Saturday, February 27, 2010

SeaWorld staff has the bends, but refuses to break

ORLANDO — Despite the raucous approval of over 2,000 paying customers, SeaWorld’s trainers and killer whales said after the recent death of trainer Dawn Brancheu, they had just one thing on their minds: redemption.

“We want to make Dawn’s death the start of a new dawn” one whale reported through a translator.

The shocking nature of Wednesday’s lethal incident drew equally philosophic responses from the deceased’s fellow trainers.

“We have a sign in the locker room that says, ‘Pain is temporary. Pride is forever.’ What we sometimes forget is that pain usually means death, which actually is forever.”

Orcas, popularly known as killer whales, are actually dolphins; a word that hardly conjures up images of ferocity. Some killer whale advocates fear this week’s tragedy may prove a setback for the public’s perception of the orca.

According to A. Judith Cringeman, professor of Mammalian Discrimination History at UC Berkeley and author of When They were Called Blackfish: Killer Whale Images in the Media, orca on human violence is “quite rare,” and their image as underwater menaces merely “the ugly remnant of 19th century whaling stereotypes.”

In response to the fatality at Wednesday’s show, California Congresswoman and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi vowed to assemble a Killer Whale Task Force to investigate allegations of negligence on the part of SeaWorld officials. On Friday the Speaker’s office released a statement saying, “This is the legacy of killer whale deregulation.”

But as Saturday’s undaunted spectators piled into the stands, SeaWorld’s team of killer whale trainers vowed to drown out the noise and get back to the business of aquatic stunt work. A handful said they planned to wear black goggles in honor of their fallen peer, leaving some to wonder if swimming blind in a pool full of killer whales might not lead to more deaths.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

You Bet the Farm You Buy the Farm

When Warren Buffet referred to a recent investment as a “bet on America,” the blurb made headlines and swelled bosoms from sea to shining sea. But this week his Vice-Chairman Charlie Munger writes about the U.S. and declares "It's over," and the blurb gets treated like an industry secret. Colonel Sanders’ forbidden 12th spice is an easier find.

Perhaps Munger’s dour assessment of U.S. prospects has something to do with just how negatively that “bet on America” has been viewed of late.

Elsewhere, I wrote in Nov. about the unfolding commercial real estate collapse and the government’s likely (and destined to be catastrophic) response. With the publication of this report, it appears that response may soon be at hand.

Monday, February 22, 2010

What was in a Name?

From money.cnn:

Large retailers -- including Wal-Mart (WMT, Fortune 500), the world's biggest -- are wrestling with having too many types of brand-name products. At the same time, shoppers are buying less and looking for bargains.

So unless a particular brand is a top seller in its category, it's getting knocked off the shelf -- and sometimes getting replaced by a cheaper store brand.

Well then...before the crunch, buying knock-off brands sort of carried a stigma. Generics were seen as inferior, and their buyers cheapskates. What a difference the greatest downturn since the Great Depression makes. Now knock-offs are in such demand name brands are exiting stage left. Did you think you'd see the day when building a better mousetrap killed both the mouse and your product?

I remember how fashionable it was to brandish the labels on brand name items (and not just among glassy-eyed mallbots). Especially on slop like Gucci and Burberry. But now with the economy sputtering and consumers foraging for generics, displaying the label of a pricier brand will just be a signal you're one of the few left with cash. Fitting that that more expensive label will say Target.

Pretty soon Wal-Mart will be America's biggest employer and its most popular brand name. If Wal-Mart becomes any more powerful, employees are going to start wearing shirts that say: "Taxation without representation."

Tuesday, February 16, 2010


The emptiest “scandal” to emerge from Vancouver’s Olympic snowjob is the allegedly “sexist” (What’s wrong with being sexy?) Sports Illustrated cover featuring skier Lindsey Vonn. To those with evil, procreation-positive minds, this attractive downhiller is supposedly posed in a sexualized manner.

The blubbering couldn’t be more predictable: it’s a setback for female athletes and why can’t she just be seen as a good skier? and blah, etcetera, yawn. [Clears throat] Well, one reason she can’t just be seen as a good skier is because no matter how good she is, talent-wise, she’ll never be on the same slope as the best male skier (or even the pretty good male skiers). Therefore, viewers who aren’t hardcore ski fans need additional enticement to care about her. Funny how no one complains when a female athlete (or any non-dominant athlete) receives an extra PR boost because of some human interest element; an illness she overcame or the recent death of a loved one. But let it be her cleavage that short-circuits the applause meter and suddenly 49% of America is supposed to stop and introspect.

