One of the big revelations for many people in the conflict in Ferguson is that local police departments have been getting billions of dollars in “surplus” military equipment.

I’m hoping after the current challenges subside, that there will be some deep investigation and accounting for what “surplus” means. It seems highly unlikely that local cops are being given crates filled with “hand-me-down” weapons that were used in Iraq and Afghanistan. So, what’s the definition of surplus?

The United States is famed for its military spending, exceeding the budgets of most of the rest of the world combined. My suspicion is that the “surplus” is not leftover weaponry, but the result of defense budgets that are kept artificially high to satisfy weapons manufacturers and the congressmen they control. This is a “spend it while you’ve got it” mentality, which results in budgets that continue to increase because “we ran out of money last year, so we need more this year.” So, everyone spends all the money they have, but they don’t need the weapons for combat, so it has to go somewhere.

Want to rage about high taxes? Let’s dig into the numbers a bit. More than $4 billion worth of surplus military equipment has been given to local police since 1996, including over $449 million in 2013. Hundreds of millions of dollars more goes to Israel and other nations. This is stuff that was produced, purchased and not needed. Do local police forces need some of this equipment? Certainly some of them do need some of it, but why is that coming from the federal budget? You know what else communities need? Books, school supplies and teachers. Yet, those things are perpetually on the chopping block come budget time, while Defense remains a sacred cow that no one wants to talk about.

Defense remains the single largest line item at $822 billion – 22% of every dollar the government spends. Social Security and Medicare are the only expenses that even come close. The Defense budget went UP by $30 BILLION in 2014, despite our snail’s pace withdrawals from Iraq and Afghanistan. This was in a year in which the U.S. budget DECREASED by $100 billion.

So, I guess that’s the answer. $450 million dollars is a rounding error on a budget of $822 billion. The police are getting table scraps from a feast that’s keeping a lot of people fat, drunk and happy.

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All week, I’ve been wanting to write something here and failed. Over and over, the tensions of Ferguson, Missouri have distracted me as well as motivated me to try to write my thoughts on everything that’s been going on. However much I wanted to, though, I’ve been unable to get many words out before giving up.

There’s just too much going on. This is a topic being covered by hundreds of people, who are far closer to it, who reach far more people and who are far more insightful than I am. It’s one of the biggest civil rights situations in the United States in my lifetime and I’m honestly just not equipped to add more than one tiny voice shouting “a person’s a person no matter how small.” This story is not only important for the residents, but for all of America – which has seen freedom of speech, freedom of assembly and freedom of the press trampled in the last week.

At one point, I just considered posting a list of failures of the last seven days, all beginning with the shooting of an unarmed young man. It would be a list with about 30 items on it, with just a few here that rise to the top in my mind. Since the shooting: peaceful protests getting disrupted over and over – and the saddest thing is they’ve been disrupted by forces on both sides. Criminals, looters and arsonists at night destroy much of the good will that the protesters work hard to build all day. A police captain in CYA mode does everything in his power to enrage and push people past the brink to PROVE his department was justified in their use of force.

The few onsite journalists getting shot with tear gas, arrested and assaulted for trying to report what’s going on. Cops stopping protests, but not arresting looters. Preachers with wounds from rubber bullets. The community pulls together to keep the peace and protect their town while a few horrible people work against them. Midwest cops using gear that our military in combat zones is jealous of. Sniper rifles pointed at citizens. Gun aficionados who push for more people to buy guns to protect themselves – as long as it’s not those black guys buying them.

National media showing barely any interest and no on-site reporting. One of the most compelling and important stories in years and the Kardashians continue to get more coverage. When the networks do report, it’s a side story, not a main one. Social media again becomes a key source, even as it fights its own fight against algorithms that seem calculated to minimize matters of any importance. People in all areas of media refer to protesters as rioters, whether they’re talking about looters or the local residents getting tear gas shot into their yards.

I’m just spent. I’d love to provide thoughts on a course of action – short term to calm the situation, long term to figure out all the issues in Ferguson, as well as the U.S. as a whole. But I don’t have any easy answers at the moment.

Maybe these are brave words coming from someone living 8,000 miles away, but I truly believe that if I were somewhere in the area I’d be out on the street walking arm in arm with the protesters. Then obeying the curfew and waiting to begin protesting again the next day.

