Monthly Archives: June 2009

Ellen Degeneres apparently ruined our GDP

UPDATE: Pennsylvania State Senator John Eichelberger, during a radio debate on June 19, revealed his thoughts about his attitude toward homosexuals.

“They’re not being punished. We’re allowing them to exist, and do what every American can do,” he said.

Of course, they can do everything but be married and have the same rights straight couples enjoy…and to try to seem accepting while offhandedly remarking that its his warm, generous heart that keeps him from killing homosexuals, is ridiculously disturbing. This, in effect, makes them second-class citizens. When lawmakers view a subset of the population as inferior, and allow their continued existence not because they’re good people, or rightfully American, what else can you view this line of thought as?

There was a time when economics was used to solve economic problems, in the same way that if your toilet overflowed, you would use the skills of a plumber, or if a badger was stuck in your fridge, you would call someone from animal control (or Maytag, if it was shipped with the badger in tow). But Oklahoma State Representative Sally Kern, whose comments have landed her in hot water before (according to her careful analysis, homosexuals are more dangerous than terrorists), sees the current economic crisis and has come to the realization that it wasn’t the rampant use of overly-complex and untrustworthy investment practices based on speculation instead of actual worth, nor the growing lack of competitiveness on the part of American industry when faced with improving international competition that led us to the rut we’re in today.

According to the Oklahoma Citizen’s Proclamation for Morality, courtesy of Rep. Kern, “we believe our economic woes are consequences of our greater national moral crisis.” Why did the banks fail? Because your parents got a divorce. Why did General Motors go under? Some girl had an abortion a few weeks ago. The giant mess that is our health care system, regardless of nationalization or not is due to some porn on the Internet, obviously. Why does China continue to enjoy economic growth, though it may have been slowed from its double-digit figures of the past several years? Because they worship Go…wait a second.

According to Rep. Sally Kern, one of these guys helped bring about the financial crisis. Which one is it? (Hint, he's the one who sang about crocodiles.)

According to Rep. Sally Kern, one of these guys helped bring about the financial crisis. Which one is it? (Hint, he's the one who sang about crocodiles.)

In an interview with News 9 in Oklahoma (see it here, I’d post the video but .flv files are horrible to deal with on here…), Kern said “Blessed is the nation whose God is the lord.” So obviously, because China is a largely atheist country, with only a tiny minority practicing the Christian faith, they should be doing pretty terribly, right? The big dude in the sky is right on the verge of tossing some lightning bolts on Beijing, or at least throwing some frogs at Yao Ming. So why is he letting their GDP grow a projected 6.5 percent this year? He must have gotten his paperwork messed up, I heard the Blackberry up there is pretty spotty.

The proclamation quotes Roger Sherman as saying “We hold sacred the rights of conscience, and promise to the people…the free and undisturbed exercise of their religion.” This is all well and good, but what is the purpose of a free and undisturbed exercise of religion if, “This great nation was founded, not by religionists, but by Christians,” as Patrick Henry is quoted, on the next line? Countries with a sole and declared religion, despite any half-baked attempts at open-mindedness, don’t exactly do a good job protecting the rights of smaller religions. Why should they? The danger with following such partisan, religious lines of though, as Kern loves to do, is that there can be no rational debate. Everyone who disagrees with someone like Kerns will be dismissed as a non-believer, and in her frame of mind, their opinions are a moot point. They’re condemned to hell for their sins anyways. Why should they be bothered to be listened to?

This document, this half-baked list of quotations and demands of moral conduct, is merely a giant finger to be pointed at those Kern and her ilk don’t agree with on a social level. It’s not enough to hold moral indignation for those in favor of abortion or gay marriage. To really destroy a group of people, to ruin them in the eyes of a nation, all you have to do is blame them for a universal problem, to isolate them as scapegoats that they had nothing to do with. It’s actually terrifying to see a member of a state government blame people performing “debauchery” for economic problems, it’s the same sort of tactic that despots and fascists have used throughout the ages to horrifying ends.

