Monday, June 26, 2006

You're a Fickle Little Twister

(are you sweet on your sister?)

Quick: the master of modern epic fantasy. Robert Jordan? Not anymore. Maybe back when his books were still interesting. David Farland? An excellent author, who tells a great story, but who still needs to prove he can write something beyond a fairy tale. Terry Goodkind? Hovers between amazement and tedium.

George R.R. Martin? Ah, yes, of course. A Song of Ice and Fire is a brilliant work. (A note here: I will avoid using names to attempt to avoid spoilers, at least for the time being.)

Other fantasy authors try to convey some sort of superficial disbelief in and disapproval of magic among the inhabitants of the world, while the reader has already seen magic raze cities and restore the dead to life. In A Song of Ice and Fire, Martin actually makes the reader think about what's magic and what's not. A character who claims to practice magic, then is revealed merely to be practicing medicine. A character who really should have no supernatural significance or powers who gives his breath of life to a dying woman. The same woman, who probably should be dead, returns as a vengeful wraith--or is she simply a living shell of what she once was? A red priestess who sends an assassin to kill a usurper king--or was that "assassin" really a spirit; a shade?

Take this, and add the most complex but consistent feudal political system ever written of. A powerful noble raises in the North and is murdered at his own wedding by his presumedly loyal sworn house, who had conspired with a slighted family because the noble refused an offer of marriage. An ambitious queen mother who supplants her son's entire council to win the realm for herself--and to hide the shameful secret of that son's birth. A scheming lord, removed from his station on that same royal council, installs himself at his lord son's protector, and arranges a marriage for his ward, a young girl who through a system of ancient birthrights and alliances will eventually claim that fortress. This girl happens to be the sister of that same murdered noble from the north, anxious to reclaim her birthright. Martin does all of this and more, flawlessly.

Having just finished the fourth book in A Song of Ice and Fire, A Feast for Crows, I feel the need to comment on it. Spoiler warning, in full force. If you haven't read A Feast for Crows but someday plan to, do not read ahead. (Samantha, this means you.)

The action in this book was a little slower than in A Storm of Swords. Then again, I can't name a book with faster events than A Storm of Swords. Some fair-weather fans are criticizing the book, saying that Martin had "Robert Jordan" syndrome. At least plotlines were advanced in Martin's "necessary-plot-advancement" book, in contrast to Jordan's Crossroads of Twilight, in which nothing at all happened. And most of Martin's characters are so darn good that I can't really begrudge an occasional "get all the characters up to speed, so a future book will be really amazing" episode.

Now, about those characters. The book was awfully Jaime and Cersei heavy, so we'll start with them.

Cersei got what she had coming to her all along. She's going to kick the bucket, but I think not until the very last book. She's evil, villainous, and hated by practically every fan of the series. Martin can't dispose of her too quickly; where would we be for antagonists if she were to die too soon? Her arrest for treason, etc. at the end of the book was a way of placating fans who desperately wanted to see something bad happen to her. And we got that. We got even more when we saw Jaime's reaction to her desperate plea for help...

Tommen Baratheon, King on the Iron Throne, is probably doomed. Grand Maester Pycelle is too old to run the kingdom, and Tommen is too young. We can assume that Margaery Tyrell has some designs on the throne, but as of now she's got the same trial to look forward to that Cersei does.

Jaime has become my favorite character in the series (as well as the inspiration for this otherwise-cryptic Decemberists reference as a title). He's certainly the best-developed. We've seen him go from traitorous to nasty and self-centered to actually having a soul. Jaime's denial of Cersei's "please help me! I love you!" was, without a doubt, the best moment of the book. I enjoyed following his storyline a great deal.

Brienne may or may not be dead. Kind of like how a lot of characters end up. I kind of like the theory that she's going to end up in Catelyn Stark "I'm not quite dead yet" mode, even though there's not much to support that. And of course there's the matter of what that word she yelled before she may of may not have died. I suspect we'll find that out, but not until book 6.