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Owning your words and owning your actions is an important part of being a principled person. Like most people, I haven’t always been successful at that. I’ve done the wrong things, said the wrong things and along the way, I also indulged in more than a few moments of hypocrisy. As I get older, that’s one of the things I’ve worked to change. I guess it’s easier now because I really don’t have to give a fuck what people think about me – I just care what I think about myself.

There’s a big difference, though, between owning your actions and standing by them, no matter what. Whether it’s the internet or cable news, the world has seemingly devolved into a black or white conversation in which you must DEFEND YOUR POSITION AT ALL COSTS!

That’s not what owning your actions means. Owning your actions means you can admit you made mistakes. You can make changes to your life, to your opinions, to your statements – as long as you don’t try to deny what you once said or did. That’s how we get into the political double-speak and false apologies that fill so much of our airwaves in 2014.

“I’m sorry that what I said hurt people’s feelings” is not an apology. It’s a cop out. If you want to OWN your words, then own them. “You may have been offended by what I said, but that’s how I feel” is a more honest statement than you’ll ever hear from most public apologies. I actually don’t believe that the comedians who get lambasted for making an off-color joke or tweeting something “too soon” need to apologize for it. Why do so many people not accept that “Hey, I never wanted to hurt anyone’s feelings, but it was a joke. I tried to add levity to a very difficult topic and some people didn’t take it the way I meant it.”

Sorry, this was all preamble. There has been a lot in the news in the past couple of years about the morality of caging animals for the entertainment of people. It’s been a topic that’s been around for decades, to be honest, but the criticism is more often coming from the average person and not just from activist groups like PETA. Recently, the travel blogger conference TBEX has come under fire for including dolphin tours in Cancun as part of their itinerary. Rather than directly get into the issue, they’re doubling down on their outright wrong-ness: “We don’t pick the tours, select them or promote them and we’re not saying these tours are good, or these companies are good.” It’s YOUR event. You’re saying you have no control over it? What a bunch of crap. Try that line of shit on people who DON’T understand how conventions, events and the tourism businesses work.

Photo CC license from Docklands Tony

Photo CC license from Docklands Tony

In the interest of owning my actions, I’ve done a couple of things in the past that I can call out and admit where I was horribly wrong. While traveling in Thailand, I participated in two wild animal tourism activities: one was a day spent riding elephants and the other was playing with caged tigers. It tears me up in thinking about it, because both days were among the most memorable of my life but – let’s lay it out there – both were done out of ignorance and absolute selfish desire.

There are a lot of things I could say about why I joined both of those activities and about “oh, but this one didn’t abuse the animals like others do,” but let’s get to the core of it. I was pretty damned ignorant, selfish and didn’t do any homework before I reacted to the colorful posters at the tourism desks. “Lots of people do it and look like they’re having a great time, so I should try it, too!”

I stopped going to zoos a long time ago, because watching wild animals trapped in a small box, usually out of place in an inhospitable climate, made me really sad. It’s not quite clear to me why I didn’t extend that thought to the tigers and elephants in Thailand – maybe I thought it was okay because it was a foreign country and was culturally more acceptable, somehow.

Since then, I’ve read a great deal more about the abuses those animals suffer for the sake of tourism. Professionally, it’s difficult for me to hold a strong stance on the topic because zoos and marine animal parks come with the territory in my career, but I’m fortunate that I’ve never worked on any of those projects. So, screw it. I can lay it out right here than I won’t EVER work on any projects that involve wild animals in captivity. Admittedly, that’s easier to say in the latter days of my career than it may have been in the earlier ones.

Over time, I’ve given thought to my stance – which aspects I got wrong and what the right answer is (for me). Previously, there’s been a lot of gray area in my mind – there are legitimate conservation efforts that are funded and supported through animal parks, I have friends who have joined conservation groups BECAUSE they saw the abuses. Most of that gray area has been cleared up for me now, though.

When a wild animal is kept captive for purposes of entertainment, it’s wrong. 100% of the time. Are there sometimes good benefits from those activities? Sure, but stealing $100,000 from someone doesn’t suddenly become right because you give 10% of it to feed the poor. Those organizations who are in the business of conservation, education and research will have to figure out where that moral line is for them, but the goal should be 100% elimination of wild animals in captivity. As with all things in life, there will be exceptions, but making those exceptions should be done with careful consideration, including motives that are ultimately for the benefit of the animals rather than the person or the business. When an exception is made, it must be considered a failure of all other alternatives.

