CSI: Catherine Still Incompetent?

Visitors to the lair know that when I’m devoted to a show, I’m in it to win it until the very end. I’ll even follow you into continued “seasons” in book form if I’m really into you (which reminds me: I need to finish the “eighth season” of Deep Space Nine before I completely forget the first three books from the run). It’s no surprise, then, that I have continued to watch the original CSI: Crime Scene Investigation through every bump and dip the show has seen in recent years. And, even though I confess to no surprise from the announcement earlier this year that CBS had cancelled the series after 15 years, I still felt a pang of loss. This show has meant a great deal to me for myriad reasons—so much so that, even though it had become only a sliver of its former self, I mourned the inevitable loss of the comfort I took from its familiar presence in my life.

It was, therefore, with no small amount of sadness that I tuned in this past Sunday to watch the final 2-hour movie that CBS green-lit to wrap up story lines and give fans one final Vegas hurrah. The final movie was, indeed, written almost exclusively for those of us who had watched the show with any sense of religious devotion. It was all about the characters, as it had become within recent years (much to my dismay, TBH). They brought back numerous characters, including Detective Jim Brass, “fan favorite” Lady Heather (who I found entertaining at first, but then quickly found irritating), and one-time show stars Gil Grissom and Catherine Willows.

Clearly, from the title of this post, I’d like to focus primarily on Catherine Willows as well as, more generally, how CSI ultimately failed many of its female characters as well as its female fans. I charge that its biggest failure in this regard, however, was to Ms. Willows.

csiwillows

When the series began in 2000, Marg Helgenberger and William Peterson clearly were marketed as the stars—sort of the Scully and Mulder of the forensic world, with the sassy headstrong redhead and the nerdy-hot socially awkward loner. As the series got its footing, it became more and more clear that, while Grissom was the technical leader of the team (read: He was the one making the bucks and getting all the attention), Catherine was the engine that made the operation run. However, there was a far less progressive message being conveyed in the depiction of Catherine’s “behind the scenes” role. She wasn’t in charge, but everyone on the team, including Grissom, depended on her to keep everything on track—paperwork completed, assignments passed out, reviews given, etc. In essence, in addition to being a high-ranking and capable CSI, Catherine Willows was Gil Grissom’s administrative assistant, taking care of all the clerical duties that Grissom felt were not what he should be focusing on.

This is not to say that there is anything wrong with anyone who performs clerical tasks. There isn’t even anything wrong with setting up a scenario in which Grissom is completely inept at such tasks and Willows steps in to provide him the support he needed to keep the team on-track. What was wrong, however, was the turn of events that started at the beginning of Season 5, when the lab director decided to split up the grave shift, setting up Catherine as the new swing-shift supervisor in charge of Nick and Warrick. With Willows and Grissom separated, Grissom continued on as he always did, and no attention was paid any longer to his clerical ineptitude. He was simply the grave-shift supervisor. Period.

However, almost from the start, TPTB wrote Catherine Willows as unable to perform her supervisory duties with any degree of aptitude. She bungled cases, her team (two people previously under her supervision on the grave shift and previously possessed of respect for her skills and supervision) disagreed with her constantly, and the generally accepted presentation to viewers was that she was not suitable as the swing-shift supervisor. This was disappointing, of course, but also problematic. When the team was together, it was very clear that Grissom cared far more for cases, evidence, and investigations than in his supervisory duties. Catherine was the one who took care of all that, and Grissom trusted her implicitly. Plus, he trusted her implicitly as a CSI, often deferring to her as the next senior-ranking investigator on the grave shift. Nick and Warrick respected her as well while they were all on the same team. Splitting her away and making her their actual supervisor should not have changed any of what had already been established—should it? And yet, it did. The implication, of course, was that Catherine Willows could only be successful if she was supported by Grissom, who actually gave her no support at all. But clearly, she couldn’t handle all the things she used to handle without someone there to give her no help at all!

It was no surprise, then, that the next season brought them all back together as one team, Catherine once more serving as second to Grissom. Now, I get that this “breaking up the team” story arc was just a one-season ploy to begin with—something to stir up some controversy, shake the dust of familiarity off everything, and whatnot. What was frustrating was the fact that the ploy had to come at the expense of showing a previously capable member of the team fail so dramatically that no one even questioned her unspoken demotion at the beginning of the sixth season. Or at the beginning of the 12th season…but we’ll get to that in a minute.

I’ve already gone off on a tangent about how CSI treated its female characters. And while some of my thoughts from that post have evolved with time, they’re still pretty on-target. However, what I point to from that post is the fact that Jorja Fox and Marg Helgenberger were the ones to call for a truce between their characters. They saw the value of ceasing and desisting with the continuation of discord between Willows and Sidle. It’s just one of the many reasons that I admire both of them. Of course, the writers’ solution? Stop having Willows and Sidle interact. Instead of climbing out of their clear comfort zone of supporting the notion that women cannot work together in the same collegial way that male characters often do and writing Willows and Sidle into two representatives of a new idea…a fantastic idea…the amazing notion that women can work together without sinking teeth into each other, figuratively or literally…they just gave up on having the women interact at all unless they had to. And usually? It was to spark some kind of fight between them that required male intervention to solve.

Again, all part of the process of pushing stories forward, but it’s trite. It’s demeaning. And it reflects the perpetuation of a misconception that deserves to DIAF. Women work together all the time without fanging each other or deceiving each other or betraying each other or just in general hating each other, “because women.” I do it every day. Even better, my female coworkers and I can pass the Bechdel test with almost every single conversation we have—something that, even by the last episode of a 337-episode run, Willows and Sidle failed almost completely.

But I digress. This is about CSI Willows. Fast-forward from the sixth season demotion to William Peterson’s departure in the middle of the ninth season and Catherine Willows’s subsequent promotion-by-default to head of the grave shift. Again, a shift she’s been helping to run for many years, supervising people she’s worked with for years—she’s got this. Right? And yet, at the beginning of Season 10…the beginning of Season 10, when Catherine Willows has barely been in charge for half a season, we learn that one of her staff has left after filing charges against Willows, for what? Incompetent management.

