Monday, July 30, 2007

Phone Scam

Regular readers know that I despise cell phone ringtones, because it's annoying enough that I have to hear you yapping away while I'm trying hard to tune the real world out — it's doesn't need the mass-manufatured bubble gum pop song of the moment as a prelude. But I'm afraid I'm going to need to capitulate to the tinny dance music industry since I got a new phone over the weekend. We still have some phones in our basement — beige, boxy things with just the twelve necessary buttons — and they indicated an incoming call with a bell-like alert. The nineties came along; apparently this was too simple for the new information age and they replaced the bell with an electronic warbling simulacrum. But that wasn't melodic enough for the American public, so we came out with Nokia Tune, which begat Crazy Frog, which begat "Ringtone 9," that irritating little samba number that's always popping up in inappropriate locations, like I'm gonna start dancing every time someone calls me. Let's just get this over with and come out with a ringtone that's Jerry Lewis saying, "I'm riiiiiiiiinggggiiiiiinnngggg!" so we'll all wind up sticking icepicks in our eardrums and finally... silence.

According to LG's website, the VX5300 comes with "15 Unique Ringtones + Vibrate & Silent Modes," which is disingenuous. I don't consider "Low Beep" and "Loud Beep" to be unique. Or ringtones, for that matter. So my options are limited to a ring at frequencies only dogs can hear; that noise Simon makes when you screw up; a wacky glissando, again ending at the dog and bat range of the hearing spectrum; a high-pitched fire alarm sound; a lullaby; "When The Saints Go Marching In," the full Dixieland mix; and the aforemetioned samba tune. Is it possible to get a ringtone that sounds like — call me a crazy here — a goddamn telephone ring!

So thank you, America, for screwing up another absolutely perfect thing.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Summer TV Watch, Part Two

It's no surprise that the comedies premiering off-season, with the exception of Flight of the Conchords, all got lousy reviews. Networks tend to save the funny stuff for when it'll pay the bills. I had low expectations for the non-premium channel dramas, too, except for Damages, with FX's mixed success at creating good drama and because I couldn't figure out what the hell it was about from the teasers. So there's been a lot that I'm not even giving a chance, and I don't think I'm missing out on anything, but let me know if I am.

Creature Comforts: I had the misfortune of having a video store clerk recommend to me the British first series of Creature Comforts. I was in my "Nick Park plus modeling clay is the coolest combination on earth since peanut butter and jelly" phase, and Wallace and Gromit was already checked out. Creature Comforts left me completely flummoxed — because no one bothered explaining the conceit to me. It's genuine interviews (with shut-ins, in the original incarnation) animated through anthropomorphized animals, so think Crank Yankers or Fonejacker, with some insight into the human condition. On reflection, it seemed like something tailor-made for me, but it was boring at the time and I didn't feel like giving Creature Comforts another go.

Heartland: I totally forgot about this show, where the dad from Everwood plays a transplant doctor who has issues. Who doesn't, these days? But Heartland has three strikes going against it: its name is a pun (and not a very good one), its name implies that it's the most inoffensive and unchallenging medical show since twice-removed Golden Girls spin-off Nurses, and frankly I don't think there's anything Treat Williams can do to put a dent in my man-crush on Dr. Gregory House. Morena Baccarin, maybe.

Side Order of Life and State of Mind: They're like Lifetime movies-of-the-week that keep revisiting you, bringing you into the sharing circle and spreading mild PTA gossip. At least Lifetime's gotten bored with droll but hot detective shows. (Yes, I caught... uh, glimpses of them all.)

The Kill Point: I guess I'm turned off by anything on Spike TV that's just dripping with testosterone, but The Kill Point got some favorable reviews. Maybe if I run out of other things to watch...

Greek: Clark Duke isn't gonna save this one for me. On a related note, did you know that some wonderful person put all eighteen episodes of Undeclared up on Bittorrent?

Saving Grace: This seems to happen a lot in television: a bunch of people come up with the same mediocre idea, like a song lyric remembering contest, at the same time. Saving Grace is about its protagonist, conveniently named Grace, and her divine redeemer. Sounds a little familiar, doesn't it? The hook is that the troubled soul in Saving Grace is a woman, so naturally that's gonna create some problems, plus snag the viewers who are missing their Lifetime crime procedurals. But there's always The Closer, which seems to get by just fine without the angels.

With all that out of the way, I've got plenty of time to drink in what looks most promising. Right now, that's Matthew Weiner's Mad Men, on AMC, the network that seems to think Murder by Numbers, Psycho II, and The Flinstones in Viva Rock Vegas are all "classic" movies. I had lost faith. Now, I can't attest to the historical accuracy of Mad Men, set in an advertising agency in the 1960's, right before the fiction of American domestic bliss was about to crumble under the counter-cultural revolution, but it does a very nice job of capturing the impending transitional, with both the hindsight of the audience and the blase indifference of the characters, unaware of what's sneaking up on them. Don Draper embodies the cavalier attitude of the era, where nothing can ever go wrong and the power dynamics between men and women, individuals and their families, and consumers and their products will never change, even as the first episode's tobacco company sub-plot hints at the shift. Draper's gotten by hawking the health benefits of light cigarettes ("four out of five doctors smoke 'em") and is helpless when the government steps in and bans that tactic.

