The Point of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia

April 10, 2014 on 2:29 pm | In General, Reviews | No Comments

Yesterday I wrote about how… well… bad It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia is. It’s the same show week after week. The cast of characters divide into two peripherally related situations and do horrible and highly improbable things. The characters have absolutely no redeeming value. They lack any empathy. They’re obsessed with themselves, despite having no value at all as people. They exist for their own pleasures and wants.

If a reporter writes a bad review about their bar? They kidnap him to force him to write a new one. They lose their jobs? They become addicted to crack to go on welfare. They’re bored? They hunt down a homeless person just for the fun of it.

I pointed out there’s no story arcs which keep you interested. I also pointed out that the writing is at best adequate. But a friend had a different take. He said the writing is awful. He points out that if you can’t write something funny, you just make the characters idiots. And then people will laugh at the idiots. That’s exactly what’s happening here. Most shows have an idiot and a smart guy. A lunatic and a voice of reason. But not Sunny, they’re all idiots.

But how can a poorly written show stay on the air for 10 years?! What’s the appeal? Answer: It’s the bro-culture version of the Big Bang Theory.

BBT is another show that’s poorly written. People think it’s smart, but merely dropping nerd culture references is neither smart nor clever. If you think adding cultural references is funny, try watching the 300 parody Meet the Spartans. There are no jokes in that movie. Just idiots making references to pop culture.

Anyway, despite poor writing an no interesting story arcs, BBT stays on the air because it appeals to nerd culture. Sunny stays on the air because it appeals to bro-culture. All those idiot bros need a show. They have no empathy, they think drinking is a virtue, they have no need for intellect or study… they’re just dudes. Fucking, drinking, having fun. And that’s also why there’s no “voice of reason” character on the show, because bros would hate him or her. The only sane and reasonable people on the show are mocked and tortured.

So Sunny is just sitcom porn for bros. It shows a life they would love living. Owning a bar, but not really working at it. Drinking whenever you want. Not worrying or even considering the possibility of consequences. Just me, me, me. Heck, with that niche, I wonder if the show will ever go off the air.

Update:

Now I’m not too sure about my bro sitcom hypothesis. By season 8 we basically learn that the gang are losers.

We learn that the “cool” guy Dennis, is actually a dweeb. He was unpopular in high school and in college. And we also get a glimpse that his luck with the ladies is not as good as he thinks. He’s basically tricking women into having sex with him, which implies he’s not very attractive. And some of them are not attractive.

We learn that Mac is a total loser. He has no self-defense skills at all and he sucks as a body builder. If it wasn’t for Dennis tricking him into taking appetite suppressants, he’d be a fat ass.

We learn that Sweet Dee is not as unattractive as the rest of the gang thinks. E.g., she nearly made it with the popular guy at the high school reunion. However, her personality would scare away any attractive guy. We also learn that she’s a terrible actress.

We don’t learn anything about Charlie, other than he really loves the Waitress. Oh, we did learn he’s actually a pretty “good” song writer and an accomplished piano player. In fact, Charlie is the only gang member with any talent or ability.

What I’m saying is that the gang are losers. So bros wouldn’t watch them, because bros wouldn’t identify with them. Bros never think they’re losers.

So why is Sunny still being produced? I have no fucking clue.

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It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia

April 9, 2014 on 7:17 pm | In General, Reviews | No Comments

I’m halfway through the third season of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia and am bored silly. It’s not that it isn’t funny. It’s funny. It’s just that it’s pointless. It’s almost as if it’s a parody of shows from the 60s or 70s which didn’t include any continuity or any story arcs.

In the old days, sitcoms just repeated the same premise week after week until they were cancelled. Endora would put a spell on Darrin, which would screw up his work assignment, which would be solved by Samantha at the last minute.

That changed sometime in the 90s. Even though I didn’t watch the entire series of Friends, one of the things that I liked about it was that it had continuity and long term story arcs. Those gave you a reason to watch week after week.

Not every good show had story arcs. 30 Rock didn’t. I never watched the show to find out if Liz and Jack hooked up. I didn’t care about that. I watched the show for its fantastic writing.

But without the fantastic writing, a sitcom without story arcs can be really boring. That’s the problem with It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. While the show is occasionally funny, there are no story arcs to make me watch the next episode and the writing is merely adequate, not great.

So far every episode of Sunny is identical. The gang of “friends” break off into two groups and do horrendous and improbable things that end up being peripherally related. There are no interesting story arcs. I don’t care if Frank is Charley’s dad. I don’t care if Charley finally gets the coffee waitress. There’s just no reason to watch other than to get a few laughs.

