Monday, September 30, 2013

Week of 09/30/2013

The New “Heroic” Traits
– by David Matthews 2

Remember the song “Holding Out For A Hero” by Bonnie Tyler?  She probably gave the best description of what people look for in a traditional hero.  Someone who is good, strong, and maybe even larger-than-life.  The kinds of traits we think that the people we look up to should have.

Unfortunately quite often it’s an “idealized” vision.  The “streetwise Hercules”?  A “white knight on a fiery steed?”  A “Superman”? Someone who is watching out for you all the time from some mysterious place?  I don’t know about the first three, but the last one is often considered to be a stalker.

The problem comes when movie and television producers and creators decide to make these “larger-than-life” figures more “life” than “larger-than”.  If they’re human, then they’re flawed, and some are a lot more flawed than others. 

As a longtime fan of comic books and as a comic book creator, I’ve begun to notice a few “heroic” traits in recent years that really should be addressed.  Keep in mind that a lot of these “traits” are showing up in characters that we’ve known for a long time.  These are the “re-imagined” or “revisited” versions of heroes and heroines that we now see on television, movies, and comics.  This is the attempt to make these heroes and heroines more “life” instead of “larger-than”.

The D-Bag/A-hole Hero – DC’s Green Lantern used to be a heroic figure.  Whether it was “Earth-2’s” Alan Scott, or Hal Jordan, or John Stewart (not to be confused by “that comedian” with a similar name), they were decent guys whom you would see deserving the power and responsibility of being a space enforcer.  But then someone decided to bring in the brain-damaged Guy Gardner, and after that everything pretty much went to hell. 

Okay, fine, Guy Gardner is a jerk, but then someone decided to make him the rule rather than the exception.  So now we have Hal Jordan acting more like “Maverick” from “Top Gun”, cocky, arrogant, and believing himself to be right no matter what.  The Guardians strip him of his ring and he treats it like a great injustice and begs to be given a new one.  Even the “Green Lantern” motion picture shows Hal as being someone best described by his friends as an “A-hole”.

Speaking of, the Guardians themselves, the supposedly oldest and wisest beings in the universe, became a bunch of Munchkin-sized A-holes themselves.  So much so that they had to be overthrown from their place of prominence by the very Corps they created. 

How about the world of Marvel Comics?  Well there’s Cyclops from the X-Men.  Cyclops used to be the “apple-polisher” for the X-Men.  He was the poster child of Charles Xavier’s dream.  But of late he’s really taken the D-bag and A-hole tendencies to the next level.  How much, you ask?  How about he turns evil, murders Charles Xavier, and then has the audacity to tell Magento, his long-time arch-enemy, that he’s better at being a villain because he’s “winning”.  Yeah, you tell him, Charlie Sheen!  I look forward to the day you get your head handed to you and Magneto simply tells you “Welcome to my world.”

The Moody-Brooder – Okay, if we’re talking Batman, I can understand.  He’s a moody rich kid with issues.  “Lots of issues.”  But the idea that a hero needs to be cold and brooding as part of their standard operating procedure is really disturbing, even when it’s their personal life.  Seriously, how do you have a personal life if it’s spent being silent and skulking?  As someone who suffers from that kind of problem in the real world I can tell you that you really don’t have a “personal life” when you’re that way.

The new incarnation of Superman in the “Man of Steel” movie is a moody-brooder.  Captain America in Marvel’s “The Avengers” is a bitter moody-brooder punching exercise bags one right after another.

How bad is this trend?  Well they had Wonder Woman brooding at one point!  The embodiment of truth and beauty spending her time brooding and alone.  And not just in the comics!  In the un-aired pilot TV series by David E. Kelley, Wonder Woman actually set up a secret identity just so she could spend her time being a moody-brooder!

You know what made Spider-Man so popular?  He seems to be having fun!  He’s giving wise-cracks and calling people names, even when he takes things seriously.  (By the way, this is also what drives the popularity of Deadpool, although he’s certainly not a hero, even if he associates himself with them.)  No matter how miserable his life was at the time, no matter how bad the people of New York treated him, no matter how many insults J. Jonah Jameson dished out, Spider-Man was always seen as cheerful and happy.  Maybe it’s a crutch, but it is a crutch that works.

