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.

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 buses.

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 stabilize itself and even give a bit more services through buses 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 standing 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 proved wrong. Alas, I don’t expect it to happen.


Update: On December 22, 2013 at 10AM, Genesee Towers was demolished. It’s now a park and greenspace; and with the present Leaded Water issue in Flint that won’t go away (probably because, by this point of time (January 2017) it CAN’T) it will probably stay a green space until it stops getting mowed and starts growing wild.

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.)

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 Amazon.com 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 Amazon.com 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. Amazon.com 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 Amazon.com 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
  • Amazon.com 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”
    and
  • 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 Amazon.com.

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

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.

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.