The Return of Layaway

I remember posting a while back on a comment on the problems our nation was facing (almost ready like an idyllic past now, I said ALMOST) that there was this thing called “layaway” that people who didn’t have credit could use to buy halfway-expensive stuff they needed.

Well, guess what: It’s back!

The first I heard of the comeback I was sitting in my work van (driving people to and from their doctor’s appointments) when I heard a K-Mart commercial extolling the benefits of Layaway. I smiled, but thought nothing about it.

Until this Monday (October 27, 2008), when I was hanging out at the local Borders (suburban location, you take what you can and are thankful for it) and heard a couple of women gushing about the return of Layaway. They were a bit old, of course, but still I heard the approval in their voices.

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So, at the risk of making myself redundant, here’s the idea of Layaway: You put some money down to set an item aside. Over the next few weeks/months you put more money down onto the item, and when it’s paid off you get the item. You may end up with a now out-of-date item, but it’s yours and you’re not paying 10-25% interest on what is owed.

The trick is, you gotta want what you want enough to spend the next few weeks/months paying for something you don’t have yet. You gotta do without the stuff that money would get you, and you gotta be able to put money down on a regular basis.

And the best thing about Layaway? No interest rate while you’re paying off the item. Yes, you’ll pay some extra for the privilege, but credit cards can cost more (especially since the item in question won’t be affordable with this month’s paycheck; otherwise you’d buy it on the card and pay it off).

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Obviously some things make better sense on layaway than other stuff. Coats and winter clothing work well on layaway (buy the good stuff when it’s still warm, get it when you start to need it). Computers may work, but you’ll have to expect that your computer will be slightly obsolete (not state-of-the-art) by the time you get it. Furniture would work out well by layaway as well. Same for your iPod, but then you could spend the extra months reripping your MP3s in a higher format (who really listens to 120GB of 128kbps music? I can hardly get up to 30GB, and that’s with lots of stuff up to 320kbps bit rate).

I wouldn’t get rims. Or rare CDs. Or MVP Haircuts at SportsClips.

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Does Picking a Woman for VP Imply a Dead Presidential Bid?

This is something I’ve been wondering the past couple of weeks.

It’s not like I’m about to vote for McCain/Palin at the election booth. She has a typically Republican record in both the Mayor and Governor’s seats (spend now, leave the bill for the coming (Democratic) officeholder; give the punters what they want to hear; and treat the office as your personal piss pot) and her views skew further to the right than I’m willing to countenance.

However, I wonder if picking a woman as your VP candidate is an admission that you’re not going to be elected.

I remember what happened back in 1984, when Mondale was the preemptive selection for President by the Democratic Party. It seemed more like he was running because he had to (someone had to take the fall as the Democratic candidate) and once he chose Geraldine Ferraro for his candidate many people just wrote him off.

Of course, it didn’t help that he didn’t seem to want to run for the office. After getting the nod as the Democratic candidate he disappeared for a few weeks, fishing in Minnesota. Meanwhile the Republicans went on to a Reagan/Bush coronation (their second term).

Mondale could put forth some sharp jabs when he was moved to do so (the first debate, a commercial on WW3 that ran late in the evening late in the presidential campaign), but he didn’t seem willing to do that much and when Reagan revived a 1980 comment on old people being leaders in a joke manner even he was ready to let things go on as they were. Geraldine Ferraro was left to flap in the breeze, and the nation had to deal with eight more years of Republican Presidents.

Now…move up twenty-four years (Almost exactly as long as a fundamentalist friend of mine stated that the Democratic butchering at the Presidential level put women back for that office). After a presidential try by Hillary Clinton that had to be taken seriously (if nothing else because of her husband), John McCain decides to pick Sarah Palin as his VP candidate. A move that seems to be turning against him as she tries to both pump up the Republican base and make her own stamp on things.

Admittedly I liked her selection. I liked that McCain was willing to gamble and try to get at different voters via his choice. I liked that she was definitely a babe (And for the record, I would definitely like to be imPalin Sarah some night. Absolutely no chance; but I can fantasize…). And I liked that McCain was willing to look beyond the tried-and-true. At least that’s how I saw it.

But now I wonder if she was the only person he could come up with that would run alongside him.

