Friday, May 28, 2010

Now what?

President Obama: "Hey, come here and smell my finger!"
OK, so it isn't very funny, but then again, neither is thousands of barrels of oil spilling into the Gulf of Mexico. You know you're in trouble when three people in business-casual clothing are walking the beach with police tape in the background.
That's the shitty part about being president, or the CEO of British Petroleum for that matter.
Somebody makes a big mistake and you're left walking the beach picking up clumps of washed-up oil trying to think of something to say to the American public that won't make it sound like the Gulf coast is about to become the world's biggest waterproof beach.
Such is the peril of delegated authority.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Robots on Mars.

That's the view from behind the Mars rover called Opportunity. Tracks laid across the Martian landscape will be there for centuries. Things like that make me think. You're not surprised.
Centuries ago, Galileo peered at Mars through his telescope and declared that there were canals on the planet. He surmised that they were once waterways that had since dried up, and since, scientists have wondered if there was ever water on Mars. Reasonable men may differ.
So now, we have sent a robot to the planet to roam around and explore, leaving tire trails in its wake. Centuries from now, will astronomers be peering at Mars through their telescopes and wonder if ancient civilizations existed on Mars? Suppose records of life on Earth are destroyed by an asteroid or comet, like in the movies, and there is no record of us sending a probe to explore the planet. Wouldn't that make Galileo look even smarter?
Perhaps we're all just as intelligent as the time allows? Isn't that why we thought our parents were super-human when we were 8, but later saw them as doddering idiots, incapable of managing their own lives, let alone ours? That's the cosmos in microcosm.
Look back at your old high school yearbook photos or photographs of yourself as a youngster. You thought you were hip and attractive, didn't you? Now, you look like an incredible geek with giant hair and giant shoes, pants that are too tight and shirts with more colors than a rainbow. You thought nothing of it then, and might have been proud to march out the door looking like that in the quest for a mate. How foolish you were.
What are the three things that have stood the test of time? Short haircuts, tan pants and white shirts. If you had invested in those in the 1970s and kept them until now, your look would only have changed based on your age. Otherwise, you'd look like everybody else. But you decided that tight designer jeans, bright nylon shirts and tall shoes were the order of the day. You bought them because you were a slave to fashion, and the desire to fit-in superseded your instincts. Maybe you thought you looked silly, or worse, you thought you looked hip. Either one is a path toward obsolescence, and seeing photos of yourself reminds you of how silly you were. Meanwhile, the "geeks" in the science club with their white shirts and tan pants are suddenly practical in your eyes. Strange.
The next time you're wandering the American Eagle store or perusing the racks of Aeropostale, ask yourself how you want to be seen in 20 years. Ask yourself if you'd like to have photos of your "pants on the ground" or your giant t-shirt left on your grandkid's Facebook page. I don't think you will. So, settle for the white shirt, tan pants and black shoes. Some things never make you look silly.
That's what I think about when I see a photo from a robot on Mars.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The dilution of our expectations.

"To you I say, it is only with adversity that we even have a chance at greatness. Adversity is your opportunity."
- Ann Curry
One of the downsides of expansion - be it sports or media - is the dilution of talent. More teams or more networks translates into more opportunities to hire nitwits and incompetents. Now that there are a thousand news outlets and only so many eligible talking heads, one wonders what the talent level has become for big media. Ask no longer:

After taking the stage to launch into the school's 175th commencement address, "Today" show co-host Ann Curry sought to drive home the inspirational content of her speech by ticking off the names of a few of the school's more illustrious alums. Among the entries on the Curry honor roll: "60 Minutes" correspondent Lesley Stahl, evangelist Billy Graham, slasher-film director Wes Craven, and United Airlines Flight 93 passenger Todd Beamer. There was just one problem: Apart from Stahl, everyone on that list actually graduated from another Wheaton College, the Christian liberal-arts college in Wheaton, Illinois.

It's not like it was 40 years ago when there were 3 major networks, and people like Walter Cronkite, Dan Rather and David Brinkley wrote and read the news. Now, there are too many networks to count, and the communications graduates are setting lower standards for writing, reading and presence. It's only apparent if you're old enough to remember when network television news was a major source of information and the people bringing it to you had our respect. Now, not so much.