I really hope this show stays on the air, because I'd love to see if and how Draper re-manufactures his relationships with his clients, family, and the women in his life as the culture changes. I'm also looking forward to watching the group dynamics among the characters marginalized in 1950's society: the gay illustrator; Rachel Menken, the Jewish department store owner; the secretarial pool, not to mention the decline of the "all-powerful" telephone operators (including Mel!!!). Mad Men has built-in potential, and I expect good things from it.

Damages, on FX, is a wild card, depending on how it conceives, and how Glenn Close plays, Patty Hewes against the FX slimeball protagonist tradition. I went into Damages thinking of Patty as a Vic Mackey-type of antihero, a compromised person whose (little) goodness comes from her struggle out of her morality play, but now I'm not so sure. The pilot, after two twists that I totally called and a gratuitous third one that left me feeling dirty, had more of a Nip/Tuck vibe. You're a voyeur into a world where everyone's utterly reprehensible: Patty, her billionaire nemesis Ted Danson (in a role I thought only Tim Curry was allowed to play), and all of their tool henchmen lawyer acolytes. I'm afraid it's not going to be a story so much as psychological porn.

Thrown into this mess is just out of law school Ellen Parsons, who I'd love to identify with if she weren't so damn spineless and politically dense. The pilot moves back and forth in time, starting with "Six Months Later," when Ellen stumbles out of her (?) apartment building naked and covered in blood, refusing to talk to the police — and we don't have a lot of information here, so there might be a reason for her behavior here. But it doesn't really contrast with Ellen's denseness when the first guessable twist is revealed — when we all figure out why Patty hired Ellen, but the scene is written and played so gently, and with such distance from the topic at hand, that the question wasn't how Ellen is going to use this revelation but if she's even aware that it's been revealed. Her endgame in the pilot is so beyond stupid, so beyond deductive reasoning that I actually felt bad for her, like Patty's taking advantage of a child or something. Maybe she smartens up quickly, and there's your story, but right now it seems like we're focused on the antagonism between Patty and Ted Danson and Ellen's just a pawn.

Finally, Burn Notice, which along with Monk, Psych, and repeats of Law and Order: Special Victims Unit, is perpetually being shown on the USA network. It's a guilty pleasure... well, I've caught four episodes so far, but never from start to finish, and while they're not the horrendous dreck this action-spy comedy could have been, it's not all that much pleasure either.

I think the producers were hoping that all it would take to make this show work is pretty pictures of Miami and ex-secret agent or something Michael narrating obvious tidbits about spycraft for you to use next time you're stuck in a Syrian prison or something. Remember the voice-overs from the first two seasons of Veronica Mars, and how they were always in there because the execs at UPN thought their viewers were morons (maybe they had good reasons...) who couldn't follow the action on the screen at that very moment? Imagine that, and pretend Veronica had to freeze the action and put a subtitle under each new character, with their name, occupation, and relevance to the plot. It's not like they've come up with such a unique take on the Cuban drug dealer that I'm completely stumped or anything.

Lazy, lazy writing. Also lazy: Bruce Campbell, who's gained about a hundred pounds of fat since the Evil Dead movies. And what's with all these scenes of people doing their nefarious business in fancy restaurants or nightclubs? Maybe plot your world domination scheme in private, where there aren't a hundred people who could be listening in or seeing you act all sketchy. This is why rooms were invented, people.

Maybe I just miss MI:5.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Summer TV Watch, Part One

Remember the old days, when summer television used to be good for nothing but newsmagazines and repeats? Now summer's good for newsmagazines, ridiculous prime-time game shows, and repeats. What an improvement! Thankfully, there's cable, which is serving up one great offering, one incomprehensible offering, and a lot of stuff with potential that will either rise and become classic or fall into cheesy melodrama. And Meadowlands.

Flight of the Conchords is the only summer show this far that I look forward to seeing, and it's not just because I have a huge crush on fan-slash-stalker Mel. In the recent evolution of the sitcom, where Two and a Half Men is the hunched-over neanderthal polluting the gene pool with its laugh track and The Office is the Star Child, Conchords is the cave-painting cro-Magnon, top of the food chain comedy. On paper, it's your standard icy entertainment industry conceit with Bret and Jemaine breaking into sometimes-relevant musical numbers for a change of pace, but it has a slacker vibe to it that's kept well and mercifully subdued. There are hits and misses for Conchords, but the ratio is pretty high and climbed as I got used to the quirky, off-paced, and usually small jokes, like the cameraphone Bret glued together for Jemaine ("You ruined the camera. And I don't think the phone works either.") or Murray's bureaucratic insistence on taking roll call before every three-person band meeting.

