Archive for November, 2009

Having closed the book on Fark (so to speak), I have been enjoying some of the Reddit riffraff, particularly the FFFFFFUUUUUUU section. So I thought I’d share mine.

It's Not News, It's Fark: How Mass Media Tries to Pass Off Crap As News It’s Not News, It’s Fark: How Mass Media Tries to Pass Off Crap As News by Drew Curtis

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Right before I left New York a few years ago, I was anonymously sponsored for a TotalFark subscription. TotalFark is a sub-community of the news aggregator site, Fark, in which people pay $5 per month or are sponsored to enjoy a smaller posting community with extra viewing privileges. That’s the most objective way I can define it, as since then it has changed my life dramatically. (I know, gross.)

I mention TF because it is only through the random sponsorship of Anonymous that I saw an announcement for the NYC Fark party where I met Drew. We had a nice one-on-one discussion about his new book, which I just got around to reading now. Having a strong interest in how people consume different types of media, I remember liking the premise he laid out. But at the end of our talk, I was mostly thinking, I just got a one-hour summary of a book on media by the author himself. Now I don’t have to read it. Sweet!

Oh, how time and boredom make fools of us all.

I won’t say the book was a waste of time, since mine comes cheap these days. However, it regurgitated much of what you could just read on Fark with some clever commentary from the book author and site creator himself. Sometimes it’s funny, sometimes it’s obvious. At times, it was even a little informative, but every once in awhile, it kind of missed the mark.

Funny: If my aunt had balls, she’d be my uncle. I really liked this immature way of explaining a valid point.

Obvious: Top 10 lists exist solely as commercials for the people who make them. Even when the publications explain the metrics used to arrive at their rankings (which is rare), they’re still ridiculously biased.

Informative: I was wondering why Florida had its own headline tag. That state has the absolute most WTF stories in the entire US. Without Florida, Fark might not have existed.

Missed the Mark: He complains about people misinterpreting statistics, but in the same paragraph says 90 percent of any random group of people will be made up of dumbasses. I guess he could have mentioned that 82 percent of all statistics are completely made up, but I guess 67 percent of his readers already know that.

One of my favorite chapters was “Equal Time for Nutjobs”. I agree that the media gives them far too much airtime in the interest of seeming unbiased and attracting readers with sensationalism. Toward the end of the chapter, he openly invites the media to “stop making the ‘where do we draw the line?’ argument. Just make a judgment call already.” Yes. THIS.

To say this book is an all-out media bitch-fest is an understatement. It’s full of clever criticisms, and I agree with them. I’m only giving the book three stars because he doesn’t cover anything (aside from Fark-centric stuff) that you wouldn’t hear in a college journalism class. Having participated in many discussions covering similar topics, I don’t feel the book did much but reaffirm my hatred of journalism. It’s okay though, because the book even has a section on the media’s is self-loathing. As it should.

We have too much space, too much “media”, and not enough actual news. And yes, the journalism profession has become defined by laziness. This started happening before my lifetime, but I’m sure it wasn’t always the case. The internet really brought things to a head, making it worse than ever. Toward the end of the book, Drew spends a few pages discussing how online advertising changed everything, and I would have liked to have seen more depth on that since it’s less obvious than the rest of the book.

To that end, Drew is not so different from the journalists he denounces. He’s telling us stuff we already know and illustrating his points with summarized articles from an outside source and copypasta’ed quotes from Farkers.

As the site got popular, someone probably told him there was money to be made if he authored a book. He may not have admitted that directly in our conversation a few years ago, but I like that he didn’t claim to break any ground either. “Read it or don’t read it. I don’t really care” seemed to be his marketing message. It was a refreshing indifference for a book author, but a common sentiment among writers expected to churn out dozens of articles per week.

I appreciate that he thanks Delta Airlines in the Acknowledgments section for delaying all of his flights so he would have time to write this book. I can say from experience Delta is to air travel what the National Enquirer is to journalism. So Drew hates the media AND Delta, and his writing is the result of sheer boredom. He’s truly an everyman after my own heart.

This book is neither full of win, nor full of fail. And before you tell me to DIAF or EABOD, just know that ceiling cat is watching me write this, and if you comment on this review, I will really be getting a kick out of your replies.

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Last week, I needed a big (week)night out, and the performance of one of my favorite djs, Andy Caldwell, was the perfect impetus.

