have               Truth              Bullshit
knowledge that we don’t and are far more
experienced in determining what’s best
in an emergency situation.
I believe that, in the effort to fight terrorism,
my government has the right to:
a) tap my phone                                                                   Truth              Bullshit
b) read my emails                                                                 Truth              Bullshit
c) monitor my web use                                                        Truth              Bullshit