July 31st, 2011

Kill It With Fire

Just To Nip This In The Bud

No, I haven't seen Cowboys And Aliens.  I refuse to.  The producer is Scott Rosenberg, who used to be the publisher of Malibu Comics and the head of Platinum Entertainment.  If you know the indie scene like I do (Malibu, Drunk Duck, Wowio, etc.), you know that the only person I'm more likely to kick in the balls is Tony Caputo.  So unless I find a way to view the movie that gives Rosenberg no money (I used to be able to run the projector at movie theaters which is how I saw so many flicks for free, but those days are over), it will never be seen by me.
Peter G

It Gets Better

Popular culture has a tug of war with real life.  For example, porn.  It depicts a world where anything goes.  Where all it takes is getting someone to embrace one kink and suddenly they'll try any kink, nothing is taboo.  Movies try to teach us the wisdom of children, who are pure and unmotivated by selfishness (this is part of the reason South Park is so funny.  It's practically a walk down memory lane for me).  You can learn a lot about people and cultures from their popular entertainment, but you have to sift through it.

A perfect example of this is what is probably my favorite anime, Ebichu The Housekeeping Hamster.  The name sums up the basics, but not the driving force.  The series is a blatant attack on the conservative, male dominated social order of Japan in general and in the urban areas in particular.  It focuses on two characters, Ebichu and Master.  Master (she is never identified by name) is a 29 year old office lady in Tokyo.  In Japan, 29 is generally considered the oldest a woman can be and still have a reasonable shot at landing a husband.  Ebichu will do anything for her Master, but Master treats Ebichu cruelly.  Meanwhile, Master has a worthless boyfriend in her life (he is never identified by name, either).  He cheats on her, he uses her (one time, when she's sick, he comes over for a quick lay and then takes off while she's asleep), but he's the only man paying her any attention, so she puts up with him, tries to change him, anything she can so that she can not be viewed as a failure by the world around her.  The one who shows her unconditional love, Ebichu, she couldn't care less about.

I mention this because, if you look at a lot of Japanese pop culture, you might get the idea that they are a very tolerant society.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  This is especially true of gays.  Despite a sexual culture that not only gets really weird (tamakiri, which is just men being kicked in the balls.  No kidding.  Playboy offered a DVD of four hours of it for a subscription to their magazine) but sometimes downright disgusting (check out Cool Devices, but not before you fill your bathtub with vodka, you're going to want to lie in it for a while after seeing that), IRL sex is strictly beyond vanilla.  Despite all the yaoi and yuri in their media, gays are ostracized and treated like shit.  Well, when they aren't being ignored entirely.

Last year, a stunning number of gay teens were committing suicide due to harassment.  It's bad enough being picked on in high school, but when you combine it with being gay, with entire segments of the planet, sometimes your own parents telling you you are sick and wrong and a flaw, the pressure can easily push kids over the edge.  The totally awesome Dan Savage understood this better than anyone (not to spoil anything, but he's openly gay).  Dan created a PSA with a simple message -- "It gets better."  Just a little reassurance to anyone lost in the wilderness that they won't be living there forever.

"It Gets Better" exploded into a meme.  Dan's simple YouTube video soon found participation from over 10,000 people, from simple parents who would rather love their kids than exclude them for being gay to celebrities, including Lady Gaga, Barack Obama, Colin Farrell, and even Woody from Toy Story.  I thought it was beautiful, but I also felt sad.  I mean, plenty of stuff becomes popular for a while, then everyone forgets about it.  In slang, words like "cool" and "dude" apparently will live forever, but expressions like "23 skiddoo" and "wing ding" are not only forgotten about, but people will think you're talking jibberish.

Turns out, not everyone is forgetting "It Gets Better."

The current issue of X-Men -- Generation Hope has hit the stands.  X-Men has long been a metaphor for social discrimination (even the movies did this, with Bobby Drake being asked by his parents in one scene, "Have you ever tried not being a mutant?").  Some background -- the character of Kenji Uedo is from a Japanese culture, and his dad committed suicide when he saw his son in bed with another man.  Kenji is talking with Wolverine, and this exchange occurs:

KENJI:  This world is not right.  Why would we live in it?
LOGAN:  It gets better, kid.

There's always a new generation that needs help.  It's great to see people are still reaching out to them.

Hey, Michele Bachmann! You Didn't Think I'd Let You Off THAT Easy, Did You?

