Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Say My Name

I watched some episodes of the first season of Supergirl on CBS, mostly because of lead Melissa Benoist.  I haven't been watching since it moved this season to CW, but I just noticed that last night's episode feature Mister Mxyzptlk.  I wish I'd watched (even though he now seems to be a dashing young man rather than a cigar-smoking pixie) just to hear how they pronounce his name.

I always found Mister Mxyzptlk a fascinating Superman villain.  How do you threaten someone who's invulnerable?  Well, you create something dangerous, like kryptonite.  You take away his strength under a red sun.  You put his loved one danger.  Or you introduce magic, which is where Mxyzptlk comes in.

He was a mischievous imp who'd come to our dimension just so he could mess with Superman.  And the only way to get rid of him (for only 90 days) was to get him to say his name backwards.  Even as a kid, this cracked me up.  Here's a trickster, having fun at Supe's expense, and literally the only thing he has to worry about is not saying his own name backwards, which is hard enough to do even if you want to.  Yet somehow, someone always figured out a way to get him to do it.

I'm sure Supergirl figured out some way.  Or did they change the character so much there's some other way to deal with him?

Monday, February 20, 2017

Laugh, Laugh

I recently wrote about how some sitcoms have the same plots by chance.  But sometimes whole shows seem similar, and you wonder if they were developed with an eye on each other.

Sometimes there's no question.  After Animal House was such a big hit the three networks (back when you had three networks and not much else) each put on their "Animal House"-style sitcom, one--Delta House--directly adapted from the movie with some of the same actors.  They all flopped, by the way.  Then in 1990 there was the TV version of Ferris Bueller on NBC, while Fox (hey, a new network) did a knockoff--that was considerably better--called Parker Lewis Can't Lose.

Last year, HBO and Showtime put out dramas about the business side of rock and roll, Vinyl and Roadies.  Both were high profile projects, and both were rejected by the viewers. (They weren't that bad--I was sorry to see them go.)

And now, this year, both HBO and Showtime are giving us their take on the world of stand-up comedy.  Coincidence? (Last week I posted about kinds of comedy, but I didn't include comedy about comedy.)

There's Crashing, which debuted over the weekend.  It's created by Pete Holmes, who stars as a younger version of himself--he's got a failing marriage and is just starting out in stand-up.  He goes to the clubs and we meet other comedians playing themselves.  Above all we meet Artie Lange as himself--Holmes leaves his cheating wife and crashes in Artie's pad.

The pilot wasn't bad.  Holmes is low-key but charming, and Lange comes across well.  The show is also produced by Judd Apatow, who must have more projects going than anyone else in town.  Mike Birbiglia is a consultant, which makes sense, since he made a movie, Sleepwalk With Me (2012), that was about his early days in stand-up.

Then there's I'm Dying Up Here, which will debut later this year on Showtime. Created (but not written by) Jim Carrey, it's based on the William Knoedesleder book of the same name about the 1970s LA comedy scene.  It stars Melissa Leo as a comedy club owner who I can only assume is a fictionalized version of Mitzi Shore, who ran the Comedy Store back then.

It sounds interesting, but you always wonder, when there's a show about comedians, will we be seeing much stand-up within the show?  That's not necessarily a bad thing, but it can be weird, since you're once-removed from it--is the stand-up part of the plot, or is it to be enjoyed on its own.  Ironically, if you're involved in the world of the characters, you'd probably rather see them offstage anyway.

Sunday, February 19, 2017


Over the past decade or so, the Howard Stern show has become more mainstream.  He used to interview third-rate celebrities and make fun of the big names, but now he gets the big names (and tends to fawn over them).

But one thing that hasn't changed--the Wack Pack.  They're a group of people who regularly call in, and are a bit off.  Some are honored to be members in good standing of the Wack Pack, while some don't like it at all.

Lately, membership seems to be hazardous.  I believe five Wack Packers have died in the last few years. (Not entirely surprising, as the Wack Pack, in general, don't seem to take good care of themselves.) In fact, the Stern crew has started a death pool--though some feel bad about it.