Again, the writers needed to cover the fact that an actress they’d cast the previous season either left or they let go because the character wasn’t working, but notice how this is the second time they’ve made Catherine Willows incompetent to fix the flow of the story? Sara even tells Catherine, in one of those delightful yet sadly rare moments when these two characters interacted amicably, that she’s a great CSI and that “the only thing that Grissom had that you don’t, is you.” (P.S., this was yet another instance in which Sara and Catherine also failed the Bechdel test, because apparently the only way these two could see eye-to-eye was if they first discussed Sara’s relationship with Grissom…but we’ll get to that in a moment as well).

[Loba Tangent: By the way, this could have been an incredible moment in which the writers decided to make Sara Sidle the second-in-charge to Catherine Willows, thereby having two women in supervisory roles. Can you imagine? Instead, they had Catherine make Nick Stokes her second-in-command. Look at there: Catherine Willows, supported yet again by a man. Surely, she’ll be successful this time!]

So was Sara lying? Or was it simply the fact that the writers at some point decided that the best way to fix major story changes was simply to make Catherine Willows the default incompetent scapegoat? Don’t believe me? Head on over to the beginning of Season 12. Laurence Fishburne had decided that serial television was not to his liking so he departed, to be replaced by Ted Danson. Arriving as D.B. Russell, Danson’s character quickly was established as, what? The grave-shift supervisor. Apparently, being He Who Was Sam Malone trumps the status of the woman who has been on the series since the beginning, and once again Catherine Willows becomes too incompetent to lead.

What’s even worse is that this time her incompetence stems partly from her emotional response to actions that took place at the end of the previous season—actions that a few of the male characters were complicit in carrying out for equally emotional reasons. But it was Catherine Willows who fell and served in demoted silence for all of one season before Helgenberger finally called it quits and left the realm. At least they replaced her with another woman when they brought Elisabeth Shue on as CSI Julie Finlay. Strangely enough, Shue didn’t get to become the head of the team. You’d think that being an Oscar-nominated film star would trump being Sam Malone. Guess not.

Jump, jump, jump ahead to the end. Catherine Willows returns in her new capacity as a field agent for the FBI’s Los Angeles office. Incompetent as a state employee? Don’t worry. The federal government has got you covered, bae!

Seriously, though. By the time Helgenberger left the show, the writers had written the character of Catherine Willows as someone whose personnel file was so riddled with problems that she should have been shipped back to the strip club where she started. And yet, they felt it was appropriate to send her off to the FBI? Forreals?

Right.

So Willows comes back to help during a time when Sara Sidle, by dint of reason that she’s literally the last remaining original CSI left (even though she didn’t appear until the second episode), oh and the show is ending, is up for consideration as the director of the crime lab. WHO’S THE BIG DAWG? Winning by default is still winning, AMIRITE?

Never mind that she’s up for a job that we will never get to see her actually work. No, scratch that. That’s one of the things that really pissed me off about seeing Sara Sidle up for this huge promotion. Pardon my language, but big fucking deal. Why didn’t the writers consider her for the promotion when they decided to demote Willows a third time? You want to give these women reason to fight? There would have been your reason. You know, because women never support each other in the workplace. Instead, she’s not up for any kind of promotion until the last episode. A promotion that she gets (spoilers) and then just as quickly gives up (spoilerz) because love interest is love interest and nothing more. Sara Sidle was always meant to be, first and foremost, Gil Grissom’s love interest. All that time that Sara Sidle was on the show after Grissom left? Well, none of that counted. All those cases she worked and victims she helped and suspects she put away. Meaningless. Everything about her was meaningless until Grissom could return and woo her away once more.

So who became the director after Sara rode off into the sunset with her Prince Charming (literally, spoilers)? The intimation was…it was Catherine Willows. Third time’s the charm? Again, though, big fucking deal. Not only do we not get to see Director Catherine Willows, we don’t even get to see her take the role. It was far more important to see Sara Sidle give up everything to fulfill her ultimate destiny as “Gil Grissom’s love interest.”

Wow. That’s a lot more than I anticipated writing. And yet I barely scratched the surface. Not to say that the show didn’t have great female characters. It honestly had many wonderful female characters come and go through the years. For instance, Julie Finlay was a fascinating character—you know, up until the point where they had her beat into a coma by a serial killer, stuffed into a trunk, and then confirmed as dead in the last 10 minutes of the final episode.

Whatever.

Why does any of this matter? After all, it’s just a show. Just a show that not only ran for 15 years but inspired the creation of at least a dozen knockoffs, including three spinoffs. A show that helped change the course of television in highly influential ways. And yet, when TV Guide dedicated a cover to Helgenberger and Fox? This was the photo they felt was most appropriate:

margjorjakneeswtf

Nothing like women on their knees, eh?

Oh, and if you’d like to dress like a CSI for Halloween? Better just put your own costume together, because this is what you’re going to find in the stores:

ladycsicostumewtf

Positive representation matters. If you think it doesn’t, then you probably are lucky to belong to a group that has never had to worry about any kind of representation, either in the media or in reality. To everyone else, it’s a big deal. CSI made a huge impact in many positive ways, but it also missed the opportunity to make the same kind of impact on how women are depicted in popular culture. They could have taken the character of Catherine Willows and made her an example of a woman who brought herself up from a life she no longer wanted to lead to a life that could have inspired. Instead, she was Catherine Willows, forever destined to make poor professional and personal choices and never ever ever learn from any of them. She—and we—deserved better.

There’s still hope, even in this particular franchise. Patricia Arquette is the lead in CSI: Cyber, which returns this upcoming Sunday. Of course, Ted Danson is shifting over to that show now that the Vegas crew has investigated their last crime. So help me, if he somehow ends up bumping Arquette to second-banana, hell will truly have no fury like Loba unchained.