Sansa now looks poised to gain a whole lot of political power in not too much time. I think she underwent some pretty interesting changes in this book as well, a whole lot more subtle than Jaime. I only wonder how her interactions with her husband Tyrion are going to change if and when she reclaims her birthright.

I don't really care what happens to any of the Greyjoys, to tell the truth. They're far from compelling characters. Asha is especially annoying (proclaiming "my queensmoot" and then not being able to back up her boasts). Really, I haven't gotten past seeing any of them as minor annoyances, just there for their own weird goals and to screw over the rest of Westeros. These guys are the only weak link in A Song of Ice and Fire and the only set of characters who I don't especially want to hear a PoV from ever again in the future.

The Martells are an interesting addition to the series. I'm a bit surprised that Myrcella didn't die in Arianne's little coup, and the fact that she's still alive when she could just as easily and reasonably be dead suggests that she's going to have a bigger part to play in the future. Also, there are some possibly intriguing ramifications of Prince Doran's desire to unite Martell and Targaryen. I think Arianne's a dangerous character, and should some disaster (or just the gout) befall Doran, she's not going to be content merely to sit in the desert and let someone else take over Westeros.

Arya of House Stark, or should I say Cat, continues to develop into someone truly dangerous. Cersei and the rest of Arya's list had better look out. When she comes back from Braavos with her secret ninja moves from the government, it's going down. Then again, suspicious temple dude didn't seem too happy with her murder of Dareon, evidently blinding her for retaining some of her identity... so maybe getting back from Braavos won't be so easy after all.

I don't really think that the Samwell chapters were necessary in the book, but the plot point that now he's going to be a maester is important. While he's down in Oldtown, he's probably going to find out some archaic piece of information that will help whoever's left defend the kingdom from winter when it comes.

And now, as I've seen on some discussion websites, my Sacred Cows/Marked for Death list.

Sacred Cows:
--Daenerys. It seems intuitive, even obvious, that once everyone in Westeros is done killing each other, Daenerys and her dragons are going to show up and save everyone's ass from whatever in the hell is lurking beyond the wall. Then she reclaims her dynasty's Iron Throne, and everyone lives happily (?) ever after.
--Jon Snow. He will be just as instrumental as Dany in defeating the threat from beyond the wall. Ice and Fire, right? He'll end up marrying Dany; if the speculation that Jon is actually half Targaryen, and seeing as how the Targaryens often marry each other, this prediction makes even more sense.
--Tyrion Lannister. The Imp is one of Martin's favorite characters, which Martin admitted himself. Tyrion is going to continue bouncing around the kingdom, making and foiling plots for quite a while.
--Arya, at least for a little while. She's not going to die before she comes back to Westeros and exacts some revenge on her hit list.
--Sam Tarly. He's got an importance to the final epic struggle, even though we don't know what it is yet.
--Davos Seaworth, at least for now. He's not really dead. I don't think a confirmed PoV character would die that far removed from the action.
--Bran Stark. He still has to become the fated creepy mystical little kid!

Marked for Death
--Stannis Baratheon. We've already seen Robert and Renly die, and I think that Stannis is not far behind. House Baratheon started this war by rebelling against the Targaryens, and I think that the war won't end until the house is completely broken. Besides, by following Melisandre, what does he expect? Symbolically, relating to the overall theme of the series, his "fire" is not going to be the right one to save the kingdom; Dany's will.
--Cersei Lannister. But not for a while, as mentioned earlier. The little brother that kills her is going to be Jaime (who, if I remember correctly, is a few minutes younger than Cersei?), not Tyrion. The irony of Cersei, the most false and money-hungry character in the series, being killed with a fake golden hand that her former incestuous lover wears? Too much to pass up.
--Jaime Lannister. But not before he kills his sister. Just when he gets dangerously close to becoming good, he's going down. Maybe at the hands of Catelyn's little zombie band?
--Walder Frey. So much attention was paid to his line of succession in A Feast for Crows that would be completely irrelevant if the Lord of the Crossing stayed alive the whole time.
--Robert Arryn. Being sickly and weak in this series does not lend itself to living a long time (see Hoster Tully and Maester Aemon). The question is, will it really by his weakness that kills him, or an unfortunate "accident" brought on by Littlefinger?
--Roose Bolton. This guy already made enemies of the Starks and the Greyjoys; no telling when he's going to turn on the Lannisters too.
--Euron Greyjoy. He doesn't even have his entire house behind him, not to mention making enemies of the Lannisters and Tyrells and Hightowers.

