Thursday, December 29, 2005

Counting Christmas's Cost

Now that we're well enough past Christmas (That's it's name. No matter its true origins. Get over it.) it has become time to look at what it cost. More to the point, all my gifts and what they cost.
  • Pads of Paper.

    Okay, you're saying "What?" Well, in one of my first postings on this blog, I talked about some expensive pads of paper that nevertheless were perfect gifts for those who write. I ended up buying a grand total of 18 booklets (both Anvil almost-blanks and Oh Boy Lined) for those who appreciate good writing and good paper to write on. Easy giving for me, but costly.

    Cost: $200.00

  • The Muppet Show: Season One

    Two families with kids are able to appreciate the humor (although some of stuff I've seen in the first two selected episodes is actually rather racy. I mean, "Temptation" for a glee-club singalong? And what's (an admittedly mild case of) cleavage doing on the Muppet Show ending?), and a third one for another friend for whom the Muppets were one of the fondest memories of a sad marriage.

    Cost: $100.00

  • A Camera.

    Okay, this was a regift. The reason this counts is because I'd bought a better camera, and instead of selling it, I chose to give it to my brother. The idea being he had complained about his needing a special battery and mine just needed regular AA's.

    Cost: $180.00

Total cost: $480.00. About what I net for a week and a half of work. A sizeable amount, actually, and probably way above what I should have done.

But I have no regrets. This even counts for a triad of booklets I sent to someone I no longer see (nor hope to see, let me add).

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Pac-Man -- The Movie??????

Movie Rights to Pac-Man Gobbled Up


I played Pac-Man as a teenager. Those who knew me then knew me as a Pac-Man wizard, as I worked hard and long and finally mastered a Ninth Key Pattern (For those of you wondering, that's the hardest Pac-Man gets in the easy setting. Energizers only reverse the Ghosts (they DON'T turn blue), they run faster than your Pac-Man, and the Red Guy REALLY goes fast towards the end of the rack.) and was actually able to earn back some of the money spent on that game with "Free" Pizzas during college.

The thing about the game is, you do the same thing every rack -- eat dots, avoid ghosts, eat prizes in middel of screen, eat energizers, eat ghosts (if you're allowed to), finish last dots. There's no stupid quest thing involved in it.

I'm sure I'll have to see the film, if only to confirm my suspicions that it will suck so bad as to be unnoticable. But I'm already severely down on the film, and it's only in the conception stage.

That's right, friends, not everything conceived should be brought to full term.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Is Oprah the new God?

Maybe it's because David Letterman's growing old.
Maybe it's because of his quadruple bypass surgery.
Maybe because he's grown too comfy in his "late night job."
Maybe because he's growing tired of fighting.
Maybe because people have found out his weak spots.

Or maybe now there's a new God in town, and her name is Oprah.

Think of it: who else would make a struggling car company give away a bunch of oversized automobiles? Who else would show up at a store after it had closed and tar and feather the proprietor in front of National TV (and have him like it?) Who else COULD have Scientologists make fools of themsleves?

And who else would show up on David Letterman and say about a public feud: "There was no feud. THERE! WAS! NO! FEUD!"?

Only someone who won the feud and was remaking the event to further humiliate the defeated one.

Remember, this was the same woman who fully remade the bookselling market into what it is today: A haven for female writers and a few males who cater to pro-feminist beliefs. She took the Phil Donahue format and opened it up to everyone from Maury Povich to Jerry Springer to The View.

And now it seems that anyone who's anyone in Hollywood either is a friend of Oprah (which explains the Scientologists making fools of themsleves on her shows) or makes a point not to say anything about her. Seems she can't do anything wrong, an image which has gone so far as to make the comics.

Meanwhile, L, Ron Hubbard is chruning in his grave seeing someone take on the mantle of power he long wanted. Meanwhile, Miscivage's favored son (??) has made a fool of himself. But then...maybe I'm the fool for thinking this; after all we're talking America, where noise is more valued than content.

