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Alex Baer

Pinging in the Brain

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Some stories seem to fade as soon as they appear, while others keep popping back into awareness, wanted or not.

In the language of The Hunt for Red October, which we screened again Sunday, some stories are "one-ping-only," while others pull "Crazy Ivans" for months and months at a whack.

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Yes, we have no TV access in our Little Boonieville, so our screen is used in a quaint, old-fashioned way, as a monitor for selected discs -- movies, documentaries, TV shows.  Yes, we miss the still somewhat-sane channels, like PBS or BBC, but we do not yearn for the wallet-hosing expenses associated with cable, satellite dishes, pay-per-peek, uplinks, downloads, nor wireless brain-stem implants, where you change channels by winking and wincing.

So, instead of submersing ourselves into the Neanderthal abyss of the fleshed-wall-slamming, faux-warfaring antics of Concussive Brain Damage Theater, aka The Big Game, we sank down instead to the Bigger Deep, and ran the gamut of the Laurentian Abyss instead.

No, we're not snobs, we're simply not gluttons for punishment or pain.  I mean, how many clanging, banging, crunching, clashing crashes does anyone have to watch to keep reproving what is already known -- that there are immovable objects and irresistible forces, and that most people attend NASCAR events, and football, for the gladiatorial bloodletting they hope will appear?

Or, for that matter, that humans, once bulked up, and Hulked-up, to the size of small landmasses, via the joy of mad-scientist chemistry sets run amok, are capable of swatting away opponents, such as Jeep Cherokees, with relative ease?

Or, for that matter, that the rare and precious gift of squeezing out perfect pigskin spirals is on a heavenly financial plane far above that of the grubbier chores of, say, merely leading a country, or readying children for their lives, or helping the elderly and ill transition away from their own?

I mean, have fun, consenting adults everywhere, but everyone gets to choose where to hang his or her entertainment and party hats.  (Just now,  I'd rather indulge in well-done fiction to almost any version of actual reality.  I chalk up this reaction to Major Disbelief Syndrome, from actually paying attention to [involuntary shudder] the GOP duh-bates.)

Last Updated on Monday, 08 February 2016 22:26 Read more...

Landmark Decisions

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And now, a word about Landmark Decisions:  Boxy.

(No, not like the hyper vlogger, nor like those who boil down everything to thinking in-or-outside of that very same box -- but, well, squarish.  You know, like a box -- not, um, square-ish, like not being hip or very uncool.  Uh, to quote a Monty Python sketch:  Wait, I'll come in again...)

As I began:  Landmark Decisions -- no, wait, hang on, hang on.  No running away in panic is required here.  There'll be no airing of legal briefs, or any other kind, here today -- much to the relief of all concerned.

No, I was starting to warm up on the weirdly interwoven subjects of Time, Change, Culture, Cars, and Architecture.

Cars changed everything. (The vehicles, I mean -- although "Just What I Needed" surely shifted the landscape of the time a bit.)

As more Americans bought cars and became mobile, a sudden need bloomed for service providers all along their expanding driving routes -- restaurants, gas stations, places to sleep.  The country went from sedate and, well, country-fied, to urgently urban, if not yet urbane.

The pace of change then was the beginning sign of just how quickly things were to continue changing in the decades and century ahead.  Almost overnight, entrepreneurs and speculators streamed in to fill the need of these wandering carloads of spend-thrifts.

Here and there, a sense of advertising and brand identity took hold -- although it would be a very long time before anyone would define the notions as such, mostly because the need to defend a $699.99 pricetag on a pair of sneakers was still decades away.

As competition grew among roadway service providers, the occasional good humor of the snack bar building shaped like a hot dog or ice cream bar grew, too.  Such architectural shout-outs were no longer done simply to humor grandpa's idea of amusing artistic statement and tourism draw -- they were being done to stand out and to be seen, apart from all the rest of the hash-slingers who also hoped to snag a few bucks worth of business from the waterfalls of customers hurtling past in early land yachts.

That was then:  the birth of the Roadside Attraction.  You've seen them in movies (probably a hut which looks like a doughnut or a hot dog), or books (milk-bottle-shaped cafes), or in history books (jug taverns or even tacky wigwam motor courts) -- even in cartoons (the Brown Derby, anyone?).

Then, the nation decided we needed to go a whole faster, and cars kept up with that speed of thought -- but, the roads didn't.  So, we abandoned a wealth of Americana along what became the back roads and scenic routes, and we slid into the fast lane of freeways.

We're going faster, and arriving faster, and are no happier for it, I would argue.

Of course, this may be a Zen thing, where the journey is at least as important (if not more so) as arriving at the destination.  I imagine it depends if you're into the hurry-scurry, helter-skelter sort of a constantly-electrocuted-living lifestyle or not.

Looking out the window on the freeway now at -- there is nothing, or worse, these long, low squashed-flat boxes of buildings with all the invitation and charm of a rusted-through, bent-up tent peg.  Less, even.

No time for art, or for buildings shaped like food, or what is sold inside.  Utility is king, as is flexibility,  for today's thriving business is tomorrow's pension-fund-drained bankruptcy, and XYZ Corp., which makes bovine and dairy calipers and grips will not want to house its headquarters inside a giant, scary-not-funny clown's head.

