Wednesday, April 18, 2007

The Wrong Stuff

The movie ‘Blades of Glory’ has now passed the $100 million mark in receipts, so congrats to them. I have no idea if there is yet any profit to the film, as they spent so much money promoting it. Aside from the endless amount of TV and print ads, they also engaged in viral marketing of the film, at least in New York, and I had the unfortunate experience of seeing that first hand.

Kathy and I were out with two friends, and after seeing the Rossini opera La Donna del lago and a meal of Afghani food, we headed over to The Thirsty Scholar, a favorite bar of mine in the East Village. We were minding our own business, as the patrons of that bar do, when the peace was interrupted by two guys wearing goofy ice skating clothes, wandering around and getting involved in conversations, promoting the movie. And that’s when I got into a fight with one of them.

Fueled by a good quantity of beer and sambuca, I confronted him by asking if he knew the name of the person who was the last one to walk on the moon, and when he did it. This may seem like a non-sequitur, but to me it made perfect sense, at least in my inebriated state. You see, this has happened more than once, generally when I am confronted by something in our culture that is exceedingly banal or insipid. (And, also, generally when I am drunk.)

The guy didn’t know and got angry. I informed him that it was Wally Schirra in 1973. Of course, I got that wrong as well. Lesson 1: don’t try to teach history when you’ve had too much to drink. Apollo 17 was actually in December, 1972 (though to be fair, I had thought January 1973 so I was only off by a month), and Eugene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt were the last to walk on the moon. Fortunately before the yelling got too loud he and his friend quickly left the bar, after explaining that he really didn’t give a shit, and he was just trying to make a few bucks, so would I please leave him the hell alone.

So why did this strike such a nerve? Because a generation ago our nation was sending people to the moon, and today they are sending people to bars to embarrass themselves by promoting crappy movies for minimum wage. It’s a tremendous disappointment to be involved in a culture that is in such an obvious state of decline, but no one notices.

To offer evidence of this, over the past several weeks I have been assembling a comprehensive list of accomplishments of our supposed great age of space exploration in contrast to the last great age of grand voyage and exploration, 500 years ago. Taking as a starting point the years 1969, when we landed on the moon, and 1492, when Columbus voyaged to the New World, I have listed the events year by year in comparison:


Apollo 11/12
Columbus First Voyage

1970 /1493:
Apollo 13
Columbus Second Voyage

Apollo 14/15
Salyut 1

Apollo 16/17
Apollo program canceled

Soyuz 13

John Cabot to North America
Amerigo Vespuci to North America

Vasco da Gama to India

Columbus Third Voyage
John Cabot to North America

Portuguese to Tanzania and Kenya

Vasco da Gama to India

Alonso de Ojeda to Venezuela

1977/1500 :
Vicente Yáñez Pinzón to Brazil
Pedro Álvares Cabral to Brazil

Gaspar Cortereal, to Labrador

Joao da Nova to the Ascension Islands
Gaspar de Corte-Real, to North America

Amerigo Vespuci to Brazil

Rodrigo de Bastidas to South America

Columbus Fourth Voyage
Joao da Nova to St Helena

Columbus Fourth Voyage
Vasco da Gama to India

STS-1; STS-2
Ferdinand Columbus to Central America
Juan de la Cosa to South America

3 Shuttle Flights
Dom Lourenço d'Almeida to Sri Lanka

4 Shuttle Flights

5 Shuttle Flights
Portuguese to Mozambique

9 Shuttle Flights
Juan Diaz de Solis to the Yucatan
Sebastian de Ocampo to Cuba

2 Shuttle Flights
Challenger accident

I got Nothing

2 Shuttle Flights
Diego Velázquez and Hernán Cortés to Cuba

5 Shuttle Flights
Ponce de León to the Turks and Caicos Islands

6 Shuttle Flights
Juan Ponce de Leon to Florida
Vasco Núñez de Balboa to the Pacific

Magellan in the Pacific

6 Shuttle Flights

8 Shuttle Flights
Diego Velázquez de Cuéllar to Cuba

7 Shuttle Flights
Pedro de Solis to South America

7 Shuttle Flights
Fernao Pires de Andrade to China

7 Shuttle Flights
Cordova to the Yucatan
Grijalva to Mexico

7 Shuttle Flights
Hernan Cortes to Mexico
Beginning of Magellan’s Voyage

8 Shuttle Flights
Cortes in Mexico
Magellan to the Pacific

5 Shuttle Flights
Cortes in Mexico
Magellan to the Pacific

3 Shuttle Flights

5 Shuttle Flights
First Crew Arrives at ISS

Verrazano to North America

6 Shuttle Flights
Verrazano to North America
Jacques Cartier to North America

Pizarro to the Pacific

5 Shuttle Flights
Rodrigo de Bastidas to Columbia
Pedro de Alvarado to Guatemala

1 Shuttle Flights
Columbia accident

John Rut to Newfoundland

1 Shuttle Flight
Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca to Texas

3 Shuttle Flights
Ambrosius Ehinger to Venezuela

5 Shuttle Flights planned
Martin Afonso de Souza to Brazil

So by 1530, almost all of the great voyages that we learned about in school had already happened. Most of the lands of America had been discovered. Magellan had completed his around the world voyage (though dying along the way). Colonies had been established around the globe. And these trips took far, far longer and were more dangerous than anything the space age has had to offer. By comparison our culture has completely given up, in the equivalent of in 1496 the combined powers of Europe deciding that they will never venture more than 150 miles from shore. The orbit of the space shuttle is 1-200 miles above the Earth’s surface; the same for Mir and the ISS. A typical commuter covers that distance in far less than a week.