Monday, December 26, 2005

Peotone DOES Threaten Midway!

Sorry for the sodapop fans, more serious topics pick up here.

You have to really know your stuff to land at Midway

Midway airport is one of the tightest packed airport in the world. Major roads ring the airport on all four sides, and important rail lines surround it slightly further out. There's a rail yard to the south, and an El line to the east; further compounding the ring around Midway. Even if you were to expand the airport by merely cannibalizing houses, you don't get THAT MUCH breathing room. You'd have to move some rail lines to get enough space to make a safe zone around the airport.

That airport is so tightly packed in that airplanes have to hit these things called "Reverse Thrusters" to stop the planes within the airport layout. I've landed there a couple times, you can always tell the landing here from elsewhere -- most airports don't have its customers feeling pressed towards the front of the airplane as the plane strains to stop like they do at Midway.

An airport out in Peotone would make more sense, especially if they targeted it towards the budget market Midway does now. While there would be no possibility of EL service to Peotone, the Metra Electric could run (complete with express service) between Peotone and Downtown with relatively little track work, and access to the newly-planned Star Line could be made for quick, freight-traffic-free access to Joliet and from there to suburban Chicagoland. Long, well-bordered runways would allow planes to land in a leisurely fashion, extending lifespan and easing stresses on the people. Plus a properly-designed airport would be the safest in the world outside of Israel (where they've done everything to make sure Terrorists can't do their dirty work).

While it's possible that Peotone could become a transfer-type airport, chances are that would take a lot of traffic from Midway (and O'Hare) simply by being a quick, easy, safe place for planes to land. While O'Hare would finally have enough breathing room to expand properly, Midway would have to readjust itself to the new status. And it may not do so. Considering that properly there's only two directions a plane can safely land (O'Hare impinges on the other two directions) and the limits to safety development, maybe one can say Goodbye to Midway.

(Reagan National suffers from the same problems. Maybe that place can be closed, as well. And no, I don't care if Mr. Dulles was the leader of the CIA -- I'm not suffering from what HE did. Reagan, on the other hand, harms me more today than ever, and his actions grow greater with time.)

Saturday, December 24, 2005

A Closer Look At The "OK Manifesto"

Okay, so I thought I was done with the sodapop topic. But you know how things work out -- try to get the mind off a topic, and sometimes it doesn't want to get off.

Anyway, I felt the need to take a closer look at the "OK Manifesto" to see what (if anything) was okay about it. Here's what I came up with:
1: What's the point of OK? Well, what's the point of anything?
Well, many things have points, and the points are often different. Conservatives and Liberals have a point of overcoming the opposite side and instituting their view of things. A man on a date does things with the point of seducing a woman, whereas sometimes a woman does things with a point of judging whether a man is worth more than a few yards of wasted cloth. Some websites's point is to persuade you to a point of view, whereas others are just to inform and still others try to make you laugh.

And OK Cola's point would seem to merely level things out to an apathetic whole.

2: OK Soda emphatically rejects anything that is not OK, and fully supports anything that is.
I didn't know a soda could act in that manner. Is your caffeinated bubbly sugar-water now alive? And what does it consider OK and NOT OK?

Needs clarity. Badly.

3: The better you understand something, the more OK it turns out to be.
A definite lie. I can think of quite a few things not OK with me; the 2000 Presidential Election (Not only that Bush Jr. Won, but Gore chose losing the election over owing Blacks for electoral victory), my present situation (although that's improving slowly), the city of Gary (A grocery store reopens, then burns down within a month. What's up with that?). And the more I think of these things (except my present situation, where there's some hope in the way), the less OK they are.

So NO, not everything becomes okay with knowledge. Indeed, some things become LESS OK.

4: OK Soda says, "Don't be fooled into thinking there has to be a reason for everything."
Fair enough, although there's few things that exist without reason.