Go ahead. Try to demote me again.
Go ahead. Try to demote me again.

Rant Me the Serenity…

Talk about much ado about nothing. I relaunch the blog after so much time and effort to rebuild my online lair and then…nothing. Pfft. Fizzle. A couple of Flashback Fridays, some book reviews, some PhotoShop trickery…but no meat. Just sides.

I want more. Truth is, though, that I feel sometimes like there are so many variables against “more.” My job has evolved into something far more consistently all-consuming than before, which means that by the end of the day, there’s not much intellectual energy left. I mean, come on now, I’m practically running on fumes all the time anyway…now, I’ve reached the point where by the end of the day, I simply can’t brain anymore.

Please don’t make me brain anymore.

Seriously, though, I work out my focus all day long, trying to keep multiple projects on track, on time, on budget, on fleek. I come home and I got nothin’ left. The jam jar is empty and all that’s left is the dried-out jam crust around the lid. No one wants that.

The other problem (beyond my tendency to make really disgusting analogies) is that I’ve lost my indignant fire. In my Angry BloggerTM Days, I had no dearth of anger for fueling myriad rants. I’m old now, and I see the futility of ranting. Not to say that I don’t still go on rants…but they’re usually about things meant to incite wrath from the geek community. I’m really good at that.

Ranting about things that matter IRL though? Ranting just deepens the divide. I’m more into (or I’m more into trying to be more into) seeking solutions. Trying to find the problem and fix it. Trying to find answers to questions that I’m quite frankly tired of asking and tired of watching everyone in charge ignore simply because the answers aren’t…simple.

The problem is that this path isn’t easily packaged into a navel-gazing blog blurb. And this path shouldn’t be easily packaged or reduced or simplified. It’s a path of thorns and brambles. A path abandoned for too long because choosing this path requires serious work, and who wants to do that? It’s way more fun to keep ignoring this path and taking the easier one that solves nothing but lets us all be utter cockwombles from the anonymous comfort of our Internet-trolling couches.

[Loba Tangent: In other news, my British friends have taught me the word cockwomble, and I now try to fit it in whenever I can. Because cockwomble.]

So that’s where I’m at. I’m still here, pacing the lair, trying to figure it all out. I’m still writing blog posts. I’ve got a couple saved as drafts (which I couldn’t do before I repaired things, so progress!!). If it makes you all feel any better, I’m not just ignoring the lair. I haven’t even really been reading all that much lately either. Again, jam crust.

And just so I don’t leave you all with that disgusting image in your head, have this. Uzo Aduba is one of my new favorite people in the entirety of the universe. If you don’t know why, then get thee to a Netflix account and stream the hell out of Orange is the New Black. Hers is one of the most captivating characters from what is one of the most delightfully diverse, female-centric shows ever (a shame, though, that we can only get diversity behind bars).

uzo

Putting Away Childish Things

You might have noticed that I haven’t been around the lair all that much lately. It’s not for lack of desire, denizens. I’d love nothing more than to come hang out at with you all with the same frequency I used to. It’s for lack of other things…lack of time, mostly. But also lack of motivation. Lack of inspiration. Lack of give-a-damnedness.

There’s been a lot going on IRL: good things, great things, frustrating things, worrying things. It’s a Damoclean life, the professional one I lead, and presidential election years only make it that much worse. Plus, the state of things is so depressing that for a while I simply lost my will and way.

Mainly, it’s because I am so tired of and sickened and disheartened by the continuing devolution of the “of, by, and for” part of the equation: We The People.

Plainly put, We The PeopleTM kind of suck, and it’s time we started to fix that. It has to start with us because, if all those sacred and holy documents are to be believed anymore (if ever), we’re supposed to be the lynchpins of Mr. Toad’s Wild Government Ride. We’re supposed to be the ones steering this ship; the politicians are supposed to be the ones reporting to us. Yet, somewhere along the way, the politicians mutinied, started changing the rules when we weren’t paying attention. Wasn’t that difficult to do, really…for a “highly evolved species” or “greatest nation in the world” or whatever other self-awarded accolades we like to tout, we’re not exactly the brightest crayons in the box. We’re kind of like the Pakleds of the planet.

For you non-nerds, this is not a compliment.

Now here we sit, a divided, divisive muddle of easily distracted dolts, unable to see the forest because we have to stop and piss hate-filled comments onto every tree. Corruption continues to run amok while we stand in line to buy a fried chicken sandwich. Because that fried chicken sandwich represents the protection of our freedom of speech!

To paraphrase Inigo Montoya for a moment, “You keep using that phrase, but I do not think it means what you think it means.” Seriously, look up “Freedom of Speech” and learn what it really means. That’s a really good place to start.

Now, the title of this post is sort of a tip of the paw to a recent episode of Dan Carlin’s Common Sense, which he called “Put Up or Shut Up.” I used to love listening to Common Sense, mainly because Carlin’s viewpoints on so many things match my own viewpoints. Everyone likes to listen to people who
agree with them, right?

However, I stopped listening a while ago because, quite frankly, I was tired of listening to reinforcement of how I felt, but no suggestions for how to change things…how to make things better…how to reroute the abysmal direction of this country.

Seems like Carlin felt the same way. In “Put Up or Shut Up” he basically stated that even he was tired of listening to himself go on and on about these things without providing a plan for how to fix it. And he called on himself and listeners to…put up or shut up.

So this is me putting up. It’s time to start turning things around before we really do end up plummeting off into the abyss. Our government is corrupt and unresponsive, why? Because we let it become so. All of us. Not just the Republicans. Not just the Democrats. All of us. Somewhere along the way, we lost our ability to reason and debate and problemsolve and now we spend most of our time and energy attacking each other, either in person or via the vitriol of online comments where anonymity apparently bleeds us dry of any empathy or compassion.