Athletics=competition, and the only plane on which female athletes can compete with men is sexiness. The best woman is the best among the less athletic gender. All the equal coverage demands and Title IX bullying won’t undo that reality. Even kids understand this. The phrase “throws like a girl” didn’t fall out of the sky (unlike the hopeless moon passes women throw).

I think we find an apt analogue in boxing. There is a reason heavyweights have traditionally been the most watched…because they’re the biggest, and the best heavyweight will defeat the best flyweight every time. Sure, boxing diehards can make a million arguments about the nuances of the lighter weight classes, and yes, in the P4P rankings, the Sugar Ray Robinsons are generally ranked above the Joe Fraziers. But that doesn’t matter to John Q. Public. His druthers are to watch the fighters who can stomp all the other fighters. He doesn’t care about the sweet science any more than he cares about meteorology. So when the heavyweight division is decent, it easily overshadows the other weight classes. The world’s best middleweight is still "just" a middleweight.

A few years ago, women’s tennis started grabbing headlines. Did the Amen Corner for female athletics shut up and bask? What, and go against type? Instead they bellyached that this newfound attention wasn’t due to a purist interest in female tennis, but rather to the influx of sexualized tennis players; classic beauties like Kournikova and provocative dressers like Serena. They were 100% correct. In most sports, women don't galvanize fans as much as their male counterparts, leaving sex appeal as the only equalizer. So you can either have steamy and ultimately successful marketing from players like Serena Williams, or you can have the following audience for the Ladies’ Singles Final: the ball boys, the line judges, and the competitors’ parents (if they can remember to set their alarms).

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Calendar Girl

Here’s comes Valentine’s Day again, ready to roll over us like a perfumed boulder.

Why do women need yet another holiday? They already own every holiday. Christmas is hers. It’s not about Jesus. Jesus wouldn’t change the locks for getting him the wrong tea set (“This is the Siam Time for Tea Collection. I wanted the Siam Tyme for Tea Collection. Can’t you do anything right?!”) .

Your anniversary? Try her anniversary. No man cares about marking the day you two bound the Gordian Knot. But botch the protocol on the paper, silver, or turducken wedding anniversary and you’re facing 364 days in Hell before you have a chance to make it up (so much for “it’s the thought that counts”).

Mother’s Day also looms infinitely larger in the public consciousness than Father’s Day. Compare the running joke of dad’s crappy Father’s Day ties to the guilt-impelling commercials about what you owe mom on Mother’s Day. Even Earth Day makes reference to the sanctity of a “Mother” Earth. The holiday calendar has enough estrogen coursing through it to halt the menopause of a small nation.

With holidays, the stakes are only high for men. If a chick bungles your birthday (the closest thing men get to a holiday), she can easily slither out of it. No matter how long you have been together, she always gets the leeway of a Denny’s waitress on her first day. There is always some reason why the blunder should be forgiven: “Oh, well she already does [insert thing she never does] every other day of the year, so why does today matter?”

Needless to say this slack is not reciprocated to men planning holidays for women. Just try saying, “I’m tortured by your gimpy work anecdotes 364 days a year, so if I happen to nod off for a second at this stupidly pricey bistro I’m paying for to ‘celebrate’ the day I surrendered to a lifetime of your fun-smothering observations, so be it.”

Enjoy your VD.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Two Tales with a Twist

I now bring your attention to a pair of tales with surprise endings. They don't really have surprise endings, but because you probably haven't heard them in their correct forms, their endings might surprise you. I don’t know how they became so distorted, but because the Interesting Times Herald is the blog of record, I offer you some complimentary straightening.

1) The Story of Don Juan

When describing a triumphant ladykiller, people often use the terms Casanova and Don Juan interchangeably. The ladykiller in question will even link himself equally to Don Juan and Casanova. Not counting that Don Juan never existed and Casanova was a real person, these two are about as interchangeable as Kobe Bryant and Kwame Brown. You will soon figure out which is which.

A composite of the Don Juan legend (there are many versions) goes something like this:

Playboy extraordinaire Don Juan slays the father of a girl he has seduced. He then encounters the memorial statue of the father and invites it to dinner. The haunted statue extends its arm to Mr. Juan, who upon shaking the statue’s hand is dragged into Hell.