So there. Can't wait to find out how much of this ends up being true... A Dance with Dragons, early 2007.

EDIT: Jon Snow's parentage consipracy theory. After talking to my friend Patrick about the matter, I have even stronger evidence to that theory. The general theory, which I cannot take credit for, is that Jon is not Eddard Stark's bastard at all, but the product of a union between Lyanna Stark (Ned's sister) and Rhaegar Targaryen. I can only claim credit for some of the following supportive details.

First, parentage matters. People in Westeros are willing to go to great lengths when it comes to the parentage of a child. Take Roose Bolton's betrayal of Robb Stark, which was (at least partially) motivated by wanting to legitimize his bastard son and get an heir. Additionally, even though it's "metagaming," Martin himself has said that it matters who Jon Snow's parents are. So we're not wasting time by theorizing. "It matters" in A Song of Ice and Fire talk means we're not dealing with a commoner; it has to be someone of noble blood.

Second, people in Westeros die. Who would know the truth of Jon's birth? Under this theory, Lyanna Stark certainly would. She's dead. Ned Stark would, too. Dead. Catelyn might know, but in her zombified condition, it's not like she's striking up conversation with passersby about her family secrets. All of the Stark kids would be too young to know anything about what happened. Brandon Stark (Ned's brother) and Rickard Stark (Ned's father), both dead. The only person who would know and be in any condition to tell, at least on the Stark side, would be Benjen.

Benjen Stark is still alive, no doubt about it. He's been listed as "presumed dead" since the prologue of the first book in the series. In A Song of Ice and Fire, you've either got the curly braces around your name, or you're still kicking somewhere. So Benjen Stark is the only one on the Stark side that potentially knows about, and of any main character, Jon Snow is the only one with any chance at all of interacting with him.

So what? So one person on the Stark side might know about Jon's parents. How about the "other" side? If Rhaegar is really Jon's father, he's dead. So is every other Targaryen except Dany, who's too young to know anything. The reason this is evidence is that if Jon's other parent were some random noblewoman, the secret of his birth would be a lot less secret than if it lay with a dead family. Somebody would have come forth with that information, probably to extort money or land out of Ned, if that random noblewoman really existed.

Third, and most importantly, Rhaegar and Lyanna had something going on. After winning the Harrenhal Tourney (year 282), Rhaegar Targaryen takes Lyanna Stark to a tower (year 283). Ned Stark and company go to the tower, kill a few Kingsguard, and find Lyanna in a pool of blood. Lyanna forces Ned to make a promise to her, then she dies. A pool of blood could mean that Rhaegar killed her... but is it possible this was from childbirth? That would explain her death, too, as a lot of people in A Song of Ice and Fire seem to die during childbirth. Looking at the timeline, it's most likely that Lyanna's child by Rhaegar was conceived during or immediately following the Tourney. We know this is when Jon Snow was conceived; Jon is of age with Robb Stark. Robb was 16 at the Red Wedding in 299, meaning he was born in 283 and probably conceived in 282. So Jon Snow's birth coincides almost exactly with the time Lyanna was at the tower.

Robert Baratheon supposed that Rhaegar raped Lyanna (Robert's betrothed) and took her to the tower against her will. Maybe that's true; maybe Jon is the product of Rhaegar's rape of Lyanna. Then, Rhaegar took Lyanna to the tower against her will to protect his own secret. Or, looking at it from another angle, maybe Rhaegar's union with Lyanna was consentual. And Rhaegar took Lyanna to the tower for her protection, not against her will at all. Either way, it would be awfully convenient for nobody to be able to see Lyanna during the months she was pregnant.

