Sunday, September 02, 2007

Appalachian State 34, University of Michigan 32

Okay, first the disclaimers:
  • I'm a Michigan State Fan; this implies a healthy hate for the teams from Ann Arbor (which means I got great enjoyment from Michigan's loss, never mind the joy from a massive underdog's victory).
  • The Appalachian State University Mountaineers are repeat champions. I-AA champions true, but the past two years they've played a full playoff schedule and won the national I-AA championships. They're probably better than Minnesota, Michigan State and a couple other B10 also-rans. Many other teams have backed out on playing them, so give Michigan props for sticking with their scheduled game.
  • Lloyd Carr is not worthy of his present post (assuming he still has the post when you read this). 1997 no longer exists, as it's 2007, not 1998.
  • The Big Ten is no longer an elite college football conference (and is probably fading in other sports). The Big Ten is based in a group of states which have stagnated population-wise since the seventies (if not earlier), the bowls are in places that give the other conferences what amounts to a regional advantage, and Big Ten teams have generally not done as well in bowls as the other three conferences.
But still....hunh?

Appalachian State is an excellent team in their league, but they're still I-AA (or whatever they call it now), a second-rate team. Michigan had the talent, the name, the wherewithal and the home field advantage.

This hurts the Big Ten deeply. More than the bowl losses (to good teams). More than losses to MAC teams and other lesser teams (lesser yeah, but one can say they're playing over themselves).

After all, we're talking about Michigan, a flagship team in the conference. The team everyone knows, for good or ill. The team that's used as the measuring stick. THE brand.

How big is Michigan? Here's a joke I've heard and said myself:
Q: Do Michigan and Ohio have pro football teams?
A: Yes, they're based in Ann Arbor and Columbus.
And they were consensus #5, at least. Some places had them ranked #1 or 1A with Ohio State (again!).

And #5 just shouldn't lose to a Division 1-AA team.

This bodes ill for all B10 teams. From Minnesota to Ohio State, the conference is by definition ranked lower. Any team's victory is reduced, all losses more expected. And since image counts for a lot in College Football (and all college sports), Michigan's loss spreads to the rest of the Big Ten.

This defeat also harms the Mid-American Conference. Being the second conference (below the Big Ten) in the midwest, it pretty much takes whomever doesn't make it in the Big Ten. Ergo, their fortunes have dropped by extension. They may be able to avoid much of the harm, as they've become as much a national conference (thanks to their willingness to do whatever it takes to get on TV and their reputation as a giant-killer), but some will still be transfered to them.

Benefitting directly are The Atlantic Coast Conference and the Southeastern Conference. The Sun Belt Conference and Conference USA also benefit by extension. And the Southern Conference (probably the most important conference historically, given the list of its former members) got yet another notch in its belt.

Congratulations to Apallachian State. As I've said before (and it bears repeating), this is a good team. They've won the 1-AA championship twice in a row, are favorites to win their third championship, and would probably beat some of the lesser B10 teams (like Michigan State...).

But still....hunh?

Friday, August 31, 2007

Thoughts On The Michigan State Spartan Sports Team in the Beginning of the Football Season

After the multiplied disasters that have been the past three seasons, the Michigan State University Spartans start their Football Season this Saturday at home against the University of Alabama Birmingham Blazers, a good school which is unfortunately best known for its football program's extracurricular activities.

Now, I'm not about to predict a UAB victory over Michigan State (the Gambling Lines are predicting an MSU slaughter; I'd bet on UAB with the points myself), but the Spartans are not anywhere near where they were in the eighties, or during much of the nineties. Indeed, the Spartans are but a shell of what they have been for a while and things may have changed.

The fact is, Michigan State has always been the second university in Michigan. It was established second, it was planned as a specialized place (versus the generalized mission of Michigan since its founding) and has never gotten "the respect it deserves" (in quotes because that CAN be debated. Some cases the respect is deserved, but too often not). And when it takes its lack of respect seriously, it has earned its respect.

This is especially true in Football. Outside of the 1950s and 1960s (and this is not continuous, MSU was known for its rising and falling during that time), MSU was always at a disadvantage against Michigan, and for good reason. Michigan was one of the Pioneer teams in College Football, and State was more a regional school with a head full of ambitions than an actual nationally known school. Michigan was usually able to hold MSU at bay, and only once did a class of Wolverines go through without a win against MSU.

However, during much of the eighties and nineties, Wolverine Football Teams had to deal with Spartan Football Teams seriously, as MSU could always defeat UofM and did often enough. Between 1980 and 2005, every player who played four-plus years for the Michigan Wolverines had to deal with losing at least once to the Spartans.

Right now, nobody on the Wolverine team has had to deal with losing to MSU, and it hardly looks like they will have to this year. Indeed, over the past five years there has developed a sea-change in the MSU psyche. They no longer feel they belong with the Michigans, Ohio States and Wisconsins of the league. They feel they're second-league. Not only that, but they've developed the habit of playing three quarters of a four-quarter game.

What that means: Michigan State has become a third-tier team. Meaning they're fighting not so much against Michigan and Notre Dame for their recruits, but against Eastern Michigan (the Eagles) and Central Michigan (the Chippewas). And while Mid-American Conference teams have enough of a chip on their shoulder to make them dangerous (Ask Michigan State, they almost started their "rivalry" against Central Michigan 0-3), they're hardly top-ranked. They get attention only because they're willing to change their schedule willy-nilly for television coverage and are willing to break schedules their teams make.

How bad has it gotten? Well, there's always noise on how Michigan was cheated out of 1990 and 2001. While the UofM fans have their points (especially 2001, which I believe the Wolverines had won and gave away), there's always been enough people to argue and enough points to make to defend the MSU wins. Well, it becomes harder and harder to debate those games, not because the points become harder, but because it becomes harder to believe MSU could ever defeat Michigan in football. And since winners tend to make AND REMAKE history (note the emphasis; history is more fluid than people care to believe), the idea of State Cheating to Win has gained traction by the absence of credibility, thanks by the collapse of the MSU football team.

In short, the recent past of MSU's Football team has cast a bleak eye on its past.

It's going to take a few years for MSU to get back. They'll have to rebuild their psyche and their team. All it takes is going that extra mile, something Spartans have done historically when they've felt the need.

I know, for I've seen it both in books and in front of my own eyes.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Meditation on Warhol's 15 minutes of fame

First, the actual quote by Andy Warhol:
In the future everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes.
Now, me:

I've been thinking about the comment by Andy Warhol's comment about everyone being famous for fifteen minutes. I think I understand it (though not the way he does).

The thing is, most people are more rabidly private than we'd like to admit to the world. We don't mind being well-known to our friends and family and will tolerate goodwill (both taking and giving) from the neighborhood and our selected stages; but we'd rather have the gaze of the world diverted from ourselves as much as possible. Indeed, we don't mind when certain stars get famous for odd actions (Britney Spears cutting her hair, Paris without underpants, etc.) as it makes it less likely that we'll get the spotlight shown on us.

But we'll deal with a certain amount of fame, if need be.

The question is, how much fame is too much fame?

More to the point, how much fame can be dealt with by people who have a life and aren't ready to give up everything in order to seek Fame's favor?

