Monday, March 10, 2014

ABC's "Verify to Watch"

As of early January, the ABC Television Network requires internet viewers to login to their website by way of ones cable provider to watch the latest episodes of any of its T.V. shows. If you don't subscribe to cable television, you can't watch the show for eight days. The explanation ABC gives is ridiculously vague and obviously useless:

Pay TV service providers are a key part of the television industry in delivering broadcast content through new technology platforms. Now, with the support of participating pay TV service providers, the ABC network is able to continue to bring live entertainment, news and sports programming on a national and local level as well as the latest on-demand episodes on new, emerging digital platforms at no additional cost to their subscribers. This approach also allows ABC to offer several on-demand episodes that are available to everyone.

Did somebody write that with a straight face? The first sentence insinuates that cable companies are necessary for airing shows through new technology. No, they are not. The only new technology the network needs is the internet. Cable companies CAN be the provider for that, but they don't HAVE to be. The second sentence implies that cable companies assist in broadcasting at no additional cost. I believe that cable runs about $100 a month. That is hardly "no additional cost." Don't get technical with me about the wording, either. I see it refers to "subscribers." It's legal jargon meant to go over people's heads. They do think we're stupid, after all. Finally, they claim that it "allows" ABC to offer internet viewing, ignoring the fact that they previously offered internet viewing without the cable company's help, and so does Youtube. You don't need cable companies to put a video up on the internet. Anybody can do it.

So why are they doing this? Your guess is as good as mine. Some speculate that they are trying to pressure viewers into watching television the old fashioned way, in front of the set, at the time of airing. I think the cable companies pressured ABC into limiting online viewing during their last contract negotiation. Cable Company agreed to pay ABC extra money to stall the new platform. Cable companies are evil, after all. No sense in giving up your monopoly if you don't have to.

The main problem I have with this situation is that ABC is not a cable channel. Its content is available over the air for free. Airing content is not a gift to the public from ABC. The public graciously allows ABC to use the public airwaves, a deal which has helped ABC make an unimaginable amount of money over the last century. By treating cable subscribers differently than they treat antennae viewers, they are running afoul of the public interest. I have a good mind to complain to the Feds about this. Who the hell do I write a letter to? While I'm figuring that out, I've contacted ABC. Here is what I said:

"I missed Sunday nights episodes and cannot catch up with them because I do not have cable. This is a problem for serialized shows like Revenge, as I want to watch the episodes in chronological order. I am forced to wait until after the next episode airs before I can watch the current one.
I don`t understand why I have to verify a cable account for an over the air channel."
Their reply:
Hi ABC viewer,
Thank you for contacting WATCH ABC Customer Care regarding the changes to ABC. We highly value and appreciate your sentiments and do not take them lightly.   
As a company, we pride ourselves on producing the highest quality and most engaging programs for our viewers like yourself.
Please understand that producing this quality programming is costly. And TV service providers are key in helping us to make our content available.
Although you currently do not have a TV provider, there are still ways to enjoy your favorite ABC shows:
1. You can watch episodes starting 8 days after they air on or the WATCH ABC app on supported mobile device.
2. Many new episodes are available with a subscription to Hulu Plus, or for purchase on iTunes and Amazon Instant Video.
Again, thank you for reaching out to us. If you have additional questions or comments, simply reply to this email

Did the bitch even read my e-mail? She tells me I can catch up on the episodes that I missed AFTER the following episode airs. That's exactly when I don't want to watch them. I want to watch them BEFORE the next episode airs. Chronology, baby! As for cost, isn't that why I sit through annoying commercials? Advertising has been supporting the television industry for decades.