It would seem that
Ms Curry's address was done with the help of Wikipedia or some other web site rather than her own knowledge, which explains a lot about how she got to host a big-time TV show. Oh - and in her apology letter to Wheaton College, she misspelled the name of Lesley Stahl, spelling it Leslie. So, there's twice the egg and only one face. Nice going, Ann. Hey, at least they all attended college. That's a feather in your cap.

Now, I see that "American Idol" is down to two. One named Crystal Bowersox and another named Lee DeWyze. I saw them on Saturday's Fox baseball game strumming guitars and singing "Take Me Out to the Ballgame." Impressive? I don't know. I'd figure that there are a hundred-thousand people in the country who could strum a guitar and sing that song as mundanely as they did. So, why is it necessary for a major network television show to parade them around for 12 weeks and give them a recording contract as a reward? It's needless ceremony, and I suppose if America hasn't awakened to the concept by now, they never will. Based on what I saw, I don't see stardom for either of these people, but then, America is lured by hype, and nobody ever lost money underestimating the intelligence of the general public, so I imagine they will go on to multi-million selling CDs and foist-upon popularity based on a TV show that should have long ago died a slow, agonizing death.

Forgive my run-on sentence.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Pickers and Pawners

The History Channel is branching out. No longer is it enough to show Hitler documentaries and profiles on our American presidents (usually during President's Day weekend or July 4). They have expanded to shows about pawn shops and junk collectors. One such program is called American Pickers, which I suppose is to highlight the American part and appeal to historians because these guys go around picking trash for a profit.
There are two aspects to the program that are interesting. One is the idea that people collect things in their homes and garages, and it sits there for some reason or another. The Pickers guys come along and offer money for it in the hopes of restoring it and re-selling it at a profit. That's where the American part comes in.
The other aspect is the extent to which we (you) retain the junk of our (your) past. In the show I saw tonight, a guy had a house full of old cigar cutters, big-wheel bicycles and advertising signs doing nothing but collecting dust in his basement. He was reticent to part with most of it. The show doesn't go into the reasons. They're only interested in buying what they can and making the most profit possible from it.
At first, it seems like the pickers are taking advantage of the hoarders. Maybe they are, but one wonders why they're hoarding the stuff in the first place. Why would someone hold onto a collection of old light bulbs or Harley Davidson catalogs? My motto is, if it has sat long enough that I haven't looked at it in over a year, I'm not getting any benefit from having it around. Out it goes.
The other group that amazes me are the people who come into the pawn shop on Pawn Stars. They have a valuable piece of Americana and they have decided to sell it to a pawn shop in Las Vegas for half of its value. When the pawn shop owner has an expert come in to tell the seller what the item is worth, there is usually an expression of amazement, as though the seller had no idea that the Revolutionary War bond he was peddling was worth the same amount as the car he drove to the pawn shop.
There is a psychological aspect to these programs that goes beyond their face value. These are people who kept things from their past and either had no idea of its worth or no intention of parting with it until the right TV show came along. They are both entertaining programs, but I can't help but wonder why the sellers allow themselves to be exploited.
A guy came into the pawn shop and sold an old Seeburg jukebox for a few hundred dollars. The pawn shop sent it to a local restoration house and had it restored, and sold it for three times what they bought it for. Why didn't the original owner do that? Part of me feels badly for the sellers because they are being taken advantage of by the pickers and pawners. They are obviously lured by the quick buck and can't be bothered with the effort involved in restoring something that has value, preferring to sell a worn out piece of junk rather than restore it themselves and sell it for a bigger profit.
American Pickers and Pawn Stars fall under the category of "reality TV," and I suppose the reality part is that people are generally lazy, and if you're hungry enough, the lure of a quick buck will supersede the inherent value in the item you're selling. That's a harsh dose, right there. Let a couple of guys raid your garage for old gas station signs and bicycles or allow someone to sell a piece of American history for pennies on the dollar and you too can have your own TV show, proclaiming it to be part of "History."
But what is it, in reality?