Where Are You Now, Woodsy Owl?

smokey-the-bear-classic.jpgIt’s official.  Celebrity endorsement of environmental causes has been officially declared counterproductive.  The story will run Sunday in the LA Times, but it’s already on the website.

No, it’s not easy being green, least of all for Hollywood A-listers living in jaw-dropping decadence. Solar panels on a 50,000-square-foot manse in Malibu just don’t scream “Live simply!” Ditto hopping onto a private plane to get to the Live Earth concert.

Of course, celebrities don’t let their lavish lifestyles stop them from preaching to the rest of us about temperance. Eco-friendly living isn’t about great sacrifice, they contend, it’s about making small but powerful changes. It’s about voting green. It’s about buying green. Besides, they say, they’re doing their part by using their fame to broadcast a pro-Earth message that reaches millions of people. Isn’t that enough?

It might have been, a few years back. But then, rather quickly, the green movement became part of the mainstream. For the rich and famous, the competition to stand out, to out-green the next guy, got so fierce that the next logical place to take the Greening of Hollywood was the exposé: sussing out the hypocrites.

Green organizations had a good run, deploying conscientious stars to draw attention to coastal pollution, smog-belching cars and the need to recycle.  A non-profit, the Environmental Media Association, formed in the early 1990s to supercharge the trend.

But it’s over.  Now when a star comes out for the environment, it’s all about the star and not the issue.   Which is not a surprise, given the attention-addiction that drives a star to become a star in the first place.  The environment is a siren song for those who want to cast themselves in the role of real-life hero.  Sometimes exotic travel is included in the package.

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Should We Wave the White Flag on Wind Power?

Sometimes I wonder whether all the people who profess to believe global warming is a crisis are just posturing for either political gain or social acceptability. The signs that we aren’t really serious about it are everywhere.

Or maybe the problem goes deeper. We are now shamelessly hypocritical; demanding sacrifice from others that we defiantly refuse to make ourselves. John Edwards wins the fall-down-laughing award for this tendency, telling a labor group that Americans should give up their SUVs, despite owning several of them himself, and openly using one during campaign stops.

Edwards is obviously pathological. He believes his lifestyle and his campaign are of such surpassing importance to the future of the world that we all would trust him that SUVs, private jets and other smoggy luxuries are essential to his divine mission. What the rest of us do is relatively unimportant, so our sacrifice should be easy.

So Edwards isn’t really the problem. He’s an egotistical buffoon; good material for right-wing bloggers and late-night comedians, embarrassing for the rest of us. He’ll be back in private life in a few short months.

But this column, from the NY Times’ TimesSelect (i.e. $$) service, strikes me as more insidious precisely because it sounds so reasonable. Stanley Fish, an author and law professor, can be eloquent and thought-provoking on a range of topics. That he doesn’t recognize the hypocrisy of his position suggests that millions of intelligent people will also not recognize it:

For five months of the year, I live in the very small town of Andes, N.Y. Each year has its signature event — floods, drought, road construction, caterpillars. And 2006 to 2007 has been the year of the wind turbines.

Like many of the other towns targeted by the wind turbine industry, Andes is a rural community that over the years has lost its economic base. At one time the hills and valleys were home to many small dairy farms, but most of them are no longer in operation, and no industry, light or heavy, has taken their place. Now the area relies for its revenue on retirees and second home owners who are educated, relatively well off and tend to be teachers therapists, lawyers, artists and social workers. In short, liberals. They are all soldiers in Al Gore’s army, into organic foods, hybrid cars, clean air, clean water, the whole bit.

They are also against wind power.

Their reasons are the ones always given by those who wake up to find the wind interests at their door. Even if large wind farms were in place throughout the country, the electricity produced would be a very small percentage of the electricity we use. Because the turbines are huge, 400 feet or more, installing them involves tearing up the ridges on which they are placed. Once in operation, they cast shadows and produce noise. Their blades cause a “flicker” effect, kill birds and interfere with migration. The outsized towers ruin scenic views and depress real-estate values.

These last two reasons are seized on by wind proponents who say that a few elite newcomers are putting their aesthetic preferences ahead of both the community’s welfare and the national effort to shift to green energy as a way of slowing down global warming.

It’s a nice line, but it won’t fly. The wind companies may advertise themselves as environmentalists, but they are really developers, which means that they do things with other peoples’ money — yours. Wind farms are attractive as an investment because the combination of tax credits, tax shelters and accelerated depreciation rates means that investors reap large profits in a few years. Meanwhile, those in the community pay twice for their electricity; once when their taxes go to subsidize the wind interests and a second time when the monthly bill arrives. And that bill will likely be larger than it would have been had the turbines never been erected.

It’s a “nice line?”