5: OK Soda reveals the surprising truth about people and situations.
You know, if it did I'd hunt me down some remaining cases of this stuff, hunt down some women I had had crushes on in the past, and feed them this stuff. Who knows, I might find some woman who, having held an unrequited crush on me since I was an undeserving callow youth, is still willing to abandon her hubby, give herself to me and let me live off her for free. :) :) :)

Of course, since OK Soda doesn't exist...and one can dream...

6: OK Soda does not subscribe to any religion, or endorse any political party, or do anything other than feel OK.
So what if it doesn't feel OK? What does it do to get back to feeling OK? Does it bow down to the God of OKness? Does it act in some odd way to regain OKness? Does it seek out some new beats to feel OK with? Or does it go back to the old beats that soothed it during its salad days?

7: There is no real secret to feeling OK.
Fair enough, although getting to that feeling may be harder for some than others.

8: OK Soda may be the preferred drink of other people such as yourself.
May be. Maybe if there was a better, more stable flaver to the soda then maybe it could be a preferred drink for someone like me. After all, I DO like to mix Mountain Dew and Dr. Pepper together.

9: Never overestimate the remarkable abilities of "OK" brand soda.
Weird. Can I underestimate the abilities? Why would a soda want to be considered "Mediocre?"

Maybe because mediocrity would have been a vast improvement in its actual abilities? Or maybe because it wants to hide. Remember, there are articles and web sites dedicated to OK Soda being a successful attitude adjustment attempted by Neocons than a failed soda.

10: Please wake up every morning knowing that things are going to be OK.
Right. Let's say you're about to be kicked out, with all your stuff thrown out for the local leeches to pick over. You don't have a safe haven to escape to, and you can see the eyes waiting for the pickens to show up outside your door. Are things okay now? (this has happened to a friend of mine)

Let's say you've suffered a stroke, and are in the hospital. You can't even make your hand touch your nose, and you're not sure what you're going to do. Can you honestly say things will be OK?

You're living in a trailer park that just got bought up by some development company, and you (with all your neighbors) have been kicked out. Nobody within one hundred miles of you is willing to take your trailer in, and you can't sell that box. Is everything going to be okay now?

I could add a few other situations. Situations that happen in real life. Even if they're self-caused, they're still not "OK" and it's likely they'll never be "OK" as they are.

(And don't take the Pollyannic view that "things work out in the end." Sometimes they don't. And sometimes they work out in ways that make things worse.)
So we got two affirmatives, five negatives, and three items which yeilded to smart-ass analysis. Not really that good, if you ask me.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

When Sodas Jump The Shark

Okay, I'm going beyond useless, but here's a listing (at least in my mind) of times certain sodas jumped the shark:

  • Coke: With this new "Coke Blak." Coke and COFFEE?
  • Pepsi: Pepsi Half. A rush job, whereas Coke C2 actually looked at balancing the sweetners with some sugar, Pepsi hung its hat on one artificial sweetner (with some sugar). Taste definitely suffered.
  • Dr Pepper: Cherry-Vanilla Dr. Pepper. New Clothes for an old failure.
  • RC Cola: Diet Right gains eighteen different flavors. All because it outlasted saccharine.

I'm sure there's others...

It's Xmas; in time I'll start posting more "issue-oriented" items.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Surge, Vault, and MDX -- Sodas in the News?

Save Surge Soda
Vault Kicks

Yes, friends, TWO (count them, two) web sites on some odd side soda in the Coca-Cola universe. One of them a (mostly) dead brand, the other a brand about to be released nationally.

I remember Surge. I actually liked it when it came out; as it was a less sweet version of Mountain Dew. Not only that, but the taste was a bit stronger. In fact, it has a slight peppery taste that popped up towards the back of the tongue. It wasn't bitter, but it definitely had a spicy taste to it.

In the end, I believe it was that spicy taste -- and the fact that people tend to look for what is familiar over what is new -- that doomed Surge. And also its bizarre dayglo green color. After all, we're talking about a soda that Coke held high hopes for -- high enough that I saw it at fountain sites (7-11 in Downtown East Lansing, amongst other places) and in One Liter sizes (one that is saved for high-sale products, like Colas, Mountain Dew and Doctor Pepper). Then it failed.

