Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Honest Counters and Dishonest Doppler

Anybody who has paid attention to my weekly rants knows that I have been extremely critical of the counting methods utilized by organizers of area events. I’m embarrassed whenever I read that a parade or festival has somehow squeezed double the city’s population into a four-block area, or what seems to be a one-beer, one-person method of counting the attendees at Jazzfest or the Sioux Empire Fair. I don’t know how Lifelight counts their patrons, but they’re also not above fibbing a little bit.
I’m not saying that any of these events are not successful; plenty of people show up at everything I just listed. I have just never understood why they can’t be more honest. These exaggerations also just set them up to look even sillier the following year as there is always pressure to top the numbers of the previous year.
With that in mind, you can imagine the smile that came to my face when I picked up the daily paper last Saturday. The lead story of that edition reported that due to a new, more accurate method of customer tracking, the Empire Mall changed their 2006 estimates from 14 million customers to 7 million.
I applaud the management of the mall for coming clean. Seven million customers is still an impressive number – the Empire Mall is still by far the largest shopping center in the state. Let’s hope that other local leaders follow the mall’s lead.
Speaking of exaggeration, though, I have to comment about last week’s Blizzard 2007 miniseries. The program began as early as last Monday, with predictions of a snowstorm unlike anything we had seen in years. We were once again taught what to do if the power goes out, and how to shovel and drive. Oh, and don’t stick your hand in a snow blower. On Friday, we even got a camera shot of the airline schedules because a couple of flights had been cancelled (despite the fact that flights are cancelled every day).
They even managed to slip in yet another story about Lamont Sanford (I mean Kelby Krabbenhoft) because they just happened to find him at the airport trying to get out of town before the Blizzard of 2007 hit. C’mon, you guys. Your reporters have spent enough time on their knees giving oral treats to this egomaniac. Fred and Lamont already get their daily infomercials; maybe this was one time where you could have found a normal citizen to deliver the silly quotes that fit your storyline.
One could see the weather boys’ trouser bulges grow a little bit more every day as our frenzied forecasters led us to weather Armageddon. I’ll bet there were some satisfied wives and girlfriends as their excitement levels grew to epic proportions.
Yet nothing really happened. Friday was a beautiful day; the warmest it had been in days. Saturday was also very mild; there was a bit of drizzle but no snow until the late afternoon. Sure, we eventually received six inches, but it was a typical late season weather system. The temps remained mild, and there was virtually no wind. This was no blizzard, despite the footage they showed us of the obscure spots that received a little bit more snow.
Over the years, I have talked at various times to a few people at our local television stations, and they all think that I exaggerate their obnoxious weather coverage. Trust me, I’m not. Everywhere I’ve gone over the last ten days, particularly since the so-called storm passed, people joke about the weather-practitioners at all three stations (but particularly those at KELO). These aren’t just people that know I like to laugh at these morons; some of them have no clue who I am. Almost anybody under the age of 75 complains that they’re always crying wolf, and that one would be stupid to cancel any plans based on their predictions.
This isn’t a problem that ends when winter’s over, either. In the summer, any potential rainfall is classified as a “storm”, and just like in winter it’s accompanied by days of preliminary reporting designed to scare the public to sit home and watch their wretched newscast. As one clothing store owner said to me a few years ago, “why would I advertise on their station when they keep telling people to stay home?” I couldn’t agree more.
Yet they never learn. Just as this fake storm passed us by, we’re already being told that not one, but two more blizzards are set to hit town. Maybe this time they’ll be right, but I think I speak for everybody in hoping that their losing streak continues for quite some time.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

New Music Player

Some people have complained that I need to change the song that automatically plays more often. With that in mind, I've put in a Last.FM shockwave player, set to a "station" that revolves around (believe it or not) the Replacements. You have to manually start the player, but you can change the channel or even skip songs.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Enough With Anna Nicole!