Universal problems bring about tough times, but to try to alleviate those tough times by promoting a theocratic, ridiculous agenda? That’s just lunacy, lunacy that will prove to be frighteningly effective as these sort of folks on both sides of the political spectrum try to blame groups they’ve been waiting to massacre for years. Fools choose easy solutions, and what easier solution is there other than to blame your house’s falling value on the gay guy who lives a few blocks down?

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Filed under China, Culture wars, Government, Morgan, Religion

Don’t stop ’till you get enough (coverage)

It is not the death of Michael Jackson that is being universally mourned by the world. To many, his death occured admist the decade-long period of constant ridicule and allegation of child abuse and bodily reconstruction. To others, he died in the same way that cultural icons tend to, no longer relevant, with only a back-catelogue providing them with any shred of decency as most people moved away from his accomplishments as an artist. There were still a great many supporters, a sizeable contingent of people who still clung to every track he released after his retreat into reclusion (as scarce as they may have been), but their numbers and their sorrow is enveloped in this massive outpouring of lamentation that has posessesed the media (the Internet in particular, as it’s estimated that at least 30 percent of all Tweets have something to do with Jackson).

Instead, we are weeping not over the passing of Jackson as a man, but as a figure, as a symbol. With his passing goes the last nearly universally popular cultural icon. This is a man who has sold over 750 million albums worldwide, behind only Elvis and the Beatles and arguably, Bing Crosby. He was a man perfect for the two eras he succeeded in, his childhood charms and alarming talent captivated audiences bathed in bright organges and yellows in the 70’s, and his careful blend of musical experimentation, visual scope, raw sexuality and promotion came to symbolize culture during the 80’s.

Jackson in death is not a person, his lack of interaction with anybody after so many years of accusations turned him into a seldom-seen joke, instead he’s your parent’s high school years, the red jacket your uncle still has in a closet somewhere, the first African American to see widespread cultural success without any racial baggage or that guy who completely altered his appearance before plastic surgery became commonplace.

It’s easy to ridicule the media overdoing the coverage of his death, and to be sure, said coverage is going to be lengthy, tacky and arduous, but this is one of the rare instances in which, though it’s not the best thing in the world from a logical standpoint, there’s little use condemning it due to the sheer glut of emotion attached to his passing. In death, many people temporaily transend their earthly failures and are remembered not for their failings, but for their successes. As an artist, Jackson was beyond compare, as a man, he may very well have been a completely deluded peodophile. Let the media have its droll coverage, there is obviously a ridiculous demand for it.

When it comes down to it, Jackson’s completely unexpected death has reminded countless people not only of their own morality, but of their impending cultural irrelevance, as their idols and superstars die off around them while disparate, niche-driven performers spring up in their place. We mourn Jackson’s death, to a degree, but we mostly mourn the sad reality that like Jackson, the world will move past our best efforts to stay relevant, and unlike Jackson, most of us don’t have that back catalog of brilliance to ensure our memory after we’re gone.

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Filed under Culture wars, Hollywood, Media, Morgan, Music

Jackson’s Farewell

The death of a celebrity is always a tough time. It brings people out in full force, ready to offer condolences to each other and show support for the family, or whoever’s left. It brings people together, as they gather on the street outside the hospital, or at that person’s Hollywood star.

I would like to start by saying that Michael Jackson’s death is a tragedy. Every death is.

But Farrah Fawcett also died yesterday. And according to the AV Club website, the guitarist and lead singer of the Seeds died. The US Census Bureau reports that 1.8 people die every second. 155,131 every day.

What strikes me is any news website today will be dominated by the death of Michael Jackson. For good reason, surely, but there is a degree when it becomes too much. The New York Times has suspended it’s other headlines for a Michael Jackson tribute page right up front. It’s the same with every major news website–CNN, Washington Post, LA Times, even foreign newspapers. (In a bold move, too, the Times of India’s headline reads “Michael Jackson lived like king, died in debt”).

So, when it all comes down to it, is there a difference in the media between an entertainer and people who have done really important, world-changing things? The kind of coverage Jane Goodall’s death will get, or Stephen Hawking’s, or Nelson Mandela’s could only hope to be as much as Jackson’s.