Think of it for a minute: Most people we see who are famous spend most of their time seeking out the fame, whether by making it come to them or by keeping its gaze on them. They'll divorce and/or marry so that they (singly or doubly) can work towards fame, set aside other interests so that fame comes to them, and work their schedule so that most (if not all) their efforts are aimed at fame.

Think: How many people do you know who have divorced someone they were stuck with during their "salad days" when they got to eat at the steak bar of fame? Marilyn Monroe, Johnny Cash, John Lennon and Garth Brooks are three people who come to mind immediately in my head. Others didn't marry until they were secure enough in their success. Bill Gates and Tiger Woods come to mind here.

Many of the rest of us have wives/husbands/significant others who demand our time and attentions and have expectations of regularity of us. We also have friends who we're not ready to toss aside for the sake of someone who might be able to push us to the next level. There's also things we like to do and habits we like (or not) which take up time and attention that could be pushed for the purpose of fame.

And finally, we have to want it enough to deny ourselves something. One of my favorite quotes is from a book on Malcolm McLaren says that famous people aren't famous because of something they have that we lack, they're famous because of something they lack that we have. In short, they're compensating for some inner shortcoming by exhibitionism.

So now the question: What does Warhol's quote mean?

I take it to mean that people will have just a bit more fame than they can handle. We get known by more and more people, until we get to a point where we suddenly need to have our own space. The rabble who have come to know us because of the fame we've cultivated stick around a bit too long, then learn to leave us alone with our private lives.

People either overdose on fame, or stick around too long and seem a bit too needy. Either way, they've reached a point where they can't handle the expectations of their fame, and people start turning towards other people.

Notice that I don't state what the expectations of Fame are. Sometimes the expectations change, sometimes the person changes, sometimes the world changes independent of the two. Either way, the fame seeker can't handle the changes to Fame's demands and falls off the radar.

Just a thought...

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Crisis on the Horizon 5: McGovernment Arising

I remember a time when people actually expected stuff to be done by the government.
  • I remember the trash being picked up weekly and nobody commenting on it.
  • I remember when, after snowstorms, the streets were pretty much plowed immediately. No word on "roads of importance," arteries to be focused on or weeks before roads were to be plowed.
  • I remember a time when they fixed roads and fixed them good. None of this "one year and already the crap is falling apart (I-94, northwest Indiana)."
  • I remember when they didn't fiddle about with the indexes. When the inflation index was posted, everything was counted, including gas (up 100%+ in 7 years), food and housing. Unemployment was people unemployed, not people holding up hopes for a job, any job.
  • Schools were funded well enough, and people expected good things from them.
So what happened? Since when did we get to expect our government to suck, and suck bad?

I'm thinking it started with the tax cut movement in the seventies. Proposition 13 in California put limits on tax increases which weren't linked to inflation, but instead were voted upon. This became a nationwide phenomenon. Not necessarily a bad thing, but it changed how people viewed taxes and government.

Amongst other things, the rational went from "everyone sharing the load" to "whom can we tax that can't fight back." Suddenly "sin taxes" became big (cigarette taxes, lottery) and the idea of taxing "out-of staters and tourists" grew big. Suddenly everyone wanted to create destinations for visitors to spend their money (casino boats, complete with everything you might want so who'd want to come out and visit the neighborhood?), "bring in jobs" (a few low-wage, short-term jobs for college-age kids to work at) and fill the coffers. Convention centers became more important than infrastructure, and attractions became more important than industry.

Needless to say, government (and everything connected to it) becomes the enemy. Sin Taxes curse everything they touch (why else do you think smoking is increasing in the young?), casino money is used to fill in gaps in State Spending, Convention Centers (and other attractions for Corporations and their "associates") bloat and necessary investments fall off. There's a few places where people still view government as useful (and taxes as a price paid for a useful, social society) but they're endangered islands, already known as more evil than Al Quida.

And government falls apart, aided and abetted by the enemies of the government. Supreme Court rulings place cities and states at the mercy of its workers as it frees corporations to destroy and gut the guarantees they once gave their workers. Roads slowly grow worse as we grow used to the worse roads. Cops become the enemy, and "snitching" becomes a worse crime than murder or raping children.

Of course, the question becomes "for whom does the McGovernment suck?"

If I were a corporation or in the top 10% of earnings, I'd say the government does well by me. Everything I want gets built, the tax burden slowly but surely gets shifted over to the poorer Americans, and I can do what I pretty much need to do to insure my wealth -- even shift it overseas. And there's lawyers, courts, lawmakers and other peoples able, willing and desperate to do my bidding.

So, in short the Government still works for the rich and for corporations.

As for the rest of us, the government grows worse and worse. Roads and other services become privatized (meaning they become subjected to the profiteering classes) and tolled. Affordable housing gets torn down and replaced by tract-mansions, leaving the poor to go to the motels and apartments, since many of these poor have never learned (and were never taught) about civilized society but instead of the rough, vicious rules of gang life and poverty they're bringing down the apartment complexes who'll take them in (probably thanks to some arm-twisting from these same governments in an attempt to force an increase in home ownership).

And we grow to hate the governing classes, ascribing them the same insanity and evil selfishness we still ascribe to Teamsters and Auto Workers. We pray for their come-uppance and hold tight to our guns in preparation for the day when God tells us to shoot them (For His Sake, of course)

And we grow poorer and meaner.

And those who wonder why...we shoot.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Crisis On the Horizon 4: Infrastructure Collapse

The past couple of summers have been interesting in Northwest Indiana. The Borman has been getting rebuilt, Calumet Avenue has finally been completed all the way to US 30 (eighty years in the making), and the Dan Ryan if finally getting is total makeover. Meanwhile the Indiana Harbor Channel inches its way towards a dredging and cleaning (hah) and the Cline Avenue interchange is beginning to fall apart a mere few years after it was finished. Some parts seemed to be falling apart even before it was finished. And people are belly-aching over what happens when a stretch of CTA rail gets a needed rebuild.

Meanwhile there's reports that the pipes underneath the cities are falling apart. I know that one pipe going down Manor Street has opened up at two different places within a block, and while a water company's truck being swallowed up by a sinkhole in Portland Oregon may be funny, the loss of a billion gallons of water a day underneath New York isn't (especially since fixing that leak might be able to stop the damming of a river in upstate New York). And they're not the only tunnels worried about: Many of the passenger train tunnels on the Northeast Corridor are well on their way to falling apart, and would probably be closed down by now if it weren't for the fact that the trains are electric.

Meanwhile, the electric seems to be getting worse and worse. Mind you, part of that is the peak oil about to hit us full in the face, but ever since the idea of enlightened regulation was replaced by "markets, markets and more markets" (and you thought Libertarians were noiseboxes with no effect on American Politics) service has become worse and worse. It used to take an act of God to cause a blackout, now one tree limb touching the right spot causes whole states to black out. Thing is, we didn't used to have these limbs hanging out -- the companies would trim the trees back in the day. Now they cut corners, and millions lose power.

And let's not talk about New Orleans, either. I've done enough of that.

