Saturday, June 16, 2007

In the News

Believe it or not, as of today, almost a week after the fact, you can go to Google News and still find stories about how people are reacting to the final episode of The Sopranos. I've never been a big fan of the show -- I never would have even watched it if my sister hadn't asked me a few years ago to tape it for her. And before this final season began, they signed up for HBO, so I didn't have to tape it anymore -- or even watch it, for that matter -- but I figured I would anyway, just to see how things turned out.

Not that I really cared. The truth is, it was more important to me that the show was ending -- how it actually ended was almost irrelevant. But I was mildly curious, so I decided to watch the final season.

My understanding is that a lot of people were angry about the ending, and apparently because of the abrupt mid-scene blackout, a lot of people thought there was something wrong with their cable company, until ten seconds later when the credits began to silently roll up the screen. Well, those people are morons, but at my house, the cable actually did go out. But that wasn't even the worst of it. There were about fifteen minutes left in the last episode when suddenly all the power in my house went out. And the strange thing was, the power failure only affected four houses, and I was one of the lucky four. The power was restored in a little under two hours, but the cable was out for another hour or so after that.

During that time, I didn't have much to do, but fortunately I have a battery-powered CD player, so I was able to listen to some music by Telemann while attempting to read a short story in the New Yorker by the solid state glow of an LED flashlight.

I saw the rest of the episode the next day using my cable company's "on-demand" service, but the power failure made me glad I don't have digital phone service, because I wouldn't have been able to use the phone. Not that I use it that much anyway, but when the power went out, I called the electric company, and when the power was restored but the cable was still out, I called the cable company.

It turns out I wasn't the first person to report the problems, but my big question is, why would people want digital telephone service in the first place? I can see why the service providers would want to sell it to you -- it's just one more thing they can bill you for each month. But even they don't seem to know how it benefits the consumers. The biggest selling point seems to be that you can pay for everything all on one bill. Maybe that's important to some people, but I'm not one of them.

I can understand the benefits of digital cable TV -- you get more channels and clearer pictures. I can understand the benefits of cable internet as well -- you get a high-speed connection to the internet. But digital telephone service? What's the point? Will it allow me to talk blazingly fast compared to regular dial-up service? No. Is it any less expensive than regular dial-up service? No.

The only possible advantage I can see of having digital telephone service doesn't even exist. If it allowed crystal-clear audiophile-quality sound, that would be sort of cool. If talking on the phone sounded exactly like talking to someone in the same room as you, that might be worth it. It would mean getting rid of all the existing telephones and replacing them with expensive high-end equipment, of course, but our throw-away culture is already geared to that. On the other hand, sound quality on telephones hasn't changed much since the telephone was first invented, so it might be a while before that happens.

Anyway, back to The Sopranos. The show is over, but not to the legions of fans who are looking for hidden meanings buried beneath the surface of what they consider an ambiguous final episode. Maybe for those people, the show will never be over -- maybe it will live on in their hearts and minds for years to come. We can't stop that from happening, of course, but the sooner the entertainment journalists stop writing about it, the better off our civilization will be.

That doesn't seem very likely, however -- not in the near future at least -- because The Sopranos is apparently not just a TV show. It's a "cultural phenomenon" -- I actually read that somewhere. I don't believe it, of course, because it isn't true. It's really just a TV show and anyone with half a brain knows it. By comparison, consider the first Star Wars movie. I'm not saying it was the best movie ever made, or that it even comes close, but it truly was a cultural phenomenon. Before it came out, science fiction movies were all but dead. But after it came out, every other movie or TV show was about aliens and outer space. There were Star Wars parodies, and Star Wars catch-phrases, and Star Wars merchandise. And on Halloween, people dressed like Star Wars characters.

And Star Wars wasn't even the first cultural phenomenon in my lifetime. Remember The Beatles? They created such a worldwide phenomenon that it was even given a name: "Beatlemania." So not to pick on The Sopranos, but has it had an impact on our culture that even comes close? Nope. Although the phenomon of endless reporting on the subject may eventually come close.