One thing to understand about the VP office: It’s a place to stick someone for looks or something, but not necessarily a spot for someone who’d do better than you at the office you’re in. Sure it’s a single missed heartbeat from the Presidency, but that’s a double edged sword. Does anyone think that Quayle was picked because he was ready for the Presidency, or because no one would be stupid enough to shoot Bush Sr.?

As such, people tend to take care to choose their VP. While the mythology of geographical balance seems to have gone by the wayside (thank goodness), there’s still the issue of why choose the VP. This time around it seems the two VPs were picked to cover where the other side saw weaknesses in their own portfolios (Biden for Obama’s Foreign Policy Weakness, Palin for McCain’s right-wing weakness) as well as an attempt to woo women (if Democratic Men can’t handle powerful women, the Republican men can).

However, in McCain’s case it seems a bit of overreach. Palin seems to have morphed from a benefit to a burden on the McCain camp, and a loose cannon besides. At the very least, McCain seems a bit mad over her choice of actions.

But…more to the point: Both times a woman has been chosen for a VP slot, it seems to have eventually been viewed as partly a desperation move. McCain was so far behind in the polls at the time that it was posited his campaign was already over; then Palin was chosen and his campaign was alive again. Now it seems (key word, see end of this article) his campaign is again falling into problems as states that once were safely Republican (Indiana, Virginia, West Virginia, Nevada) have become frontline states while states like Michigan (borderline Democrat in 2000 and 2004) are now being treated by everyone (except Palin) as safely Democrat. Strange that the states that change are bordering Democratic states/areas, but that’s a definite change over the past two elections.

In short, one can doubt that Palin would have been chosen if there was a GOOD chance that the Republican candidate could have won the election. Same as Ferraro would have likely not been chosen had Mondale been ready for a strong, good run at the election in 1984.

Question is, will it take a successful Woman’s president run to make women VPs acceptable as anything but a sign of weakness?

(of course, it may not matter. I have my fears, I’ll post them before Election day.)

MSU over Michigan in all standings

MSU Downs Michigan, 35-21

Seven years since the last victory over Michigan, nine since one without a controversy.

Eighteen years since the last victory in Ann Arbor, 24 years (at least) since a nondebateable victory there.

First time in thirty-one years that Michigan State will above Michigan NO MATTER THE MEASUREMENT (in-conference, out-of-conference) at the end of the year.

Yeah, I had doubts. I had to; when it seems that victories end up costing more than they’re worth (Both 1990 and 2001 were preludes to long-term collapses) and the Maize (I want to say Golden) “M” seems to hold more magic within it than the whole of Spartania past and present, it seems logical that the Michigan name would carry the football team to victory. After all, 1990 saw a game where (According to the U of M Radio Announcer, so don’t blame me for this) “Michigan State outplayed Michigan, and U of M had better be thankful they even had the chance to win that game” AND Michigan could still have pulled the game out of the fire of defeat (onside kick was successful, the hail mary wasn’t). More recently, Michigan State had a ten point lead which was evaporated quickly in the end for one of the recent six-in-a row by Michigan.

So no, you don’t take it for granted. Even after the interception with two minutes to play; that ball may pop back out (thanks to one of yours) and be handed back to the Maize and Blue (which happened!). There was the possibility that the Maize and Blue would score again, onside kick successfully and bomb it back to the TD zone to pull it out in overtime (or score two for the win); that this didn’t happen is more a relief than joy.

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Just so you know, the pleasure is already fading. The money worries of the next week are already crowding in, plus I’m growing sleepy enough to end the posting now. Plus there’s too much needing to be done tomorrow for me to relax.

So…see ya later. The election is coming, other thought may intrude.

Would Sparky Have Survived The Internet?

Having watched “For Better And For Worse” fall into a dissatisfying end and shift over to a “remake” format with the bitter catcalls from various corners, I wonder about the one person whom everyone seems to worship: Charles M. Schulz. In short, would he have survived the advent of the internet?