Now we have Vault. It's Surge, but with a better coloring (yellowish instead of dayglo green) and without that peppery back-taste. I'm looking forward to it, as I still love the Surge Taste and Vault Has it.

BTW...Mountain Dew MDX sucks! It's "power pack" is definitely powerless. I've tried it, definitely did nothing to keep me from sleeping on my job.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

OK Soda: So What WAS The Real Deal?

OK Soda was a strange soda. Test marketed on college campuses all over the nation, the resulting mix did not test well. Every review I read up on it talked about "Suicide Soda;" a concoction in which the average drinker would get any number of different sodas and, as they drank up their glasses, mix up what was left until what remained was a nondiscript liquid of a nondiscript color and low carbonation with a taste that could best be described as "nodiscript" (you get the idea, I hope). I once joked (after doing the final mix of my favorite version of Suicide Soda involving Mello Yello, Fanta Orange, Fanta Cherry and Caffeine Free Coke -- don't ask why, but only the Caffeine Free Coke would do.) that mixing all the stuff together would create some sort of superchemical that would destroy your brain, freeze your heart mid-beat and turn your testicals into a pair of oily puddles.

I remember liking the soda for the first two bottles, but after the fifth bottle I unable to finish the bottle. The unstable taste (You'd go from "nothing" to "yuck" to "most perfect soft drink ever" to "nothing" halfway through a twenty ounce bottle) eventually settled down on "yuck" and I'd eventually avoid the poor student employees trying to give out the stuff to others.

The soda disappeared from everywhere but the net soon after.

Good, you say? Maybe not...

Mr. Dolce (my guess: he's probably gone on to a career in Middle Management by now) has it that the CIA hired Coca-Cola to try out a little experiment in behavior control. Throw out an odd soda with oddly hip graphics complete with text that worked with each other to instill a certain mind-set that was more congenial with a government out to control people's actions, and maybe people will buy it. Even if the soda sucks -- heck, maybe the soda was supposed to suck; disappear the soda before people figure out what's going on and maybe the kids will change without them even thinking of what's going on with them.

Joshua Glenn goes a bit further. In The Baffler, he creates a theory where William Kristol (Chief of Staff for Dan Quayle back in 1992) creates a soda whose sole purpose was to drug a generation staring down a barrel of reduced expectations into accepting that this was okay. The students would open the bottle or can, drink a couple of gulps down, read the generic piece of the "OK Manifesto" on the can or bottle, and as the stuff was drunk down their minds would be receptive to the words of OKness. Then, after a few weeks of tasting great, the stuff would suddenly become crappy and die a disgraceful death before entering the marketplace; while the ideas and beliefs would just find themselves embeded in one's head, unable to be removed because one doesn't believe them in the first place or know how they got there.

This would explain a few things:
  1. Like why the stuff went from great tasting to yucky. Most sodas that die on the vine don't suck (Pepsi Blue being the prime exception), but pretty much outstay their welcome. Those of us who like the pop eventually grow tired of the novel taste and eventually they go back to the old stalwarts. It's rare that flavors change, never mind in such a disasterous way; but that's what happened to OK soda.

  2. Why it only appeared on college campuses.

  3. Why it went through an extended "try me" period (with lots of free samples, let me add), only to disappear.

Then there is the "OK Manifesto:"
  1. What's the point of OK? Well, what's the point of anything?
  2. OK Soda emphatically rejects anything that is not OK, and fully supports anything that is.
  3. The better you understand something, the more OK it turns out to be.
  4. OK Soda says, "Don't be fooled into thinking there has to be a reason for everything."
  5. OK Soda reveals the surprising truth about people and situations.
  6. OK Soda does not subscribe to any religion, or endorse any political party, or do anything other than feel OK.
  7. There is no real secret to feeling OK.
  8. OK Soda may be the preferred drink of other people such as yourself.
  9. Never overestimate the remarkable abilities of "OK" brand soda.
  10. Please wake up every morning knowing that things are going to be OK.