It seems like TBEX isn’t backing down from its plans and rather tan admit being wrong, they’re digging in their heels with excuses and rationalizations. Hopefully their attendees will call them out for it more directly and get the group to stand up for what’s right rather than continuing to crouch in a defensive posture. TBEX co-founder Rick Calvert said: “We won’t be bullied into cancelling a tour by a small pressure group.” Hey, Rick, how about canceling a tour because it’s the right thing to do? Is that okay?

The Guardian: Travel bloggers call for conference to cancel dolphin tours

As for my own site, I’ve tossed around the idea of removing the blog posts I wrote about each of the two days but at this point, I’m going to let them stay. As I said at the opening, owning your actions isn’t about pretending they didn’t happen, it’s about admitting you were wrong. Each of the posts will now include a brief paragraph stating:

“After a great deal of reflection and research, I no longer support tourism that includes the captivity of wild animals. Please consider that stance and read my current feelings on the topic as you read this post. I haven’t removed the post because I don’t want to pretend it didn’t happen and perhaps, reading with my changed views in mind may change yours, as well. I urge you to find alternate ways to connect with nature and wildlife that don’t involve cages or chains.”

 

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Forgive me for being “that guy,” but I was a fan of Garfunkel and Oates long before it was cool. Hmm… perhaps cool is the wrong word for it, but I feel like I was ahead of the curve now that they’ve got their own TV show on IFC. How many premiere episodes for shows on little-known cable networks get Ben Kingsley as a guest star?

For the uninitiated, Garfunkel and Oates is a comedic musical duo consisting of a pair of actresses you may have seen in a lot of their prior work. Or not. Kate Miccucci has been seen in recurring roles on Scrubs, Raising Hope and recently, Big Bang Theory. While her partner, Riki Lindhome has also been a guest on Big Bang Theory and other shows, she’s also been in some pretty big films, including Million Dollar Baby and Joss Whedon’s version of Much Ado About Nothing.

080914_0917_SowingSomeG1.jpg

Back when I had big hair – circa 2010.

Their past work as a duo has been a series of wonderful folky songs with sweet voices, a ukulele and trucker-worthy lyrics – usually about dating, sex and sometimes a bit of political commentary. While they have a number of gems, such as “My Self-Esteem’s Not Low Enough to Date You,” “Me, You and Steve” and “Sex With Ducks” I think my favorite is “The Loophole,” a little ditty about staying true to religious convictions by remaining a virgin through a biblical back door. Ahem. I don’t want to spoil things, so here’s the video for your enjoyment. Oh, and definitely NSFC (not safe for church).

When I heard they were getting a show on IFC, I didn’t have a great deal of optimism. My initial take was that it would be a folky knock-off of Tenacious D or an estrogen-laden Flight of the Conchords. Fortunately, it’s neither of those things. Like their songs, the show shares a bit of a peek into their lives – sex, dating and struggling in Hollywood – then springs out some seriously funny lines and bits.

I think my favorite exchange in the premiere episode was this one:

  • Kate: (explaining how she tried to blow off a guy by text message): “The last guy I dated I sent back ‘Mailer-daemon’.”
  • Riki: “Mailer-daemon? That’s for e-mail.”
  • Kate: “Well, it worked.”

It’s probably not a show for everyone, but I found it a very fun and quirky bit of humor. If you like their songs, you’ll enjoy the show. You can watch full episodes on the IFC website – here.

 

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Another low in customer and employee service this week. I never intended this to be a customer service blog, but it seems like these things just reach out and grab me.

This time, it’s Oasis café in Minnesota, which started adding a “Minimum Wage Fee” to their customer receipts after the minimum wage increased in Minnesota (the first increase in 5 years, mind you). Much like the “Obamacare” surcharge, it’s a way to complain about political decisions they don’t like.

Huffington Post: Café charges customers “Minimum Wage Fee”

Feel free to whine, but be aware that you’re now pulling your customers into your personal political debate. That’s well within your rights of freedom of speech, but it’s a pretty weaselly, passive-aggressive way to do it. If you want to protest, have the balls to speak up about an issue. Go ahead and post opinion pieces in your menus, if you’d like.