Due to the LJ Outage, I missed another chance to smack Michele Bachmann, who wants to be our President, around a little.

Let me correct that real quick.

Bachmann, who wants to represent people in the US government, has skipped out on 37% of House votes since she announced her campaign for President.

135 votes were taken by the House since June 27, when Bachmann formally announced her candidacy (you mean, there are other things Congress is voting on besides the debt ceiling?!?  Where can I find coverage?!?).  She missed 50 of them.

Tell me again why I should vote for her.  I keep forgetting.
Kermit And Piggy

How Many D's Are There In "Schadenfreud"?

Two for the price of one post, connected by the single thread of, "Whoa!  Didn't see THAT one coming!"

First up, hello to Sandra Bullock.  It was her birthday on Tuesday.  And what did she get for her birthday?

Press reports that her ex Jesse James and his squeeze Kat Von D broke up.

For a while, people were dumping on Bullock for being surprised James ran around on her.  But no one could defend James making a public spectacle of himself, talking on the Howard Stern show about how Kat was "100% better in the sack" and shopping around a book about his marriage to Bullock.  He made no excuses for his wandering eye even as he and Kat were making wedding arrangements that were soon to go down.

And now?  Kat dumped his ass.

More on this in a minute.

Second, for those of us who hate the Kardashian Klones (Seanbaby wrote one of his funniest lines when, describing all the bad video games he gets, "My Wii provides a home to more useless wastes of space than Bruce Jenner"), we got some great news.  Kim Kardashian, who is not at all concerned with her appearance even as she goes to a doctor to have her butt X-rayed to prove there's no plastic surgery in perfect make-up and clothes that don't seem AT ALL staged for the photos, has psoriasis.  The outbreaks have started, and she's scared it's the end of her career since she poses in so many bikinis and stuff.

Now, I want to first caution how much laughter you get out of this.  There's a very thin line between schadenfreud and being mean.  Please let some self-awareness temper any desire to build up yourself while enjoying these twists of fate.

That said, I find it very interesting the timing of these bits.  Kat Von D's TV series, Hollywood Ink, is about to start its new season and was going to feature her talking about her relationship with James.  She's also mentioned a tattoo she's gotten in James' honor that she's not sure she's going to reveal to the world.  How about that -- Kat is using events in her life to get the public talking about her.  Just like he did.

Likewise, the revelation about the psoriasis came on the TV show Keeping Up With The Kardashians, with Kim freaking out and mom appearing to say that she had psoriasis when she was Kim's age, too.  Reality TV shows like these, there is control over what makes it on the air and what doesn't.  Kim eventually does the photo shoot with heavy make-up to cover up the rash, but you can't tell me that, as much as they fight to control the image they present, that part couldn't have been hidden away in the final cut.

I'm not saying these people are manufacturing these events just to drum up ratings, just that they know an opportunity when they see it.  After all, reality TV is all about getting people to watch you.  Just saying that, as funny as these things may be, they aren't humiliated by them, they are using them to keep themselves afloat.  So don't feel too bad for them.

Wu-ing The Ladies

Update came skittering across the Peter G news desk during the LJ Outage.

Remember this fucking guy?

This is David Wu, a Democratic US Representative from Oregon who has served seven terms.

There won't be an eighth.

Wu ran a hard re-election campaign and capped it off by texting the picture you see here on the right to staffers.  There have been whispers about erratic behavior on the part of Wu for a while and a possible extramarital dalliance, but Wu wouldn't talk about it, and emphasized that, since the election, he's been undergoing mental therapy.

Well, on July 22, word hit the press that a young woman was accusing Wu of "an aggressive and unwanted sexual encounter last spring.  The press isn't saying what her name is, but that she was a teenager.  Must as I like kicking a congressman around, that's very easy to twist into making Wu seem like a pervert.  The woman in question registered to vote in 2010, the encounter happened in spring 2011, so she wasn't underage.  I mean, it's still wrong, but let's not make false assumptions just because of vague facts, m'kay?  The woman is apparently the daughter of a longtime donor to Wu.  Wu responded by saying that whatever happened was consensual.

Well, the media was already having a field day with him for his Tigger suit incident, and they just ran with this.  Wu announced on Monday that he would resign.  Well, not exactly.  He says he will resign when his term expires in 2012.  That's not resigning, that's just not seeking re-election.  D's are calling for an ethics investigation to pressure him to leave.  I will simply point to the picture above and ask, do you really think you can shame this guy into doing anything?