Maybe that’s the point. The producers wanted to push the sitcom genre to an extreme to see how much we could take. My take is halfway through the third season. I’m not saying I’ll never watch it again, but it’ll only be because I’m bored with nothing else to do.

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The Wolverine

April 9, 2014 on 3:12 pm | In Movies, Reviews | No Comments

I recently watched The Wolverine. As usual, this is not a typical review, but just observations about it.

First, for some reason I was offended that they used the Nagasaki bombing as a plot point in the movie. It’s weird because I have no problem using the Holocaust or slavery as a plot point, but it just seemed wrong to me to put a Marvel character into such a terrible tragedy. I wondered what Japanese people thought of the film.

Next, almost the entire movie was made in Japan, but yet it showed Japanese people in such a terrible light. The “grandfather” who started out good turned out to be truly evil. The “father” turned out to be truly evil, but not in a Bond villain way. The “fiancee” was terrible. He had no honor to his bride or his country. The “arrow guy” was evil, even though he had a last minute change of heart. Which in a way made him even less honorable. He couldn’t even honor the commitment he made to the grandfather.

The Japanese girl with the bangs was honorable, in that she never waivered in her protection of her sister.

The other Japanese girl, aka., the “daughter” was basically a pretty but blank slate. She was strong or weak and smart or stupid as the plot required. In other words, she was just a plot device.

So considering how terribly it treats the Japanese, I have to wonder exactly what the producers were thinking? My guess is that the producers were trying to tap the much larger and more lucrative Chinese market. So making Japanese people the bad guys would make sense.

Speaking of the daughter, at her grandfather’s funeral she’s attacked by about a 100 bad guys. But yet she thinks she can simply walk away, jump on a train, and go to her family’s vacation house to be safe! Was that supposed to tell us that she was incredibly stupid or was the movie just poorly written?

One last comment, when the “hero’s” power is six razor sharp blades, the rating should never be anything less than R. This had to have been the goriest P13 movie ever. It’s one thing for people to die. It’s another for a lot of people to die. But to see so many people cut to pieces was too much for the lower rating.

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What if Fred Phelps wanted Gay Rights?

April 7, 2014 on 8:56 pm | In Thought of the Day | No Comments

Most people know Fred Phelps as the face of the anti-gay Westboro Baptist Church. To say that the Westboro Baptist Church is anti-gay is an understatement. That’s like saying Nazi’s disfavor Jews. Fred Phelps, through his Westboro Baptist Church, spent over a decade fighting against homosexuality. But what most people don’t know is that Fred Phelps was a life long supporter of the Democratic party and that he was a very successful civil rights attorney. As an attorney he fought vigorously for the rights of blacks, immigrants, women, etc.

How did this man change from a progressive liberal who fought to give rights to the disenfranchised into being the most hated right wing religious nut in the country? My theory, er… hypothesis, is that he didn’t change. Maybe to ensure the rights of gays and lesbians he created an opposition to those rights that no sane person could support.

Think about it, he went out of his ways to piss people off. Even protesting at military funerals, for no apparent reason. Liberals hated him. Conservatives avoided him. It’s almost as if his entire campaign was specifically designed to make the LGBT movement appear sane and rational.

Now I’m not saying everyone in his church knew what he was up to. And have I no doubt that some less than sane people signed up for his church and genuinely believed his fake message.

But I’m leaning towards not believing that Phelps was the evil man he presented himself to be. I’m leaning towards the belief that he made the ultimate sacrifice to ensure that a disenfranchised group had the same rights as everyone else. I have no way of proving my theory. But based upon the evidence, it’s the only thing that makes sense.

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Could the CableCARD save the cable industry?

March 31, 2014 on 8:50 pm | In General, Tech, Tech Support | No Comments

People are dropping cable TV in droves. Cable TV costs a lot of money. You’re forced to pay for channels you never watch. You’re forced to watch TV their way, e.g., you have to pay for their DVR, which limits how you can skip commercials or record shows. Basically, cable TV is all about control. The cable companies controlling you, how you watch TV, and your wallet.

I’ve always pledged to give up cable TV when forced to switch to digital TV. I have a PC based DVR. At the time it has 6 tuners. It has 4 terabytes of hard drive space. I can watch shows on any Microsoft Extender in my house, e.g., Xbox 360s. I also used a HomeRun network tuner, which allows me to watch TV on nearly any device on my network.