It's actually a nice breather when you think about it. Comedy, especially television comedy, gets a lot of mileage out of the Grandiose Doofus character, you the audience react along with the leading straight man to Cosmo Kramer or Dwight Schrute's antics. Kudos to Flight of the Conchords for being antics-free, to the point where it realizes (part-time) comic foil Bret can be replaced with a mannequin and a backing tape. The show is aimless, one long digression sprinkled with brain farts: "Girl tonight we're gonna make love / You know how I know? / Because it’s Wednesday / And Wednesday night is the night that we usually make love / Tuesday night is the night that we usually go to your mother’s place and I teach / her how to use the video machine again / But Wednesday night is the night that we make love..." Like that.

HBO's other new summer program, John From Cincinnati, is an impenetrable mess with a lot to live up to as the show that premiered right after The Sopranos finale and the show that got Deadwood cancelled. I can sympathize with the arguments for hating it, even aside from the fact that it makes Twin Peaks look like Friends. Rebecca De Mornay has spent pretty much the whole series with her volume on eleven, Greyson Fletcher (and to a lesser extent, Keala Kennelley) are wooden and painful to watch, the characters — save for perpetually moody Cissy Yost and her new age tool husband Mitch — are personality-challenged, and the ponderous dialogue is... well, can you tell that David Milch used to be an associate professor of literature at Yale? Yes, yes you can.

I can't really disagree. John From Cincinnati, this far at least, is no substitute for Deadwood and I think its biggest flaw is that lack of that stark character contrast dynamic, good and evil (and later anti-hero) played out between Seth Bullock and Al Swearingen. But... two things. After Deadwood — and I admit that it took me a couple of attempts to get through the first few episodes and figure out what the hell was going on — I think Milch deserves the benefit of the doubt that he's going somewhere with John. (It's not like people have this issue with the similarly semi-cohesive Lost.) The themes of divine redemption are everywhere and its clear they're sneaking up on the Yosts, and I trust that by the end of the first season, everybody in Imperial Beach will receive what they've earned, which is more than I can say for any season of Lost.

And John has its moments of sheer brilliance. Ed O'Neill's despondent widower performance, especially his one-sided conversations with Zippy, rivals anything that Ian McShane did with his Milchian soliloquies and the Indian chief head-in-a-box. John's speech on the astral plane or whatever, about his Father and the ones and zeros in Cass's camera and general hugeness, was exhilarating, even if I didn't understand ninety percent of it. Watching John From Cincinnati is like watching a static field — sometimes literally — but maybe that's an antidote to its bizarre information overload, time to process the telepathic bird, and John's magical pockets, and the haunted motel room, and why Mitch is levitating, and John's parroting speech patterns, and why does Butchie Yost need to get back in the game, and what happens on September 11, 2014?

At least all the clues point in the same direction here.

But speaking of weirdness, Showtime imported a competing freak show called Meadowlands over from England. I only watched the first episode — so somebody please let me know if the remaining seven episodes are worth watching — where some British guy, his British wife, their British daughter, and their alternately autistic and articulate British burn victim son get shepherded away to an isolated community for people in witness protection. It's seriously a rip-off of The Prisoner, only with the writers high on paranoia instead of LSD. Again, just a bunch of crazy characters revolving around a (relatively) sane family. The difference between Meadowlands and John From Cincinnati is that there's a sort of storytelling logic behind the latter. The craziness is there to affect these characters, force them to grow. In Meadowlands, it felt bizarre for the sake of being bizarre — like you couldn't just make a show about a family in witness protection. They have to be a family in witness protection with a matronly sexpot neighbor, and a creepy handyman, and an objectified obese girl, and a whole stupid town that welcomes newcomers by line dancing. Oh, I probably just spoiled Cloverfield for you. Sorry.

More tomorrow, on what basic cable's offering...

Friday, July 27, 2007

It turns out that Atlantic City is more than just a seedy, tacky gambling mecca, shattered-seashell covered beachfront, former home to a vapid woman-judging contest, and current home to the world's largest Ripley's Believe It or Not! museum. It's also the summer habitat of the Atlantic bottlenose dolphin, and for thirty bucks plus the cost of some Dramamine, you can get on a boat and go out dolphin-watching. I've been out at sea whale-watching a couple of times during my many, many otherwise tedious vacations in Cape Cod, and let me just say that no matter how jaded you are, sixty tons of cetacean is pretty damn awe-inspiring. It almost makes up for the hours and hours of antique shopping you're forced to do when you're visiting Cape Cod. (It's even worse when your parents drag through flea market after flea market even though they have absolutely no intention of buying anything, and they don't even like antiques in the first place.)

