Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Go Away "Legislators For Life"

Let’s start today’s rant with a little trip back in time. Not too far back…just a few months. In the contentious campaigning in favor of last fall’s abortion legislation, Leslie Unruh and her insane flock of sheep claimed over and over that their bill did indeed include exceptions.
This so-called exception was an emergency contraception drug called Plan B. As pointed out by many people, this drug actually does nothing to an already-fertilized egg. It prevents ovulation, and if the egg has already been released from the ovaries the drug will not prevent a pregnancy.
Of course, even if Unruh’s claims of an exception had been correct, it wouldn’t matter as the availability of this drug is limited in this state. Doctors have no obligation to even inform their patients of this drug, and pharmacists in this state can refuse to fill prescriptions based on their personal religious views. One local blog recently reported that a pre-med student in Florida who was raped was refused the second dose after she was jailed for an old warrant that was discovered in her background.
Thankfully, the abortion bill was defeated by the voters this past November, and little was heard of the issue for the next few weeks. When elected officials had their first meetings with the public in Pierre two weeks ago, nothing was said about the issue. Sure, Unruh’s followers had a couple of demonstrations, but they seemed to be appearing more to support Roger Hunt in his fight to not disclose who donated $750,000 than any piece of legislation.
Yet here we go again…the “Abnormal Minority” is back at it again. They’re now calling themselves “Legislators For Life”, and they have introduced a new bill that supposedly includes exceptions for rape and incest. Ugh!
What’s interesting is that despite their smiles for the cameras, nobody is rushing to claim authorship of this bill. Somebody has to eventually sponsor it, though, but a few names that you’d expect to be involved are backing away. Even Senator Brock Greenfield, a Clark Republican and director of South Dakota Right to Life, won’t have anything to do with it.
No true Republican should be backing this bill, as it creates more bureaucracy, along with a greater governmental involvement in the lives of our state’s population. For a rape exception, the victim has to report the incident within 50 days, and DNA tests of the woman and the fetus must be turned over to police. In the case of incest, the doctor must report the case to the police, and the victim must be given information regarding counseling. In the case of a medical exception, the procedure could occur only if the pregnancy would “cause a very significant impairment of the functioning of a major bodily organ or system”. In other words, a woman must be on her deathbed, and even then a second opinion must be obtained from another doctor.
In every case, the bill requires the doctor to submit a written statement to the department of health explaining the reasons why it was performed. Failure to adhere to these laws could result in a ten-year prison term for the doctor.
We’re not done yet. In the hysteria over this new abortion bill, little attention has been given to another proposal that would basically give Unruh’s pals a seat in the Planned Parenthood offices. As the Coat Hangers at Dawn blog recently reported, “it would require medical staff to tell a woman a bunch of things and force her to sign a pile of forms. Some of (these things) are clearly not supported by real scientific or medical research. In fact, the medical community holds that some of these statements are outright lies.”
And if that’s not enough, there’s actually one more bill regarding abortion that’s wandering through our Legislature. This bill requires abortion providers to post a sign in bold 44pt type (that’s pretty damn big) that states that it’s illegal for anybody to coerce a person to have an abortion…despite the fact that anybody who has any sort of medical procedure already is signing a form declaring their consent.
Do we really need to go through all of this again? This past election cycle was extremely ugly, and the majority of it was caused by the abortion debate. The Dan Sutton and Roger Hunt controversies have already caused enough dissent from our populace. The abortion fight is just going to make it worse. Can we please get back to important issues such as naming official state animals and foods?

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Enough With the Weather B.S.!