What do I propose as part of the solution to this mess? It’s time to grow up, America. Time to start behaving like the “evolved intellects” we liken ourselves to be. Because whether you believe we’re 2,000 or 2 million years old or more, we’re old enough to know better.

First on the agenda? Stop playing the Blame Game. Blaming everyone else for your problems is what little kids do. Also? Doesn’t fix a damn thing, does it? No. So stop it. Stop pointing fingers and saying that it’s _______’s fault that things are the way they are. It’s lazy and ignorant. It’s also how the politicians keep us from ever coming together to fix the problems we have…because they know that part of the fix will mean stopping their free run of the place. Divide and conquer…who knew it worked, eh? George Orwell, actually. I always fall back on one particular passage of his book 1984, which once again speaks relevance to our current state of affairs:

Heavy physical work, the care of home and children, petty quarrels with neighbours, films, football, beer, and above all, gambling, filled up the horizon of their minds. To keep them in control was not difficult. A few agents of the Thought Police moved always among them, spreading false rumours and marking down and eliminating the few individuals who were judged capable of becoming dangerous; but no attempt was made to indoctrinate them with the ideology of the Party.

It was not desirable that the proles should have strong political feelings. All that was required of them was a primitive patriotism which could be appealed to whenever it was necessary to make them accept longer working-hours or shorter rations. And even when they became discontented, as they sometimes did, their discontent led nowhere, because being without general ideas, they could only focus it on petty specific grievances. The larger evils invariably escaped their notice.

Primitive patriotism. “You’re either with us or against us.” Sound familiar? Aren’t you tired of it all as well, denizens? Aren’t you tired of bloviators telling us who’s to blame and riling up this primitive patriotism as a means of blocking true progress, true change, true hope? We are capable of so much more, so much better.

So stop playing games. First, stop your own part in the Blame Game. I’m just as guilty of this game as anyone else. I’m in no way proud of how I have readily bought into various notions that it was X group’s fault that things were the way they were. I was negative, bitter, and resentful. It didn’t solve anything and it just served to make me feel even worse about everything and about myself. Even more? It wasn’t true and it wasn’t fair.

You cannot blame all the problems that ail us right now on one group of people. You also cannot broad-brush an entire sect of the population based on interactions you’ve had with limited members of that sect. In true scientific method of inquiry, it’s a matter of case-by-case analysis that will continuously test, form, and modify ideas and opinions. We’re “individuals” for a reason. Is it easy? HELL NO! Why do you think so few people do it? Is it what needs to be done?

Yes. Yes, it is. It’s called logic. Spock it to me.

Second, call people out for their part in the Blame Game. If you find yourself surrounded by people who just want to spew this kind of negative passive bullshit, call them on it.

Hold on. Don’t go out and start screaming at strangers. Start at home. Not with the screaming though. That doesn’t go over well at all. Be respectful, but point out that blame doesn’t solve anything. Also? Constant complaining is actually antithetical to problemsolving.

So, combat negativity and complaining and blaming with proactive responses. “Okay, what can we do to fix the problem? How can we improve things?” Start seeking solutions! And if you find that there are people who simply refuse to change…well, then leave them be. That’s right…leave them be. Some people would rather throw themselves the mother of all pity parties than try to come up with solutions. You don’t have to stick around and help them celebrate.

See, right now, the United States of America looks like a hard drive that hasn’t been defragmented since it was purchased…all the way back in 1776. And there has been a whole long line of fragmentation ever since. It’s time we activated the national defrag program and leave those “unmovable files” right where they are. They won’t be able to stop the rest of us from rejoining and working together efficiently, if we want to. They’ll just stay where they are, inevitably being as useless to the improvement of this country as all those groups they like to hate on so much. Karma, betches. Look into it.

We live in a country of extraordinary freedoms. It’s one of the many reasons I am, indeed, thankful that I live in America. But I am not proud of who we have let ourselves become as Americans. We have allowed the politicians to take total control, to divide us with incendiary wedges designed to blind us to the solving of true issues and the striving toward true progress. We bicker and blame like children, and we gain nothing by doing so. We simply harm ourselves while the politicians continue to drag us further downward toward a drop we might not survive.

It has to stop. I’m willing to try. Are you?

The Ablutions of Civility

Do you know what separates humans from the rest of the animal kingdom?

A hot shower and a hairdryer.

I exaggerate, of course. But not really. I know that we like to think of ourselves as highly evolved (or children of God, if that’s how you like to swing), but it’s such a thin sheen, this civility we pride ourselves for possessing over the rest of the mammals.

Remove one of those tenuous threads that connect us to that higher plateau and watch how quickly it all unravels.

We lost our electricity on Friday night, thanks to a jaw-droppingly violent storm known as a “Derecho.” It swept through the area with winds strong enough to snap healthy trees into shards of kindling and rip power lines completely free from their poles. And the rain! The idiom “sheets of rain” would not be hyperbolic in this case. Rain poured down as if dumped from a giant basin, with no delineation of size or shape…just a solid wall of water through which we found ourselves driving. VERY SLOWLY.

It was stunning and frightening and utterly humbling.

And then we reached our neighborhood and the unsurprising though frustrating reality of complete darkness.

This was our reality for almost four days.

Several years ago, New York was hit by a blackout so severe that former Energy Secretary Bill Richardson described us as ” a superpower with a third world electricity grid.” This statement is perfectly applicable to the state of the electricity grid as operated by the Potomac Electric Power Company, known as PEPCO. Although, it’s not really “operated” by PEPCO anymore, which is probably a major part of the problem. PEPCO sold their energy generating assets in 2000. They said that it would benefit customers by giving us lower rates. It was also supposed to open up free-market competition.

Yeah, not so much.

What actually happened has been a decade-plus devolution in service and reliability from PEPCO to the point that if you sneeze too hard near a substation, thousands go without power for days. Granted, Friday night’s storm was fierce. However, PEPCO’s response was the same as every one of their responses to massive days-long power failures (which seem to occur at least biannually anymore): no human customer service; spotty updates to their automated response system that always lack any concrete commitment to timelines; slow decisions to reach out to nearby power companies for help in restoration efforts; and, when finally they do commit to a deadline, it’s offensively distant.

