Tuesday, July 2, 2013

“Why Go Backwards?”

That is a quote from a national electronics chain store manager I received a couple days ago.  I wonder if I made the right decision.  I wonder…

TS Andrea, while mostly benign with regard to Florida coastal damage, carried an incredible lightning count.  Tampa Bay is renowned for its annual strikes and is unofficially titled as the “Lightning Capital of the U.S.”  Our local hockey team even endears the moniker.  You know where this is headed, right?  Mention of and electronics store…lightning….  Yep, I became a victim of Andrea’s clandestine wickedness, oh, but I blame it on irony.

In short, smarty me decided that it’s best to have a full cell phone charge in case of power loss.  Without additional thought, I plugged it in and went back to work.  The storm’s inner bands made landfall shortly afterward.  Gusty downpours, street flooding, and a few brownouts later, Andrea made her way to the Jacksonville exit.  Sunshine at last!  A couple hours passed and I realized things were uncomfortably cliché’… as in “quiet…a little too quiet.”


What have we become when a replaceable bit of electronics creates a profound sense of loss?  I shudder, albeit slightly, at the thought of such dependency, but nonetheless the creeping mist of depravation settled in with the effect of a winter flu.  Recent pictures, video, contacts, and other files that normally get the backup sync treatment—once I finally reminded myself by internal shouting (“Hey!  You know what happens to others that don’t backup!”)—all lost.  At least missing for a few seconds until my noggin sent a secondary reminder—the logical/sensible response from that part of the brain—informing me that I was actually conscious enough to use external memory chips to store everything.  Oh!  Okay, but the phone’s still dead.

Disassembling and inspecting for obvious electrical torture, recharging (again, even though it never responded to the plug), internal vacuum, battery change, attempted reset hacking, even a series of CPR (Cell Phone Resu..oh, never mind; I gave it a vigorous pounding in case something was shorted).  Flatline.  Only one recourse remained:  Off to the dealer (gulp).  So I went with the foreknowledge that unless the salesman somehow knew a common hack for such a problem, the specter of a costly replacement lay in waiting.  Additional insult to injury, our contract was only one month from completion.  Of course, this blog wouldn’t exist if he fixed it, right?

The Real Problem

 I experienced this epiphany before with cable TV.  Contract and equipment re-ups are usually the impetus for a complete reassessment.  What do we really need?  And so, without any cognizant consideration, I go reminiscing the technically-spartan ‘80s, lamenting all these newfangled subscription costs in the tone of Jeff Dunham’s Walter to a Radio Shack manager who’s an obvious twenty-something hipster.  Yes, Red Foreman’s trademark “dumbass” echoed in somewhere in my cranial recesses, probably from the same part that previously reminded me that MicroSD cards were no dream.  That didn’t stop me. 

“I used to get along just fine with a $15-a-month land line.”  That’s when the now infamous response occurred.  “But sir, why go backwards?  Look what we can do now; GPS and…”  I interrupted him on the GPS pitch.  Yes, GPS rocks but seriously, I was brilliant (toot toot!) with maps and a little extra diligence if needed.  Addresses were easy and I didn’t get lost—I had a pilot’s license for Christ’s sake!  Maps?  Backwards?  How about driver distraction and infamous GPS errors?  How about knowing where you’re going before you get in the driver’s seat?  How about looking outside your car, pal?  Oops, there I go again.  I can’t blame the manager for his perspective; his generation matured(?) with the Info Era.  Anything less than the latest, for the most part, is the reverse gear—a step towards the impoverished third world—and nothing “retro” about it.  I stood at the counter and thought about my next two years under contract.  A business owner and his tools, the family and its needs, the affordability.  I surrendered, the coward, but not before tendering my most revealing argument about this whole idea of costly subscriptions.

$200 per month for my family’s cell plan.  $2,400 a year…extra.  I dreamed of smugly walking away from the manager’s counter, “pocketing” that money for a family vacation.  I researched this, in fact!  For two grand, the wife and I can hop on a jet to San Juan, Puerto Rico, spend the night on the beach, then board an RCL ship for an 8-day cruise of the southern Caribbean.  Why the Sam Hill am I giving something like that up—every year, mind you— for a freakin’ cell phone?  Yes, I had to ask Mr. Hip Manager his opinion, citing this example.  He glanced up at me, chuckled briefly to entertain my ego, then dropped back down to his incoming texts and kept typing.  Priorities.  His comment stuck with me, however.  “Why go backward?”

Ten years ago I felt confidently in charge by bravely cutting my land line for a full-time $35/month cell phone.  Now?  Coward?  Conformist?  Sheep?  or…is it truly progress?  There goes my little neural collective again.  It’s somewhere off the coast of Antigua screaming, “Fool!”

The Deen Divide

Like you, I’ve seen the Paula Deen headlines and been subjected to the media’s tribunal ad nauseum.  From my observations, the reduction goes something like this:  A elderly white woman of impoverished southern Georgia descent, once (or a few times) decades ago used the word “nigger”, now famously while having a gun pointed to her head during a bank robbery.  She may have used it a few times in her youth as well.  This revelation occurred from deposition she gave as part of a racial and sexual discrimination lawsuit filed by a white former employee of Paula’s Savannah, GA “Lady and Sons” restaurant.  You know the rest of this:  Her products at Walmart, Smithfield Foods, Target, Kmart, QVC, JC Penny, Sears, Home Depot, her Food Network TV show, and even her latest best-pre-selling book—her rags-to-riches empire—all “lost” in the avalanche.  So, why then is the larger percentage of the American population crying foul?

Context, context, context!  All right, there is more at work here than meets the eye, and I firmly believe the American public isn’t quite as dumb as the last decade’s politics indicate.  First, the utter hypocrisy surrounding the word itself.