As is often the case with folks in Hell, Don gets some face time with the Devil. The Devil tells him everyone in Hell is cast in a role, and hands Don a Jester's suit, saying, "You'll make an excellent fool."

Don is indignant, so much so he accuses Satan of being a hata! "I am the man who made a thousand conquests!" he says before interrupting a Taylor Swift awards speech.

The Devil responds by saying that if Don can identify even one of his conquests, he will be spared the Jester threads. And so each woman Mr. Juan has ever seduced is paraded before him, and in every case, our hero draws a blank.

Eventually, one floozy shows up bawling. The Devil tells Don this is the one woman who actually loved him. Her sorrowful eyes do their work on Don, and he agrees to play the Jester.

While it is true that Mr. Juan dropped a lot of thongs in his day, his legend is an indictment of his lifestyle, not a celebration of it. So when a guy brags he's "a regular Don Juan," what he's effectively saying is, "Not only am I dumb enough to provide comic relief in Hell; I'm too stupid to keep it to myself."

Please, if you are going to womanize, call yourself a Casanova.

2) The Story of Job

The trials and tribulations of Job (of Holy Bible fame) have been so thoroughly defaced that the most famous line associated with them, "The Lord giveth, and the Lord taketh away," isn't even in the story. But that is a small quibble compared to how the ending is routinely maimed. This one is a sore spot for me, as I hear it misquoted often by Bill Hicks cover comedians and the rest of the fake rebel smorgasbord.

As most folks know, Job had a big family, lots of livestock, and was living large. Had "The Apprentice" existed back then, Job would have been the one saying, "Thou ist fired."

Typically what you hear about Job is that God, for no apparent reason, decides to kill Job's family and livestock; then for an encore, covers the poor guy with boils. Apparently, God is just a fan of slapstick. The mistelling concludes with a ruined Job saying, "The Lord giveth, and the Lord taketh away." The End. This of course invites the familiar refrain: "Soooooooo, he gets punished for being good? No wonder Christians are so backward! I'd better keep buying these $50 Che Guevara baby shirts to show I’m nobody’s fool!”

[Game show buzzer]

For starters, Job is also a prominent figure in Islam and Judaism, but because these "enlightened" drones are totally in the dark on all matters, they mistakenly portray him as a strictly Christian phenomenon. I’ve learned it is fanciful to expect these “truth-tellers” to possess even a rudimentary knowledge of the topics they’re "exposing."

Job's miseries are actually performed by Satan (with permission from God) in an attempt to show the Almighty that the only reason Job praises Him is because his life is so good. Satan's contention is that once Job's life is destroyed, he will sell out. So though Job does suffer mightily, his faith remains sturdy, and he is therefore rewarded by God, not ruined. Let’s go to the videotape:

And the LORD changed the fortune of Job, when he prayed for his friends; and the LORD gave Job twice as much as he had before.

Not only does Job get everything back, he doubles his fortune. And all because he keeps the faith in the wake of hardship, which is the story’s main message and the very reason it is told in the first place.

Unfortunately, the only way the "enlightened" will learn this is if they start printing Job's story on designer wristbands. And to honor the space between their cultivated ears, those wristbands will have to be sold at the Gap.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Reach Out and Snub Someone

I was the first person in my circle to get a cell phone. And back when I got it, I was touching people, bridging gaps, spreading the pollen of social joy. Par for the course in the land of Mike Payne.

But in recent years, I’ve morphed into a full-time, shadowy hermit. So all I do with my cell phone now is take fake phone calls to keep people from speaking to me face-to-face. Some irritant with news to share will cross my path:

Irritant: Hey Mike, I finally got those pictures from my hiking trip-

Me: Oooo, sorry, gotta take this call. I think my apartment just exploded.

Irritant: Dude, how many times can your apartment explode?

Me: As many times as it takes not to see your hiking pictures.

It has reached the point where I’m actually giving out fake phone numbers to my friends just so they don’t accidentally call me while I’m pretending to be talking to them. No man could withstand that onslaught of awkwardness.

Me (talking into phone): What, my illegitimate daughter was sold into slavery?

Phone: Can’t read my, can’t read my, no he can’t read my poker face.

Here’s to using the greatest communication tool ever invented as a means of avoiding communication.