I could go on and on, but in a nutshell, my set up gave me freedom. And being forced to use a digital set top tuner would take that freedom away. My DVR would be useless. I’d have to rent a DVR from Charter. That DVR would be limited in nearly every conceivable way.

But the advertising Charter sent me concerning the switch to digital included information about CableCARD. A little history. Back in the original days of cable TV, you had to rent a box to see the content. Eventually the FCC mandated that all TVs should be able to decode Cable TV signals, to eliminate the need for cable boxes.

But the cable companies profited from the boxes, in a number of ways, so they demanded the right to use them again. The FCC allowed the new breed of cable boxes as long as cable companies agreed to use the CableCARD. It’s a card that you can insert in certain TVs (very rarely) or DVRs that allow you to get encrypted cable channels without using a cable box.

I searched for TIVO options for the CableCARD and came up less than happy. They had very small hard drives and limited features. E.g., I would not be able to watch my TIVO in multiple rooms.

But I found a HDHomeRun PRIME. It accepts a CableCARD. It has three built in tuners. And then you plug it into your network so your devices can access it. For example, my PC based Media Center DVR sees the three tuners, as if they were directly installed into the PC. The PRIME also has a built in DLNA server which allows you to access the channels from nearly any networked device.

So I bought the PRIME, got my CableCARD, and installed it. But did not get all my channels. Simply put, cable companies do not want anyone to use CableCARDs. So they make it hard. I had to have a technician, who knew nothing about CableCARDs to come out and get it to work. He was in my house for nearly three hours, but the PRIME is working and I’m happy.

One of the most annoying “features” of a cable box, and one reason cable companies love them so much, is that they show you EVERY channel you get, plus every channel you do not get. They want you to know what you’re missing. And they make it very easy to click on a channel and immediately sign up for it. Sure, you could make a favorite’s list, but that is not easy nor is it convenient to use.

Using features built into Windows Media Center I was able to hide all the channels I don’t receive or would never watch. Including redundant standard definition channels. (If you’re giving me the channel in HD, don’t bother giving it to me again in SD!)

I was also able to move some of the channels around in a more logical order, grouping kids and sports, and broadcast networks near each other. In every conceivable way my system is better than the cable box system. I’m glad I switched.

In conclusion, with a CableCARD, the amazing PRIME, and my Windows Media Center PC, I’ve retained my freedom. And because I have the freedom, I no longer think about cutting cable.

Maybe it’s not exactly the price which is driving customers away. Maybe it’s the lack of freedom. If that’s you, consider a CableCARD solution.

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What’s up with Walmart not wanting to sell merchandise?

March 31, 2014 on 5:57 pm | In General, Logic, Thought of the Day | No Comments

I keep hearing stories about Walmart refusing to hire enough employees to keep some of their stores fully stocked. According to the complaints, Walmart has the merchandise in stock, in the backroom, but there are simply no employees to take it out onto the sales floor and stock it.

Allegedly Walmart is doing this to save money. But that makes no fucking sense at all. I used to work at a supermarket and the number one rule was, “Nothing sells out of the backroom!” That was drilled into every employees’ head. Restock before the floor is out of stock and never let the floor run out. And if by some bizarre chance or customer rush, if something is out of stock on the floor, then stop whatever the fuck you’re doing and restock!!!

In other words, nothing is more important than getting the product on the sales floor.

But here’s Walmart intentionally refusing to take sales to save money on hiring employees. Taken to its extreme, Walmart would be an empty warehouse with greeters. Exactly how in the fuck is that supposed to make money? To put it another way, hasn’t anyone at Walmart heard the expression you have to spend money to make money?!

So what is Walmart’s deal? I came up with some theories.

First, Walmart’s profit margins are so low for some products it actually costs more to stock the product than they make from selling it. If that’s true, it does make sense not to stock. However, what would make even more sense would be to fucking raise prices to make these products profitable to actually sell. Walmart sets its own prices, why would it intentionally set prices so low it’s not worth even selling the products?!

Are these missing products “loss leaders”? Products that are intentionally priced below profit to get people in the store. But that doesn’t make any sense either, because buying loss leaders to get people in your store and then not stocking them does not get anyone in your store. It defeats the entire purpose of loss leaders. Can the powers that be at Walmart be that stupid?!

Could it be from a draconian bureaucracy? Maybe the upper echelons of Walmart corporate have decided that local stores have to get a better handle on their wages. According to the article linked above, stockers earn more money at Walmart than other associates. So maybe local managers are eliminating stockers to stay in compliance. Eventually corporate will be more concerned with actual sales numbers and the directive against employees will be relaxed. That appears to be happening now, according to the article I linked above.