Remember: all this for a soda that didn't even make it to the marketplace.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Sodas That Sucked From The Beginning

As I've said before, usually when a new soda is introduced, it has a period of time when people will like it. Then, as time goes on, they'll switch back to their favorites. You'll try out the newest Orange soda, but eventually you'll return to Sunkist, while the newest twist on the Coke franchise will bring you back to the original and Citra will forever live in the shadow of Sunkist.

But sometimes there will be a soda (like OK Soda) that basically sucks to high heaven almost immediately. You may not know it immediately, but in a few weeks you'll actually find yourself unable to finish a bottle of the stuff.

One such soda is Pepsi Blue Fusion. Placed into stores as an attempt to expand the market for Pepsi, it failed miserably. This was one of the few sodas I've tried that I was unable to finish off a bottle of.

Dr Pepper Red Fusion is another soda like this. Almost a carbon copy of OK Soda (even down to the translucent appearance of the soda itself), my reaction to it was almost the same: Like, followed by a slow development of dislike. I never got to where I couldn't finish a bottle, but then it's not like I found free samples being given away by hapless students hoping to earn $7/hr giving out bubbly water. Another version of this soda is Dr Pepper Cherry Vanilla Soda, which differs in the liquid being opaque.

So, what causes a soda to suck almost immediately? Simple: have it succeed in taste tests that focuses on immediate impressions to the point of ignoring the "drink this case" test, then market it nationwide on the bases of such a flawed testing.

Surely there must be a reason everyone uses such a flawed form of testing, right? More on that tomorrow, and what finally set things right.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Remember The Pepsi Challenge? I Do...

You know the whole story: Pepsi finds itself in a market that it's outsold by store brands of cola. Pepsi, free of the "Brand X" advertisement rules that had ruled the airwaves until then, does a taste-test comparison between it and Coke. Lo and Behold, Pepsi beats Coke in the taste tests (complete with testimonials) both there (in Dr Pepper Country, let me add) and nationwide. Eventually, they stare Coke down and Coke changes its formula -- only to find it has to return to the "old" formula which was getting beaten by Pepsi. But now the rules have changed -- Pepsi can't do their taste test anymore, and Coke goes on (as Coca-Cola Classic) to redevelope itself as America's Cola.

Now, here's the rest of the story:

  1. I remember finally doing the "Pepsi Taste Challenge" back one July 4th in the early eighties, when it still had power. Thing is, I also remember that the Pepsi had just come out of a cooler and the Coke was about body temperature. Needless to say, I chose Pepsi and thought nothing about that selection.

    I have to wonder how many others got a similar taste test: Cold Pepsi vs Lukewarm Coke? And how many people let themselves get snookered by this?

  2. I remember the reaction to the change with some distance, as I had started drinking a mix of Mountain Dew and Doctor Pepper from a nearby Seven Eleven by that time. I thought it odd, after all it was just a soda pop.

    This despite -- no, probably because, having heard for a year and a half (and finally succumbing to the whining) about how we should boycott Coke to get them to divest from South Africa, I no longer drank Coke. I (and probably a lot of others) commented about how it would be picking one company over another, as everyone's probably invested in South Africa; soon we heard how Pepsi started divesting.

    Soon enough, Coke came up with a way of divesting directly in South Africa without losing the market -- sell the company to the employees. Some of the more shrill boycotters declared the boycott not over, most of us stopped listening. After all, did Pepsi REALLY disinvest in South Africa? And besides, while there was some good done (ownership given to a wider group), it was an accidental benefit, not something intended.

  3. What the Coke Bruhaha did was expose what a farce the Taste test was. After all, if there was a nationwide rebellion against Coke "bettering their beverage," then was it really that bad? And, more to the point, can you say Pepsi is even better than Coke?

    Of course, Pepsi fans will say "of course Pepsi is better than Coke" and Coke fans will say "Never! Coke is better than Pepsi always!" Thing is, there isn't really enough of a difference to matter to most people.

