Friday, February 28, 2014

Why 3D Printing is Stupid

A technological revolution, you say? Why three dimensional printers, much to the chagrin of anti-state nerds the world over, AREN’T on the fast track to improving, or impacting, humanity as a whole

Sometime last year, you probably heard stories about that one dude that had a website that got shut down by the Feds because it showed people how to use a 3D printer -- then an ultra-obscure piece of technology -- to manufacture plastic guns capable of launching real bullets.

Well, flash forward a year, and the 3D printer itself has become something of an overnight symbol of post-Gen Y free-floating anti-authoritarianism -- you know, that really nondescript, lazy kind of pop-anarchism glibly unaware that its entire subculture is propped up by an advent created by the government itself.

Needless to say, the demand for 3D printers has shot through the roof, and we’re at a point now where machines of the like are getting pretty close to becoming affordable home appliances. Even now, some upstart companies that have invested in such devices are reporting high earnings off the three-dimensional printing requests of the masses, which, in and of itself, raises more than a few questions.

Let’s take a look at the basic functionality of these printers, why don’t we? As is, unless you’re chunking down NASA money or something, the absolute best device you’re going to have access to will be hardly capable of anything grander than spitting out some gaudy looking plastic jewelry. Or, as one Radio Shack commercial hilariously depicts, the ability to replicate the house keys of others, presumably so you can invade their home and murder them at some point. Of course, 3D printers do hypothetically give you the ability to print out sturdier materials (like, oh say, metal) with more wide-ranging functionality (like, as actual mechanical parts, or even medical apparatuses, like makeshift socket joints), but for most contemporary consumers? Pretty much all the devices allow you to do at the moment is create relatively useless homemade trinkets, making the “revolutionary” pieces of hardware really no more “revolutionary” than arts and craft tools like the Silhouette and Cricut.

The “appeal” of the 3D printer -- itself romanticized to the point of absurdity by the anarchocapitalist crowd -- is that it allows you the supposed “freedom to design your own wares." Instead of buying chintzy jewelry any kindergartner could cobble together in five minutes, you now have the ability to manufacture your own crappy doodads without ever having to pick up a hammer or a wad of plastic string. Methinks the sci-fi nerds are celebrating the “greatness” of this thing a bit prematurely -- lest we forget, all these things are doing now is shatting out nonfunctional plastic shards and super flimsy alloy metals, and NOT giving us our own X-Wing building material or anything.

In the future, I suppose these things could become more advanced, but it’s hard to imagine the really impressive applications of the device -- mass manufacturing, mostly -- ever leaving the domain of industrial appliances. For one thing, the general functionality of the devices don’t necessarily lend themselves to consumer grade applications. No matter how technologically advanced 3D printing gets, I have a hard time imagining American consumers using such devices to cobble together their own furniture or electronics, when they can just amble down to Best Buy or IKEA and buy the already-assembled product. For all the hubbub about the devices being used for more nefarious purposes -- like homemade armaments -- you have to also consider the resource component. Yeah, you can technically create a gun using plastic chunks cobbled together, but without springs and actual bullets, the things will likely do you little good, no matter one’s intent. The fact that many “3D handgun” owners have reported the devices literally exploding on them is but just one testament to the engineering flaws of such “homemade” devices.

To be fair, at least one company has been able to create a fully “3D printed” metal firearm, but said weapon was also designed using powdered metal (good luck finding that at Staples) in an industrial (read: that which costs hundreds of thousands of dollars) printer, and oh yeah -- the artifact itself still had to be manually pieced together, and compared to the junk you could buy at Wal-Mart for $199.99, it’s clearly an inferior consumer good. More expensive, lower quality, and less functionality: that’s pretty much all that 3D printing is promising us at the moment.

Actual products (as in, the stuff you can go into stores and purchase) tend to cost money because of the resources used to assemble said products are either limited or really, really hard to design. I think it’s going to be a long, long time before you see 3D consumer-appliance printers capable of cranking out sturdy, construction-quality 100 percent steel objects, and an even longer time before such devices will EVER be capable of producing complex, high-tech objects, like semiconductors or resistors. Some scientists with too much time/funding on their hands have experimented with “downloadable” food, but don’t get your hopes up -- unless you enjoy “ink” made out of bug guts, it doesn’t look like 3D printing will be a solution to world hunger, either.

Now, COULD 3D printers have gigantic implications on industry, medicine and science as the century continues? Well, it’s pretty hard to argue that it won’t, but at the same time, I have a hard time believing that hardware of the like will get so advanced that it can completely eliminate the handiwork of laborers or designers altogether. Sure, 3D printers might give us a ton of affordable replacement hip joint devices, but the unstated reality here is that said medical apparatuses are clearly inferior to professionally engineered and manually assembled products serving the same purposes. Hell, even the gaudiest handmade and hand sculpted senior citizen jewelry tends to look glossier and better assembled than the 3D jewelry being paraded about by oh-so-many 20s something hipsters these days.

So, why the popularity of 3D printers and 3D printed junk among today’s generation, you may be asking yourself? Methinks it has something to do with the illusion of craftsmanship and production -- i.e., the idealized idea that by plugging in some coordinates on a computer program and clicking a mouse, the individual in question can “create” a tangible, physical good of his or her own “design.” Perhaps all of this “additive manufacturing” hubbub is simply pursuit of futurisms for the sake of pursuing futurisms -- it’s not the functionality of 3D printing that has such an appeal to the “Star Wars”-weaned masses as it is the conjectural applications behind the concept, which, more than likely, will never come to fruition in their lifetimes.

Or then again, maybe it’s just a testament to today’s post-Obama, Reddit-anarchist freedom-loving Libertarian-Internet dweebs and their bewildering consumerism as activism mentalities. Notice the namesake chosen for the “3D” gun that caused such a ruckus last year: “the Liberator.”

Now, as to what 3D printing is liberating the masses from, precisely? That’s a question, it seems, that today’s 4Chan Patrick Henrys are all but oblivious to.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

B-Movie Review: "Clownhouse" (1989)

What's the only thing scarier than a bunch of kids being stalked by murderous clowns? Try a movie about a bunch of kids being stalked by murderous clowns that was directed by a convicted child predator!

The name Victor Salva may not ring a bell to most folks, but odds are, you've probably seen at least one of his movies before. Despite his no-name status as auteur, he did manage to helm at least one major Disney-backed feature -- 1995's "Powder," aka, that movie about the supernatural albino kid -- and 2001's "Jeepers Creepers," which, in turn resulted in two sequels.

That said, Salva's probably best known for his 1989 film "Clownhouse." Unfortunately for Salva and everybody else in the universe, that's only because during the shoot, Mr. Salva took it upon himself to molest the film's young lead actor, which ultimately led to his spending 15 months in the slammer. Now, as to WHY a film starring an abused child was given a wide-scale release after the fact, and especially what kind of black magic Salva used to salvage his career afterwards -- landing a gig with Walt freakin' Disney, no less -- are just two of those frustratingly unexplainable enigmas of existence. You know, sort of like how nobody has called him out on how the first "Jeepers Creepers" movie totally ripped-off a segment of "Unsolved Mysteries" and stuff.

The really problematic thing about "Clownhouse" is that, as a stand-alone film, it's actually a fairly decent B-movie offering. Of course, there's no real way to look at the film without viewing it through the lens of an individual that KNOWS the kid onscreen was subjected to heinous abuses, and the guy that did said abusing found a way to profit off the experience, to some extent. Subjective moralism aside, "Clownhouse" is a pretty well-constructed, suspenseful lite-slasher, and with its emphasis on imperiled middle schoolers, it definitely feels quite different -- an WAY more unnerving -- than the myriad "Elm Street" and "Friday the 13th" sequels that were being churned out during the same timeframe.