Speaking of stockers earning more money… maybe Walmart wants to eliminate that wage disparity without causing a ruckus. So they’re reducing the population of stockers so they’ll be less people to bitch about either having their wages reduced or not receiving a raise. Then once the wages are reduced (or not raised) and the disparity is gone, Walmart will start hiring stockers again. This would obviously be a long term plan, because in the short term it makes no sense.

The only possible plan that makes any sense at all is the last one. So I’ll keep my ears open to see if Walmart decides to lower wages for stockers. But I doubt it. To paraphrase, never attribute to complex logic that which can be explained by simple stupidity.

I’m going to go with a simple answer: Short term greed. Someone at Walmart corporate decided that wages were rising and were slightly impacting short term profits. So s/he did a very stupid thing. That someone directed the reduction of employees without considering the consequences. Because of the directive local managers eliminated the stockers, because they earned the most. And because of that Walmart stores were stuck with stock it refused to sell.

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Arguments I Can Refuse

March 25, 2014 on 4:43 pm | In General | No Comments

L.V. Anderson over at Slate gives us contradictory reasons why the US’s glorification of Mafia subculture must stop. His focus is on restaurants, such as Kitchen Consigliere, Capo’s Speakeasy, and Godfather’s Pizza.

His first argument is that it’s wrong to make light of very real Mafia violence. Anderson brings up 2 year old boy who was shot in a Mafia hit in Italy. That is very sad.

His other argument is that such restaurants are perpetuating Italian-American stereotypes.

In other words, Anderson argues we shouldn’t have Mafia themed restaurants because the violence is real and they reenforce false stereotypes about the violence of the Mafia and Italians.

If true, either one of those arguments is good, in my opinion. If the Italian Mafia is as bloody and violent, as he claims, we should not be making light of it. Much in the same way we don’t like the spread of Nazi-chic in Asia.

On the other hand, if the stereotype is false, and the Mafia doesn’t exist or it exists and is not violent, we shouldn’t be pretending that it does or is. Because that makes Italy and Italians look violent, when in fact they are not.

However, both cannot be true, but Anderson wants to have it both ways. And in that he fails. If I had written his piece I would have first raised the common “stereotype” argument and then rejected because it’s not actually accurate. Then I would have argued the Mafia does in fact exist and it is in fact hyper violent, and we should not be making light of such violence. I would have raised the growing use of Nazi “fashion” in Asia as an analogy to illustrate my point.

Avoiding making light of real violence is the stronger argument. And his refusal to let go of the “stereotype” argument only weakens it.

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All people are equal, but some people are more equal than others

March 24, 2014 on 1:56 pm | In Law, Logic, Thought of the Day | No Comments

Feminists in Portland, Maine staged a topless protest to bring attention to what they claim is a double standard when it comes to the public display of upper torsos. I should point out that it is not illegal for women to go topless in Maine. So I’m not entirely sure what they were protesting. What exactly did they hope to achieve? I have no idea.

But they were “surprised” and “upset” that men came and took pictures of their topless breasts. Despite making a public spectacle of themselves, they were upset that men were noticing and taking pictures of it.

Sure, I agree an ideal world be one where men and women were treated perfectly equally and men didn’t obsess over boobs. But feminists have to recognize that we do live in a world where some men (and even some women) are obsessed with boobs.

By protesting, the feminists have basically disproved their own point. They want to be treated the same, but are surprised and upset when they are treated the same. They want to walk around topless in public, as the law allows, but they want to be treated differently because they don’t want men actually noticing them. It’s perfectly legal to take pictures of men who make a spectacle of themselves in public. But women, they’re special. We need to make an exception to promote equality.

That’s the message they’re sending. And if they truly want equality, it’s the wrong message. If there is nothing “wrong” with their boobs in public, then there’s nothing wrong with men taking pictures of them. And by feminists arguing that there is a difference when it pertains to women, they’re arguing against equality.

Update: I’ve immediately updated this post because I realized exactly what someone is going to say in response:

“It’s not about feminism or equal rights, it’s about treating people with respect. And it’s disrespectful to take pictures of women’s boobs against their will.”

And that only proves my point. Feminists demand “respect,” but they demand a different respect from men.

Right now it’s legally and morally acceptable to take pictures of people who make spectacles of themselves in public. But feminists want to change the notion of respect and apply it only to themselves. They want to be treated equally, but then demand exceptions to that equal treatment. That’s not equality.