And this promise that Lyanna made Ned make? To take care of Jon. Agreeing to raise and care for his sister's baseborn son is exactly the kind of thing that the morally upstanding Ned Stark would do.

While we're at it, fourth, Ned Stark's a really good guy. Does he strike you as the kind of guy who would have a bastard son? Moreover, when Jon was born, Ned and Catelyn were already together (as evidenced by Robb Stark). So not only would Eddard have had to have given birth to a bastard child, it would have had to have been while he was with Catelyn. I just can't see one of the only righteous and honorable people in all of Westeros doing that.

And finally, it would fit the series theme. Ice and fire, right? Jon would have been born from a noble of the north (ice) and a Targaryen (fire). Now, look ahead to when Daenerys comes back to fight the enemy beyond the wall. Jon's going to be right there by her side. Jon (with the Night's Watch; ice) and Dany (with her dragons; fire) are going to defeat that unknown enemy. Then--how's this--they get married. Ice and fire. Under this theory, Dany would be Jon's aunt, and among a family known for marrying brother to sister, that would probably actually be accepted.

If that's not conspiracy theory, what is?

Currently listening: Symphony No. 7, Antonin Dvorak

Friday, June 23, 2006

Primacy and Recency

Two bands to whom I have been introduced over the last year have recently released new CDs. Here follows the reviews of both of them.

First, a bit about steak.

I ate dinner at a restaurant called Stoney River yesterday. A steakhouse, kind of a hunting lodge style atmosphere, with standard fare. Lots and lots of wine, probably very good, which I will be more qualified to comment on in a year and a half. Salads and appetizers, from which I chose the lobster bisque. Wonderful, and along with the bread, a great first course to the meal. A page of "entrees" including chicken, fish, etc. dishes, which might be decent, but I'll never know because eating anything but steak at a steakhouse is heretical.

The steak I ended up with was advertised as the house special. (No, it wasn't cojones, for those familiar with one of my favorite jokes. If you've not heard the cojones joke, ask me to tell it to you sometime.) This steak, a filet, was very good. Stoney River apparently has a Secret Blend of Seasonings they put on all their steaks, and it was delicious. But eating this filet just served to confirm for me that I like the ribeye a lot better. A filet is probably a better cut if you want a single piece of ultra-high quality meat. It's probably healthier, as a large portion of the ribeye's flavor comes from the marbelization (ie, the fat). But as long as I'm going to order three quarters of a pound of meat anyway, I'll take the ribeye and six dollars over the filet any day.

Now, a bit about quasi-coffee.

Starbucks, contrary to popular opinion, is only halfway a coffeehouse. The other half is "purveyor of all drinks wonderful, warm, and cold, that may or may not tangentially involve coffee as one of their ingredients." One of these (that can either be ordered with or without a coffee base), new for and limited to the summer, is the banana coconut frappucino. I've had both the coffee-based and the creme-based, and it's hard to say which is better. But it doesn't matter, because both are amazingly good. It's refreshing, perfect for 96-degree summer days. This is the sort of thing that probably actually exists in the Caribbean, except it's probably half rum and half all that other stuff. Despite its lack of rum, the Starbucks version is certainly worth a drink, with the caveat that if you don't like coconut, you may want to request the drink without it, and if you don't like banana, stick with something else. All in all, though, this (in addition to the Blackberry Green Tea frappucino) makes summer second only to Christmas as Starbucks' best season.

Review: Ganging Up on the Sun

Guster's latest release was sadly underreported. I looked in a Best Buy ad, and saw that the CD was now for sale. I thought this was probably a recent development, and headed to iTunes to buy it. As it turns out, it had been out for like two weeks already, with no iTunes coverage at all. (And yet, we see Nelly Furtado's mug all over that enterprise. That "Promiscuous" song really, really grates on my nerves. It needs to go away. And is it just me, or does she look positively mentally retarded on the cover of her new album? I digress.) Some of the user comments said that this was a slight departure from old Guster, but most everyone gave it a really great rating.