It’s a question of values. To run the article with many supplements and slideshows and videos, putting aside perhaps more important stories, seems like too much.

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Filed under Business, Health, Hollywood, Jack Dodson, Media, Music

Twitter!

We here at the Pendulum aren’t immune to jumping on the bandwagon, so take a peek at our new Twitter, I’m sure it’ll have all of the wit and brillance of the blog, only ridiculously shortened and littered with tinyurls…

The blog staff tries to figure out this whole "Tweet" and "56k" maddness. Most of the time we're just trying to remember our passwords.

The blog staff tries to figure out this whole "Tweet" and "56k" maddness. Most of the time we're just trying to remember our passwords.

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Filed under Elon, Media, Morgan, Technology

Passing half of the torch

As a good friend of mine said about a month ago, if anyone suggested the idea of a library in this day and age, a sort of communal stomping ground where books and in many cases, DVDs, CDs and even video games (something I’ve never been able to understand) were available for no charge, with the only limitation would be a system of time limits and fines if said limits are exceeded coupled with the scornful gaze of the librarians when you try and check something out only to find that you owe $5 for renting “Derailed,” they would immediately be kicked around by publishing and media companies as a nutcase. How dare this chap encourage the further mooching by Americans off of their wealth of informative and cultural products? It’s bad enough having to deal with the likes of Limewire (I’m sure there are still a few people using it) and the multitude of torrent sites, but to have a brick-and-mortar haven for freeloaders to simply come in with a card and come out with a cartload of media, well that would just spell the end of everything, wouldn’t it?

I’m not going to go into the history of how libraries came to be, and just why they’ve remained despite not making very much economic sense (since we all know the social and cultural importance of institutions is unimportant), instead I’d like to shift the topic toward public ownership of media. What’s going on in Iran right now is revolutionary, not just because of the political messages being sent through the streets of Tehran, but also due to the way in which it’s being covered. The networks have barely any coverage of their own, the papers have minimal reach within Iran’s borders and filling in this gap is a breadth of amateur coverage. Nobody has to buy a paper or turn into a channel to discover what’s going on in Iran, and while this has been true with pretty much every news event of the past few years, never before (save for the initial coverage of the London bombings several years ago) has the majority of the coverage originated from amateurs.

A little birdie told me all about Iran...

A little birdie told me all about Iran...

Blogs and aggregate news sites are mooches, taking the reporting that other agencies slaved over and repackaging with a link and a few deft comments (sounds familiar, no?) but now there’s a undercurrent of these sites not doing their own reporting, but instead being the main conduit of the common man covering the events around him. Whereas before there needed to be a reporter on the scene, given an enormity of importance, folks will carry on with the reporting as they see fit, leaving the rest of the media in a reversed position. Anyone watching broadcast news over the past week knows that the media is just commenting on reporting that originates from non-reporters, instead of the blogs leering over Fox and Friends and blabbering about a report they did.

Yes, there are massive limitations here. With the lack of a journalism background comes a lack in objectivity (not in the commenting that television hosts do, but in the gathering of information and coverage of events, which is a critical differentiation to make) and little patience for uninteresting matters that don’t draw much attention on a national scale. This is where “big media,” newspapers in particular, can swoop in and completely take control of localized coverage, something that many companies are already trying to do.

Despite its obvious awkwardness about having to use YouTube clips as the basis for their programs and not being ahead of the information-gathering pack, the media, there is a bit of hope to be found in this double-sided Iranian revolution. It might come to be that in situations where amateur journalists can have the will and the access to thrive, the media can cut many of their costs, letting the average Joes to take up the bill on the group while they serve not as the gatherer, analysit and judge of every bit of information, but instead as a service provider, setting up a portal through which amateur reporting can be seen and then coupled with both professional reporting (albiet on a smaller scale) and the professional (a term used loosely here, given the quality of cable news) commentating and debate that only a large media company can provide.

Think of it like this: Whereas before the likes of CNN were rock bands that served as their own managers and owned the venues they performed in, they might now be better suited for merely owning the venues and occasionally peforming, allowing smaller acts performing similar numbers to share the spotlight for most of the set.

