April 15, 2005

Okay, last one, I promise

Yes, I know, for a show I barely watched, I'm way into discussions about how bad its cancellation is. I'm giving a 99% guarantee though that this'll be my last Kim Possible post, and you can all stop wondering what the hell's wrong with me.

But there was simply no way I could go without linking to this post a few people pointed out to me. If I could accomplish just one thing before I die, it would be to create a cartoon series that recieves such an analysis upon its conclusion:

To wit, I�m quite fond of works that mimic the dynamics of a family. For example, I remain a devoted middle-of-the-night reader of Rex Stout�s Nero Wolfe books. In a series of 79 novels and short stories that began in the depths of the Depression, Stout�who was, astonishingly, nearly fifty when the first Wolfe novel was published�managed to keep a small cast of characters, many of whom lived in a single New York brownstone, intact and arguing with each other for four decades.

Here the �nuclear family� was centered around Nero Wolfe, the orchid-fancying great (as well as greatly overweight) detective himself, who hardly ever left his house despite a constant need to earn large sums of money. Other �family members� included Wolfe�s bodyguard and chief investigator Archie Goodwin who narrated the stories with a rather snappy hard-boiled wit, and Wolfe�s full-time chef, Fritz, whose culinary gifts were greatly appreciated by all and sundry, including the reader. These family members were supplemented by a number of �first cousins��the eternally harassed Inspector Cramer of NYPD Homicide, several free-lance operatives including the omni-competent Saul Panzer, and Lily Rowan, Archie�s rich, beautiful and improbably devoted girlfriend. The only changing components in these stories were the villains, their victims, Archie�s passing sexual fancies and the rather disposable plots�all of which remain window dressing. The real action�and the core of Stout�s considerable accomplishment as a crafter of light entertainment�is in the constantly renewed battle of wills and wits between the eternally lazy, autocratic and patriarchal Wolfe (who, when sufficiently goaded, can solve any crime and resolve any financial crisis) and his eternally impudent �son� Archie.

But even a canon of 79 works can grow all too familiar, and around a year ago, you would have found me reduced to reading my younger daughter�s Archie comic collections in the deep watches of the night. I don�t apologize �desperate circumstances call for desperate measures. (I would mention, in passing, my conclusion that the products of Archie Comics, taken together over the past 60+ years, must constitute the most extended �artwork� in the history of the world. In comparison Balzac�s La Com�die humaine appears to be a mere fragment.)

So it was with great relief that about that same time I stumbled across a guilty-pleasure Disney animated cartoon series, �Kim Possible.� Actually, �stumbled across� was a misnomer. For several months, I resisted my pop-culture-loving younger daughter�s entreaties that I check it out. I took my risibly high-minded stand on the (accurate) grounds that the concept of a kung-fu fighting girl who attended high school while simultaneously saving the world from science-fiction bad guys was transparently ripped-off from another Disney product of which I was dimly aware, the Jennifer Garner vehicle �Alias.� And �Alias�, of course, in turn, had ripped off �Buffy,� and so forth and so on back into the dark ages of the medium. (As if there was any point to high-mindedness when dealing with TV!)

The main emotional driver of the show, needless to say, derives from the Kim-Ron relationship. Kim is a loving parody of the modern-day alpha-female�smart, supremely athletically talented, tough-minded in a crisis, wildly overscheduled and quite sexy to boot. (One of the show�s tag-lines claims that Kim �can do anything� but it might be more accurate to note that she ends up doing everything.) In fact, so obviously is alpha girl Kim equipped with what it takes to play in the big leagues of teen society�including serving as head cheerleader of Middleton High School� that when you see her spending most of her spare time with her socially less impressive sidekick Ron, it comes across as puzzling. Is this relationship with Ron just a relic of childhood? Is Ron gay? What is going on here?

However, once you notice how hard the show works to establish that social-outcast Ron is a (heterosexual) individual of considerable substance�despite being small, not-athletic and given to wild self-dramatization, he is actually a clutch player�the riddle becomes clearer. Kim (although apparently unaware of her own behavior) has been patiently waiting for Ron to overcome his ambivalence towards assuming a traditional masculine role and to �make his move.� Looking out from my middle-aged watchtower over the landscape of today�s post-feminist culture, I would wonder if Kim�s dilemma isn�t a rather common one, particularly for modern-day alpha women.