Well, they say you have to be nuts to run for public office, I guess there's your proof.


I bet the vast majority of you reading this have never heard of the name "Andrew Ainsworth" before (I'll though I'll bet a dollar that boxwatcher knows who he is).  Ainsworth is a fellow from Britain who designed the original Stormtrooper armor for the first Star Wars movies.  In his little studio in Twickenham, he made those pieces of pop culture history.

Eight years ago, Ainsworth saw all the people cosplaying in Stormtrooper costumes and thought, "Why don't I get in on this?"  He started making Stormtrooper armor and selling it.  Among Star Wars nerds, this was awesome.  It was the guy who designed and built the originals!  He charged $2,500 just for a helmet, but people bought it.

Including a few in America.

I'm willing to bet that was how Lucas found out -- some Star Wars convention and someone blabbed and word got back to him.  He filed a $20 mil lawsuit against Ainsworth for copyright violation and to tell him to stop that shit.  Ainsworth said, "Bring it on."

The court case was interesting.  Ainsworth's argument was that the Stormtrooper armor was functional, not artistic.  There's a reason for this distinction.  Artistic depictions are protected by copyright for the lifetime of the creator/rightsholder plus 70 years.  Functional works, like sculptures, are only protected in Britain for 15 years.  The court sided with this logic, ruled the copyright expired long ago, and told Lucas to get on his bike.

I'm just surprised he came out unscathed (and in Britain, the loser in a lawsuit has to pay court costs, so Ainsworth is out nothing).  Lucas is notoriously aggressive about protecting Star Wars, to the point he sued NASA for developing a prototype laser cutter that operated suspiciously like a light saber.  In fact, I'm pretty sure, in any other country, Lucas would have won (the court ruled that Ainsworth violated American copyright laws, but they have no authority to enforce that.  Doesn't matter, Ainsworth doesn't sell his stuff to Americans anymore anyway).

The upshot?  Another way for fanboys to establish geek superiority over their peers.  "It's an Ainsworth!"  I can't wait to see news reporters at San Diego asking Stormtroopers who are they wearing.

The Debt Ceiling Debate -- Guess What's In There?

riiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiing!  Okay, class.  Eyes up front.  Today's lesson:  corporate tax law.  Those of you pissed about Congress and the debt ceiling talks, put on a diaper, because you're about to shit yourselves.

First, let me explain to you about tax repatriations.  US tax law says that companies that make profits on overseas sales do not have to pay taxes on it as long as those profits stay overseas.  It's only if the funds get dumped into a US bank account that they have to pay taxes, generally 35-40%.

In 2004, when the economy was still sputtering from the Tech Bubble Burst and all the stupidity dating back several administrations was coming to bear, corporations and their lobbyists explained that, if they could bring their profits in to the US, the money they saved in taxes would enable them to expand business and prop up the US economy.  Congress and then-President Shrub ginned up a tax holiday, reducing the tax repatriation rate to 5%, and passed it.

What happened to the money?  I don't want to shock the hell out of you, but it went to executive bonuses or was just eaten by the companies.  In fact, many of the companies that lobbied for it had already committed to layoffs and went ahead with them anyway.

The holiday was supposed to be a one-time thing.  But companies have continued to keep their profits overseas, using little tricks like transfer pricing (shifting profits to overseas subsidiaries -- Google has saved $3.1 bil in taxes over the past three years doing this), waiting for another tax holiday to bring it home.

That day may be coming with the Debt Ceiling Debate.

In December of 2010, lobbyists started meeting with President Barack Obama to talk about how, if companies can bring their profits in from overseas, they'll be flush with cash and can help prop up the sagging economy.  Now, people on Capitol Hill are talking about another tax holiday and making it a rider for whatever debt ceiling bill goes through.  North Carolina's Kay Hagan, according to one of her spokespeople, "Senator Hagan is looking closely at any creative, short-term measures that can get bipartisan support and put people back to work. One such potential initiative is a well-crafted and temporary change to the tax code that encourages American companies to bring money home and put it towards capital, investment, and–most importantly–American jobs."

To put this in perspective for you, GE received a $140 bil bailout from the government.  In 2010, they made a profit of $14 bil.  They not only pay no taxes on it, but if the rider goes through, they will receive a $3.2 bil tax credit from the government.
Pay attention to those debt ceiling negotiations.  Remember, it's always the citizens and not the lawmakers who pay.