The Neurotic - “Project Alice” in the “Resident Evil” movies collects coins in the post-apocalyptic T-virus zombie world.  Elektra in her own self-titled movie suffers from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, so much so that you wonder how she’s able to leave her home.  Bruce Wayne in the Tim Burton “Batman” movie cannot sleep in bed like a normal person.  He has to sleep upside-down like a bat, which, I understand, can be life-threaening.  Seriously, this takes “flawed” to the next level!

The “Clueless” Super-Intelligent - I don’t know how many times I’ve watched the “Iron Man” movies and see Tony Stark, one of the supposedly smartest men in the world, fail to actually explain what he is up to.  It’s the pompous “I’m so smart I’ve re-written the Periodic Table before breakfast” mindset, which in “Iron Man 2” is really not an exaggeration.

It is one thing to be super-smart, but it’s another to be too smart for your own mouth.  Seriously, how much of “Iron Man 2” could have been shaved off if Tony simply opened his damned mouth and told either the love of his life or his best friend what was really going on with him?  So much damned drama could’ve been avoided!

The Hate-Hero – I’ve considered this the standard hero template for all of the heroes seen in the CW Network, previously known as The WB.  I consider this the “Hate-Hero” rather than the “Anti-Hero” because an anti-hero is someone that ends up being a hero that doesn’t really want to be.  Han Solo in “Star Wars”, for instance, is really an anti-hero.  A “Hate-Hero” on the other hand is someone that seems to have a perverse hatred for the “hero” title and doesn’t want to ever be associated with a hero even though that is precisely who they are and how they operate.

The best example of the Hate-Hero idea is the ten-season TV series known as “Smallville” that appeared first on The WB and then on the CW. 

The initial idea of “Smallville” was that it was supposed to be about Clark Kent before he became Superman and growing up just outside the little Kansas town that the series is named after.  The premise was a good one in the beginning, because they wanted to show the character as he’s growing up and not in the idealized way originally portrayed in the “Superboy” comic series by “Superman” creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster in the 1950’s.  Their “Superboy” was, simply put, “Superman as a boy”, with all of the heroic traits and experience and powers already there.  “Smallville” wanted a different take, so the producers expressly prohibited their “Clark” from doing anything remotely connected to either “Superman” or “Superboy”.  Part of the reason for that was an ongoing lawsuit by the heirs of Siegel and Shuster over the legal rights to “Superboy” and anything associated with it.

This idea was fine for the first four seasons, while Clark Kent was going through high school and just starting to figure out that he’s “not from around here”.  But then after the fourth season, at a point when Clark would show up at the Fortress of Solitude for the first time like in the 1978 movie, and it was expected that he would start to become Superman, the producers decided to turn Clark into a super-powered slacker that positively hated the very idea of being a hero.  He didn’t want to wear a costume.  He even hated capes!  And they continued with that for six seasons.  A superhero with an absolute hatred of everything about being a superhero and a refusal to accept that he is one!  Even one of the seasoned superheroes in a two-part episode made a very blatant note of Clark’s refusal to accept his role.

And it’s not just limited to “Smallville”.  During the same time that “Smallville” was starting, there was a series called “The Birds of Prey” that was set in Tim Burton’s Batman world but where the heroes were expressly forbidden to wear their costumes!  There was the pilot for “Aquaman” where Aquaman didn’t really call himself that.  There’s the current series “Arrow” with Oliver Queen who goes around as “The Hood” and despises the suggestion of calling himself “Green Arrow”.  And there’s a planned series called “Amazon” which is supposed to be like “Smallville” but with Diana as a non-Wonder Woman version of Wonder Woman.

Seriously, this hate-hero concept is probably the worst of the “new heroic traits”, partially because it seems to be the easiest to impose by TV executives that want to scrimp on wardrobe and special effects costs.