This past Saturday evening, I received a call from a good friend who was in Minneapolis preparing for a tradeshow that was due to begin the following day. “Is it supposed to snow tomorrow?” he asked.
The weather report had just ended, and for once I hadn’t changed the channel beforehand. We were on the borderline between receiving 1 – 2 and 2 – 4 inches. Yet our local TV weather practitioner scare tactics had already affected my friend’s business. “Two of my customers just called to cancel because of the weather”, he said with disgust.
When I finally dragged myself out of bed the next day just before noon, the weather situation had already concluded. Although cities south of our fine city did receive up to six inches, Sioux Falls received less than three inches. With absolutely no wind and relatively mild temperatures, there was no reason for anybody to avoid traveling.
In fact, the major streets were already clear of snow. When the plows finally did make my side street that evening, there was hardly anything at the end of my driveway to shovel. So, of course, I didn’t.
Not that this non-storm didn’t stop our local stations from doing multiple stories on the snowfall. Once again we got tips on how to maneuver around snowplows (give them plenty of room), reminders from the Highway Patrol to slow down, and the inevitable effect the weather had on shovel and snow blower sales. I’m just shocked that we weren’t reminded once again on the proper way to shovel.
I know I’m being a “repeater” here, but what is the point of these silly non-stories? Is there anybody who watches any of these “helpful hint” stories and come away with something they didn’t already know? Seriously, is there any person who doesn’t already know that you should drive more cautiously when there’s snow on the ground?
I’ve never revealed this before but a few months ago I started writing a short satirical play about the behind-the-scenes maneuvering in a television news department. I never got beyond the planning stages, but one scene that I had outlined involved a meeting where all of the reporters pitched ideas. The news director had this giant “playbook” to guide their responses to any situation. The outcome to any pitch? Safety tips and economic impact stories. I’m starting to believe that’s exactly how it works.
I’m not asking for any dramatic change in how our stations do their business. All I’m asking is a couple of simple changes. One is to please, please, please quit overstating weather situations. Not all precipitation, rain or snow, is a storm, and is not a reason to head to the grocery store to stock up for an extended hibernation.
My other plea is to use a little bit of imagination for not only weather but any type of story. Besides the already-mentioned safety tips and economic impact stories, please get rid of neighborhood reactions and public relations “infomercials”. Start doing some actual news reporting, as it’s embarrassing that bloggers and other amateur methods of reporting news are scooping you people. Oh, and quit publicizing your awful website. If information is truly important for us to hear or read, then it shouldn’t be buried on the internet. The internet, after all, is only good for porn…or so I’ve heard.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Once Again, the Gruesome Twosome

One would think that after the votes were counted in last fall’s elections the majority of local politicians (and their backers) would quietly fade away. Generally speaking, South Dakota lawmakers are rarely seen when they’re not begging for votes.
That hasn’t been the case with two of the most controversial faces that made headlines all through the last half of 2006. While one of this pair was a winner in his personal campaign to remain in the state legislature, both of them shared the title of the biggest loser of that election.
Since then, they have both refused to accept the fact that majority of the state doesn’t agree with their opinion. I have to say that in some respects I sort of admire people with strong convictions, but one also has to deal with the real world. The only world either of these people will accept is one that believes in nothing other than their mandates.
Obviously, I’m talking about Roger Hunt and Leslee Unruh. As I said two weeks ago, one is the ying to the other’s yang. Neither can stay away from the TV cameras, and it’s simply embarrassing whenever their ugly mugs grace my television.  
Hunt is still in the news because of his controversial anonymous $750,000 donation to the anti-abortion movement. Despite the fact that our Republican Attorney General believes that he must name the source of this contribution, Hunt is still smug and whines that all these damned Satanists are picking on him.
In one of the silliest local TV appearances I’ve seen in years, Hunt went on KELO a few weeks ago to ask why pro-choice contributions aren’t given the same scrutiny as his sham corporation. KELO, in a rare moment of actual journalism, did checks on each of the companies Hunt pointed out and found that each of them were indeed real companies who actually did business.
Somehow, Hunt thinks that thriving corporations who donated a few hundred dollars should be investigated just as thoroughly as a corporation created just to establish a loophole. A corporation that had zero assets, no place of business, and…well, no method of business yet somehow funnels ¾ of a million bucks from an anonymous donor.
Seeming to sense that the public wasn’t falling for this b.s., Leslee Unruh packed on her inch-thick Mary Kay cosmetics and ran interference for her hero. On the first day that our legislature met (and possibly deal with Hunt’s indiscretions), Unruh called up her favorite TV station with what I’m sure she thought was a shocking development. This time, she even brought props.
Surrounded by boxes of returned mail (or at least one real box and a handful of phonies for show), Unruh complained that all of her returned propaganda was “proof” that the signatures that put the abortion bill on the ballot were fraudulent. Never mind that three times as many signatures than required were submitted. Never mind that Secretary of State Chris Nelson (a Republican) verified the required number of signatures. Never mind that the deadline had passed to contest the election. Never mind that some of these returned mailings could be from clerical errors or people who legally moved since the petitions were passed around last spring. All that mattered to Unruh is that her pal would not get any negative press that day.
Now Unruh has found another battle to fight, and this time she’s going after a man who she’s supported for years and years. In his State of the State address, Governor Mike Rounds unveiled a proposal to provide vaccinations to prevent cervical cancer to all South Dakota women from the ages of 11 to 18. This vaccination prevents a sexually transmitted disease called HPV, which can happen through any form of sexual contact.
If sex is involved, then Unruh just has to be against it. In her view, the administration of these shots immediately turns a pre-teen girl into a slut, regardless of whether it would save lives. (I thought “life” was all she cared about.) Plus, there has already been at least one case where a non-sexual HPV transmission occurred.
Governor Rounds is not the only Republican to be attacked by Unruh’s minions. When Pat Powers, who publishes the South Dakota War College blog, applauded Rounds plan the attack dogs came out in full force. Keep in mind that Powers has five daughters, three of whom fairly recently shared his pain when his mother succumbed to cancer. As he recently wrote, “one shot is not going to alter their values. They’re going to get their values from their family and church.” In a childhood filled with various vaccinations, it’s unlikely they’ll even know what this particular shot is for.
Instead of condemning this plan, people should actually be applauding Rounds…and trust me, this is not an easy thing for me to say. Besides the health benefits, this is one program that has received kudos from both Republicans and Democrats. In an era where the media wants us to believe that every American conveniently fits into one of two extreme categories, isn’t it refreshing to discover and highlight an issue that belongs to the mainstream majority?