I heard about the dolphin-watching cruise and figured it might be more fun than losing hand after hand of blackjack, so I went down to Atlantic City to check the scene out. It could've gone better. Okay, so I hate boats. Part of this is because I can't swim, so on the one in a billion chance that the boat capsizes, I'm pretty much relying on the one in a billion chance that I turn into a cartoon character, fall to the ocean floor, and can then walk out of the water, Tiktaalik-style. It turns out that the ocean off the Jersey coast is only between six and twenty feet deep — and the boat's deck is seven feet high, so I guess that improves my odds a little bit. Well, I figured, I'm here to gamble.

Yesterday turned out to be a bad day for dolphin-watching. I did a lot of prep work checking the weather forecast, and it was supposed to be partly cloudy and hot. I didn't check the marine forecast because, well, I forgot that it existed, but if you ever go dolphin-watching or deep sea fishing or just on a boat, period, it's probably a good idea to find out the ocean's condition. Especially if you don't have the strongest constitution. Boats crawling across the water seem particularly vulnerable to every tiny disturbance in the water, and I'm sure some people enjoyed the zero-gravity moments navigating through the sand bars around Brigantine, I didn't. I mean, some people also willingly got on the human slingshot ride at the Steel City Pier.

I boarded the boat, which is just one of your typical ferries, usually used for sightseeing tours or whatever, and on the cruise we had: me, two old ladies, two teenagers holding hands and trying to emo (except they're on a dolphin-watching cruise, and you can't possibly be emo on a dolphin-watching cruise), a mother with five kids who can only control four of them, and an entire summer camp, trying their best to capsize the boat. Did I mention that the cruise is two hours long? No? Well, it's two hours long, and thankfully there's a full bar on board. (This is actually not the great idea that it sounds like. As I said, the boat's not super-steady, and neither are the inebriated.) I found a seat, I thought out of the sun, and waited for the dolphins to magically appear.

And waited.

And waited. Captain Jim reminded us that these are wild dolphins and the entire Atlantic is their playground, although apparently they're usually found in the warmer waters within a half mile from shore. (Half a mile is well within the range you could bring your own sailboat or jetski, if you wanted to get really up close and personal with the dolphins. I don't recommend it, however, if you enjoy having hands.)

And we waited. Captain Jim told us that they don't feed the dolphins. Maybe they should start.

And we sailed up and down the Absecon island shoreline, looking for the dolphins. And we waited. People were getting seasick and literally dropping right there on the deck. You know you're gonna be stuck on a boat for two hours, they say they're gonna take you on the open sea (even though we never lost sight of the shore), wouldn't you bother to take some dimenhydrinate before setting sail?

And we waited.

The dolphins were too busy using language or saving divers from sharks to make an appearance. I thought I saw a couple of dolphins early in the trip, but it turned out those were just dolphin-shaped waves. Ungrateful bastards! This is the thanks we get for letting them out of our tuna nets! Next time one of those underwater nature documentaries comes on TV, I'm rooting for the killer whale.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Tonight is the CNN/YouTube Democratic debate, which – no offense to democracy or anything – is a new low in our staple lazy, dilute field of journalism. No matter what Anderson Cooper bloviates, it's not a revolution; the questions for the second 2004 presidential debate and the third 2000 debate (supposedly) came from average Americans. The only difference here is the involvement of YouTube, which has already brought us important contributions to the political discourse, such as Nora the Piano-Playing Cat and the "Will It Blend?" guy. New populist technology gives Time Warner a massive boner.

It's not that Americans aren't a naturally curious bunch, but that our curiosity is about as directionless and easily distracted as the war on terror. I assume that "television's number one political news team," a.k.a. CNN's unpaid summer interns, will weed out the "Boxers or briefs?" and "Could you take a moment to pray for Oregon, for us, right now?" sorts of questions, but you've still got Bill Richardson, who's negotiated with freaking Kim Jong Il for Christ's sake, answering questions from fifth-graders. (Okay, obviously the questions were parent-scripted, but there's still a cuteness over substance issue going on here that's not healthy for a functioning democracy.)

The problem is that your answers reflect the style of the questions. Jeffrey Sachs and some attention whore in a cow costume could ask the same question about ending global poverty, but — thirty second time limit aside — Sachs would get an answer that addresses all the facets and gray areas of a complex issue, and the cow guy would just be patronized to. Which is pretty much what happens in these debates, and that's why I generally avoid them. This is why we have journalists — people (theoretically) trained to ask piercing questions and to recognize when the response is lacking. There's a difference between asking Hillary, "Why haven't you apologized for your vote to authorize the president to go to war in Iraq?" and "To what extent was your vote to authorize the Iraq war influenced by the fact that 70% of Americans supported the war in 2002?" The former lets her do that political, passive voice, weaseling-out thing ("I was duped.") and the other actually holds her accountable not just for her actions, but for her whole concept of how a democratic government should work. Should our leaders reflect the consensus of the governed, or transcend it?

