Monday, February 28, 2005

How to Improve Air Travel #1

If you haven't heard the earlier audio post you don't know about my day yesterday. It was awful.

I spent 14 hours trying to get from Greensboro, North Carolina back to New Hampshire. Continental cancelled my first flight. They finally re-routed me onto an US Airways flight seven hours later. When I arrived in Philadelphia to change planes, I found my second flight was delayed causing me to have another five hour wait. My total flight time was one hour and forty minutes.

The experience provided me time to consider how the aviation industry could improve its service. Here are the first couple:

1)Guarantee flight times.

I'm not sure how this can be done because I don't know enough about how airports work. Nevertheless, I am certain the culture that figured out how to get a ten ton machine in the air in the first place can, if it puts its mind to it, figure out how to get them on and off the ground at specified times.

There will be times when, because of weather or mechanical failure, timing will be off. People will have to wait. When these inevitable circumstances arise, airlines would do well to treat offer their customers more than an insincere apology and a coupon for $5 off the inflated meal prices all the airport vendors charge.

2)Make airports smaller.

Or at least make them seem so. Along with creating smooth schedules airlines should bring all their flights in at one place. No more 2 mile sprints to the crowded, damp bus that chugs along and dumps you at the appropriate terminal.

Airports composed of several smaller buildings, rather than one huge one, would take a lot of the disorientation out of the customer's experience.

In the Philly airport, electric carts whizzed in the halls. Their drivers held little bells they rang to let people traveling to their gates on foot know to move it. Any airport where pedestrians barely avoid being run-down by motorized vehicles carrying those who can not or will not walk is just too big.

Day Off

this is an audio post - click to play

Friday, February 25, 2005


I've been running since my plane touched down yesterday. The MFA program is holding its interviews in conjunction with a film festival held on campus this weekend.

Last night, I saw a outstanding film. Most movies these days leave me cold. My reaction to most is ho-hum. Last night, though, I saw Searching for Angela Shelton.

The filmaker, Angela Shelton, sets out on a journey to meet every other Angela Shelton in America. Along the way she discovers about 60% of them have been raped, beaten, or molested as children. Uncovering these facts raises for the filmaker issues stemming from her own childhood sexual abuse.

What ensues is two hours of rough, raw, painful-to-watch footage that avoids the parallel pitfalls of self-pity and nihilistic rage. Instead, the Angela Sheltons Angela Shelton meets talk about how they have overcome their circumstances to regain their dignity.

I was surprised at the positive way the role of religion was portrayed. Faith is clearly a means to healing for most of the women interviewed.

Underlying all the emotion in the film is the problem of evil. "Why did this happen?," they want to know. The film offers no easy answers, instead demonstrates how suffering can sometimes turn the human mind to consider the Divine.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Time for Me to Fly

this is an audio post - click to play

Wednesday, February 23, 2005


For some reason, I've been wiped out all day long. I'm sitting at the computer hardly able to keep my eyes from sliding shut. Tomorrow I'll be traveling. Blogging could be light but I hope to at least phone in an audio post. Look for it then.

Right now, I'm going home to play video games and watch TV.

Make a Call, Save a Life

Terri Schiavo's feeding tube could be removed today at 5.

You may think Terri is braindead, or dependent on life support. She's not. She breathes on her own, she's not dependent on any machinery for her survival except the tube through which she receives nourishment.

She's alive, but unconscious. There is still a chance, even if slight, that she could wake up.

If her tube is pulled it will be a very different situation from taking someone off life support. It will be starving someone who needs help to death. It really is that simple.

Please call Florida Gov. Jeb Bush@(850) 488-7146 and/or the Florida Legislature@(850) 488-6026. Make it clear to whomever you speak that you are asking both the legislative and executive branches of government to step in and save Terri's life if the judicial branch makes itself an accessory to murder.

UPDATE: Terri just received a stay to allow her to continue being fed until Friday.

