Archive for June, 2006

A Higher Rate of Lip Service

Friday, June 30th, 2006

I was strolling down the street a few days ago and noticed this sign for MidAmerica Bank:
MidAmerica Bank - paying a higher rate of attention

Look at that slogan: “Paying a higher rate of attention.” That made me scoff. Oh sure, I thought. How like marketing: to promise some intangible/immeasurable quality, some perceived difference. Rather than paying a higher rate of interest, which costs money, they just give empty slogans.

Except then I remembered why I like my (Chicago) bank:
WaMu ad with joint checking account, two male names

(Also available in lesbian!)

Sometimes I suppose it’s just a matter of using the right slogan:
WaMu ad detail: Thanks for letting us be a part of your community.

Oh, by the way, about that address:
Detail of checks, address is 3639 Elaine Pl

I’m sure it won’t come as a surprise that there is no “Elaine Place” in New York City. But I wonder if there was an Elaine involved in the production of the ad… I remember a time when I was putting together some ads for a magazine, and the sample address I used was “Perkins Lane”.

You gotta leave your mark somehow…

No, Thank You

Thursday, June 29th, 2006

So, earlier in the week Ehsan called to see if I wanted to hang out. I said sure, and met him at one of his favorite haunts: Panera. (He has no Internet at his place.)

I got some food and sat down to eat. Shortly after I finished, a (cute) guy came up and asked if we knew anything about getting a laptop working on the wireless. Ehsan indicated me, and thus began a long session of trial and error on the guy’s girlfriend’s (doh!) computer.

I won’t get into the technical details, but suffice to say that Panera tech support* and I determined the cause was a very specific hardware combination. (“We’re not sure why it happens,” said the rep, “but it’s always with Linksys cards.”)

Essentially, the girl was out of luck. I explained her options, and she thanked me for my time, packed up, and left — or at least I thought so. A few minutes later, I saw her headed my way on the periphery of my vision.

It was to give me this:
$10 Panera gift card, To: 'Thank You!' From: Rachel

She said a few kind words of thanks again, and gave me the card. (Note it says “thank you” for the name — she didn’t even know mine!) I was so touched, it just brightened my whole day. You’re a class act, Rachel F. I hope you kick ass on the GMAT.

* Who knew Panera had tech support? The Rhode Island-based tech seemed just as interested in me as I was in her. “That’s consistently one of our busiest locations,” she said. “Some of our stores will drop to just 1 or 2, that one always has at least 15 and I’ve seen more than 30 sessions in progress. Is it in a mall?” Nope, just near a busy intersection

You Can’t Do It When You’re the Help

Wednesday, June 28th, 2006

There’s a Home Depot on one of the streets I walk pretty frequently, and there are signs on the exit doors that amuse and puzzle me:
Home Depot sign: if you use drugs, don't bother to apply

The signs are amusing because I find it hard to believe there are many jobs at Home Depot for which being stoned would be a huge impediment. How much of your faculties are really required to haul shit around, anyway?

Granted, I say that as someone who’s never been properly stoned, so let’s move on to the next point: why there? Why is it so important to have this message known that a huge, bold signs are placed on the exterior doors? Wouldn’t a message on the application itself be just as effective?

Also, is this just a Lincoln Park thing, or do they do this at every store? I could almost believe it was national more — seems more like a marketing message, then. (“Hey, shoppers — check out our zero tolerance!”)

In any event: curious.

Cause and Effect?

Tuesday, June 27th, 2006

1. City of Chicago shuts down a local independent theater, the 3 Penny. Chicagoist, a local group blog, posts a story on the closure, singling out amusement taxes as the cause:

2. I call bullshit (well, actually, I call “lazy”) on the story around 2:30:

This post is pretty light on facts and long on speculation. Yes, taxes are unfortunate, but they are a cost of doing business. A variable cost, at that, as the tax only goes up as revenue goes up. (It’s also passed on directly to the consumer, as my Sox tickets from last night clearly show on the front.)

Also, while the city amusement tax is 8% and the county’s 3% (=11%), you fail to note that event admission is not subject to sales tax (a fact I just confirmed by calling the IL Dept of Revenue: (217) 524-4772.)