No, the first right of refusal on a building shaped like an enormous psycho-clown head?  That should absolutely belong to the Republican National Committee, then, if they turn down such a righteous opportunity for truth in advertising, the offers should go even further downhill -- hey, it is possible, you've seen the proof yourself --  from there, to Koch Industries, say, the Heritage Foundation, to Fox, and so on, all the way down to the toadstool-dregs such as fifth-tier right-wingnut radio talk-show hosts, GOP Congresspeople, and useless dipsticks like Frank Luntz.

No, the only visual interruption or enrichment from the freeway is from what I call the Disney-World of ConsumptionLand -- what other people call Factory Outlet Stores and Malls.  If you've never seen these acre-gulping sprawls, it appears they landed as intact fleets, as MotherShips to Capitalism, BOOM, landed, set explosive anchors and turn on the plumbing.

From the outside, the variety of architecture at these spots is arresting, eye-grabbing, but diabetic -- too saccharine-sweet, and too high a dose all at once.  After the flatlands of natural growth, or the specific intentions of box-shaped buildings, ConsumptionLand leaves your eyeballs, brain, and spirit gasping for insulin and Dramamine.

These festive buildings of turreted towers and crenelated battlements are impressive, albeit in a stage-prop, false-front way, perfectly mirroring our Consumption Economy.

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Last Updated on Monday, 08 February 2016 18:13 Read more...

Tales of Doctor Truebeem

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It would be so much easier if election laws specified a new tag line at the end of every candidate's campaign ad:  a one-line summation of what, exactly, the candidate's overall goal, plan, and aim was all about.

I think you'll admit the current format doesn't help much, where the candidate is heard saying, "I'm M. T. Poseur, [or Ecoli Ebola-Zika, or whoever] and I approved this message."

This gets into trickier ground, though, of course.  Who is to say what, exactly, any candidate really, truly stands for -- what he or she really hopes to accomplish?  It triggers the whole who-watches-the-watchers Orwellian nightmare.

Still, I cannot help but be struck by how much more helpful it would be to have some human activity or artifice which would help us cut through all the smoke, fog, and baloney, and get down to cases.

Last Updated on Sunday, 07 February 2016 16:35 Read more...

Good 'n' Plenty

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This way to the time machine:  Back when one had to fight pterodactyls in the schoolyard at recess, in order to keep hold of one's snacks, there was a terrible candy called Good & Plenty.  It was white and day-glow, neon pink, before there was day-glow anything, and only just as neon was itself being tamed to do electrical tricks.

It was terrible junk -- a chalky outer shell with a hard, black licorice center -- but, it was dirt cheap.  It was also pay dirt for the non-discriminating 5-year-old on a budget.

Yes, the downside was that it was horrible, but the upside was that there was a lot of it.  Somehow, the combination worked.  Such is youth.

Now, if you'll step over here, back to the future, and up through the Now Tube into today again, where we left it a sec ago, there's an even better winning situation at hand,  and I expect the radical right -- are there any non-radical right-wingers left? -- will be shrieking good 'n' plenty about it.

The big fuss?  Gummint daring to intrude again, telling people what they can and cannot do, trying to fix everything, going where they have no business being...

Yes, just imagine the outrage:  minimizing the downsides and maximizing the upsides -- how dare they!

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Last Updated on Friday, 05 February 2016 21:37 Read more...

Checks Bounced Daily

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Let me guess:  You're short of breath, your palms are sweaty, and you're not sure where to run and hide.  In fact, you suspect this could be the Big One, ala Fred Sanford's eternal get-ready warning to the previously departed Elizabeth.  You imagine this must be how the first lungfish felt, when they heaved themselves out of the primordial ooze, and up onto the shore, trying to evolve workable lungs, right on the spot, while hanging out in a Darwinesque While-You-Wait Bait and Tackle Shoppe.

Don't worry about it.  It's only one of a couple things -- or, maybe, today's combo platter.  I mean, it could be your body struggling with a severe disease or sudden medical condition, but, I'd urge caution here.  This is a year evenly divisible by four -- so, your symptoms could mean at least three different things:

  1. It's an election year, so all bets on Corralling the Crazy are off.
  2. It's a leap year, and your subconscious is launching you into that time vortex early.
  3. You've just heard that Trump's VP will be Martin Shkreli.

There -- feeling better?

No, really -- what you're feeling is simply a normal reaction to modern life and to ourselves, and to Our Little American Fantasy World, where no one pays the slightest attention to facts.

We have a clear majority of news media members who believe their jobs concern entertaining the audience, pandering to the lowest common denominator for ad-revenue eyeballs, and they want nothing to do with informing a dazed electorate or watchdogging wielders of power.

We also have a clear majority of self-inflated politicians who are self-contained perfect vacuums of dark matter, dust motes, and absolute zero, who campaign based on the latest polls, and on the latest red-alert, red-phone calls from major contributors and PACs which are themselves in the throes of cerebral meltdowns.

We also have potentials voters -- and/or random party-hardy party-crashers and assorted camp followers -- all a-dither and a-drool, in various stages of emotional fevers and brain stem overheating, jumping into the fray like flailing mosh-pitters on doses of meth and steroids normally reserved only for intramural elephant-juggling.

Then, we cover everything in the major food groups (salt, sugar, fat, beer, and chocolate)... then we dust it all with trainloads of sparkly stuff and confetti... then we chop down its attention span to just under two whole seconds, making damn sure, along the way, that all memory functions of longer than a week or are definitely axed out with a hatchet, put through a stump grinder, and flushed out to sea.

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Last Updated on Thursday, 04 February 2016 20:55 Read more...

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