We started with sushi at Momiji’s. We must have gone on a bad night. Our server was nice and the place seemed decent-looking, but we were the only ones in there. When our food arrived, our server explained that the chef mistook the garlic flakes for sesame seeds, so our Philadelphia rolls would have garlic on them. We accepted the rolls, partially because they came on a plate with the other three we had ordered and we were hungry, but mostly because we’d look like jerks for sending them back. The server should have just asked the chef to make a new roll correctly. The specialty rolls we ordered were tasty, but a few pieces were stuck together because the roll wasn’t cut all the way through. We probably won’t be back.

We were pretty early for the show, so we grabbed drinks at De Vere’s, a nearby Irish pub. I liked the look and feel of the place, but the clientele was a little fratty. It wasn’t terribly great for people watching, since most of the 20-somethings that frequent the place dress the same. The service was prompt despite our not sitting right at the bar, so that was a big plus.

Then we headed over to the Park Ultra Lounge. Before Andy Caldwell played, we heard one of his openers, Vince Lombardi. He sounded good, but it’s gotta suck trying to make a name for yourself when the first 100 google search results for your name unearth a dead football coach.

The most surprising thing about Andy’s set was the lack of deep house, which was characteristic of his work with Naked Music and the genre I “grew up” loving as I better acquainted myself with electronic music in general. He played some harder, electro-sounding tracks, along with a remix of one of his original tracks, Warrior, which I especially liked.

The place itself was okay too. The folks in Sacramento don’t seem to agree, but I don’t know who sets the bar for nightlife here, so I’m trying to stay open minded. The crowd was kind of strange. There were a bunch of people whose jobs seemed to be going out and partying, but there were also a lot of older, convention-attending folks who probably had no idea where they were or what they were listening to. So it goes I suppose. There was a steady stream of dancefloor dwellers, but the place never really picked up, so we headed out around 1 because SOME of us had to work in the morning. (Just some though.)

Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs: A Low Culture Manifesto Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs: A Low Culture Manifesto by Chuck Klosterman

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book caught my eye back in 2006 when I was hanging out at my friend Miranda’s house. I asked her what it was about, and she replied, “I started reading it and it was just stupid. You can have it if you want it. I’m not going to finish it.”

With a glowing review like that, I must have been crazy to wait until nearly the end of 2009, having clearly exhausted all avenues of personal accomplishment with nothing left to do but sit on my ass like this guy and deconstruct the minutiae of basketball, rock ‘n roll, and reality TV.

Written in 2004, the pop culture commentary was just on the cusp of being relevant. While the author has over a dozen seasons of MTV’s “The Real World” under his belt, the freshness of reality TV has since been overshadowed by online social networking sites. Now, every idle man, woman, and child can create an online “real-world” house to display their own personal drama via public messages, passive-aggressive quips, and terrible poetry for the many onlookers they hope will care about whatever pithy problem they’re having that week.

Surprisingly, though, Klosterman begins the book with some observations about The Sims computer game. My only knowledge of The Sims is that it’s a role-playing game that involves living somewhere, buying stuff, and meeting people. I didn’t and still don’t see its appeal, as I was already doing those things in real life. The author points out that he had to keep buying stuff or his character would die of depression. Sadly, this seems to both imitate and contradict real life.

Speaking of which, how ’bout that “Real World”? The best point he makes, which I wish I was 10 or 20 years older to validate, is that after the first season, the “Real World” exposed us to seven different types of people. As kids in the MTV generation matured, they found themselves categorizing themselves (more or less) as one of those roles for which MTV periodically held casting calls. The show advocates having a one-dimensional personality so that other one-dimensional personalities can understand you.

This logic answers a lot of questions for me personally, since I grew up without cable and saw my first episode of the show after graduating from college in 2002. Suddenly some of the misguided poop-flinging I’ve dealt with made a little sense: I can’t be easily classified as the bible-thumper, the slutty girl, the punk rocker, etc, and I suppose that’s frustrating for someone who needs to figure me out quick so they can rush into their next fleeting, superficial friendship.

The author goes on to discuss music, one of my favorite topics. Since he has written many articles for Spin Magazine, he can’t help but be a douche about it sometimes. Based on my albeit limited knowledge of Billy Joel and GnR, I still gathered some good insight on modern American musical zeitgeist. Incidentally, I hope you like the word, “zeitgeist,” because he uses it in nearly every chapter.

A third of the way through, the topic of sports surfaces. My first thought was, “I really don’t like sports. Should I skip this chapter?” Nah. Turns out he’s using the book as a platform to discredit the #1 youth sport in the US (soccer) as being little more than a safe-haven for unathletic outcasts to pass their days until they are no longer pressured to play a sport. It is appreciated by non-individualist “group think” cultures because it puts everyone on a level playing field, so to speak.