Need to raise your prices? Understandable. But it’s not just you – all your competitors have to do the same, so it’s still a level playing field. You’re not being singled out, you’re just the only one whining quite so visibly – as well as letting all of your customers know that you don’t pay your employees any more than you legally have to.

If the owner wants to single out a new expense, fair enough. The customer reactions are already having their impact, so he’s reaping what he sowed.

But let’s go all the way with the concept, shall we? Why not post a detailed line by line accounting of your expenses for all of your customers? Show them how those costs in beef made your burgers more expensive.

  • Cost of 3 ounces of beef: 77 cents (up 10% from 2012!)
  • Vegetables: 63 cents
  • Cost of paying my employees for time spent on your meal: $2.10
  • Taxes: $1.74
  • Contribution to my monthly rent: $1.09
  • Utilities: 45 cents
  • My profit: $3.45

The bottom line is that customers don’t care and shouldn’t be told to care about your internal economics. If you can’t afford to pay your employees a living wage, it’s YOU that have the issue, not your customers.

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*The story you are about to read is true. Mostly. I added some bits of speculation and my memory sucks, but this basically really happened*

This morning, I was reading about elephants in Thailand, which filtered through my brain and combined with other thoughts into one long-lost memory of…murder.

My hometown is a tiny town in the middle of Wisconsin, a tranquil place on the Wisconsin River, full of paper mills and cranberry marshes. In reality, it doesn’t even qualify as a town. Legally and in all other ways, it’s just a quiet little village of 2,000 people where we knew every street, every house, every person from one end to the other. Even adding in our larger next door neighbor, the total population barely topped 20,000.

There was no crime in town. The most intense thing the cops had to watch out for was kids ringing doorbells, then running away – maybe with the flourish of a flaming bag of dog poo. That’s what I was told, anyway. I wouldn’t know for sure, because I was a good boy.

The place was quiet, it was safe and in that small-town cliché fashion, we never had to lock our doors when we weren’t home. That all changed in my senior year of high school, though. In September of 1982, we had a whodunnit worthy of Miss Marple, Jessica Fletcher and Scooby-Doo all rolled into one.

A woman was found dead in a field near one of the town’s two hotels. Her head had been crushed by some kind of a blunt instrument, but no one was sure exactly what may have done the damage. No significant attempt had been made to hide the body beyond some casually tossed weeds, forming a thin layer of camouflage. The field was open, within a stone’s throw of the hotel and situated near two of the town’s major cross streets. As laid-back as the town may have been, the steady flow of traffic and pedestrians in the area ensured the body would be discovered within a couple of days, if not hours.

She had been dragged to the field, but not any great distance. Thick wooded areas that surrounded the town were only a few blocks away, so any real attempt to hide her wouldn’t have taken a great deal more effort. Whoever left her body had left it in a tremendous rush and seemingly without any forethought.

Small town police may not have the most experience in dealing with major crimes, but they have an advantage no city cop has. Everyone in the town knows everyone else. Outsiders may as well have neon arrows over their heads while they walk through town. While the victim was a recent addition to the town’s resident population, the two unknown men she was seen having drinks with at the hotel bar were not. It didn’t take long to locate people who had seen the three of them together, along with one additional piece of critical information.

There was an elephant in the hotel parking lot that night.

After putting some pieces together, investigators found that a traveling circus had stopped in town for the night on the way to Minnesota. When they tracked the circus down, it had already left its Minnesota site, but left behind were some barrels of elephant poo. Pity the poor man who dug through that and found the shoes of the victim, which had been missing from the body.

The rest of the investigation was pretty simple, because the two elephant handlers spilled their guts about three seconds after being taken into custody. I’m filling in the blanks here with my own speculative details, because the news reports didn’t get into much depth, but Ellery Queen-style, here’s what happened:

The two men met up with our victim at the hotel bar that night. It was a quiet bar, a weeknight in a sleepy town and the trio drank a bit too much after a long day. With every visit the woman made to the restroom, the men were locked in debate over which of them would get the shot at some belly bumping. Unable to make a bro pact and waiting for some kind of deciding signal from the woman, they kept working every angle. That meant using all the tools at their disposal which, of course, meant that “hey, we have an elephant outside” inevitably came up.

