Friday, December 24, 2010

Scrooge Reconsidered

When scrunching up your face at Ebenezer Scrooge this Christmas (I'll assume you're saving yourself for the George C. Scott version), have a second thought about ES's position. Consider that he is the major revenue source (TAXES) for what social services do exist in his gloomy, fog laden town. The charity collectors who solicit donations from Scrooge famously reference these institutions in horror:

Collector: At this festive time of year, Mr. Scrooge, it is more than usually desirable that we should make some slight provision for the poor and destitute.
Ebenezer: Are there no prisons?
Collector: Plenty of prisons.
Ebenezer: And the union workhouses - are they still in operation?
Collector: They are. I wish I could say they were not.
Ebenezer: Oh, from what you said at first I was afraid that something had happened to stop them in their useful course. I'm very glad to hear it.
Collector: I don't think you quite understand us, sir. A few of us are endeavoring to buy the poor some meat and drink, and means of warmth.
Ebenezer: Why?
Collector: Because it is at Christmastime that want is most keenly felt, and abundance rejoices. Now what can I put you down for?
Ebenezer: Huh! Nothing!
Collector: You wish to be anonymous?
Ebenezer: I wish to be left alone. Since you ask me what I wish sir, that is my answer. I help to support the establishments I have named; those who are badly off must go there.

Though his contributions are involuntary, thanks to taxes Scrooge has contributed far more to the poor than his cadre of naysayers. Does anyone acknowledge this, much less thank him? No. They deride him for not being a bigger cash cow. No wonder Marley's better half is so grumpy.

Where do his critics think the money for public services comes from? It comes from workaholics like Ebenezer, not cheery well-wishers. But of course!

If men like Scrooge didn't chase every shilling, there would be even less taxable lucre for the already blighted social services from which the charity collectors recoil. Good thing ES's raison d'être is creating wealth!

Scrooge's real miscue is his brusque demeanor. Picture how much differently he'd be viewed if instead of "Bah humbug" he said "Teach a man to fish." His image would replace Reagan on the bibs of Republican lobotomees everywhere.

Worth noting too that in spite of the taxation of moneyhounds like Scrooge, the public provisions for the poor remain terrible. As the charity collectors seem to indicate, private donations are the only way to truly provide comfort and assistance to those in need. Goes to show that even then, the welfare state didn't work.

As Bob Cratchit might say, "To Mr. Scrooge!"

Saturday, December 18, 2010

A Pro-Bono Defense of Michael Vick

The notion of a crimewave led by athletes who always "get away with it" has been present since I was young. To hear some tell it, your average police lineup could be assembled into a Pro-Bowl offensive line.

This "athlete crimewave" script is more padded than Rocky Balboa's record. Wide receivers are not weapons of mass destruction. Their crimes are often victimless acts like drug possession, which shouldn't be illegal in the first place.

What most outrages the "athlete crimewave" faithful is the belief that courts treat athletes differently. I'm outraged this surprises anyone. Rich people always have the upper hand in court; doubly so for rich people who also represent major investments made by even richer people (team owners, the leagues themselves). And if the tables were turned, the "crimewave" soapboxers would surely use every resource at their disposal to conjure the words: "Not guilty." Even Dr. Phil could deduce that given a choice between prison and freedom, most folks prefer freedom.

Michael Vick is a screaming exception to the "getting away with it" rule. The man did time. Our society purports to believe that those who have done time have "paid their debt." So Vick's debt is settled. His credit is restored. He doesn't belong in sweeping rants about athletes "getting away with it."

It's the sports fans themselves--the same guys who can't discuss athletes without using the word "thug"--who have become so unhinged that some NFL stadiums now have on-site jails. Eagles fans were such hellions that Veterans Stadium had its own courtroom. If these sport fans--often middle-aged 9-to-5ers--can't be trusted to behave after a few beers at a ball game, just imagine how they'd act if they were 23-year-old millionaires with the world on a string.

Today's sports fan is a greater threat to the public's perception of sports than the athletes who play them. When debating whether to buy tickets to a game, who is more likely to keep you from pulling the trigger: The quarterback who sins off the field, or the drunken inbred who would sit behind you barking "YOU SUCK!!!" until your eardrums were mousse?