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Profane Shirt on Fox? How Shocking!

Like most of America, I spent the past evening watching the Saints/Eagles game. I was shocked, shocked, shocked, that Fox would broadcast this outrageous shirt. It wasn't a fleeting moment, either; she was on cam for quite a few seconds. Somebody call our pals at the PTC as my 18 year-old son is now scarred for life!

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Who Needs the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame?

This past Monday, the new inductees for the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame were announced. R.E.M., Van Halen, Patti Smith, Grandmaster Flash, and the Ronettes made this year’s cut.
Before I spend some time analyzing these choices, let’s take a look at the history of the institution, and the problems that have risen in recent years that will only get worse as time passes.
Rolling Stone publisher Jann Wenner and his billionaire buddies had it pretty easy the first few years after the Hall of Fame was established. While they had yet to build a facility to house the memorabilia of the recipients, their choices couldn’t have been easier.
The first year of inductions awarded the pioneers – Elvis, Chuck Berry, James Brown, Buddy Holly, Jerry Lee Lewis, etc. Nobody could argue with these choices, just as there was little dissent with most of the second batch – Bo Diddley, Marvin Gaye, and Muddy Waters, among others.
The next three years were dominated by the mid-60’s British Invasion - The Beatles, Stones, Kinks, and the Who. They were joined by the Beach Boys, Bob Dylan, and a handful of blues and Motown acts.
It was during these years, though, that questionable choices started to creep in. Bobby Darin made some fine music over the years, but his association with rock ‘n’ roll was minimal outside of “Splish Splash”. Ricky Nelson may have been better than what one would expect from a teen idol, but he was no true artist. And over the years seemingly every Motown act that had more than a hit or two somehow were inducted. Please don’t get me started on the (lack of) merits of the Mamas and the Papas!
Still, as the years went on you couldn’t complain about too many of the choices. This was mainly due to the simple fact that there was little gulf between artistic and commercial success. The music business was still a relatively tiny industry, so any artist that earned critical raves also generally sold a few records.
This was no longer the case as rock entered the 70’s. There was now a clash between the acts that filled the seats and the experimental groups that sought new sounds. Sadly, the Hall of Fame has gradually leaned more to the blockbuster acts while completely ignoring those who have created art that resonates and influences to this day.
Even worse, the general method to gain entry is to just continue to exist, regardless of whether you have anything new to say. Aerosmith is a perfect example. While they were definitely a great band, particularly in their mid-70’s heyday, in my opinion they fall short of having the credentials to be enshrined…particularly since they have become complete whores to the industry in their post-heroin MTV glory. Their biggest hits of the last two decades have almost all been written or co-written by ghostwriters, making them no better than a harder-edged Britney or Christina.
Meanwhile a ton of bands that actually changed the music industry are ignored. The Hall of Fame should model itself after the NFL. They could very easily just induct the wide receivers, running backs, and quarterbacks. But they also recognize the unsung heroes – the linemen. In rock, the linemen should include the Velvet Underground, the Stooges, the Seeds, the Jam, Kraftwerk, Joy Division, the Buzzcocks, Big Star, New York Dolls, Captain Beefheart, X, the MC5, and many other acts that set the stage for whatever tunes you listen to every day.
