Dungeon of Awkwardness

Pointless anecdotes that sometimes have a point...

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Why I will never subscribe to another newspaper

I know that print journalism is in trouble, due to the internet, television, shorter attention spans, or [insert theory on demise of newspapers here]. And maybe subscriptions to newspapers have always been handled this way, but the following account is my first experience with it, and because it is my *only* experience (and my blog), I'm going to suggest it is another sign of the sorry state of newspapers.

A while back, a high school kid with a broken arm and hopes of paying for college came to my door, selling the Daily Breeze (a South Bay paper). $20 for eight weeks. He struggled to balance the clipboard on his cast while reaching into his pocket, then pulled out a five-dollar bill. He had apparently received this as a tip from one of our friendly neighbors, and offered to give me the five dollars if I wrote a check to the Daily Breeze for $20.

Now, I was not particularly interested in subscribing to a newspaper, since I get most of my news from the internet already. But I had just moved into my new house, and for $20 there were worse things to buy, especially if this would help a kid get to college. I wrote out the check, and signed the slip (I will include a picture of the receipt when I can scan it, which luckily I saved). Of course I did not take his $5 tip...that was his to keep.

I made sure with the kid that there would be no "auto-renewal" or some crap like that, but I felt stupid after asking, because I had paid up front after all (not with credit card). And please note that I do not blame the kid for anything that follows.

Well, I get my few months of the paper. Somebody calls from the Daily Breeze (or perhaps a company selling on behalf of the Breeze -- they seem separate), and asks if I want to renew, which I turn down. The papers keep coming longer than I expect, but eventually they stop, I easily replace my 5 minute breakfast read with a novel, and I'm thankful I no longer have to make an extra trip to the paper recycling bin.

A little while later, I get a letter from the Daily Breeze, asking if I want to re-subscribe. Before throwing the letter away, I notice they have the payment broken down into "current balance" and price of future subscription. Whatever.

Then, the calls start. I get a few miss calls from (636) 925-1746, but they are awkward times of the day and they don't leave a message. I seem to recall this number as one that I answered regarding my "subscription" to Daily Breeze, and searching on the internet suggests that this number is associated with a company representing various local papers. But ultimately the call I *do* pick up (1 minute after I barely miss the 636 number) is (949) 274-8254, and guess who (it seems to be common practice among telemarketers to switch the area codes they call from)?

I wrote a transcript of the conversation down soon after getting off the phone, so it's pretty accurate:

Saleswoman: Am I speaking with Troy?

Me: Yeah.

Saleswoman: Just wanted to let you know I've been authorized to offer you a $10 Target gift card with a renewal of the Daily Breeze. It is XX for the year [I thought she said $39.96, but that doesn't seem right], and then you have a balance of $23.76 [or something around that number]. We can go ahead and take care of this right over the --

Me: No thanks, I'm good.

Saleswoman: Okay, let's just pay off your balance of $23.76 and we can go ahead and close out your account.

Me: I'm not sure why you think I have a balance. I paid $20 up front to a kid selling 8 weeks of the Breeze, he said there would be no renewal, and when someone called to ask if I wanted to renew I said 'no'.

Saleswoman: So how did you cancel your account? Did you explicitly call up to cancel the subscription?

Me: No, that's the whole reason I paid up front. They asked if I wanted to renew and I said 'no'.

Saleswoman: Oh, well you have to call up and cancel your subscription. I'm sorry if there was confusion between you and our representative, but we still have you with an unpaid balance of $23.76.

Me: I'm going to go ahead and NOT pay that, so --

Saleswoman: Okay, before I have to hand it off to another department, what I can do is cut that balance in half. Do you want to do that?

Me: No, I'm just not going to pay it. This is predatory practice. Good luck trying to collect.

Saleswoman: Okay, thank you sir.

Total call time: 2 minutes, 51 seconds. Total time to piss me off: 1 minute, 3 seconds.

A few notes on the conversation:

1) It was early for me, so I was in a bad mood before I even answered the phone, and was not at my sharpest.

2) Despite my tone, the saleswoman remained very polite the entire time, which makes me think they are used to pissing people off with this scam.

3) My favorite line of mine was the "I'm going to go ahead and NOT pay that"...even reflecting, I could not think of something better to say.

4) On the other hand, my "predatory practice" statement makes me cringe. It's over the top, probably not very accurate...and it sounded stupid and wannabe-lawyery when it came out of my mouth.

5) I love when the woman says "Another Department". Is this some ominous debt collection agency that will break my thumbs?

So onto my initial thesis -- why does this make me think the newspaper industry is in trouble?

Well, consider if you had a product that people actually wanted...one that people needed to read in order to start their days. In that case, if somebody paid up-front by cash/check and his subscription ran out (despite warning that he only had X days left), what would you do? If it were me, I would cut him off, and then when he walked out to find his beloved paper missing, he would rush to the phone to remedy the situation, and would make sure such a thing NEVER happened again.

Now consider the alternative, when you have a crappy product in low demand. A person would hardly notice when his paper stopped coming, except to note that his recycling bin stayed surprisingly empty. What strategy could you use then? Clearly, you choose the slime-ball approach, and keep delivering those papers for a while since, hey, nobody else wants them anyway. You cut the papers off at some arbitrary point, preferably when the "balance" is more than he originally paid in the first place, and then use terms like "account" to sound official and try to guilt/scam him into paying for a product he never wanted in the first place.