But that question can't be answered in two minutes.

Here's what I'd like to see: lots of debates. Twenty-eight, minimum. Just two candidates, and one topic for the entire hour, that really gets explored in terms of the candidates' views, their past actions, and their philosophy on governance in general. No ad hominem attacks, which are just a cheap way to eat up your thirty seconds without answering the question. Maybe we'd even have a panel of experts on whatever topic they're talking about.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

I Followed in the Footsteps of Giants

The Columbia Alumni Association held their first "rooftop happy hour" event of the summer at the China Club, a New York hot spot that the China Club website describes as "one of America's most glamorous nightspots." Wow. Me and my hundred-fifty thousand dollar education really hit the big time. Just how classy is this place? They held the premiere party for The Waterboy there! Bruce Willis frequents the club... playing sets with his band. So does Hanson. (It appears they still exist.) Donald Trump is a familiar face, and here's some pictures of Paris Hilton wasting space at the China Club. God, I hope they disinfected that place. There's a joke that will never, ever grow old.

It turns out that the China Club really isn't my scene. What is my scene, then? Probably someplace where the management isn't worried that I will potentially be murdered in their establishment. The security at this place makes the long, shoeless lines at the airport X-ray machine look sane. First, there's the velvet rope and some guy with an overactive pituitary gland. Do you even really need the velvet rope? I think its contribution to the overall security plan is quite negligible. Anyway, there's Pituitary Guy — he's the one who checks your ID. Then there's Little Guy Who Hands You Your Ticket. He's one of the less important components of the whole ridiculous entry ritual, second only to the velvet rope.

Okay, so you go inside, and it's like the crummiest apartment building you've ever been in. There's a flight of stairs, and that's it, and it honestly reminded me of Castlevania back when it was on the Commodore 64 and it didn't have enough memory to actually present you with decisions about where you wanted to go. I proceeded to level two: the metal detectors.

I go through the men's metal detector and another beefy security guy takes like ten minutes figuring out how to open up my bag. He looks through my stuff — I feel kind of bad for him, because I keep a lot of garbage in my bag, like used tissues or half-eaten Mars bars from Halloween, or for all I know, there could be a bloody tampon in there. Generally, what do I care, since it's my garbage and I'm the only one who goes through there. Here's what Beefy Guy says to me, no kidding: "You're a brave man, carrying that computer around the city." Really? Cause Pituitary Guy outside might be just for show and exclusivity, but they wouldn't have you manning these metal detectors unless they expected to find something. And I'm pretty sure it's not your A-list clientèle trying to sneak weapons in here down their pants. Maybe somebody in 50 Cent's entourage, maybe.

It gets better. I didn't set off the metal detector, and there's not so much a plastic spork in my bag, but Beefy Guy finds it necessary to pat me down. I want to repeat that. I am a five-foot, six-inch 130-pound white kid with glasses who codes websites and is afraid of spiders, and this guy thinks I'm packing heat. Fucking awesome! I wish I had a gun with me, just so I could be like, "Yeah! You're the first person in twenty-five years to ever get it right! You deserve a promotion!"

Another flight of steps, level three. Here's the cashier, except there's no cover so I just hand her the ticket that Little Guy Who Hands You Your Ticket gave me two minutes ago. You couldn't just tell the cashier that there's no cover till eight or whenever? You really need to kill the rainforest here?

Now there's like four more flights of stairs, and they get just darker and scuzzier the higher up you go. Eventually, you make it up to the roof, the Jade Terrace and the photos off the website are complete bullshit. There's no couches, tables, or Oriental rugs inside, and that island of plants in the middle of the rooftop lounge isn't there. Instead, there's this authentic Chinese uh... birdbath, I guess. I don't know what it is, but the police barricades around it really set it off nicely. In reality, the place has all the class you'd expect of a celebutard hangout featured on The Insider, even if it wasn't "I Love The 80's At A Hundred Decibels" night. Much like the people who frequent the China Club, the whole atmosphere struck me as overblown, fake, and totally tacky.

Let me explain just how tacky the China Club is. Have you ever been to a barbeque with your friends, and somebody went to Home Depot and bought a couple of those tiki torches, so you could all pretend you're in Hawaii, eating poi and having a limbo contest? Now imagine giving that person a budget of a couple million dollars and a neon sign that says BAR. That's how tacky the China Club is.

You might want to know what goes on behind the velvet ropes. Well, on one "Legendary Monday," these two bar skanks did a frightening impression of your grandparents making out. This woman thought she was hotter than she actually is. This guy made an ass of himself, and if there's a God, picked up a few venereal diseases in the process. Basically it's a bunch of people, many of whom are unaware that they look like Gorgons, trying way too hard to have fun.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Amateur Hour

The democratic presidential candidates — all fifty of them — were at an NAACP convention on Thursday, where Clinton and Edwards were chatting amongst themselves. They were discussing the best way to keep the rest of the democratic field — those polling at Mike Gravel levels — out of the primary debates and, unfortunately for them, their private conversation strayed into the range of an open mike. You can guess what happened next. Kucinich "expressed outrage," in the form press release rage, and Chris Dodd (who I thought dropped out) had some criticism for Clinton and Edwards that reminded me why I'm scared for the future:

"I'd remind them that the mike is always on," Dodd told reporters on Saturday after addressing a state convention of Utah Democrats.