Is something a few percentage points above sales tax so onerous it’s shutting down movie theaters? Perhaps. Why not call the Music Box [another independent theater] and ask what they think? Why not follow up on the 5 year old Meridian story and find out what’s come out since? Rather than “snooping” (i.e., Googling) why not do some “reporting”?

3. The author responds to me and others an hour later:

it is not typically my take to go full-force investigative reporting, especially since i have limited space to work with here…

however, i have a call into the dept of business and licensing, i have a call into the music box, and i am awaiting a response from the owner of ICE theaters, who was previously the owner of meridian entertainment.

i’ll let you know what i find out. i also got a chance to speak with a theater employee who gave me a pretty in-depth explanation of how box office sales are broken out, so i’ll give you that info, too.

(I don’t want to nitpick, but oh what the hell: forget “full-force”, forget “investigative”, there was no reporting. This woman was locked out of a theater, did some Internet searches, and called it a day. And: “limited space to work with”? I don’t think so. Newsprint may not have scrollbars, but the Web sure does.)

4. Some time later, the story has all tax-related paragraphs excised:

5. Simultaneously with (4), I assume, the story’s title changes from “We Are NOT Amused” to — and I totally don’t get this — “Oh The Shark Bites With Its Teeth, Dear.

I have to say, I fully believe that in the not-too-distant future, small groups with Internet savvy will give the big newspapers a run for their money in local news. But today, comparing this ham-handed approach — free from fact-checking and correction notices — to the work of real journalists shows a pretty stark contrast.

What More Could You Ask? Well, I’ll Tell You…

Friday, June 16th, 2006

I read a couple stories in the past few days that really left me wanting more…

From WaPo, a story on U.S. government efforts to staunch copyright infringement abroad included this nugget:

The intellectual property industry and law enforcement officials estimate U.S. companies lose as much as $250 billion per year to Internet pirates […] entertainment and other copyright exports — worth about $626 billion annually, or 6 percent of the U.S. gross domestic product — are as important to today’s American economy as autos, steel and coal were to yesterday’s.

A quarter-trillion is an astonishing amount, yet the Post offers nothing to back it up other than “industry and law enforcement” (which is it?) estimates. We all know how trustworthy those can be; about this time last year I noted the MPAA’s propensity for fuzzy math. You’d think the people at the Post would be critical enough to say “that’s almost 40% of your business. How did you arrive at that figure?”

Similarly, I found the most interesting part about the NYT’s story on Google’s Oregon data centers to be not the nature of the construction (or their location), but this:

The fact that Google is behind the data center, referred to locally as Project 02, has been reported in the local press. But many officials in The Dalles, including the city attorney and the city manager, said they could not comment on the project because they signed confidentiality agreements with Google last year.

Doesn’t anyone find it odd that public employees, acting in their official capacities, could be party to confidentiality agreements? How can Google — how can anyone — get away with muzzling administrators via contract? Why doesn’t the Times have time to ask?

OK, I Can’t Live in Germany

Thursday, June 15th, 2006

German law allows shops to be open only from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m., Monday through Saturday. On Sunday, nearly everything is closed except for some restaurants and snack kiosks. [from AP: Up Late? Why not shop]

Also I remember being told (when visiting restaurants near Checkpoint Charlie) that free soft drink refills were “against the law” in Germany. I think we later disproved that, but maybe it’s true. If so, wow, what an unholy nexus of suck.

I’m Really Not Patriotic, But…

Saturday, June 10th, 2006

…there’s something about Canadians.

Canadian: You know, Canadian Bacon was made by Canadians*, but Americans never get it.
I: Oh?
Canadian: Yeah, it was made by Canadians to mock American stereotypes of Canada. Then they put John Candy — who everyone thinks is American — in it, so America would just think it was mocking Canada, when really it was mocking Americans.
I: I see.
( later… )
I: Of course, just for the record, when you have a country that has 9 people for every 1 of yours and said country spends more money on weapons than every other nation in the world combined, and the only thing that separates you from them is the world’s largest undefended border, well, you have to realize that it would take about 45 minutes to annex you.
( pause )
Canadian: We burned down the White House, you know.
I: Two hundred years ago. Try it now, bitch.

* Not actually true, as far as I can tell.

When 1 + 1 = 3/5

Wednesday, June 7th, 2006

Two years ago, when Bush made noise about banning gay marriage, the subject made me quite emotional. Today, the same actions are barely on my radar.