Mind you, I tend to go for the most expensive stuff, and that includes building and fixing things. While I can understand why one would want to do things a little less well than one would like (two rail lines instead of three, planning 75 years instead of 100 years), there's something absolutely wrong when we keep building to a thirty year lifespan for stuff that should be made to stand for centuries.

This problem will only become greater as oil and liquid energy becomes scarcer. After all, society is based on an allocation of energy. In the United States, we allow the energy to be distributed via private channels, with some used by public agencies to fix and build what's supposed to benefit the public. (Yes, the private sector is supposed to benefit the public, but that benefit is mainly to the investors and the companies, with society-wide benefits a side-benefit).

Presently we're pulling in enough energy of all types to do everything we seem to want, even at a price that's double of what it was less than seven years ago (and putting a lie to the idea that inflation has been controlled during the Bush Jr. Era, as fuel is an important part of the American lifestyle). What happens, though, once the amount of energy starts dropping? Sticking in Flourescent Lights in every lamp possible would only lead to a limited impact, and the amount of energy will keep dropping.

What will be kept up?

Will anything be kept up?

Surely the cities will find themselves falling apart, if they're not doing so already. Much of the rise of the American City has been less a return to the vitality of the fifties and before, and more a recreation of the city as a playground for empty-nesters and the Young and Childless. When society decides they can't keep up this fantasy, we're going to see things REALLY fall apart.

Whether this will lead to benefits for the rural areas is also iffy. After all, we're talking about city folk. Problem is, the people who make it to the city are less likely to survive in a rural setting. They tend to not have any of the skills that rural places need, and those who can make lots of money in an urban setting have skills that work ONLY in an urban setting. Poor, unskilled people can live in a city, place them in the hinterlands and they'll either run back to the city or they'll die.

And what happens when there's no city for them to escape to?

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Crisis on the Horizon 3: Global Warming/Climate Change

Okay, some might say this is number one while others think I'm making mountains our of molehills that exist only in my mind; I figure I'm placing this after some more acute problems because if we solve problem one and muddle through problem two, this will still exist.

In short, the industrial revolution has created an engine of change that, while small and local in isolation, adds up to worldwide changes when many are working at the same time. It's called the machine.

Think of it: You got millions of power generators burning up fuel, heating up the area around them and throwing heat-trapping gasses into the air. Add in millions of factories and millions of cars which, while they don't produce 24/7, add in their share of heat and gasses when operating. Also include air conditioners (which move heat outside and blow "cool air" inside"), heaters, refrigerators, computers, incadescent lights and other small items which throw up small amounts of heat themselves, and one shouldn't wonder why we're warming up but instead why things aren't yet over the edge.

Compare this with your average volcano: It spews forth tonnes and tonnes of gasses and dust for great effect, but the effect stops. There's no constant spewing, as is the case with the millions of factories, cars and houses. And when the volcanos are quiet for years, their effects tend to fade out. It takes a Krakatoa to affect weather for hundreds of years, and you get that rarely.

So we're in agreement that humans can affect weather. The question, of course, is which way.

There's two theories (three, really) for how we could affect the environment:
  1. Heat up the world until it turns into Venus
  2. Overload the system, freeze the world into an icicle
  3. Speed up the cycle of freeze/warm

All three of these scenarios has made it into the public mind at one point or another. Right now, of course, the first alternative is considered the most obvious, although I've always found it interesting that books, radio and movies always seem to evoke the freeze-over scenario readily (The Day After Tomorrow comes to mind). Michael Crichton believes that, ha in the third theory, in which we speed up what's alread happening.

Of course, it's not just warming. Recently we've felt a cooling, thanks to China going whole-hog into coal plants and lack of pollution controls. Indeed, many places along the Pacific Coast have found themselves in violation of The Clean Air Act through nothing of their own actions. That has been affecting Thailand and Bangladesh, because the dust spreads out and blocks the surround areas. We may even see a drop of average temperatures over the next few years as China's industrialization matures.

And, fo course, there's the question of whether this is such a bad thing. One thin line of thought involves the possibility of a coming Ice Age and that only Man's industrial activity keeps the earth from becoming an icebox. Not really much out there, but this interesting essay goes into some intriguing points, based oddly enough from a Gaian viewpoint. I don't necessarily believe in it lock, stock and barrell, but I find it entertaining and intriguing for what it suggests.

Three down, at least one more to go...then I'll probably go into detail some of the point of my second crisis (the debt stuff)

Friday, March 09, 2007

Crisis on the Horizon 2: Hyper-indebtedness

Read past the appearent health of the economy (as shaky as it is in March of 2007) and you find debt everywhere:
  • Federal Debt: The general fund is over 8 3/4 TRILLION dollars in the red and rising recklessly. We've got two entitlement programs which are actually running surpluses, but the main fund is so deeply in debt that it swamps them over.

    What's interesting is that when you control for inflation the debt of the United States Government has actually held stable between World War 2 and Reaganomics. That was through the Eisenhower Expressway Building, Vietnam, Watergate, OPEC's quadrupling of prices in 1973, and Iran in 1978.

    Not only that, but since then the only time the debt stablized or fell (yes, fell) was during Clinton's administration. Remember that? And once you forget the blue dress, you'll understand just how good we had it then.

    So...for the past twenty-six years or so, we've been spending ourselves into a feel-good emotion with no relation to reality. Deficit Spending, thanks to Reagan and Bush (with the surrender of the Congress to be sure, but they took their cue from the Presidents) and the Fundamentalist in love with Reagan/Bush/Bush and the Military Brass and the Super-Rich (who have benefited handsomely) and the Corporations.

    And what did we get for this spending? The belief that Government can only f*ck things up, safety nets wrecked and torn almost beyond saving, Corporate Welfare for companies willing to export their production to China, the Wal-Martization of Rural America, "public-private" as an adjective, the utter destruction of the public sphere in American Life and worship of the rich as our new "state" religion.
  • Consumer (Credit Card) Debt: Would you believe that for the past twenty months we (as American Consumers) owe more than we have saved?

    The last time that happened was in the Great Depression, when we had OFFICIAL unemployment rates of up to 25%. I'd be curious as to whether the measurements we used back then would give us the same level of unemployment as before.

    I remember this wonderful thing known as layaway. You'd make payments on an item you wanted to buy, and when you paid it off it was yours. No immediate gratification, no usurous levels of interest, no threats from lawers when you fell back on your payments. But hey...why worry about waiting when you can worry about making payments?

  • Housing Bubble (and Housing-based Debt): So now people have come to believe that buying a house is the same as gaining money for retirement. Never mind that wages have stayed steady or fallen for the lower 4/5ths of the population; housing prices have risen radically over the past ten years.

    What's really overheated the housing portion of this mix is that much of the loading was based on "adjustible rate mortgages" and "interest only mortgages" loans. It really appears that people were expecting the economy to go into overdrive and take them literally over the top within a few years. When that didn't happen (or they lost their jobs -- a increasingly frequent happening in this post-911 economy), the arms ratcheted upwards...and people are losing their homes.

    It's actually getting so bad that many mortgaging companies are beginning to die off in one way or another. One wonders what will happen when the government decides to re-regulate this. I know there's been a bunch of ugly loans, but can you imagine the problem when the government starts putting requirements on reporting earnings in the form of "you must report only money recieved, NOT FULL PAYMENTS REPORTED.