Last night, as my son and I were eating dinner the television started airing one of the most evil shows of all time, Entertainment Tonight. Before I could run into the living room to change it to something wholesome, like a Cops rerun or Cheaters, Mary Hart had already run through the lineup of “stories” for the evening. Anna Nicole, Anna Nicole, Howard K. Stern, Anna Nicole, Britney, Anna Nicole, Britney.
In disgust, my son turned to me and whined, “why do people care so much about ‘celebrities’?”
Ordinarily, I would have just replied that it was just awful shows such as this one and Access Hollywood, Extra, and the entire lineup of E! and VH1 that celebrated the lives and times of the clueless and talent-less. Unfortunately, that’s no longer the case.
The pseudo-celebrity culture has also taken over “real” news programming. This is not something completely new, of course. Tabloid news stories such as Lacey Peterson and any missing blonde has long been the center of hours and hours of programming on all three 24-hour news networks, including the channel that loves to point out the lack of values of anybody not named O’Reilly and Hannity.
Network news shows had also slowly caught on with this trend. Ever try to watch a morning news program? There’s more celebrity news and reality show interviews than anything that has to do with Iraq or “real” issues.
I’ve long complained about this problem to no avail. But I am now at wit’s end, and must beg and plead to anybody reading this to just say no to fake news.
What has caused my anger? It all reached a zenith with the death of Anna Nicole Smith. Let’s be real; Anna Nicole was at best a D-list pseudo-celebrity. Besides an appearance or two in Playboy, and two years of one of the worst scripted-reality shows of all time, what really had she done to deserve anything beyond a thirty-second story or maybe a notice in the bottom-of-the-screen ticker that all news channels utilize these days?
Instead, all three news networks, along with the network news shows, went into overdrive. CNN went a full 90 minutes without commercials, which John Stewart pointed out means that Smith’s death was “bigger news than the President’s State of the Union Address, but slightly less than 9/11”. Larry King, Geraldo, Greta Van Sustern, Joe Scarbrough, Rita Cosby, and Nancy Grace all seemed to interview anybody and everybody who had ever met the ignorant twit.
Ok, fine, maybe since her death occurred on a Friday, generally a slow news day, they had nothing else to cover. Yet the coverage since that day has barely let up. Sure, there were plenty of tabloid angles to cover, from multiple potential baby-daddies to feuding relatives to supposed “lost interviews” that promised to explain everything. I must say once again, though, that Anna Nicole Smith is not big enough (except in breast and ass size) to justify this coverage.
James Brown had (and still has) similar tabloid-ish stories surrounding his recent death, yet those stories have received a fraction of the coverage. Why that is I don’t get. Despite a truly awful song in an awful Rocky movie, James Brown was a true musical icon. People would actually benefit from discovering his musical legacy. Nobody will learn anything from the life of Anna Nicole Smith.
What really bothers me about this whole misuse of TV time is the “experts” that the cable news channels used to explain this story to us. I’m sorry but anybody who receives a paycheck from the entertainment news shows should never be allowed to report news stories on real news channels. They’re bottom feeders whose angle on any story is less about the truth than promoting the phony musical and television stars of the week who will actually give them the time of day.
Anna Nicole is not the only pseudo-celebrity that has plagued my television in recent weeks. Professional lip-syncher Britney Spears had another meltdown this past weekend, and now any time not given to the battle over Smith’s remains has been given to explanations behind the bald pictures that should have never been more than a funny picture that we’d pull up on the internet to laugh at with our friends.
Britney, of course, is not a new topic for these awful channels. Her every move in the last two years has somehow become a news item, from her marriage to K-Fed (who’s looking more and more like the sane one in this family) to her parenting troubles to her lack of underwear to alleged hookups with both men and women. I’m sorry, but her career ended with “Toxic”; there’s absolutely no reason why this crap isn’t relegated to those magazines you find only at the grocery store’s checkout counter.
At least we know how this story will conclude. Once her hair grows back, Britney’s record label will force another album on the public. With a combination of a personal trainer and air brushing, she’ll make a Playboy or Maxim appearance where she proclaims that everything is once again right in her life. Despite a promotional budget that would make even Beyonce blush, the album will bomb (which will be blamed on both downloading and her controversial public persona), and her recording career will finally be over. Unfortunately, though, she’ll remain on our television screens as long as Mary Hart, Billy Bush, and that terrible former singer of Sugar Ray have jobs.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

The Grammys - Who Cares?