The film wastes NO time at all making you feel really uneasy about things, as it begins with a shirtless kid traipsing about a house, bathed in a spooky glow, during a thunderstorm. While investigating the abode, a flyer featuring an illustration of a clown smacks into a window, and the kid promptly responds by urinating all over himself. Utilizing the old "it was only a dream" hook, the kid awakens, to find out, yeah, he indeed wound up peeing all over his bed. His older brother walks in (sporting no doubt Salva-recommended tighty-whities) and tries to discard the sheets, but in walks the trio's oldest brother (played by Sam Rockwell, believe it or not), who then proceeds to mock his youngest sibling mercilessly.

Pssh...why would a kid ever be frightened by such a sight?

Downstairs, mom chides her kids for a grotesque hanging man decoration they left in the front yard. In the next scene, the brothers walk home from school and scope out some police activity going on at the local mental institution -- not that such will be a prominent plot point in the movie or anything.

While mom is out of town, the trio decide to visit a traveling circus act, despite the youngest brother (named Casey) having a major clown phobia. He has his palm read by your stereotypical blind hag, who tells him that his life line may be cut short. The two other brothers -- Geoffrey, the middle child and Randy, the eldest -- argue for a while before they take Casey into the big top.

While Randy tries to make it with one of his gal pals, Casey spots a clown playing peek-a-boo with the girl behind him. The ringmaster introduces a trifecta of jesters -- Cheezo, Bippo and Dippo -- whom seek a volunteer from the audience. You will NEVER guess who they try to pull out of the crowd either. Go ahead, try and figure it out.

Casey, after being yanked on by one of the clowns, runs out of the tent screaming his head off. Geoffrey tries to ease him a bit, and Casey explicates his mortal apprehension of clowns by declaring "you never know what they really are." Casey then plays one of those baseball tossing carnival games, and his reward is a talking clown doll. Meanwhile, somebody is lurking in the shadows, and whoever he is, he sure does have a keen eye for balloon animals.

Backstage, the clowns drink and smoke cigarettes and complain about the business, when the lights suddenly go out. One takes a gander outside the tent, and he's grabbed while two other mysterious individuals rush in. After the blood dries, the three individuals -- whoever they may be -- decide to steal a few costumes and clown horns and smear pancake makeup all over their faces.

...but seriously though, it's not Matthew Lillard. Or is it?

In the next scene, the kids are all hanging out in the bathroom (another Salva suggestion, I can only imagine) and they decide to tell each other ghost stories. This cues a quick cut of three clowns psychotically ambling their way down the streets of suburbia -- in case you haven't put two and two together yet, these clowns are the same people that escaped from the mental institution earlier in the movie!

While the kids have a pillow fight, the clowns outside bat the front lawn hanging display around for awhile. One of the clowns makes eye contact with Casey, but he appears to shake it off as an illusion. The brothers search for some popcorn, and after being unable to find any, the youngest and oldest siblings decide to walk to the local general store to procure some. By the way, it's almost midnight at this point...

Casey and Randy have an impromptu race to the store, while a clown stalks the unknowing youngest brother. Afterwards, the owner of the store decides to walk out into a barn for some reason, and he quickly has his head twisted off by a clown who bears an uncanny resemblance to Matthew Lillard.

A radio announcement gives us a little bit of exposition on the clowns, while Geoffrey gets his first gander at one of the clowns himself. Meanwhile, Randy makes fun of Casey for not having pubes and peeing on his bed, and one of the clowns chases the youngest brother around for awhile.

The two kids return home, and Geoffrey tries to scare his elder brother by pretending to hang from a tree. Once inside, Geoffrey yells at Randy for eating popcorn too loudly, which deteriorates into a a shouting match about their dad playing favorites. The lights go out, and they all argue about who should be the one to march up into the attic and fix the fuse box. And yes, the clowns do appear to have made their way inside the house at this juncture.

Eventually, Randy heads up stairs, and observes some smeared white paint all over the place. Downstairs, Geoffrey reads comics to Casey, while the clowns observe them from a distance. Randy, ever the asshole, decides to dress up like a clown himself, and starts banging some pots and pans together to freak out his siblings. Unfortunately, Randy makes a bit too much racket, apparently, and one of the clowns responds by yanking him through a plate glass window.

And now, it's up to Geoffrey and Casey to thwart the clowns' murderous plans. They manage to off one of the clowns by sending him tumbling down a stairwell, and following some frying pans and lamps upside the noggin, they are able to chunk another clown out of a window.

Strangely enough, the boys uncover Randy's (presumably dead) body in a closet, but neither one of them seem all that concerned about their older brother being all murdered and stuff. This, of course, leads to the film's ultimate clown chase, complete with the old "the survivor tries to call the police because the villain is momentarily incapacitated but the police don't believe him and when he hangs up the villain has mysteriously vanished" bit. Casey hides underneath a table, but he accidentally alerts the last remaining clown by squeaking the doll he won at the carnival earlier that evening. And just when it looks like Casey is a goner, here comes Geoffrey to make the save with a fire ax. Cue a truly weird quote about how fear follows an individual throughout his or her lifetime, and I do believe we have ourselves some end credits to watch, folks.

Well, that was a decisively unpleasant thing to watch. As stated earlier, the film itself isn't really bad at all -- I would liken it, in atmosphere, to perhaps the most extreme episode of "Are You Afraid of the Dark?" that Nickelodeon ever dare televise. That said, for all of the film's positives -- it's pace, tension-building and stronger-than-average performances -- it is damn near impossible to take your mind off the horrible things that happened behind the cameras while this thing was in production. Ultimately, the torment Casey goes through eerily parallels the heinous abuses that actor Nathan Winters went through at the hands of the film's director, and that makes "Clownhouse," as a whole, unbelievably hard to sit through.

As pure cinema, "Clownhouse" is a respectable, moderately above average genre offering for its time, and as long as you remain oblivious to the backstage horrors behind the film itself, odds are, you'll probably enjoy it for what it is.

But with the horrific tales of Nathan Winters buttressing your filmgoing experience here? Yeah, be prepared for 90 of the most uncomfortable minutes you will likely ever have watching a motion picture, amigos. 

Monday, February 24, 2014

Book Review: “The Next Decade” by George Friedman (2011)

According to one of America’s most respected strategists, the United States’ biggest dilemma is managing the consequences of being an unplanned global empire while simultaneously upholding the founding virtues of the Republic. So how will this dual-problem impact geopolitics until 2021?

A few years ago, I reviewed George Friedman’s 2009 speculative fiction title “The Next 100 Years.” It was an entertaining read, to be sure -- what, with all of those hypersonic missiles and wars with a united Turkish-Japanese-German front over intergalactic battle systems and all -- but the thing that really struck me most about the book was just how much the author knew his stuff regarding U.S. sociopolitics. As a high ranking official for STRATFOR -- one of the premier geopolitical intelligence groups in the United States -- Friedman is a guy who definitely has his thumb and forefinger on the pulse of international stratagem, and his straight-and-to-the-point explanations of how and what the U.S. must do to maintain its hegemonic influence in the world in “The Next 100 Years” piqued my curiosity in “The Next Decade” quite a bit.

“The Next Decade,” despite having a tighter locus than “The Next 100 Years,” is actually the sequel, having come out two years after “100.” Whereas the first book peered into the future with somewhat rose-tinted glasses (microwave technologies and loosened international immigration policies will save the world, Friedman predicted) this book is a lot more blunt and sardonic. Indeed, the opening chapter of the book emphasizes the need for a good Machiavellian leader a’la Lincoln, FDR or Reagan, as the POTUS during the ensuing decade will have to be an expert at finagling and fudging with an almost unlimited number of ever-changing geopolitical alliances. The core thesis of the book, then, is Friedman’s assertion that the United States -- unintentionally -- has become a global empire, and the role of the U.S. President is to more or less serve as the world’s most important political diplomat and agenda-setter. Of course, Friedman also notes that the President -- whoever he or she may be -- must also be able to at least promote the virtues and ethics of the homeland, despite the fact that his or her duties as a global leader now far supersede his or her role as a domestic figurehead. The great internal political battle of the decade, Friedman predicts, will be how the U.S. people react to an executive leadership whose primary interests rests not in serving the American people, but in maintaining a stranglehold on the rest of world’s military and economic doings.