Seriously, consider what they are saying, and if they *actually* expect to collect in such a scenario, or if it is a scam. They are essentially willing to open up a tab / line of credit, worth MORE than the original order paid up-front, for somebody who never requested said tab, and showed no sign of wishing to renew the product? I don't think so.

This is the old "well we gave it to you, so you must pay" trick. It's no different from the homeless guy who rushes up to a car with his rag and starts washing the windshield despite the objections of the driver -- does he get change from some people who feel guilty? Sure. Does he expect it from every driver? Of course not! I feel guilty for the homeless man, but NOT for the scammers selling this paper, and that is why I will not pay here.

Consider that the salewoman explained that she could cut the balance in half. Is it typical with real debt that a low-level telemarketer has the power to mysteriously erase half of it after some slight complaining, or does this sound like a scam, where they are trying to extract any money possible?

After getting off the phone, I went scrounging around for the receipt, to see if there was any fine print I missed. Nope. As I mentioned, I will upload this as soon as possible. But for now, I will share the only paragraph actually written on there regarding terms (the subscription form is small):

This introductory offer is for new subscribers only. I have not had a home delivery at this address in the past 30 days. After the introductory offer my subscription will continue at the regular rate.

I guess this is the "contract". You could maybe make the case that "will continue" suggests an auto-renewal, if this line was by itself. But considering the context of the rest of the paragraph, where everything stresses the introductory rate, any sane person would read that last line to suggest merely that you can't continue getting the same price after the original offer runs out. There is NOTHING about "I must call to cancel my subscription if I do not want to be charged further." And there is CERTAINLY nothing about "even though I've paid up front for a certain amount of papers, I would like to open a line of credit, whereby you will keep delivering me papers and eventually you will call and annoy me to collect the amount that I never agreed to pay."

Yeah, in the end, it only came down to about ten dollars that I would need to pay. But it is the principle. If I cave and just pay, and everybody else does, they will continue to make money off this scam. I hope this won't affect my credit score -- I can't imagine it would. I wait with anticipation on what this mysterious "other department" could be. But honestly, I'm guess that the only way I will need to pay this amount is if I decide to subscribe to a paper again, which brings this around to the title -- why I will never subscribe to another newspaper.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

For more movie preview reviews...

ReelStupid is back up, where you can get Torch and my funny (hopefully) movie preview reviews.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Bad storytelling: Heroes recap, part 2

As promised, here is part 2 of the recap...

Scene: Parkman eats pizza with the girl.

We're supposed to get a sense of how Parkman and the girl have been getting along and interacting for the past four months, I guess (the only way to excuse this boredom). Which really raises the question - why, after about 120 days, is all this stuff in all these separate stories suddenly happening on the same day? Presumably, after everything being business as usual for four months after a giant climax, now Claire is starting school, Mohinder gets approached by fat-guy-with-glasses, Parkman passes his detective exam, the brother and sister are finally hopping the border, two people get their death characters...ON THE SAME DAY. For Hiro, I guess, it doesn't matter how time's been working (after all, in the Hiro timeline this is actually only minutes after the climax), so we'll let that slide.

Scene: Brother and Sister are on the truck reading the Suresh book. The brother encounters trouble with the shady smuggler who insists on more money.

So let me get this straight...this brother/sister pair was running for eight-hundred miles, exhausted, where speed was of great importance, but they never thought to drop this ridiculously heavy hardback book along the way?! Oh, and, uh, surprise surprise with the smuggler wanting more money...

Scene: Cheerleaders are dancing around looking like they own the world. Claire is relegated to the horrible world of badminton. Loser girl gives awkward/fake fall, Claire must retrieve birdy. The birdy is picked up by - [surprise, surprise] - jerkface!

I love when we see scenes like this, because it becomes obvious that you've got a bunch of 30-40 year-old writers trying to remember what highschool was like, with their kids telling them a bunch of exaggeratedstories about how bad their day was, and you end up with caricatures of evil cheerleaders who say things like, "How's that floor taste?".

Guy makes another comment about Claire being a robot, then backs it up with a lame rationalization.

This isn't even flirting anymore, it's just being a jerk.

"As captain of the cheerleading squad, it's totally within my rights to recruit talent when I see it. I think Martha here has what it takes to be a cheerleader. In fact if you can do a back tuck off the tower, Martha here's off the hook."

Some observations:

1) This girl moves less of her face when she talks than Optimus Prime. ZING!

2) Martha, really? If your name is Martha, and you're offended, let me ask you this - are you under 50?

3) Way to let "Martha" stick up for herself. Lord knows she's in 11th grade, 17, and in a year she can join the army...but she can't say, "nah, I'd rather not be a cheerleader". I suppose she's not "army strong", or even the standard "strong" that precedes it in the commercial.

In a show that has 15 characters with extradionary powers, this is the drama we have to entertain us...pushy cheerleaders and a girl named "Martha." Claire decides not to jump, having already gathered everyone's attention.