Well, if Fish’s arguments mean wind power won’t fly in Andes, N.Y., it won’t fly anywhere. In fact, if his position is widely adopted, you can forget about alternative energy, period. Continue reading

Hollywood Gets a Stern Lecture

Owen Wilson’s apparent suicide attempt prompts this burst of old-fashioned, snooty condescension from the U.K. Independent.  I find it quaintly reassuring.  Essentially, the anonymous writer’s position is, Owen Wilson is a minor talent who appears in films barely worth discussing.  But he makes other people a lot of money, and as a result, everyone in Hollywood is acting in a beastly fashion, focusing only on the business implications of his private tragedy.

The whole thing makes for a bracing read.  Here’s how it starts:

Anyone wanting to understand the sheer blood-sucking ghoulishness of today’s Hollywood star factory could do worse than look at what happened to Owen Wilson – the dishevelled, broken-nosed, 38-year-old luminary of such lowbrow comedies as Wedding Crashers and Zoolander – after he was taken to hospital at the weekend.

And here’s a little more of it, to whet your appetite for the high dudgeon on offer:

It wasn’t just the media whose behaviour veered towards the ghoulish, though. Hollywood itself quickly showed its true colours as it worried not about the well-being and recovery of Owen Wilson as a human being, but rather the future of various investments that production companies and studios had placed in him as the star of a flurry of completed and upcoming movies.

DreamWorks Pictures rapidly put out a statement assuring investors that filming on Tropic Thunder, a comedy co-starring Wilson and Jack Black and directed by Wilson’s longtime friend and partner Ben Stiller, would continue regardless. DreamWorks did not say whether Wilson’s part would be recast, although that is presumably an option if he cannot return to work relatively quickly.

Daily Variety, Hollywood’s paper of record, left little doubt about the industry’s bottom-line thinking on Wilson as it catalogued the various projects now left hanging. His incapacitation was “creating a conundrum” for Fox Searchlight pictures, which is putting together a marketing strategy for The Darjeeling Limited, directed by Wilson’s former college room-mate Wes Anderson and due out on American screens at the end of next month.

Paramount Pictures, Variety further reported, faces an even bigger problem with its Wilson-headlined film, Drillbit Taylor, due out next March, “because of the … film’s young male demographic”.

In short, nobody – or almost nobody – in this town appeared to give a crap about Wilson himself, only about his marketability and his capacity to make money for other people, be they reporters, photographers or film producers.

Indeed.

The one thing this writer misses is how difficult it’s going to be to cast Wilson in the roles for which he has almost become a stereotypical choice:  The hang-loose dude with a sleepy sense of humor and the facial expression that says, “It’s all good.”  Clearly, it isn’t, and now that we know of his torments, it’ll be a lot harder for him to fake it.   

Bruce? Couldn’t You Make Bail? *Updated w/Link to New Single

This is the cover of the new Bruce Springsteen album, due out in early October. 

What is he trying to say?

Is he very sad? 

Did we wake him?  

Actually, excerpt for the styled hair, it looks like a mug shot.  Like he’s channeling James Brown:

 or Glen Campbell:

And don’t his eyes look a little…unfocused? Like one is looking over here and the other is looking over there?

This is supposed to be a rockin’ fun album with a lot of the E Street Band.  The cover does not convey that.

*Update:  Here’s a link to his new single, “Radio Nowhere.”  It’s…ok.  Melodically a little monotonous.  He’s mining the same territory as Tom Petty’s “The Last DJ,” complaining about the complete loss of any personality in radio. 

I was tryin’ to find my way home
But all I heard was a drone
Bouncing off a satellite
Crushin’ the last lone American night
This is radio nowhere, is there anybody alive out there?
This is radio nowhere, is there anybody alive out there?

I was spinnin’ ’round a dead dial
Just another lost number in a file

Except Tom Petty wrote about this problem five years ago. 

It should go without saying that the worm has turned a little.  After all, Bruce, you released the single on the Internet.  Where there is a ton of great music, infinitely more than even during the great years of classic rock radio.   I can make my own 1,300-song playlist now, include as much old and new music as my mp3 player will hold, put it on random play, and it’s like the best, most eclectic underground radio station ever. 

Bruce could probably afford an even bigger mp3 device. He is The Boss, after all.

I try to do as little old-guy complaining about changes in the world as I can.  I’ve been rebuked for doing it by a good friend on this site!  Even Tony Soprano said, “‘Remember when’ is the lowest form of conversation.”  So while I think Bruce is going to get attention for this Major Statement, it’s pretty empty if you ask me.

The reality is, the radio industry’s changes reflect the Paradise Lost of our popular culture.   In the glory days after the Beatles’ arrival on Ed Sullivan until the mid-70s, the culture united around an inclusive idea of pop music, when radio stations would play the Rolling Stones followed by Aretha Franklin followed by Frank Sinatra followed by “The Ballad of the Green Berets” or a song by a French nun.   