    That's right; most people pick pops because of other reasons.

    Maybe it's because of Micheal Jackson shilling for Pepsi back in the early eighties (Pepsi Drinker). Mabye it's because of what Michael Jackson became later on (Coke Drinker). Maybe it's because it's what you dad drank (Depends on him and his drink) Maybe because you thought their version of Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody" was better than the original (Mountain Dew). Maybe you like different labels every time you grab a pop (Jones Soda).

    Thing is, taste is not a major factor. Never will be.

Oh, so what was I drinking back then? A mix of Dr Pepper and Mountain Dew. Had what I thought was a better flaver than either Pepper or Dew. And besides, it's not like anyone was about to try and reproduce that flavor.

Or so I thought...

Monday, December 12, 2005

Has Mountain Dew Jumped The Shark?

Remember when Mountain Dew only had two versions, regular and Diet? I do. This was, of course, back when Coca-Cola was afraid of confusing their customers with a diet version.

Then came the "Caffeine Free Mountain Dew" and "Caffeine Free Diet Mountain Dew." Nobody every took the Caffeine Free brands seriously -- after all, they had to answer to the cries of people worried that that compound may be addictive (true) and dangerous (only in excess)

Then, in 2001 (or thereabouts) came Mountain Dew Code Red. One would almost have to say this was when the Dew Franchise Jumped The Shark, but I thought it was an actual good expansion of the franchise. Especially since it was a different enough color to differentiate (sp?) from the original.

The next version to make it big was Live Wire (Orange). Had this been originally been considered a permenant version, the shark would have been jumped; but it ended up being voted into permenance by a bunch of overcaffeinated teenagers.

But not to worry...Then came Baja Blast and Blue Shock Slurpees Items intended for nitch markets, yet hitching a ride on the famous "Dew" name.

Sad thing is, I actually like the alternative versions. While the Cherry Dew is not necessarily the best tasting pop on the planet, I did find myself drinking lots of it. Not only that, but the Pepsi people figured out a way to make their flavored pops taste better than the averaged flavored soda: Not as much sugar. Look at the Cherry, the Grape and the (older ) Orange Dews, and you'll see 110 calories per serving. Then look at the Fantas, the Slices (or whatever it is nowadays), the Faygos, and you'll see calorie listings up to 130-140 per same sized servings, sometimes more. It's this dryness that I like about the Dew Flavors.

Now if they'd know when to stop trying out new stuff...

Friday, December 09, 2005

Banished Words: 2005

Banished Words Website for 2005

That's right, friends, probably one of the most useful web pages you'll ever see come from a university has showed up again, just in time for your Xmas or New Years Parties. All the words that have gone through their fifteen minutes of fame and have now outlived what little usefulness they have.

The site even has archived lists going all the way back to 1976 Some of the words from back then:
  • Scenario (last heard repeatedly during "The Greatest American Hero," a show about a klutzy guy in orange superhero tights. The show jumped the shark when the guy was able to fly competently -- the premise was a guy trying out a suit without a manual, and klutzing along.

  • Detante. Enough said.

  • Input. Unfortunately the word mutated and still exists.

Look through and have some laughs. Or sighs....

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Beginning Of Life: Opinions, Views and Such

Eric, of Quixtar Blog said:

"The abortion issue is quite simple from my perspective, and I've been accused of siding with the religious right. The issue hinges on the understanding of when life begins. If life is scientifically proven to begin at conception then abortion is pretty much murder. If life begins only after birth, then it's just a procedure of choice.

The question that needs to definitively be answered is when does life begin? What day? What's the criteria?"

