31 August 2005

Business Is Booming

According to an article in the August 30, 2005, New York Times, worldwide weapons sales in 2004 reached nearly $37 billion, their highest level since 2000. A major factor in this impressive performance was the $9.6 billion in arms delivered to Near East and Asian countries last year by the United States, the world's largest supplier of weapons to developing nations. The Times cited a just-released Congressional Research Service report as its source for these figures. The weapons being sold include tanks, combat aircraft, missiles, and submarines. It's reassuring to learn that Uncle Sam continues to dominate such an important and constructive segment of the global economy.

15 August 2005

The Joke's on Us

Some years ago, Tad Friend wrote a brilliant, hilarious, and infuriating piece for the New Yorker about Aaron Sorkin's heroic efforts to talk ABC out of imposing a laugh track on his then-new TV show Sports Night. Sorkin, God bless him, was persistent and finally won a partial victory. Partial because ABC agreed to withhold some, but not all, "sweeteners," as laugh tracks are called in the industry, from the show. Still, it was an important victory for the talent over the suits, and it earned Sorkin a spot on my Inspirational Americans list a year before he started West Wing. You see, laugh tracks enrage me so much I never watch a TV show that has them. The Seinfeld phenomenon passed me by because the show was laugh-track polluted. Why get so worked up about this? you may wonder. Well, for openers, I don't like to be insulted, and I doubt you do, either. Network executives quoted in Friend's article insisted that people watching television wouldn't know when to laugh without the laugh track. Is that so? Well, I find it pretty easy to laugh when something strikes me as funny, and I can actually break out laughing without prompts of any kind, surprising as that may be to the arrogant morons who control TV sitcoms. Think of it--these clowns think viewers are so fucking stupid that we wouldn't know to laugh unless they told us when we should. Toward the end of the New Yorker article, Friend unveiled a great quote from Sorkin, who said that adding a laugh track to Sports Night "feels like I've put on an Armani tuxedo, tied my tie, snapped on my cuff links, and the last thing I do before I leave the house is spray Cheez Whiz all over myself." Now, that's funny. HAHAHAHAHAHAHA.

01 August 2005

On the Job

McSweeney's Web site has a fascinating collection of interviews with people who work at "unusual" jobs. Activities director at a retirement home, repo man, certified firewalk instructor, New York City limo driver, and magician's assistant are a few examples. Because the interviewees are not professional writers, candor triumphs over craft. Their answers are often close to the bone and can be quite moving. There's also very funny material here, some of it surely unintended. Here's an excerpt from "On the Night Shift," an interview with a janitor:
The first vacuum I worked with, I called it Maud. She was a good vacuum. You know, life is like vacuuming — you're going along and everything is fine, when suddenly it shuts off and you realize you've run out of cord.
And this is from an interview with a guy who worked at a hot dog restaurant:
Q: What was the name of the place?
A: It was called Yum Yum Better Ice Cream and Hot Dogs.
Q: Was it some kind of hot-dog stand?
A: No, it was a family-run restaurant, run by two brothers who didn't speak to each other. They took turns managing—never at the same time, though.
Q: Did you have to wear a uniform?
A: You had to wear a Yum Yum baseball cap or a paper cap. Also a Yum Yum T-shirt that was just filthy. The people who worked there were not the most ambitious or cleanest people. I remember fighting for the good aprons. The ones that weren't torn or dirty or had strings that were too short.