Big Week

Yesterday, I was fortunate enough to be featured in the new blog showcase. Today, I have the equal good fortune of making it into the carnival of vanities. Welcome all.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Movie Picks

this is an audio post - click to play

Michael Schiavo Rushes to Murder Wife

Looks like Michael Schiavo has decided to exploit a small window of opportunity to starve his wife. Terri Schiavo, who is dependent on a feeding tube to live, will likely have that tube removed this afternoon.

A court order preventing the removal of the tube expires this afternoon and a court hearing on extending the order isn't scheduled until tommorrow. Looks like Michael will be yanking his wife's life supporting medical attention as soon as he can this afternoon, hoping she will die as soon as possible.

You may think Terri Schiavo is a vegetable with no hope of recovery. This is one of the myths about her. Check out this site's list of other misperceptions to get the facts.

Also, make sure to watch the videos of her responses to external stimuli that show she has some awareness of what's going on around her.

Audioblog Test

this is an audio post - click to play

Can't Get New Releases at Blockbuster

My sources tell me one unintended consequence of the new "end of late fees" policy at Blockbuster is increased difficulty getting your hands on a new release.

apparently, this is becoming a widespread problem and one serious enough this Louisiana paper did a story about it.

Getting the Picture

I've always had great experiences with Netflix. I not only appreciate the excellent service I've received, but feel a loyalty to the company. With Blockbuster and now Wal-Mart getting into the on-line DVD rental business. I want to support Netflix because, whether or not I'm right, I see them as the little guy wrestling the behemoths.

The New York Times today has a long profile on the company and it's struggles to stay afloat.

One thing Netflix executives are worried about is video-on-demand, the cable service that allows people to click a button on their remote and, for a small fee, watch a movie instantly. In spite of its convenience, I'm not sure how video on demand will catch on. Most people like to own a physical object. DVD rentals may falter, but I think people will always be interested in purchasing movies in a tangible medium they can store in their home libraries.

Sounds Good to Me

When I was a kid, probably six or seven, my brother and I woke up one Christmas morning to find a record player and a stack of records under our tree.

I never got over it. From that day to this, I have been an audio junkie. Lately, I've found I have litte interest in music, certainly not popular music anyway. I dig Dixieland still.

I remember two records we had as kids our parents snipped from the back of cardboard boxes. Such promotions were not uncommon in the '70's and early '80's appearantly.

I find this wonderful site that archives many unusual records for your listening pleasure including some of the old cardboard kind.

Getting a Little Love

Lucas Brachish has kindly included me in this week's new blog showcase.

Surf on over and check out some of the other new blogs as well.

Monday, February 21, 2005

Good to Go

Thanks to all who commented on recent posts. I'll answer them when I get a moment.

A few days ago, I got a call from my district manager. I had called her about the conflict between my needing to be out of the state for the weekend and my being scheduled to work.

She told me she needed me to communicate better. Seems the problem was only that when I said I needed to make an impromptu trip to a state a thousand miles away, I hadn't said it was important.

In the future, I'm supposed to indicate the reason I need to have time off so the corporation can decide if it's really important.

So it seems that when I was told it was impossible for me to have that time off, what I was supposed to have understood was "impossible"really means "possible."

Oh well, I'm cleared for take-off.

Sunday, February 20, 2005

The Myth of Perfect Motherhood

Barbara Curtis has taken to task Judith Warner,the author of the lead article in last week's Newsweek.

American mothers are, Warner writes, overstressed, overwhelmed and underappreciated. They are sinking in a sea of obligation, endlessly running their tots to whatever activity, appointment or opportunity experts say will contribute to the kid's well-being. The pressure of raising kids committed to the treadmill of relentless self improvement gets to be too much. They feel trapped.

Warner writes:

Most of us in this generation grew up believing that we had fantastic, unlimited, freedom of choice. Yet as mothers many women face "choices" on the order of: You can continue to pursue your professional dreams at the cost of abandoning your children to long hours of inadequate child care. Or: You can stay at home with your baby and live in a state of virtual, crazy-making isolation because you can't afford a nanny, because there is no such thing as part-time day care, and because your husband doesn't come home until 8:30 at night.