Bringing it back to the library comment, just by making cultural and information-based goods free doesn’t mean that you’re immediately crippling their production. Instead, the media now has to provide people a reason to tune into them or buy their products on top of being a source of information that, as Iran has proven, can be readily obtained through more personal, cheaper venues. It’s all about adding value to a product, the value in owning a book is in convinience, being able to toss it about without worrying about damages, not having a time limit attached to its completion. The value in news may not simply be tied to having the best reporters in the field, but rather, in recognizing the best mix of professional and amateur material and serving as a conduit through which people would be compelled to purchase the product through the sheer quality and quantity of options.

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Filed under Books, Business, Culture wars, Media, Morgan, Technology

This week in The Pendulum…

For the first issue of the summer, the opinions section will have a nice little balance of that warm, fuzzy optimism that you’ve grown accustomed to reading in other publications, and the typical grizzled, commentary that tends to dominate the editorial pages. If you’re on campus (all three of you) then pick up your copy on Wednesday, but if not, take a look on the Internet. I heard it’s the hip, new thing.

As for a few sneak peeks at this week’s content…

  • Learn about the humility and honor in charity, no matter how small the contribution may seem.
  • Can Obama’s new “Can’t we all get along?” policy for the Middle East accomplish anything?
  • Reality TV doesn’t just hurt the pride of super models and the crotches of the contestants on “Wipeout.”
  • The revolution in Iran will be televised, and the West can do nothing but watch.
  • Hard times don’t mean that deplorable behavior is inevitable, it means that ideologues will have an excuse for their depravity.
And find out just what this cat and his bumper car have to do with Obama's economic policies...

And find out just what this cat and his bumper car have to do with Obama's economic policies...

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Filed under Business, Culture wars, Elon, Government, Hollywood, International, Iran, Media, Military, Morgan, Obama, Pendulum, Religion

Selective memory, it’s a beautiful thing

“Tonight is the night journalism died,” according to Fox News, all because of ABC’s big series of broadcasts from inside the White House in which they’re basically serving as a megaphone for the administration. Now, there’s credence to this, but it would help Fox’s argument if they hadn’t drank the Bush administration’s Kool-Aid and done the same thing a few years ago.

Either Karl Rove has the memory of a goldfish, or the MIB flashes your memory once you leave the government.

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Filed under Government, Media, Morgan, Obama

Working for the Clampdown

Democracies are such a problem. Sure, they provide a solid basis for capitalist enterprise, grant people greater control of the government and give a nation greater credibility on the world stage. But oh, when failure and discontent festers in the minds of the voters, what are the poor strongmen in the palaces of power to do? They can’t just let themselves be voted out by popular will, nor can they win an election by the slightest of margins. They must keep hold of their scepters and make it seem as though they have a mandate, to keep those snippity upstarts from mustering the gall to question them.

For Iran’s ruling parties, specifically Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President (-cough-) Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the problems democracy creates for despots have come to a boiling point. The country is embroiled in a multitude of protests after the presidential election, in which the government (Iran has no independent agency that verifies election results) ruled that Ahmadinejad had taken the election with 66 percent of the vote, despite a lengthy series of logical and statistical reasons why such a result is highly debatable (which are detailed in this excellent article).

Ahmadinejad carefully decides whether or not he recieved 66 or 65 percent of the popular vote.

Ahmadinejad carefully decides whether or not he received 66 or 65 percent of the popular vote.

I’ve made snide remarks about Twitter in the past, what with its stupid character limit and apparent lack of usefulness in comparison to other web applications, but the uprising against the Iranian government has been by and large covered via people going onto Twitter and other similar Internet resources and informing the world about just what’s going on. Many of the major news outlets have devoted large amounts of their coverage to these reports, especially as they’re faced with an increasingly tyrannical Iranian government trying to take control of everything being covered in their country (the Associated Press’ problems with allowing non-governmental Iranian news sources access to materials are covered here).