As I watched the three-year backlog of episodes over the past year, it became clear that as the show had progressed, there had been a deliberate uptick in Kim and Ron's sexual rheostat (all suitably disguised or denatured, of course�this is Disney.) However, I was shocked the other day to learn that the show�s writers were building up to the series� final episode which will air in April, in which all these issues will end up being resolved in a final clinch. Apparently Disney has a firm corporate policy of producing no more than 65 episodes of their original series (or at least those intended primarily at the Disney Channel) and our girl Kim has bumped up against this all-too-solid glass ceiling.

This Disney policy has had the effect of making the show track the characters� progress through high school from sophomore to senior year in real time (no Archie Comics� eternal high-school time warp thing for our girl Kim.) The unexpected realism of this aspect of the show was borne in on me by a strange coincidence: the same day I learned of the 65-episode barrier I also attended my daughter�s high-school open house. As I walked the halls of her school, it occurred to me that Kim is only a single year ahead of my own alpha female daughter, who too has navigated her own first romances while maintaining a straight-A average and an extraordinarily busy schedule.

I don�t know about you, but my memories of my own high school years are stamped with feelings of impatience. I found a good deal of high school to be unbelievably boring, bureaucratic and pedestrian, and I couldn�t wait to get out of there and find a much better, more exciting spot where I would be fully appreciated as the remarkable individual I was. I�m sure that many, many high school students�perhaps all of them�have these same feelings as they walk the halls of my daughter�s school.

And yet the night of the open house, as I saw high school students wandering around the grounds with their parents, I found myself looking at things with an altogether different eye. The mental, physical and sexual flowering of young men and women during their high school years is truly a remarkable, if also a remarkably fleeting, phenomenon. When a couple of young women asked me to buy a treat to support the school�s cheerleaders, I felt as if I was looking at two fresh-cut blooming roses�so beautiful and yet, at least viewed in terms of their high school identities, so obviously transitory that my appreciation of them was laced with an ache of mortality.

I'm not entirely sure, but that could very well be the greatest thing I have ever read in my entire life.

Posted by August J. Pollak at 10:08 AM

Umm...

Okay, a quick trip to the priorities department:

Katie Couric praised Caroline Kennedy for handling the "privilege and pressure of her last name" while presenting her with an award during a forum named after Couric's late sister.

Kennedy received the Women's Leadership Award Wednesday during the Emily Couric Leadership Forum, held in honor of the late state senator from Charlottesville. The forum honors Emily Couric's commitment to lifelong learning and public service.

"It's great to be back in Charlottesville," said Couric, a University of Virginia graduate. "But I was concerned that I was going to have to cancel given the news of Britney Spears' pregnancy."

Someone please tell me that was a joke. Because if not... wow.

Posted by August J. Pollak at 9:56 AM

April 14, 2005

Bring on the Stackers

Haven't got an article link, but I've heard over the news that a Federal judge has just struck down the FDA's ban on ephedra- the main ingredient in weight-loss supplements such as Xenadrine and Stacker that, well, let's just cut through the science- the stuff that made it actually work.

I've used ephedra, and respectively never ingested any other luxury chemical in my entire life (including alcohol). And while I'm not jumping for joy at the prospect of teenagers endangering themselves when ephedra floods back onto the shelves, I'm not upset with this decision. And odds are I'll probably be using it again.

The problem with ephedra wasn't as much that it was dangerous. As opposed to what- cigarettes? Alcohol? The FDA banned ephedra because of 180 deaths over several years- it's a horrible number and no one, or their family, deserves to go that way. But a legal drug like nicotine has an annual fatality rate of about a thousand times that- and that's a drug that's regulated.

Ephedra should be legal. For one thing, it works. However, it should be regulated, because it works in a lighter, organic way similar to how speed works- it thins the blood, increases the heart rate, and yes- increases heart attack risks. So does heavy sexual activity, and I think most people when given the opportunity aren't giving up on that, either.

Without a doubt, it should be sold to no one younger than 18. (And I claim myself hypocrisy-free here. I was 16 when Stacker first hit the market, and I willingly waited until college to first use it.) It should remain banned by the NCAA and all professional sports for the same reason steroids should- allowing it encourages abuse. But a full-scale ban on the same active chemical components found in a bottle of NyQuil is simply ridiculous, and I'm glad to see it go.

Now perhaps the FDA can do something about cigarettes? ;)

Posted by August J. Pollak at 4:40 PM

God bless you, hallowed halls

Justice Scalia visits my alma matter:

WHEN U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia (above) spoke Tuesday night at NYU's Vanderbilt Hall, "The room was packed with some 300 students and there were many protesters outside because of Scalia's vitriolic dissent last year in the case that overturned the Texas law against gay sex," our source reports. "One gay student asked whether government had any business enacting and enforcing laws against consensual sodomy. Following Scalia's answer, the student asked a follow-up: 'Do you sodomize your wife?' The audience was shocked, especially since Mrs. Scalia [Maureen] was in attendance. The justice replied that the question was unworthy of an answer."
No, it's not. If you think something is illegal, and are willing to publicly say it is, you're obligated to say whether or not you break your own law.