    You know how this housing bubble started, do you? It started when they started tearing down those oversized buildings known as "the projects" in the inner cities. With nothing being added to replace the towers (outside of hyperexpensive rat-traps for the rich and decadent), the former residents of these ghettos (poor, usually black (yes, it's fact), used to violence as a way of life, death and getting things, and deeply into the drug culture) scattered into other poorer neighborhoods, where they immediately raised the violence ante in what were once poor but relatively peaceful inner suburbs. That, of course, put pressure on all suburbs, leading to the housing bubble in the Suburbs and the new Downtowns.

  • Student Loans: Since when did we come to believe that an educated populace was a luxury that had to be paid for by those seeking that education?

    For the past forty years, state and federal funding for colleges and universities has dropped, both in relation to inflation and often in relation to the year before. To fill in the blanks, tuition prices have risen at rates well above inflation. Add into that the spiraling inflation of textbooks (with the practice of a "new edition" ever three years despite nothing being added on) and the now ever-shaky job market, and you have a situation where the less-than-heavily-endowed student (whether through sports or a fat trust fund) must take out loans and gamble on making a success of him/herself.

    Consider what you get nowadays when you take out a "student loan:" a loan which you will have to repay, whether you're able to or not. While you can get some very good rates (I have one at 3.26%) and "liberal" payment postponement plans, there will be no way for you to cancel it. If you get sick, the principle increases. If you're unemployed for a long time, the principle increases. If you lose your house due to a disaster, you'll have to put your student loan ahead of your house and car. You owe and retire, your student loan gets to raid your retirement and Social Security.

    I understand why they did this in the first place -- student loans used to be done only to people trying to be doctors, lawyers or something else that would earn them millions; all the while attending Ivy League schools. But now, with many people taking out the loans because they feel they have to (especially the poor), lots of people are making school into a high-stakes gamble hoping they'll strike it rich enough to pay back what they owe in a job market which has pretty much turned on anything not sporting a CXO title.

  • Retirement Indebtedness: While much of this is a Governmental problem (thanks to Supreme Court judgements that tied Governments' hands while freeing Corporations to act as they please in this issue), this reaches to many companies and corporations who once gave their retirees promises of a good retirement and are coming to regret this decision.

    And this has nothing to do with underfunding, at least on the governmental level: many cities, townships, school districts, counties and states are now staring at retirement responsibilities which threaten to eat up the whole of their budgets in the future. Because the Supreme Court has ruled that governmental entities can't really do much to reduce their upcoming responsibilities, many of these places (especially cities which have historically had wealthy workers but have since lost the industries that made these workers wealthy) will find their residents ready to kill because they're stuck with roads that need fixing, pipes that need relaying, buildings that need fixing and staffs that need filling; but their budgets will be forced to go wholly towards former workers who retired years before.

    Corporations have done stuff to protect themselves from the above threat; but whether it will be enough is another question. Health outlays threaten to throw all calculations out the window, making even the healthiest corporation with a pension responsibility in threat of bankruptcy.
Not a pretty story, is it?

Now admittedly this debt would make sense if it were investments; say like the spending for the Interstate System. Indeed, if one were to look at an inflation-corrected graph of the National Debt, you'd find that the debt stayed steady during much of that time. That was because much of the debt was investment that was returned over the years, with the Inflation working as wealth redistribution (during low-inflation times the money went to the poor, with high-inflation times it went to the rich). So how does this debt measure up?
  • Too many governments have recently been gutted of all but the basic forms of taxation power. While a little fiscal responsibility never hurt anyone, there's something wrong with a government that creates lotteries so that they can steal money from the schools in order to fund tax write-off and boat docks for the rich.
  • Consumer Credit works best in limited areas. Housing (see below), Automobiles and certain items need credit, other areas can be done through layaway (you pick something, you pay it off, the store keeps it for you, when you're paid off you get it. Requires discipline to pay off for stuff you don't have yet). They can help during emergencies (injury, broken refridgerator, death of grampa) and credit cards can be used to reduce your need of on-hand cash. However, credit cards are almost always used for purchases, so rarely can they be called investments in the future (and if anyone tells you to charge like crazy for this reason, RUN!)

  • The housing bubble, while an investment in buildings, depends too much on people earning money. Not only that, but at some point people won't bite at the excessively expensive houses built or existing, no matter how many ghetto refugees you throw at them.

  • Student Loans would make sense if there were the possibility for steady employment that paid well and allowed the student loanees to pay it back (assuming reasonable decisions; one cannot expect a philosophy major to get a PhD on Student Loans as there would be an extremely low chance for payback). However the job market and job environments make this almost a crap-shoot.

  • Retirement Indebtedness has no relation to future investments, and whomever owes it has to fund it from their income.
Again, not a nice picture. Like we're paying for the past instead of investing for the future (even with student loans; when there are no jobs or you spend buckets of time looking, you're not reaping the benefits). And paying off the past is always harder than investing for the future, as catchup is harder than moving forward.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Crisis on the Horizon 1: Peak Oil

Here's my first posting on what I see are the coming problems we'll have to deal with in the coming years. It involves Oil.

Or, more to the point, the fact that soon we'll start truly running out of the liquid stuff.

Now, the fact is that Oil isn't the only energy source we have. After all, nuclear gives us (in the US) an average of 20% of our electricity needs. Coal gives another sizeable hunk, and can be rejiggered into gas or diesel to use in are vehicles. We have enough Dams in this nation to give certain areas in the United States plenty of energy (and it's not the United States who have this wealth, as well -- Egypt exports energy to much of Africa thanks to the Aswan High Dam). And there's an active alternative energies support system that is presently giving many people most, if not all, their present energy needs.

So we're not going to lose all our energy yet.

However, Oil has many advantages that the above sources don't have:
  1. Oil is liquid, which makes it easier to transport.
  2. Oil is relatively clean. No need to worry about poisons, pollution or Plutonium damaging the planet for millions of years.
  3. Oil can be carried along cheaply, and the technology has developed over the years for distance, power or torque.
  4. No need for a grid to use it.
And consider that (outside of the Northeastern Megalopolis) we exclusively use liquid petroleum products for transport (and even in the Megalopolis petrol is the energy used by the majority of vehicles in use at any one time); and you can see a problem is coming up.

And the thing is, even with the gasification of coal, the amount of energy gotten cannot be matched by Oil or Natural Gas today. And there isn't really enough Gasification plants out there to cover what will be needed in the future.

And the four biggest fields out there have either proven to be in decline or are suspected to be in decline. The East Texas fields are already exhausted (as are the Oklahoma and on-shore Louisiana fields).

As an example of this, I remember visiting the Oklahoma capitol buildilng on two occasions: in 1976 and 1996. The first time the oilwell had a massive sign talking about how the oil is taken from directly underneath the Capitol building, and had graphic depictions of the logos of the oil companies that bought the crude (in full color, let me add). In 1996, the sign was reduced to a small board referring to where the oil came from and the depletion date (1996, oddly enough, I believe) and a single company listed (Phillips 66, in an old-style orange-and-white format).

