Entertainers

On his blog today, Dilbert creator Scott Adams wonders why people get so bent out of shape about the likes of Glenn Beck or Rush Limbaugh.

During the peak ratings years of The Jerry Springer Show — an alleged reality show — a fight would break out among the guests during almost every episode. It seemed obvious to me that these fights were orchestrated by the producers. What are the odds that a fight would break out during every episode and yet no one would ever get hurt or arrested?

The surprising thing is that everyone I talked to about the show during its glory years believed the fighting was genuine and spontaneous. I found that level of gullibility to be mind boggling.

All of this gets me to Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck. Both of them have been in the news a lot for their outspoken and controversial views. And once again, people don’t seem to understand that their jobs are entertainment, nothing more.

Talk show hosts have no legal or ethical obligation to do anything but entertain. And judging by their successes, Limbaugh and Beck are brilliant at their jobs. I find it mind boggling that anyone believes a TV talk host is expressing his own true views.

I agree in principle with Adams: I highly doubt that these guys actually believe the shit they say, they’re doing it for ratings. The reason I get so frustrated with them is because they’re perceived as news men. Beck is actually employed by a (sort of) news organization: Fox News.

When stupid people watched Jerry Springer they might have thought the fighting was real, but it was limited to a one-hour show that was clearly nothing but cheap entertainment. When Limbaugh or Beck spray their views into the entertainmentsphere (as Adams puts it) with the intention of generating outrage and pandering to the lowest common denominator, some people might see through it and register it as showmanship. But many, especially because of the context in which entertainers like this operate (news radio, cable news) will treat it as fact.

Because my perception of Beck and Limbaugh is that they’re faking it, I don’t think they’re bad people. They probably think they’re no more dishonest than any other actor playing a part for money. I’m also long past the point of expecting much from the general TV or radio audience.

“No one ever went broke underestimating the taste of the American public.” –H.L. Mencken

My real contempt is for the media companies who try to dress this tripe up as news, and still have the nerve to tout themselves as pillars of journalism. “24 hour cable news” is an oxymoron. They’re never-ending entertainment and “entertainment news” shows (check out Alisa Miller’s excellent talk at TED last year about the American-centricness and entertainment focus of American news) which register on the seriousness scale somewhere between eTalk Now and USA Today.

If you watch the Daily Show (I’d include a clip here but the cross-border copyright issues with Comedy Central vs. the Comedy Network are beyond retarded) then you’ve probably noticed that in recent months Jon Stewart has unleashed a lot of venom at the news networks. He attacks Fox for their ridiculous slant and CNN for their glaring incompetence. He took Jim Cramer to task for being to finance what Ann Coulter is to political commentary, and doesn’t spare the whip for MSNBC when they actually do something noticeable. Crossfire — which seems oddly quaint now — irked him enough that he effectively embarrassed CNN into killing it. Here’s hoping he can manage a few more shows while he’s at it.

Interesting that an entertainer fronting an admittedly, proudly fake news show would be the one to most effectively skewer the bumblings and lies of the so-called “real” news shows.

Useful anger

I’ve written many times before about the West Memphis Three. In case you weren’t paying attention, here’s the nickel version: in 1993 three teenage boys were charged with killing three eight-year-old boys in West Memphis, Arkansas. The evidence presented against them at trial has come under heavy attack. A key component of the prosecution’s case — that the accused were devil worshipers — got national headlines, but only years later, when the documentaries Paradise Lost and Paradise Lost 2 and Mara Leveritt’s excellent book Devil’s Knot came out, did renewed attention return to the case. Donations to a legal fund have made possible new hearings into the three men’s convictions and subsequent sentencing. The mentally handicapped suspect whose coerced ‘confession’ helped provide the conviction was sentenced to forty years in prison. Another of the three received life in prison, while the last received the death penalty.

Sixteen years later the three remain in prison, but new hearings are taking place. You can read about them in detail at the WM3 blog, and I can’t remember all the details, but the upshot is this: the defense team has hired some kickass forensic experts to refute the opinion of the state pathologist who analyzed the bodies. Their testimony: that what were counted as stab wounds and satanic ritual were actually animal bites, and there was no evidence of sexual abuse.

This testimony casts new doubt, in addition to DNA evidence found two years ago showing genetic material at the crime scene which “cannot be attributed to either the victims or the defendants”, and a slew of questionable evidence presented at the original trial, including lack of murder weapon, lack of motive, the questionable interview and confession of Jessie Misskelley, and the infamous charge of Satanism, borne out by the type of music the boys listened to and black t-shirts they wore. Pile on top of this improper conduct by the jury foreman, incompetent defense, leaks from the police department to the press during the trial, and so on. But the head-shaking doesn’t stop there.