By the time Bruce Springsteen came onto the scene, those days were about gone, which is why he got so little airplay until he was able to figure out how to use TV in the mid-80s.  I was a huge fan back then, and I felt like a disciple, telling people about this great rock hero many of them had never heard of.  

I don’t see anyone bringing those days back.  Pop’s biggest star right now is Justin Timberlake.  I cannot hum a single one of his tunes.  And one of the reasons why is I never listen to top-40 radio anymore.  I am now in charge of what I want to hear.  About half of my personal Top 10 are technically dead, but they live on in the music I carry around with me.  And, Bruce, old as we are, I think that’s a good thing.

We Apparently Need Another Sign at the Airport*

signs-signs-everywhere-a-sign.jpgIn re: Idaho Republican Senator Larry Craig, who, in case you didn’t know, got involved in a little disturbance of the peace in a men’s room at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport:

Here’s one question I have not seen asked or answered anywhere. Are there big signs in the Minneapolis Airport’s restrooms saying “NO GAY SEX” or “NO OBSCURE GAY COME-ONS?”

There are lots of signs all over airports prohibiting various activities. No smoking. Do Not Enter. Do Not Leave Bags Unattended. The White Zone is for Loading and Unloading Passengers Only. I happen to know that the Minneapolis airport was one of the first to ban smoking, because my mother tried to light up during a trip to visit her sister and was escorted outside. I think she was puffing away in a phone booth when she called to tell me of this outrage.

So why not one more sign? Craig’s arrest didn’t take place in a bathroom in a public park that had become a notorious meeting place. One could argue an undercover cop might belong in there to address a widely-known problem. But many people arriving at the airport in Minneapolis aren’t from Minneapolis. How are they supposed to know that particular restroom is a focus of investigation?

Instead of making some poor cop sit on the can for 20 minutes waiting for some odd toe-tapping to begin, why don’t they station him outside, in uniform? As we filed in, he could say, “If I hear any hubba-hubba from you gents, I’m busting down the door.” Wouldn’t that be a more effective deterrent?

We prohibit sex in airport restrooms primarily to make people like me feel safe going there to conduct the usual #1 and #2. If I was concerned about bumping into a couple of guys doing each other, I think I’d feel much safer with the uniformed cop outside the door. That would represent an explicit statement of community standards.

The whole point of using an undercover cop is that he not be noticed. He’s not trying to deter the activity, but instead to make sure the potential violator feels comfortable preparing to commit the crime, the better to entrap him.

Basically, sex in airport restrooms is an environmental crime, like smoking, playing the radio too loud, or acting weird in general. Do they use undercover cops to bust smokers? The one who nabbed my mother was pretty open about it.

louis-renault-is-shocked-shocked-just-like-mitt-romney.jpgAnother, more political question: Who does presidential candidate Mitt Romney think he’s kidding? Sen. Craig was until yesterday a co-chair of Romney’s campaign.

In his interview on CNBC’s Kudlow & Company (which will air later this afternoon), Mitt Romney had some sharp words for Sen. Larry Craig, who had endorsed the former Massachusetts governor’s presidential campaign and was his Idaho chairman. “Once again, we’ve found people in Washington have not lived up to the level of respect and dignity that we would expect for somebody that gets elected to a position of high influence. Very disappointing. He’s no longer associated with my campaign, as you can imagine… I’m sorry to see that he has fallen short.”

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What CDs Did To Pop Music

cd.jpgIt was 25 years ago this month that the first commercially-available compact disc was manufactured, according to WSJ.com’s Jason Fry.  (Link is to subscription site.)  It was what turned out to be ABBA’s last album, “The Visitors.” 

It is ironic and suggestive that ABBA, known primarily as a singles group (What album does “Take a Chance on Me” come from?  I have no idea either.) would be the pioneer of a format that killed the LP.  The “concept album” as developed by Frank Sinatra and perfected by the classic rock bands of the 60s and 70s, started as a manufacturing spec but evolved into a musical form as prodigious and supple as the sonata.  And the CD crushed it.

The LP’s limitations imposed a helpful form on the musical design of albums. Each side could be about 20 minutes long — maybe 25. So the entire experience lasted only 45 minutes or less; there wasn’t much room for filler. Then, it was divided into two parts (or four parts for a double-LP). Typically that mean 4-5 songs on each side; two suites of 15 to 20 minutes, a brief enough period to hold the listener’s attention. You had to have a strong Side One Track One, a strong closer for Side One, a great track to kick off Side Two, and a great closing track. This imposed a discipline on performers and producers alike.

With CDs, this structure disappeared, and was replaced by an endless temptation for indulgence, as Fry also points out.  And that, he says, has had fatal consequences for the music industry. Continue reading