They keep finding Oil, but rarely is it in big pools that are easily exploited and ready to use. Nowadays they're buried under tons of salt water or in dangerous areas or are overloaded with Sulfer or are locked in shale. It's getting to where you'll use more energy to get at the stuff then you'll get from the oil (at which point you might as well leave it alone).

So what will happen?
  • First off, we won't run out of oil itself. We will, however, get to the point where what we get, however easy it is to get, will remain unused because our refining methods require larger crude inputs than can be supplied.
  • Second, before all this happens we'll go crazy trying to make cars that only run on electricity (with or without gas or diesel). This can already be seen with the Chevy Volt and with Wal-Mart's hybrid truck project. More will follow, such as UPS and the continued efforts with the hybrid car concept in other companies. Whether they'll be affordable (especially when the other debt bubbles collapse and prices for gas-only trade-ins fall through the basement) is another question.
  • Third, eventually there will have to be rationing. My guess is that suddenly there will be a massive order of busses, and that GM and Ford will be magically saved with such an order. There will also be a sudden requisitioning of tour busses to use for commuting, as a stop-gap. Travel to and from church will, of course, be allowed (although how many people will remain believers when their favored beliefs require heavy costs to support is questionable), as will certain other, more local trips (shopping, medical visits, mall visit) -- at least for a while.
  • Fourth, watch out as people struggle to deal with the new realities. Divorces will be delayed (or put aside), people will struggle with learning how to be friendly with their neighbors, lots of formerly precious baubles will be tossed aside as useless junk, people will learn to retrofit their homes with other sources for heating fuel.
  • Trucks and certain mass-transit vehicles (busses, vans) will be made, built and used and given preference over automobiles.
The above, of course, assumes a slower change with a leadership ready and able to force the adjustments. Anything sudden and irreversable (or a leadership so chickenshit that they'll rape ANWAR), and all bets are off (and, indeed, unpayable).

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Something Strange is Afoot in the News

Think of it.

First, we get some Astronaut wearing a diaper for 900 miles (a special diaper, made to NASA specifications) to that she could thump on someone she perceived as a romantic rival. That eats up the front pages for a few days.

Then we get Anna Nicole Smith's death. And the circus that surrounds it. Amazing what a woman whose sole purpose in life was to get noticed can do when she dies young enough to have a kid in her care.

And when this circus begins to die down, Britney Spears takes clippers to her hair in a lame attempt to look like Sinaed O'Conner. Eighteen million newspaper articles, television show bulletins and radio reports later, she's seen wearing a wig. (to be fair, I would have done the Bald Britney, but that's another story).

What I'm waiting for is the other shoe to drop.

I get the feeling that the press has on its hands a story so big and so earth-shattering that it can barely sit on its hands. So it's been coming up with these bizarre "news" items and playing them for all it's worth in an effort to distract people.

So what is it? War in Iran? Nukes blasting at various places? A dropping of the dollar way below where it is now? Maybe a 9-11 type of action, this time on March 11th (on a half-year anniversary of the infamous 9-11 "bombings").

No matter what, every day watching what now passes as "news" and listening to what people are talking about is getting creepier and creepier. I don't like what I see, and I'm afraid I'll like less what I'll see when the time comes.

Friday, February 09, 2007

The News Now Officially Sucks!

I have a friend who was once in the newspaper business for years, slogging in the minor leagues of small towns and county seats where the newspapers mainly wrote to the elders who still read them. He got out because he saw the news industry start focusing on stars, to the news industry's growing shame and collapse.

Now as it's happened, one can say things have been on a downward curve. But still, people could find "real news" in the American press and media, if they knew how to find it.

No longer.

Ever since the Super Bowl, I've had to deal with fluff, fluff and more fluff. Not only that, but bizarre fluff.

First, it was astronauts in diapars. Jokes and other stuff, plus the consistent fixation on those diapers that allowed 900 miles of driving without a potty break.

Now, Anna Nicole Smith's death has become a circus. AT LEAST three men claiming to be the father of his surviving child, biops hogging all the time on the newsmagazine shows, and more and more jokes.

And meanwhile we have the Democratic party becoming the rump party the Neocons and Republicans have always wanted them to be, with their majority meaning less than nothing in the House and Senate (that's right, folks; the minority party is running things and they're haughtier than ever!). Meanwhile we're setting up a war with Iran and Russia is looking with baited breath.

The cold weather has us further in a vise, yet oil and gas prices seem to be dropping in anticipation of Spring. How this is happening I have no idea.

For all we know, we may have finally turned an ugly corner with the start of declining oil yeilds. The draft may have been implimented already, or the rednecks, NRA types and other conservatives have been given a "order 66" to clear out all groups within reach not considered "loyal" to the conservative order. Or Bush may have been shot.

But we won't know, because the news focused on a diapered astronaut and some third-rate bimbo's death from diet pills.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Remembering the Flint Buick Plant

There's a big blank spot in the north side of Flint.

It used to be a factory. Once the largest Automobile factory in the world.

Between North Street and the Flint River (actually Industrial Street, but Industrial Street had long been taken over and obliterated by some 1980's updating) stood a three-story blond brick building that had housed the production lines of various Buick automobiles since 1904, before the formation of General Motors. Indeed, Buick was the engine that built General Motors.

My father worked there for thirty-two years. When he started working there, a GM employee was one the best things you could have been. People loved our cars (or at least bought them), and the union was strong. Now, of course, nobody wants to buy our cars and the only thing the UAW union can do now is insure its workers get good retirement packages (and how long that can happen is now up in the air).

I first remembered the building when my mother would drive up to pick up my father there. At the time it was dark, so there was this dark hulk brooding over the street with the windows shining bright in the night. Dad would come out of a square hole in the building (it was long and tall, that's all I knew then). The city was closed, not even the donut shop was open then.

Later on, mom would pick dad up during the day. By day the building actually looked a bit friendly, with its blond brick and greenish windows. The hole in the building had become a garage-like door through which people came in and out.

I actually took a tour in time for the 19th million Buick to be built. It was interesting to see the assembly line go as the car went from frame to automobile. I even saw where my dad worked (his area was fenders at the time). The cars themselves were not memorable for good reason, as this was the nadir of quality control at GM. Japanese cars were just then beginning to overtake Volkswagon (then under pressures from a massive exchange rate change that made their budget cars extremely expensive), not yet in a position to hit at GM. GM was also using aluminum (aluminium for our European readers) in the cars, making for complaints from my dad.

Then came the 1980's. Never mind Reagan, america was discovering Japanese cars at the time. Sick and tired with what the concept of "panned obsolescence" had become (by the late seventies, cars were being built with a six-year, 90,000 mile lifespan in mind) and gagging at Union opulence (since when did birthdays become a paid holiday?) and worker reaction against imports (that the cars were crap wasn't their fault, that they had a hand in forcing the reaction was reasonable, if not obvious) didn't help. GM tried out their "Buick City" concept (just-in-time production and heavy robot investment), but the immediate automobile quality doomed the plant UNTIL Michael Moore reported that GM was about to close Buick City. GM responded as they felt they had to (Michael Moore had become a famous leftist gadfly by then, and he would have had the ultimate scoop for Flint - something to be avoided at all costs at the time), and by 1987 Buick City was building the first american car to make it onto the JD Powers lists (the Le Sabre).