Fortunately, my friends have stepped into the breech, and I’ve been getting some good e-mail on the subject. I hope they don’t mind if I quote them here.

First is Pech, who makes the following observation:

Man + Woman = Marriage

So, on more than one occasion I’ve seen the equation shown in the pic [above]. And I have to say I just love it, it’s too perfect. It simultaneously points out the stupidity and ignorance of the religious right, but undermines their point as well.

In this society we hold to the idea that men and women are equal, applying rules of simple math, if man + woman = marriage, AND man = woman therefore man + man = marriage, and also woman + woman = marriage.

Joel then sent me this positively Swiftian forward:

Citizen –
Right now there is an issue that is ripping our country apart. It is an issue where one side derides the status quo as nothing more than institutionalized discrimination, while the other side considers it essential to their way of life. If action is not taken on this issue, it is clear that a court will eventually make a decision that will overturn the status quo. When such a decision is handed down it is possible that the rift caused by this issue will threaten the very fabric of our Union. For this reason, action – Constitutional action – is the only option.

In times like these, I turn to our most precious of documents and ask, “What would our Founding Fathers do?” I believe that the answer is clear. When faced with an issue this powerful, this disruptive, this important, they would craft a compromise. This is why, after carefully reading through the Constitution, I am proposing an Amendment that allows gays to 3/5ths marry.

The 3/5ths marriage would give gays 3/5ths of the rights of a straight couple. When a gay person dies, their partner will only be able to inherit 3/5ths of the estate (the extra 2/5ths can go to the government to make up some for some of the tax money lost due to the abolition of the estate tax). Gay couples will only be able to file taxes 60% jointly. If a gay person is in the hospital, their gay partner can be with them for 36 minutes of each hour. And so on.

Both sides will be able to accept this compromise. It will allow gays to marry, but it will clearly establish that the United States considers straight marriage to be superior. Since straight marriage will be 166% as beneficial as gay marriage, it may even cause some gay people to reconsider and opt for traditional straight marriage.

Please, forward this message to your friends and your local media and insist that they contact their Senators and Representatives and let them know that: “3/5ths unions will save our Union!”

Nicely done, guys.

Another Thought on Reunions

Friday, June 2nd, 2006

From TWoP:

Everyone laughs, because it’s true, and nothing is funnier than watching somebody else’s stupidity pointed out. A Survivor reunion is much like a high-school reunion where you don’t have to be amazing or anything, you just don’t want to be the one with the really bad boob job about whom everyone else says, “What the hell happened there?”

I like that. Don’t worry about being the best, just don’t be the worst.

And no, I wasn’t reading 10-page posts about Survivor. Of course not. Me? What are you talking about?

Class of 1996

Thursday, June 1st, 2006

Somehow, when I wasn’t looking, the odometer rolled ’round to a full decade since I graduated high school. It’s an anniversary that I would probably have managed to ignore, were it not for the slim green flyer that my parents thoughtfully forwarded on to me last week. “Remember when…” it reads in part, “‘the Macarena’ heated up dance floors”?

Of course I do, but is that really the best way to pitch a high school reunion? After all, like flannel shirts with denim collars (also mentioned), some things should just stay buried.

Yet this little green sheet keeps popping back to my thoughts. It makes me recall — vaguely — my time as a (nominal) Senior Class officer. At 18, you see, I was greatly in favor of the idea of a class reunion. “We’ve seen the start of the movie,” I liked to tell people when the subject came up, “then we’ll get a chance to see how it all turned out.”

In fact, I made other plans partly based on this worldview. When I also served that year as editor-in-chief of the school yearbook, I made the decision (along with the faculty adviser, who was in full agreement) to spike all the “best”/”most” voting.

True, this was mostly because I hated what those sorts of popularity polls did to those who didn’t make the cut. Why bother to enshrine “best smile”, “most likely to succeed”, “most athletic” and all that in print when everyone knew the pecking order, anyway?

But to a degree I was also thinking of those on whom the titles were bestowed. Would the “mostly likely to succeed” person be most likely to ditch the reunion if (s)he wasn’t doing something impressive? I would have expected so.

Anyway, fast forward to the present, and my plotting as a youngster seems all but irrelevant. I’m not even sure that I want to go this thing.

Well, maybe to see who else turned out a ‘mo…