To begin the book, Friedman says that the ongoing decade will be a quest to emerge from underneath the two defining aspects of the aughties -- the late 2000s global recession and George W.’s War on Terror. Regarding the former, Friedman asserts that downturns of the like are natural endpoints of boom and bust cycles, citing the downfall of municipal bonds at the end of ’70s, the late 1980s Savings and Loans scandal and the doomsday scenario of the early 2000s as hard-to-deny proofs of his theory. Ultimately, he believes the inevitable fallout from the Great Recession will be a general shift towards greater individual state involvement in the world markets, which in turn, will likely lead to a resurgence in economic nationalism.

As for our post War on Terror fates, Friedman believes the United States will henceforward be caught up in a skillful balancing act in the Middle East, with the utmost goal of insuring that no single regional power rises to prominence while simultaneously keeping the Gulf’s oil supply from being disrupted. Doing so, Friedman suggests, requires the U.S. to slowly disentangle itself from Israel and seek accommodations with Iran -- primarily to “use” as a Shiite counterweight to an emerging Sunni powerhouse in Turkey.

In regards to European affairs, Friedman says that the U.S. strategy is quite simple: to prevent any single nation from dominating the peninsula. Since Russia is a natural resources-strewn titan and Germany is the continent’s lone economic super power, Friedman believes it is an imperative that the U.S. do everything it can to halt Berlin and Moscow officials from coming to any major trade agreements. To drive a wedge between any possible ententes between the two countries, Friedman suggests that the U.S. powers that be help Poland and the surrounding Slavic countries develop economically, as both a financial and geographically literal buffer zone. He also expects relations between the U.S. and U.K. to strengthen in the face of a hypothetical “Mediterranean Union” between Germany and France. The key to strategic success on the continent, Friedman believes, hinges on the sneakiness of the President of the United States. “The president must appear to be not very bright, yet be able to lie convincingly,” he writes. “The target of this charade will not be future allies but potential enemies.”

As made glaringly apparent in “The Next 100 Years,” Friedman isn’t buying the hoopla surrounding China’s booming, export-dependent economy. Rather, he believes the import-reliant Japan will slowly begin to pull ahead of China as Asia’s de facto regional powerhouse, quite possibly by outsourcing to China itself. As for U.S. strategies in the Pacific, Friedman believes more investments are necessary in South Korea, Singapore and Australia -- and as bizarre as it may sound, he wouldn’t be surprised if the U.S. attempted to strengthen China’s market access in a preemptive strike against Japan, either. As for India -- considered by some to be a possible “democratic China” -- Friedman remains pessimistic; not only does he not believe the economy in southeast Asia will explode this decade, he actually believes that U.S. and Indian relations are likely to grow stagnant between now and the 2020s.

Friedman isn’t too concerned about what happens south of the border, although he does note a few things that could potentially transpire in Latin America over the next few years. For one, he believes it is possible -- although  unlikely -- that Brazil could open up naval lanes in the South Atlantic, and begin scoring oil shipments from Angola and Nigeria. Just to be on the safe side of things, the author suggests U.S. policymakers start looking at ways to beef up Argentina’s economy as a counterbalance. Regarding Mexico -- the number two buyer of U.S. goods -- Friedman believes that both sides of the Rio Grande will promote “the illusion of activity” regarding illegal immigration and the drug trade over the ensuing years, while the “threat” of an independent Quebec remains a remote, if not insignificant, possibility in the Great White North. Ultimately, Friedman believes there is little worth fighting for in Africa at the moment, outside of preventing Islamic extremism from arising in oil-rich hotbeds on the west coast. Allegations of an ongoing  “resource war” between China and the U.S. in the region, the author states, are also greatly exaggerated.

On the domestic front, Friedman zeroes in on the mass retirement of baby boomers, and their vast healthcare needs. Unfortunately, he believes that technology today is more about acquiring market share than true scientific innovation, and as such, Friedman doesn’t believe we’ll start seeing true breakthroughs in energy and robotics until next decade, at the least. For now, Friedman says U.S. strategy is about maintaining its naval power…and then we’ll start talking about space ops.

Despite all of the Machiavellian stuff Friedman says about the U.S. executive branch, he ultimately states that the greatest barrier to civic progression in America is the Cerberus of bureaucratic overkill and political infighting. “Americans prefer mutual vilification to facing up to the facts,” he writes, “they prefer arguing about what ought to be to arguing about what is.” As such, he concludes the tome by stating that “an enormous act of will for the country to grow up” is essential for the United States to maintain its Republican ideals as the 2020s approach.

At the end of the day, this book is really more of a no-frills, no-bullshit look at America’s geopolitical interests -- and the underhanded ways the executive powers maintain the U.S. hegemony -- than it is a work of pure speculative fiction. There’s not that many concrete predictions the author tosses out there, although the few that he does -- like the U.S. seeking to repair its relations with Iran -- have indeed come to light since the book was originally published. All in all, “The Next Decade” is a thorough, straight-to-the-point primer on international relations and the way the U.S. of A truly views its geopolitical sphere of influence; fantastical, this book may not be, but it’s certainly an illuminating little title nonetheless.

Friday, February 21, 2014

PROPAGANDA REVIEW: “The American Dream” (2011)

It’s the worst libertarian-themed cartoon you’ll ever see (that wasn’t made by Trey Parker and Matt Stone, anyway.) 

There was a time in my life when I was a huge fan of “South Park.” That time, unfortunately, was called 1998, and it has long since passed.

Whereas other trappings from the era (Orbitz soda, I’m looking at you) have vanished into the miasma of yesterday, “South Park” continues to truck along, so far beyond its expiration date that you can almost smell the corpse meat of the franchise. To be fair, for a while the show was actually pretty decent -- you know, back when the extent of the program was one-off stories about chicken molesters and hunting Sasquatches with your drunken uncle. Sadly, the show decided to take a detour into the political sometime in the early 2000s, and my interest in the program has waned ever since.

I bring up “South Park” for two primary reasons. For one, the influence of the show on “The American Dream” is utterly unmistakable; indeed, the art style is so similar, it might as well constitute plagiarism. And secondly, the libertarian politics of Trey Parker and Matt Stone seem to be shared quite equivocally by the producers of “The American Dream.” As preachy as some “South Park” episodes got, “The American Dream” absolutely takes it to the threshold and back, however, at times feeling more like the frothing, hastily drawn rantings of a Prison Planet lifetime subscriber than anything resembling an attempt at entertainment. It’s the cuckoo conspiracy theorist Ron Paul Looney Tunes bonanza that in the era of Final Cut Pro, was surely inevitable and even at a seemingly paltry 28 minute runtime, it still feels like it takes a lifetime for the film to drag towards its foaming, anticlimactic conclusion.

So, what is “The American Dream,” exactly? Well, it’s this cartoon made a couple of years back by some group called The Provocateur Network -- whom, three years later, still don’t have a fully functioning website, I might add. The film -- crudely drawn, with even cruder humor -- appears to be an attempt to explain to the unenlightened masses how debt-based economies work, but of course, the makers of the film have a not-so-hidden agenda here…and their ultimate thesis, I assure you,  is crazier than Charles Manson on an acid trip.

The main protagonist of the film is your age-less, Anglo-Saxon everyman, named Pile. The cartoon begins with Pile procuring loans to buy a home (as visualized by a giant truck, with the word “BANK” scrawled on it, literally tossing money at people), which is ultimately foreclosed. After his dog, appropriately enough named “Dream,” is taken away from him, a very familiar looking DeLorean shows up, and the film’s secondary protagonist -- Hartman, who was the lead character’s protectorate against bullies in the fourth grade -- shows up and starts rambling on and on about how his old chum needs to grow a set of cojones…which concludes with Hartman literally gifting his buddy with a set of red balls. Hilarious.