Okay, I can live with that. But I think he’s reading into it too much. Soccer is so widespread because it’s one of the cheapest sports to play, making it easy for moms across America to dump the kids off at soccer practice once a week and get an hour or so to themselves.

The discussion of pro-basketball that followed was tolerable until he made a reaching connection between liking the Celtics and supporting the GOP. He also says 99% of the porn out there is not for women. It’s amazing how drastically perceptions can change in 5 years. (And even though that number is obviously made up, I can still vouch for it not being that high no matter what year we’re talking.)

He continues his diatribe of mildly interesting arrogance by talking about making the same mix CD for two uninformed women and both of them loving it, and telling us, “do or don’t, there is no try.” Maybe Yoda never tried to use his whiny prog-rock collection to simultaneously sucker two chicks, but the inspirational quote was a lot cooler when he said it.

Before he managed to lose me, he began a discussion about films. This was significantly less pompous and egotistical. He touts Vanilla Sky as a good movie for dealing with questions of reality, which puts he and I in a no doubt small minority of those who even saw the film. While almost everyone agrees The Matrix was a captivating film on many levels, he states that it doesn’t challenge the viewer to think critically enough about choosing between this and an alternate universe. I like that he was able to put into eloquent words the issues I’ve had with movies like that one. If I choose Option A, and I know I won’t remember ever having made the choice, what exactly makes it better or worse than Option B, which would be a complete opposite but equal experience?

A few quick things that pulled me back to his side of the fence as the book progressed:

-People who say they like “all kinds of music” don’t actually like “any kinds of music”. (Thank you!! I knew the random Joe Schmoes I talk to at a parties haven’t heard of Pizzicato 5, the Dead Milkmen, AND Mark Farina.)

-Eminem is relevant because we can understand what the hell he’s saying. He is good at rapping because he’s good at talking.

-News stories often take shape based on which sources call back first. Reporters have a finite amount of time to write the rough draft of history. Don’t cry shoddy journalism every time your guy isn’t available for comment.

-The EMP sucks.

Klosterman closes the book with a discussion on sex versus dying. He argues that most people think about the former exponentially more than the latter, using only the most non-existent scientific studies. I was surprised to be so close to the end of the book without much of a discussion on the complex topic of modern society’s sexual mores, but I guess Reality Shows, Sports, and Dying wasn’t as catchy of a title.

Despite the range of topics covered, the book had a surprising level of continuity. I can see why some people would be turned off by the author’s tone, but many of his observations rang true. Still, this hearse-haulin’ heifer would like to tell our musing media-saturated philosopher just one thing: “I think about death plenty, thank you.”

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Here’s a Veteran’s Day treat, courtesy of The Smoking Gun. For those who don’t want to read the whole thing, the guy dressed up as a successful Marine to impress people at his high school reunion. I guess he was afraid someone else might already be dressed up as a cowboy astronaut millionaire.

Medals of Dishonor

FBI: Prodigiously decorated California man never served in military

NOVEMBER 11–Just in time for Veteran’s Day, a California bank employee is facing federal charges for allegedly masquerading as a decorated Marine and wearing a host of bogus medals, including the Purple Heart, Bronze Star, and Navy Cross. Steven Burton, 39, is scheduled to surrender tomorrow in U.S. District Court in Riverside, California (Burton, who has never served in the armed forces, was named last week in a misdemeanor criminal information charging him with the unauthorized wearing of military medals). According to a search warrant affidavit, Burton’s charade was discovered after an actual Navy commander, Colleen Salonga, ran into Burton at their high school reunion. Online records indicate that Salonga and Burton graduated in 1988 from Alhambra High School in Martinez, California (and that their class’s 20th reunion was last October). Suspicious that Burton was playing dress up, Salonga asked to take a photo with him. That image, seen below, was later provided to FBI agents. A subsequent investigation turned up another photo of Burton in uniform as well as blog postings in which he recounted his “combat experience” and tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. In the real world, Burton is employed at Rabobank in Palm Springs, California.

I’m left-leaning, but I like this article’s directness at a time when unemployment is at a whopping 10 percent. “We threw hundreds of billions of dollars at it, why isn’t it working??” (sarcasm)

Currently, I am more interested in finding a job than receiving free health care. In most cases, some form of health benefits are part of my prospective company’s compensation. In short, a job means health care. Others’ experiences may vary, but according to this article, not really. Reposted from The Detroit News.