Deservedly so. Ganging Up on the Sun a worthy followup to Guster's other great albums. My biggest (and really only) complaint is that it lacks the band's trademark bongos in most of the songs. But aside from that, nothing to complain about at all. "Manifest Destiny" is the mosy readily listenable song on the album, with a pleasantly pop-ish piano line in the background for almost the entire song. Think Ben Folds, or maybe the Decemberists at their most bright and happy. Interestingly, the parallels to other songs does not stop there. "The Captain" is a Western fantasy, and would be as easily in place on a Rilo Kiley CD as where it is. We even get a female vocalist (but she's probably not as good as Jenny Lewis). Subsequent songs evoke Coldplay and Muse in places and Sufjan Stevens in others.

Remarkably, all of the songs have a stylistic element in common. They all sound like Guster. The band's sound is there on all of the tracks (minus the bongos), the vocals are still solid, and the styles are more varied than they've ever been. Fans of the band, assuming they're not stuck-up "purist" fans of the band, as in "they don't sound exactly like they used to so I don't like them anymore" will love this release.

Review: Under the Iron Sea

Keane's second release has been lauded as being more adventurous than the band's first. That's probably true, if only marginally so. The album has a different collective "feel" about it, but the actual sound of what's going on it largely the same as it ever was. For the unfamiliar with Keane, think Coldplay minus a guitar, and you've got it. There are people out there who would decry that estimation as ignoring certain nuances of sound, and they might be right. But that's the parallel that I drew upon hearing the band, and that's the one that makes the most sense to the most people.

Some of the tracks on this CD fail to deliver. The first, "Atlantic," is steeped in tritonic dissonance and gave me serious doubts about the ultimate quality of this album. Most of the middle of the album--after "Is It Any Wonder?" and before "Crystal Ball," is okay but rather uninteresting. But there is a lot of good to hear as well. The aforementioned "Is It Any Wonder?", which will probably become the best-known and most-played track on the CD, is a fun one to listen to. And the album gets really good toward the last few tracks. "Crystal Ball" all the way up through "Let it Slide" (which apparently is an iTunes exclusive?) is awesome. My favorite track is "The Frog Prince" which is musically superb and tells a fascinating story at the same time.

I suppose this entire album can appeal to certain people, though probably not all at once. There are tracks that I find boring and unmusical, but that others can probably draw a parallel to Radiohead (which I also find boring and unmusical) and immensely enjoy. The ones I like, certain fans are probably going to denounce as being too "mainstream" and easily musical. The point is, any given listener is going to like at least half this album.

Currently listening: Under the Iron Sea, Keane

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Suddenly, Everything Has Changed

"And it's root, root, root, for the home team..."

I have just watched the Atlanta Braves lose their tenth straight game. The announcers tell me this is a feat not accomplished since the mid 1980s. The Braves are not playing "bad baseball." They are not in a "slump." They stink, plain and simple. This is America's Team, right? The Team of the 1990s... but not of the 2000s. To fans like today's children, Skip Caray correctly points out, this is not supposed to happen. It is a nightmare, a terrible perversion of the Way Things Are. To me, it's a window into the years of my birth and infancy. I knew this sort of disaster used to happen. Potential for it existed, but never made it into this catastrophic kinesis.

The inevitable question: how does a team go from 14 straight division championships to last place in the division? From winning nearly every series at home to a winless homestand? (As my dad adroitly pointed out, we do not need to see "First to Worst" on the front page of AJC Sports.)

The bullpen is really bad, unquestionably. 15 blown saves to 15 converted saves is not an acceptable ratio. The Braves are, what, 15 games out of first place? And 15 blown saves? How interesting. (Of course, a team cannot convert every save opportunity. But being, say, 3 or 4 games out of first is a lot better than 15 back.) It's almost like the team cannot possibly hope to win unless it has an insurmountable lead coming into the 7th inning. And with the Braves' hitting being lackluster at best lately, that insurmountability isn't showing up too well. Abysmal batting averages with runners in scoring position. No average from the first two hitters, and no home runs from numbers 3-6 in the lineup.

And so the trade rumors start.