Let’s get brutally honest here… the reason why traditional heroes are so memorable is because they are larger-than-life!  Or, at least, larger than our own lives.  When you try to “humanize” them by making them flawed, by making them neurotic, by making them despise their very identity, you tear at one of the core reasons why they are who they are.

Think for a minute about some of the classic heroes.  Did anyone ask if Perseus had a fear of snakes when he fought Medusa?  Did anyone recall the time when Hercules hated his name and feared showing off his super-strength?  Did the Biblical hero Samson hate his hair and wanted to hide it all the time?

Obviously they weren’t.  And that’s part of the reason why we still remember them today.  We don’t remember the flaws.  We only remember who they are and what they did.

Heroes are not just powers and costumes and a catchy code-name.  It’s who they are and what they do.  Heroes are seen as iconic because they don’t appear to be hindered by the flaws and human failings that the rest of us suffer from.  And in doing so, they encourage us to transcend our own flaws and failings and hold ourselves up to a higher standard.  They reflect our ideals of who we all could become.  While giving them flaws may make for good drama, and as a writer I can certainly appreciate that, writers and producers have to remember that what makes these people heroes goes beyond the failings that limit the rest of us.


Monday, September 23, 2013

Week of 09/23/2013

No, Syria Was NOT Ours To Solve
– by David Matthews 2

Well it appears that we just dodged a bullet concerning the mess with Syria.

Instead of dropping bombs and firing missiles, we’re sending diplomats and firing off terms to negotiate how Russia will handle Syria’s weapons of mass destruction.  The guys that helped make the mess and encouraged the mess are supposedly going to oversee cleaning up the mess.

That’s good.  That’s called responsibility.  You’d think that the cons and neo-cons would be all for that, right?

So we should be breathing a sigh of relief right now.  We’re not having to get involved in yet another Middle East conflict.  We’re not having to put planes in the air and firing off missiles and hearing the daily body count from the air-fluffed ego-driven media.

Have you noticed that the price of gasoline has dropped since we backed away from the brink?  Big Oil doesn’t have the excuse to pilfer the average American like they’ve been doing with every Middle East crisis.  Some sheik stubs his toe and the price at the pump goes up a few pennies per gallon.  Some warlord threatens to unleash hell and gas prices soar.  But now that we’re not bombing, the prices are going down.

That’s good, right?

Hey, we defied the script!  That is not easy to do!  This is the same script that drove us into Iraq.  That told us that we had to get involved with Libya.  That tells us that we need to confront North Korea whenever their egomaniacal leadership feels a little neglected.  That always looks for new battles for us to fight around the world and tells us that “only we” can fight these battles.  “Only we” can save the world.  “Only we” can “police” it.

We actually said “No” to that script!  We told the FoxNews “experts” and the bloodlust chickenhawks to go pound sand.  Good for us!  That’s long overdue!

Well now we have to hear the whining from those behind the script.  The people that were denied their self-promised “blood and treasure”.

They tell us that Syria should have been “ours” to solve.  That we “should have” been the ones to step in and held their strongman to account for his criminal acts.  After all, it was President Barack Obama that drew that supposed “red line” and promised action if Syria’s thug Bashar Assad used chemical weapons on his own people.  “The world” supposedly turned to the United States for action, not Russia.  And what did we do?  We handed it off to Russia, the very country that supplied Assad with his weapons and then blocked any action from the United Nations.

It was “ours to win” say the defenders of the script.  How dare Obama deprive them of their “win”!

No, they’re wrong.  Dead wrong. 

Let’s get brutally honest here… Syria was never “ours to win”.  And it was never “ours to win” for many reasons.

First of all, what the hell were we supposed to “win” anyway?  At least with Iraq, the script argued that there was oil.  Granted, any promise of oil was thrown down the toilet later on, but at least there was supposedly something for America to gain with Iraq.

What are we supposed to gain in Syria?  Huh?  Is there some sort of hidden cache of money?  Maybe the body of Jimmy Hoffa?  Amelia Earhart’s plane?  Joseph Smith’s Golden Plates?

