Friday, May 24, 2002

Winnie The Pooh Sues Disney

Disney stands to lose hundreds of millions of dollars if they lose a lawsuit filed by the owners of Winnie the Pooh.

When reached for comment, Christopher Robin said that Pooh had become increasingly militant since he was awarded two million dollars in the famous honey-jar case. If you recall, Pooh was awarded pain and suffering from the makers of the jar, after it became stuck to his nose for an extended period of time. Said the jury in awarding the verdict, "A maker of a jar intended to hold honey should take into consideration the size and shape of a bear's nose. The manufacturer is thereby held responsible for substantial pain and suffering Pooh went through while trying to free himself."

Most of us remember the more sensational aspects of the trial. Who can forget the chase down the 405 freeway as Pooh floated along hanging from a balloon while being followed by fifty squad cars? Who can forget the riveting testimony of Owl, who took the stand for three straight weeks and told stories of his cousins and the time his tree blew down? Some have said that the testimony was improper, and was only allowed by judge Piglet because cameras were in the courtroom. And of course, there were the startling revelations from Tigger, during what some have said was the rounciest and bounciest testimony ever heard in a federal courthouse.

UPDATE: It seems that the litigiousness of the hundred-acre wood is spreading like wildfire. Happy Fun Pundit has just learned that Eeyore has sued Christopher Robin for malpractice, for injuries sustained during a failed tail-pinning. Eeyore claims the work is painful and subject to embarrasing tail droppage.
Movie Execs Blame Piracy for Star Wars Episode II Ticket Sales Dropoff

This according to The Guardian. It seems that 'over a million' copies of Attack of the Clones have been downloaded over the internet.

Says Richard Taylor of the MPAA:

"This is a problem that we're seeing more and more ahead of openings, large and small," says Richard Taylor of Hollywood's governing body, the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA). "There's a growing epidemic of internet piracy of motion pictures, and it's this kind of activity that stands as one of the obstacles to legitimate online offerings."


Okay, listen up, Richard. Just who do you think downloaded that movie? Mom and Dad who weren't quite sure whether they wanted to go, and decided that it would be better to waste hours downloading a huge file so that they could sit in front of their computer and watch a grainy 320 x 200 copy of the film? Break out the popcorn, honey! We're huddling around the monitor tonight!

I submit that about 99% of the downloads of that movie were by dedicated fans who simply couldn't wait for the movie to open. Do you think such people would then avoid going to see it in the theater? Of course not. The people who downloaded that movie on the internet were the same ones standing in line at theaters for three days and being mocked by Triumph the Insult Comic Dog.

In short, the downloaders of that movie are your best customers, Rich. You didn't lose a penny to them. You won't even lose the DVD sales. Those people will buy the DVD, the T-shirts, the toys, the 'Special Edition' DVD, the 'Collector's Edition' DVD, the 'Ultimate' DVD, the "Director's Cut" DVD, the "Foley Artist Commentary" DVD, and a DVD showing the grips working on the droid costumes if you want to sell it to them. They'll buy any Star Wars tie-in product you can come up with. Except, of course, for Star Wars condoms. That idea should die in the planning room for obvious reasons.

Then we have the 'legitimate' online offerings the studios are worried about. If they are anything like the publishing houses' forays into electronic books, these 'legitimate offerings' will be so heavily copy-protected as to be nearly worthless, will run only in special players, will cost as much as the DVD anyway, and be lower resolution. No one will buy them (except for the guys who downloaded the movie in the first place, unless the MPAA continues to piss them off). And of course piracy will blamed, and the VP of marketing will be off the hook.

So once again, we have the MPAA blaming their best customers and trying to make life harder for them, in order to explain away an 'unexpected' drop in ticket sales. This is especially offensive considering that in the previous week 'Spider-Man' broke all sales records, and Star Wars came close to matching it. This is an industry setting records, not spiraling into crisis.

A much better explanation for the drop in sales for Episode II would be that the word of mouth on this movie is simply not very good, and the reviews are mixed. So it's the guys on the fence like me who you lost that opening weekend. And would I download the movie and watch it in bad resolution on my computer monitor?

I'd rather have needles stuck in my eyes.
Temporary Relief of a Chronic Pain

I'm on the road and mostly trapped at the end of a slow dial-up connection, so posting from me might be light for the next week or so...sometimes I'd swear I out-type a (theoretically) 56k connection.

I will pause to wonder if federalizing airport security will at least bring consistency to the matter... my last trip, out of San Jose airport, involved chemical sniffing of my shoes and laptop and many stern looks from uniformed officials and camo-dressed guardsmen with automatic weapons. Oakland International, on the other hand, has hardened their security by putting up a Tens-a-Barrier pedestrian corral with signs at intervals indication approximately how long it will take you to reach the screeners. Could it be that they've modelled their security system after DisneyLand's Indiana Jones Adventure? (I looked for but failed to find a "You Must Be At Least This Tall To Terrorize" sign).

