Sunday, July 31, 2005

Macarena Memories

I know I promised to limit the personal bits on this blog, but this is really too good to pass up.

The apartment building next to mine is about 15 feet away and since this is the kind of neighborhood where alot of us can't afford or for various reasons aren't allowed to have A/C, alot of us keep our windows open to deal with the L.A. heat. Unfortunately, one of my neighbors whose windows faces the office where my girlfriend and I have our computers loves to play loud, bad latin music from the stereo in his or her window. (One time it got so loud that I went next door figured out which apartment it is and knocked on the door and got them to turn it down, but I coudln't figure out which of the five or six people in the apartment was actually the culprit).

Anyway, what are they listening to right now? "Hey Macarena!" Did they actually buy this CD and thought it was a great time to relive memories of 1998 that most of us considered awful at the time? Or is there some L.A. radio station playing it, whether ironically or not? Either way, I can't tell you how fun it is to have this oh-so catchy song bringing back memories of Al Gore's wooden dancing and stale Jay Leno jokes as I sit here trying to work.

Update: There's now a commercial playing, so I think it actually is a radio station. I wonder if there's a way to do a pre-set so a station can never every play in my car.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Grand Theft Brain Cells: Hillary Clinton edition

Not to belabor a point I made two posts ago, but here we go again with adults all up in arms about what's happening to the children.

Luckily, Steven Johnson, author of the brilliant "Everything Bad is Good for You," is putting a posturing no-nothing politician in her place. (if you have a Variety subscription or are willing to sit through an ad, see my review of his book here)

The buffoon in this case is Hillary Clinton, who's extremely concerned about the hidden sex scene in "Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas" that you can unlock if you download a program (she's also concerned about the general level of violence in the game).

I've seen the video and it's about a minute of oral sex and straight up fucking. Maybe the level of a soft core porno and frankly not much that anyone old enough to figure out how to unlock the content hasn't seen before. (Judge for yourself by checking out a video of the "hot coffee" scene here)

In an L.A. Times op-ed today, Johnson issues a bitchslap to Hillary for her stupidity and suggests she call for a federal investigation of another violent game being played by millions of teenage boys: football.

Here is, as Andrew Sullivan would say, the money graf:

Kids have always played games. A hundred years ago they were playing stickball and kick the can; now they're playing "World of Warcraft," "Halo 2" and "Madden 2005." And parents have to drag their kids away from the games to get them to do their algebra homework, but parents have been dragging kids away from whatever the kids were into since the dawn of civilization.

And since the dawn of democracy, I suppose, politicians looking to score points with parents have called for investigations into the pop culture of the day when they could spend that money and energy to deal with actual violence in the real world.

As Glenn Reynolds would say, read the whole thing.

(For another recent example of Hillary Clinton's posturing buffoonery, check out my post on her and flag burning)

Monday, July 25, 2005

Catholic Family Values (and screwed up family law)

Just when I thought my opinion of the Catholic Church couldn't fall lower, I read this gem in the L.A. Times Sunday.

So apparently this priest has a child out of wedlock while he's in seminary and now his archdiocese pays his ex-wife the princely sum of $323 a month in child support and doesn't extend his health insurance to cover the kid, who has chronic asthma.

Oh, and this community leader and spreader of God's word has never seen his son.

Oh, and when Mom sued for support 10 years ago the archdiocese said, with apparently no irony, that "birth of the plaintiff's child and the resultant expenses … are the result of the plaintiff's own negligence," specifically because she engaged in "unprotected intercourse."

Yes, that's the Catholic Church faulting someone for having unprotected sex.

It's so fucked up that the Church can't even find a way to extend health insurance to this kid that it boggles the mind. What kind of screwed up values allow you to devote your life to helping strangers and, as a result, leaves you unable to properly support your own son.

I'm also baffled that the courts aren't compelling Dad to do something about it. Apparently Oregon (and most states') law is that child support is based on income. And that makes sense to a point. Obviously a very wealth divorced parent should have to pay a lot in child support, more than we would expect from a middle class parent.

But shouldn't there be some minimum? If you have a child and are divorced, then you don't get to take a job that includes a vow of poverty. You have to get a job that pays enough to support half of the basic expenses of raising a child.

Why is that not the law???

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Won't somebody PLEASE think of the children?!

I don't usually like to copy other blogs' posts, but I'm going to make an exception in a minute because Matthew Yglesias wrote something really fantastic in today's Tapped, which I catch up on every few days.

I'm reprinting it because I believe really strongly that the common beliefs that things are constantly getting worse for America's children and that popular culture is a big reason for it are both patently absurd.

My opinion on the second point solidified a few months ago when I wrote a review for Variety of two books: "Over the Edge" by Leo Bogart and "Everything Bad is Good for You" by Steven Johnson. (subscription required to read it, alas)

The former is a screen about how bad pop culture has gotten and thus is corrupting the children exposed to sex, violence, and other awful stuff. Johnson's book argues that pop colture (TV and video games and, to a lesser extent, movies) have gotten much more complex and are in fact way better for us and might even be making us smarter. Here are, as Andrew Sullivan would say, the money grafs:

One gets the sense that Bogart sits in his office reading articles and is so shocked -- shocked! -- by what the kids today are watching and playing that he felt compelled to write a whole book about a world of entertainment he doesn't really understand.