Remember all of those “weapons of mass destruction” that the people behind the script swore on a stack of bibles were in Iraq ten years ago?  How many did we actually find?  Try one.  And it was one that we didn’t even know Saddam Hussein had!

So what is it that we would have “won”?

Ego.  That is all that we would have “won”.

This was all so a gang of preening former soldiers can bring in a paycheck as “military advisors” to Fox News; second-guessing the actual generals and armchair-quarterbacking foreign policy from the comforts of their cushy special interest offices.  It’s so chickenhawk politicians can beat their chests and preach like dimestore ministers about “American Exceptionalism” and “Manifest Destiny”, all the while complaining that Obama wasn’t “doing enough”.

The argument could have been made that Syria was “our” conflict to join in… back when it was a simple act of revolt against Assad’s rule.  Back when the chief organizers and encouragers of that revolt were pushing for a more democratic system of government… you know, the kind of system that we here in America pretend to share with that whole “American Exceptionalism” delusion.

Unfortunately for us, at that time, the people behind the same script were telling us that the revolt was a “bad thing”.  It seems these supposed “experts” can’t tell the difference between the Arab Spring – the people behind the push for more-secular democratic governing in the Middle East – and the Muslim Brotherhood, who want Islamic-dominated theocracies.  So when the Arab Spring people were pushing the Middle East towards more-secular democracies, the people behind the script were saying “No!  These are Muslim Brotherhood people!  We hate these people!  We can’t let them win!”

So we sat on our hands when the revolt was one we could have made a difference in.  And now that it’s become a mess, the script changes and now we are “supposed” to get involved.

Isn’t it funny how the people behind the script were telling us not to get involved when it could have really mattered, then turned around and told us we “needed” to get involved when it became a huge fuster-cluck.  It’s almost as if they really want America to fail, doesn’t it?  After all, it would be on Obama’s head if it did, right?  You know, the Nobel Peace Prize recipient being dragged into yet another military conflict.

But, thankfully, we don’t have to worry about that now, because we’ve passed the burden off to the Russians. 

Let’s have the Chippendale-wannabe Vlad Putin put his and his country’s reputations on the line in the global arena for once.  If he fails, then at least the people behind the script will be ready, willing, and eager to say “We told you so”.  And then the next time trouble raises its ugly head, Putin won’t be so eager to complain about America’s self-appointed role as the world’s policeman.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Week of 09/16/2013

Microsoft’s Ending Era of Ballmer Blunders
– by David Matthews 2

So Microsoft strongman Steve Ballmer is heading out the door… eventually.

It hasn’t happened by the time of this article, and it probably won’t happen for a few more months, but he will be gone at some point in 2014.

Steve Ballmer took over the reins of the software giant from founder Bill Gates in 2006, even though he held the “title” of “Chief Executive Officer” as far back as 2000.  And since then, Microsoft has… well it’s floundered.

Oh, sure, the entity known as “Microsoft” is making money, but it’s really not the tech powerhouse that it was in the preceding decade.  They’ve expanded beyond just doing software and some PC-related devices.  Now they’re doing whole tablet computers and cellphones.  And yet people would rather buy an iPad or an iPhone or play with PlayStation than get anything with a Microsoft name attached to it.

Now, granted, the anti-Microsoft and the Cult of the Apple extremists (and they are legion) will have all sorts of things to say about the company that “The Better Bill” built, and none of them good.  That is to be expected.  But I’m not in that crowd.  I don’t buy the script that says “Microsoft stole everything from everyone and they’re nothing more than technological parasites”.  If that is your personal malfunction with the company, then so be it.

On the other hand, I’m not an MS Purist either.  I’m not one of those people that worship all things Microsoft.  I wouldn’t be writing this kind of article if that were the case.  Microsoft is a company, nothing more.  It is not a church, it is not the end-all-be-all deity behind the Internet, and it is far from being infallible.  They provide a decent operating system, an Office suite that sets the bar for everyone else, and every so often they come up with a pretty good game like Halo.