One of the most frustrating parts of reading Leveritt’s book was the testimony of Vicki Hutcheson and her son Aaron. The two of them made incriminating, but wildly inconsistent, statements about the WM3 which Hutcheson later recanted, saying she was coerced and was looking for reward money. That intrigue continues now in a cruel twist. Hutcheson has said she is willing to testify that she lied on the stand at the boys’ trial, but as Arkansas law has no statute of limitations on perjury, by doing so she would face a felony charge. The state could make an exception and allow her to testify without fear of being charged. They chose not to.

And therein lies another twist in the case. The judge presiding over the original case also presides over the hearings. Defense attorneys filed a motion asking Judge Burnett to step aside because of widespread rumour that he would run for Arkansas state senate. Burnett rejected the motion, just as he rejected the motion to re-open the case based on the DNA findings, but it leaves open the question raised by the defence: whether Judge Burnett can rule impartially on a case that, if re-opened — or worse, overturned — would almost certainly kill any political ambitions he may have. Obviously Burnett has incentive to prevent this from happening. Just one more roadblock in the way of righting things.

If you haven’t already, I’d suggest you read Devil’s Knot (amazon | indigo) or watch Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills (imdb). They’ll make you angry, but anger at injustice is a useful thing.

"At least I won't be looking like a old leather purse when I'm 40."

Earlier today I saw this story (via @ecila) on the CBC site: Tanning beds cause cancer: WHO.

Tanning beds and ultraviolet radiation cause cancer and have been moved up to the highest risk category by international cancer experts.

The new classification means tanning beds and UV definitely cause cancer in humans, just as tobacco smoke, the hepatitis B virus and mustard gas do.

Ha ha ha ha…mustard gas!

OK, OK, I’m sorry, I know this isn’t really something I should make fun of, but come on…what did these people expect? Tanning beds involve folding yourself into a glowing goddamn photon torpedo tube and dosing yourself with ultraviolet-A radiation. Either you just didn’t think very hard about what you were doing when you got in, or you did and were vain enough to do it anyway. Now all those people who actually believe the base tan myth aren’t just silly, sunburned and out of pocket…they’re more likely to develop health problems too.

I wonder how long it’ll take life insurance companies to start asking whether or not you use a tanning bed?

Maybe it's something to do with being an asshat

In today’s instalment of “What’s the most ridiculous and offensive thing said today by someone who should be educated enough to know better?” we have art critic Brian Sewell, as quoted in The Independent. Emphasis is mine:

“The art market is not sexist,” Mr Sewell said. “The likes of Bridget Riley and Louise Bourgeois are of the second and third rank. There has never been a first-rank woman artist.

Only men are capable of aesthetic greatness. Women make up 50 per cent or more of classes at art school. Yet they fade away in their late 20s or 30s. Maybe it’s something to do with bearing children.”

Bravo, Mr. Sewell. I think you take today’s prize. I won’t even go after you about the “never been a first-rank woman artist” as an art critic would surely have a better sense of the historical ranking among artists than I, and I don’t know what you consider first-rank, so you could at least point out some kind of evidence to support your argument. How good that evidence is I can’t say since, as I said, I know next to nothing about art.

However, to state that “only men are capable of aesthetic greatness” is patently absurd. I’m pretty open to any argument if it can be backed up with some evidence or logic, but this one’s indefensible.

Also, I’m pretty sure, assuming you’re straight, that you’ll never ever get laid again. Cheers.

I hope he remembered before he dropped the suit off at the cleaner's

Did you hear about how Stephen Harper may have been wandering around with a piece of Jesus in his suit pocket? The Telegraph-Journal explains:

A senior New Brunswick Roman Catholic priest is demanding the Prime Minister’s Office explain what happened to the sacramental communion wafer Stephen Harper was given at Roméo LeBlanc’s funeral mass.

During communion at the solemn and dignified service held last Friday in Memramcook for the former governor general, the prime minister slipped the thin wafer that Catholics call “the host” into his jacket pocket.

In Catholic understanding, the host – once consecrated by a priest for the Eucharist – becomes the body and blood of Jesus Christ. It is crucial that the small wafer be consumed when it is received.

Monsignor Brian Henneberry, vicar general and chancellor in the Diocese of Saint John, wants to know whether the prime minister consumed the host and, if not, what happened to it.

If Harper accepted the host but did not consume it, “it’s worse than a faux pas, it’s a scandal from the Catholic point of view,” he said.