Case in point: We lost power on Friday, June 29. Sunday, July 1, PEPCO finally committed to the “promise” that 90 percent of the people without power would have full restoration by 11 p.m. on Friday, July 6.

This is customer service? Did I mention that temperatures have been in the mid-90s to low 100s since the power went out? And there’s no sign of relief all week?

This is how civility’s sheen sloughs away: Under the oppressive pressing persistence of heat and humidity that leave patience in shreds and tempers inflamed. Major intersections become free-for-alls as people abandon lawfulness and common courtesy. You think this area’s traffic sucks and blows as it is on a normal day? Try making it down a major roadway when every stoplight is dead and there are no police officers available to direct traffic. Mad Max would be left in tears by sweaty, enraged D.C. area commuters unfettered by the superfluity of traffic rules and simple human decency.

Then there were the lines at the gas stations that still had power. I wasn’t alive during the 1973 oil crisis, but I’ve seen photos of lines of cars snaking down roads, around blocks, waiting to get to a pump. Believe it or not, this was the scene this past weekend at the few stations that still had power. You’d have thought that we’d gone weeks without access to gas, the way people were behaving. Horns blaring, tempers flaring…I honestly question and fear what would happen in an actual gas shortage. Good thing I like to walk as much as I do.

By Sunday evening, our third-world power grid problems sparked a first-world worry regarding…our wine fridge. We’d just gotten back from a very prosperous adventure (about which I had planned on telling you all prior to PEPCO SUCKS 2012!!!11!!) that left our wine fridge fully stocked with some amazing new discoveries.

Discoveries that were now beginning to warm up.

Have you ever heard the phrase “like looking for a needle in a haystack”? That, denizens, might have been easier than looking for a bag of ice in a blackout. I drove around for almost an hour in search of ice. The closest I came were random shards and cubes abandoned at the bottoms of empty ice bins and one incredibly questionable offer from a gas station attendant who looked almost exactly like Borat’s producer Azamat Bagatov, for me to “come back in few hours and I will have for you two bags of ice.”

Uh. No.

Thankfully, I found a 7-Eleven with a full ice case, the wine was promptly cooled down, and I even got to enjoy a glass of non-tepid tap water that evening.

Monday morning brought with it another round of frustration: My office building had no power. No electricity at work, no electricity at home, I suddenly found myself in full nomadic form, netbook in tow, standing outside the local Barnes and Noble bookstore with two goals in mind: free wi-fi and a giant cup of coffee. Possibly two. At the same time.

Caffeine withdrawal is an ugly thing to witness, denizens.

Thankfully, the B&N staff understood the desperation that rolled off us all in waves (as well as a bit of funk, I’m sure; cold showers are great for cooling off but you cannot convince me that they are suitable for successful hygiene). The Starbucks cafe was ready with hot coffee and the promise of quiet tables and no pressure when we camped out well past the point when our cups were drained and nothing remained of our muffins beyond crumbs and blueberry-stained napkins. Actually, B&N was a lovely oasis of civility in an otherwise calamitous experience. The staff were kind, the store was quiet and cool, the wi-fi never faltered, and I ended up leaving with the complete works of H.P. Lovecraft for $20.

Win.

Now, I sit here in the cool comfort of our house, listening to the appeasing sounds of our mist-thin civility once more humming around me. I suppose I should be thankful to PEPCO for restoring our electricity well before their estimate. However, I can’t help but chafe at the thought that they set the bar so impossibly low that I can’t really find it in myself to thank them for anything. Yes, I appreciate the workers who are out there, busting their asses in this heat to fix what went wrong; but I can’t forgive the arrogance of the upper management who not only act as though they are above answering to their customers for remarkably poor service but actually have the audacity to want to discuss the possibility of imminent price increases.

Right. Perhaps I should approach such an increase with the same reliability and responsiveness that they approach these regular power failures…

Mind All Traffic Signals…

…even the ones you can’t see.

I want you to just look at this photo for a moment or two, denizens. Ponder it:

Do you notice anything off about the positioning of the crosswalk signs? Want a closer look?

Yeah. Pretty awesome, right? The one sign is positioned RIGHT IN FRONT OF THE OTHER ONE. Result? Total visual blockage.

The signs have been like this for probably three months now. The county had sent a crew out to regrade the sidewalk crossings, and they installed a couple of new crosswalk signs while they were at it. What I want to know is, how did they not realize while they were installing this sign that they were screwing up?

It took me all of five seconds to deduce the DERP of the sign placement. The work crew was there, futzing around with the sidewalk and the signs for more than a week. Did none of them at any point not look up and say, “Hey! Hey, guyz?!!?!11! I think we need to re-evaluate this game plan.”

Or did they all notice it and just not give a damn? Who’s to say. All I know is that I’m very glad that my parents taught me to always look both ways before crossing the street…

Getting Sacked

While driving home from a weekend stay in the great hate state of North Carolina, we spent a large portion of the journey past Richmond being treated to a view of the back-end of a “dualy”—a dual-wheeled pickup truck—decked out in chrome, including giant chrome-plated side mirrors, running boards…and a chrome-plated scrotum dangling from its chrome-plated trailer hitch.

Yeah, you read that correctly. This dualy had balls.

I’m not going to post a photo. If you must see what I’m referring to, you can visit this site. And, oh look…they’re made in the USA. Could I be any prouder?

I’m actually quite mortified that I live in a country where hanging ersatz balls off the back of a gas-guzzling vehicular atrocity is acceptable behavior. I’m even more mortified by the fact that there are enough people in this country who, upon reading my previous statement, would immediately attack me, call me all variety of unfavorable names, and then invite me to STFU and GTFO!!!111!!111! And you wonder why I keep my comments section locked.

But I digress.