So, what do I do? My options are limited. Giving up the shows altogether is not appealing, since my television viewing is already severely limited. I only get four channels via my antennae, so I'm already effectively boycotting most of the television world. I do want to watch some television. I could switch my viewing  exclusively to the internet, putting my viewing schedule at least one week behind the airing one. This would allow me to watch the shows completely at my convenience. The only downside is that my computer desk chair is not as comfy as my couch. The third option is to just skip the episodes I missed. Whatever option I choose, and I'll have to make up my mind within the week, it won't be in line with what ABC and Evil Cable Company is trying to accomplish, because I'm still not getting cable.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Jason X

Whoever thought of the idea of putting Jason into outer space deserves a bloody high-five; and to give credit where credit is due, that man would be Todd Farmer. The Friday the 13th movies had long since gone stale, and if they were going to do another one, a radical new approach would be needed. Jason X is an original idea only as far as the franchise goes. It’s a twist in the concept, moving from horror, to science-fiction/horror, a combination of two great genres. Borrowing heavily from Alien, yet sticking to the formula of a serial killer offing attractive young adults, it delivers suspense, campy fun, action, and even a scare or two. The bottom line is that this film is enjoyable, and you won’t end it feeling like you just wasted two hours of your life. Let me clarify, at least you wont regret wasting two hours of your life. This is a slasher film, after all. 
The movie is filled with sci-fi clich├ęs to be sure, such as the android character’s curiosity about humanity, and the attraction her maker has towards her. Her requesting to have nipples put onto her breasts is actually quite touching, as her reason is simply because the other women have them. Why this movie works better than the previous seven in the franchise is through scenes like that where we get to know some of the characters as human beings, even though this one involves an android. By getting to know a character, we start to care what happens to them, which is an essential part of building up suspense. If we don’t care about a character, then we won’t care if they live or die. This movie gives us some likable characters, but it also gives us a few too many who are introduced, than quickly killed off. If I could’ve given Mr. Farmer some advice, it would have been to lower the body count. I know that seems contradictory to what a slasher movie is all about, but I’ve never been a fan of the excess. The security team on board the ship was not necessary, as they would not have been needed for the groups intended mission, and was only introduced to up the kill ratio. I also didn’t appreciate the pilot character, as he could have been combined with the engineer, and with more screen time, would have produced a more meaningful killing.  
The character that works the least is the villain, Professor Lowe. I have to differentiate between he and Jason as to who the villain is. Jason is the antagonist, and in this universe, sometimes the purveyor of justice. The professor is a greedy, lecherous, manipulative man, but that doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Unfortunately, I didn’t like disliking him. In fact, I didn’t even dislike this character; I simply found him annoying and repulsive and wanted him off the screen. Rooting for the killer is never a good thing. I’m rather uncomfortable with it, and when it happens, there’s been a blatant failure with humanizing a character. The actor who portrays him tries to approach the role with a sense of humor, but it only makes him more of a caricature than a villain. One of the common mistakes actors make is going over the top. It’s usually a problem with stage actors who haven’t learned to tone it down yet. I’ll put the blame on the director for this though, he should have recognized when things were getting stupid.
Two of the stars went on to work together again in the sci-fi series Andromeda, Lexa Doig and Lisa Ryder. Here, Doig plays the heroine, while Ryder plays an android. In Andromeda those roles would be reversed. The same casting agency must have been involved with both projects, as the filming of this movie happened almost immediately prior to Andromeda. Usually, the acting abilities of the cast are secondary to other considerations in these types of movies, but this group does show a decent level of ability. Ten years later, nobody in the cast has become a Kevin Bacon, but Hollywood is a tough place. Most of them have appeared to have continued working as much as actors generally do, with a higher than normal concentration in the sci-fi field. The guy who played Jason, Kane Hodder may be working the most out of all of them, usually answering the casting call for “someone big.”