Actually, I think I'd be more comfortable with Disney running the security system... when's the last time you heard about suicide bombers on the Matterhorn Bobsleds?

Thursday, May 23, 2002

CD Sticker Shock

Okay, so today I went to my local record store to pick up the new CD by Warren Zevon. Imagine my shock and dismay when I discovered the price of this thing to be $26.99. Yes, twenty seven dollars for a CD ($18.99 US).

I asked the girl at the counter why this CD cost more than the usual amount, and she replied, "Oh, that's a Sony release. Sony just raised their prices."

Now, I know Fritz Hollings doesn't come cheap, but cripes, does anyone at Sony have a brain in their skulls? Let's listen in on the marketing meeting that must have occured:

"Gentlemen, we have a problem. Piracy is cutting heavily into our sales. Well, that or the sucky music we've been putting out. But I blame piracy. Anyway, people are moving away from music CD's because there are too many inexpensive alternatives. People are watching more DVD's, burning their own mix CD's from their music libraries, listening to satellite radio in their cars, internet radio at home, and digital TV stations have free music on them. Given all of these competitive pressures, what's our next move?"

"Well Chief, I say we raise prices, and shorten the content so that artists can crank out more records. The combination of higher prices and less content is a winner!"

"Hmmn, I like it, but it's not quite the full vision I had for our product. Is there any way we can have the jewel case actually puncture the hand of anyone that picks it up? How about steel spikes that spring out of it?"

"Great idea! Oh, and don't forget the copy protection. We have to make sure this CD sounds like crap, and works in the fewest number of devices possible."

"Perfect. Okay, we have the vision. Now what do we do about the competition?"

"Get Fritz on the phone. I smell a new CD protection act coming out of Congress next year. But it'll cost us. Fritz needs a new campaign bus with a shooter bar. "

"That's okay. We raised our prices, remember?"


So Fritz, remember - When you're pounding down test-tube shots at your new shooter bar, Happy Fun Pundit paid for the Sambucca.

Incidentally, Warren Zevon rocks. If Happy Fun Pundit had a theme song, it would definitely be something from the Zevon playlist. Probably "Lawyers, Guns, and Money", but I have a soft spot for the lilting refrain of, "Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner".

If you haven't listened to Warren's stuff, run out now and buy "Warren Zevon" and/or "Excitable Boy". Then buy everything else he's published. You'll be glad you did.
Shoulders? We don't need no steenkin' shoulders!

Suppose, for the sake of argument, that I'm going over a paper destined for a peer-reviewed journal and checking the referees' comments. Yellow marks with the dreaded syllable "REF?" abound. My first reaction is always an outraged screech of "Reference my ass! Any idiot knows that!" Then I throw the whole mess across the room and stomp around the house and mutter curses on the mouthbreathing referees and do something else for a while, then come back and look up the references and add them to the paper. That's the way it is with scientific writing; if you're going to assert anything less obvious than "Bill Clinton may be somewhat self-centered", you better be able to back that up with a reference to a paper by somebody else, who in turn references previous publications, and so on back to Volume One Issue One of "The Cro-Magnon Journal of Rocks and Fire" or "Proceedings of the First Cold Spring Harbour Symposium on Hunting" (which, incidentally, was picketed by the "Gatherers for Social Responsibility"). Anyhow, my point is this: in science, you don't get to pretend that everything you publish is your own special original brilliant thought. The culture forces you to acknowledge every last white-lab-coated shoulder you're standing on.

Not so in the world of high-profile journalism, according to Virginia Postrel who writes (under the heading "Facts of Life"):

In short: Promote your friends. Mention your (more famous) mentors. But don't be a fool. There is no career-enhancing reason ever to cite someone who might prove a competitor, make a cogent argument against you, or get credit for an idea you could have claimed.


Read the whole thing for the full gorge-raising effect, then sit back and ask yourself why the world of journalism is so thickly populated with vacuous egomaniac know-nothing chowderheads who file reports from make-believe worlds where inconvenient facts simply don't exist. This is the primordial soup where Fisks grow. Make sure to have a tetanus shot if you get any on you, and for God's sake wash your hands before you touch anything.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to go add a bunch of references to my stupid paper.

Wednesday, May 22, 2002

Memo to the Culture Vultures

From: Chairman, Dept. of Historical Iniquity Inquiry
To: All dept. members
Re: Some ideas


Following recent shocking revelations regarding willful deception and manipulation by the Beach Boys, I'd like to point out some other areas of popular culture that may prove fruitful sources of grist for our mill:

  • Was the lady in fact a tramp?
    • Evidence that she actually liked crap games with barons and earls?
    • "California, it's cold and it's damp" --- sinister purpose behind gross overgeneralization?
    • "She's broke and it's oak" --- WTF? Sexual reference?