Curtis criticizes the author and the women she writes about for being self-indulgent whiners reluctant to sacrifice career and personal opportunities for the sake of their children.

No doubt, there is more than enough self-pity to go around, but Curtis doesn't seem to have dealt with other important aspects of the story.

What is making these women miserable are the conditions in which we live. The meaninglessness of contemporary culture powers much of the drive to be overachieving Ubermoms.

In a materialistic society that prizes individual autonomy above all else, mothers without a strong foundation in an alternative set of values will naturally feel excluded. Motherhood demands selflessness and so by its nature is at odds with the priorities of modern, secular life.

Sensing this tension, many middle class mothers seek to resolve or suppress it in activity. Their kids has to have every advantage, must be a concert pianist by 7, deep sea diving at 12. Having discovered a new species of starfish would look really good on the Dartmouth application, right?

When our lives are dominated by our culture's shifting notions of what a good person or mother is, we are plagued by our inability to live up. What the women in Warner's essay are really struggling with is trying to be a good mother in a culture that no longer agrees on what "good" is.

They may be whiny, but in a culture that has lost its way, there is certainly a lot to whine about.

Saturday, February 19, 2005

Saturday Morning Question

Someone once asked me a question I had never really thought of before. It was so good, I've returned to it a few times over the years to update my answers.

When the Mrs. and I go shopping, price is typically the deciding factor. We don't yet, and may never, inhabit the exotic financial lands where packaging or taste serve as a criterion. The question this friend asked me so long ago was, "What are some name brand products you refuse to live without?"

There aren't many. In fact there are only three products to which I feel any loyalty for their consistently superior performance. They are:

1) Apple

I married in. The Mrs. was a Mac user from way back, so when I switched from single to married life I also switched platforms. I've been very pleased. Windows machines now seem like old girlfriends, awkward to be around and less attractive all the time.

2. Coca-Cola

What can I say? Simply the greatest product ever put on the market. I try to savor just one a day, but it's hard because Coke is, after all, the very elixer of life.


I was raised on these guys. Though I've strayed over the years and tried to get by with those generic "toaster pastries" you see loitering forlornly on the periphery of the cereal section, I've always returned. Nothing surpasses the sweet blend of crunchy crust and sweet, gooey center like the real thing. Frankly, all the imitators suck.

So, I pose the same question to you. Have you found any products whose competitors or knock-offs are nowhere near the quality of the original? What brand names can you not live without?

Friday, February 18, 2005

And We Have A Winner-The First State to File Against Blockbuster.

Taking our prize home today is... New Jersey.

The AP is reporting:

In a lawsuit filed Friday, the state charged that Blockbuster failed to disclose key terms in the policy, including that overdue rentals are automatically converted to a sale on the eighth day after the due date.

So, it took about six weeks for this thing to begin to backfire. We'll see how it goes from here. It all depends on whether other states follow suit.

Here's the part of the story that kills me:
In a statement, the Dallas-based chain said it has "taken a number of very thorough steps to let customers know how our new program works. Blockbuster has trained store employees on how to effectively communicate the program to customers, both on the sales floor and at checkout."

See that? The corporation has positioned themselves to be able to claim the problem is the people on the floor being unable to explain the program. Let the little guy take the fall.

I'm not saying I'm a Blockbuster employee, but I do know when a new hire comes on he must sign a confidentiality agreement swearing he won't give away any corporate secrets. He has to do this even if he is merely a low level clerk.

I happen to have information about this employee training that discredits the company's public statements, but cannot disclose it at this time without consulting an attorney. Can a corporation ask you to sign away your constitutionally protected right to free speech as a condition of employment?

TV Notes

I never tire of Monk. The show has become quite a hit for the USA network and deservedly so. The Mrs. found it first and introduced me, but I think my devotion to the quirky Adrian Monk, the rattled detective, has surpassed hers.

Monk is a middle-aged obsessive-compulsive on suspension from the San Francisco police department because his phobias and other psychological foibles began to interfere with his work after the death of his beloved wife, Trudy.