Scene: Girl having nightmare.

Scene: Claire hanging out, considering her failure. The tool shows up.

We've seen WAAAAY too much of this guy's face already.

Scene: Bennett gets pushed around by manager, until he physically assaults him by grabbing his finger???

Uh, I guess violence solved this problem pretty well. You get the feeling that the writers want you to stand up and cheer here, for Bennett finally standing up to his jerk manager, but, uh, I didn't. I don't think anyone did.

Scene: Cool anti-hero type walking with Hiro. He drinks. He doesn't care. He's like Han Solo without the humor or charm. Awesome.

Scene: Suju gives vague clues of who is after them as he talks to the Petrelli matron.

Scene: More of Hiro and Anti-hero.

Scene: The Bennett household at an awkward meal. For some reason, the brother is awkward, in addition to Bennett and Claire, who both are trying to hide what happened that day.

What IS THIS? This zoom in on faces? This dialog: "How about you honey?" (Beat) "Me?" (Beat) "Anything interesting happen?" (Beat) "No." and "That's great!" and "We're all flourishing, really..."

They are laughing at us with this filler! And "flourishing"...who talks like that?

(Continued) Bennett gets phone call. Claims it must be from work [as an assistant manager at a paper place, he gets called on his cell at dinner?!], but it is in fact...MOHINDER. Here's the snappy, effort-filled dialog that the writers pumped out:

Mohinder: "It's all falling into place."

Bennett: "Just be careful, watch your back,and you and I'll bring this whole company down."

Yup, it's official...this was written by a robot.

Scene: Brother catches up to truck. Finds sister, everyone dead except her.

Oh well. If you ask me, this actually turned out pretty well for the brother and sister...

Scene: Claire is on the phone with Nathan. More filler. Outside, douchebag himself is FLYING, and stalking Claire.

Yup, with that large imagination of the Heroes writers, we already have a flying repeat. Awesome. Members of the same family with 50% of the same genes have different abilities, but complete strangers have the same ones. Okay.

Scene: "Of all of them, I never expected it would be you. " Sulu dies.

Really, that's it...he's pushed over the side of the building? Sulu was set to accept his inevitable death, when the best this guy could do out was a simple momentum push off the edge? I'm not even going to comment on the above line...it speaks so much about the state of the show as is.

Scene: Guys with Irish accents discover Peter locked up in a cargo box. He doesn't know who he is.

Apart from the unlikeliness of Peter being alive, this is probably the only interesting, seemingly realistic scene in the entire episode. Unfortunately, it is too little, too late. If you haven't figured it out, I'm no longer watching Heroes. I have nothing against NBC, but Friday Night Lights is next on the chopping block.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Bad Storytelling: A Heroes Season Premiere Recap

I do this because - once again - I was disappointed. I jumped on the Heroes bandwagon last season, ignoring some of the boring parts, ignoring some of the cornier dialog, even ignoring the fact that it was pretty much a rip-off of X-Men. And the last three episodes leading up to the season finale had me hooked. Then, the finale was completely anticlimactic. Just a huge disappointment, with one of the lamest/weakest "cliffhangers" of all time. So the first episode of this season was a make or break episode for me...Below is a running diary minus the times. This episode aired long enough ago that you can't complain about any spoilers, so here we go:

Cue Corny Opening (Mohinder voice-over): "The sun rises on a new dawn."

dawn [dawn]
1.the first appearance of daylight in the morning: Dawn broke over the valley.
2.the beginning or rise of anything; advent: the dawn of civilization.
–verb (used without object)
3.to begin to grow light in the morning: The day dawned with a cloudless sky.
1. daybreak, sunrise.

So...the sun rises on a new sunrise. To say this sentence is superfluous doesn't even BEGIN to describe it. Consider that "sun rises", "new", and "dawn" all say the same thing. I'll have a cliche meter running, and was going to add this, but it is so nonsensical even to the bad high-school poet that it could never be a cliche.


(continued Mohinder voice-over) "...whom destiny brought together to heal, to repair, to save us from ourselves [CLICHE BELL]".

I will remind the witness that the main threat against humanity in the first season was in fact Sylar, A MUTANT, not - so to speak - ourselves.

(Still Mohinder)
"You may feel confined here but it is far freer a cage than they'd put you in"
"How long can they hide in the shadows until [it] draws them out into the light again." [DING DING]

(Still Mohinder) "They bear a curse. A virus that strips them of their powers, and leads them to their eventual death...I've discovered a plague which targets only these unique individuals. It's a disease that threatens to destroy them all, and, in doing so, deprives our species of its evolutionary advancement. Without this advancement, the challenges of this modern world - global warming, terrorism, diminishing resources - seem almost insurmountable on our thin shoulders. The fate of humanity itself hangs in the balance [DING].


RE: the challenges of this modern world: "We need assault weapons to hunt down today's super animals...like the flying squirrel, and electric eel." -Mo Sizzlack

So let me get this straight...the people with the VIRUS/PLAGUE/DISEASE that leads to their COMPLETE DESTRUCTION are most fit for survival? I forgot the amendment to the evolutionary law that says: "a harmful mutation will be weeded out, especially one that causes death, UNLESS that mutation is kind of cool. Then we'll let it slide."