  • Alice Cooper
    • "Welcome To My Nightmare" prima facie ridiculous --- couldn't write song if asleep, couldn't have nightmare if awake
    • "I'm Eighteen" - bullshit bullshit bullshit! Cooper was eighteen in 1966, song released 1971!


  • "Puff the Magic Dragon" --- blatant smog allusions here need elucidating

    C'mon people --- there're multiple Ph.Ds of material out there if you just look!
  • Tuesday, May 21, 2002

    Senator Pushes Anti-Spam Bill

    Senator Conrad Burns (R - Montana) has introduced legislation regulating e-mail spam.

    A Happy Fun Pundit poll of legislators received this response from Ted Kennedy's office:

    "I am fully in support of banning spam. In fact, any luncheon meat that has a cutesy name like "Spam", "Prem", or "Spork" should be eliminated. I mean, what the hell is Spork? I'm guessing some kind of pork, but the 'S' is sinister*. It tells you that there's something not quite right about it. And what's that jelly it's packed in? It looks like the results of my last liposuction. Sure, it goes great with bourbon, but it's still a mystery.

    In closing, I would like to say that I enjoyed Conrad Burns very much back when he was on "Different Strokes". That show rocked. What 'choo talking 'bout, Bush? Ha. I'm going to use that on the floor next time I attack the president for something."

    *editor's note: We believe the 'S' stands for Soylent Green. It's what gives it that yummy pork taste.
    ...and Miles to Go Before the State Withers Away

    The semantics are a bit thorny, but according to my commemorative t-shirt, "Bike To Work Day" was last week, May 13 - 17. I've been threatening to bike to work for months, and this occasion gave me an excuse --- a free t-shirt and a five dollar gift certificate for my company's cafeteria. Not exactly riches beyond measure, but compared to blogging, some pretty heavy-duty remuneration. I'm no green, not by a long shot, but hey, it's just one day, couldn't possibly hurt, it's good exercise, blah blah blah. So:

    4 hours
    42 miles
    Moderate winds from the south (d'oh!)
    100 ounces of water
    One illicit restroom visit

    equals

    Five bucks worth of Guckenheim cafeteria food, a t-shirt, and a sore butt


    Take that, you stupid horses.

    Four hours of riding gives a man time to think --- to dream --- to be --- to try to figure out if anyone could see him if he took a whiz in the bushes over there, or if it makes more sense to test Starbucks' enforcement of their "washrooms for customer use only" policy. As it turns out, nobody'll stop you if

  • you stare at the menu board for a while, then
  • act as if you need a moment in the washroom to make up your mind, then
  • come out and look at your watch and realize that you can't wait any longer and
  • look apologetic as you go out the door, as if to say "Damn... if only I had more time, I'd have a double-chai-soy-somethinechino with a twist and help that man who was beaten by robbers while on the road from Jerusalem to Jericho. Curse you, cruel fate!"

    Bladder stress illicitly relieved, I also had time to think about Edmonton in the nineties and the rise of fall of an activist-turned-city-councillor named (I am not making this up) Tooker Gomberg. Tooker was elected to city council on the strength of... no, strength isn't quite the right word. And actually, I don't know why he was elected. His big idea was that private automobiles should be outlawed, and everybody should ride bikes everywhere. Tooker had made trips to China and Cuba, and had lots of pictures of himself riding his bike among the happy people of these workers' paradises. I don't recall Tooker ever getting around to explaining how that would work in a city where there's snow on the ground half the year, and which is built around a river valley which requires some serious hill-climbing for most significant trips, and how the elderly would get around, and how many man-hours would be spent cyclings instead of doing productive work, and --- hey, get out of the man's face already! He's a visionary, not a bean-counter! Anyhow, it looks like the Tookster has gone on to failing at bigger and better things, but will always stand out in my mind as a shining example of fuzzy thinking translated into ineffectual action.

    But then again, isn't that what Idiotarianism is all about? Find something that emotionally seems kind of like a good idea at first glance, and turn it into, if not a moral crusade, at least a special day... then, now that you've got the thin end of the wedge in, you quietly extend it out to a week, and before anybody notices, the world has become a socialist paradise with justice and free tire patch kits for all.