Here’s why this is so off-the-charts ridiculous: to be convinced that this is, in fact, scandalous behaviour on the Prime Minister’s part one has to literally believe the notion that a tiny wafer blessed by a priest becomes the actual body and blood of Jesus. This is absurd, of course, but let’s say you enjoy dogma and you accept this on its face. You then have to deem it an outrageous affront to put said wafer in your pocket, but eating it (and, uh, shitting it later) it is okay. I know, I know, Jesus said eat this blah, drink this blah. But if you actually spend fifteen seconds thinking rationally about this rather than reciting scripture, it’s painfully obvious that this is a non-issue.

Then again, expecting rational thought on a topic at the intersection of politics and religion might be asking too much. Isn’t that right, Diane Ablonczy?

"'We were living beyond our means,' he says, 'and it’s all crashing down.'"

A little over a week ago I blogged about the most recent Toronto Life cover story:

“I’m angry at myself for throwing out my paper copy since TL won’t post most of their magazine content online (Dear editors: the 21st century. Please hear of it.) and I can’t remember the very best quotes, but suffice it to say I was barking with laughter after the Rosedale matron whined about the hardship of having to hide her full Holt Renfrew shopping bags for fear of showing up her friends and neighbours. Not to mention the lady who fretted about irritating her personal shopper when she asked for a discount on a dress that cost thousands of dollars.”

Fortunately Toronto Life has now opened up the article online so you can read the ridiculousness for yourself. To wit:

“It’s kind of becoming cool to be thrifty. It’s almost a point of pride,” said a woman who routinely makes Toronto’s best-dressed lists. She recently found herself haggling for the first time for a 10 per cent discount on a $3,000 designer dress at Holts. (Her personal shopper was not impressed.)

Also:

One young family decided to rein in their March break plans. Instead of going to the Four Seasons Mexico after skiing in Vail, they just skied Vail.

Heavens…how do these people survive?

More than one wealthy woman told me she’s economizing by getting her hair blown out twice instead of three times a week. For some, the biggest sacrifice is switching from a $400 to a $250 facial or letting go of the gardener who cost them more per month than their property taxes.

WOE BETIDE US!!!!

Some appreciated the gestures. “I walked through Yorkville the other day with my arms full of designer bags, and I got dirty looks, which really stung,” said one woman who recently moved to Rosedale.

Stop. Please stop. I can’t take it any more. I’m having sympathy pains.  I can actually feel the pain that woman must have felt at being ostracized for being so wealthy.

OK, so I’m being cheeky. But this one might just take the cake (emphasis mine):

The day [a former Bay Street worker] was laid off, he and his wife hunkered down at their kitchen table to calculate how they could scale back. Pulling their kids out of private school would save more than $50,000 a year. Trading in their luxury cars could lower their $40,000 annual lease payments. Cancelling their planned March break holiday to the Caribbean was an easy way to save 10 grand. But could they afford to keep their cottage? Should they fire the nanny? Obviously they wouldn’t be giving to charity this year.

Well, obviously! I mean, if you’re at the point where you’re actually considering taking the kids out of the private schools or trading in the luxury cars or canceling the trip to the Caribbean or selling the cottage, then you’ve reached desperate times. Food banks and homeless shelters and hospitals may be desperate for money, but goddammit, the leather seats in those cars feel like motherfucking butter. Ahem…but there I go being sarcastic again.

Look, I don’t begrudge anyone making money. Of course I don’t. But I don’t understand someone whose first thought, when trying to tighten the purse strings, is to make charity the first casualty when you have such egregious luxuries as an upcoming $10,000 vacation and cars that cost $40,000 in lease payments every year. It doesn’t occur to you that someone might need a bit of help more than you need to keep the best Maserati instead of the second-best Maserati.

I remember hearing years ago that low-income families tend to give more of their paycheque to charity. The results from the 2007 Canada Survey of Giving, Volunteering and Participating (warning: PDF) back that up: while 90% of families earning >$100,000 donated to charity vs. 71% of families making <$20,000, families making <20k donated $210 on average while families making at least five times more donated only three times as much. In fact, if you look at the table on page 19 you’ll see the average donation as a percentage of salary range midpoint moves down pretty steadily.

This suggests to me that the wealthier you are, the less of your disposable income goes to charity. I assume this is because those closer to the bottom can relate, and know that “There but for the grace of interest rates or labour woes go I.” Clearly the people cited in this TL article have no way to relate to actual financial hardship, and that disconnectedness from reality would back up my assumption.