I know that the budget for this film was not high, but you wouldn’t know it from the special effects. They aren’t impressive, but they work, and that’s all they need to do. We get some CGI nanobots and holograms, combined with futuristic sets and costumes, with old fashioned fake blood and body parts littering the area. It’s all enough to bring Jason into the 25th century.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Green Arrow Begins

When rumors of a Green Arrow show began circulating a few years back, I was excited. I’m always excited when a superhero comes to television. Back then, the show would have been a spin-off of Smallville, and would have starred Justin Hartley. But like the myriad of other ideas that the producers of Smallville proposed, it was rejected by the CW Network’s president at the time, Dawn Ostroff. Ms. Ostroff was not keen on superhero shows. She wanted her network to be for girls. It had something to do with the type of advertisers she wanted to attract. So instead of Green Arrow, Aquaman, or Lois Lane (they were all proposed); they gave us remakes of 90210 and Melrose Place. Dawn Ostroff was really hated by Smallville fans, and I conjecture that she hated Smallville. The only reason she probably kept it on was because it maintained high ratings, even after she banished it to Friday nights. But the Wicked Witch of the CW is dead (fired), and the new guy in charge isn’t a sexist, so we finally get a new superhero show. Now, with four-million viewers on premier night, Arrow is a hit, and that Ostroff woman can suck on it over at Conde Nast Entertainment, whatever the heck that place is.

The difficulty with starting a new Green Arrow show from scratch now is that the story was already told very recently on Smallville. The origin story for Arrow pretty much follows the mythos, with Oliver Queen being a spoiled billionaire who is stranded on a deserted island for several years where he transforms into a superhero. Playing around with a familiar character’s mythos is generally frowned upon, so I concur that it’s best to just retell the story, while adding a few tweaks here and there. The tweaks, as revealed so far, is that he still has family alive, and residing with him in their mansion, which could also mean that he doesn’t have unfettered access to the family’s billions in order to fund his superheroics. I doubt if the writers have considered that, but it would be an interesting challenge if he had to operate on a budget.

Stephen Amell is a different Oliver than Justin Hartley was. Amell is more intense, as the Green Arrow should be. While I liked Hartley’s portrayal, it was more light hearted, giving the character more of a mischievous edge. Amell’s version gives the character a degree of danger, someone who could step over the edge at some point. This guy is willing to kill, and he does, though he only kills the killers once they know his secret. They’ve made the decision to have his arrows actually pierce bodies, choosing to have them “just miss” the vital organs most of the time, which is not a reflection of any lack of accuracy on his part. It’s a bold move for a superhero, but one that is necessary when his weapon of choice is defined by a pointy head. I noticed that the actor comes across as stiff, but I believe this may be a character choice, as someone who is guarded, so it works.

The supporting characters consist of one Laurel Lance, Dinah Laurel Lance that is, otherwise known as the Black Canary. She and Green Arrow have a long history together in the comic book. They have even gotten married, though it’s one of those on again, off again things. She should be showing some superheroic moves relatively soon, hopefully in costume. It will be interesting to see if they include her supersonic yell known as the “canary cry,” as that would classify the series as science fiction, instead of just action.  His sidekick, Speedy is also around, but not the familiar one, whose name was Roy. They’ve opted for the girl version, and made her his sister. I’m going to hold out hope that Roy will be incorporated into the show somehow. It just doesn’t seem right to ignore the original. That would be like Batman skipping over Dick Grayson for, what was her name, Stephanie? Yes, there was a girl Robin for awhile. Maybe she can be the new Speedy’s BFF here.

The action sequences are well choreographed, and Amell appears to have been trained well in martial arts. The villains so far are normal thugs and gangsters, but it appears that the Green Arrow’s substantial, though not well known rogues gallery is expected to make appearances. I believe that this is a must. A hero is defined by his enemies. Without them, there would be no need. At this point, it will be the cartel that controls Starling City. That’s fine, but I’ll be looking forward to Deathstroke and the Dark Archer.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

There Goes Honey Boo Boo

TLC, like a lot of other cable channels, is throwing out a lot of reality shows these days, and one of them has become a summer hit. Here Comes Honey Boo Boo is about a little girl beauty queen who comes from a southern redneck family. Between pageants, the little girl hangs out with her trashy family, in their trashy Georgia home, doing trashy things. So yea, the family is white trash, but that’s OK, because they seem like pretty nice people.