Think of it: We’re talking about a guy who stylized his characters, had a large number of them, and had a habit of throwing out ideas that were incomplete. He would have been lucky to have had Linus hold that blanket after a while with thousands of readers remembering Charlie Brown holding the blanket once. And imagine the outcry at some of Lucy’s more vicious moments vis-a-vis Linus (and she could be really vicious towards him), never mind all the abuse Charlie Brown took on a daily, weekly and monthly basis. And imagine the cries for him to retire after the early eighties…(I think he started losing his touch around 1985, when he stopped getting enough inspiration to fill up all four strips).

The dog would survive, of course. However, much of what made Snoopy great didn’t really develop until after fifteen plus years. And the pressure to add in other “sympathetic characters” with the dog and bird would probably become nauseating.

The sad thing is, I don’t think Charles Schulz would have been able to survive long with his strip. Enough mistakes and retries of schticks half-formed when first thrown out would have forced him out, and forced the papers to cancel his stirp before it could get the traction any strip needs to get established. And while we would probably be a little bit poorer, it’s not like we would have noticed the loss — more an irritation over someone who didn’t seem to have his shit together (instead of someone trying stuff until he got it right).

What The Recent Run-up/Run-down Means:

Monday (10/13), the stock market jumps up 900 points.
Tuesday and Wednesday (10/14-15), the stock market drops back down, with all the 900 points given back.

Monday the stocks were calmed by the sudden infusion of cash from the governments of the world.
Tuesday and Wednesday it was realized that there were real problems in our economy, and that it was likely we were ALREADY in a recession (if not a depression).

Monday (10/13), the nation calmed down with relief.
Tuesday and Wednesday (10/14-15), the nation became depressed when it saw the road in front of it.

The fact is, we’re now past the “PANIC” phase, when people are selling just to sell. Now that “cooler heads can now prevail,” we’re going to discover that a lot of stuff out there is badly wrong, worse than people want to think.

Our consumer debt situation is past the furthest point a debt level can get and still keep the economy going. There were loans where people were paying “the maximum” based on pure health and perfect operating cars (and if the lender really pushed, you didn’t even have to pay off your interest portion of the loan to get the house), line-of-credits were linked to houses and expanded as the houses “increased value” and people bet on a house increasing in value when nobody’s wages are increasing. When home values started shrinking, everything fell apart…..worldwide.

And credit cards? Try this: When going to college in the eighties I couldn’t get a card (for which I’m thankful). Now they can’t wait for someone to turn eighteen for them to get cards. They’ll even harass the parents to try to give the cards to the kids, then harass the parents when the kids overspend (as is their wont, alas).

And don’t get me started on the subject of student loans…

Not only that, but we’ve set up a situation where the rest of the world was buying shares of our debt, expecting us to come through with our payments. That’s right, not only did we overextend ourselves but we ended up sending our promissory notes across the world in ways nobody can tell about (because even they don’t know how it happened).

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I think things are going to get worse before they get better, IF they get better.

Fact is, we’re going to have to work a major portion of this debt through its paces before things can get back moving again. Either debts will need to be forgiven or paid back (in some way) and before that point we’re going to get a lot of people whose sole purchases will be rent, food, occasional clothing, and debt relief. Those who can will go without cars, those who can’t go without cars will learn what they can about repairing them.

Not only that, but we’ll have to figure out a way to make our own stuff. We’ve spent the past fifteen years letting China do the hard work for our enjoyment, and at some point they’ll start chafing. A society cannot survive forever with the twin jobs of foisting debt on others and shooting anyone who dares say “no” to our debt. The Taliban and Al Qaeda may be the cutting edge of the army being created push us off their lands and conquer us.

In the meantime, watch as the society slips into a recession/depression. Too much $$$$ dedicated to debt retirement; too much $$$ sent to people who exist to suck money off us, too little $$$$ for investment or relaxation, too much $$$$ owed for wages to be traded for free time.

Welcome to slavery. The legal kind, one where choices develop into lifestyle changes. Hence the 13th amendment has no power here.

What’s Going ON Down In Ann Arbor?

Michigan’s latest loss is a big fall for a storied program

Who would have thought of it? We’re talking Michigan, the team that more often has to show up and are automatically guaranteed a 9-win season. Now people are wondering if they’ll win four.

Last year against Appalachian State (which, as I wrote about last year around this time) wasn’t as big a loss as this. Appalachian State has a history of championship winning, and could almost be considered a 1-A (Bowl Division for you up-to-datists) team playing a 1-AA (Tournament Division). Toledo is not even a top-half MAC team (at least Central Michigan was considered a good team when they beat Michigan State twice).