With a few exceptions, you can visit any one of those stores and find the N-word in some form, likely hidden behind an explicit warning within the lyrics of countless music CDs, or perhaps as part of the script of a movie.  Heck, I went from seeing Paula crying on some talk show to hearing Cab Calloway say it on The Blues Brothers via HBO not a minute later.  The fact is, many of these companies actually profit from artists using that word—and not 30 years ago; we’re talking right now, today!  I hear it regularly in the casual conversations of youth:  In line for a Slurpee at the 7-11, on front of me at the theater, in passing at the mall.  I hear it everywhere!  After all the work Martin Luther King, Jr. slaved to overcome racism and stereotypes, the pepper-of-the-earth types wantonly throw it all away …on a word.  Unless it’s in a Mel Brooks movie, I cringe almost every time I hear it, especially when used to describe Brazilian nuts.  It’s just not funny to me.  Suffice to say, I also hear “cracker”, “redneck”, “honkey” and other un-PC slang with frequency.  Why don’t those bother me?  Perhaps I should lighten up, but the double standard in racism needs to leap into the cauldron of Mt. Doom.  Part of that long road to true equality, perhaps.  We’re not in a circle until there are no sides.  Now back to these pious-looking retailer giants.

The Other Word: Profit

You think that dumping Paula Deen’s product lines, endorsements, TV shows and other branded avenues are purely on ethical grounds?  Brother, get your checkbook out; I’ve got some Florida mountain property you’ve gotta see!  Convicted felon Martha Stewart, anyone?

It has been widely reported that Deen’s ratings been floundering of late.  Likely, her lucrative endorsement contracts are costing profits.  Until the controversy, presales for her latest cookbook were also underwhelming.  While I don’t don the tinfoil hat, citing Deen’s case as a PR agency’s bad girl epithet, one must wonder the ulterior motives.  Paula will undoubtedly rise in her proofing (sorry, can’t help myself), and it seems prudent to me that most of these companies simply blended an opportunity to renegotiate a great discount down the road.  “Here Paula, we forgive you.  Come back home to (X).”  Riiiight.  About that land for sale…


Visited Lady and Son’s last December.  Mostly marketing branded wares, mostly unremarkable food, BUT, the chicken pot pie was worth a few joyous expletives—definitely recommended. 

Screwed II

You might recall a recurring subject in this blog.  Cars.  I have a problem with some manufacturers, and I believe that Americans are not getting a fair shake.  In previous posts, my issue concerned fuel consumption comparisons.  Evidence seems to suggest that European car manufacturers not only provide more engine choices to their international car models, the “same” engines offered in the States somehow lose a statistically significant amount of fuel economy.  Now I fully understand when a foreign company, either by tariffs or some other cost or logistical barrier, cannot offer all of its products here, but a domestic manufacturer providing foreign countries with significantly increased offers than its own seems downright treasonous!
Has anyone noticed the rapidly increasing signals that, despite all the patriotic slogans and cavalcade of laudable statistics, America is rapidly descending from global prominence?  Don’t confuse prominence with dominance, however; this thought regards our ingrained perception that Americans either make or have access to the latest and best products at all times.  It isn’t true, sadly.  We don’t get the latest cell phones and other electronics for months after they’ve debuted in Asia or Europe, we can’t drink Germany’s best beers, and we don’t even have access to cars our domestic companies manufacture overseas.  Bollocks!

Having been car shopping once again, my latest gripe has to do with GM.  If you read my prior blog posts, you know I’m a patron.  Lately, I wonder if my loyalty is misplaced.  You see, I kind of expect that an American company would treat its own country better that others.  Instead, I discovered that GM evidently likes other countries better.  What happened?  Okay, let me provide some specifics:
It’s well known that certain models simply don’t play well here in the States, or that used to be the case.  Fiat 500, Smart, Mini and other successful brands have been able to maintain a foothold here.  Perhaps the size/power stigma is (as in the 1970s) a myth.  Ford recently brought over Europe’s wildly-popular Transit Connect, and, no thanks to all my grumbles, Chevrolet is finally offering a few car models with diesel alternatives.  It’s a step in the right direction, but only a token gesture.

It’s About Choices

With the global manufacturing machine in place as it is today, I simply can’t fathom what barriers exist that curtail our choices as compared to say, Australia.  With regard to America and certain products, I hear this excuse often, “There’s not enough market for it.”  Really?  Hmmm.  Let’s get down to the particular case and see what you think.

Most importantly, I wish to buy American.  Creating jobs for my fellow countrymen seems the virtuous thing to do, let alone availability and savings in eventual parts and maintenance.  And let’s say I’m in the market for a compact or medium sized vehicle; a daily commuter with better practicality than the average sedan.  I need cargo space more than passenger seats, but it’s nice to have versatility.  Furthermore, I need astounding numbers on fuel consumption.  Gasoline prices likely won’t plummet to pre-Bush pricing anytime soon, and I’m not willing to squander any potential savings in that department for upfront cost.  Do car makers believe we’re stupid enough to think that a 20% annual fuel savings is worth a 20% premium price up front?  Of course!  My educated guess is they have data to support that Americans are indeed stupid enough to pay that premium.  <insert PT Barnum/Hannum quote>  Tisk.  I must assume then, that Australia’s population, which is only 7% of ours, somehow rates not one but three different models of Holden Cruze (their Chevrolet) with four engine choices each. 

So, GM, what your telling me is that despite the population difference, Australia somehow generates more demand for hatchbacks and wagons?  Americans must not be practical or something?  Yikes.  Think I’ll drive across the street for a Slurpee and worry about this later. 

T. Nelson Taylor | Official Site | DusT | Bolita