I remember when audience favorite Eric the Actor died at 39 a couple years ago.  I felt like I almost knew him, and it was a shock.  (To be fair to Eric, he had genetic problems and was not expected to live a long life.)

And now Nicole Bass has died, only 52.  She was not quite the "celebrity" that Eric was among Stern fans, but was certainly a mainstay.  I remember first seeing her on a Howard Stern TV special in the 90s.  There was a beauty pageant, and on parade was this person who looked like a large, muscular man.

Turned out Nicole was a wrestler and one of the top female bodybuilders in the world.  I admit I had my doubts, but according to sources at the Stern show, they checked her out and she was born a female.

So goodbye Nicole.  When certain celebrities die, I sometimes think it's too bad I never met them, but if I'd ever met Nicole Bass, I don't know what I would have done.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Sour Grapes Of Roth

For decades, Philip Roth's name has been mentioned for a possible Nobel Prize.  For various reasons (rarely having to do with literature), he has not yet received one.  As it's not given posthumously, they really should get a move on. But that's not why I'm writing about him.

I was just reading an interview in The Paris Review from 1984.  Roth is a fine writer, but his perceptions of the political world (which he has sometimes turned into novels) are often simply repeating the received wisdom of his social set.  Here's his response when asked about the relative disengagement from politics that intellectuals felt around 1960:

Little did we know that some twenty years later the philistine ignorance on which we would have liked to turn our backs would infect the country like Camus’s plague. Any satirist writing a futuristic novel who had imagined a President Reagan during the Eisenhower years would have been accused of perpetrating a piece of crude, contemptible, adolescent, anti-American wickedness, when, in fact, he would have succeeded, as prophetic sentry, just where Orwell failed; he would have seen that the grotesquerie to be visited upon the English-speaking world would not be an extension of the repressive Eastern totalitarian nightmare but a proliferation of the Western farce of media stupidity and cynical commercialism—American-style philistinism run amok. It wasn’t Big Brother who’d be watching us from the screen, but we who’d be watching a terrifyingly powerful world leader with the soul of an amiable, soap-opera grandmother, the values of a civic-minded Beverly Hills Cadillac dealer, and the historical background and intellectual equipment of a high-school senior in a June Allyson musical.

It's useful to remind ourselves how the opposition to any President so easily treat the situation as unprecedented and even apocalyptic. Their lack of perspective is clear enough decades later, but really it should have been clear at the time.

Generally speaking, intellectuals have no special insight into events of the day.  It's unfortunate that they have come to believe it's their duty to trade in on their fame and reputation, and speak out on issues beyond their expertise.

I see; Microsoft and Apple don't owe the taxes, those shiftless robots do

"Bill Gates, the co-founder of Microsoft and world’s richest man, said in an interview Friday that robots that steal human jobs should pay their fair share of taxes."

I assume Bill believes with equal fervor that the robots should validate their copies of Windows 10, too.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Sit, Sit

It can be surprising how sitcoms come up with the same plot at the same time.  I realize there are only so many stories to tell, but sometimes it almost seems like it's more than coincidence.

Wednesday, I watched The Middle on ABC, which was about whether the adults or the kids in the family should be in charge, or should apologize to the other.  Then I switched to Fox and watched The Mick, where the fight was whether the adult or the kids in the family should be in charge, or should apologize to the other.

Then last night I watched The Big Bang Theory on CBS, which was about how one of the adult characters is financially supported--but not respected--by his dad, and so he fights to turn that around.  Then I turned to NBC and watched Powerless, which was about how one of the adult characters is financially supported--but not respected--by his dad, and so he fights to turn that around.

Anyway, it's not just the story, it's how you tell it.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

The State You're In

People have been talking about the Gallup poll that lists the happiest states in the U.S.

Here's the top six:

1.  Hawaii
2.  Alaska
3.  South Dakota
4.  Maine
5.  Colorado
6.  Vermont

Here's the bottom six:

45.  Ohio
46.  Arkansas
47.  Indiana
48.  Oklahoma
49.  Kentucky
50.  West Virginia

I suppose you could come up with reasons for these rankings.  You know--Hawaii is nice and warm, Alaska has wide open spaces, South Dakota is glad it's not North Dakota and so on.