As much as the show is about Honey Boo Boo, it’s also about her “mama,” June. Mama June weighs 300 pounds and isn’t very refined. She must have something going for her though, since she has four children by four different men. Maybe it’s her cooking. Her family seems to like her spaghetti sauce a lot, which is ketchup mixed with equal part butter. Fortunately for her, she’s been able to nab her latest baby daddy, who appears to be a keeper, and he is willing to work at a chalk mine seven days a week to support her family. What’s a chalk mine, you wonder. Some Google research reveals that he mines Kaolin, which is not used for chalk, but is mainly used to give paper its shiny gloss and is the primary component of porcelain. Maybe the stuff looks like chalk in its raw form.

While watching the show, I laughed out loud a few times, mostly when somebody did something disgusting and uncouth, but it gets old after a few episodes. The very opening sequence features Mama June farting, which was funny the first time, but eye-roll inducing each time thereafter. Like most reality shows, I don’t see this lasting more than a few seasons. Hopefully, that will be enough time for the family to make enough money to send the kids to a good school, so they won’t be making the same mistakes their mama made, and start popping out kids at a young age. It’s already too late for the oldest daughter, who at age seventeen continued the family tradition during the course of the season by having a baby, of whose father is not spoken of.

The disappointment about this show is that it is airing on TLC. TLC once stood for The Learning Channel, and it used to show educational programs. I used to watch it frequently, but no more. A reality show is a reality show, and even a good one only gets so much traction.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Those Monster Cereals

I was in the cereal aisle at Walmart recently, when the shelf stocker asked if I needed help finding anything. I usually say, “No, thank you,” but this day, I had something in mind.
“Uhm, usually around Halloween, they stock Count Chocula.” I said, mildly embarrassed.
“Not yet, but people have been asking!” She replied.

People have been asking! I wonder how many people, and how old they are. I imagine they’re all Gen-Xers. Back in the day, which is the 1970’s for people my age, there was a large group of characters who chucked breakfast cereals at us between the Saturday morning cartoons we used to watch. The characters which were most appealing to me were monsters: Count Chocula, Frankenberry, and a little ghost named Boo Berry. They vied for my attention in comical cartoon skits trying to one up each other, only to be scared away by something or other in the end. The characters no longer appear on television, having gone the way of the Saturday morning cartoon, and they only appear on grocery shelves around Halloween time. The company that produces the cereals, General Mills, claims that they are available to retailers year round though, and that the retailers are the ones who make the decision to only carry them as a holiday item.

For as long as I can remember, there were always at least three members of the franchise available to choose from, but occasionally a fourth was tried out, with limited success each time. Frakenberry and the Count appeared first in 1971, and were joined by Boo Berry a year later. Sometime later in the decade, a werewolf named Fruit Brute came along to scare them by howling “Fruuuuuuuuit!” every time he got excited. I remember buying Fruit Brute, and not being very impressed with it, as it was just another basic fruit flavored cereal. I think that’s why it failed, because of the lack of a focused flavor. A few years after they discontinued Fruit Brute, they retried the same basic recipe with a new mascot called the Fruity Yummy Mummy, complete with a Jamaican musical beat, and he lasted for even less time then the werewolf did.
As far as flavor goes, Count Chocula was always my favorite, not just because it was chocolate, but it was a very rich chocolate. Boo Berry was appealing to me more because it was blue, which is a unique color for a cereal, than for the flavor. I’m not even sure what blueberries taste like, so have no idea if Boo Berry comes close. All I can say is that it was tart. I’ll have to do a comparison some day by putting blueberries in my Boo Berry.
Fortunately, I missed out on the legendary pink “Frankenberry stool” syndrome which was the result of an indigestible red dye they initially used. They had corrected that problem by the time I started paying attention to things like that. For curiosity’s sake, I did a comparison of the nutritional information between sugar-laden Frankenberry and my current favorite cereal, Grape-nuts. I’m a little surprised that one cup of Grape-nuts has 270 more calories, half of a gram of fat, and 390 mg of sodium more than the “junk food” cereal. What’s up with that? On the other side, Grape-nuts does have significantly more fiber.