(Still Mohinder) "But with proper funding and research we could fight this disease..."

Or you could put this funding and research to a better use...say, FIXING THOSE PROBLEMS OF THE MODERN WORLD (e.g. global warming, terrorism, diminishing resources) that you just mentioned.

Scene: Fat glasses man (always evil) offers Mohinder a job. Notable cliches:
"I've been down that road before."
"Where will you go Doctor?"
"The least you could do is let me buy you a drink"

Scene:
Mexican brother and sister combo running from the police in Mexico.
Brother: "We've got to keep going."
Sister: "We've been running for eight-hundred miles".

My Roomate: Running for eight-hundred miles, really?

Me: Hmmm, it must be their special power. Super endurance or something.
[Edit: It's not. *sigh*)

I've given up on the cliche meter already, with lines like - "I can't run anymore.", "We have no choice", "What if we don't make it?", and "If we get caught, people could die" - written shamelessly across the screen in consecutive subtitles. So, let's be honest, nobody has this conversation randomly after running eight hundred miles except for in the crappy exposition of a poorly written show. Already I'm bumming on this, especially since we've never met these characters before and I don't care about them.

By the way...good job breaking racial stereotypes, Heroes, by, you know, having Mexicans trying to jump the border into America illegally. That's real cutting edge.

Scene: Claire bitching to her father about not fitting in because of the new high school. Her father admits that the girls look more "sophisticated" (i.e. hotter) here than in Texas.

Because if there's one thing Hayden Panettierre looks like, it is a Plain Jane who's gotten beaten with an ugly stick. Riiiiigggghhhht.

He reminds her that she can't stand out...gives her a car...tells her how much he loves her...BORING...she almost get hits by the obvious new romantic interest (who's playing some toolish hip-hop).

Scene:
Hiro in old Japan...does his whole stop time deal. I like Hiro at least.

Scene
:
Parkman saying stupid stuff like "I know it sucks to have NYPD at your door, but that's what happens when you take a hostage". Kicks open a door, shoots one unarmed guy, then, in a confrontation where it is uncertain which person is the hostage, he shoots another UNARMED person from POINT BLANK. It is a test. Naturally, because he didn't bother with sucker stuff like putting them both in handcuffs and figuring out which was the hostage FOR CERTAIN, he has passed the test and made detective.

Scene: Douchebag new love interest starts by mocking Claire about her having a "deathwish". Makes sarcastic dick response about a flame being hot. Then interrogates her in an ambiguous manner about whether she is an "alien" or a "robot". He, being the hip-hop listening white affluent male in Southern California is clearly an outsider/alien freethinker, unlike those stupid robots. I mean, look at that hair - I was like, "Geez, is that hair combed, or not? That's some out of the box stuff right there!"

Professor: "'In the struggle for survival, it is the fittest who win out over their rivals'. Who said this?"

Nobody raises a hand. But Claire writes down the answer in her notebook, because answering the question would clearly be drawing attention to herself. Now, I'm not saying the California education is great, but really? Nobody in 11th grade knows who Darwin is? Really? Fine.

Scene: Shady Mexican smuggler apparently wants to do something sexual with Mexican sister who wants to cross the border. The brother doesn't like that. The smuggler agrees to a "deal" with them that avoids any sexual favors, then gives a look to his partner. I'm sure this will end well and that's the end of THIS conversation.

Scene: Parkman, who somehow has custody of this girl he just met four months ago, despite a dangerous law enforcement job and a recent divorce with his wife, gets into an argument with her teacher who mentions the girl's horrible nightmares. Really, has there been one believable/interesting scene yet?

Scene: Sulu gets the Hero equivalent of a Mafia kiss of death. Should I mention that I don't care if he dies or not, since he's been in like a combined 20 minutes of the show? And for 18 of those minutes he was a bad guy?

Scene: In one of the most hilarious scenes, the Petrelli mother is yelling at her son Nathan as if he's ruined their family Christmas by getting drunk. Apparently he didn't follow the plan. Of course, this "plan" was to BLOW UP NEW YORK CITY!!!!, but that's beside the fact. He's a bad son. She too gets the Japenese character of death.

Scene: In a shocking turn of events, it turns out Takezo Sensei, the greatest hero of all Japan, is...drum roll...WHITE! Yes, that's correct, he now joins Tom Cruise from The Last Samurai in proving that white people can do anything Asian people do, except better, and with less effort. *sigh*

Scene: This scene is just sad. There are characters, there are caricatures, and then there is the assistant manager at the paper store in this scene. I...can't...go on...with "characters" like this. This is about 100 times more over the top than even Dwight from the Office, but not in a funny way.

One of my buddies pointed out this fact (as we'll find out later) - how can an assistant manager (Mr. Bennett) working at a paper store afford a gigantic house in Southern California? I mean, with that salary you couldn't afford the $800/month rent for a single room here in SoCal...and he certainly isn't going to be using any previous finances to purchase the home, which The Company could easily trace, so...