Nothing says cutting edge satire quite like advocating for the execution of people, no?

This leads to Hartman doing a really uninspired Rod Serling impersonation, in which he “explains” how the great housing market crash of 2006 came to be. You see, the problem was, those nefarious banks were just lending to everybody, including frat boys and random street urchins, and to top it off, they even started circulating credit cards as a means of obtaining more loan monies. With some tired Scooby Doo and “The Wizard of Oz” references tucked in there -- alongside a sight gag in which one of the characters yanks the bikini off a woman -- Hartman then proceeds to explain how American over consumption and predatory lending eventually frothed to a point that the housing collapse could transpire. So far, so good…nothing too crazy, and nothing you really can’t argue against either. And then, the film turns its eye towards the Federal Reserve.

Per the characters in the film, the Federal Reserve is so clandestine that not even Jesus Christ can get in there. Funny, seeing as how the Fed was audited by the GAO as recently as 2011, no? The two characters then break into the Federal Reserve, “Mission: Impossible” style, and talk about how the bank is actually a private, non-federalized entity -- an assertion that has quite a few things wrong with it, obviously. And as the film explains, normal banks get their money from the Fed, and the Fed makes the U.S. mint produce more money to help keep up with the normal banks’ demand. As such, the makers of the film accuse the Fed of unconstitutionally controlling the U.S. money supply, even though that little function STILL resides in the hands of the U.S. Treasury. The kicker is when the film states that because the Fed loans so much money to the government, the taxation system as we know it had to invented to keep up with payments. This, despite the fact that the federal government had been collecting excise taxes and tariffs monies for well over a century prior to the ratification of the 16th Amendment, but clearly, that’s a point that doesn’t matter.

From there, we jump to 10th century Arabia, where Hartman explains how fiat money came to exist. A segment featuring a riff on “The Candyman Can” ensues, which leads to a diatribe against inflation and “worthless” paper money. The sequence ends with the gleeful hanging of a banker (really) and paper currency being denounced as un unstable evil on par with nuclear power (no, double really).

Because the New World Order is run by the same guys that run M.A.D., it appears.

And here’s where things start REALLY going wacko. The characters discuss the Rothchilds, who in the film, are literally symbolized as “Red Shields.” According to the film, the Red Shields made their fortune by lying about the outcome of the Napoleonic Wars and engineering a British stock market collapse -- which facilitated their outright “buying” of the country. Their goal ever since, the characters in the film tell us, has been the objective of bringing that ungodly “fractional reserve banking” to the U.S., which leads to some highly suspect claims about early American governance. After heaping praise upon slave-fucker Thomas Jefferson and unabashed Indian-killer Andrew Jackson, the film alleges that the U.S. entered a time of unfettered economic bliss throughout the 19th century and early 20th century, primarily by avoiding a debt-based economy. You know, the same time frame that gave us financial collapses in 1873, 1884, 1893, 1901 and 1907 and all that jazz.

Which brings us to the infamous 1910 “Jekyll Island” meeting (the masturbatory fodder for many a conspiracy buff) in which several industrial titans and bankers allegedly came together to hash out some grandiose blueprint for control of the planet or some other stupid bullshit. Perhaps honing up to their own nonsense, the makers of the film themselves don’t even know who the ringleader of the covert plan was, in turn just referring to the Cobra Commander-like figurehead as the “Supreme Master Leader.” But, uh, Woodrow Wilson did have something to do with it, they reassure us.

The IRS is then shown as a towering robot that literally opens up the Capitol building and starts eating its contents. Pile and Hartman travel back to 1955 (meeting Michael J. Fox, no less) and discuss how the Fed and the IRS work together to “tax inflation.” Hartman talks about how expensive goods are today compared to their price points 60 years ago, completely overlooking the fact that prices 60 years before 1955 were also cheaper, too. Cue a reference to “A Clockwork Orange” -- in which Pile is forced to listen to Kennedy’s “Secret Societies” speech -- and we get a brief history lesson about Executive Order 11110 and how it resulted in JFK getting whacked. A montage of the Feds consolidating more banks and printing more money leads us to the dénouement of the film, a super-dated homage to “300” in which the main character does battle to the death with Henry Paulson. And…credits.

...which, of course, means the "bad guys" have to be REALLY, REALLY bad. 

Psychologically, I can understand why stuff like “The American Dream” exists. The great economic collapse of the late 2000s resulted in a lot of people losing their life savings, and staring your own economic destruction in the face, it sure is comforting knowing that your downfall had something to do with an orchestrated, evil plan instead of things just being the  unplanned consequences of a seemingly-endless number of interconnected variables charging towards a perfect storm. Random chance, we can’t accept, but we sure as hell can believe in a devil-worshipping global conspiracy, I tell you what.

As for the film itself, it really doesn’t have much to say, besides that banks (our designated Orwellian foe, of course) are inherently evil, and that our current financial systems and consumption cycles are really just ways for the “elites” to trick us into servitude. The gigantic problem with the film, then, as that even with this thesis (as shaky as it is) in place, the film makers don’t even BEGIN to outline a solution to their own problem. A gander at the movie’s website has something of a battle plan, but its suggestions range from the cockamamie (back to the Gold Standard, amigos!) to ironically statist (I mean, how else are you going to encourage people to live within their own means without excessive state interventions, no?) The entire point of the film, and the motionless movement the filmmakers wanted the movie to kick off, seems to be nothing more explicatory than “things suck, and the suck because of these guys, so be really, really pissed off at them.”

The two masterminds behind the film -- Tad Lumpkin and Harold Uhl, whom look like bad Create-a-Wrestlers of Trey Parker and Matt Stone -- really haven’t done much before or after the movie, outside the aberrant appearance on such hard news outlets as “The Alex Jones Show.” Of course, you can always visit the official website for the film, which has links to all sorts of Drudge Report wannabes and historically inaccurate profiles of individuals like Lyndon Johnson and J.D Rockefeller (whose head, apparently, actually was an oil drum.)

So, what to make of all of this flimflam and hubbub? Well, not much, frankly, as anyone with access to Wikipedia can shoot down virtually every single accusation the movie makes in the span of ten minutes. It’s a boring cartoon, and even worse propaganda; ineffective, unconvincing and about as inspired as a warmed over Egg McMuffin, “The American Dream” is visual agitprop of the absolute worst variety. Preachy and inaccurate is one thing, but to be preachy, inaccurate AND unentertaining? That’s just an unpardonable offense, fellas.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

The Even NEWER Loaded Grillers from Taco Bell...REVIEWED!

Chipotle Ranch Chicken and Chili Cheese Fries variations join the much-beloved Taco Bell Loaded Grillers family, but are they flavorful enough to reap the same accolades bestowed upon their precursors? 

There's this old saying that goes "if something isn't broke, don't fix it." Well, with the Loaded Grillers, Taco Bell has a promotional item that is next to impossible to mess up, yet something that can be endlessly retooled. Such a simple, yet genius premise, really: you take a burrito tortilla, throw in some really unusual batter patterned after T.G.I. Friday's appetizer stalwarts, and voila: profits are virtually guaranteed.

I was a huge fan of the initial Loaded Grillers line-up, but in some ways, I think I was an even bigger fan of the one dollar price point. To be fair, the "loaded potato" griller has been a staple of my diet since its release, and while the product is indisputably yummy, methinks a large part of my attraction to said foodstuff can be attributed to its overall cheapness. After hiking up the price point of the menu items across the board last year (the chain's much-ballyhooed "Happier Hour" program was less than well-received by the masses, it should go without saying), the entire griller family has once again been re-priced at $1 USD. It's certainly a nice surprise from the Almighty Bell, but it's not the only unexpected bit of awesomeness I encountered during my last grillers run...