For once, this is a subject Wonkette should be all over. Make with the disclosure, Mr. Morality Judge- does Antonin Scalia travel the Hershey Highway or not? And if it's none of our business, how is anyone else's business any of his?

Update: Good lord, way too many of you know too much about sexual terms. All right, sodomy also includes oral sex. So you can imagine Scalia doing that now, as well. Happy? I'm not.

Second Update: hello everyone on LiveJournal. Thank you for your support and admiration, however, there will be no babies. I find them to be too lumpy.

Posted by August J. Pollak at 9:10 AM

April 13, 2005

Bold new marketing initiatives

Hopefully I'll have time to add more, but for now there's a few new items in the CafePress shops.

First, on the xoverboard.com shop, a new "silhouette" design of the infamous Overboard skull & crossbones is available. The skull can now be purchased on a yellow t-shirt, as well as boxer shorts for the guys and a tank top for the ladies.

Meanwhile, over in the Some Guy With a Website shop, I've created a new "I get all my news from the internet" design and slapped it on both green and yellow t-shirts.

Finally, I'm going to annouce a special bonus super offer from now until Friday, April 29. If you order any single item from one of the CafePress stores, I'll send you your choice of a free pin or sticker. If you order two items, I'll send you a copy of the book. Order three or more, and I'll send you the sticker, the book, and both pins. You can, of course, continue to order any of those at any time.

Posted by August J. Pollak at 9:07 PM

"Eee-Kwaaal-Eh-Teee?"

Civil unions likely to pass in Connecticut:

Governor Jodi Rell is apparently all that stands between Connecticut becoming the first state in the nation to adopt a same-sex, civil unions law without the threat of a court order.

The debate may take several hours but supporters say it will pass sometime today.

This is the same bill that was overwhelmingly passed in the state Senate 29 to 7 one week ago today.

The governor sent a letter last night to state Attorney General Richard Blumenthal asking for an opinion on whether this bill prohibits or permits marriage between same sex couples. She favors civil unions, but wants marriage to be reserved only for men and women.

The attorney general announced his decision this morning.

"Our opinion is emphatically and unequivocally; this measure in no way expands the authority to perform same sex marriages or license them in Connecticut," Blumenthal said.

Gov. Rell has received the attorney general's opinion, but has not made a public comment on the findings.

Opponents still hold out hope of killing the bill. Civil union opponents say they see no difference between marriage and civil unions.

"It's the same thing with a different name," says Brian Brown of the Family Institute of Connecticut.

The same? Gosh, we can't have that. Imagine the horror when a wave of equality sweeps across the land.

Posted by August J. Pollak at 2:52 PM

The Mouse that whimpered

I'm glad to have recieved some supportive responses on the Kim Possible post. After a day or two of thought (and sympathy from fans of the show), I think in the long run it's sort of a net positive for a cartoon to actually get a finale, as opposed to 90% of the 'toons that are just cancelled. (Jhonen Vasquez, for example, once noted that he actually asked if Nickelodeon would let him kill off Invader Zim in a final episode after learning they cancelled the show; Nick refused not for violence reasons, but because they "didn't want to affect continuity." By that, of course, they meant they don't want repeatable merchandising venues to "end.") So, while it's demented and upsetting that Kim Possible was cancelled the way it was, I've got to say there really couldn't have been a better way to finish the series than the way they handled it with the movie.

But anyway- while we're addressing Disney and its ridiculous administrative policies, ToonZone has a review up right now of DisneyWar, a tale of Michael Eisner and everything else that went wrong with Walt's empire.

By this point in his career, Eisner has been so vilified that it�s hard not to believe the worst of the man. And it�s almost incredible to recall that major magazines once praised his business skills; that fans revered his willingness to revitalize the animation division and lavish money on the theme parks; and that some even said he could "out-Disney" Walt Disney himself in the charisma department. Clearly, his life has not been a Disney fairy tale. Instead, his career seems more like Greek tragedy: the story of a man whose vast talents and abilities took him to the pinnacle of the American entertainment industry but who was brought down by fatal character flaws.
The reviewer's essay is one of the best things I've read about the entire subject; it almost makes me question how much better the actual book could be. Methinks I might need to take a trip to Barnes & Noble this weekend.
Posted by August J. Pollak at 2:21 PM

April 12, 2005

Jesus. Tap-Dancing. Christ.