While I’m an MSU fan and alumnus, I must say things are a bit odd. We’re talking about a team I’ve long been used to seeing higher up in the standings. MSU has been lucky to get looked at for a bowl, whereas Michigan planned their vacations for AFTER New Years. We’re talking nearly seven years since the last MSU victory over Michigan, and almost eighteen years since MSU beat Michgian at The Big House™.

But right now, Michigan is 1 1/2 games behind Michigan State in conference, 3 1/2 games behind them overall. Right now, for Michigan to come out ahead of MSU in the overall standings MSU would have to lose 4 of 5 AND Michigan would have to win out. MSU could lose 4 of 5 (the rest of their schedule IS the cream of the B10 crop, Michigan to the contrary) but Michigan winning out would have to be a miracle (OSU and PSU are going to be beasts, and Northwestern and MSU will be tough).

Now I’m cautious. Even with Victories against U of M, Michigan State has found ways to finish behind U of M in the standings for nearly 40 years. 1987 was probably the best chance with a lossless season in the Big Ten, but they played and lost to Notre Dame and Florida State (and tied to Iowa) that year. Besides, with MSU’s season usually tougher in the back part, MSU fans are used to having their hopes lowered towards the end of the season.

So I’m a bit cautious. And hopeful. At least this year we have a good chance of finishing good.

What If The Internet Were To “Die” Tomorrow?

Here’s a thought:

What if, the day after you read this, the internet were to “Die.” Not necessarily totally disappear (although that wouldn’t be a bad place to consider), but what if it were walled off so that certain areas you had liked were suddenly unaccessable no matter which service you used? What if certain websites were suddenly cut off except for at a cost while other, “similar” websites were suddenly available.

Say, if you couldn’t get your Yahoo Mail but had instead to get MSN mail? Or if your music stations suddenly went from the whole collection to Universal Music plus a couple of music companies given to you for “local flavor?” Or is your favorite anti-WalMart page was suddenly replaced by a pseudo-rebellious webpage with hints of how to rebel with the help of WalMart. Or the web won’t let you go to Dr. Mercola, instead pushing you towards a Dr. Mercury who talks about the utility of drugs, the wonders of today’s meats and how immunizations make you a better, greater human being.

The question becomes: how do you get around, keeping up your knowledge-seeking and actions?

Thing is, with this thing called the internet a lot of places where we could get alternate versions of knowledge and reality have disappeared. Many independent music stores, record stores and other forms of gathering places have gone under as people have turned to the internet for their edification. This leads to a lot of isolated knowing people without the ability to reach out to other people.

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I have always had a bit of doubt with the power of the internet since it first came out. Sure, part of this is from personal problems; but much of it is because I’ve always seen this “internet” as nonmaterial. It’s just a bunch of 1s and 0s, put together in such a way as to make communications faster (and more robust), surveillence possible (i.e. you in your house, watched by your appliances and told about to the government) and knowledge stored (in a format that’s easily erased). Just because you’re able to get in touch with people all over the nation doesn’t mean you know them better than your neighbors down the street; indeed I’d say you know both less well than you’d know your neighbors when you meet them on the street and talk with them on occasion.

So my question is: how will you meet with like-minded people once you lose the ability to go online? And whom would you share your tastes with with your neighbors? After all, you could have the knowledge to free the world, create unlimited energy and tear down the industrial-banking complex strip-mining the world’s wealth for its own use; but if you end up dying without sharing any of it that knowledge dies.

And here’s a thought you might want to consider: One truth shared and believed by another person is a greater accomplishment than thousands of truths learned and kept to yourself.

Yet More Independent Bookstores Close Down:

First, the press release from the bookstore itself:

PRESS RELEASE
SEPTEMBER 30, 2008

Olsson Enterprises, Inc., trading as Olsson’s Books & Records closes stores and petitions court for Chapter 7 conversion.

Olsson Enterprises, Inc., trading as Olsson’s Books & Records, Record & Tape Ltd., and Olsson’s Books announced today that it has closed all of its locations and petitioned the U.S. Bankruptcy Court District of Maryland for conversion of its current Chapter 11 protection to Chapter 7.