The three of them stumbled out of the bar to the trailer where the caged, lonely elephant sat, trying to sleep a bit before another day of transport and abuse. She wanted to get closer, wanted to touch the giant creature, and with the hazy pliability of drunk horny men, they agreed. One of the men no doubt had a key ring with 23 keys, able to open every door and container in the circus, so unlocking took no longer than the time it took for an inebriated tally of all 23 keys. Eventually, the right tumblers tumbled, the lock opened and they were able to climb inside. To prevent falling in the hay filled trailer, she took off her heels and approached the elephant, feeling the course skin and bristles even through her dulled sense of touch.

At this point, who can speculate what may have set the elephant off? Maybe the two handlers started to argue, creating tension that the poor animal wasn’t used to. Maybe it was just a disruption of its sleep that finally pushed the pachyderm over the edge. Maybe he was just shifting position because of a cramp. Whatever the cause, the elephant head butted the woman with the base of its trunk and head, crushing her skull against the side of the trailer.

The rest of the story consisted of frantic, panicked reactions, getting rid of the body, getting back on the road as quickly as they could and, undoubtedly, praying no one noticed the elephant in the room.

There you have it, a murder investigation, but not actually a murder. A sliver of the bizarre from my childhood memories, uncovered in my brain this morning for the first time in almost 30 years.

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There’s a part of me that really feels for business owners in 2014, particularly the ones who try to do the right thing. Any slight, either real or imagined, can lead to your business getting savaged on the internet. Sites like Yelp and TripAdvisor provide perfect outlets for internet rage against businesses large and small.

There’s no doubt that some of the reviews are written by people who are being petty or who had unrealistic expectations in one way or another. Often, the business may not even realize there was a problem until someone writes about it online. That’s a tough situation if an owner is conscientious and wants to make sure all of their customers had a great experience before they left.

It’s challenging, but the reality is that bad reviews will happen. You know how NOT to address it? Like this guest house did:

Their method of combatting bad reviews was to fine wedding parties $500 for EACH BAD REVIEW any of their guests leave on Yelp or “any other site.” If you put down a deposit, you might have to kiss it goodbye if your guests weren’t particularly happy with the service.

“We reserve the right to hold deposit until we feel that all charges, taxes, fees, damages, or any other financial obligation has been resolved regarding you **and anyone in your party**”. And that includes a $500 fee for bad reviews on yelp or any other website:  “If you have booked the Inn for a wedding or other type of event anywhere in the region and given us a deposit of any kind for guests to stay at USGH there will be a $500 fine that will be deducted from your deposit for every negative review of USGH placed on any internet site by anyone in your party and/or attending your wedding or event If you stay here to attend a wedding anywhere in the area and leave us a negative review on any internet site you agree to a $500. fine for each negative review.”

Slate: Hotel fines wedding guests $500 for each bad review

Anyone who knows the internet knows that this tactic was doomed to fail. And backfire. And it did so, spectacularly. It’s now at a 1 star rating on Yelp, with some truly hilarious reviews: http://www.yelp.com/biz/union-street-guest-house-hudson

This is a great example of how the concept of “unwarranted entitlement” extends even to small businesses. Clearly, this is not the only policy they have that shows a disdain for their potential customers. Their website also includes gems, such as:

  • “Please know that despite the fact that wedding couples love Hudson and our Inn, your friends and families may not. This is due to the fact that your guests may not understand what we offer – therefore we expect you to explain that to them. “
    • While it’s certainly a good practice to let your friends and family know about their accommodations, they “EXPECT YOU TO EXPLAIN THAT?” Your guests may possibly be idiots, so it’s your fault if they don’t like it here.
  • “TWO NIGHT MINIMUM FOR ANYONE ATTENDING A WEDDING ANYWHERE IN THE AREA.”
    • Lots of hotels require two night stays on weekends, for weddings or for other reasons, but a wedding ANYWHERE in the area? Why does a wedding get called out (if it’s not at the hotel itself)?

Combating negative reviews definitely takes a bit more commitment now than it did in the pre-internet world, basically due to the sheer volume of reviews that are written. Every single customer is a potential reviewer on sites that reach millions.

The principles of countering negative reviews haven’t changed, however:

  1. Provide excellent service and minimize the number of bad reviews.
  2. Monitor the reviews and respond to them thoughtfully and graciously, offering some sort of remedy or recovery when you can.
  3. Take the feedback seriously and fix the problems for future visitors. If they aren’t things you want to change, that’s fine, but make that a conscious decision.
  4. Make sure your positive reviews heavily outweigh the negative ones. In this era, it’s impossible for a business of any size to have ZERO bad reviews. But if there are 99 positive reviews and one negative outlier, people won’t give too much consideration to that lone voice.