So things went until the late 1990s. GM was still wanting to keep Buick City open and had gone through with contract negotions when a wildcat strike hit part of the plant. Things had changed by then, and while the threat of such a strike in the seventies would have caused the company to give in (My dad had his birthday off as a paid holiday in the mid seventies. Any wonder there was no sympathy for Unions then, or now?) now GM had another alternative: Closure.

So Buick City was closed. So was the Chevy Engine plant that was instrumental in the Sit-Down strikes of 1937.

The building was closed in 1999, and torn down in 2002.

Understand the sea change that happened during this time:
  • In 1976 (when I did the tour of the Buick plant) it was expected that for Flintoids you get a job, you worked it for thirty-plus years, and you retired. You got married, raised children, and hoped they did better than you during that time; but there was always the factory (and others) to come in if your son didn't do what you expected. Now, good luck if you're working class and can find steady work.
  • In 1976, the biggest employers were General Motors and Ford. Now the biggest employers are Manpower and Wal-Mart. From honored jobs with the wages and benefits to match (if a bit much, alas) to institutionalized part-time or temporary status.
  • In 1976, education was easily afforded by those who qualified, and (outside of Liberal Arts) there were jobs ready for when you graduated. Now college students are expected to mortgage their future for the education, and the jobs aren't necessarily there if (not the difference now) you're able to finish.
  • In 1976 we were willing to try to save gas, save money and stop inflation. Now we want to drive boats, spend like tomorrow has specifically been canceled (by Jesus, let me add) and would cheer an expansion in prices if it meant the poor could no longer eat.
  • In 1976 we were aware of our "infrastructure" and tried to keep it up, even if we didn't have a word for it. Now, we just bemoan the fact that we're falling further and further behind and have embraced the concept of "benign neglect" (after all, you'd have to be taxed to keep it up properly; AND WHO WANTS TO PAY? SURELY NOT YOU.).
Yes, things have changed, and for the worse. And all the "copied" music on all the iPods in America do nothing but allow the iPod users to exule in and embrace the decay.

Anyone remember the Roman Empire? or at least read about it?

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Super Bowl Posting 2007 (vol 2)

Having just watched the Super Bowl, I can say a couple of things:
  1. Payton Manning had Chicago's number all through the game. Had Indianapolis been able to replace a couple of their field goals with touchdowns, the game would have been over long before it actually way (well into the fourth quarter, with the second interception).
  2. "Bad Rex" only came out during the fourth quarter. While it is true that Rex had to step up and didn't, you can't blame him for losing the game (as he did drive the team for its second (and last) touchdown).
  3. If not for Devin Hester's touchdown return of the kickoff, the game would have been over long before it actually was.
To be honest, Chicago didn't play much of a game. The offense did too many "three-and-outs," the defense did nothing to stop Payton over much of the field, and every takeaway was quickly matched by a turnover.

And while I say that "Bad Rex" (the one throwing interceptions and trying to do too much) only showed up during the fourth quarter, there were problems over much of the game. Two messed-up snaps is not a sign of a quality quarterback, even with it raining during the whole game.

Overall, Indianapolis was the superior team in every aspect and this game showed it. Right down to the mood shot of Rex Grossman with a couple minutes left in the fourth quarter. The ONE thing I didn't want (the mood shot, that it was of a Bear was an extra pain).

Billy Joel did a good Star Spangled Banner. Much better than the "can't mail it in if he tried/trying to show off and failing badly" Star Spangled Banner that happened last year.

Prince did good, though I kept hoping he was acting to a background track simply because of the rain.

As for the commercials, they were commercials. The days when people were truely surprised by the commercials has come and gone, killed off by expectations and constant attempts to better last year. I do think things have leveled off, although there's always some good and bad.

And in the end, congratulations Indianapolis Colts. You dominated the whole game and countered everything Chicago did.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Super Bowl Posting 2007 (vol. 1)

First, here's the official NFL Super Bowl Standings. It's skewered by its being ranked by winning percentage, which places such flashes in the pan as the Jets and the Ravens above the storied and once-storied Steelers, Raiders and Cowboys. I'd prefer a ranking system based on appearances. That way you'd see a clearer picture, even with its distortions (Denver has a 2-4 record in Super Bowls, even with the Broncos having won their last two).

This year, both teams have shown up to a grand total of three Super Bowls. The Colts actually showed up twice, in 1969 and 1971 (equaling Green Bay in appearances, if not wins, at that time). The Bears have only been to the 1986 Super Bowl before this one. This makes a return for a couple of teams after some extended absences.

While a large number of fans will be watching the game as spectators (or just as Fans of the Commercials), the people in Northern Indiana will have a special interest. This is probably the closest two teams in the Super Bowl have been to each other, at least up there with XXV (Giants hold on against the Bills) and XXIX (San Francisco vs San Diego).

And while it is a bit sad that New Orleans didn't break away from the class of teams that have yet to make it to the Super Bowl, it's nice to see that franchise finally get good. I still believe that in a few years we'll see them either in Los Angeles or San Antonio (or Sacramento; and don't discount Oklahoma City).

I know I'll find it interesting. Hopefully it will be a close game with good plays throughout and the game decided near the end, but if both teams have to play sixty minutes I'll be happy. The last thing I want to see is mood shots of the losing team members moping with most of the 4th quarter yet to be played.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Remembering Downtown Flint

I was only three years old when "Genesee Towers" was completed, so that building has been a part of Flint as long as I can remember. I can also remember when there were a lot more buildings up and down Saginaw Street and the streets alongside it, and when the buildings up and down it were busy with shoppers and other activities. I also remember when the I.M.A. (Stands for Industrial Mutual Association, too many of us Flintoids only knew the initials) had a 6,000 seat auditorium amongst its large number of activities. There was also an intercity bus station on North Saginaw Street and plenty of busses.

No matter where you were, you knew where the tallest building was. Even if it was only ten stories of offices and stuff placed over a seven-story parking ramp, it was still THE! TALLEST! BUILDING! IN! FLINT!

Through the late seventies and early eighties, as Flint tried everything to revive itself or make itself healthy in its smaller format, Genesee Towers still stood tall. I remember going to it frequently in the eighties and early nineties with my student loans through Genesee Bank (back when Sallie Mae merely guaranteed the loans); it seemed that Downtown Flint was able to stablize itself and even give a bit more services through busses and such.

My next visit to the North Flint was in 1994. U of M-Flint had expanded a bit, but for me the surprise came when I went up North Saginaw Street -- instead of the run-down buildings I had long seen and looked at and could tell what they had been by their design, I saw a lot of grass. Genesee Towers was still standing, although Genesee Bank had become a branch of The National Bank of Detroit by then.

Evidently by then NBD had decided that they didn't need so all that space for a shrinking part of their market, so they moved out of Genesee Towers in 1999. I had moved out of Michigan by that time, so I can't say I was up on what had happened.