Americans are angry with Washington as much for what it isn’t doing as what it is.

What it isn’t doing the most is paying attention to the still-raging economic disaster.

Last week’s job numbers show unemployment nationally bumping past 10 percent and surpassing 15 percent in Michigan. Unemployment keeps climbing, even though President Barack Obama and Congress nine months ago committed $787 billion to creating jobs.

Since then, neither the White House nor Congress has spent a minute honestly analyzing whether the stimulus program is accomplishing its goal, and if not, what other approaches might work.

Instead, the administration is spinning dismal economic reports into positive news, allowing both it and Congress to ignore the economy while they pursue their ideological ends.

It ought to infuriate anyone who’s lost a job, can’t find a job, is worried about his job or lives in a community ravaged by a lack of jobs that Congress devotes nearly all of its energy to arguing about health care.

The promise of health care reform was not what got Democrats elected. Voters tossed Republicans on their fannies for ruining the economy, not because they didn’t enact wildly expensive social programs.

But while the economy tops every list of public concerns, job creation is not the hot topic in Washington.

In fact, Democratic leaders, obsessed with reworking America, have proved more than willing to sacrifice precious jobs during the worst economic climate in a half-century.

Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., rammed an energy-rationing bill through her Senate Environment and Public Works Committee last week without a single Republican member in the room.

The bill would greatly limit America’s ability to produce the energy it needs to fuel an economic rebound. In other words, it’s a job killer.

Democrats are revealing that putting the country back to work is a lesser priority than passing their social agenda.

If that weren’t true, they wouldn’t even consider any measure that would raise taxes on job creators.

Higher taxes, particularly on business, always result in fewer jobs. Both the health care and climate change bills will trigger huge tax hikes for every taxpayer.

Democrats have learned nothing from history. During the Great Depression, each time the economy showed a spark, President Franklin Roosevelt snuffed it out with another tax increase or regulatory burden.

Obama is making the same mistake and justifying it by claiming health care and climate change are so urgent they can’t be delayed until the economy recovers, and perhaps we can afford the costs.

But one in 10 American workers are unemployed — one in seven in Michigan. Surely, that’s the most urgent priority.

If it doesn’t become so soon in Washington, the tea bags being hurled at the Capitol will turn into pitchforks.

Last week, D and I drove to San Francisco to see MC Chris. (The link goes directly to his songs.) It may have been nice to know about the Bay Bridge closure before I bought the tickets, since the drive from Sacramento is already pretty long. On the other hand, it might have caused us to rethink our plans and then we would have missed a kick-ass show.

When we arrived at the venue (Slim’s on 11th), parking was easy. After getting our tickets from will call, we walked up the street to Don Ramon’s to grab dinner before the show. Once we were seated, I noticed these kind and to me, ironic, reminders placed on each table:

Too bad these weren’t on the table the last time we tried to enjoy dinner in San Francisco. It’s a shame some people need posted instructions to conduct themselves courteously in public.

Our dinner was quick and tasty, and we returned to the venue just in time for the second band, Whole Wheat Bread. It was the first time I’ve seen a four-piece band of black guys instigate a full throttle mosh pit. I liked their sound, except for the two or three hip-hop songs they sandwiched into the middle of their set. The lyrics were trite (“I fuck ho’s, I get laid, I pimp ho’s, I get paid” – yeah, you and every other black guy behind a microphone) and the production was nothing special. I hope they stick to writing punk rock songs, since those are what made them worth the price of admission.

Then MC Chris took the stage and he was HILARIOUS. Beyond his songs, which his fans all know are funny, he did some in-between yapping about various things in his life that sounded entirely ad-libbed and goofy. In the spirit of Halloween, he defended the honor of the supernatural (“The Ghostbusters are like Nazis for ghosts”) and had us give it up for his roadie whose “farts smell like three different meals in one.”

In addition to MC Chris’s antics, the audience was pretty fun to watch too. There was a decent amount of hipster/nerd/punk/hip-hop/goth/straight-edge/etc diversity in the crowd, but I haven’t seen a show in SF in so long, that’s probably just what it’s like everywhere. Most MC Chris’s stuff is danceable, so there were a ton of people geeking out on the floor. I always love that, even if I’m not in geek-mode myself.

The drive home was a bit rough, post-midnight with ringing ears, but I’d do it again. And by “again,” I mean I’d more heavily insist on driving the entire way instead of letting Dominic use me as a reserve when he absolutely couldn’t focus any longer. Still, “Boys Don’t Cry.”