Even though reports are now coming in that Internet speeds are drastically decreasing nationwide, either due to increased use or for more dubious reasons, the movement for reform in Iran, led by presidential candidate (and to some, President) Mir Hossein Moussavi, has done an incredible job utilizing the web, to the extent at which I don’t go to the BBC or CNN first for information about the protests and the backlash, I head to the blogs (with The Guardian’s liveblog being first and foremost) and to, amazingly, Twitter. It’s through online resources that I’ve gained much of my knowledge, and though it all must be viewed with a grain of salt (a ton of people are now going wild about a supposedly leaked document from the Iranian government proving the elections results were fraudulent, especially now that the man who supposedly leaked them has been killed in a suspicious car crash, but the document has yet to be completely verified).

It would be nice to think that these protests will lead to immediate change and a swift alteration of the guard in Iran, but the government is simply too powerful, with too many resources and too few morals to be taken down so easily. What this contested election does mark is the begining of the end of the current Iranian regime, and an indication that tanks and explosives aren’t needed for democracy to flourish in the Middle East. All there needs to be is a strong voice, a call for change and a government incompetent enough to view the pursuit of nuclear power as more important than the nation’s economy. And it doesn’t hurt for there to be media that isn’t forced to work with those clamping down on free speech to spread the good word out to millions at home and overseas.

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Filed under Culture wars, Government, International, Iran, Media, Morgan, Technology

YouTube and the digital TV age

Hulu has dominated the internet television and movie industry ever since it began, offering a legitimate home for shows that couldn’t be shut down by copyright laws. It was great. It meant late nights would be complete, with an episode of Arrested Development to go along with the Cheerios when you need a break from writing a paper.

Hulu’s expanded immensely since it started, too, with it’s alien-themed ads featuring Alec Baldwin and other actors from their most successful shows. It’s started showing movies, too, adding to the awesomeness that is free media.

Now YouTube, a Google company, is attempting to play off that by featuring shows and movies on its website.

It seems surprising that it wasn’t there that the whole trend started, though, as a part of Google and an influential company in its own right, and now it’s second to the plate. I have always been impressed with both the search engine’s and the video website’s abilities to foresee media trends and to capitalize on that, but YouTube might have missed the ball on this one. It’s shows are not quite up to par with Hulu’s. Neither are it’s movies. It’s going to take some serious work on their part to correctly advertise it.

And of course, YouTube is in theory a website about the average viewer posting their own material. Anything copyrighted has had to be removed, for the most part, and the major focus is on public work.

That being said, it remains to question to see if Google and its partner can compete with Hulu and actually get some traffic to that, but first it will need to sign on some key shows to sweeten the deal. Great things come in pairs, after all. Sunny and Cher. Paul and John. Transformers and Transformers 2.

We’ll see if this will play out well, and if YouTube can keep its status as the progressive media company, or if it will fall behind quicker mediums.

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Filed under Business, Hollywood, Jack Dodson, Media, Technology

Um, Thanks, Hollywood…?

It’s not too often that an opinions section will have an editorial or contributor that writes only to commend something–I’m pretty sure Morgan has made that point before–but I think that it is well deserved in this case.

In my blog entry about the Where the Wild Things Are movie, I totally failed to mention, or focus on if I did mention it, the fact that Dave Eggers wrote it. The champion of McSweeny’s and Wholphin, along with being the author of a few incredibly successful novels, Eggers and his wife (who is also a notable author) are trying their luck in Hollywood. Or, rather, Hollywood is trying it’s luck on them.

Either way, the important thing is that Away We Go opened up. And this isn’t a review–I didn’t see it. But it is worth pause to consider the film/ movie industry’s rapid change in pace this last decade. It has moved from cheesy, lame action movies with flops like Rush Hour being big name movies, and becoming an industry that pumps out a pretty seriously thought-provoking, incredibly well made rendition of Batman. 

After I read a somewhat old interview on the AV Club’s website, it occurred to me again how this trend is starting to really set in. Not even just the directors are realizing that quality is what is most important, but the film world is taking an important step in combatting the average, cheap and ephemeral Hollywood flop.

Check out the interview when you get a chance and you’ll get what I’m saying.

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Filed under Books, Business, Hollywood, Jack Dodson, Media