For years, I have sort of defended the Grammy Awards. Sure, their tastes rarely reflect my personal tastes, but I’ve long since passed the time where I expect the world to enjoy my quirky choices.
Yet I understood where they were coming from, and for the most part they bridged the ever-widening gap between commercial and critical taste. Sure, they tended to over-reward certain ageing artists, and they occasionally had their share of embarrassments such as the Jethro Tull fiasco in the early 90’s.
In recent years, though, the broadcast portion of the ceremonies were actually relatively entertaining, particularly the telecast hosted by John Stewart a couple of years ago.
I knew weeks before the awards were handed out that this year was not going to up to that level. The nominee list had resorted back to the safe middle-of-the-road choices that marred the pre-90’s awards, and the list of performers seemed to indicate a desire to reach the Hannah Montana crowd.
I poured myself a cocktail a few minutes before the show began this past Sunday, hoping that at least the heavily-hyped Police reunion would be entertaining. It was…for the first 90 seconds as Sting, Stewart Copeland, and Andy Summers launched into “Roxanne”. I was hoping for something a bit less predictable, but the energy level was there and Sting is one of the few ageing rockers who can still hit the high notes.
Those high hopes vanished as the band meandered into a jazzy middle interlude that sucked the energy out of the entire building. This was the kind of crap that has made solo Sting so frustrating, and even a reprise of the chorus couldn’t save the performance. Overall, it was okay at best.
And with that performance, rock and roll was pretty much off the menu for the rest of the evening. In fact, the only other rock act that performed was the Red Hot Chili Peppers, who for some inexplicable reason played the most “un-rock” track off their Grammy-winning Stadium Arcadium album.
It all went downhill immediately after the Police. I have to admit that I once sort of liked Jamie Foxx, but ever since his win for the over-hyped Ray movie he’s a complete ass. The fact that his awful pseudo-r&b album was nominated for a Grammy tells me how lame the nominations were this year.
Foxx was up there to hand out the first award of the evening for Best Duo With Vocals, or something like that. The winners? Tony Bennett and Stevie “I May Not Be Able to See But I Can Certainly Smell the Buffet Table” Wonder. Ugh.
For the next three hours, I was subjected to almost every “artist” that in my mind is to blame for all of the industry’s woes. Mary J. Blige seemed to be everywhere, constantly telling us how she’s lost all the drama and is now a wonderful person. Too bad she didn’t lose a bit of her ego with that drama.
Justin Timberlake also was never far from the camera eye…except when actual awards were handed out. What a talent-less buffoon. He stole the stage acts of Coldplay and U2, pretended to play piano, and actually fake-strummed a string-less guitar. If you don’t believe me, just go to YouTube and check it out.
Even worse, some marketing genius came up with this great idea to have the Grammies copy American Idol. Viewers were supposed to vote for one of three young hotties to sing with the former ‘N-Stinker. Yet we had nothing except their cute faces to base our decision. The resulting performance, a cover of Bill Wither’s “Ain’t No Sunshine”, made about as much as sense as having Christina Aguilera cover James Brown, or that awful pretty-boy country act Rascal Flatts and Carrie Underwood remake a seemingly dozen awful Eagles songs.
Timberlake wasn’t the only faker on stage, though. Shakira looked amazing as always, but was clearly lip-synching. Notice how the cameras were nowhere near her when she was “singing” yet had plenty of close-ups when Wyclef Jean took his turn? Towards the end, some unknown young kid never uttered a note into his mic as he copied Usher copying Michael Jackson, complete with young boys doing their own special dances. I hope he saves whatever money he made off his record, because I guarantee his destiny is the bargain bin at every used store in the country.
The actual awards weren’t quite as insulting. Unfortunately, few of them were actually shown on television. Few can argue that Springsteen didn’t deserve the traditional folk award for his album of Pete Seeger covers, or Dylan for Americana album. Or Wolfmother and Slayer for Hard Rock and Metal. The Flaming Lips won a couple of awards, as did Gnarls Barkley.
The big news of the evening, of course, was the multiple wins for the much-maligned Dixie Chicks. I’m not a fan, and never have been, but I have listened to it because of the input of two artists that I have interviewed in the past - Jayhawks leader Gary Louris and Trip Shakespeare/Semisonic leader Dan Wilson. Ignore the rhetoric and it’s a pretty strong, albeit lightweight, folk-rock album.
Their wins, along with their onstage silliness, has sent the right-wingers into a tizzy. To them it’s proof of a liberal plot to embolden our enemies abroad and bring down the rule of King George II. Uh, no. While certainly not the best album of the year, it was stronger than the other nominees and was one of the biggest selling albums of the year. I guarantee that the votes in at least two of their four wins were extremely close, and the album of the year could have just as easily gone to Gnarls Barkley, the Chili Peppers, or the awful John Mayer. As for song of the year, did anybody want to see James Blunt win? The only thing I want to see him win is the Death Pool.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Sanford and the Son He Never Had (That I Know of)