Trade Andruw Jones and Chipper Jones, some rumors say. Or John Smoltz, maybe. Jeff Francoeur? Brian McCann? I don't know enough about that to say. I'm not a manager. And then some say that Bobby Cox has outlasted his ability, some say the same about John Schuerholtz. Regarding that, though, I certainly have something to say. Bobby Cox, in particular, has shown time and time again that he can make a team great. Consider 1990, the last time the Braves were not champions. Then consider 1991: the Braves go to the World Series. Both of these managers have deftly handled the team year after year. Let's give them the chance to do so again in the future.

Finally, a massive trade for a single big-name player is probably not the way to go either. The Jim Thomes, Ichiros, and Albert Pujolses of the world? Of course they're talented baseball players. Of course they can guide their teams to victory. But can even they singlehandedly turn a miserable team's fortunes around? I doubt it. A solid hitter, even an All-Star caliber one, cannot erase 15 of 30 blown saves.

Two weeks ago, I would have said that something needs to be done soon, but I think it's already too late for this season. Braves fans, bow your heads, and acknowledge that all things must pass. It's been a good run. But something does need to be done. And we need to trust Cox and Schuerholtz to do their jobs.

Oh, World Cup Fever. The United States lost to Ghana. Oh well.

Currently listening: Ganging up on the Sun, Guster

Friday, June 16, 2006

Like Hell This Song Isn't About LSD

Upon getting an eye exam today, I had to be entered into the database (because it'd been far too long since I'd had my last). All the usual fields were there: First Name, Last Name, Date of Birth, and Gender. Now, you'd expect Gender to be either "Female" or "Male"... right?

Not so.

Inexplicably, we have "Female," "Male," and "Other."

My mom and I were prompted to wonder... do they actually have enough cases where this option comes into plat to warrant adding it? Part of me really, really wanted to ask my eye doctor exactly what that was supposed to mean, and how often neither "Female" nor "Male" seems to cut it.

Currently listening: Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, the Beatles; Soundtrack from Hero

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

In Celebration of 6/6/6

Here's a piece I wrote a couple of years ago that I think is fitting for today.

Quinto die ante Kalendas Mai; secundo anno Domitian imperatore

Uzgoroth, secretary to Lucifer (king of demons, incarnation of Satan, etc.), to John of Patmos, author of the Revelation: I hope this letter finds you in fair health, and greetings to you.

I recently read your latest work, “Revelation.” This is a most excellent piece of writing, and being a particular eschatology aficionado, I enjoyed your account of events depicted therein. The numerical symbolism was especially thought provoking: I understand the number seven as perfection and the number six as imperfection (although this displays a clear bias toward your side), but I am a little unsure as to the significance of the number ten. Perhaps this can be clarified somewhat in a future printing.

Now there are a few points on which I feel you must be corrected. Foremost, you refer to the “harlot Damascus” several times throughout your work, chiefly in Chapter 17. I, or acquaintances of mine, have been to Damascus on many occasions, and I have complained (heard complaints, that is) far too often of how un-harlotrous she actually is. There is no doubt in my mind that you actually mean Babylon, for my acquaintances tell me that there is much in Babylon that might be compared to harlotry.

Secondly, although one cannot know the exact outcome of the great battle at the End of Days, you purport to know that your side will be victorious. While I know I cannot dissuade you from this opinion, I feel it is my duty to correct an egregious inaccuracy regarding the location of the battle. As is evident from Chapter 16, your account has the battle happening in Judea, near Hebron, and your “victorious” armies then moving northward toward Jerusalem. This description should properly refer to the battle at Meggido in Samaria, then our victorious army moving south to Jerusalem. This battle is to be known as Armageddon, after all.

Finally, according to your account, again in Chapter 16, the three demonic spirits assigned to perform works to the world resemble alligators. While their amphibious reptilian nature cannot be denied, I believe (if my notes are in fact veritable) that these spirits are planned to resemble frogs more closely than alligators. It would be somewhat impractical for the Prophet (the one whom you refer to as the “False” Prophet) to be forced to emit such a creature from his mouth.

