Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Have I Got A Surprise for You

You may have noticed activity here has slowed down in the last couple weeks. Don't despair. I have been busily working on a surprise for you to be unveiled somtime in the coming weeks that will make all your fretting evaporate.

Can you guess what it is?

Monday, March 21, 2005

Sex and the Cinema

Anne Thompson has published an intriguing article today on the role of sexuality in contemporary cinema.

She writes:

"The old adage 'sex sells' no longer applies to the movies. 'Sex will not make something that is otherwise not entertaining sell,' producer Tom Pollock says. 'Movies work because they make you laugh, cry or (be) scared. Audiences won't go to a movie because of sex.'"

I think she's right. Conservatives who believe cinema has been on a steady slide into the moral sewer need to review their history. Look back at even mainstream movies in the 1970's and they are much more replete with nudity and sexuality than today's blockbusters.

Read the whole column here.

Monday, March 14, 2005

"No More Late Fees" Could Cost Blockbuster Plenty

More than 30 states are now investigating Blockbuster video for deceptive advertising in its "No More Late Fees" campaign.

Blockbuster must know the waters ahead could be stormy. Why else would they be seeking to settle the case?

Stanley Jordan Revisited

On a trip to California when I was sixteen, I bought this CD,well, technically, back then it was a cassette. I loved it. Its tones were dulcet and mysterious to me, filling me with yearnings I could not name.

I had seen Stanley Jordan on the Tonight Show around that time. Instead of playing the guitar as it is traditionally played, by plucking or strumming the strings, Jordan smacked the strings with his fingertips producing a sound more like a chiming bell than some rock god's axe.

A couple of years ago I bought the CD. I hadn't listened to that music in fifteen years, at least. Hearing it again was like bumping into someone you knew once and realizing how little they'd grown, fun for reminiscing but not someone you want around often. The music that once had thrilled me now left me cold. It sounded generic, like cheap vanilla ice cream, like, well, like Counting Crows.

Just for kicks, I popped it in the player again yesterday. All of a sudden, I was digging it again. Shuffling around the kitchen to Jordan's perky cover of "Eleanor Rigby." I listened to the whole thing three or four times.

Why does that happen? That shifting of tastes back and forth as we age. Is it possible we find things when we are young and saddle them with so much of our embryonic hopes, our emerging identities that we are unable to appreciate them for what they really are until we have some more solid sense of ourselves ?

I was pleased to see Stanley Jordan does have a Web presence, even if it is a little drab.


From his concert schedule, it seems if you live near Reading, Pa. you can see him live tomorrow night.

Saturday, March 12, 2005

Say Uncle

I did not know until recently there was a real Uncle Sam. His name was Sam Wilson and he grew up in Massachusetts and New Hampshire. In 1789, he and his brother Ebenezer walked to Troy, NY, which still bills itself as Uncle Sam's Hometown. If you go to Troy, you can visit the Uncle Sam Memorial statue or his grave.

Unfortunately, Sam Wilson didn't look quite like our image of Uncle Sam. He certainly didn't walk around in the shiny red, white and blue suit. Certainly would have made him stand out in a crowd if he had, eh?

According to an online biography the familiar image was created by

"Thomas Nast, a prominent 19th-century political cartoonist," who "produced many of the earliest cartoons of Uncle Sam. "

Lately, we don't get to see as much of Uncle Sam as I'd like. I suppose his image is offensive to the sophisticated hordes with its connotations of patriotism and American pride so many now detest.

Well, as for me I hope he doesn't stay away too long. I'd like to see that old geezer (he was born in 1766, after all) hobble his way around again.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005


We had a storm last night to make even veteran Yankees complain. We got about 7 inches of snow aggravated by winds of 40 to 50 miles an hour.

The worst of the storm hit between 3 and 11. Naturally, I was scheduled to work at “Chalkduster” renting DVD’s and trying to sell the movie pass. I was supposed to be there from 3 to 11, right through the heart of the blizzard.

The weather grew more and more ferocious. I’d never seen a winter storm like this. Even in the late afternoon sun, I could barely see the huge Wal-Mart on the other side of the street. Snow flew everywhere.

After a couple of hours, a manager called and told us to count our customers between 6 and 9 to see if we were doing little enough business to justify closing. We had only about 13.

