Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The New Karaoke?

Ever since Napster, those embracing the Internet music revolution have always said musicians should just worry about concerts. Forget albums; share your music, because the new business model for music is about selling concert tickets.

This recent article gives us a taste of how the Internet music revolution may be eating some of its children:

In the audience at a recent Natalie Merchant concert at an 880-seat theater in Los Angeles, Adam Miles couldn't focus. The man to his left was holding up his cell phone, shooting video. "Please," Mr. Miles asked his neighbor, "turn it off." A few songs later, the phone lit up again, and the San Diego harbor police officer got more commanding: "Hey, dude. You're going to have to put that away. You're ruining the show for me."


A generation raised on instant, effortless access to all kinds of "live" performance (MP3, Napster, YouTube, iPod) is probably less likely to appreciate and TAKE IN a live performance, as they've never really had to wait for one. Today's young concertgoer hasn't had the same experience of marking the calendar for a new single or album, and I believe part of what makes people salivate and focus is anticipation; anticipation partly spurred by limited access to that which you are anticipating. Distance makes the eardrum grow fond...

More importantly, because every new tool--Facebook, Blackberries, iTelepathy--quickly becomes another enabler of today's cult of self-expression, recording a concert (formerly known as bootlegging) is now more of a: "Look at what I LIKE, look at what I'M EXPERIENCING" maneuver, rather than an attempt to create a collective, Grateful Dead-type vibe.

Maybe we're discovering you can't be a gearhead and a Deadhead.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Sometimes a Buffet is Just a Buffet

It is in the news again: Americans are enormously fat. The grapevine is telling us a recent pro-veggie marketing campaign didn't take, and that our "national obesity goals" (?) aren't likely to be met.

In between shovelfuls of bacon, various pundits are asking WHY? Some of the usual explanations:

We gorge because we're spiritually empty.

We expand because we're hooked on high-fructose corn syrup.

Our bellies runneth over our belts because we no longer eat local.

E-T-C. (NOW SERVING BREAKFAST ALL DAY)

Instead of turning the obesity "debate" into a Rorschach for his respective cause, for once I'd like to see one of these worriers take a deep breath, tie-up his hobby horse, and say: "Maybe Americans are fat because we're lazy and like eating. A country where every day is Thanksgiving ain't likely to be svelte."

You know, Occam's Scale...

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

IS THERE INTELLIGENT LIFE ON EARTH?

According to AOLNEWS:


UFOs have monitored and possibly tampered with American nuclear weapons, according to a group of former Air Force officers who will make their claims public next week at a Washington, D.C., news conference.

Ignore the headlines. Unidentified doesn't automatically mean extraterrestrial. It means exactly what it says; a flying object yet to be identified. Could be a meteor shard. Could be a weather balloon. Could be an unidentified aircraft from a foreign--yet still earth-based--land. Popular usage has confused the term UFO so much the conversation can't help but veer into paranormal territory.

Think of it this way: John Does aren't automatically identified either. Doesn't mean they're from the 5th dimension.

I'm guessing many of these UFOs were foreign spy planes, and yes, it would make perfect sense for foreign spy planes to monitor US nuclear facilities, considering such activities are the very reason spy planes are built in the first place.

As for the US military not going public with the information...not the biggest surprise I've heard today. OF COURSE the government wouldn't go public with real-time info. about their nuclear facilities being compromised. And NATURALLY they'd be even less likely to do so if they couldn't readily identify the crafts in question (particularly if said UFOs were suspected of being Soviet), as it would be a public admission of the vulnerability and perhaps inferiority of US anti-spy technology.

Back then, the US had a credible superpower to scare the rubes with. They didn't need to justify the defense budget using pulp fiction motifs about machete-wielding Bedouins half a globe away.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Uncertain? You Bet!

Eavesdrop on an interview with a CEO or business commentator nowadays, and the buzzword you'll hear most often is uncertainty. Can't get away from it (not even in the hot new Chevy Volt). Doesn't matter if the person is selling real estate, maternity clothing, or moose lips, whenever they're pressed to give a bird's-eye view of today's challenging business climate, they file everything in a generic folder marked "uncertainty."

The exchanges go something like this:

Talking Head: "So what's the biggest challenge facing your industry today?

CEO: "Uncertainty."

Talking Head: "We all know that small business does most of the hiring in this country. What would you say is the biggest challenge facing small businesses today?"

Small Business Owner: "Uncertainty."

Talking Head: "Having successfully managed not to foresee a single aspect of the recent credit crisis, what do you think is driving the market today?

Business Commentator: "Uncertainty."

You get the picture.

Depending on the political persuasion of the talking head interviewing them (hack Republican or hack Democrat), it may get slightly more specific; meaning the hack will editorialize about taxes or regulation (pro or con), then cleverly "hide" the editorial by ending his tirade with a questioning lilt in his voice. Usually, it is only then the CEO/business commentator will reference Washington and its proposals.

For those unfamiliar with the work of economist Robert Higgs, one of his key concepts is regime uncertainty. Abridged version: Extensive government intrusion into the economy creates an atmosphere where businesses become prudish about hiring, purchasing capital equipment, and other important decisions, because they don't know how these decisions might be affected by whatever tax or regulation the government brews next.

So why aren't more businesspeople saying this outright?

Part of this reluctance exists because being a CEO is a lot like being a politician. One "scandalous" comment can singe you (remember Whole Foodsgate?), so canned platitudes and stiff upper lips come with the job.

But also, given how much of the economy has already been ambushed these last few years, it could just be these guys are so uncertain about Washington they've even become uncertain about speaking its name. Washington has become their Candyman; don't say his name and maybe he won't come for you!