Anyway, speaking of news stories that won't go away, you can also still find stories on Google News about Paris Hilton's jail sentence.

Once upon a time, I had a pretty high opinion of the human race. I used to assume that everyone was about as smart as I was, or as intersting as I was, or as fun to be around as I was. That's because the people I hung around with, for the most part, generally were. And then, some time in the early 1980s, I was first called for jury duty. And there, surrounded by people from all walks of life and all strata of our society, I realized that a lot of people are idiots. It dawned on me that a person with what we call "average intelligence" may be completely incapable of rational thought.

Now, about twenty-five years later, there's a new way to remind yourself how stupid people are. A lot of newspaper and magazines have web sites, and on those web sites you're allowed to add comments to the stories they post. The interesting thing about this is that after a while, people stop commenting on the story itself and start attacking the opinions of people who posted all the previous comments. It doesn't matter what the original story was about or where it was posted. If they have a section for comments at the end of the story, you can usually find a lot of name calling and verbal attacks after the first five comments or so.

Sometimes a single story might generate over a hundred comments, and life is too valuable to waste by reading the opinions of morons, but I have to admit that I sometimes enjoy reading technical articles about some security flaw or some new feature in Microsoft Windows, and then reading the user comments to see how long it takes for a war to break out between the PC users and the Mac users. This happens each and every time. There is nothing more certain than this. You can bet on it if you're lucky to find someone stupid enough to bet against you. The only element of uncertaintly is whether or not the Linux users will eventually chime in.

Okay, now back to Paris Hilton. First of all, I don't think she's an idiot. She's claimed over and over again that it's just an act, and I believe her. Why? Because real idiots don't realize they're acting like idiots. Paris Hilton knows she's acting like an idiot, and that's what separates her from the true idiots. Don't get me wrong, though. She's no genius either -- she probably falls into the category of people with "average intelligence."

But whether or not most people realize her dumb act is just an act, I think just about everyone agrees that she is a spoiled little brat. But who can blame her for that? I certainly don't. I blame her parents for not doing a better job of raising her. But I can't even blame her parents that much because her father is the grandson of Conrad Hilton -- the guy who began the Hilton hotel empire -- so he was probably pretty spoiled all his life as well, and therefore perhaps not the world's best parental role model. And if Paris Hilton ever decides to have a child...well, I shudder to think about it.

Anyway, I'm not here to point fingers at people for doing a terrible job of raising their kids. What I wanted to talk about is all the idiots who expressed their comments at the end of the various online news stories about Paris Hilton's jail sentence. And by the way, I'm not saying that everyone who expressed an opinion is an idiot -- I'm only saying that the people who disagreed with me are idiots. (And I'm usually more accepting of other people's opinions than it may sound -- it's just that some of the people made some really idiotic comments.)

But I did learn one frightening fact. I learned that Paris Hilton actually has fans. There are tons of people who think she's just wonderful. When I first discovered this, it rekindled that lack of faith in humanity I developed when I was first called for jury duty. I can almost understand why a TV show like The Sopranos has fans, but Paris Hilton? Not to unduly pick on her, but really, what has she done to make her worthy of fandom? What is the basis of her appeal?

Chances are, you won't be able to answer those questions. People who read this blog are generally much too sensible to see what attracts some people to her. So I'll tell you the answer. The only reason I know it is because of a comment someone added at the end of an online story, but the comment spelled it out in no uncertain terms: Paris Hilton brings glamor to our otherwise humdrum lives.

Well, I may not lead the most exciting life, and there are aspects of my life that, by certain standards, could be considered somewhat "humdrum." But if my life ever gets so bad that I think I can improve it by reading about the antics of a spoiled young socialite who can't stay out of trouble, please promise me that you'll shoot me. And when you do, don't stop shooting until you're sure that I'm dead, because a life like that is not a life worth living.

And on that cheerful note, I'll end this week's post. I was actually planning on writing about something completely different this week, but then I took a quick look at Google News. Maybe next week I'll post first, then check the news.