At the Wendy’s next door the kids behind the counter said they could close if they did fewer than $50 in transactions in each of three consecutive hours.

If they did $51 dollars of business in one of those hours, they’d have to stay. So, for the sake of $151, Wendy’s was willing to put the safety, and possibly the lives, of these young employees on the line.

Around 9, another, higher ranking manager called and said we’d have to get a couple more opinions before we could close. The manager in the store with me told me to go.

The car fishtailed a little in the slippery slush. I made it through the first intersection and settled in for the 7 or 8-mile crawl in the terrible dark.

Nobody else was on the road. After a few minutes of driving, I realized it was foolish to press on. I could feel the tires slipping in the drifts the storm had dumped in the unplowed street. The wind pounded the top of the car. The windshield looked like a sheet had been thrown over it. A solid white wall blocked my vision of anything beyond the nose of the vehicle.

I decided to pull into a convenience store a few miles ahead and wait for the storm to settle. Finally, I saw the store’s lights through the crowded sky. I had been on the road half an hour and traveled about two miles.

I called the police. I assumed the department would have a four-wheel drive to come and pick me up. They told me to wait. There were a lot of other problems last night, they said and they’d get out to me when they could.

I settled back to watch the wind try to rip the store’s flag from it precarious perch. I watched for an hour before the police called.

“You’re on your own,” they told me. Our town’s tiny force has only three cruisers and two of them were stuck and stranded. The third was attending more serious emergencies.

I had been there an hour and a half before deciding to give the road another shot. The snow had begun to taper off, though it was still coming down pretty heavily.

I pulled forward intending to forge ahead. In the distance I saw lights heading toward me and decided to stay until after the vehicle passed.

It didn’t pass. It pulled into the lot instead. I had never been so happy to see a snow plow. I left the car and ran to it.

“Did you call the police a while ago?” the driver asked.

The cops had sent the plow for me.

I chucked my bag in the cab and lumbered up over the massive blade into the passenger seat.

The snow continued to fly the whole way home. I looked down from my seat to see it spraying off the blade in on continuous arching wave.

I’d left work at 9 and got to my home 8 miles away at midnight.

I’ve complained before about corporate retailers requiring employees to work in severe weather conditions. I’d support legislation requiring employers to give employees the option to leave when the state police begin telling people, as they routinely do during these storms, not to be on the road.

Had I lost anything but a couple hours through this ordeal, I would have consulted an attorney. To keep employees on the job in treacherous conditions is criminally negligent and the corporations that delay allowing them to leave before conditions become life threatening should be held accountable.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Drowning in Trivia

In the age of consumption, our lives get frittered away debating which off all our choices if the "right" one.

Barbara Curtis explores this point in an excellent post today.

She writes:

The more options Americans have, the more our need for self-determination is sated by stupid choices like stamps and mustard and rings – the less fire we have for the choices our government continues to withhold (school vouchers) or begins to take away (religious expression).

This proliferation of options is even worse online. The millions of blogs, not to mention the bozillions of other pages, offer a chance to while away hours perusing the trivia of others' lives.

Not that I'm against blogs or blogging. Nor do I think there's no place for blogging about personal matters. But as a blog reader, I'm realizing how much the ever increasing panoply of choices requires an ever increasing commitment to discipline and make the most of the time we have.

Monday, March 07, 2005

Wal-Mart Plans to Ruin Maryland Town

The town of Dunkirk, Maryland, recognizing the disastrous effects big box stores, passed an ordinance restricting the size of any new retail establishments built.

Wal-Mart came along and wanted to build a Supercenter, but butted up against the limitation. What did Wal-Mart do? Did they agree to build only up to the legal limit? Did they move on completely to somewhere more Wal-Mart friendly? No, they decided to build two stores whose diminsions fell beneath the size limit next door to one another.

Wal-Mart's relentless push to open new stores, even where they aren't wanted, knows no bounds. Their intention to build two stores where the people tried to prevent the building of even one shows a breathtaking lack of respect for the town and the way of life its citizens are seeking to preserve. The corporation's marketing strategy of associating itself with images of small town Americana seems even more cynical in light of this move as the company seeks to profit from using images of a culture they are helping to destroy.