Remember superfans, when you point one of those giant WE'RE NUMBER ONE fingers at someone, there are three puffy fingers pointing back at you.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

An Incurable Case of Consumption

Any prole who has worked retail will swear on the King James that customers enter stores with a one-two punch of entitlement and victim's indignation. On the one hand, they believe they are entitled to anything, ANYTHING they request. On the other, they believe that if this hypothetical ANYTHING cannot be procured, they have been sentenced to suffer in ways that would have the Dalai Lama dressing like a goth. Despite living in a land with more consumer choice than any in history, an oinking slab of Americans act like they had no role in choosing the store in which to buy their new can opener, and no alternatives should that store not meet their piggish demands.

Upset that Target's can openers don't come with Immortal Secrets of the East? Try your luck at Wal-Mart. Or Sam's Club. Or Costco. Or Amazon.com. Or Craigslist.

Or you could brush up on an Immortal Secret of the West: can openers open cans, not Immortal Secrets of the East.



Conspicuously consume my tweets: http://twitter.com/#!/greatMikePayne

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Overrated Songs by Otherwise Reliable Bands

D'yer Mak'er by Led Zeppelin

You probably don't know it by its title, but rather as the "OH...oh, oh, oh, oh, ohhh, you don't have to go" song.

When I hear "D'yer Mak'er" I can't help but think it's one of those sugary tunes they threw together FOR THE LADIES. As if Zeppelin needed such a song. When you're so deep in dames you're using them as aquariums, you probably don't need help on the wooing front.

Black Hole Sun by Soundgarden

Anyone who thinks they want their music to be nihilism with a beat...here ya go. You wanted nothingness? You got nothingness. Nothingness ain't so appetizing when it's resting on your dinner plate, is it?

I can't see what function "Black Hole Sun" serves. It isn't soothing when you're down. It brings no crescendo when you're up. Like a stillborn bug in a cocoon, "Black Hole Sun" just sits there waiting to become something it will never be.

If you like Soundgarden but prefer slower tracks, stick to the classics: "Like Suicide," "Boot Camp," or "Fell on Black Days."

Nothing Else Matters by Metallica

I love Metallica so much I feel dirty nit-picking them. But no one ever said the pursuit of truth was a clean business.

To me, "Nothing Else Matters" just isn't that special. Not terrible, but like a woman who thinks her stories are funny, it gets old quickly. I understand that Mr. Hetfield was feeling lonely while touring, and composed this after a phone call with his ladyfriend.

Had clearer heads prevailed, he could have instead called a radio station and dedicated someone else's song to his amore; perhaps a little Al Green.

Or he could have used an alias and requested Barry Manilow. He wouldn't have been the first. No one in Manilow circles uses his real name. Ticket tracking agencies have repeatedly found that 8 out of every 10 Manilow tickets are purchased with stolen credit cards. Better to risk larceny than be outed as a BM fan.

Rapture by Blondie

I get that it's historic. I get that it was the first #1 song with a rap verse. But just because "Rapture" is historic doesn't mean it is great. It may have broken the mold and helped usher in what followed, but that doesn't make it shine as a standalone.

"Rapture" was a germinal work, a precursor to greater things. And that's what it feels like; a scrimmage. Scrimmages are important forerunners to the Super Bowl, but there's a reason no one scalps tickets to them. I have yet to see an episode of "NFL Films" called "Great Snaps of the Pre-Season."

Everybody Hurts by REM

Apparently this song helps people. Glad to hear it. But even if "Everybody Hurts" kept the sawblade off your wrist, you must admit the lyrics have issues:

When you're sure you've had enough of this life, well hang on

Don't let yourself go
'cause everybody cries
and everybody hurts
sometimes

Sometimes everything is wrong. Now it's time to sing along...

'Cause everybody hurts. Take comfort in your friends...


Either this song is a high budget gag or REM applied the cut-up method to a bunch of Hallmark Cards.

Is anything smellier than earnestness without subtlety? Isn't the whole point of song to contextualize moods through symbolism and metaphor? If all a song offers is a sappy check list of your problems, what the hell good is it? If I stub my toe, I want a song that provides a poetic framework for my pain. I don't want lyrics that say, "Oww, I stubbed my toe."

'Cause everybody stubs their toe. Sometimes. So hold on.