If anything, Ballmer’s run of Microsoft has been more treading water than trying to advance any kind of a vision of how Microsoft sees itself helping society.  And that exposes pretty much the fundamental difference between Ballmer and Gates.  With Gates you had some kind of vision, like the kind seen in his book “The Road Ahead”.  With Ballmer you just have… well, whatever Microsoft has at the time.

Ballmer thinks that his letdown was with Windows Vista, but… let’s get brutally honest here… that was just the tip of the iceberg concerning the Ballmer Blunders.  His failings are numerous.

But let’s start with that one.

Windows Vista: Where to begin with this?  The concept was good, but the “successor to XP” was clearly not ready for prime time when it was released.  Yes, that’s par for Windows, but you would think that these guys would have learned by now.

Then there are the multiple versions of Vista, including a version that was Vista in name only.  Why the hell would people want a Vista-lite system that is “Vista” in name only?  Granted, not all computers can handle the new toys, but that’s been par for years now.  It means you wait until you can get the faster computer that can handle the new operating system.  Why was that so hard to comprehend, Steve?

Then, instead of trying to get into the good graces and make it into a workable operating system that people would embrace, Ballmer and Microsoft simply write the whole operating system off and told people “Just wait until Windows 7!”

No!  Wrong!  You don’t convince people they need to embrace the new operating system and then throw it under the bus!

That brings us right to the next Ballmer Blunder, which made throwing Vista under the bus even more of an insult…

Throwing Windows XP Under The Bus: So not long after Vista came out, Ballmer decided it was time for PC users to stop using all of those previous operating systems and embrace the new shiny.  He wanted to kill Windows XP right then and there.  People had to switch and switch right then and there.

Of course the PC community revolted and they petitioned Ballmer to relent, so Ballmer gave the XP crowd six more years.  But they shouldn’t even have had to petition!  This was just a stupid idea from the get-go.  You don’t convince people to upgrade by forcing them to!

Speaking of the premature death of XP…

Recession? What Recession? Here’s a little tip for the folks in the tech world… when you are in a global recession; when your job, your bank account, and your home are all in danger, you are not going to be looking to buy new computers with all-new operating systems simply because the CEO of Microsoft says so.

Businesses that are afraid they won’t be around any longer will not spend money on new computers.  Department heads that are afraid they will be out of a job soon will not request money to get new computers.  Parents that may or may not have a roof over their heads will not spend money to get new computers.  Schools that discover their budgets are about to be slashed to the bone because houses are falling into foreclosure like dominos will not spend money to get new computers.  You are simply going to make do with what you have until you can afford to do otherwise.

If all of these things do not factor into your heads, then you fail basic economics.

Throwing Windows 7 Under The Bus: So we went from XP to Vista.  Vista was buggy, so Ballmer throws it under the bus and launches Windows 7.  Then, before anyone can get used to Windows 7, Ballmer launches Windows 8, which is so different from all of the previous operating systems that it makes the changes in Windows 7 from Vista trivial.

So if you want people to abandon XP, why shove a completely different operating system down our gullets, Steve?  Windows 7 was workable.  You get more people to play with it, you get more companies to develop software for it, and you get people to like it and they’ll stop playing with XP.

Then there is…

Throwing The Desktop Under The Bus: What is it with Steve and throwing things under the bus?  Every previous incarnation of Windows operated with a desktop and a “Start” button.  You turn on the computer and you’re greeted to a desktop with a nice wallpaper image and widgets and your favorite icons and a “Start” button to access the rest of the programs. 

Now, with Windows 8, you start inside the “Start” menu itself.  The “desktop” exists only as a novelty item.  Well isn’t that just mighty generous of Microsoft to do that for us “old timers”, huh?  All of those people that spent thirteen years or so designing wallpapers and desktop icons and desktop themes can still have their little nostalgia moments while the rest of the computer is made to work like an oversized cellphone!  I can’t even dignify it by comparing it to a “smartphone” because it would give the pretense of there being something “smart” about the decision!