The box covers used to be hand drawn illustrations, but now they are computer generated. I’m not a fan. The characters work better with a more classical ambiance, evoking the old Hollywood movie characters they were meant to impersonate. Modernizing characters that are based on old horror movies subverts the campy spookiness which makes it fun. Nonetheless, I expect to see my favorite cereals return to the store shelves soon, and I can’t wait to help myself. Even though Saturday morning cartoons are gone, I’m hoping to catch an old monster movie some Saturday afternoon, while I chomp away on a couple of bowls of Monster Cereal. I’m prepared to even sit on the floor while doing it, just like I used to.

What is your favorite Monster Cereal? 

Friday, September 7, 2012

Using Realist Tactics for an Idealistic End

Realism is an ideology towards international relations. It is also called Power Politics, and is dependent on the possession of power. It takes for granted that the global community is anarchic, having no central authority. Though the exercise of Power Politics is Machiavellian by definition, it also relies on the political philosophy of Thomas Hobbes. Hobbes formulated his philosophy on the idea of Natural Law. He felt there was a “war of all us all” in human relations when there is no government, when people live in a state of anarchy. Humans developed civilization and its corresponding governments to counter this natural state. Government is practical because people need the security it can provide. When humans live in an anarchic state, they are in a constant fear of death and their only means of survival is to obtain power. In this state of nature, the competition for power never ceases. Presently, and throughout history, global politics have been in a state of anarchy, with each state representing its own person trying to survive in a state of nature. The present movement towards globalization is analogous to Hobbes social contract in which individuals create a state in order to obtain peace. But there is presently not yet a world government, and as Hobbes advises individuals to seek peace, but if it does not work go back to war, so too should the states seek peace, but be ready for war against those who do not cooperate. Until all states are prepared to commit to a social contract, our own country must maintain a position of power in order to survive.

In an anarchic world, each state must obtain and maintain an appropriate level of power in order to continue existing. If the state does not possess enough power to defend itself against its enemies, it will be conquered. Other states will attempt to take away its power when the opportunity presents itself as a way of ensuring their own survival. So, each state will try to achieve hegemony so that it will be able to survive any threats to its security. This is what the United States faces. The challenge for the U.S. is to maintain its hegemonic position in order to ensure its own safety. This will be necessary until the global environment is no longer in a state of anarchy. Furthermore, the United States can use its power to force other states to become liberal democracies, which would be unlikely to threaten the U.S., a fellow liberal democracy. It is empirical that liberal democracies do not go to war with each other. Once all states become liberal democracies, the possession of power will not be a necessity, because we will no longer be in a state of anarchy. So, attempts to spread democracy are in the self interest of current democratic states. 