Do my eyes deceive me, or are there are a whole bunch of new fountain drink options at the eatery? Mango iced tea, pomegranate-flavored H20, a DIET iteration of the much-beloved Mountain Dew Baja Blast, PLUS an all new Sangarita-flavored MD iteration? Holy cow, what a way to kick off the new year!

While menu line-up changes are the norm in the fast food industry, very, VERY rarely does one see a major, national franchise like TB introduce so many new tap offerings at one time. Needless to say, with such a wide array of beverages and soft drinks -- including some proprietary ones -- being served, I may indeed find myself slinking into the local Bell even more than I normally do. Which, by the way, is still a lot.

And what of the new grillers themselves? Well, let's start off by examining the Chipotle Ranch Chicken permutation, no?

The product itself, not surprisingly, is quite oily. As soon as I opened my wrapper, a thick wad of orange goop emerged from the paper, resulting in a big, fat glob of half chipotle sauce/half ranch dressing goo splattering on my counter-top. Clearly, for those of you with a disdain for sloppy foods, you might want to pack an additional fork and quite a few extra napkins before you go to town on this one.

As far as the product taste, it was pretty good. Being a somewhat sincere pescatarian and all, I had to pull the chicken chunks out of the wrapper, which means that I more or less found myself ingesting a burrito loaded with nothing but assorted sauces. Surprisingly, it wasn't that gross, and I figure you could actually make for quite the enjoyable vegetarian-friendly product if you replaced the chicken with some black beans and shredded cheese. Overall, it had a fairly solid, top-tier "Hot Pockets" taste to it, which, as we all know by now, isn't a bad place to be in today's fast food world.

The chili-cheese fries variation was, thankfully, a lot less messy than its Chipotle Ranch Chicken kin. Of course, one's long-dormant OCD complexes will suddenly spring back to life as soon as you unpeel the burrito, though.

What you see is what you get, I suppose. Indeed, there were some crispy French fry chunks in the mixture, along with some slightly sub-par tasting chili. Strangely, despite having all the proper ingredients at their disposal, the Bell never really has been able to concoct a top-notch chili recipe, and sadly, their disappointing streak continues with this release. I guess the sauce was OK, but as a whole, this one just wasn't all that palatable for me. Hey, maybe Taco Bell just isn't cut out to be offering fries in any fashion, no?

Ultimately, I think I preferred the first wave of Loaded Grillers goods to this one, but that's not to say there isn't some potential with the two new menu items. Obviously, the Chipotle Chicken Ranch offering is probably the better overall product, but if you're eyeing something different for lunch, you could likely do worse than the chili cheese fries-stuffed grillers, as well. I suppose your mileage may vary depending on whether or not you're an omnivore, so I'll just recast all of that under this blanket statement: odds are, if you liked the first three grillers, you probably won't hate the two newest additions to the line-up.

So what else is there to say about the Loaded Grillers? They have an unique taste, they're quite filling, and they only cost one dollar a piece. Whether you're a frugal fast food connoisseur looking to stretch your wallet until the elastic snaps off or you're just an adventurous foodie with a gastrointestinal tract made of steel, you'll probably want to give the menu items a try at least once.

I mean, heck, it's only a dollar we're talking about here, right?

Monday, February 17, 2014

Jimbo Goes to the Movies: “The LEGO Movie” (2014) Review

Very rarely does a film so impressively summarize itself: indeed, everything IS awesome.

The first time I saw the trailer for “The LEGO Movie,” I was well beyond apprehensive. There have been some shameless corporate tie-ins over the years, but this was a film that absolutely made no pretenses nor apologies about the fact that it was nothing more than a feature length toy commercial. This thing, on the surface, appeared to be the absolute nadir (or zenith, depending on your perspective) of cinematic product placement.

The reality that the film itself actually has something that resembles a plot is something of a mini miracle, but for “The LEGO Movie” to serve a such a comprehensively enjoyable and innovative criticism of unabashed consumerism is the kind of celestial mystery that can only be chalked up to a divine being (or, as the film promulgates, a quite literal "man up stairs.")

At the same time, “The LEGO Movie” is somehow a remorseless celebration of pop culture iconography and brand imagery AND a caustic dissertation against materialism and mindless collectivism. Of course, there’s probably some hypocrisy regarding the film’s mockery of brain dead TV sitcoms, overpriced Starbucks beverages and vapid popular music while simultaneously vaunting the DC comics pantheon, any number of nerd-favorite pop cultural franchises (with Star Wars and Lord of the Rings standing out the most), not to mention the fact that a consumer product literally lands top billing for the picture itself.

That said, with an acid tongue throughout, the film still manages to slyly critique the unrefined juvenilia those same pop cultural strongholds ultimately come to represent; whether it’s the gravel-throated, one-dimensional parody of Christian Bale’s Batman (whom, at one point, breaks out a techno song summarizing his entire milieu as “darkness and no parents”) or the split second ridiculing of the Tolkien romanticization of the Middle Ages (with a Gandalf clone citing such contemporary wonders as “illiteracy” and “poverty” alongside the fantastical dragons and alchemy), this is a film with an unmistakable sociopolitical agenda. At the end of the day, I’d say that “The LEGO Movie” is much closer to being a subversive satire a’la “They Live” (be sure to note the “consume” billboards dotting the LEGO City landscape) than it is just another “Despicable Me” variation.

The premise of the film is fairly straightforward. The main character is Emmet, an everyman figure so indistinguishable from the crowd that facial police scans can’t pick him out from the masses. With his well-coiffed ‘do and can-do attitude, he’s really the ultimate placid social inhabitant; he goes through the daily routine (virtually living by a how-to manual that’s supposed to win him friends), sitting in traffic, listening to Top 40 tunes, and paying upwards of $40 per cup of Joe every morning, sans a single negative thought ever stretching across his grey matter. A construction drone, he one day encounters a mysterious “piece” named WyldStyle rummaging through some rubble, and he soon finds himself tumbling down an abyss, until he comes plastic phizog to plastic phizog with an ancient prophecy revealing himself as the savior of all LEGO-kind.

As it turns out, the lording overseer of LEGO City is a nefarious character named President Business, whom bares un uncanny resemblance to a certain Mormon presidential also-ran. His secret chamber is filled with a collection of “alien” objects, which wouldn’t you know it, all happen to be trademarked household goods from our “real world.” At one point, he uses nail polish remover to scrub off an underling’s face, and a brand named golf ball becomes something of a WMD. His ultimate doomsday device, however, is a bizarre substance known as “Kragle” -- a tube of instantly bonding gel that, to our human eyes, appears to look like a slightly discolored packet of Krazy Glue.

And so, Emmet and WyldStyle find themselves on a hero’s quest, traversing from kingdom to kingdom (Wild West World, Cloud City, etc.) while President Business’s robotic army pursue them. Along the way, the two primary protagonists run into an assorted collection of “master builders,” whom run the gamut from 1980s relics like The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles to mid 2000s throwbacks (Shaq’s cameo is probably the best in the entire film) to the downright esoteric (as in, Michelangelo, the 16th century Italian sculptor.)

The film’s dénouement is absolutely brilliant, as it completely shatters the fourth wall and turns what, up until then, had been a pastiche of the mega-corporate movie into a film with something almost sincere to say about our natures as consumers.

As it turns out, the LEGO beings actually exist within the same world that you and I inhabit, and the various deus ex machinas that we were exhibited earlier in the film were actually the interloping hands of a kid playing around with the figures. The kicker here is that his dad…the afore-mentioned man up stairs…is played by Will Ferrell himself, making the entire film itself a rich, and somewhat poignant, metaphor for the uneasy relationship between parent and child. Sure, sure, it could be a parable for the Christian trinity (I guess that makes one’s sense of play the veritable holy spirit there), but ultimately, it’s a film about family bonds, and how illogical consumer interests (in this case, a dad obsessed with LEGO sets) can have detrimental interpersonal effects. The great thing is, none of this stuff is bluntly stated: how rare it is that a mainstream Hollywood film, let alone one targeting children, gives the intelligence of the viewers such consideration.