Surface… and Surface? There are actually two computer systems named “Surface” that Microsoft came up with, but only one of them is actually good.

The first “Surface” system was a super-smart literal active desktop.  And I don’t mean “desktop” like in Windows XP.  I mean “desktop” as in an actual surface that you put stuff on top.  You put your digital camera on it, and it downloads the pictures from the camera so you can display them and stretch them and move them about.  You put your cellphone on it and you can share documents or contact lists or even make phone calls all without having to pick the phone back up.

This isn’t science fiction.  This is real!

And yet the only place where you see it right now are TV shows like “Hawaii Five-O”.

Then there is the other “Surface”.  The table laptop system with the stupid commercials.

That brings me to…

The Dancing Dumb@sses! Pop quiz: you’re promoting your first-ever actual hardware product and you’re wanting to out-do your competition that has been doing this since the 1980’s.  How do you showcase all of the new features in your new combination laptop and tablet computer?

If you’re Steve Ballmer, you hire a bunch of dancing dumb@sses to prance around to a techno-beat to show off the least-attractive feature… the “clickable” keyboard.

Seriously, Steve, were you even awake when the ad guys asked to go ahead with this?

Xbox and Blu-Ray: Okay, I know you guys bet on the wrong video format.  You bet the farm on the HD DVD format instead of Blu-Ray for your Xbox 360 game system, and you blew it.  But why didn’t you admit failure and come up with a Blu-Ray accessory?  Instead, you try to tell people that they would much rather download movies instead of playing them on a disc loaded with more than just movies.

Then there is…

Kinect: There is a basic rule that entertainment executives of all mediums apparently do not comprehend, and that is that some gimmicks are not universal.  Kinect is one of those gimmicks.  It’s a nice motion-and-voice-detection system, but that doesn’t mean you can translate every single game into one.  Some times you need a good old-fashioned joystick, not standing around pretending to have one.

DRM: This is a rip-off from birth. I understand that Ballmer hates open-source, but this obsession with Digital Rights Management really puts the screws to all Microsoft users.

For Office users, DRM means you don’t really “own” your copy of Microsoft Office like you did with earlier versions.  You are now leasing it with a year-to-year license.  It’s not even on your computer anymore.  It’s on the “cloud”, which means you have to be online to use it.  Sucks to be you if your Internet provider is bad.

It gets worse for the new Xbox One.  For a while you needed to be online all the time in order to use the system, but apparently Microsoft relented, or so they say.  It’s still a few months away from actual release, so we won’t know until then whether Microsoft will make the same mistakes as Diablo III and SimCity.  They’re certainly not winning any support with the gaming crowd.

All of these things are Ballmer Blunders, folks.  They are all part of the eventual transformation from a company that provided things to better the human condition to one that is simply fixated on making their profit margins.  From a company led by a man with a vision to one that is led by a man looking to make money and worrying about the future when it happens.

One can only hope that after Ballmer leaves, that Microsoft would be put in charge of someone with a vision again.  Someone that will see technology and not just wonder how they can monetize it to the extreme.  Maybe that’s asking too much in today’s pervasive and persistent parasitic philosophy of plunder, but if Microsoft wants to continue to survive, never mind regain its status as a tech titan, then it certainly needs someone that can dream instead of just someone that can count money.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Week of 09/09/2013

Hang Up And… Oh Just Hang Up!
– by David Matthews 2

I finally figured out why they call them “smartphones”.

Because they’re designed for really dumb people.

As way of disclaimer, let me say that I don’t have a “smartphone”.  At best I have a “scam”-phone.  It has basic functions… namely it does calls, text messages, videos, pictures, it can store music (if I spend money for an extra microSD card), handles Bluetooth devices, has a flip-out QWERTY keypad, and it’s supposedly capable of doing apps.  But all of the apps I’ve found I either have to purchase or they’re “free” for a limited time and then I’m charged if I continue to use them.  Plus all of those apps require me to go online, and if I can’t afford to pay for a data package with my phone, then I’m paying extra on top of that.  My phone bill is expensive as is.