Scene: We learn that fat-man-with-glasses can turn stuff into gold. I seem to recall someone from Greek mythology having that ability...it worked out great for Midas, right? Good. Anyhow, because the obvious fact that this guy is a creep, he seems to suggest the funding comes from this stuff he turns to gold. Now let me ask - is this ethically any different from counterfeiting your own money? He's flooding the market, devaluing gold, screwing over millions of investors and Fort Knox directly. Whatever. I give up. I'm half way through this and I can't go on. More to come on it tomorrow.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Just Laugh at it - The Awakening

The other night I was flipping through our DVR and I saw we had one of the "Masters of Science Fiction" series recorded. This was a pleasant surprise, because I'd never seen any of them, and I remember at least wanting to check them out.

I thought it would be hard for this to disappoint, because 1) I'm a sucker for sci-fi (even though I don't read as much straight genre sci-fi anymore), 2) I'm a fan of those miniseries based on a various short stories (a la the Stephen King one), and 3) I wasn't expecting much, just a somewhat interesting story.

Wow, I saw The Awakening, and at first I was a little disappointed. Then, it became somewhat enjoyable, because I could only laugh at certain parts. By the end, it had set a new bar for unintentional comedy. "Laughably bad" does not even begin to describe it. Here is the "official" synopsis:

"In the middle of a ferocious firefight outside of Baghdad, US soldiers discover a mysterious body—one that they can’t even identify as human. Swiftly, all over the earth, more such creatures appear and begin to communicate. With this contact, the world is forced to choose between peace and destruction."

First off, read that last line again - the world is forced to choose between peace and destruction.

Really? So that's actually a choice, eh? You'd think this was just an unfortunate slip-up in the phrasing of the synopsis, but no. As you'll see, apparently we exist in a world where generals would rather suffer a horribly painful and slow death than leave one country un-nuked.

Here is the true plot synopsis (spoilers included, I suppose, though you could've guessed it all just from the paragraph above):

-Alien thing is found.
-Woman Lt, strong in her "faith" in aliens, is sent to search out skeptic/expert, who lost his "faith" in aliens because - surprise surprise - his wife died. There is much discussion on faith vs. non-faith.
-Aliens communicate, say to lay down weapons.
-More discussion between Lt. and skeptic about faith.
-Warmongering generals convince the president that this call to lay down weapons is in fact a ploy by the aliens to leave them defenseless, and they ABSURDLY decide to attack something that they ALREADY KNOW to be resistant to human weapons (including nukes) and is clearly far more advanced technologically.
-More discussion between Lt. and skeptic about faith. Skeptic sees his wife because the aliens allow him, learns trite lesson about humans and fear.
-President learns this same lesson just in time, that "we're all the same, we all have fear", and decides to lay down weapons for, presumably, world peace.

Perhaps this synopsis doesn't do it justice...I'll try to add in some exact dialog:

SKEPTIC (referring to the alien communication): It's a mish mash from the Koran, the Torah, the Gospels...All the major religious works from around the world.

PRESIDENT: You're saying this is a message from God.

SKEPTIC: It's for you all to draw your own conclusions. I'm only relaying the message.

WARMONGERING GENERAL: What does that make you, Major? Moses with the tablets?
I realize in a 1 hour show you don't have a lot of time. But these "characters" become caricatures with their absurd logical jumps and general antagonism. Why on earth would you think a "mish mash" of sacred texts would come from God? Especially when many of these books disagree on the nature of God? Especially because, if God were to say something, He would not need to repeat something ALREADY SAID in those texts? And the general's reponse is hilariously antagonistic to a simple reporting of the facts (especially since the everyone already knows the skeptic has lost his "faith" a long time ago).

Here is how a crime show would look under similar circumstances:
OFFICER: This man was killed by a sword to his neck.

DETECTIVE: You're saying King Arthur killed him?

OFFICER: Uh, no. I'm just telling you how he was killed.

DISTRICT ATTORNEY: What does that make you, Sir Lancelot riding in on his white horse?
Once again, though, let us return to the faith/skeptic dynamic. In my synopsis I pointed out the absurd amount of time spent discussing this topic, especially considering it is a 43 minute show and you have aliens, a president ready to fight a nuclear war against every other country + another planet (or wherever these aliens come from). Signs, the X-Files, Contact, etc...all spent MUCH less time directly talking about the subject overtly, but were able to subtly get the point across. Furthermore, the metaphor of using faith in aliens as a faith in God and comparing aspects of them has been done to the point of being cliche. However, never have I seen such obvious confusion between a METAPHOR and what is ACTUALLY HAPPENING in the story. Consider:

1) The Skeptic loses his "faith" in aliens because his wife died of a freak disease. Does this make ANY sense? Who loses their belief in ALIENS because of the death of a loved one?

2) Every other country, including *communist* China, immediately agrees that this is a message from God, despite the alien bodies and spacecraft around the planet. They coerce the US into disarming so that the US doesn't fight "God".

3) When the President learns his lesson, one of his statements, among other things, is that "We imagine fearsome gods..." Thus suggesting that these gods, are, in fact, imaginary. Rather than being offended, however, these countries, WHICH WERE JUST WILLING TO NUKE THE US TO STOP THE US FROM NUKING GOD, jump right in with the President's conclusions.