Still, because of Monk’s Holmesian powers of observation and deduction, the captain routinely calls him in as a consultant to solve the case baffling the rest of the squad. He always delivers, even if he has to interrupt an interrogation to straighten a pillow or pick lint from a suspect’s lapel.

It’s as heartwarming and funny as a show about ruthless murderers can be. What I like most about it, though, is Monk’s continuing quest to right wrongs and to pursue justice even as he suffers with his own crippling maladies. The show’s as gentle as “24” is dark.

I’ve often imagined an episode of “24” where Jack Bauer is stumped, just can’t find those rascally terrorists and calls Monk for help. Certainly would save “24” from its relentless humorlessness.

In other TV news, it seems I am missing a new season of Survivor. What can I say, free DVDs can ruin distract even the hardcore. Thankfully, Jen has a nice recap of the action so far.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Dignity $2 a Pound

The Mrs. has been working retail too. She slices meats and cheeses behind the Deli counter in a supermarket. She looks cute in the cap they make her wear.

Her experience has been different from mine in that the management where she works has been pretty good. For her, the trouble is the customers.

Wednesday is cheap chicken day. The Deli staff cooks about a thousand rotisserie chickens and sells them for $5 each. They make some barbecue, some honey, some Italian seasoned. One night, during a snowstorm, of course, a portly woman came rushing to the counter.

“Where’s my chicken!” she yelled, ‘I drove all the way out here in the snow and I can’t believe you don’t have the flavor of chicken I wanted!” The tears began to flow as she screamed, “I demand you make more chicken. I demand it right now.”

More recently, a customer freaked out after she ordered her half a pound of cold cuts, and her cell phone rang. The woman started up a full-blown conversation. Instead of making the next customer wait until the woman wrapped up her chat, the Mrs. went on to wait on the only other person in line.

When she had concluded her phone conversation, the woman went ballistic. Demanded to see a manager, claimed the Mrs. had maliciously slighted her. This woman wasn’t done ordering. She needed cheese and my wife should have known!!

Social conservatives are quick to point to television or rock and roll as forces coarsening our culture, they would do well to consider how the dictum “the customer is always right” contributes to cultural rot.

When the manager came over to deal with the cell phone crazy, he said, “I’m sure she didn’t mean it. We apologize. It won’t happen again.”

His milquetoast response infuriated me. What he should have said was, “Listen, lady get out of this store and never come back. If we ever see you here again, we’ll call the law.”

Of course, he didn’t because it is the habit of commercial establishments to protect even the most vile and obnoxious from the natural consequences of their actions in return for the money those customers spend. The belief in consequence free behavior has seeped into all of American life in part because of the attitudes mass-market corporate capitalism encourages.

By refusing to hold people to normal levels of social accountability, corporate retailers teach customers the dollar makes any behavior acceptable and employees that no amount of money is so small their dignity won’t be trampled to grab it.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Debbie Gibson Poses for Playboy

A while ago I had the chance to see former teen pop icon Debbie, or as she prefers Deborah, Gibson appear in a touring production of “Chicago.” Now, it seems the whole world has a chance to see her appear in …well, nothing.

I just heard that Deborah displays more than her talent in the current issue of Playboy. The issue hit stores Feb. 11, so I guess I’m a little slow on the nudes…I mean, news.

Though I was too cool to admit it, mired as I was in the Smith’s melodic despondency and the coffeehouse communism of Billy Bragg, I harbored quite a fondness for Ms. Gibson at the height of her popularity.

Despite dissapearing from the pop-charts by the dawn of the ‘90’s, Ms. Gibson never stopped working. Her recordings have languished in obscurity, but she has made quite a name for herself in musical theater where she has worked for most of the last two decades.

In recent years, she’s made public pronouncements decrying the overt sexuality of current teen pop acts of the Britney and Christina variety. She told interviewers she’d never pose nude.

With that kind of success and those kinds of convictions, why would she strip for Playboy? A number of reasons.

Ms. Gibson is 34. While in most sectors of American culture to be a mere 30-something is to remain more or less a spring chicken, for a woman in the entertainment industry who feels her moment has passed, it is perilously close to the border of a land from which few dreams return.