Truthfully, things really AREN'T that uncertain. Taxes ARE going up. Obamacare WILL happen in some form. The milquetoast "uncertainty" line is a fuzzy way of admitting the government is handicapping business without offending Obamamaniac customers or running the risk of becoming a certain target of that epicenter of uncertainty; Washington, D.C.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Scenes from a New York Barber Shop

I need a haircut. I need a lot of other things too; complete facial reconstruction or a decent Brad Pitt mask, but there are only so many shopping hours in the day.

On my way home this afternoon I passed a hot Eastern European woman who was distributing flyers for a neighborhood barber shop offering $10.00 haircuts. I asked her if she came with the haircut. She said yes, but only if I multiplied the price of the haircut by 1,000,000. There are only so many zeroes in my bank account.

The barber shop was nearby, and one of the barbers was idling out front, so I assumed they were hungry for business. Maybe I'd even be a miser and talk them down to $9.00.

I asked the guy if the flyer was for his barber shop. He said no. I looked around and didn't notice any other hair-clipping establishments on the street. I looked up at his awning. Indeed, it was the same address as the one on the flyer.

"This coupon isn't for your barber shop?"

"No, that's not here."

"So this isn't for your shop?"

"No, not here."

I appealed to the awning. His reaction told me the appeal isn't a form of jurisprudence that has reached the barber community.

Classic New York. You get an offer for a discount, and the whole thing turns out to be fine print. It's not even a "bait and switch." It's a "bait and deny all knowledge of the bait." And the baiter acts like you're the idiot.

I gave up haggling with the guy. Whether the coupon was "real" or not, it definitely was for his shop. How this "misunderstanding" came about is for the reader to decide. I'm all for conspiracy theories, but I rather doubt one of the barber's enemies from the Old Country took the time to print fake flyers for his shop and then hired a hot chick to hand them out. True, she may not exactly have been "hired." I have heard of Eastern European hotties being used for sex trafficking. What I haven't heard of is them being used for dandruff trafficking.

I still need a haircut.

Friday, September 3, 2010

What Happens When the Quicksand Isn't Quick?

I have recently become acquainted with a man who is his own genre of stupid. He's smart enough to be executed in Texas, but just barely. This man is also the world's leading Captain Obvious, but I'll refrain from using that insult, as it is so hackneyed it actually insults the plaintiff more than the defendant.

This man is dense in such a way that he wouldn't even make it as a useful idiot. Useful idiots come in handy when you need cannon fodder, sweatshop labor, or someone to test your latest "vaccine." This man's worthlessness is so singular I can't even picture him qualifying as a guinea pig, which is probably why he has survived so long. Not even Sun Tzu had a strategy for defeating the alpha of the betas.

His thickness is difficult to describe, but here goes. Plenty of people are clueless. Plenty of people are clueless AND socially awkward. The reason this man transcends the class of the cognitively downtrodden is that he's clueless, socially awkward, billboard obvious and constantly jumping three steps ahead or three steps behind in the conversation; the conversation he's already made clear he doesn't understand. I'm convinced it is this final trait that protects him from the abuse duds of his caliber typically invite. Taking advantage of him would require too much direct exposure for the abuser to escape unscathed. He's like a porcupine, except I'm not confident he could match the dynamism of your average porcupine. We'll call him a cactus instead.

Perhaps a dramatization is needed. Let's say Cactus Jackass found his way to a shoe store. The salesman would approach:

Shoe Guy: "Hello, sir. Are you looking for anything in particular today?"
Cactus Jackass (eyes bulge, forehead reddens, lips moisten): "I-I gotta have something with laces!"

The Shoe Guy is attempting to at least narrow the conversation to a shoe style: a running shoe, a dress shoe. CJ sabotaged this endeavour by transferring the conversation back in time to one that might occur on the floor of a shoe factory, not a shoe store.

But Shoe Guy wants to make a sale. Things are tough all over. So he spends the three hours it takes to get Cactus Jackass into a new pair of Reeboks (thank God they already come with laces).

Having been together 2 hours and 59 minutes longer than Shoe Guy would have liked, the two men approach the register. Shoe Guy has the pain of a million ruptured appendixes burning in his side. His blood pressure is up. His head is down. But at last they've reached the payment stage. Shoe Guy, Jr., is going to eat this month.

Shoe Guy: "Now how would you like to pay for this?"
Cactus Jackass (ears twitch, nostrils flare, pupils dilate): "I-I want to take out a second mortgage on my house!"

The Reeboks cost 89 bucks. Cactus Jackass has 600 dollars in his wallet (being stupid to the point of invincibility keeps one from being mugged). But instead of taking the reasonable step of paying with cash, Cactus Jackass has fast-forwarded the conversation to a payment method that only applies in a high priced worst case scenario.

At this point, even the most determined shoe-shyster would fold. He has already wasted three hours trying to attain an $89 sale. He has already taken four score and seven years off his life rationalizing the opportunity cost of devoting three hours to the pursuit of a commission that wouldn't even keep him in ham hock, let alone steak. Now he is faced with another 3-4 hours of trying to steer Cactus Jackass through the choppy waters of placing nine ten-dollar bills on the counter. An ubercommittee stacked with Foot Locker Employees of the Month couldn't handle this, so we mustn't fault Shoe Guy for succumbing. As for Shoe Guy, Jr., well, it looks like he'll once again be dining on Shoe Polish Surprise.

A laceless, shoeless, and clueless Cactus Jackass walks out of the store and into the sunset. The sun cries uncle and lets the moon take over for a while.