Though it is generally ascribed to him, Niccolo Machiavelli never said, “The end justifies the means." This is an accurate expression summing up his political philosophy though. Machiavelli advised a head of state not to be merciful. He advised this because he believed it is an effective quality of a successful ruler, in spite of its apparent demeaning association. The purpose of being a successful ruler is not to enrich oneself or oppress ones citizens; that would make a tyrant, something he expresses disdain for in his Discourses. The purpose of a successful rule is so that the citizens of the state may live in an environment of security, not amidst anarchy. Using any means necessary to overcome anarchy is not only necessary, it is noble. In a state of anarchy, people are not free, but are slaves to fear. In the anarchic global political situation, all nations are in a state of fear. The enemies of democracy are authoritarian states, particularly those with expansionistic aims. Iraq, under Saddam Hussein was one of those states. 
Saddam Hussein was a master Machiavellian. An example of this occurred shortly after he took power in Iraq when he assembled his parliament. The exits in the building were blocked and Hussein announced that there were traitors in their midst. He introduced an informant and asked the informant if an individual in the audience was a traitor. The informant said he was, and the accused was led out of the building, never to be seen again. Hussein asked the informant this question of each and every person assembled in the hall that day. The informant said the person was either a traitor or a loyalist to the Ba’ath Party. Those labeled traitors were all led out, on their way to certain execution. Those labeled loyalists were spared. No evidence was given to prove somebody’s guilt. Their survival was dependant on the informant saying that they were loyal to Saddam Hussein. Imagine how those men felt on that day, trapped in that chamber with no place to escape and waiting for their names to be read. The fear must have been horrifying. While Hussein sat in a chair, arrogantly smoking a cigar and reading from his list of names, his captured audience did all they could do at that point --they kowtowed. The shouts of “Hail Saddam” and “We love Saddam” were broken only by the desperate protests of the accused while they were led away. Nobody knows how many of the accused were actually guilty of conspiring against Hussein, nor does it matter. Hussein made it perfectly clear that any person even suspected of conspiring against him would be killed. His grip on power was now firmly established, and could only be broken by an outside force. 

Saddam Hussein could have been advised by Machiavelli himself on how to obtain and maintain power. But Hussein was a tyrant and had ambitions of expansion. So how should those outside forces who would oppose his expansionist ambitions have proceeded against him? The answer lies within the irony, you fight fire with fire. This is where Realism comes into play. The opposing nations were correct to use their power to defeat him. The United States found it necessary to oppose him because if he were to expand his power in the Middle East, he would gain control of the oil market and threaten the power of the U.S., which is highly dependent on affordable oil importation. The U.S. used Machiavellian rationale when it chased his forces out of Kuwait in 1991, but it didn’t play out the Machiavellian game when it did not overthrow him. Machiavelli would not have advised one to leave his enemy alive, let alone in power. This was a strategic mistake, because Hussein would have attempted revenge as soon as the opportunity presented itself. The second Bush Administration realized this. Despite the reasoning they spoke of publicly, the second U.S.-Iraq War was a continuation of the first. They were finishing the job and protecting the United States’ position of power. 

The opposition to Realism comes from the Idealists. The Idealists believe that states, like people, are basically good and want peace. This may be true if the state is controlled by the people through a liberal democracy, but not all states are democratic. Many are authoritarian like Iraq was under Saddam Hussein, and are not interested in cooperation, but in obtaining power at the expense of other states. Idealism depends on cooperation among all states. If all states would cooperate, an idealistic world could be realized. Until all states reach an advanced system of democracy though, the world will continue to be in a state of anarchy. Now, in order to make all states cooperate, some must be forced. A state, like a person cannot be forced to do something unless the enforcer has enough power to make it happen. Power is therefore essential in a pre-Idealistic world. Realism can be a means of achieving the Idealistic end. 

By defeating the regime of Saddam Hussein, the United States accomplished three tasks. One, it eliminated an enemy. Two, it made an example of that enemy, which will discourage other enemies from challenging it. Three, it may put Iraq on the path to liberal democracy, which will allow it to cooperate in a peaceful world. The first two are practical results which have immediate benefits. The last is a long term goal which the Idealists would want, but would probably be unable to achieve. Idealists would support less violent measures such as economic sanctions. However, economic sanctions had been in effect for a decade and the results were not effective. Realism, through war, accomplished what the Idealists could not. The means of defeating Hussein may have been violent, and innocent people died, but in the long term, Iraq will be more prosperous, the world will be less anarchic, and much fewer Iraqi’s will die than if Hussein had stayed in power. We should remember that throughout history, violence has often been a driving force for change, and often it is for the better.