To be fair, the comparison ignores the immense complexities of exploration, the violence and destruction involved (intended and unintended), and the motivation (geo power politics in much of both cases, a quest for wealth in others). Still, the point remains: a lack of fundamental imagination of what our culture can do. It doesn’t have to be the moon, but it does have to be grand, and please, God, just a little bit more than Will Ferrell vehicles.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Math is Hard! Let's Go Shopping!

Shortly after I got married five years ago I tried to buy a pair of plane tickets on the American Airlines website for Kathy and me; I was prevented from doing so since Kathy had kept her last name, and therefore the website wouldn’t recognize her as my spouse. In the end we had to make the reservations over the phone (paying ten bucks more for the privilege, if I remember correctly.)

I was reminded of this yesterday, when I read that American Airlines has been recently diving into gender-based niche marketing. With some decidedly mixed results. It seems that they launched a women’s version of the website last week, complete with pink background and fewer of those ‘search’ tools that the fairer sex find so difficult to use. It included the following text:

‘..Check the latest carry-on regulations, find advice on travel safety and wellness, and pick up tips for a stylish and efficient travel wardrobe…’

Needless to say this went over like a lead balloon. The Consumerist tracked the sad story here, here, and here, by which point the airline finally gave up on the idea. One would think that American Airlines learned something from this. Sadly, no:

African American site Coming Soon!

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Thursday Cat Blogging

It’s been a criminally negligent amount of time since I posted kitty pictures, so I am making up for it now. As you can see they are doing quite well.

Posting Kitty photos comes on the heels of the latest announcement from the John McCain camp. It seems that they have hired one Fred Malek as the national finance co-chair for his presidential campaign. Who is Fred Malek, one might ask? Well, in addition to being a prodigious fund raiser for the Republican party, he has some less-than-savory things in his past.

First of all he used to work in the Nixon administration, keeping himself busy by counting the number of Jews in the Bureau of Labor Statistics:

‘…Nixon summoned the White House personnel chief, Fred Malek, to his office to discuss a "Jewish cabal" in the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The "cabal," Nixon said, was tilting economic figures to make his Administration look bad. How many Jews were there in the bureau? He wanted to know. Malek reported back on the number, and told the President that the bureau's methods of weighing statistics were normal procedure that had been in use for years…’

But doing odd jobs for Tricky Dick pales compared to the other noteworthy event in Mr. Malek’s past. Namely that he is apparently a cat person, or at least not much of a dog person:

‘…On a Friday in August 1959, five men in their twenties were arrested about 2 a.m...

After checking the blood-spattered pants of one of the men at the state crime laboratory in Springfield, it was determined that the stains were animal and not human blood. [Sheriff Harry] Backes said the men then changed their story and said they had "caught a dog and were barbecuing it."

Police then found the skinned animal on a spit in the park. The insides of the dog had been removed, and a bottle of liquor was found on a nearby park table. Backes said the men told him they had been drinking earlier in the evening at a West Bluff tavern.

One of the men arrested in the incident, in which a dog was killed, skinned, gutted and barbecued on a spit, was Frederick V. Malek, 22, of Berwyn, Ill…’

Should Mr. Malek ever get bored with his job with Senator McCain, he can always peruse the web and head over to this site for his latest fix.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Melts in Your Mouth

What Digby Says.

Adding that it's important to reinforce his opening paragraph. While I certainly don't feel that the Church (Catholic or otherwise) is responsible for confirming or denying every last utterance of some batshit insane crank who claims to speak for them, Donohue, and his merry Catholic League, are public figures who get plenty of airtime to pontificate on matters of import under the banner of 'speaking for the Catholic Church.' In this case, like all of the others, the silence of the church is the same as an endorsement of his views.

While there are certainly more pressing issues facing the church, their reaction to an anatomically correct confection is definitely the sort of idiocy that fascinates me more than most. The Catholic Church's abominable silence on the Iraq invasion, however, is more pressing and is appropriately being addressed by my brother on his blog, as he directly confronts the seven generations of hatred that we are going to be faced with.

But what else would one expect from a Church that on June 14th, 1978 gave Sam Cohen, the inventor of the Neutron Bomb, Pope Paul VI's peace medal.