Needless to say, I don’t have the phone that allows me to do all of those neat goodies everyone talks about.  And maybe that’s a good thing, because I’ve seen what happens to the people that use them.

We seem to think that we can use these phones along with doing all of the other things in our lives and that somehow we won’t miss a beat.  Yes, I know that some people call that “multi-tasking”.  I call it “multi-retardation”, because you’re consciously making yourself stupid at more than one task.

Like the person that decides to take a quick snapshot of their feet while lounging by the beach.  Really, are you that lazy that you can’t even bother to pick yourself up from lying down to take a decent picture?  Why should we have to stare at your feet anyway?  That may be your fetish, but that doesn’t mean it should be all of ours too.  Seriously, we don’t need to see Anthony Weiner’s wiener, and we don’t need to see your feet!

How about being convinced that we “have” to buy the latest-greatest phone on the market?  Why?  What’s wrong with your current phone other than it’s not “the latest”?  It’s one thing to be getting a new phone if your current one is a piece of crap or it is so old that it looks like a walkie-talkie.  But why get the new one “just because”?  If they’re not giving the phones away, then you’re throwing anywhere up to two hundred dollars down the drain every six months “just because”!  Now that is stupid!

Not only that, but the wireless providers have found a way to profit off that stupidity, offering “new phone” deals that have you pay extra money just so you can have that “latest-greatest”.

We all know that talking on the phone while driving is bad, but we still do it.  We also text while driving, which is much worse.  Have you ever tried to type with a QWERTY keypad?  It’s not easy!  You need both hands to hold the phone and type, so how are you able to drive a car at the same time?  You need at least a third hand and the human body only has two at most!  And that’s not considering the brainpower needed to keep vigilant on all of the vehicles and objects around you, maintaining the proper speed, maintaining your lane, watching out for that truck that… oops, here comes a text message, it’s your best friend sending you a picture of the lunch she should have simply eaten instead of trying to post on Twitter like it’s… Oh cr----

Yes, it can happen that fast and that easy.  We know this, we’ve seen it on the news too many times, we’ve read about it in the newspapers, and yet we are fatalistically stupid enough to continue to do it!  And we justify it by claiming that we’re “too busy” to give our full attention to something as critical as driving.

But, you know, we’re stupid.  That’s why some of us need a “smart” phone.

The problem is that it’s just not “smart” enough to handle our stupidity.

Let’s get brutally honest here… some of us need more than just “smart” phones.  We need super-intelligent phones.  We need “super-smart-phones” that are not just smarter than us, but they need to pretty much do our thinking for us because we clearly cannot think at all when we use them.

We need a “super-smart” phone that knows when to shut itself down when we’re at the movies so we aren’t pissing off the people around us with dumb Tweets from our friends, or our annoying ringtones that seemed “so cool” at one time.  We need a “super-smart” phone that tells us that food is meant to be eaten, not photographed and posted by people that pretend to be “critics”.

We need a “super-smart” phone that knows when we’re driving so it can leave a message for the people that call us.  Something along the lines of “The person you are trying to reach is engaged in a far more important task than to accept a phone call.  Please leave your name and number and they will call you back when they arrive at their destination.”  And it would also have to be smart enough to not let us call out or make text messages while we’re behind the wheel and the car is in motion.  Hey, if your phone is smart enough to get live traffic reports and track your location through GPS, then it should be smart enough to know when you shouldn’t be using it.

We need a “super-smart” phone that says “Hey lady, stop trying to listen to your messages and pay attention to the people around you in the grocery store!  You and your three tax credits you call children are blocking up the isle and people behind you are getting pissed!”

We need a “super-smart” phone that reminds people when their conversations become too loud.  Or when their use of an app is just too annoying.  Or when they need to stop playing Fruit Ninja or Candy Crush or Angry Birds and focus on what’s going on around them.

We need a “super-smart” phone that can tell us that we don’t need to throw two hundred dollars away every six months just because the “latest greatest” model is available.  At the very least it should have an app that knows when you’re waiting in line at the Apple store like sheep so it can play a repetitive jingle “Yes I’m an idiot, and it shows!  Yes I’m an idiot, and it shows!”