It didn't used to bother me that the top tier candidates all have little political experience — after all, Dubya only served one term as governor and personally messed up a baseball team before being thrust way, way over his head in Washington — but come on, guys! Even I know that there's always someone recording you, and I knew that rule before Dubya was caught cursing and George Allen's racism got plastered all over YouTube. I'm afraid we're gonna wind up with a president who's trying to swat a fly one day and accidentally slams his hand on the nuclear button.

There was an article in the New York Times Magazine that I think highlights my fears well. It's not the lack of experience, per se — note that Lincoln only served one term in the House before he was elected president — but rather a culture that, for some reason, thinks that the ideal president should be some random mope off the street. Someone like us: fat, stupid, lazy, and unable to find America on a map. People who think our elections should be more like American Idol and our government should run like 24. People who've read all the Harry Potter books, plus The Da Vinci Code, but don't know the first three words of the Constitution.

This is what passes for rugged individualism these days.

And I resent being called an elitist... well, if you want to call me an elitist because I have a degree from an exclusive, overpriced liberal arts college or because I waste my money on a cup of European coffee a day rather than saving it and buying a keg of beer at the end of the week, that's cool (and correct), but not because I think people should be better than the stupid, spoiled, self-centered selves that most of us are. I don't want to look down upon people — even if I actually had a high opinion of myself, I wouldn't want to look down upon people — but since we put ourselves in charge of a whole country, no matter what Dick Cheney or Plato thinks, we've got to start putting in the time and energy to improve ourselves as human beings.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

There's less than a week till the next and, God willing, last Harry Potter book comes out, and I've made no secret about my utter disdain for this jejune fantasy kiddie lit. But I swear, all will be forgiven if Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows ends right in the middle of a sentence, followed by like ten blank pages. Could you imagine the chaos reigning in streets? Grown-ups — not necessarily grown-ups with stellar literary analysis capabilities, but still — beat up their TiVos when handed this ambiguity, so I'd love to see a billion kids disillusioned with books in a way that all the cheesy pro-reading posters in all the libraries in the world couldn't fix. I would laugh and laugh and laugh at the children who've spent their whole lives with the series, never getting closure, because I'm mean like that. Man, that's a tough way to learn an existential lesson.

I would settle for an allegorical ending, humanity transcends its moral weakness for eternal bliss next to God. But that's not going to happen, because unlike in its far superior Narnia thematic progenitor, the hero of Harry Potter isn't a representative for humanity and because Rowling has the same lazy, and somewhat oligarchic, contempt for her readers that I have for her billion-dollar empire. It doesn't matter that it's a children's book where the ancillary characters die sometimes; for kids, the morals are necessarily as thin and the book itself is thick, and that makes any ending manipulative and cheap, as tacked-on as the inevitable sequels Harry Potter: The Next Generation, Harry Potter: Enterprise, and Harry Potter: Deep Space Nine.

Friday, July 13, 2007

My train was late today because of "small mechanical difficulties," which is code for a door wouldn't close. It's one of my many problems with NJ Transit, especially since they used to let you ride in between cars with the door wide open and the wind in your hair. What changed is NJ Transit's level of contempt for their customer — we're all such morons that we'll jump off the fast-moving train unless we're shackled into our seats. Of course, what probably happened between the old days and now is that some retard did jump off the train, because he saw it on Jackass or something, ruined train riding for everyone and made me miss my connection this morning. Bastard!

While I'm at it, here's the warning underneath a window on a New York City bus. Keep your arms and legs inside the moving vehicle at all times, assuming you enjoy having arms and legs. I absolutely can't stand being given obvious warnings — Don't spray bug killer in your eyes! Danger: coffee is hot! Life is full of risks, and if you want to take the relatively high risk, low payoff option of having a fireworks fight in the woods, that's your business. This is how natural selection controls the population.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Soulmate Buying Guide

Finding someone to date can't possibly be this difficult. Inmates on death row get marriage proposals. Scott Peterson, who murdered his wife, got a marriage proposal within an hour of being incarcerated! Of course, he had all the publicity of Nancy Grace, while all I have is a blog and eHarmony.

Speaking of which, eHarmony — and remember, this dude and this douche are both wife-hogging polygamists — eHarmony still thinks I'm a freak and refuses to subject anyone to a relationship with me. I mean, refuses to match me up with anyone. I also played around with, which does a whole similar psych profile thing with computerized matches. is a true romantic, however. There's someone for everyone (and there'd better be, if this dumbass could find love) and perfectmatch doesn't filter out the undesirables.