But I wouldn't read too much into this list.  Actually, I wouldn't read anything into this list.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Virtual Virtue

I saw it in the library--The Universe Is Virtual, a graphic book by Alexander Marchand.  If this was true, it seemed worth knowing. Though, after perusing it, I fear Mr. Marchand falls short of the mark.

He spends an awful lot of time condemning modern science and philosophy for deluding themselves into thinking the world is objective.  Just a note--if you want to make an argument, you might mention at the outset that people's dogmas get in the way, but there's no need to keep repeating this. It's not an argument, and after a while such name-calling gets tiresome.

Marchand starts out reviewing the basics (it has to be basic--this is an illustrated book of philosophy, not science) of quantum physics.  In essence, once you get down to sub-atomic particles, things don't work as we're used to in the macro-world.  Things seem to be digital as opposed to analog, and causality doesn't seem to work as we understand it.

A decent start, but at this point, Marchand doesn't argue for what he believes so much as go off on a flight of fancy.  What he claims can't be disproved, I suppose, but that's not enough to put his case over.

I apologize if I simplify his heartfelt beliefs, but here goes.

First, as the title says, The Universe Is Virtual.  It's also subjective, not objective.  Thus, science, and the human race in general, needs to go through a number of paradigm shifts until we see things as they are.

The universe is data and probabilities, as you'd see in a video game--if you play a game with Super Mario, he has rules to follow, and where he goes and what exists in his world depends on what is done--there's a higher reality that exists and Mario, if he had such awareness, would understand that his world isn't all there is.

Because the universe is subjective, and its data only comes to life when dealt with by consciousness (in the same way that a book is just marks on paper until someone brings it to life by reading it), that would mean a rock in a cave on Venus that no living thing has ever seen only exists as a probability until some mind comes into contact with it and interprets it.  Reality is what has been recorded by minds--in fact, the more that gets recorded, the more everyone can agree on something and believe it's objective.  This is why mystical or paranormal experiences can't be measured objectively--because they generally happen to one person at a time, and if enough people experience them, they go from paranormal to normal. (Pretty convenient.  It makes it impossible to check out mystical claims.  Though it seems to me if people say they have the ability to read minds, or tell the future, or levitate, or anything else that intrudes into the objective world, then we can actually measure and test it.)

The objective rules that science has discovered work as far as they go, but, just as Newtonian physics still works within the limits of Einsteinian physics, so must our present understanding give way to a bigger truth.

Mind is thus separate from the objective world, and can't be understood by the same rules.  It's the way out of what could be compared to a great computer simulation.  In this simulation, entropy is central, and it's also another word for fear.  There's the past, present and future, and everything runs down eventually.  Thus we fight off entropy as best we can, especially by virtual love, which is better than nothing, but is still a losing battle.

But consciousness doesn't die.  Consciousness has been in all sorts of beings (thus so many constructs we believe in, such as sex, race, so on, are artificial and meaningless).  Sometimes fragments of former consciousness still exists in a present being, and thus we have tales of reincarnation--which is a true phenomenon, but only a partial view of a bigger truth.

The bigger truth is that all is oneness, a mass consciousness.  It's just this oneness has been divided, and digitalized, if you will, into our world--the world we understand (or think we do), with rules we live by.  But also the one that blocks our consciousness from comprehending the truth.

Ultimately, what we need is quantum forgiveness, where we erase the digital world we live in and return to the oneness, which is true love--not virtual love, which is the best we can manage in this delusional world of ours.

This return to oneness, by the way, is inevitable, but can be sped up by greater understanding.

Marchand makes a feint toward science at the beginning of his book, but soon is arguing entirely by analogy and metaphor (and some claims of personal, mystical experience).

There are many who argue there is a separate realm. In fact, that's a widespread belief.  Such arguments may be correct.  Certainly much of the truth of the universe is hidden from us, and may some day be revealed.

But until that day, I'm afraid we'll just have to accept the limited objectivity that we can manage.  If anyone has any other claims, assertion does not equal proof.

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