Visually, the film looks both glossy and subversively low-tech, with the LEGO gimmick played to the hilts; the bodies of water, made out of translucent blue plastic chunks, is really a sight to behold. The voice acting is also top-notch, with heavy hitters like Morgan Freeman and Liam Neeson (ultimately, playing self-parodies of their stereotypical roles) and relative newcomers like Chris Pratt and Elizabeth Banks all turning in serviceable, if not outstanding, performances. Additionally, the LEGO City’s corporate anthem “Everything is Awesome” -- an electro-pop mockery squealed by Canadian duo Tegan and Sara -- might just be the single catchiest ditty in any movie ever; if “Brave New World” had a theme song, I’m pretty sure it would be the same infectious number, note-for-note.

The film was helmed by Chris Miller and Phil Lord, whose “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs” films I have praised to no end. The same way those films fused sheer aesthetic entertainment with intelligent (and refreshingly understated) social commentary, “The LEGO Movie” traverses a similar path, being both a visually stimulating ode to soft consumerism and a figurative wrecking ball swung straight into the central nerve center of vapid, pop-cultural materialism. Like a double fist sandwich from Radio Raheem, “The LEGO Movie” is a heaping helping of “love” and “hate” -- in that, it bears more of a resemblance to the amazingly cynical and condemnatory anti-modernist works of the Marx Brothers and Charlie Chaplin than “Frozen” or even a deconstructionist masterwork like “Wreck-It Ralph.”

My worst nightmare was that “The LEGO Movie” would be madcap, hyperkinetic nonsense, with nothing more than a healthy amount of pop cultural reference points serving as the flick’s threadbare “plot.” Much to my surprise, however, the film as a whole is astoundingly smart, and critical, and shockingly innovative. It’s a nuanced film that still manages to be humorous and lively, the kind of Hollywood production that’s becoming rarer and rarer these days. “The LEGO Movie” is an out-of-the-blue mini-masterpiece that I would highly recommend to anyone looking for a reason to once again believe in the candor, and ingenuity, of the big budget picture…that, and it would make a great complement to anyone’s “Taco Tuesday,” I’d imagine.

My Score:

Three and a Half Tofu Dogs out of Four 

Thursday, February 13, 2014

The Four Things All Women Want From a Man

In honor of Valentine’s Day, a beginner’s guide to winning the hearts of womenfolk

In the field of amour, I am what you would probably consider a late-bloomer. I didn’t have my first “real” girlfriend until I was nearly old enough to drink, and I didn’t have my first good girlfriend until about three or so years ago. Of course, anyone with even a passing knowledge of my romantic endeavors knows that such doesn’t necessarily mean I am inexperienced in the ways of womandom -- in fact, perhaps quite the opposite. A Lothario, I never was and never claimed to be, but over the years, I reckon I have learned a thing or two about how the fairer sex works, though.

With apologies to Christina Aguilera, I think I’ve been around the block enough times to truly understand what a girl wants and needs from a potential male love interest. Well, best let me reiterate that statement: what every decent woman wants and needs out of a potential male love interest; lest we forget, there’s still some real Jezebels and Lorena Bobbits out there, after all.

So, for all of you lovelorn and loveshy and lovesick young chaps out there, desperately in pursuit of that yin for their proverbial yang, take heed: here are the four things that all women worth a toot desire out of a male suitor…

Want Number One:
Women want someone that makes them feel different.

At last estimate, there are about 3.6 billion women on the planet. Really, all you have to do to woo any one of them is convince them that they, and they alone, are completely unique in regards to the other 3.5999999 billion females out there. I mean, actually convince them in a manner that makes them feel like they have something -- or are something -- that no other woman on the planet does or is. A simple task, I know.

Nobody falls in love overnight. Granted, it’s all cool and romantic to think so, but scientifically, it’s a load of horse manure. Sure, there may be a twinkling or some precognitive feeling one may get from a non-love-interest before courtship, but let’s be realists: you CAN’T win a girl over by acting like she’s the be-all, end-all woman-of-the-century after a month of dating. Nor can you force such a perspective, anyway: if she’s not a truly great person, trust me, by the time the year is over, you’ll know it.

The idea is simple. If the girl really is something special, and awesome, and unique, you’ll feel it over time. And as the months go on, you need to find ways to demonstrate her innate awesomeness to her. Women are generally a lot more self-conscious than guys, and anything you can say or do -- and sometimes, the less grandiloquent the showing, the better actually -- to remind her that she doesn’t have to be all self-condemning is the sort of thing she’ll probably remember forever. As you hang out, take note of all of her individual quirks and behaviors and perspectives, and how, comprehensively, they add up to a wholly unique individual, whose mannerisms and thoughts and ways couldn’t possibly be replicated by any other girl. Once you make a woman feel happy to be herself, you’re pretty much guaranteed a partner for life -- or, at the least, as long as either of you refrain from royally screwing things up, anyway.

Want Number Two:
Women want someone who can make them laugh.

Eddie Murphy once did a routine about how singers -- regardless of their outward appearance -- always had some sort of magnetic appeal to female fans. That may be true to some regard, but the more evidence-backed reality is that is indeed the comedians -- or at least, the more amusing-than-annoying guys out there -- that are actually desired most by women.

Keep in mind, I’m not talking about one night stands and all of that junk here. If all you really care about are bedroom exploits, well, that’s all fine and dandy, but it’s not going to help you understand the female soul any better -- and it sure as hell isn’t going to net you a wife someday. To be fair, some women may indeed have a sexual attraction to the unattached types -- the bed hopping musicians and the assertive thrill seekers and such -- but those kinds of affairs always end in catastrophe. Surprisingly, it’s not because they can’t create a stable home life (although such is almost always the case, anyway.) It’s because that naturally aggressive disposition keeps the two from ever forming a direct bond as intimate partners.

If you can make a girl laugh, you’ve won her heart. If you can make her laugh all the damn time, you might just have yourself a prospective love interest. You see, laughter indicates something deeper than you might assume; it indicates that you both share a certain perspective, and have a mutual understanding of certain aspects of the world you both inhabit. Comedy is something much more complex and cerebrally stimulating than say, music, because comedy constantly engages one’s own memories; thusly, if you can make a girl chortle, that means you’re able to perpetually remind her of a shared past, and of an ability to connect with you. If you’re laughing together, that means you are actively sharing meaning, which more or less serves as the super glue that holds all worthwhile interpersonal bonds together. That, and a humorous disposition is often all that’s needed to diffuse any potentially problematic spots in your relationship. In essence, the ability to provoke laughter is truly one of the more powerful communicative tools -- if not the absolute most powerful -- one may have in any long-term romantic relationship.

Want Number Three:
Women want someone who makes them feel safe.

When I say safe, I mean holistically safe -- that she doesn’t have to worry about you doing something monumentally boneheaded and screwing up both of your lives. All girlfriends have the exact same set of fears: that you’re cool now, but deep down, you’re a lazy, underachieving bum that would hook up with one of your exes at the drop of the hat. As a boyfriend, it is your mission to completely assure her that such is not the case: that you are committed to her 100 percent, that you do have an actual life goal in mind, and that, some day, you genuinely want to have a real life with her.

I guess in some ways, what most women want is to not have to worry about their significant other: that he has his finances straightened out (not that he has to have money, mind you, but just to know that he isn’t on the path to serfdom anytime) and he’s not furtively feeding any secret beasts -- you know, like you’re a closet meth-snorter with a thing for Taiwanese ladyboy hookers or something. If you can assure your girlfriend that you’re real, and honest, and not hiding anything from her -- no matter how painful or personal -- you’re on the path to forging something genuine with your gal pal.