So let’s now take a look at this year’s inductees. I can’t argue with R.E.M. Although their recent releases may not have met the expectations of even their biggest fans, anybody who was a fan of indie rock in the mid-80’s remembers their impact. They almost single-handedly invented college radio, and for a three or four year period there were seemingly a million copycat bands begging for sales and airplay.
Patti Smith is another no-brainer. She’s the consummate female rock poet, and unlike the majority of artists still performing 25 years later she’s as good now as she was at her peak. There’s not a female artist performing today who isn’t benefiting from the groundwork she laid in the mid-to-late 70’s.
After these two acts, though, we start to have some problems. While I have no problem with Eddie Van Halen garnering a special nomination for his groundbreaking guitar style, I feel they’re a borderline case as a band. They had a fantastic debut that re-energized hard rock, but they never again lived up to that promise. Songwriting was always a problem for the band, which is why Diver Down has five cover songs, three noodling instrumentals, and four originals. I won’t even go into the disastrous Sammy Hagar years.
As for the Ronettes, I personally love early 60’s girl groups, and their sound greatly influenced everybody from the Ramones to No Doubt. But to be completely honest, they were really nothing more than puppets. Phil Spector wrote and/or arranged the songs, hired the musicians who created the backing track, and produced their records. Once they broke away from Spector, they basically disappeared. If they’re voted in, then the Monkees need to also be inducted…and I don’t see that happening anytime soon.
Finally, we get to the most controversial inductee – Grandmaster Flash. “The Message” and “White Lines” are great songs, but can anybody name anything else they’ve done? More importantly (and here’s the controversial point), they’re not rock ‘n’ roll. Yes, they’re considered the first rap group (although that’s not quite true), but it sets the stage for dozens of more questionable choices in the future.
Some may claim that any criticism of this choice is a form of racism. This is not a black and white issue. Nor is it a matter of accepting non-rock music as an influence. Country acts such as Johnny Cash and Hank Williams, along with blues acts such as Muddy Waters and B.B. King, deserved their place in the Hall for their influence on almost everybody, including Dylan and Led Zeppelin, and rap artists that have influenced rock may deserve an induction (although the only one that comes to mind is Public Enemy).
Inducting Grandmaster Flash sets the standard for a slippery slope that leads to anybody with sustained chart success in any genre to gain entry. Madonna may have been a cultural icon but she was a pop star. The same with Janet Jackson, LL Cool J, and Will Smith. Really, do we need to see DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince reuniting in 2014? I think not.
Sadly, that’s exactly what we’re probably going to see in the coming years. The induction ceremonies have already “jumped the shark”. Once a private affair that allowed for loose jams that featuring rarely-seen one-off collaborations, everything is now staged for a VH-1 special that generally airs a week later. Nothing is left to chance; every speech and performance is rehearsed weeks in advance, and is designed to sell more product. Reunion tours are announced (look for a David Lee Roth-led Van Halen tour this summer) and record companies will have the “Hall of Fame” inductee stickers and new compilations ready to hit stores a week or two later.
Does any of this really matter, though? Should rock ‘n’ roll be immortalized in a museum? I think not. Rock ‘n’ roll is supposed to be edge-y and dangerous, traits that were pretty much lost around the time that the Eagles and Peter Frampton became superstars. Dirty, smoky clubs are where energizing, guitar-driven music is home, not in a sterile, overly-sponsored multi-million dollar piece of architecture. At least that’s where I enjoy celebrating the virtues of the music that rules my life.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

On Earth 2...