According to Aint-It-Cool-News, Will Smith wants to do a remake of Bridge on the River Kwai. Oh, and Paris Hilton wants to do a remake of Some Like It Hot.

Someone shoot me in the fucking skull.

Posted by August J. Pollak at 11:23 PM

Decisions, decisions

So, are there official odds on whether or not Britney knocks the Pope off the front page? I'm thinking Vegas will have the numbers by midnight.

Personally, I'm giving Britney 3:2 over the Pope with a 5-point over/under for Michael Jackson doing something.

In other news... oh, like you care.

Posted by August J. Pollak at 11:05 PM

April 11, 2005

Peekaboo

I'll admit, I didn't even know AlterNet had a blog, let alone one that focuses on rounding up the best posts of the day from other blogs. But now that I do, life is better. Excuse me, off to add to the links page. You all go read.

Posted by August J. Pollak at 10:52 PM

Requiem

I was scanning through channels this weekend and was lucky enough to come in on the first five minutes of So the Drama, the Disney Channel's movie-length series finale for their original series Kim Possible.

It might be weird, coming from a 23-year-old guy, to take a moment to comment on a cartoon that was designed to market to 15-year-old girls, but the moment is worth merit. The movie was fantastic, both in the writing and the animation- and therefore a fitting tribute to a series of equal quality. Forget about demographics- there's simply no arguable reason for anyone of any age or gender to dislike this cartoon.

As I've said many times both during and after my time in NYU animation, the art gets absolutely no respect compared to the rest of the television world. For example, I never really watched Kim Possible regularly. I'm never going to buy any of the show's toys or DVDs, but damned if I didn't enjoy it every time I found myself stopping on it during channel scans. I doubt any of you reading this even knew it was still on the air, let alone finished as of yesterday. Meanwhile, Friends outlives its welcome by at least six years and there are entire issues of magazine devoted to the characters "leaving us." No one cares when some kids's cartoon goes off the air, even when it's one of the best kid's cartoons ever made.

You also probably don't know that the demise of Kim Possible is mainly the result of Disney's infamous "65 rule." One of Eisner's marketing schemes, the stone-solid rule for all Disney series is that they are limited to 65 episodes. There are mixed explanations for this, but the most plausible is the simple economics: 65 episodes make a perfect syndication arrangement (13 weeks on a Monday-Friday rerun cycle). And as you may have noticed, Disney has somewhat of a knack for recycling their properties. In short, Disney has enough episodes of a show once they hit 65 episodes to make new content unnecessary. Why bother making new episodes when they can just switch to making backpacks forever?

Of course, you and I, what with human brains, know the reason- because shows that continue to be beyond excellent deserve to continue being as such. And that should have been the case here. I'm far from an authority on child-rearing, but I have no doubts in this belief: parents- there are only a handful of cartoons in the last five years made for their age group that would actually improve your child's intellect watching them. Kim Possible is one of them. For heaven's sake, take away their goddamn Pokemon cards for a half-hour and rent them a DVD of a cartoon that has a compelling story, breathtaking artwork, smooth animation, and some of the strongest and most well-developed characters to come out of an animation studio in a decade. Especially if you've got a little daughter- this show has the strongest set of female characters since Animaniacs.

So please, while Disney still keeps the show on the air for a while in reruns, try to give it a look once or twice. Your kids will thank you later. And frankly, you'll thank me.

Posted by August J. Pollak at 10:35 PM

Newest comic - "The Man Who Would Be Blogger"

Man, did I enjoy this one, because it's funny just in itself. But I'm sure most of you know exactly who we're talking about in this one.

I'm amazed at how the Right-Wing blogosphere has made an art out of taking their blatant failures and turning them into victories. Witness, of course, the latest attempts from Michelle Malkin to cover her sore-from-frequently-pulling-things-out-of-it ass by whining about commentors on another site saying mean things about her. In the eyes of the rightie bloggers, they can be one of only two states: right, and persecuted by liberals.

Both Malkin and PowerLine are simply not going to go anywhere. There's no such thing as decline for the right-wingers. PowerLine's claim to fame is bitching loudly about the Killiam memos until the media accepted they weren't solid evidence, then claiming victory for the downfall of a broadcaster who declared his intent to retire months earlier.