By the way, I was most interested in knowing in your true identity. Is it true that you were actually one of the original disciples of the Prochrist, as the rumors claim? If this reckoning is accurate, then you would be about ninety years old, and I am afraid to say that my sources inform me that lifespans lasting this long will not be common or even attainable until about eighteen hundred years from now. Granted, “John” is a fairly common name, but perhaps you should consider signing your eschatological work as “John*” and affix the appropriate footnote explaining your identity. I would (you will admit, understandably) not want to go through the editing process with you only to have the work not published because of issues concerning the author’s identity.

Please correct these inaccuracies posthaste or I am afraid that legal action must be brought against you. As my organization and I both realize that neither defamation of character nor false forecast of events was intended by your writing, we hope that a future edition will make these necessary changes so that you may avoid recourse. I would also encourage you to write in the future; perhaps essays on current would events would be in order… if the Emperor Domitian sees fit to release you from prison.

The blessings of your (false) deity be with you,


Currently listening: Deadbeat Sweetheartbeat, The Juliana Theory; and My Flame Burns Blue, Elvis Costello

Sunday, June 04, 2006

On the Placement of Products

The onset of Tivo. A foreboding omen, a dark portent, a harbinger of doom for the advertising industry. After all, if people aren't watching a television show in real time, they'll Tivo it and gloss over all of the precious hundred thousand dollar commercial spots. So something had to be done. And thus was born product placement, the practice of blatantly inserting references to your product into whatever medium you like. The standard issue "creepy secret government organization" black SUVs in 24 aren't generic black SUVs but Ford SUVs. And so forth.

(No, this is not yet another entry about television. It's about advertising practices.)

You know what? It doesn't bother me, really. And it's not going to influence me either. To follow the motif of not engaging in popular cultural practices simply because they're there, but not rebelling against them simply because they're popular either. Traditional-style commercials and product placement: I'm not going to be subliminally influenced to buy a product because I see it advertised, and I'm not going to actively rebel against the product because I've seen it advertised.

So that got me thinking: how effective, really, is advertising? I know it makes sense if you've got a new product or service to display: "here's something that didn't exist before, does exist now, and you might be interested in." To me, it does not make sense if it's "here's something that you already know exists, and here's why you should be interested in it. Watch me demonstrate its amazingness." That kind of approach just doesn't work for me, and I'd like to know in general how effective it is.

Audience poll: are you more, less, or as likely to buy a product/service if you've seen it advertised? Do you find your opinion of a product/service changes after you see an advertisement for it?

The reason I ask is because I recently participated in a strange survey/market research scheme. I received a phone call regarding my television and movie watching habits, and before I knew it, I was agreeing to watch a video mailed to me and provide my feedback on it. I watched said video today, which contained the most God-awful sitcom I have ever subjected myself to, King of Queens included. Before and after I watched it, I was to fill out forms corresponding to what I would like to receive as a prize should I be selected for a sweepstakes. I got (sometimes bizarre) categories to choose from, and had to pick an item from each. Without going into too much detail, if a box containing some Oreos, Aquafresh toothpaste, and Mrs. Dash Garlic and Herb seasoning salt shows up on my front porch, I'll have a pretty good idea why.

The strange part about it was the date on this God-awful sitcom: 1997. That's an almost ten year old show they're having me watch? For what purpose? This isn't Seinfeld; pilots from a decade ago don't mysteriously resurface, especially not ones that bad. Then take the before/after aspect of the prize booklets. An obvious thought would be that I was supposed to have been influenced by the commercials on the tape to change a few of my selections. Only one of the product categories in the "after" booklet had a corresponding commercial during the show: batteries. Even more strangely, batteries did not show up in the "before" booklet, but guess what the very first category was in the "after"?

So my current conspiracy theory, which my dad and I formulated as these strange events progressed: it's all about the batteries. The show is a red herring; they couldn't care less what I thought of it. They just want to know how the Energizer commerical affected my desire to buy Energizer batteries.

In the "after" booklet, for my preferred battery brand, I picked Duracell.

Currently listening: Weezer (Blue Album)