4) This light, angelic thing (rip-off of The Abyss) shows up, and at the same time the President says "My God". I think this is what passes for "subtle" in stuff like this...

5) HINT: You can't spend half of the 43 minutes talking in a tired, overdone, cliche, repetitive, superflous, unoriginal, vapid way about such an old topic. It is - what's the word? - BORING!

Finally (yes, the rant is nearing an end), the entire epiphany is just hilarious in its own right. Imagine the following speech delivered by the Cigarette Smoking Man from the X-files, with cheesy music played in the background:

"We're all the same. Everything is connected. We all want the same things, and we're all afraid of losing them. That's become our commonality: fear. We imagine fearsome gods, create fearsome weapons. We must stop. The fear must stop."

This hardly needs to be picked apart. There's the obvious non-sequitor between the first and second sentence. The immediate questions: What does it even mean say everything is connected? How does having a single "commonality" make us all the "same"? Are a dresser and a table the same thing because their commonality is that they are made of wood?

Allow me to indulge a bit in a rant against the "everybody is generally good except they are afraid" philosophy. Yes, I understand that the desire for anything can be phrased as a fear...however, to suggest that all fears are equal is absurd. One man's lust and abuse of power might be phrased as "his fear of being irrelevant and/or powerless." Or a rapist might be said to be afraid of "not having sex with an unconsenting partner." Are we really supposed to feel sympathy for this because of "fear"? That statement, "we all want the same things and are afraid of losing them" is just WRONG. I'll feel sympathy for the Jean Valjean's of the world all right, but not somebody who steals because he "fears not having the new sneakers that will make him cool." Official end of rant. Watch THE AWAKENING yourself, and enjoy the laughs that will come.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

33 novels I enjoyed more than THE ROAD (this year)

I was originally planning on titling this post "The Year of Living Dangerously", which would have been ironic on two levels: First, because I've spent the last year working as a software engineer and, as apparent below, reading fiction as I go along, which is far from dangerous. Second, because although THE YEAR OF LIVING DANGEROUSLY was on my list of novels to read, I actually have not gotten to it in the past year. The list proposes nothing about literary merit, only my enjoyability as I went along. Numbering means nothing, only the tiers:

Absolutely Loved

1) BONFIRE OF THE VANITIES by Tom Wolfe -I'll admit, I'm a sucker for these injustice-caused-by-political-posturing books. I remember reading Disclosure in a single night. Bonfire is better written, more complex, and more thought-provoking than Crighton's thriller, I think, and it just hit the spot for me. I can't say I fell in love with any of the characters, but I couldn't put it down while I was reading.

2) BUTCHER'S CROSSING by John Williams - I'd never much been into Westerns, but it's a new take on the college-intellectual-encounters-real-experience thing, and I was completely sucked in. Interestingly, it was from this introduction that I read of another book in the
"literary Western" genre, which brought me to...

3) WARLOCK by Oakley Hall - Seriously, this has put me in the Western phase. I am now watching DEADWOOD. I plan on growing one of those Western beards and sporting it ridiculously. I can't decide if I want to be Wyatt Earp, Doc Holiday, or Bud Gannon. On the surface it looks like it will be a standard shoot-em-up Western, but the characters go deep, and the questions it raises about the law, villains, and heroes in the West are complex. Akin to UNFORGIVEN in that respect.

4) FIFTH BUSINESS by Robertson Davies - I have to say, this one took me by surprise. Growing up in a small town in Canada and being overshadowed by another privileged boy/man - sounds boring, right? I don't know if everyone would find it as interesting, but I related far too well with the narrator, primarily in negative thoughts and traits. Obviously loved it.

Loved

5) THE HUMAN STAIN by Philip Roth
-Yup, once again we have one of those injustice-for-political-reasons themes. Most
people would probably say that American Pastoral in the better novel, but I think I
enjoyed this one more (perhaps it's also because I read it more recently, so it is more
vivid in my mind).

6) THE GUNSLINGER (Dark Tower Series) by Stephen King
-Oh please, make fun of me for picking a Stephen King novel here. I don't care.
Looking back, the story is so perfect, I almost wish it was not part of the series.
Much of this is about traveling through the desert, written in unobtrusive prose, and
showing the relationship between The Gunslinger and the boy. THE ROAD wishes it could
be this book.

7) THE DRAWING OF THE THREE (Dark Tower Series) by Stephen King - How can I say that I wish The Gunslinger was standalone, then list the next book in the series as one I loved as well? I don't know. The second novel was excellent as well, though it is substantially different from the first.

8) THE NAKED AND THE DEAD by Normal Mailer - Another one of those books where you can't help getting deep with the characters, and I've also always been a sucker for the WW2 stuff. Goes along some of the same lines as FROM HERE TO ETERNITY, although fighting happens in this novel, and it focuses on more characters.

Really Liked

9) NEUROMANCER by William Gibson - Read PATTERN RECOGNITION by him and didn't like it. I haven't read any genre sci-fi in a while, so I wasn't totally prepared when I dove into this novel: you don't know the meaning of half the words because they're made up, so you need to keep a running dictionary in your head. But it was exciting and full of twists, and I might decide to start using the word 'joeboys'. Definitely the most enjoyable genre sci-fi I've read
since HYPERION.