The thing that I can’t help but wonder is that hanging a pair of balls from your truck is supposed to be an indication of what exactly? I know that people say things like “Boy, that took balls” or “he’s got a pair of steel ones” or “That was ballsy” to indicate that someone has done something brave. Something strong. Something manly.

Here’s the thing, though. Aren’t balls kind of…just dangly and there? I mean, I understand the biological function of the scrotum…but beyond that, why do we automatically assume that, when someone has done something gutsy or brave or brazen that they’ve “got balls”?

I’d argue the exact opposite. Balls aren’t brave. They hide when they get too cold. They’re a work hazard if you’re an action hero (Arnie taught me that). They’re shrivelly and dangly and kind of seem like the antithesis of brave to me. You want strong and brave? Look to the part of the anatomy the size of a fist that’s able to stretch to accommodate something the size of a watermelon.

Yeah, try that, Mr. Chrome Sack.

This brings me to my next point of contention: I’d also argue that this fad would be the outcry of the nation if it was women dangling labia from their bumper hitches.

[Loba Tangent: I know that labia aren’t biologically equivalent to balls, but I question whether there are enough people left in this country who would even be able to identify an ovary, especially if it was dangling from the back of a car. Then again…]

This does not mean that I would like to see women getting in on this simple, sanguine mindset. I’d like to think that we’re a little classier (says the one from the same gender as those wacky Kardashian girls…and that Snookie person). I’m just pointing out yet another hypocrisy of our patriarchal country.

Hey, I know! Let’s get a giant pair made, to install at the base of the Washington Monument!

Hilarity would undoubtedly ensue, no?

Using The Carrot To Stick It To Us…

First, allow me to vent for a moment to the companies, corporations, organizations, etc. who hide behind the “green” concept to keep more money for themselves. I’m talking about the businesses that do things like no longer provide printed instructions with their merchandise under the guise that they are “protecting the trees.”

No, you’re not. You’re saving yourself the cost of providing us with what we now must provide ourselves. I don’t think you’re being environmentally friendly. I think you’re being capitalist dicks.

[Yes, Loba is in a less than chipper mood this afternoon.]

Tangentially, I have a gripe about the local government where I reside doing something quite similar. Beginning January 1, 2012, all stores (with the exception of pharmacies and fast food restaurants) now charge 5 cents for each bag that they provide their customers. The stores get to keep 1 cent while turning over the rest to the government. The government claims that they are doing this to help reduce litter in our landfills.

Allow Surly Loba to call shenanigans.

Mind you, I have no problem with the concept of BYOBag to stores. We’ve been taking our own bags to the supermarket for almost 3 years now. Back then? Stores actually rewarded us eco-friendly shoppers by giving us…a 5-cent-per-bag discount on our bill. Now? Nothing.

Unless you don’t remember to bring your own bags.

I get it. Governments all across the country are strapped for cash and are trying to figure out how to bridge the gap in frightening financial shortcomings without raising the ire of idiotic TEA baggers by raising taxes. So they’re coming up with inventive ways of side-stepping the scary “T” word by doing things like this. But not only can I see through your rather flimsy “we’re being green” smokescreen, I can also do enough math to put 2 and 2 together and see that what used to be a positive reinforcement toward eco-responsibility on the part of consumers has now been turned into a big fat negative.

Essentially, they’ve taken the carrot of rewarding our conscientiousness and stuck it right…well, you know.

I guess what irritates me the most is that I’m tired of all the pretending that these things are being done for anything other than purely financial reasons. It’s for the same reason that where I live insists that I have Sammy inspected every 2 years to confirm that his emissions aren’t polluting the air and killing all the wildlife in the state. Oh, and by the way, that’ll be $14 for the hassle.

Are we as a society really this dull-witted that we don’t balk at such blatant manipulation…but we’ll go bat-shit crazy if the mere suggestion of raising taxes is brought to the table? Call me crazy, but I would much rather you just raise my taxes than nickel and dime me (literally) in these frustratingly capricious ways.

Poster Picks (and Bonus Movie Review): Cloverfield

I haven’t done a two-fer like this since my Runaways review, but I was inspired by my recent re-viewing of Cloverfield as part of my month-long Halloween movie marathon.

So, first, the poster. I’ve decided to go with the initial teaser poster, which had no text on it beyond the movie release date. That’s right, it didn’t even have the movie title on it at first. But, honestly, when you use imagery like this poster uses? You’re just going to attract even more attention by the fact that all you’ve included is the release date. Brilliant bit of marketing, no?

So, no text, no name, no tagline. Only a minimally written date in a nice white font, with dots as separators. Obviously, we’ve got to figure some things out based on what we do have. Let’s start with the primary focus of the poster: a headless Statue of Liberty. Not just headless though. From the exposed, jagged remains of the support frame, the torn copper, and the plume of debris and smoke, it’s obvious that Lady Liberty’s head was removed rather violently. By something very large.

And that very large something has headed into Manhattan. See the wave pattern in the water, leading from the Statue of Liberty toward the destruction within the city? Something has moved from the harbor into the streets…and it is hell-bent on taking down Manhattan. Look at the wreckage of the buildings that were in its way when it came ashore. Look at the plumes of smoke rising from the heart of the city. Look at the helicopters hovering overhead, so incredibly tiny in comparison with the surrounding damage.

Whatever has done all this is large enough that those dinky little choppers aren’t going to do much else besides probably annoy the hell out of it.

Not much else there though, eh?

Not so fast. There are conspiracy theories about “hidden images” in the Cloverfield posters. First, there’s the attacking sea turtle head:

See it? It’s the cloud shape to the right of Lady Liberty’s torch. It seriously looks either like an angry sea turtle…or a peener monster. Personally, I don’t want to think about either attacking the Statue of Liberty…

Next on the list? The smoke cloud monster:

Now, this one is a little more convincing and impressive if it’s true. Take the original poster, duplicate it, flip it horizontally and line up the edges…and voila! See the face? It actually kind of does look like what’s ultimately revealed as the Cloverfield monster. Or any other monster from any other J.J. Abrams movie. The man’s about as original as a Xerox machine.