Or… we could save ourselves some needless stress, drama, and risks (not to mention some much-needed money) by growing a brain and actually using that brain to turn our supposed “smart” phones off.

Because there is no app in the world that can actually replace the human brain.

Even though some of us desperately need one.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Week of 09/02/2013

The Labor Script Is A Lie
– by David Matthews 2

There is a particular script that gets pulled out anytime the discussion comes up about raising the federal minimum wage or trying to set up a so-called “living wage”.  Champions of the status quo will roll their eyes and give a condescending sigh and then pretend to “educate” people with this prefabricated script that suggests that you can’t do that without rising prices of goods to unrealistic levels, like having to pay $6 for a Big Mac.

The script, as crafted by Wall Street and regurgitated through conservatives and neo-conservatives and their paid whores in talk radio and cable news channels, says that wages are determined through a delicate balance of cost versus profit.  The greater the profit, the more money the employer has to invest back into the business and thus increase the wages of the employees according to their value to the company.

That’s the theory that they drag out and recite as religious gospel in the Most-High Extremist Cult of Capitalism.  Holy, holy, praise the almighty God-given profit!

And on the face of it, I would tend to agree with the theory.

If it was being practiced as they preach it to be.

But then you come across stories about how fast food companies are making sizable profits while still keeping workers at minimum wage and how they could afford to pay more but choose not to.  And, yes, according to one source that includes those fast food places deemed “franchise-owned”.

And then you come across a report that says that workers at almost all levels have been dealing with stagnant wages for the past decade, even during those pre-Recession times when big corporations were posting record profits.  We’re talking stifling wages for almost every employment level.  Except, of course, for the ones up at the very top. The CEOs that were getting record wages while the rest of American workers were told to scrimp and struggle and make do with what little they had and goddamn it they have to like it and beg for seconds.

So riddle me this, capitalist crusaders: when you pompously dictate a certain script to the masses about the only way they could get better wages and then you refuse to adhere to that dictate, what does that make you?

It makes you a goddamned self-serving hypocrite.  Granted, it can make you a rich goddamned self-serving hypocrite, but a goddamned self-serving hypocrite nonetheless.

Let’s get brutally honest here… there is no excuse for the business world to play this sort of game. If you claim that employee wages are determined by profit, and then hold on to that profit and keep wages lower than the cost of living so you can make even more profit, then you’re not just making yourself into a liar.  You’re also making that very script into a goddamed lie!

It’s even worse when the business world then uses that same script to justify the outrageous salaries of CEOs.  Follow along here: corporate “genius” keeps employee wages low, which keeps overhead low and thus boosts profit margins, which makes corporate investors happy, who then turn around and give the “genius” a bigger paycheck.  The same script that is used to justify the CEO’s over-inflated pay is proven false when it comes to everyone else down the totem pole.

I haven’t even needed to bring up Wal-Mart’s reported program of telling employees to enroll for food stamps; or McDonald’s arrogant, condescending, unrealistic, and insulting “McBudget” website – partnered by a Too Big To Fail institution no less! – that actually tells its minimum wage workers that they need to get a second job in order to pay for their already unrealistic lowball expectations of what food, utilities, and insurance should cost.  This is not just insulting; it actually makes the “Let Them Eat Cake” mindset of 18th Century French nobility seem downright philanthropic.

This goes way beyond miserly greed.  We’re talking institutionalized and systematic malicious hoarding.  The very mindset that created the need for unions; that sparked revolutions in the 18th Century; that even led to the invention of the guillotine.  You would think that these supposed “geniuses” would be smart enough to learn from the lessons of history, wouldn’t you?

I get that businesses want to make as much money as they can.  I don’t blame executives for doing everything they can to achieve that.  But if you expect the masses to accept your script, then you need to actually live up to it and apply it for everyone; not just for those so-called “geniuses” at the top.  Don’t just roll your eyes and try to sell us a script that we know from experience is a lie.