First, it's not so much a question of "upon fertilization of egg with sperm" or "upon the expelling of the fetus out of the body by the host." Science has defined the start of life as when the fertilized egg implants in the uteres -- a seemingly random designation but important as many fertilized eggs don't implant, or implant but are rejected (and not by a chemically altered environment -- sometimes the egg kills itself, other times there's other circumstances (stress, starvation, the body attacks the cell (it happens) and other factors). A legal definition (at least as instituted by the Supreme Court in 1973 with Roe v Wade) would be at what point would the human fetus would be able to survive (with or without help) outside the womb. And there's many groups that claim that life starts upon fertilization but when pressed have no problem with life actually starting upon the ejaculation of sperm (the "Every Sperm Is Sacred" reference I joke about often, but which has had a long tradition within Christianity and even affects thinking today.

Then there's the personal belief systems. While it's easiest to believe the extreme points, the majority in the United States are willing to split hairs. They're willing to grant that the fetus in them is indeed a human being, but aren't willing to go as far as to state that they therefore have more rights than the woman carrying them (i.e. if they endanger the woman, the fetus goes, not the mother). Some societies have even gone so far as to allow women to mourn their abortions (something the US steadfastly avoids, the pro-abortion because of what mourning would mean, the anti-abortion because mouring would mean peace to those who have aborted AND THAT'S THE LAST THING THEY WANT TO SEE HAPPEN); and many who go to abortion clinics definitely view their action as killing, and express regret even as they prepare to go through the procedure.

Personlly, I hold to the present Legal view (No state can ban abortions, but they can set reasonable controls on them) but I admit discomfort with this viewpoint. I doubt that I'll feel fully at peace with it anytime soon. I also choose to live with this discomfort.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

At What Point is Forgiveness An Impossible Concept?

Williams Still Set To Die December 13th

The question this begs is this: At what point does one's actions become unforgiveable?

The founder of the Crips gang, Stanley "Tookie" Williams has gone on (in prison, admittedly) to become a prolithic writer and a strong voice against gangs. Needless to say, many are working on the hope that he can live out the rest of his natural life, even if in San Quentin.

Standing against that are the courts, a huge background of silent public opinion (maybe not caring, as the rulings now seem pre-ordained?) -- and The remembrance of what his actions have caused to the communities, either directly or indirectly.

So the question is: Can a man's past make forgiveness impossible?

I'm not talking to the ya-hoos who say "the guy is the same as he always was;" what I wonder is whether certain actions in the past can make it impossible for a man to be rehabilitated?

In short, can you honestly say about someone:
Yes, judge, I know the man has done his work. He has repented of his act and begged for forgiveness. He has also used his time in Jail to make himself an intelligent, useful person to society. I (or the people whom this had begged forgiveness to) have indeed forgiven him for the crime, understanding that sometimes people can change for the better.

However, I cannot allow him to be set free. For you see, the actions this person did were so heinous that the proper punishment is to keep him away from society forever. Look over the judgement, you will agree with me that his past action(s) preclude any other choice.

That comment about having forgiven the person was included for a good reason. I'm trying to remove all traces of hatred in the person's judgement, the point being that: Is the past stronger than the present?

Now, in the case of Stanley "Tookie" Williams, that case is possible. After all, his dressing the gangs in Blue allowed for alliances of gangs across the city and nation; add in the drug trade and you have developed a massive power for evil. One that, even unplanned and unforseen, seems to be enough to damn the man who started the whole thing.

Yes, I know: an extreme example. With other cases, I have to wonder. After all, the prison system is supposed to be about rehabilitation, isn't it? Otherwise, you might as well grease the wheels to the electric chair and make of it an assembly-line type of contraption (Kill the guy, clean up in half-an-hour, ready for the next sap -- er, guilty villian) because if we're going to keep people behind bars for life, what's the use of having them there for their natural life?

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Problem: Are Unions Even Helpful Today?

News Item: GM, unions agree to cut back benefits

Things are tough for workers today, and are bound to get tougher. More and more, benefit companies are increasing their costs to cut out more and more workers, and companies are loading more of the benefits costs on the remaining workers who have them. 401K are becoming more and more the retirement benefit of choice, and that's when the company becomes generous (which is "becoming harder and harder for them to do"). Temporary workers have long become the largest group of workers (Manpower "hires" more people than any other company in the United States).