Anybody who regularly reads my idiotic weekly rants knows that my life stinks. Actually, I just have no life outside of coffee, work, TV, satellite radio, and the internet.
Because of this sad state of affairs, I have developed a parallel universe where everything is perfect. Quite often I just close my eyes and imagine my life in what I like to call Earth 2, although psychiatrists may claim that I’m just having some sort of flashbacks caused by my prior, more outgoing life.
Today I decided to share with you some of the basic facts of Earth 2 to show just why it’s so much preferable to my dreary existence on regular Earth. I think you’ll quickly understand why Earth 2 is such a paradise.
For example, on Earth 2 weather practitioners have to follow Congress-defined laws that outline when they call a weather system a “storm”. Crying wolf on Earth 2 is also punishable by hanging.
On Earth 2, Ryan Seacrest is a Wal-Mart greeter, and Randy Jackson is an employee of the L.A. Humane Society.
On Earth 2, Chuck Berry is the true King of Rock ‘n’ Roll, and Elvis Costello is considered the “real” Elvis.
On Earth 2, the Replacements legitimately inherited the title of “The Greatest Rock ‘n’ Roll Band in the World” from the Rolling Stones in 1985. (Ok, in my opinion this really did happen on regular Earth.)
On Earth 2, candidates for President must pass an I.Q. test.
On Earth 2, TV pundits must have real blue-collar jobs.
On Earth 2, reality shows outside of Flavor of Love are outlawed. If “vote-off” shows are allowed to exist, losers aren’t just “kicked off the island”. They’re sentenced to immediate death.
On Earth 2, political parties do not exist. Politicians are elected on the basis of their actual positions on issues, and vote accordingly.
On Earth 2, all TV news channels include two non-partisan analysts for every representative of the major parties. This rule forces not only force a truly balanced panel; it also ensures that the 80% of the public that aren’t part of the far Left or Right are represented.
On Earth 2, Lindsay Lohan, Britney Spears, Fergie, and all of the other computer-enhanced non-talents work where their “talents” are best utilized – the Bunny Ranch.
On Earth 2, people will be left alone to moderately ingest whatever substance brings them pleasure.
On Earth 2, porn stars volunteer their services to ensure that every man (and willing women) in the country will experience at least one free “evening of a lifetime”.
On Earth 2, poseurs such as Good Charlotte are forced to spend as much time on their music as they do on tattoos, clothing, and photo shoots.
On Earth 2, lip-synching doesn’t exist. This is one of the reasons Britney and the rest work at the Bunny Ranch.
On Earth 2, celebrity magazines also don’t exist, and stars of action and chick flicks are not allowed to procreate.
On Earth 2, groups of women in bars are not allowed to scream in unison.
On Earth 2, awful late 70’s bands such as Styx, Loverboy, and Journey are relegated to the casino circuit. Oh wait, that already happens on regular Earth. This law is augmented by another rule that requires at least two original members (including the lead singer) for any band to continue to exist.
On Earth 2, Married With Children is still in production, along with spinoffs such as No Ma’am and Psychodad.
On Earth 2, local TV news is filled with locally-raised reporters who do more than just provide safety tips that are common sense to a person of average I.Q. They also actually dig for real news. Most importantly, political careers are forbidden for Earth 2 journalists.
On Earth 2, Mark David Chapman misses and hits Yoko instead. Ok, I’ve gone too far there. But John Lennon certainly outlives the other Beatles on Earth 2.
Of course, I’m not leaving myself out of this discussion. On Earth 2, I’m tall, dark, handsome, and rich. My ass never touches the bachelor chair, and a personal trainer and chef keep me well-fed but in tip-top shape. I travel the world to follow my favorite bands, including the still-running Replacements, and I’m accompanied on most of my trips by Scarlett Johansen. Do you now understand why Earth 2 is such a great place?