As a public service, I want to compare eHarmony and perfectmatch, to help you figure out where best to waste your time, dating from behind a screen. Perfectmatch gets bonus points for not rejecting me. That's my date's job.

I think perfectmatch was much more successful at cutting through the psychological walls and bullshit and figuring out the enigma that is me... in a vague, profiled kind of way. Perfectmatch describes me as "risk averse, relaxed, cautious, seeks variety," while eHarmony says I am best described as "consistently taking care of [my]self." That just seems wrong, since I suck at taking care of myself and there are days when I'm surprised I went twenty-four hours without stapling my hand to my forehead. I think what eHarmony means is I'm consistently taking care of myself, I'm "fiercely independent" and "believe deeply in personal freedom and responsibility," which is a tactful way of calling me a self-obsessed jerk.

So while perfectmatch saw through me, I think eHarmony picked up on a pretty fair superficial description. (Or maybe it's the other way around...) eHarmony's telling me pretty much how others see me, down to their "Negative Reactions Others May Have Towards You" analysis. Some people think I lack compassion. Some people might see me as selfish. eHarmony tries to be supportive: "That is part of you and your basic beliefs about life. And some people will inevitably want you to be different, but that is simply not who you are," like it's saying who cares about anyone else? eHarmony will be your friend. Except it won't, because eHarmony thinks you're a freak and would rather hang out with folks who fit neatly into a mold.

It's not that I think eHarmony is wrong, but I feel like it's reductive. I won't dispute that I'm frequently an ass, but I hope it's a product of my environment — a lot of people I know are aloof towards me, and it hurts, so I respond in kind — rather than who I fundamentally am. In different circumstances, like when I've found my soulmate, I'm different. I feel like perfectmatch avoids those hazy areas, so when perfectmatch says, "This person is cautious about love, and life in general. They will need to know quite a bit about a person before investing in them. Even intense attraction won't make them jump in before they've gotten to know the person pretty well," it seems like a fair, general description, like it's a comfort zone that I gravitate to rather than a reaction to what's around.

Basically fuck eHarmony: it's a vapid bitch.

I can't say too, too much for perfectmatch either, since it only found ten women for me among the three billion on the planet. The self-reported profiles seem weak and a little scatterbrained, like "Could you be with someone who doesn't share your views on the environment?" seems like something you wouldn't want to tackle till the fourth date. Or I'd prefer if someone just came out and asked me what kind of music I'd like, rather than reading the responses that I checked off from a list. If perfectmatch came up with a few more hits, I'd think about spending a little money on it, but as it is, I feel like perfectmatch is just a tiny bit less effective than landing on death row.

Which isn't happening. Sorry, ladies.

Saturday, July 7, 2007

This is the biggest waste of a Times Square billboard I have ever seen. It's for YKK, the Japanese company that manufactures zippers. "For greater freedom," apparently. Why?!!! Is there anyone out there who's unfamiliar with the zipper, like someone walking down 42nd Street with their pants open thinking, "Gee, wouldn't it be great if there's some way to keep my pants from falling down?" Then he looks up, and it's a miracle! He's on the Jumbotron!

Friday, July 6, 2007

The Vatican is all set to publish a papal doctrine, allowing priests to celebrate the Tridentine Mass without prior approval from the local bishop. Benedict is trying to win the prodigal, excommunicated Lefebvrist movement back into the flock (along with devout Christian Mel Gibson), and simultaneously alienating everyone who'd actually want to understand the Word of the Lord. I don't go to church, so none of this really matters to me except that centuries-old ass-backwardness in a world that desperately needs forward momentum in its unjustifiable faith-based dogmata.

See, the Tridentine Mass is the traditional, old-timey mass, where the priest faces the altar, not the congregation, and the priest speaks the mass in Latin, the language of Jesus.... if Jesus lived six hundred years longer than he actually did. Which, even though he was Jesus, he didn't. It's not the mass itself that bothers me, it's the ignorance of the contexts it gets put into. Some octogenerian, remembering the good old days, when church wasn't air-conditioned, gives the media a "man on the street" quote, rambling on about tradition and how the church has strayed. I get the same vibe from Benedict (maybe it's just that he looks like he's 150 years old): the old church was great, and the new church is a moral wasteland of gays, abortionists, and gay abortionists.

I love ecclesiastical history precisely because it's so incredibly debauched. There was a period in the Church's history called the "Pornocracy," for Heaven's sake! Bet you didn't know that, old lady who's mindlessly reciting the Rosary! In fact, two-thousand years of Catholic tradition make our modern vacuous Hollywood culture look almost saintly: orgies, murder, incest, and putting corpses on trial, like the world's longest-running soap opera. The modern church has apologized for much of its sketchy medieval history — of course, it still has its recent history to apologize for — and I think the increased transparency in religious ritual has something to do with that. It's harder to follow something blindly when you can actually see what you're following.