 

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Over the years, I’ve read several posts about the business of blogging and the amount of payment (or lack of payment) that a blogger deserves. The posts have run the gamut from logical and well-reasoned to self-centered and whiny.

Do bloggers deserve to get paid for what they write? Not at all. No one deserves anything of the sort. I could write the best prose since Hemingway and share it with all of you glorious people. It could take me weeks of creativity, vast insights into the human condition and fingertips that sweat from typing so furiously. Does that mean I deserve to get paid for it? Nope.

Now, are there bloggers who provide good content, a large, loyal readership and a target market that is valuable to advertisers? Absolutely. Those people can (and often do) command a reasonable price from advertisers. Bravo to them. I admire the dedication and focus on what it took to get to where they are. I hope many more people are able to join their ranks.

The culture of “but I deserve this” annoys me to no end. If you aren’t getting what you think you deserve, then one of two things is going on: 1) you’re wrong or 2) you’re not doing something right – aka you’re wrong. You’re writing for the wrong market, you haven’t built up a solid audience, your content just isn’t good enough, the market is already saturated. Do you want more? Do something better. Do something different. For those bloggers who believe they deserve to be making more money, here’s a test. Put a paywall on your site. Let your readers decide to pay per post. Let me know how that goes. I’m guessing it will be a short-lived and sobering exercise.

There was a radio host a few years ago who frequently told his listeners that everyone “earns EXACTLY what they are worth.” As someone who felt he was underpaid at the time, hearing that always made the hair stand up on the back of my neck. But he’s right. If you think you’re worth more, demand it. If you don’t get it, then you were wrong. Leave for a new job. If you can’t find one, you were wrong. It could be you’re not as good as you thought or your skills just might not be in high enough demand to earn more. Either way, that’s on you. It’s easy to say “well, X makes Y and I work much harder than he does” – and that may well be true, but X did things in a different way and made different choices to get to that point.

In my earlier career, I worked my way up steadily in the same company – always with moderate salary increases. At the same time, I watched others hop from company to company getting bigger and bigger paychecks. I could complain all I wanted about “company loyalty should count for more… blah, blah, blah” but that didn’t change that it’s the way the world IS. To paraphrase something a douchebag once said, “you don’t go into life with the world you want, you go into life with the world you have.”

No one is more appalled than I am that shitty writers are finding spots on well-known sites that just don’t want to pay for decent content. Bitch about it all you want. Unfortunately, it’s the way the world is right now. Want it to change? Find ways to change it, but you’re not going to change the economic structure of the online publishing world, so think of something else.

As a writer, I hope that I’ll one day earn some money from the words I pour onto the screen. No matter what, though, I’m not going to get paid because I think I deserve it. I’ll be paid for doing things that have value to people signing the checks.

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One of the more annoying things you’ll find online is the never-ending presence of grammar critics. Most of the time you’ll catch them bouncing around in the comment sections of geek websites, pouncing on typos and factual errors like they’re playing verbal whac-a-mole.

I have to admit that I’m a like-minded soul, although I’m not so overwhelmed by the presence of poor grammar that I take the time to point it out. Most of the time, I forgive the typos – we all make them. And the fast pace of the internet gives people less and less time to fret about perfection. I’m certainly guilty of typos, along with an over-reliance on colloquialisms and informality in my writing. So, when I see an error on a website, I feel a little brain twitch, massage it a bit and I move on.

To be fair, Guardians might be even better with him in it.

To be fair, Guardians might be even better with him in it.

Then, I read this review of Guardians of the Galaxy by Carole Mallory on Huffington Post. It’s as though it has been written SOLELY for the purpose of having five-word quotes picked up by the movie marketing team, with no thought to anything beyond what nuggets might be pulled from it.

An excerpt (in case an editor actually gets a crack at the original and fixes it):

It’s here! Our summer blockbuster. Fun. Splendid visual effects. Rapid, witty dialogue with one liners as sharp as bullets. At times the laughter overpowered the sound track. Never mind as there are always the visual effects to study. Stunning. Perhaps the most inventive superhero movie to date. Oscar worthy costumes and make up for sure. An animated raccoon named Rocket with the voice of Bradley Cooper. A talking tree, Groot, comes alive with the voice of Vin Diesel.