Anyway, the article has a lovely little close: the afore-mentioned former Bay Streeter (who, by the way, had his entire savings in the stock market, which makes me question his credentials for working on Bay in the first place) says that “until the economy turns around…his wife may go back to work to tide them over, or they may hit up their parents for a loan.” I wish this gentleman a speedy economic recovery, as well as the best of luck in locating his balls.

Ohmigod, no!! Not the Pusateri's account! For the love of all that's holy! NOT THE PUSATERI'S ACCOUNT!!!!1!

Two and a half years ago I saw a documentary called Jesus Camp about kids raised by evangelicals and attending religious summer camps where they spoke in tongues and so on. I was impressed by how impartial the filmmakers remained throughout, always leaving the viewer free to interpret what they saw. The result was a film that I, and the entirety of the Toronto-based documentary-going crowd, found both hilarious and horrifying. Audiences in evangelical territories, like the American Midwest, didn’t have an adverse reaction to it…in fact, the filmmakers explained, audiences there loved it. It takes skill for an artist to tell the truth plainly enough that the subjects don’t realize the rest of the world will be aghast when it sees the light of day.

It was this same impressive brand of fine line-walking that graced the cover story of this month’s Toronto Life magazine, written by Sonia Verma. The abstract:

“The money’s running out and they must choose: pull the kids out of private school or fire the gardener; pawn the silver or close the Pusateri’s account; cancel the club memberships or default on the cottage. An inside report on the sacrifices of the nouveau poor”

I’m angry at myself for throwing out my paper copy since TL won’t post most of their magazine content online (Dear editors: the 21st century. Please hear of it.) and I can’t remember the very best quotes, but suffice it to say I was barking with laughter after the Rosedale matron whined about the hardship of having to hide her full Holt Renfrew shopping bags for fear of showing up her friends and neighbours. Not to mention the lady who fretted about irritating her personal shopper when she asked for a discount on a dress that cost thousands of dollars.

The beauty is that this little circle of wealthy, oblivious nimrods actually seem to expect sympathy — or at least empathy — and probably have no idea that 99% of those who read the magazine laughed themselves silly, giving thanks for once that they themselves aren’t rich enough to become this disconnected from reality.

Somebody should explain that her award is not made out of flatbread

For the first time since I started eating meat again last winter I actually feel glad to no longer be vegetarian.

Why?

Well, each year PETA holds a contest asking people to select, from a list, the sexiest male and female vegetarians. In the past they have managed to pick actual hot people like, say, Kristen Bell. I was fine with that. I approved of the taste (zoinks!) of my fellow vegetarians.

This year, however, they picked this fucking idiot:

Yup, Kellie Pickler herself. I have to tell you, I’m not wild about the idea of being associated with people who would think that someone so spectacularly dumb could pass for sexy, let alone sexiest. So for now I’m gonna go stand over here next to these guys holding the pork chops.

"Lines, wrinkles and coarse, leathery skin"

A couple of articles found in the Maclean’s news feed that fill me with disbelief and a teensy bit of dread. For our planet.

First, there’s “Sunbed Use To Rise In Recession” (BBC):

A fifth of regular sunbed users are planning to increase usage because they cannot afford a holiday abroad owing to the recession, a survey suggests.

The poll for Cancer Research UK found 34% of more than 2,000 people were less likely to travel somewhere sunny.

The charity warned that using a sunbed once a month or more could increase skin cancer risk by more than half, and recommended applying fake tan.

I cannot afford to go on vacation, so I shall stay home and irradiate myself instead. Good choice. And then there’s “Who You Gonna Call?” (Montreal Gazette):

The economy is in tatters. Your portfolio is down. Your job is in peril and you’re wondering if you should launch a business. Who are you gonna call? Your financial advisor? An accountant?

If you’re anything like a growing number of recession-anxious Canadians, you may want to call an intuitive seer, an astrologer, a palmist or a numerologist. Some members of this alternative community say their business has picked up as a result of the tough economy. They say they’re consulting to people who want to know everything from whether the stars are correctly aligned for a new business venture to whether to jump in or out of the stock market.

It might also help to know that this, too, shall pass. Pluto’s passage through Capricorn will continue until 2023 so there’ll be more transformation to come, says Edward. “For most of my clients in business, I see that this year will be a little rough but they’ll be better off next year in 2010,” she said.

Alert the Bank of Canada. Call Ben Bernanke. It’s time to raise interest rates again. Pluto’s about to pass through fucking Capricorn.

That settles it. I’m locating the city with the lowest average IQ and opening a tanning salon where your fortune is read to you inside the booth. I shall be rich within minutes.