While I'm at it, I'd also like to take on the other argument of mouthpieces for the Church's antediluvian dogma — that the Tridentine Mass somehow restores God's law. On a personal level, I'm agnostic, but I absolutely refuse to believe in the idea of a god who wants his message obfuscated. But to the people who hold this viewpoint: How are you so sure what God's favorite language is? The guy who initiated the vernacular mass, he was a freaking pope! Were you ever pope? I didn't think so.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

And People Say I'm Anti-Social!!???

We need to talk about a major problem in this country: people blocking me from their Facebook pages. The other day, I ran into someone — ex-floormate from college, kind of a nice girl (at least six years ago...) — or at least I ran into what could've easily been the back of her head. What the hell, I thought. She didn't seem like the kind of person who'd bother having a Facebook page, but I wonder what she's up to. I put the super-nifty Facebook search feature to use, and since we went to the same college, I was able to see her profile. I'm like ninety to ninety-five percent sure that this isn't creepy; it's why not-Tom from MySpace (who kind of looks like George Michael Bluth) made Facebook in the first place.

Okay, it's two days later and I'm on Facebook again because it's like freaking crack. No motion on the friend request front. This happens — you people know who you are — and it's absolutely beyond comprehension to me. Let's say you're someone I went to middle school with and you get that e-mail with the subject "Jay Harris has sent you a Friend Request on Facebook." What's going through your head? "Oh, wonderful. Jay wants to be my Facebook buddy. Now I've got to click on the link, log in, and click the little "Confirm" button. That's gonna take a whole thirty seconds of my precious, precious time. We were never that close." Yeah, sorry to bother you, being all curious about what you're up to and how you're doing. How rude of me!

The other option I came up with is that you guys aren't quite picking up on the whole Facebook deal. Just because you tell Facebook that we're friends doesn't mean we actually have to be friends now. It's just a dumb little computer program so you can tell people your favorite movies and show them pictures of your trip to Paris or wherever. We're not gonna start hanging out, telling each other secrets, being total BFF's... maybe, MAYBE I'll send you a little note on your birthday, and that's it. Which, correct me if I'm wrong here, is why you have a Facebook account in the first place. There's a certain logic here, and the dangling friend request lives miles outside it.

But wow, this girl from college went one better. Two days later, no friend update, so I went back to her profile and... gone! A full profile, fifty-something friends, just disappeared from Facebook. It hardly seems worth my time to verify my Occam's Razor theory here, but I believe I'm blocked from her profile. Let's go through this step by step: She got the friend request e-mail from Facebook — note, nothing special, no personal message or anything. So she logs into Facebook and the "Do you want to confirm Jay Harris as your friend?" window pops up. There's two options, "Confirm" and "Deny," and instead of clicking on "Deny" and moving on with her life, she went into the Privacy control panel, typed my name into the little search box, went through the more than 500 Jay Harrises in Facebook, found my profile, and clicked on "Block." I'm almost touched that she'd that much time on me.

I'm insecure, so I've gotta go through all the different possibilities: Did I ever burn my name into her lawn? Nope. Was I ever caught on hidden video with Chris Hansen? Don't think so. Did I call her something mean in my blog? That's a distinct possibility, but she escaped my literary wrath unscathed. I checked.

Point is, unless you've got some compelling reasons not to, stop being a jerk about and confirm your Facebook friends already. Stay tuned next week, when I tell off people who walk slowly in front of me on the sidewalk.

Monday, July 2, 2007

Miracle Drug

I'm happy to report that I'm on a new pill, and now modulating three of my brain chemicals keeping me away from despondency. The new medicine is Wellbutrin, a.k.a. buproprion, and side effects include dry mouth, nausea, insomnia, tremor, excessive sweating, tinnitus, and seizures. Still way, way better than alli. I was doing some Wikipedia research on buproprion and it turns out that over twenty million prescriptions for Wellbutrin were written last year. Not only that, but Wellbutrin was the fourth most prescribed anti-depressant in America, which means that over sixty-million prescriptions were written for the top three drugs — Prozac, Zoloft, and something called Lexapro — so eighty million plus, total. A Department of Health & Human Services report from 2002 says that 8.5% of the population was on anti-depressants, that's twenty-four million people who are depressed.

Here's my question: Where the hell are all of you?!

I mean, that twenty-million Wellbutrin scripts a year thing made me feel pretty good. Just in case you're one of the 91.5% of the population who's perpetually thrilled to be alive, let me explain. Being sad sucks, and, for obvious reasons, it's stigmatized. So you don't just feel bad because your serotonin is low and your monoamine oxidase is high; you feel bad because you're alone in your misery. No longer, though! Like, last week's happy hour had eighty people; statistically, there should've been five or six fellow despondents, all mixing alcohol and potent psychoactive drugs to make ourselves feel better. We should've started a club!