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The Ironic Reason the Antivaxxer Movement Exists

March 18, 2014 on 3:14 pm | In Health Care, Logic | No Comments

I assume everyone has heard of the Antivaxxer movement. It was essentially started by Dr. Andew Wakefield. His “proof” that vaccinations cause autism was based on a poorly conducted study which relied on fabricated evidence. In other words, he had no evidence at all. And even worse, Wakefield conducted his “study” based upon payments from attorneys who wanted a scientific link, valid or not, so they could sue the manufactures of the vaccines.

So the sole reason Jenny McCarthy believes and promotes the idea that vaccines cause autism is because some attorneys bribed a doctor to conduct a faux study to create a false claim to give false credence to a future lawsuit.

But despite the proof that Wakefield’s study is without basis and the fact that no other study shows a link, McCarthy and millions of other parents continue to believe that vaccinations are harmful.

So why do they believe in such nonsense? Dr. Sydney Spiesel over at the Slate succinctly explains the rationale as follows. The antivaxxers continue their beliefs “because vaccines have been so successful at eliminating many serious infectious diseases that there is no longer any public perception of risk from the illnesses they prevent.”

In other words, if kids were still getting polio. Parents would fear polio. And if there were a way to avoid their kids from contracting polio through vaccinations, those same parents would rush to the doctor to obtain those vaccinations. But without that fear of polio, there is no rush. There’s complacency.

If an actress back in the 50s had tried to rail against Jonas Salk’s vaccine, as it and others eliminated polio as a threat, she would have been seen as a nut. No television program or magazine would have allowed her any time to spread her ignorance.

But the threat is gone. So McCarthy is given her time. And the fear she’s promoting outweighs the nonexistent fear of polio. So she’s winning.

It’s ironic, actually. The fact that vaccines eliminated so many health threats is the main reason McCarthy is allowed to publicly argue against vaccines.

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Star Trek is niche, it’ll die in an attempt to give it mass appeal

March 10, 2014 on 2:50 pm | In General, Logic, Movies | No Comments

Someone asked on reddit, “Why can’t Paramount get their act together regarding Star Trek?” He included a link showing that it’s last in terms of profitability among movie franchises.

My question is: Why does everyone keep thinking that Star Trek should be more popular?

The original series flopped on NBC after three seasons. However, the idea of syndication took off about the same time and that’s when the nerds and geeks of the world were able to start watching it. If it hadn’t been for syndication, the show would not even be a memory now.

But despite its massive success in syndication, it was still niche programing. It was still watched by nerds and geeks. It never transcended into mass popular appeal. The same is true of Next Generation, Voyager, and DS9. They did well, but they were all syndicated programs. None were even remotely successful enough for prime time.

While the first film of the series seemed to do well, adjusted for inflation it did the best of all of them. Financially it was a flop. It did so bad that Paramount was able to wrestle control of the franchise from Roddenberry. Why did it flop? Because the audience for the movie did not extend beyond the group of nerds and geeks who fanatically watched the series in syndication. Why did the studio expect people who would not watch it in primetime, in their own living rooms, for free… pay to see it in the theater?!

Compare that to Star Wars, which appealed to a wide range of people, e.g., older people who grew up with Flash Gordon and young people who wanted to see laser sword fights in space.

Let’s look at other franchises, the Lord of the Rings was able to appeal to more than those who have read the book. The current Marvel/Disney superhero franchise has cast a very wide net. The Harry Potter series did a great job extending to people who hadn’t read the book.

But the commonality is that they’re simple. Despite the complexity of the story, the Lord of the Rings was simply defeating evil by throwing a ring into a volcano. The Marvel movies are as simple as you can get. Brightly outfitted heroes kicking the shit out of evil costumed villains. And the Potter series is pure genius. Who wouldn’t love the story of an orphan child with deep hidden talents who eventually defeats a great evil? Regardless with what’s going on on the screen, the story appeals to us. We root for Harry because we want it to be true about ourselves.

But Star Trek is not simple. As I’ve written about before, it’s complex. The stories are not high octane but simple stories about good versus evil, they’re sci-fi designed to get you to think. They’re moral stories wherein the solution involves making a hard choice, not merely beating someone to a pulp.

So if Paramount tries to make Star Trek simple with mass appeal, it’ll kill Star Trek in the process. It’ll be yet another big budget movie where clearly defined good fights clearly defined evil. That’s what’s happened to the reboot movies. They’ve disposed of everything that made Star Trek unique and pissed off the fans in the process.

Is it too much to ask to live in a world where profits don’t have to be maximized in everything? That some pleasures should be enjoyed for their own sake? Probably. Because Star Trek will be killed. For that I have no doubt.

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