But it is Chris Pratt who is the perfect comic of a comic book hero. As former American pilot, Peter Quill with the nickname Star-lord, he knows how to not take himself seriously and to share his ability to look at himself quizzically and with a sense of awe. Half alien and half human, his exaggerated facial expressions always seem to end with an awe shucks attitude. Zoe Saldana as Gamora is her beautiful slinky self. Charles Reilly has too small a part as his timing is always top notch. And Glenn Close is too brief in her appearance as Nova Prime. Her makeup and costumes excite the palate and add to her dynamic stature making her galaxy worthy. David Bautista as Drax has a physic that doesn’t quit. Benicio Del Toro plays the menacing The Collector while Lee Pace is terrifying as the evil Ronin.

Guardians of the Galaxy was directed and written by James Gunn who had some assistance with the screenplay from Nicole Perlman. This film is an example of where Gunn’s almost total creative control worked to Marvel’s and Disney’s advantage and delight. Of course Stan Lee is uber alles. David Abnett and Andy Lanning wrote the comic book to which we all owe our gratitude.

 

What an embarrassment. It’s like she was the third runner-up at “Can You Write Better Than a Fifth Grader?” but still has an outlet through a well-known news site.

I was appalled by the word salad at nearly every turn. Perhaps she is one of those writers who has great ideas, but needs an editor to come in with a buzzsaw to re-structure the whole thing. I’ve known writers like that and they can be very successful, as long as they have a good support structure behind them. Whatever level of back-up she’s accustomed to has failed her with this review. I’ve never read any of her past pieces, so I’m not sure if this is a common occurrence.

An abundant supply of sentence fragments may be a stylistic choice, so I won’t belabor that one, even though I find it personally annoying after the third or fourth one in a single paragraph. But holy shit. There are spelling mistakes (Dave Bautista’s “physic”? an “awe shucks” attitude?), an absence of commas throughout the piece, incorrect character names (Ronin is a samurai, not the movie’s villain) and even incorrect ACTOR names. Is she talking about John C. Reilly or did Charles Nelson Reilly rise from the dead to star in this? That would be cool – ascots in space! I’m sure Dan Abnett is wondering when someone named David Abnett took over his comic writing gig.

What’s my point? I’m not that surprised that poor writing has a place on the internet. I guess I just wanted to share a shining example of shoddy work that still managed to find its way onto a generally respected website.

 

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Kevin Kelly posted an interesting article on Medium.com today, essentially telling people that the internet is still in its infancy and there’s a whole world of discovery and invention left. Even at my rapid approach to age 50, it feels like the internet has always been here, but as a popular consumer-based thing, it’s really less than 20 years old. Pegging down an exact date when it became mainstream is tough, but I tend to align it to about the time that Napster exploded. This was when dial-up speeds were no longer acceptable and you were able to get FREE MUSIC! Not really, of course, but that’s how it seemed to many at the time.

Kevin Kelly on Medium.com: You Are Not Late

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Technological acceleration is stunning when you put it into perspective and try to take the long view of things.

Last week was the 45th anniversary of the first moon landing in 1969. While that’s an incredible accomplishment in any terms, it’s even more astounding when you look at the trajectory of manmade flight (pun not intended but not resisted, either). For most of human history, we were stuck on the ground. Even if you use the creation of metal tools as the starting point, that’s more than 10,000 years of walking around watching birds over our heads. The Wright Brothers changed that in 1903 with a 12 second flight that gained an altitude no higher than an NBA player can dunk a basketball. Then, in the span of 66 years, we went from that to landing on the fucking moon. Not just flying TO, but landing, getting off of it again and coming back.

So, Kelly’s point is a valid one. We haven’t even begun to figure out what we can do with the internet, yet. Imagine the radical changes the world might undergo as the interconnected globe changes exponentially. Depending on your perspective, it’s a horizon of near-limitless potential or just the beginning of a frightening data-driven dystopia.

I prefer the former perspective to the latter, but maintain just enough fear to worry about what the world will be like when accumulated data of our entire lives makes it possible to predict our actions to 90% accuracy? I’ll save that topic for another day, but give a quick plug to the CBS show Person of Interest, which disguised itself as an offbeat procedural drama but became something much more interesting.

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