Time and again, we’ve seen female entertainers turn up in the pages of Playboy trying to jump-start their flagging careers. It rarely works.

Gibson’s co-queen of ‘80’s pop, Tiffany, tried it years ago and since then her career achievements, unlike perhaps her most notorious photos, have been modest at best.

Child stars who, as they age, fail to maintain public interest sometimes claim their lack of opportunities stem from being eternally seen as a clean-cut kid. Posing for Playboy is supposed to show the world they’ve grown up and free the celebrity from the burden of her wholesome past. Instead, the decision to pose reeks of desperation, a confirmation of has-beenism, a declaration of irrelevance.

Let’s get this straight: it’s not about being naked. If I’d heard Ms. Gibson had posed for photos to appear in some artsy photography magazine, photos designed to illustrate the glory of the human figure; I’d be much less concerned. If she’d done a topless scene in a sensitive and thoughtful independent feature where she turned in an emotionally nuanced performance as well as her beautiful image, it would have been less of a big deal.

But, that’s precisely the point. While those venues would have given Gibson the opportunity to be just as naked as Playboy, they would not have given her, shall we say, maximum exposure.

Ms. Gibson scheduled the release of a new single titled “Naked” to coincide with the publication of her pictorial. Have you heard that? No, but you heard about Playboy, right?

And so it begins, a move designed to rev her career into high gear overshadows her actual work from the outset. Audiences see through all the talk about being “grown up” and “comfortable with my body,” and behold the cynical marketing campaign beneath it. I suppose posing for Playboy can be about covering things up as well as showing them off.

Yet, beyond the marketing, lingers another reason child stars like Ms. Gibson pose for Playboy in spite of its undeniable track record as a career killer. For people who experience worldwide fame at an early age, the rest of life can be a let down, a never-ending quest to recapture the spotlight that once warmed and affirmed every mundane moment.

The absolute rule of entropy, the certainty of decay becomes undeniable as we age. The grave haunts our days. Trying to preserve perpetually the privileges of a 17-year old star is a heavy burden to bear. You get to a point where you do what you have to, I guess. When the future seems barren compared to the past, what can you do but try to leave a trace as you fade away, to call they world to testify again that yes, you were beautiful once and young.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

A Bit of Good News

I got an email today from someone at another school I applied to saying their admissions committee had met and I should expect to see the official acceptance packet arrive soon.

One down, four or five to go.

Big Brother Wants Your Money

About a year ago, a friend who has a long, long commute to work bought a hybrid, you know, one of those cars that runs on half electric/half gasoline power. He loved it.

Since then, the cars have grown in popularity and the powers that be are getting nervous. Specifically, state governments are getting anxious because hybrid drivers aren't buying as much gasoline. Less gas bought means fewer gas tax dollars for the state to squander.

If you and I saw a drastic reduction in our income, we would naturally cut our spending. But that's far too simple and reasonable a solution for governement bureaucrats.

They have a better idea: start taxing drivers by the mile.

How would they know how much you'd driven. Easy, just require every driver to install a global positioning system in any car they drive.

CBS reports:

"Drivers will get charged for how many miles they use the roads, and it's as simple as that," says engineer David Kim.

Kim and his team at Oregon State University equipped a test car with a global positioning device to keep track of its mileage. Eventually, every car would need one.

Used to be they only wanted your money, now they want to keep tabs on you as well. Nothing like killing to birds with one stone, eh?

Slight Correction

After reviewing my schedule I noticed an error in what I reported last night.

I'm not scheduled to work every day during the time I need to be away. There is one day in the middle of the weekend I have off. Of course, that's useless to me without all the surrounding days off as well.

I spent an hour today calling every one of our stores in New Hampshire asking if anyone there could take any of my shifts. Now, I'm waiting for my phone to ring.

Monday, February 14, 2005

Travel Plans Update

I know the blog has been a leaning heavily in the "critical-of-corporate-retail" direction lately, but, hey, that's my life.