So now the building stands. The City of Flint wants to take over the land and tear the building down. The owner wants to hold onto the building, but won't do anything to it until they're allowed to. Meanwhile the building stands empty, windows fading in different colors, the lower parking ramp easily accessed (and probably used by some serial killer knocking off the prostitutes in the city).

What would the city use the land for? Probably a parking lot. After all, with half the downtown empty and nothing daring to move in, why have a hazard stading at the corner? As it is, the sidewalks are closed off and parts of the facade still fall down (after the so-called fix). And while they're trying to create a "new downtown" that's a playplace for empty nesters and the young and childless, I doubt there's a critical mass for it to take off. Even with the college downtown.

I'd love to be proven wrong. Alas, I don't expect it to happen.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

A Few Months After the Election: Now What?

Okay, so now the 2006 elections have passed by and the Democratic Party has razor-thin majorities in the House and Senate. So now what?

Okay, we're about to get something of an increase in the Minimum Wage (I can hear the blowholes on the right wing crying out: They're forcing companies to pay the poor more so they can get their income taxes. TAX INCREASE! TAX INCREASE!) We'll probably get some attempts to get some token "accountability" from the president.

However, the majority is so slim that the only way the Democrats could try to actually come close to balancing the budget would be to increase the minimum wage. Plus that will probably come with a subsidy to Wal-Mart for hiring so many minimum wage workers (part-time, let me add). While they obviously want to reintroduce some taxes that would affect mainly the rich, their razer-thin margins make it almost impossible to do so. Other things become troublesome as well; while a Minimum Wage raise would probably make it (with Wal-Mart's blessing -- how else would you have gotten so many Republicans to vote along with the minimum wage increase in the House?) little else would likely make it out of committe with the newly-defanged majority.

So, should we trust the electronic voting machines? No, I know I still don't. If you can fix a Republican victory complete with the press caught with its guard down, you can fix a Democratic victory when you need it. You can even fix an election to the degree that you want -- small to keep the Dems in line (barely able to act), or large when you want them to be on stage and unable to act ("proven as impotent"). And the fact is, as long as our voting machines are kept under control of corporations there's no real reason to trust the results (whether right-wing or not -- while some nutcase radio host who believes that waitresses deserve to be stiffed by doctors and lawyers likes to joke that Hugo Chavez (the leader of Venezuela) owns the companies that make voting machines, he's right in that it doesn't matter which way the owner's views go; just that they have the power to skew the election whichever way they choose). No matter WHICH party wins the elections.

So is there a way to insure that votes are counted properly, and we can trust the outcome?

Yes. There is an answer here, and it lies with Vegas.

Ever wonder how trustworthy the single-armed bandets are in Vegas? Nevada regulates slot machines, and tightly:
  • They require that they have the software on file,
  • They do random unnanounced checks on the machines (and when variations are noted "guilty until proven innocent" is what's assumed),
  • Slot Machine Manufacturers are looked over for trustworthiness,
  • Certification is done by an independent public agency (which is funded well enough to insure its independence),
  • Complaints are handled immediately.
I want similar requirements for voting machines:
  • I want the software on file and in the open so that hackers can work the code over and perfect it.
  • I want the hardware on file, as well, and publicly available.
  • I want regular inspections, even (and especially) during election day.
  • I want the manufacturers transparent and accountable. I could care less if they profited obscenely, as long as we know they count our votes accurately (whatever way that vote goes).
  • I want oversight to be strong, independent and public.
  • I can wait a few weeks to make sure the votes were counted.
Of course, there's other things. One thing I learned about the 2000 vote is that Gore should have won Florida, but instead of making sure that EVERYONE could vote (or going after the obvious cases of disenfranchisement in the Black Communities all over northern Florida), he chose to try to squeeze votes from the four large, heavily hispaic counties in the south. Guess the racist would rather lose an election than admit he needed the black vote (and thus blacks).

(Gore should have won Tennessee, Arkansas and/or West Virginia, but he had his head firmly planted up his ass too deeply to deal with Clinton. Win any one of these states, and Florida stay a joke but has its power to turn the rest of the USA into a joke removed. Maybe the fundies WERE right in using Ms. Lewinsky to attack Clinton; while their immediate goal was easily frustrated they poisoned the well enough to insure the future was theirs...but that's a possible future posting.)

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

In Memorium to Wazoo Records

This last summer (August 30, 2006 to be exact) Wazoo Records closed in East Lansing.

It could have been worse. Out of two used record stores in East Lansing, Wazoo was the lamer one (sorry, had to put it that way). The selection leaned more towards the popular and the "adult" (meaning calmer, quieter and Middle-of-the-road) whereas the other store (Flat, Black and Circular) had the more alternative and college-oriented stuff. Admittedly I'd go into the Wazoo on occasion, and on rarer occasion purchase stuff there that couldn't be found anywhere else.

It also has been worse. I remember WhereHouse Records from back when I first went to Michigan State University in 1983-4, and Tower Records was a favorite stop for me in the nineties. Both are gone, having fully dropped off the face of the planet (WhereHouse a long time ago, Tower Records in December of '05). There were other records stores that came and went (or stopped selling records) but WhereHouse and Tower were the stores to go to if you wanted something new (or unplayed, in its wrapper still).

Of course, Wazoo served its market nitch well. While it didn't go out of its way to be hip, you could always find something here. Not only that, but the owner (and his main employee) had taste intriguing enough that those who knew what they wanted could find it.

So, in a way, I found it sad that Wazoo finally had to close its doors.

Of course, it's not the only record store that's worth mourning the loss of. The aforementioned WhereHouse and Tower are also losses to mourn, as these are national losses (along with the unmourned Record Town, Muzakland and other mall abominations). There was also the loss of Vinyl Solution and I Believe In Music in Grand Rapids and Rock-a-Rolla Records in Flint. Vinyl Solution is especially mourned by me, as I found a lot of stuff there that I neither knew existed or was unable to find elsewhere (this was before Amazon, friends).

There has also been a major loss of Record stores in Chicago and Northwest Indiana. Hegwisch Records closed down in 2002 (It was once a major player in the Northwest Indiana area, although by the time I made it to one of the (by then two) remaining stores I was very negatively impressed, as it seemed to be a record store not long in the world), a music store that opened in Lansing, Illinois in 2000 closed back down in 2003 (although he made a good run at it), a Munster record store closed down the year I moved in, and a couple other record stores whose names I forgot closed down during my eight years in the area. Add to that all the record stores in Chicago proper that closed down (a couple I actually miss dearly), and you're talking about the death of a culture.

Okay, I hear the peanut gallery laughing at that. After all,
"with to find your oddities and Limewire to download the songs everyone knows about there's no reason to go to some dank building in the snow or rain or steaming heat and hunt around a messy, germ-infested building looking for a case of plastic with a plastic coaster inside which may or may not have enough stuff for you to like and overpay for the priviledge?"
Well, there's something about being able to enter into a record store, look through row after row after row of albums/cases, seeing if anything new has made it into the store, and decide to buy something -- or not. I'm sure that for every time I entered a record store and bought something there were five to ten times I entered that same store and came out empty handed.