The reasons given for the petitioning were stagnant sales, low cash reserves, and an inability to renegotiate current leases, along with a continuing weak retail economy and plummeting music sales.

Olsson’s was granted Chapter 11 protection on July 11 this year in order to work on an aggressive reorganization plan involving selected store closings and large cuts in overhead costs. At the same time the Lansburgh/ Penn Quarter location on 7th Street, N.W. was shuttered to make way for a new London-based restaurant.

Olsson’s was established in 1972 and grew to as many as nine retail stores in the Washington, D.C. metro area with sales over $16 million a year and as many as 200 employees. Currently there are five retail stores: Reagan National Airport, Old Town Alexandria, Arlington Courthouse, Crystal City, and one in Northwest Washington at Dupont Circle. Olsson’s earned its reputation as a locally-owned community-oriented retailer with a knowledgeable staff selling a wide selection of books, music, video and gifts.

Stephen Wallace-Haines, Olsson’s general manager stated: “In the end, all the roads towards reorganization led to this dead end: we did not have the money required to pay for product in advance, to collect reserves to buy for Christmas, and satisfy the demands of rent and operational costs. We were losing money just by staying open.”

John Olsson, principal owner, Washington native and graduate of Catholic University had this to say, “Although it is certainly a sad day for us, I can rejoice in all the great memories of my life in retail in Washington. I began at Discount Record Shop on Connecticut Avenue in the fall of 1958, and worked there until 1972 when I left to open my own record store at 1900 L Street. Along the way books were added, more locations, a couple thousand employees, and many thousands of customers. It was exhilarating. Through it all, our best and brightest served Washington’s best and brightest with love and distinction. I’m very proud of what we accomplished. My love and gratitude to all my employees, and special thanks to all those thousands of loyal customers.”

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I only went there once, with a friend who had recently published a book on Danny Gatton. It was amazing, seeing how deeply some people had appreciated him – one guy paid for our dinner and recorded some CDs for Ralph. Another thing, it was interesting to see a store that had dedicated space for not only music and books, but with the idea that people would be buying good stuff instead of what’s popular.

But then, this isn’t the first worthy bookstore to die due to the smoothing out of tastes that I’d fallen in love with.

First was a bookstore named Jocundry’s. I had hung out there during much of the eighties, finally started buying stuff from there in the early nineties only to see it go out of business. There were a couple of circumstances that caused that bookstore trouble: An owner who inhereted the bookstore but not the vision, overdone expansion without foresight (should have expanded into music, opened a coffeehouse) and the sudden invasion of a chain store down the road. Unfortunately Jocundry’s lasted long enough to make me start buying at the Barnes & IgNoble.

More recently Transitions went out of business. They had made themselves a niche in the New Age/Alternate Religions section. I went there only a few times, but I loved the place whenever I went. Sadly I hadn’t visited there the past few years, and had to find out of its closing via the lame news article linked to above.

It’s actually kind of sad. Nowadays you go into these big mega-stores, and you see a shrinking selection of music in what’s quickly becoming more of an accident in these stores (as compared to a section or an afterthought). Selections seem more and more based on what sells instead of what my peak interest; that means more chick-lit and modern “romances” (of the Harliquen kind, updated for the imaginations of sex-driven adults) and lame “You Can Do Anything You Want If You Only Put Your MIND To It” type of books. Then there’s the spewin’ partisan politics books meant to sell millions to the converted, teen lit (more teen girl lit) and rewrites of “The Secret.”

And, of course, if you want something that strays from the generica, go to Amazon.com. Of course, you’ll end up having to develop these tastes by yourself (and the B&IgN/Borders chains grow more generic as the interesting requests go to Amazon.com, but that’s your problem).

That’s why I try to buy local more and more. Even when I’m not in town, I’ll try to buy local. That way I know my PROFITS go locally and support local stuff. I’ve even supported local music and poetry scenes with my dollars in the past. And if you MUST buy at the B&N and Borders (which is not necessarily a bad thing, as these bookstores have brought bookstores to many places which were lacking), make sure they do your special orders (instead of Amazon.com). That way they’ll have to expand their selection of books for the browsers, and who knows…you may open some minds to your way of thinking.