She has to trust you, and know that, in your heart of hearts, you genuinely care for her; that if she needed someone to talk to at four in the morning, or take a day off from work to help her through some personal troubles, that you would do it without batting an eyelash. For many females, “security” means the promise of a future coalesced life -- and whatever you can do to remind her that such awaits both of you, the better.

Want Number Four:
Women want someone who makes them feel loved.

You may notice some of your female acquaintances, who are in their mid-to-late 20s, or even their early 30s, who bicker about not being able to find “husband material.” Odds are, the reason why they can’t land a steady, long-term boyfriend is because, deep down, they don’t really want to be “loved” by a man. Now, that doesn’t mean they are secretly lesbians, it just means their want of an intimate, psychological connection with another person isn’t there; no matter your gender, if you don’t have that particular desire -- to fully open yourself to another person, and have another person fully open themselves to you -- you will never know what “love” feels like.

Depending upon who you ask, love can mean any number of things, but if you asked enough behavioral scientists, a near-majority of them would say that love -- the good old fashioned American version of it -- means profound empathy, profound like and profound intimacy with another. It’s a trifecta in which a man submerges part of his identity in a woman, and vice versa. Love means giving up a part of yourself, and being able to fully embrace the differences in another soul; it’s a major decision, and something that should never, ever be entered into lightly.

More than anything, a good woman (remember, there are plenty of shitty ones out there) wants to be loved. She wants to feel that psychological connection with her man, and she wants her man to come to a full understanding, appreciation and acceptance of who and what she is on the inside, too. If you are willing to forge that union with a girl -- and it’s something both of you are serious about -- you might just have something wonderful in your future: an honest, genuine, loving relationship.

And if you’re not prepared for that? Then quite honestly, you don’t deserve another person’s love, anyway.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Why Journalism Today Sucks

A look at the many, MANY areas where the industry is in trouble. Did I tell you that there were a lot of them?

Many, many moons ago, I published an article called “How to Save Modern Journalism.” Within said article, I listed several actions the entire industry could take to perhaps avert a cataclysmic fate. Of my suggestions back then, the most pressing I considered was the idea of moving journalism out of the confines of an office altogether -- in short, eliminating the bureaucratic, paper pushing atmosphere in favor of an almost always-on-the-street, observe-and-report individualist profession.

I don’t think I can really explain just how much that simple architectural construct -- the office -- damages journalism as a social service. By its very nature, the office is a mechanism of commerce, a highly impersonal assembly line of sorts that squashes one’s personhood into a fine paste. The office seems to change your very DNA, rewiring your brain into this corporate entity that thinks, breathes and eats the bottom line. I don’t care what line of work you are in, being in an office -- corralled in their like cattle and all -- completely dehumanizes you, and strips away the worth of your work to simple business. The office drains one of passion, and instills in said individual a poisonous mentality; you are here, to make money, and that is all. Perhaps such a system is fine and dandy for professions like banking and shipping  -- where everything is based around lifeless objects and abstract figures as opposed to the human anyway -- but for a profession that literally rests upon the soul of man, maybe you can see why the cubicle is such a dangerous obstacle for the journalist who views his or her profession as a social service instead of just a means of making scratch.

In terms of inter-media influences, I think it’s safe to blame a lot of the field’s decline over the last 25 or so years on the Internet. You see, newspapers and magazines and other periodicals printed on that thing we used to call “paper” were once wholly anchored around advertisement placements as revenue streams. Since big-name magazines and papers were the only sources of massively available media information up until the mid 1990s (print could coexist and actually thrive alongside broadcast journalism, you have to recall), it made sense that a lot of people were willing to pay a lot of money to have their stuff pimped inside, oh say, “The Weekly World News” or “Electronic Gaming Monthly.” But then, the World Wide Web comes along, and all of a sudden, print media is no longer the preeminent format for the written word. Indeed, not only did the Internet give you information faster than print, it gave you pretty much ANY kind of information you wanted instantly -- something cable, radio and most certainly, big print media, couldn’t give you. Ever a profession filled with the arrogant and the ignorant, instead of finding a way to harness the Web from the get-go, most traditional print journalism titans either scoffed at the Internet (as if free, constantly updated material could EVER steer readers away from the pricey and the instantly outdated!) or were too slow to incorporate online monetization within their general business model. One of the great media what-could’ve-beens over the last two decades remains how the industry could’ve played out HAD online journalists found a way to utilize things like pay walls during the Web’s infancy; alas, such was not the industry’s fortune, and today, most journalistic organizations face the dual threat of battling an almost entirely free (and monumentally more expansive) Internet journalism juggernaut, in addition to attempting to fleece web users out of money by checking out their sites, somehow.

And so, facing a financial crisis, the industry, as a whole, began going a little insane. Sure, some publishers (alike the New York Times) have found means to somewhat monetize their Web services, but to compare the per capita scratch made off that model compared to the industry’s paper-only model circa 1983 is like comparing the bank accounts of 1990 MC Hammer with 2014 MC Hammer -- same name, but a MUCH less profitable game, to be sure. Seeing as how “long-form” content allegedly doesn’t read well on the Web -- after all, who has the time to read more than 1,100 words, when you could be playing the Pac-Man Google Doodle for the four billionth time -- some publishers have gone to great lengths to cater themselves to as wide an audience as possible. That means that instead of looking at sites like Buzzfeed and Upworthy as the chum buckets they are, sites like CNN are actually lowering themselves to their levels, plugging their sites chock full of virtually word-less photo galleries and stories about things so unbelievably inane, you have to wonder if you somehow awoke in the world as prophesized in “Idiocracy.” Call it the industry’s Great Ongoing Pictograph Conundrum; the field of journalism’s ever-shrinking reliance on word count in exchange for the aesthetic -- things like videos, interactive infographics and, god help us, cartoons as substitutions for text. The next level, it appears, is fully interactive tablet journalism. Recently, The New York Times story “Snow Fall” -- a fairly unimpressive feature, in and of itself -- won a Pulitzer, not for its overall quality, but for its integration of new media components in the narrative. In short? It became the first (and quite possibly lamest) video game to ever win the nation’s most prized feature writing honor.

Not surprisingly, some organizations in the Reddit era have turned towards advocate-journalism (in which gargantuan foundations more or less pay companies to write about issues in a manner that behooves them) to remain financially upright. Needless to say, there’s probably some conflicts of interest there (is it ever truly journalism when a think tank is picking up the tab?), but I suppose things could be worse: at least the nation’s largest newspaper isn’t selling itself out to state-published newspapers in former communist strongholds or anything

Which brings us to the topic of objectivity. We could yammer on and on about perceived biases in the media old guard, but what is unmistakable are the ACTUAL biases within the new media “journalism” empires, like The Huffington Post and Reason. Hell, sites like Vice can’t even be passed off as masquerading as objective print literature; it’s entertainment and first person observations passed off as journalism, sans any of that pesky “reporting” and “fact checking” stuff that makes that other kind of journalism so mundane and unreadable. Journalism -- which I define as “the intentional dissemination of accurate information, sans any pretense” -- is just too blah for today’s ADD-addled masses. We need conflict, and contention, and of course, lots and lots of sensationalism and emotional pornography -- and if you’re reading some of Rupert Murdoch’s U.K rags, actual pornography, too. It’s a perfect storm, really: the collective masses want rubbish, and cash-strapped journalistic organizations want some eyes on them. The end dividend, I am afraid, has been the overall Good Morning America-ing of the entire industry.

Of course, you can’t talk about the general suck-ening of the format without talking about the publishers, whom are in fact the most culpable individuals pertaining to the industry’s current decayed state. Whether we’re dealing with old money landed gentry small town piss rag owners or the fly-by-night, hooray-for-capitalism bankrollers of pop culture and techno-speak fluffery, 99 percent of the time, crappy journalism is a direct result of top-down mismanagement. For publishers of the like, the whole point of journalism, as a concept, is to rake in the dough and/or push fiscally-rewarding incentives for themselves; oftentimes, they know about as much about authentic journalism as the common muskrat understands quantum physics.