Saturday, March 05, 2005

Moody's Table

this is an audio post - click to play

Friday, March 04, 2005

Legislation to Prevent Free Internet Access

Recent technological developments have increased the ability of computers to access the internet wirelessly, by recieveing signals through the air.

While this means free internet access for a lot of people when they drop by the library or Starbucks, it may not mean free access at home. At least, not any more.

The Houston Chronicle has a story today about a bill in the Texas legislature designed to protect incumbent internet service providers from having to compete with those who would give away Wi-Fi.

The bills, there are similar ones pending in other states, would prevent not only municipal governments from setting up local Wi-Fi utilities, but would prevent private citizens from forming non-profit corporations to make access freely or very cheaply available.

In a move reminiscent of the recording industry's effort to squelch new technologies, the entrenched telecommunications industry wants to control the field rather than to compete in it. Apparently, these are the new rules of the game: if you can't compete according to the dictates of evolving technology, ask the government to enact legislation forcing consumers to continue buying your product or service.

Using these tactice have lead a lot of people to loathe the recording industry. You would think others would have learned a lesson from that debacle, but apparently not. Like the recording industry the telecommunications people will destroy whatever good will toward them costumers have and wiill ultimately lose anyway.

Industries affected by emerging tech have to learn the only way to stay afloat is by sticking to the fundamentals of business, supply a good product to meet the demand. Trying to manipulate the market by limiting consumers freedom might seem like a shortcut, but will only lead to diminished earnings and public distrust.

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Best Buy Hard Sell

It's been a while since I wrote much about the manipulations of corporate marketing.

I spoke with an ex-Best Buy employee today who told me what it takes to work the check-out in one of their stores.

It takes 5 "no's". That's right. Each cashier is supposed to try to sell every customer five items, or ask the customer repeatedly to buy a single item until the customer has said "no" 5 times.

When the pressure got to be too much for this guy, he quit. A lot of customers got angry, he said.

Corporate chains like Best Buy are willing to risk making their customers furious. If even one out of ten actually buys an additional item or service then, I suspect, the added revenue more than covers the loss of the few customers ticked off enough by the obnoxious sales pitch to never come back.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Looney Tunes Fest

I started watching one of the four disc Looney Tunes classics sets last night. They cartoons themselves are a lot more clever than I understood them to be as a kid and they look great on DVD. I haven't watched any of the extras yet, but I'm very eager. The discs are packed with documentaries and commentaries I'm super excited about.

By the way, if you've never visited the Looney Tunes Web site, click the link above. The Wed site is great, complete with online only cartoons and and gobs of downloads and info.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

More Thoughts on Better Air Travel

Continuing with yesterday's theme of improving the flight experience, here are a couple more changes I'd like to see:

1) Put Fewer People on the Plane.

I've been on flights where so many people have squeezed on board I expected the crew to spray us all down with WD-40 so we could get off again. The tiny space provided to the economy class passenger suggests the airline believes only people under 5 feet tall should fly.

One reason people who are disgruntled with airline travel hate it so much is the sheer discomfort of being unable to move throughout the flight. The bile rises at paying so much for such a cramped space. Open up some room and the airlines would see more and happier customers.

2) Stop Allowing Vendors to Gouge Customers the Airlines Have left Stranded.

While stuck in the Greensboro airport this week, I paid $8 for a McDonald's quality chicken sandwich and fries. A 20 ounce Coke set me back two bucks. Other prices I noticed were also outrageous, 99 cents for a bag of M&M's, or a packet of Pop-Tarts.

I thought I could avoid getting fleeced by finding a McDonald's at the Philadelphia airport and ordering from their famous dollar menu. I found the McD's. Guess what? No dollar menu.

Airports love filling their food courts with extortionate, fake restaurants. In Greensboro there was something called "Burger Depot," that evidently took its name from the fact its burgers cost as much as a train ticket across Europe. Instead of filling the food courts in airports with sham restaurants run by an invisible corporation, bring in familiar establishments to compete with each other. The reason McD's doesn't have a dollar menu at the airport is because there's no Wendy's, no Burger King right next door.

I don't know what it would take to create a more competive arrangement, but I do know lower concession prices would go a long way toward reducing the rage of consumers locked into a several hour wait by airline incompetence.

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