31 January 2010
Friday/February/05 2010 Filed in: Entertainment / Media
It all started in Pennsylvania back in the 19th or maybe even the 18th century.
In the past, the ritual, which may have its roots in the German Candlemas, has involved badgers and bears.
Today, in the US and Canada, the celebration centers on a groundhog and whether or not the skies are cloudy or clear on an early February morning.
If the groundhog sees his shadow we get six more weeks of winter. And if he doesn't, we get...let's see...six more weeks of winter.
Canada Peg, our way-up-north correspondent, files this story about Groundhog Day and how Canadians use rodents to judge the duration of winter.
(Some of you will remember Canada Peg's excellent Sarah Palin song parody, North From Alaska.)
Take it away, Peg!
Groundhog Day -- Dateline: Canada
The States has good old Punxsutawney Phil
I know there are a few others scattered about the country. Here in Canada there are also a few:
Our Nova Scotia claim to fame, and of course, the best groundhog in Canada, is Shubenacadie Sam (that's shoe-been-ock-uh-dee with no accent on any syllable, to you normal folk.)
Ontario, the California (biggest province) of Canada, has Wiarton Willy (wier-tonne). He's always wrong, but he does get the most press. (Far bigger population base. )
Balzac Billy of Alberta is the nuttiest, and not cause he's a squirrel. Nope. He is a guy in a groundhog suit. How's that for one heck of an embarrassing resume stuffer for an actor: crawl out of your hibernation hole and act like an idiot.
Good thing old Honore Balzac is long gone, or he would sue: after all, the French get really upset when made fun of in any manner, and this should qualify. I'm almost surprised some Quebecer hasn't already shot the dude.
The cheapest celebration centers around Manitoba Merv, a lousy puppet! 'Nough said.
Of course, our favorite Groundhog Day was Bill Murray's excellent 1993 comedy
Wednesday/February/03 2010 Filed in: Philosophy / World View
[the] unintentional damage or incidental damage affecting facilities, equipment, or personnel, occurring as a result of military actions directed against targeted enemy forces or facilities. Such damage can occur to friendly, neutral, and even enemy forces.
Wars don't end like they used to
No more cheering, no more ticker tape parades, no more kissing pretty nurses in the middle of Times Square.
Of course, back in the day, wars were supposed to end, not to continue indefinitely as profit-centers to boost some corporation's bottom-line. You know, like President Eisenhower warned us on his last day in office.
Today, wars just grind on, like background noise, as we go about our everyday lives.
That is, of course, unless someone you love is damaged, collaterally or otherwise, by the ravages of eternal wars.
Blackwater's Youngest Victim
Allawi Kinani was a nine year old Iraqi boy caught in hellish para-military crossfire in Nisour Square in downtown Baghdad.
His grieving father continues to seek an apology from Blackwater whose employees he believes fired the bullets that ended Allawi's young life.
The following half hour documentary is a heartbreaking story that is worth watching.
Why We Fight
When a young man was killed in the infernal crash of the World Trade Towers nine years ago, his father, a retired cop, looked for resolution.
What he found was something that shook the very foundation of his patriotism and love of country.
Watch the first segment of the excellent documentary Why We Fight, below.
If you want to see more you can watch the entire 90 minute film at the end of this post.
Why We Fight - First Segment
Why We Fight - 90 minute film
Tuesday/February/02 2010 Filed in: Philosophy / World View
We've Been Bamboozled, Big Time
We bought into the fantasy that by going to the polls on election day we were doing our patriotic duty.
We believed that by voting for this man or that woman we were sending someone to the State House or Capitol Hill who would champion our cause and fight the good fight.
We thought the Democratic Party or the Republican Party was our line of defense against the forces that challenge our great nation.
We were wrong. Great God Almighty, were we wrong.
The way the government works has nothing to do with what we learned in middle-school Civics. Nothing at all.
Lobbying for Fun and Profit
According to data from the Center for Responsive Politics, published at OpenSecrets.Org, total lobbying expenditures topped $3 Billion last year. And that figure has more than doubled in the past 10 years.
Since 1999, the number of registered lobbyists has held relatively steady at about 13,000.
Who has more influence on government? -- The 200 million eligible US voters or the handful of lobbyists, each with an average $250 million to dole out?
NOTE: Figures are on this page are calculations by the Center for Responsive Politics based on data from the Senate Office of Public Records. Data for the most recent year was downloaded on January 25, 2010. *The number of unique, registered lobbyists who have actively lobbied.