Since August 5th, 1981, unions have been playing a defensive struggle, often punctuated by strong, radical actions by corporations to clear them from their workforce. Worse, where Unions have remained reasonably strong have been in old-line, declining industries which have been unable to respond; or places where Management seems not to be as cruel towards their workers as they can get away with. There are exceptions, of course (UPS, Costco are the one that come to my mind) but they stand alone as such.

Also working against the union are the new markets in China and India, the United States Government's hellbent desire to open markets and export jobs to these two places, and the general defeatism of the workers' today. Not only that, but younger workers today have become used to the idea that they'll be jumping from job to job with little or no safety net should they be unable to finish that jump.

Could the union movement even make a dent in this?

Unions were created in an era of steady, settled work with men working for families and a social structure that worked to support and watch over neighbors. Todays it's as likely that a man or woman is working for himself or herself alone, the work is known to jump around (if it doesn't run overseas) and neighborhoods are less a cohesive whole and more a number of families who happen to pay taxes (and complain about it) for a specific street/governing unit.

Under these conditions, can unions even exist? Necessary, more so; but can they come about in a society where the only things able to work as a whole are corporatistas and their allies?

Thursday, December 01, 2005

What's In A Word?

So what's in a word? Depends on what you mean; and sometimes whether a word exists or not can delineate what you mean.

As an example on what words mean and how they frame debates, here's an example of three words that basically mean the same thing but lead to different interpretations of what's going on:

1) Urban Renewal
A term which has fallen on hard times for good reason: This term for rebuilding of blighted areas has the idea of misguided urbanism which overlooks the locals for the mirage of a bejeweled downtown that nobody uses. This term was big in the sixties and seventies, but has seen little use sense then. It also has the connotation of government action, which today connotes a scarlet letter more damning than anything Hester Prynne ever wore.

2) Yuppification
This negative term means the rebuilding of blighted areas, but with it carries the negative connotation of latecomers taking over an interesting neighborhood and making it lame, overbuilt, overtrafficed and overpriced for anything but poseurs with more money than sense. A bit off, but it remembers the folks who would have appreciated what came along with the yuppies (good food, fashionable good art and the finer things in life) but were forced out by the people profiting off those latecomers who'll pay too much for a shadow of what the neighborhood supposedly had beforehand.

Needless to say, you almost never hear this term uttered by the media. Instead, they bless what happens with this term:

3) Gentrification
Again, we're talking about the rebuilding of blighted areas. But now the term has positive connotations -- after all, why not have a neighborhood that feels safe? What's wrong with tearing down old, decayed buildings to build new, updated buildings with spaces for cars? What's wrong with tearing down dark, winding firetraps for brightly lit, spacious firesafe buildilngs?

This term, while used to remind of the poor being displaced without anything being built for them, has no reference to said folks. It also doesn't refer to the fact that there's less public space left by these houses (by dint of their sheer size and the fact that they tend to act like fortresses rather than housing). It just refers to Gentlemen (which is the root word for gentrification) and harkens to an ideal of people living safe in their houses.

And that's why you constantly hear that term used disparingly and yet everything is done to accelerate it. That's why you see the Circle Line promoted over the Mid-City Transitway (serves a mix of people, including undesirables) and the Gray Line (Undesirables up and down the line), and why the Mid-City Transitway is dead and the Gray Line is merely the idea of "some crank living in a dumpy area." That's why poetry gigs have been in a severe decline in the Chicago area for the past five years.

I live for the day when the Media is forced to use the word "Yuppification." I long for another term coming up, one which damns those who profit off the pushing aside of the poor and the segregating of all the city services to the rich and beautiful. A term that reminds people that EVERY ONE -- rich and poor, black white and hispanic, officeworker and shopworker -- shoud have access to everything that makes for good cities. A term that reminds people that pushing them off to a bunch of newly-impovershed suburban dukedoms is not the way for anyone.

You know, the proper term for what's been happening inside Chicago (and all other major cities not dying like Detroit or Flint), instead of the term used to make it look good.