There's also something about being able to find something new, buy it, take it home, play it and like the new discovery. Sometimes you actually get the ability to judge a new album BY THE COVER (it can be done, and while I can't state how it works I can say you can almost tell what's going on with a group or singer just by looking at the cover if you look at enough covers and buy enough good or bad ones).

Then there's something about getting an album by a group you've known a long time, looking a bit longer, finding some artist you've never heard of before in your life, judging between the two, picking the unknown artist (you can always get the known quantity later), and finding the newly discovered group as worth getting. Moving on, there's also finding the old release you wanted later, knowing it would be around later while the newer one may not.

Then there's the people in the store. People who know what they like and are willing to share with you their likes. An LP gets suggested by some stranger, and even if you're not the one being suggested to, you've got another LP in your mind for future purchase.

While may give you the world's largest selection of CDs, it's not going to place a couple of CDs close to each other in such a way that you'll look past one you've already got and find something that looks interesting on the cover -- something you'll pick up and buy and listen to and like despite the tastes in music determined over years of selection. does its best (as do the other music sites), but they can only figure out what you already like, not what you may run into by accident.

This means that will list a Metal CD and have three lists to go along with it. One of the lists will be of releases by the band and two others with a selection of Metal CDs. One may have a "more varied selection" of metal CDs, but you won't be able to find Norah Jones or Tangerine Dream or Patrick Fitzgerald in any of these lists. The item would just disqualify the list from being viewed, as it would be too wide a variation from the main CD.

I won't spend more time than necessary discussing the whys and hows. Anyone who's followed the woes of the Music Industry over the past ten years knows the refrain:
  • Anti-Trust ruling against the Music Industry and the Record Stores they tried to protect against the big boxes and their use of CDs as loss leaders
  • Napster siphoning off the College market that used to nurture the future of music
  • allowing for gratification of all but the most obscure of desires
  • Crappy Selection in the music stores from the shrinking of demand and need to get "what sells"
  • The development of a vicious circle between the various happenings above (outside of the "anti-trust" ruling).

So what does this closing of various stand-alone Record stores mean? Quite a bit:
  • A narrowing of selection: While Wal-Mart, Circuit City and Borders may send music where it may not have gone before, these places have a need to bring in people willing to spend money on other things. This means they can't really gamble on some music that may or may not be bought, they have to depend on stuff they know has been bought.
  • A shrinking of offerings, period: A friend says that Napster has made people not care about music period. Maybe we'll see it in the shrinkage of illegal downloads as people get bored and stop downloading; now we can see it as groups no longer can get traction to go national (or world-wide), stopping at regional (if not local)
  • Narrower fan bases: With fewer people getting into music (at the time the ability to branch out has increased exponentially), the era of the Supergroup or Superartist (the group or artist that everyone knows about, whether they like, hate or couldn't care less about said group or artist) fades even deeper into the past. While this has been a fait accompli since the mid-eighties with the development of the Hispanic market, the creation of the Underground and the separation of Country into its own world, it can only continue in a shrinking market
  • Collapse of Music Economy: If there's not enough demand to keep things going at a certain level, things don't just drop down to a lower level, they collapse. Think of it: if all our cars and busses were to stop working tomorrow, how would we get around? There ain't nearly as many horses as would be needed, and the railroad infrastructure has shrunken down (in the US and Canada) to such a degree that they couldn't even begin to haul people around. Translated to Music, we get this: once we go below a certain level of purchases, we don't stabilize at the levels of 1980, or 1963 (when Sugar Shack ruled the land). We'll probably stabilize to 1945 or 1948, when music purchases were special purchases, made with the idea of buying something you'd play once or twice a year, every year.

And Wazoo Records?

The same thing that allowed the existence of MuzakLand in the Mall and SchoolKidzRecords (still in existence, though subletting a downstairs space now) allowed for the existence of Wazoo alongside Flat Black and Circular. Now that the mall stores have disappeared (along with most College-area Stores), the space for Wazoo has disappeared.

Flat Black and Circular will now have to work that much harder to attract buyers. While the selection is good, the larger market that Wazoo allowed and thrived in (remember: buying at one Record store never meant you kept yourself away from others; indeed I would look through the Mall stores just in case there was an odd disk that somehow slipped through their marketing limitations and into my arms) has shrunken even further with the death of Wazoo records. People who mainly used their store to satisfy their cravings for music aren't as likely to make FB&C their main store; if they live far enough away they'll stop showing up altogether, huddling up to

And another voice in the once varied galaxy of Music Fans has been stilled.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Gifts for Bosses? What Happened?

It was a news item I heard on the radio about the number of companies giving Xmas bonuses to their employees going down drastically, talking about how many companies were getting away from "a Gift for everyone" and going towards "performance-based bonuses" (read: away from the proles and towards upper management, because everyone knows they didn't get enough $$ during the year). In it, there came up this odd statistic: only 21% of employees gave their bosses gifts for Xmas.

Okay, what's wrong with that? Bosses are people too and there's nothing wrong with giving him/her a gift. Usually it's the smaller companies where the gifts go both ways (to both employees and bosses).

But there was something about the news item that still disturbs me. Like the movement away from holday bonuses, and the gentle chiding towards those of us who "forget to give our boss a gift."

And a musical I saw years before re-lodged itself in my mind.

It was done at some small theatre in Flint, Michigan. I remember traveling from Lansing to see it, mainly at the suggestion of a one-time churchmate whom I had met a few weeks before. The musical was a romantic comedy, with three female co-workers, two men made out to portray the usual male stereotypes (a geek who has his job solely on technical know-how and general harmlessness, and a Don Juan wannabee tolerated because his pose is so haphazardly transparent), a stripper (a bit part), the lead female and the boss of the whole operation. (And yes, everyone is paired off in the end, even the lesbianesque coworker - with the stripper.)

The plot: lead female (a secretary) falls for boss, works to make boss fall for her.

The play was okay, but nothing earth-shattering; the stereotypes were pretty much stock by the time the play was done (especially the Don Juan wannabee) and the songs were packed a bit thickly in the third act for pacing. The fact that I can't remember the name of the play shows how forgettable it was.

So why am I remembering the play now? Probably because the play suggested that boss-worker dating, something long viewed as taboo (or taboo enough for jokes and cartoons to be done about it almost constantly for years) was now acceptable enough for a musical to be made about it, betting the audience would be comfortable with the situation.

Sort of like the idea that the boss should be given gifts from the workers.

Interesting that the news item would come out at a time when corporations are cutting out workers from holiday (or end-of-year) gifts.

Very much like Robin Hood in Reverse: from the poor to the rich, all forms of tribute; only now we're supposed to give willingly, out of a sense of true understanding of our place and what we owe them.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

I'm back...

That's right, I'm back on the blog.

I'm going to try out something a little different this time. I'm going to try longer postings, less frequently. I'll try to pick out a subject, think a little bit on it, maybe do some research (more often than not, likely), and post when I feel ready.

Or, as I have it on the masthead: Fewer postings. Longer postings. More sense.

Also: Less knee-jerk reaction. More thought-out reaction. Less emotion, more thought. Better backing for my arguments. Less timeliness, more timelessness. Longer fuse, longer view, shorter shrift for stupidity (from my end, as well as from others).

Anyway, here goes nothing. Again.