The ABC's of Real Estate and Politics: Always Be Closing
Your campaign contribution to your favorite candidate is much appreciated but it comes with no strings and no real accountability. Your congressperson can cash your check and then do whatever he or she wants to do.
And if they start pushing legislation that runs counter to your best interests they can give you some gobbledy-gook about how it really is in your best interests and that by and by you'll come to understand the wisdom of what they're doing.
Good luck trying to play the lobbyist crowd that way.
The money (and energy) they put into the process is an investment. And the lobbyist is paid -- and paid well -- to achieve a high return on investment for the firms they represent.
A lobbyist is a salesperson whose livelihood depends on hitting sales targets. He or she is a hired gun motivated to produce results.
Have we forgotten what Alec Baldwin taught us?
The Supremes: Stop! In the Name of Love!
None of this is helped by the recent US Supreme Court ruling that allows US corporations to fund US political campaigns with no limits on spending.
And despite what Justice Alito thinks, as long as the corporation is chartered in one of the fifty US states, it can wield power in our elections even if its senior management and board of directors sits in Venezuela, Moscow or Dubai.
But this curious High-Court ruling only adds fuel to the fire that has been raging for far longer than we've realized.
Schoolhouse Rock Revisited
So if everything you know about legislation, you learned from Schoolhouse Rock, you no longer have the whole story.
Add to the Legislative, Judicial and Executive branches a fourth branch of government, which may, indeed, come to be the most influential and powerful of them all.
Monday/February/01 2010 Filed in: Entertainment / Media
Behind the curtain, beneath the veil...
Vance Packard wrote about the power of embedded, subliminal advertising messages in his landmark book, The Hidden Persuaders, published in 1957.
He hypothesized that advertisers motivate us to buy in ways that only our slavish subconscious mind can comprehend.
Do you see the hidden message in the ad above?
Do you see the provocative optical illusion that some believe changes the entire meaning of the ad? More about that in a bit.
When Subliminal goes Supraliminal
But it isn't just in advertising that the media plays tricks with the mind. And sometimes the cues are embedded in what we hear as opposed to what we see.
Dancing to the music
Music background in TV and films may not be subliminal in the technical sense but it still seems to slip beneath the radar of consciousness, doesn't it?
It's always there in the background nudging us this way or that, suggesting what we should think, how we should feel.
The driving pulse-pounding intro theme to CBS's NCIS LA meshes with the frenetic jump-cut visuals to tell us what to expect for the next hour.
Does the music merely reflect the excitement level of the show or does it, in large part, create it?
Without the music are we left only with images to two guys smiling at each other while they run around, pointing toy pistols?
Laughter from nowhere
But even more subliminally supraliminal is the sitcom laugh track, the strange invention of Charley Douglass.
First used only to sweeten the laughter of an actual studio audience, the laugh track, sometime around Hogan's Heroes, took on a life all its own. It continues to be the haunting, ubiquitous background noise of nearly every TV sitcom.
Speaking of haunting, some of the laughs you may hear on laugh tracks today were recorded nearly 60 years ago. The laughing dead...now there's a creepy subliminal image...
The TV laugh track doesn't have the power to make us laugh but it does inform us that (1) we are watching a comedy and (2) what that actor just said is funny. Even if it isn't funny. Or perhaps better said, especially if it isn't funny.
After all, if it were funny, why would we even need a laugh track?
Let's play around with this idea of laughter from nowhere. What happens if we have a little fun with it?
HBO's excellent frontier drama, Deadwood, had it's lighter moments, but by no stretch was it a comedy. But what happens when a laugh track is added is eerie and surreal.
Doesn't it actually start to feel like a sitcom?
(Remember this is Deadwood, so the language is graphic to say the least)
Deadwood as a Comedy - Watch more Funny Videos
Big Bang Theory (CBS)
This clip has been making the rounds on the web over the last week or so. The Big Bang Theory is a highly rated, well-produced comedy but there's something strange about its vibe when the laugh track is scrubbed from it.
We're not really aware of the unnatural pauses between lines when laughs fills the spaces. Without laughter, the action seems to freeze freakishly between patches of dialogue.
Friends was one of the most popular TV comedies of all time. But can you tell that from watching this laughtrack-less clip?
So what is it really that we're laughing at?
Does something seem funnier when we're given evidence that others have found it funny? Isn't that why the laugh track is there?
Why are so quick to surrender to the hidden command?
Is this all just another example of we call Psycholgia Apocalypzia?
What do you see in the Benson & Hedges ad at the beginning of this post?
Get the surprising and shocking story here.