I am, however, mildly amused at PowerLine's sudden decision to abandon the eerily homoerotic secret blogger names they were using- in fact, they actually wiped all instances of them from the archives of their blog. Which I think, honestly, is the funniest part of PowerLine-was-completely-fucking-wrong-gate- they didn't have time to go back into their archive and correct the numerous posts where they completely lied their asses off, but they apparently had time to go back in and start adding their grown-up names.

Also, while I as always plead for the sake of my livlihood to buy some crap, I'll apologize over the obvious lack of afore-promised updates to the store. As it turns out, there's this weird system the government set up in which you are required to pay a certain series of tariffs and levies in relation to the income you acquired over the previous year. As I moved between states last year, I am required to file- and this is a rough estimate- seventy-six thousand pages of forms. So that was much of my weekend, with more to come tomorrow and likely Tuesday. Bear with me.

Posted by August J. Pollak at 12:06 AM

April 10, 2005

It's either-or, folks

Rarely does something come along where there are, literally, only two extreme reactions to it. Everyone says that about things, but rarely does it actually happen. This is happening now.

Most of you will click the link below, watch for about twenty seconds, not understand it or find it funny, and leave. You will be in the majority, and it's perfectly all right. That's just how it goes.

However, some of you will watch, and, like Brian- who I got the link from- and myself, agree that this could very well be the single greatest accomplishment in human history.

(Oh, and it's half an hour long. So get a soda or something.)

Posted by August J. Pollak at 7:32 PM

Spam unfiltered

As expected, I got some e-mails on the post about the guy getting nine years for spamming.

A reader asking to remain anonymous sent this:

To be honest, it's not all that stiff from my viewpoint. That's because to me, spammers aren't just a nuisance - they're thieves, stealing both common property and potentially my own property to enrich themselves.

Imagine this: in order to drive to and from work each day, you find yourself in heavy traffic on a regular basis. After a while, you notice that a large number of the cars that are on the road at those times have written on them the names of courier services and door-to-door sales companies. Intrigued, you start looking these companies up, and you find that the people they travel to don't want what these companies are delivering, and often are just dismissed summarily. But the companies continue to send them out, because they've found that it's so cheap to send them out, seeing as the roads are publically owned and such - it's not hurting them. (Of course, it's hurting YOU, making commuting a nightmare.)

That, in a nutshell, is the situation with spammers - they are literally stealing limited bandwidth to enrich themselves, and crippling the Internet in the process. And we're not talking small potatoes either - analysts have said that spammers eat up $500M of bandwidth (bandwidth, btw, that is owned by other people either commonly or by specific organizations) per year and can devour up to 80% of available capacity at times. And no, filters aren't a solution - the problem is the traffic on the lines, which filters do little to help fix.

Maybe nine years is too much time. But the last time I checked, thieves get put into jail - and these folks are very much thieves."

I hate engaging further in these arguments, because I'm forced to defend something I don't want to defend- in this case, spam. But from a purely legal standpoint, this argument is just nonsensical. Sorry.

For one thing, right off the bat- "to me, they're thieves." Well, unfortunately, theft is a legal term. Child pornography is a crime- had the spammer been sending it, I'd call for his ass in the slammer. Ditto to selling illegal drugs, or pyramid schemes. But unless it was meant to crash a computer system (also illegal), the act itself of sending an e-mail to ten million people isn't illegal. Not liking it doesn't make it so. The acts deemed illegal in spamming are solely those determined by the state- which the defendant is currently appealing.

I recieved several e-mails stating that spammers are thieves. The problem with the arguement is that, well, they're simply not. They're a wide range of things; it's really annoying that with so many legitimate things to accuse spammers of doing, people try to villify them for things that aren't.

Most aggravating of all was that almost every e-mail using numbers to justify the sentence has a phrase along the lines of "let's assume this many people were affected." Assume? You don't send people to jail on assumptions. That's what "reasonable doubt" is called. You can't say the defendant is guilty assuming he sent spam to X number of people any more than you can assume the number of people a person killed and charge him for that many murders.

Ultimately, what really bothers me from all the responses defending the sentence is the self-proclaimed "collective justice" from everyone- speaking on behalf of a theoretical millions of people all slightly inconvenienced somehow justifies a tangible sentence? In other words, the argument isn't that he deserves to go to jail for what he did to you, but for what you believe he may have done to ten million people. That's as silly as saying we should fine CBS for the number of people who could have been exposed to Janet Jackson's breast. Or for that matter, as silly as saying we need to invade Iraq for the weapons Saddam could have had.

Essentially, that's deciding you want to be happy with the verdict and then rationalizing the sensibility of it afterwards. Is that really a satisfying feeling? I'm not sure how.

Posted by August J. Pollak at 7:11 PM