Which brings me to…

Bonus Movie Review

I hadn’t seen Cloverfield since I went to see it in the theater. I did remember liking it enough that when I saw a used copy for sale for a couple bucks, I went ahead and picked it up (looking back, however, I was probably remembering the fun I had with the friends I went with rather than the actual movie). However, even more vivid was my memory of nearly hurling from the unrelenting shaky cam action. Not even The Blair Witch Project made me feel quite as queasy as Cloverfield did. Every time I thought about watching the DVD, that memory would drown out all others and I would simply put it back on my shelf.

I am pleased to report that the shaky cam was almost unnoticeable to me on the small screen.

More noticeable to me on this second viewing, however, is how truly unoriginal and lazy J.J. Abrams is as a filmmaker. Admittedly, my opinion of him is forever tarnished by the hot mess he ladled into my lap in 2009 with his Trek abomination. That was when I first decided that he was lazy. He could have made an original science fiction film. Instead, he usurped the name of a globally revered science fiction franchise, had some hack writers throw together a script that isn’t even worthy of being pulped into Communist-grade toilet paper, and smeared his Star Wars-loving paws all over a legacy that is so beyond his reach, it’s pathetic.

Why people wouldn’t let me space him for his crimes, I still don’t understand.

But I digress.

Back to Cloverfield. Most people have probably heard it described by genre fans as “Blair Witch Meets Godzilla.” That’s pretty accurate as descriptions go. Although I think a real match-up of the Blair Witch versus Godzilla would not only be awesome, it would be far more original than this movie. It’s fairly derivative as “monster attacking the city” movies go. The only “inventive” addition made here is the Barf-O-Rama shaky cam “found footage” aspect, which wasn’t really all that new by this point anyway.

What’s most troubling, however, and what makes me label Abrams as lazy, is the fact that there are several scenes in this movie that tap directly into a pre-programmed societal fear that was developed on September 11, 2001. New York under attack. Buildings toppled in the middle of the City That Never Sleeps. Plumes of smoke and debris roaring through the heart of Manhattan. Survivors trying to escape by foot on bridges leading off the island.

Some of the scenes from Cloverfield are almost frame-for-frame images that we witnessed on auto-repeat on all the 24-hour news channels that were covering that awful day in 2001. For Abrams and his band of filmmakers to tap into the still raw emotions of that day for what otherwise would have been just another cheesy monster movie (with CGI that has not aged well at all in some areas) feels cheap…and lazy.

I know that great horror often taps into our darkest fears and exploits them. This, however…I don’t know. Maybe I’m being too critical because I hate Abrams so very much. Although I do remember feeling displeased by these scenes the first time I saw the movie as well. Back in the halcyon days in which I still had hope that Abrams wouldn’t punch Trek fans in the collective naughty bits with a power converter from Tosche station while blaring Beastie Boys the whole time.

Douchey hipster tool.

All that aside, though, is this a good monster movie? Meh. There are far better ones. Far more original ones. At best, it’s brainless background fodder for when you want to watch something that’s not going to require any form of activity from you beyond blinking occasionally. I know that there were a bunch of Web sites out there, giving clues about what the monster was…tapping into the new way of presenting a movie as a holistic “new media” experience. Something that Abrams would try again with his Trek movie…only this time it wasn’t for free. “Hey, fans, does none of this make any sense to you? Well, that’s because you have to go buy the accompanying comic book! Then it probably still won’t make sense…but we’ll be that much richer!”

Okay, now I’m just making myself angry…

Containment Breach!

I love coffee. Anyone who knows me, knows this truth. Don’t try to communicate with me before my initial caffeine intake has had time to reach my blood stream. Bad things might happen to you if you do.

It’s no surprise, then, that I would invest in a coffeemaker that’s a little more high-end than your average Mr. Coffee. It’s not that Mr. Coffee makes bad brew. It’s just…I’m a coffee snob when I’m at home. There, I said it. I am a coffee snob. I rarely buy pre-ground coffee. I buy whole beans, which I store in vacuum-sealed containers and grind per my own various specifications for the perfect cup to fit my varying coffee moods. I have been known to pay top-dollar for specialty selections, like 100-percent Kona beans. I use only filtered water. I tear down my machine for regular cleanings and decalcifications.

I succumb to very few personal indulgences in this life, but coffee is one of them. My coffeemaker of choice for more than a decade has been Bunn. My dad (another coffee fiend) purchased our first Bunn machine when I still lived at home. It was such a magnificent machine that when I finally moved out, my parents bought me my very own so that I would always have a decent cup of coffee to make everything better. The sprayhead on these machines disperses the water over the grounds in such a way that, to me, the end result is a pot of coffee that’s stronger and more flavorful than a conventional Mr. Coffee brew.

The primary reason I have long preferred Bunn machines, however, is because of their “velocity brew” line. These particular machines have a water reservoir that keeps a potful of coffee constantly at a brew-appropriate temperature. The reward for this? All I have to do is grind my beans, place them in the filter, pour in a pot of fresh, filtered water, and 3 minutes later, I have a full pot of perfectly brewed coffee.

It’s coffee nirvana for the terminally impatient.

The downside, of course, is the fact that these pots do expend a significant amount of energy, keeping that tank constantly at brew temperature. Also, if you go through a stretch of time in which you don’t drink a lot of coffee, you still have to remember to either switch off the reservoir or refill it regularly so that it doesn’t evaporate all the water and burn itself out.

The ultimate downside, however? When the reservoir seal fails and the tank leaks all over your counter.

This seems to be the intrinsic failing of the Bunn velocity brew line. And it’s gotten worse over the years. My first machine, the one that my parents bought for me when I moved out, actually lasted me a little more than 8 years. In that time, however, my parents went through three Bunn machines. Subsequently, others in my family (we are a long line of coffee snobs, apparently) went through even more of these machines. Almost every single one ended up suffering the same containment breach.