This past Saturday, almost every powerful person in the state gathered at the Washington Pavilion for a very special event. Our Governor was there, as were two of our three national representatives. Somehow even our mush-mouthed Mayor snuck into the building, although his incredibly-disappearing six-figure assistant was (as usual) nowhere to be found. Real estate barons, doctors, bankers, TV personalities, and hoity-toity society types all shared space with a few token “regular” people.
What could possibly bring all of these people together? Is it possible somebody booked a surprise Replacements reunion? Obviously that was not the case, as I wasn’t there. Or maybe Simon, Paula, and the black dude came to town to audition Cable Boy? No, he’s still reeling from his award-winning performance as the flamboyant Midwestern boy on The Price Is Right.
Instead, it was an old-fashioned press conference-slash-pep rally. Sioux Valley head honcho Kelby Krabenhoft set up this party, and in this city when Kelby calls you show up.
Little information leaked out before the beginning of this party, but it was well-known that he had an announcement regarding a large donation. While no name was initially connected with this donation, in this state you immediately know it has something to do with credit-card tycoon T. Denny Sanford.
I’ve got to admit, these men know how to create a stir. Sanford and Krabbenhoft announced a donation of almost a half billion dollars, and Kelby surely must have had to back up a few inches from the podium as he babbled endlessly about his visions of domed buildings, underground garages, and climate-controlled walkways. By the time he was finished, the signs all over the city were already changed from Sioux Valley to Sanford Health, which was quite a feat when you consider how much money the hospital had invested in signage all over this community. (In fact, is there any money left after the production and installation?)
Before you people deluge me with hate mail, nasty phone calls, and death threats, let me make it clear that I have no problems with Sanford’s generous gift. He’s got a ton of money, and if he wants to let other people play with it more power to him. I’m just playing the part here I was born to play – devil’s advocate. With that in mind, I must add that he made his fortune on the backs of a lot of clems with little-to-no credit in a state that changed its laws just for people like him. I doubt if the hospital would be quite so pleased to accept a similar gift from the payday loan people, and there’s not that big of a difference between the two types of businesses.
But Sanford made his money legally, and can obviously do what he wants with it. What I object to is the continued hype. This is certainly a big deal that deserved to dominate the newspaper and TV crews for the first day or two. Four days later, all of our media outlets act like there is nothing else to cover. It’s still the same story, but we have to hear about it over and over. Our local news has become nothing more than an infomercial for Sioux Valley (in my mind, the name of this company will always be Sioux Valley, just as a certain Indiana-based singer-songwriter will always be Johnny Cougar).
If they must continue to cover this story, why not wipe the smirks off their face and actually address some potential issues surrounding the expansion of the hospital. For example, there are many people who claim that the drainage problems in the area surrounding the hospital are due to the continued expansion of the hospital campus in recent years. Now that construction is going to be expanded by many blocks, along with the plans for underground garages and walkways, will flooded basements become an even bigger problem?
There’s also an issue in my mind with too much local power being in the hands of too few players. This has already been a problem, particularly in the Munson era, and Kelby is one of those players who have tried to dictate the direction of this community. How soon will Munson attempt to rush our city into another of his lame-brain ideas with the blessing of a hand-picked task force? How quickly will we hear the rhetoric that we have to follow the lead of Sioux Valley? Even worse, when will local schools and other community buildings bear the names of either of our fearless leaders? Do we really want our kids to go to Krabbenhoft High School or play at Sanford Field?