The schedule for the week I am supposed to go visit my potential grad school was up today. The day after I got their invitation, I told my manager which weekend I would be unavailable. When I looked a the schedule today, not only did I find myself scheduled to work that weekend, but found I'm scheduled to work EVERY DAY.

"I couldn't give it to you off," my manager said, "I don't have enough CSR's (customer service representatives).

So, because the company I work for has decided to keep our store running on a skeleton crew, I'm not supposed to go on a trip that could determine the course of our lives the next three years?

Admittedly, this is a mere personal difficulty. It sheds light, however, on an aspect of corporate retail life I've noticed but haven't commented on.

The corporation hires people at low wages, offers few benefits, and limits the hours employees can work. Yet, they expect employees to have no other commitments, to be available whenever the corporation calls. I was once summoned to an emergency meeting at 11 p.m. on a Sunday night. I could understand that kind of drop-everything and rush to work mentality if I were a surgeon, but for a video clerk?

For a lot of people, this isn't much of a problem. They live alone and fritter away whatever time they don't spend at work on their cherished amusements. If you do have commitments or other aspirations, they will inevitably clash with the corporate will.

I'm wondering if working in corporate retail is this bad everywhere, or if I've just stumbled into a particularly bad store or a particularly bad company. Any stories about what working for other corporate retail outlets is like, good or bad?

Saturday, February 12, 2005

Blockbuster Late Fee Policy Under Fire

Reuters has an article today reporting Blockbuster is taking some flack for the change in their late fee policy.

I'm limited in what I can say, of course, but I recommend reading the article.

One caution, however. The Reuters reporter got her facts wrong when she writes:
Though consumers now have an extended grace period to return films and games without extra fees at Blockbuster stores, they ultimately are charged the full retail price of the title (minus the initial rental fee) if they keep it for more than a month.

Actually, customer accounts are charged the sale price of the movie after 7 days,a fact she could easily have verified by checking Blockbuster's "No More Late Fees" FAQ page (#5). If the movies comes back within 30 days. the charge is ultimately credited back to the account.

Renting a movie at Blockbuster has become an arduous and complicated task. At the register, every costumer is told about the movie pass, the rewards program and the end of late fees. What used to be a simple procedure, now takes half an hour and, apparently, consultation with your state's attorney general.

NOTE: My linking to this article, or any discussion of Blockbuster or its policies does not necessarily indicate I am employed by the company.

Friday, February 11, 2005

Waiting at Wal-Mart

After work last night, before driving home in yet another snowstorm, I needed to make a quick dash to Wal-Mart.

It was about 6 on a very snowy Thursday night, so the store was not crowded, to say the least. I grabbed what I was after and headed for the cashier.

This was a small Wal-Mart with none of the Super Wal-Mart add-ons that make it clear Wal-Mart eventually plans to sell everything legal for commerce. There was no grocery store, no eye doctor, no McDonald's, no outpatient surgery clinic.

By small, I mean, the store only had 14 check-out lanes. How many were open, you wonder? 2.

That's right 2 out of 14. There was a line at both registers. Totaling up purchases in my lane was a slim, long-faced brunette who looked to be about 19. The only other option was a woman who appeared to be about 70,spending her golden years ringing up Pampers and shaving cream for grumpy strangers.

Now, I'm a pretty patient person, but when I see to lines of people eager to get out of the store and onto the treacherous and life-threatening highway begin to form, I get a little perturbed.

I waited a full 5 minutes. What's the big deal about 5 measly minutes? I'll tell you.

My age, my education level, my professional background, make my time on the open market worth somewhere between 15 and 20 dollars and hour. So, those 5 minutes I spent trying to complete a business transaction were worth in the neighborhood of $1.50.

This lost time and money constitutes a forced contribution to the company. The reason I had to wait, is that Wal-Mart did not want to pay another cashier. Instead of absorbing the cost of the additional ringer, they passed that on to me, the costumer, in the form of lost time and the value it represents.