10) THE WASTELAND (Dark Tower)
11) WIZARD AND GLASS(Dark Tower)
12) THE WOLVES OF THE CALLA (Dark Tower) - Just because I feel that the additional books in the series somewhat take away from the previous books doesn't mean that I can't enjoy the later ones, right?

13) THE MANTICORE by Robertson Davies
14) WORLD OF WONDERS by Robertson Davies - These are the final two books in the Depford Trilogy, for which FIFTH BUSINESS was the first, and they are enjoyable. But alas, not as good as the first.

15) AMERICAN PASTORAL by Philip Roth - Hey, I would probably enjoy it more if it jumped into the Swede's story earlier. I really did like it, perhaps more than some of the others in this tier, though not quite as much as THE HUMAN STAIN.

16) THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE by James Cain - I was surprised that I ended up caring about the characters so much, considering there just isn't a lot of time with them. Who would've thought murdering someone could be difficult? Pick it up for a quick read...

17) THE PEOPLE'S ACT OF LOVE by James Meek - I'm starting to wonder if maybe I should move this up a tier, but it's too late now. I loved - err, I mean "really liked" - the way the whole story was put together.

18) THE WAY THE CROW FLIES by Ann Marie MacDonald - Constructed a bit along those MIDDLESEX and ATONEMENT lines, where the story is partially told about the coming of age girl and then later goes into the current life. I ding it a bit because much of it is told using the present tense (I get tired of this quickly), and it takes so darn long for the story to get going. However, once things start falling into place it is hard to put down. I wouldn't recommend reading this and ATONEMENT back to back though...

19) FOR WHOM THE BELL TOLLS by Ernest Hemingway - Oh please, don't get on me about including Hemingway here in the lower tier. We're talking honestly about enjoyment, okay? And if Hollywood has a nack for making artificially happy endings, Hemingway sure knows how to make things artificially sad. Seriously, I've never seen a guy go so far out of his way to make endings depressing. Work on that, won't ya Ernie?

20)THE GREAT GATSBY by F. Scott Fitzgerald - I'd read it before. When I starting re-reading it again, I thought I'd forgotten everything, but I actually remembered more as I went along, and this ruined a great deal of it for me.

Liked

21) SONG OF SUSANNAH (Dark Tower)
22) THE DARK TOWER (Dark Tower)
-Yup, more with the DARK TOWER series.

23) GRAVITY'S RAINBOW by Thomas Pynchon - Yeesh, there's a pretty interesting story somewhere under all that confusion. Honestly, I probably would have never finished this if not for a ski trip, where I basically went snowboarding during the day and read it at night.

24) SET THIS HOUSE ON FIRE by William Styron - Starts so promising, and I raced through the first hundred pages or so. But it gets into Cass's backstory, and it just gets to be so boring, when I just want to find out the mystery towards the end.

25) AUGUSTUS by John Williams - I was watching Rome at the time, and so I was into that whole Roman period. It is interesting, but nowhere near the quality of I, CLAUDIUS. Luckily I read BUTCHER'S CROSSING anyway, and I'm looking forward to reading STONER.

26) THE MALTESE FALCON by Dashiel Hammett -I love noir. And I love good literature. Honestly, I was expecting this to be the perfect storm of greatness for me. It was not. I don't know why, exactly, other than the story just wasn't that interesting. Where's the twist? That's it, really? Oh well. Still a quick and fun read.

27) SNOW by Orhan Pamuk - I think it's been the longest since I've read this one. I remember enjoying it, but not much else, so I think it'll fit in this tier.

28) THE LOVELY BONES by Alice Sebold - Not entirely sure how it got to be as popular as it did, but I enjoyed it.


Okay

29) THE CRYING OF LOT 49 by Thomas Pynchon - I think it's official: I'm not a Pynchon fan.

30) RABBIT, RUN by John Updike
31) RABBIT REDUX by John Updike
-Ah yes, the Rabbits. I thought I would like these and hoped they had something to do with basketball. They do not, other than the opening scene. There are some parts where I was drawn in, but overall, I just don't remember caring much about what happened to our buddy Rabbit. If I recall correctly: Book 1 = he leaves wife. Book 2 = wife leaves him. Yee haw.

32) IN COLD BLOOD by Truman Capote - I know, I know, non-fiction. But it reads like it could be a novel.


33) BLINDNESS by Jose Saramago - A bit like THE ROAD in that the type of prose represents the state of the characters and the world. Okay. I get it. It's impressive to a point, but honestly, doesn't it reach a degree where it just becomes gimicky, and as a reader you have to ask yourself why the hell you bother reading it? Is the goal really to make the reader suffer like the characters in the fictional world?

Didn't like:

THE ROAD by Cormac McCarthy
-First of all, you've read my knock on it from above - the whole gimicky "hell I'm writing about a nuclear winter so now I can write like crap and make the reader wish they were in a nuclear winter" prose.

Here's a sample from page 3: "When he got back the boy was asleep. He pulled the blue plastic tarp off of him and folded it and carried it out to the grocery cart and packed it and came back with their plates and some cornmeal cakes in a plastic bag and plastic bottle of syrup. He grabbed the gun at his side and checked to see that there were bullets and put it against his head and pulled the trigger and wondered why the author decided never to use a comma in the novel." Uh, the last sentence was my own. But you get the picture.