And now, the Bunn machine that I bought to replace the one my parents gave me has done the same thing. It’s not even 3 years old.

This is unacceptable. And so ends my relationship with Bunn. Obviously, some corporate douche in a suit made the decision to skimp on materials in order to make more money available for their own year-end bonuses. Fine. But you can no longer expect my money to add to that bonus level. Nor the money from my family. And, as far as I’m concerned, from this point on, I’m going to discourage people from wasting their money on anything from the Bunn coffeemaker line.

Hell hath no fury like a coffee snob who can’t make her own coffee at home without threat of electrocution from a leaking reservoir.

After some research, I have decided to give Cuisinart a try. Several of my family have already embraced this brand, including my dad. The problem was, I couldn’t find the machine that I wanted locally, so I had to order it online. It shipped today. I shall report back once I have had it and tested it out. Photos may be included.

Until then, though, you might just want to steer clear of me while I’m un-caffeinated…

AWTFY

To Whom It May Concern (You Will Soon Know Who You Are):

Thank you.

Thank you to all the politicians who have, for years been dedicated to the cause of digging us deeper and deeper into a national deficit of vulgar proportions through your uniform and bipartisan complacency in your roles as the supposed Watchmen of the “American WayTM.” Quis Custodiet Ipsos Custodes? Apparently, no one.

Thank you for the years you have spent bending the American people over a barrel in deference to the demands of corporations that own you like the cheap dockside hookers you are. Oh, and a special thank you to the Supreme Court tools who last year ruled that corporations could be considered “people.” Who knew free speech was reserved for those with the most money to buy it?

Thank you to the slew of Republican presidents from Nixon to Bush II, all preaching the fairytale gospel of “fiscal conservatism,” who helped to increase the national debt by a combined total of nearly 62 percent, including golden boy Dubya. In his final term in office, he helped increase it by 20.7 percent with all his decidering and warmaking. Way to go, Georgie! Not only did you beat your dad’s one-term record of 13 percent, you beat in one term alone the two-term combined record of 20.6 percent racked up by that great GOP scion himself, Ronald Reagan. That was really awesome of you.

Thank you to the Democrats of the Bush II era who stood around with their heads shoved so far up their asses that they could lick their own ileums. It was AWESOME, the discordant, infighting mess you all were at the time. It made it that much easier for the GOP Machine to grind you up and spit you into little impotent messes as they and King Dub not only goose-stepped their way through the $236.2 billion budget surplus that Bill Clinton had left us, but then gifted us with a $412.7 billion deficit by the end of the Dubya reign. Guess now we know why red is the GOP color of choice.

Thank you to the TEA Baggers who helped elect/re-elect to Congress several GOP members who are even now stalling the progress of more willing, more rational (for them, at least) politicians to come to an agreement on raising the debt ceiling and tackling our deficit, with demands for indiscriminate budget cuts to those programs deemed “unnecessary” by you.

You know, I get it, TEA baggers. It’s not like you’re racist or the modern-day equivalent of the Klan or anything. You just don’t want to have to cover the costs of programs designed to help out all those lazy poor people. You work hard for your money while they just lay about, right? It’s not like anything has occurred in this country that has led to the decimation of job prospects in hundreds of areas all across the United States. You know, something catastrophic to the working class like, I don’t know, shipping off all the manufacturing jobs to places like China, where indentured servitude is still so very en vogue.

So, yeah, who needs social welfare programs anyway? It’s not like they have any kind of positive impact on society. They’re just more ways this country is wasting money it doesn’t have. So, thank you for your vigilance. And, from the thousands of government employees, contract workers, grant officers, project coordinators, organizers, and various other workers all across this country who will be losing their jobs because of your fiscal “vigilance,” again I say thank you. Thank you for cutting “worthless” programs that had been providing, among other things, job stability to thousands who will soon be getting in line to help raise the United States’ unemployment levels even higher.

Thank you for fighting so hard for the politicians who will fight for more reckless budget hacking rather than something horrible like tax increases. After all, you’re Taxed Enough Already! Am I right? Am I right?! It’s not like the United States has one of the lowest tax rates of any industrialized country or anything. That’s why Dubya gave us all those awesome tax cuts while he played Stratego: The Middle East Edition. And look what that got us! (See paragraph 4.) And, really, we need more people who are willing to fight for the protection of corporate loopholes and the assets of the filthy rich.

[Let me pause here briefly to extend a special and sincere thank you to the originators of the TEA Party Movement who first started calling themselves “TEA Baggers” before they realized that they were in no way as fun as an actual tea bagger. No, really, thank you. It’s the only thing from your existence that I find even remotely amusing.]

Oh, and thank you, TEA Baggers, for fighting to return this country to the moral, Christian ways of life that existed at the time of our Founding Fathers. I don’t know about the rest of you American women, but I sure can’t wait to have all my rights rescinded and my status reset to “Voiceless Breeding Stock.” Who needs things like voting rights or an education anyway. Hell, Michele Bachmann can’t even figure out where the Revolutionary War began and she’s a GOP presidential candidate*!

*This will, of course, be rescinded as well since we all know that the Founding Fathers would never approve of a filthy uterine bearer being in any position other than a horizontal one.

And finally, thank you to the American people themselves. Thank you for being so easily distracted by red herring topics like gay marriage or abortion rights that you helped vote into office the politicians who have gotten us into this hot mess in the first place. Turns out it wasn’t the queers or the baby killers who were going to fuck you after all, was it? I’d like to say you’ve brought this all onto yourselves, but the unfortunate truth is that you’ve brought this on to all of us. Cheers.

And to end this heart-felt thank you note, I leave you with the explanation of this post’s title: It’s an acronym for the traditional salute of one of my favorite ImagiFriendsTM: And With That, Fuck You.

Sincerely,
Loba B