Of course, the journalists themselves do play a role in the general de-qualification of the field. When you look at the big time players in the U.S. media industry, something mighty peculiar becomes apparent: all of these big-money journalist folk all appear to have gone to the same “prestigious” schools, like Columbia and the University of Chicago -- schools, I might add, whose tuition per semester exceeds $50,000. If graduating from institutes like those are the unspoken passkey to a lucrative career in journalism, than it appears as if the entire medium is only accessible to those with the richest of mommies and da-das -- meaning those with actual insight into the ways of the commoner are left reading the news instead of penning it themselves.

Classism is very much ingrained in modern journalism. The irony of an NYU grad writing stories about the poor and the marginalized appears to be one of those verboten topics among industry-insiders; it’s a bunch of upper middle class folks appointing themselves, more or less, as the “official voices” of the American proletariat. Clearly, if the nation’s proles were in charge of running American media, I assure you the entire national context of news would be something altogether different. And although the field of journalism is quick to pride itself on being one of the more forward thinking industries out there, let’s not ignore the seeming racial prejudices that run rampant throughout it -- I speak of publishers whom take advantage of unpaid interns, and often use African-American and female employees as low-wage entry-position fillers -- not so much out of a concern for diversity, as much as it is a way of meeting quotas for grants and other self-funding mechanisms.

Sure, the CNN and The New York Times types may be doing well for themselves, but if you’re working elsewhere -- a small-town newspaper or any online gig, for that matter -- it’s pretty much a guarantee that you, as a journalist, will be treated like utter crap. Many organizations today do make use of freelance employees, but primarily as a way to skirt paying for 401K or medical plans. So, in addition to working in an incredibly unstable profession with pay that ranges from lousy to comfortable-as-long-as-I-have-absolutely-nothing-go-wrong-with-me-medically, the emerging journalist must also stare down a future that’s devoid of the benefits that most plumbers and receptionists are guaranteed.

In fact, I’d venture to guess that one of the main reasons why journalism today blows is because journalists themselves are treated so horribly. They NEVER get any credit for what they do, editors stomp all over their hard work and they’re completely beholden to the whims of their overseers -- as opposed to the people they are actually writing about, or god help us, the objective truth itself. To eat, some journalists have to completely betray their own scruples -- and when you have individuals getting “paid” to completely contradict their own moral values for a living, perhaps its somewhat understandable why contemporary journalistic quality has been on the downturn for a couple of years.

But, at the end of the day, you have to return to the office. Within that organizational framework, in-group thinking runs rampant, and if there was ever a profession that demanded individual lines of thinking (at least idealistically, anyway), it would be journalism. So, what happens when you completely de-individualize writers and reporters, stuff them into boxes and beat them over the head with some sort of company-first Tao that completely segregates themselves from the individuals they are writing about altogether?

Well…you get journalism as it is today, I am afraid.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Restaurant Review: Savage Pizza (Atlanta, Ga.)

It's a superhero-themed eatery with a really awesome pesto-and-potato pizza. Do you really need me to tell you any more?

As you may recall from my visit to the 2013 Little 5 Points Halloween Parade, I encountered a very unique-looking restaurant named "Savage Pizza." As the name suggests, it appeared to be a pizzeria, but with one major difference from your standard parlors: the entire building was decked out in Marvel Comics dressings. Awesome marker drawings of Spider-Man and his rogues gallery were scrawled on the front glass of the establishment, and the marquee of the building itself was a goddamned Sentinel. Needless to say, taking a pilgrimage to said eatery become an early priority for 2014, and quickly.

Revisiting the restaurant in January, the first thing I noticed was some new artwork on the front glass. Gone were Venom and the Green Goblin and all their ilk, replaced by a mural of late 1980s-styled "X-Men" B-listers. Much to the delight of Mike Tyson, no doubt, Apocalypse himself got prominent placing on the glass frame, as did Juggernaut (whom, with an unpainted mouth and set of eyeballs, was just ripe for a photo op or two.) Plus, you just have to dig the "Iceman" bridge and old school Rogue, complete with her Delta Burke-inspired bouffant.

Storm, back when her costume was just a couple of leather strips, as well as Nightcrawler and Colossus were also prominently displayed. There's probably some artistic reason as to why heavy hitters like Wolverine and Cyclops were left off the display, but I think the nod to the lesser-celebrated characters makes the work all the more pleasing. I fully expect a "Guardians of the Galaxy" themed tapestry later this fall, of course. 

The interior of the building also keeps up with the comic super hero theme, with a nice collage of old school "Spider-Man," "Silver Surfer" and "Superman" covers plastered all around the cashier's counter-top. I'm also greatly amused by the inclusion of an old-ass "Master of Kung Fu" splash page as part of the design.

Near the back of the restaurant, there's a giant poster of Supes, as well as a collector's case of 12 inch figurines, which, for some reason, include the George Clooney Batman and Ahnold's Mr. Freeze from "Batman and Robin" forever immortalized in plastic resin. And for those of you paying attention to the establishment's ceiling...

...what do you know, there are extra large dolls strung up all over the place! Wolverine, The Hulk, a couple of Ninja Turtles. Hell, there's even a Godzilla doll being lynched in the mix somewhere. It's a really neat little touch, and the prospect of having a Bart Simpson action figure fall into my eggplant parmigiana actually makes me more excited to dine there.

And for those of you that dig souvenirs, there actually are quite a few collectibles you can pick up at the establishment, including some exorbitantly priced baseball caps and a tee-shirt, featuring none other than Disney copyright protected icon Spider-Man! Uhh...maybe we shouldn't tell the Marvel legal department about that last item, though. 

There's so much pop cultural text going on, it's easy to out on miss all of the oblique references in-store -- hell, it wasn't until I looked at this picture that I even noticed the little Domino's Pizza Noid, just hanging off a stack of cardboard boxes. And in case you are wondering? Yes, they do have a limited delivery service, although a giant list next to the cash register's phone indicates that there are indeed quite a few deadbeats and shit tippers in the vicinity.

But of course, the big question is how is their pizza? The menu itself is quite diverse, and I was pretty darn close to picking up a Mediterranean pie, until I noticed this coy little advertisement on the paper napkin dispenser. A "Potato Pesto Pizza," you say? Consider me more than intrigued regarding such a prospect!

And lo and behold, this is the dish in all its pine nut-scattered glory. In addition to being smattered with green pesto and embedded with chunks of red potato, it also came with some chopped up red peppers and caramelized onions, too. I'm not necessarily the hugest fan of white sauce pizzas, but the guys at Savage Pizza did a pretty good job with the mixture. The basil and garlic seasonings were noticeable, but not too overpowering -- clearly, we are not dealing with rookies in the pizza game at all here.

So, all in all? The pizza was delicious, the eatery had a really cool vibe, the price point wasn't too bad, and there enough tantalizing options on the menu to warrant more than a few revisits. Although Atlanta really hasn't garnered a reputation for being a pizza powerhouse, the reality is there are quite a few outstanding parlors in the city. Hell, there's another super-awesome pizzeria just a couple of blocks away from Savage Pizza -- not that we're trying to kick off any kind of Bloods vs. Crips-style turf rivalry or anything. 

As for complaints? Eh, I don't have that many -- they were even able to make their Diet Coke taste pretty fresh, which is something most franchised establishments have a hard time managing. I guess you could argue about the parking (the entire Little 5 Points area, I must warn you, is a nightmare) and it would've been cool to have seen some additional attractions in the venue. Come on, you guys couldn't find an old school "Captain American and the Avengers" arcade cabinet, or even one of those Stern "Spider-Man" pinball machines? 

But even with those trifling demerits, it's hard to not dig Savage Pizza. They've got awesome aesthetics, a lot of topping options, some killer proprietary pies and you can chow down while a foot tall replica of The Thing looms overhead. Needless to say, if you are ever in the ATL, this is a place you definitely need to drop by, amigos.