Second, I am reminded of the Family Guy where Brian is recounting the story of the Blair Witch project. Here is how it would sound about THE ROAD: "Nothing's happening...nothing's happening...something about a beach...nothing's happening...it's over. The reader looks pretty pissed."

Just Terrible:

THE CHRISTMAS TRAIN by David Baldacci
-Yup, the one book I read this year that I disliked more than THE ROAD. Laughably bad.

Okay, so I don't remember reading any other novels this year, so this'll have to do for now. Really just a quick way of reviewing a bunch of books. If I remember any others that I've read, I'll post on whether they were above or below THE ROAD line.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Not so Honey Funnies


The fact that I have a bit of extra time, and the pure horribleness of this cartoon, has forced me to return and post. Keep in mind that I've had to see this box (my roommate's) on top of the refrigerator for far too long. But really, I think the cartoon speaks for itself - somebody just said "ah, screw it, kids are retarded anyway" and mailed it in. And for some reason, General Mills spent the money to draw it up and have it put on their boxes.

What is so horrible, you ask? Well, let me include a transcript below, in case you can't read it:

(Announcer): With the bases loaded and two outs here in the ninth, the home team may be in trouble. They're out of relief pitchers. [Convenient situation...I'm sure they are truly doomed]

(Stupid Bee #1): How about Buzz?

(Buzz): I'm game to give it a try, but my hands are all sticky. [Not going there...]

(Stupid Bee #1): C'mon Buzz we need ya.

(Stupid Bee #2): Strike this guy out and it's game over.

(Announcer): Fans, it looks like Buzz will go with a tight grip on the pitch. Now here's the wind up and the pitch...He struck 'em out! Buzz threw a sticky one right over the plate, then pulled it back before their big Slugger could get a hold of it.

(Stupid Bee #3?): You had some sweet stuff out there Buzz!

(Buzz): Yeah, I just tried to stick to my pitch. [Even Kobe shows more modesty in his postgame interviews]

Now, I understand this is for kids. We need to accept that bees play baseball in this universe, and that they talk. We'll ignore the "cheating" of using an illegal substance for similar reasons. Heck, I'll even grant that honey will indeed shoot out like that, only to snap the ball back. I accept all of that, but here...

3) They run out of relief pitchers? Really? What actually happened to this last pitcher? Is he going in for Tommy John surgery right now? Wouldn't the horrors of whatever arm-shattering injury that would cause this pitcher to leave with two out AND TWO STRIKES in the ninth warrant a mention in the midst of the celebration? And the rules allow for someone IN THE STANDS to play, but not for one of the position players to pitch for a second time?

2) They mention that the home team is pitching. This means that EVEN IF BUZZ FAILS, they still have another at-bat. This is not necessarily an error, I understand, except that clearly the designer is trying to heighten the suspense, and I have no doubt that he or she did not understand what was going on. I mean, there was really nobody who knew anything about baseball anywhere near the design of this? It would take what, all of five seconds to look up "does the home team bat last?" on google? "Home Advantage" on Wikipedia is the first search result BTW.

3) THE WHOLE PREMISE OF WHY HE CAN STRIKE OUT THE 'SLUGGER' IS FLAWED: "Buzz threw a sticky one right over the plate, then pulled it back before their big Slugger could get a hold of it." For the ball to change direction, it would need to SLOW DOWN, STOP (presumably "right over the plate", as if on a tee), and then accelerate again backwards. Hittable during this whole time. I wanted to do the math, just for the heck of it...

Normal conditions: Assuming a 60 mph pitch (I'm not certain how fast bees can throw), and a "hittable" zone of about 1 foot in length (i.e. in that first part of the foot you'd be early and pull it way foul, in the last part you would be way late), the pitch will be in that hittable zone for 11.4 milliseconds.

Buzz conditions: Assuming the honey "catches" and deceleration begins (constant, which is a simplification) 9 feet prior to this hitting zone, the deceleration will be about 387.5 f/s^s, and the ball will be in that hitting zone for a whopping 145.5 milliseconds. That's nearly 13 times as long as a normal pitch! For the batter to have swung late, it would've been the equivalent of swinging late on the 60 mph pitch after it was 11 feet BEHIND THE CATCHER.

Once again, I understand this is a child's cartoon. But the whole "edge" is supposed to be this "honey" factor, which actually makes the ball 13 times MORE HITTABLE. You're better off having the ball break in a crazy way, like Bugs Bunny balls that just jump sideways and away from the bat. Or just have somebody who knows anything write these. Otherwise, we'll start jacking up our kids intuitions of how physical bodies move. I'm surprised they figured out a way to draw this blunder...

Other rants not to make the cut:

SMUSH PARKER - the worst point-guard to have started in the history of the NBA?

ATLANTA - the most backwater major metropolitan area in the world?

I CAN'T HELP BUT WONDER (I can't help wondering) - why so many wannabe intellectuals use this incorrect phrasing?

THE MCDONALD'S MONOPOLY GAME - where's Boardwalk?