    'course, two can play at that game. I've been thinking about a capitalist "special day"... let's call it "Workers Control the Means of Production Day"... why, I'm no capitalist, not by a long shot, but hey, it's just one day, couldn't possibly hurt, it's a good way to experience the corrupting power of greed first-hand, blah blah blah. We set up our activist friends with some machinery --- I dunno, the phrase "the means of production" always makes me think of Rube Goldberg machines covered with levers and pulleys and cables... an big ol' engine lathe would do nicely, except that actually turning it on would probably result in a surplus of lean ground activist. Anyhow, that's not important. What's important is that, about half-way through the day, we take the activists aside and tell them, "You're of course doing a great job, despite the dehumanizing effects of labour, but the --- well, you're with the Algae Peoples' Front, right? Oh, you're Peoples' Front of Algae? Yes, yes, well, regardless of whether or not they're splitters, the APF are producing twenty five percent more frammistats with the same amount of material... very ecologically sound, you know. If you get a chance, you might want to see if you can improve your methods and beat their efficiency record." Of course, you make it easy to do so... maybe put a lever on the machine that can be set for "More Efficient" or "Less Efficient". Applaud their efficiency improvements, diss the Algae Peoples' Front inefficient production... and at the end of the day, pay them. Think of it as the moral equivalent of buying overpriced chocolate from those "teens at risk" in front of Safeway --- yeah, it's a rip-off, but it's cheaper than replacing your windshield and the windshields of everybody who didn't buy an overpriced chocolate bar. Likewise, it's cheaper than endless rounds of environmental hearings to determine whether or not your new barbecue pit endangers the habitat of the Steve's Backyard Mournful Chirp Rat.

    Green activism = t-shirt and cafeteria food
    Capitalism = cash on the nail

    Food for thought for the sore of butt.
  • Monday, May 20, 2002

    Putting the Fun Back in Fundraising

    Obviously, somebody at Republican HQ is taking note of low-posting-volume satirobloggers who nonetheless are far more influential and respected than you might expect of guys who write about their chunky neighbours with mini-bikes, and stick extraneous "u"s into words like "neighbour".

    What else could explain the letter I have in my hand --- an invitation to The President's Dinner, with a facsimile of the signature of none other than Dick Cheney himself? And, as Dick tells me, even if I can't make it to DC for June 19th, they'd still like me to be Honourary (or rather, Honorary) Co-Chairman and represent my local community.

    With these kind of connections, how long before I too can crush my enemies, see them driven before me, and listen to the lamentations of their women, all with the Presidential Seal of Approval?

    Could it be true? Could Happy Fun Pundit be a political opinion-making force to be reckoned with?

    Naaah.

    Whenever I subscribe to a magazine, I use different middle initials that indicate which magazine it is. That way, I can track which mags have sold my name to whom. In this particular case, the Prez' Dinner invite is addressed to "Steve M. HappyFunPundit" (name changed to protect the soon-to-be-deflated). "M" being the code for...

    Urk. "Maxim" magazine.

    Which I of course read for the articles.

    So the Republican Party is soliciting money (attending the Prez' dinner is $2500 a plate, or, put Safeway style, only $25,000 for a table of ten) from maturity-challenged comic-reading gadget-obsessed materialistic white boys.

    This actually makes a lot of sense, now that I think about it. You know there's not going to be a lot of Sensitive New Age Guys reading "Maxim", not as long as "Mother Jones" is still out there dishing the crunchiest granola each and every month. You're not going to get a really intellectual crowd, but those guys rarely have any money anyway. Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of the party --- with Mastercards, not manifestos. The worst case scenario is that enough Maxim readers turn out for the dinner to start a "TOGA! TOGA! TOGA!" chant, and by all accounts George W. would probably join right in, then start a food fight, or at least do his legendary Dr. Evil impression... "All I wanted was some frickin' judges confirmed... throw me a frickin' bone here, people."

    With that image in mind, I was all ready to write the cheque (or rather, check), when a careful inspection of the pledge form burst my bubble:

    Contributions by foreign nationals are prohibited.


    Sigh. Another beautiful dream, shattered. I knew I shoulda been an angry folksinger.

    Sunday, May 19, 2002

    Virus Alert

    Evidently, some jackass has been sending around copies of what looks like the KLEZ virus with "steve@happyfunpundit.com" as the return path. I am not aware of any evidence showing that President Bush or members of his administration have personally profited from this. A complete investigation might reveal that to be the case. I'm not terribly fluent in German, but the email I got today reading "danke fur den virus" pretty much gave the game away. In point of fact, my email setup (which does not involve Outlook) is not vulnerable to this kind of stupidity, which is how I know I didn't actually send anyone a virus, but KLEZ and friends cleverly put fake return paths into infected emails.

    In any event, "steve@happyfunpundit.com" is an alias, not an actual email address, so you should erase anything you might receive that appears to be from that address, rather than trying to sell it on eBay. My actual email address, "silencealldissent@whitehouse.gov", still works just fine.

    Actually, this is all part of an incredibly elaborate scheme to bring about a world in which only people who read Happy Fun Pundit have operational computers, which is part of an even more elaborate scheme to --- well, never mind that. Now if Virginia would just hurry up with the clone army, we can get rolling on Phase II.