Johnson thoughtfully engages the modern media and goes beyond the tired argument over whether Hollywood has gone "too far." His book should make us rethink the way we judge popular culture.

While I'm not sure if it's actually making us smarter, I agree with Johnson that pop culture, in moderation, is overall having a more positive impact on today's children than negative. Yes, going outside and using your imagination is important. But what's wrong with solving a puzzle in "The Legend of Zelda" or following the development of "Buffy, the Vampire Slayer" (a very smart show about teenagers that has violence and is, therefore, technically "bad" for kids)?

This ties into the larger point that things aren't so bad for kids today. It's actually a better time to be young in America than it ever has been. Take a look at what Matt wrote:

WHAT ABOUT ALL THE GOOD NEWS? As I've tried to emphasize in a variety of ways, most of the hype about indecency and the "coarsening" of popular culture is aimed at solving problems that don't exist. For example, just the other day the government released "America's Children: Key National Indicators of Well-Being 2005." The news, which has received almost no coverage, is almost uniformly good. "Teen births are at an all-time low" despite Desperate Housewives. Illegal drug use is down. Smoking is flat after several years of decline. Alcohol consumption is flat. In 1993, for every 1,000 juveniles, 52 committed serious violent felonies. In 2003, the most recent for for which data is available, it was down to 15 offenders per 1,000. This despite the Grand Theft Auto series.
Liberals and conservatives alike "know" that our public school system is failing and only drastic changes can turn it around. Except they aren't failing; NAEP scores are up in both the short-term and long-term views. What has gone up in recent years is child poverty, which is a serious problem the nation would do well to focus on. Indeed, if we had fewer children growing up poor, we'd probably do even better on these other behavioral indicators. But hassling video game manufacturers isn't going to make that happen.

--Matthew Yglesias

The fact is, this is a great time and a great place to be young in America. Unless you're poor. Then you're better off in one of the more socialistic developed countries, for obvious reasons.

Monday, July 18, 2005

The Perfect (Power) Pop Song

Is there such a thing as a perfect pop song?

If so, Fountains of Wayne has nailed it with "Maureen," one of two original songs on their frikkin brilliant new 2 CD collection of mostly unreleased tracks, "Out of State Plates."

FoW has long been my favorite band and the rare occassions when they release a new album (this is just their fourth) is a wonderful moment. Though this compilation does have a few not so great songs, it's consistently very good and had a few gems, like "Maureen," "The Girl I Can't Forget," a slow and depressing cover of "Hit Me Baby One More Time" and "I Want An Alien for Christmas."

If you appreciate popwer pop (Weezer, etc.) or just good songwriting with great, hook-y music, you must must buy this album. Download Maureen and give them a try. If you hate it, e-mail me and I'll paypal you the 99 cents for your trouble.

Robert Christgau, who I gather is a very famous rock critics, aptly calls FoW "apparently facile, actually painstaking popmeisters" in this dead on Village Voice review.

Saturday, July 16, 2005

Some questions for Willy Wonka

When a movie is really bad, you can start asking a few too many questions.

The first one is: Can America's film critics be wowed by some bright colors and bad sight gags?

How else to explain the overwhelmingly positive response to Tim Burton's remake/reimagination/regurgitation of "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory?" This film is awful. And it got an 82% positive on Rotten Tomatoes. That's an insignificant two points lower than "Batman Begins," the year's best studio film by far. I know Rotten Tomatoes doesn't count how intensely the positive or negative opinions are, but that's not good enough. Reviews for "Charlie" should, nay must, be negative.

This won't be a full blown review. Suffice it to say that the movie isn't original at all. It's an inferior literal retelling of the book with an obviously TACKED ON -- as in the movie stops for flashbacks and then has a 15 minute epilogue after the main story is over -- subplot about Willy Wonka's daddy issues that made him the wackjob he is today. And the jokes are AWFUL. Avoid this piece of crap like the plague.

Interestingly, the only review I found that got it right is from this odd site called Juicy Cerebellum. Kudos to them.

Because "Charlie" is so bad, I was uninvolved and started thinking about how weird and disturbing many parts of the story are. I never thought about this stuff before when seeing the original movie or reading the book, but now I can't get the following concerns out of my head:

-Where does the owner of a chocolate factory get off judging a fat kid? Isn't that like Joe Camel tut-tutting in the emphyzema ward?

-Violet Beauregard's big sin is she chews gum. Do we live in Singapore? I don't care how innocent things ever were at any time in any place. There is no way that obsessive gum chewing should ever count as one of the top four sins of a child (this film tries to cover that up by making Violet's issue competitiveness, but it's very half-hearted).

-Mike Teavee in this version is presented as a really smart, albeit obnoxious kid, who had the gall to use a computer to figure out how to get the golden ticket (don't ask me how that's possible) and then accurately pointed out why you can't transport chocolate over a TV signal. The nerve of him! I sure am glad Willy Wonka put that smartass in his place. (admission: I have a soft spot for smart but obnoxious children for reasons related to my own childhood)

-Either Charlie's four grandparents have entirely lost their sexual desires or there are some very kinky things going on in that bed they all share.

-I won't even get into the whole Oompa Loompa issue. Suffice it to say that Tim Burton doesn't help the racial questions by having one actor portray every single one of them.