Almost nothing accidental happens inside a national retail chain store. Oh, sure, a clerk might inadvertently leave a stray can of peaches where only pears should be, but the overall design of the place, from where they put the CD's to how they display the hammers, is part of an environment as carefully crafted as Disneyland. Every inch of what you see has been researched and focus grouped; all to induce you to buy.

The same is true with staffing. Somewhere in the shady upper reaches of the Wal-Mart hierarchy is a guy whose job it was to figure out how long the average person will wait in line at Wal-Mart before he get so angry he leaves without purchasing. Not how long before he gets angry, Wal-Mart is not there to make sure you have a pleasant experience,remember, but how long before he becomes so peeved he splits without handing over the cash.

Deciding how many registers to open depends upon this number. The goal is to only pay enough cashiers to keep people from walking out without buying what they came for. Otherwise, the customer can wait.

Behavior like this sends the subtle but true message that belies all the corporate customer service rhetoric. "We're not here to wait on you," the company is saying "you are here to wait on us."

Comment News

I see blogger has changed the way the comment feature works.

Until now, a blogger account was required to leave a comment. No longer, so feel free to yak away.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Watching "24"

One of the perks of working in the video rental biz is, as you might suspect, free samples.

As an employee of my particular corporation, I get 5 free rentals a week.

We've been watching pretty faithfully. Before Christmas, we got hooked on the FOX series, "24." We sat through every episode on DVD. The show has gotten tons of critical acclaim the last three years, though this year it's taking some heat for being so politically incorrect as to portray the terrorists trying to destroy the world as--gasp!--Middle Eastern Islamic extremists.

The first season had some great moments, but the show has gone incrementally downhill. As far as I am concerned, it jumped the shark in the third season when the hero murdered his boss. That was it for me.

The idea of doing a television show in real time is interesting, but quickly exhausted. Like far too many series, "24" was allowed to keep pushing beyond what should have been the end of the line. No, the show seems to be committed to leaving a legacy of embarrassment.

Seeing nearly every episode, not over the course of four years, but in just three or four months,makes the repetition of plot devices obvious. In nearly every season, there's a mole, someone working for the terrorists, inside CTU, the counter terrorism unit where our hero, Jack Bauer, works or maybe doesn't work, I can't really keep that straight. For an organization devoted to our national security, the security at CTU seems pretty lax. Apparently anybody with a smile and malevolent intent will be hired there to process ceaseless reams of sensitive data.

Every season has the same premise. A terrorist group is about to attack. CTU has one day to find the bad guys and stop them. Then, we watch tough guy Bauer blast, slam and muscle his way through their defenses for the rest of the day. It's a great premise for a season, but for four. I don't think so.

When this season ends, the producers really need to call it a day.

Friday, February 04, 2005

Opportunity Knocking

A recent invitation has revealed another aspect of my current employer's nefarious ways.

In the midst of everything else we've been doing the last few months, I've been busy applying to MFA programs. An MFA is a Master Of Fine Arts degree. It's a terminal degree, like a Ph.D. for people in the arts. I've been applying to earn one in Film and Video production.

I've sent out three application packets so far and have two or three more to go. A couple of days ago I answered the phone to find the head of the Cinema department at my first choice school on the other end. He told me the admissions committee had met and looked through the applications.

I made the first cut. The next step is an in-person interview/soiree/ weekend film festival. He was calling me to ask me to come down for this shindig in about three weeks.

When I went to work, my manager said she couldn't guarantee I could get the time off. See, we're switching from the good-old-fashioned way of making the schedule, when the manager did it on a piece of paper with a pencil, to a new computerized system that will relieve her of this onerous task.

"No one's supposed to request time off for three weeks," she said, "but if I'm still doing the schedule then, I'll see what I can do."

These corporations count on subservience from their employees. They expect to say, "no one can make any requests for time off for three weeks" and to have everyone be OK with that. Without such compliance, they'd have to do something drastic like offer cash incentives to people who worked whatever schedule the computer spit out for them. Of course, offering real incentives cuts across the grain of the whole corporate ethos, so it's not going to happen.

Either way, I'm going. There's no question about that. The only question is whether I'll have a job to come back to.

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