Thursday, January 27, 2011

I hate it when I can't find something I want

Every once and a while, I run into a problem where I think about something I want or need and then, can't find it because it hasn't been invented yet or doesn't exist. This is so damn annoying. One thing that drives me crazy sometimes is that I'm constantly thinking about things. I come up with all these ideas and then, have no way of implementing them. I often joke that I wish I could find a job where I would sit in a room for 40 hours a week and problems would slip through a crack in the door on a piece of paper and I would spend my time creating solutions to the problem (If anyone has a company like this, I'd be happy to work for you for $60K a year, plus a small commission percentage of every idea I come up with that generates a substantial amount of revenue).
Here's a recent example: As some readers already know, we upgraded to iPhones last year: ["How Sprint lost my business"] and really love them, BTW. In the process of buying them, I also bought these fairly expensive cases to protect the phones (Otterbox, very nice colorful padded cases). I had picked them out, because they looked like the strongest ones, and the sales rep. did a good job persuading me that I was making the right choice ("You need this and this for sure. You have kids? Oh yeah, you don't want these getting broken ... There's an insurance plan too ..."). She even gave me a discount on the accessories, which was nice.
However, the cases add quite a bit of density to the phone which is fine if you're holding it or securing it to the belt clip (and protecting the phones from the kids using them too). But it kinda defeats the entire purpose of having this snazzy little phone that does everything. What I really want is a phone case that protects the phone when it is holstered, comes with a belt clip, and has enough room to hold other stuff like a money clip would. This way, instead of having two things that I always have on my persons, I could have one.
So I begin the search for a new case. I search ... and I search ... and I search. There are thousands of cases but none matching the description that I want. I eventually find one that is close to what I'm looking for. But, it's clearly a purse for a woman, not a small little money clip sleeve thingie.
My wife eventually looks at me and says, What are you doing? I tell her what I'm looking for, I pull out my old phone case (which wasn't quite big enough but held business cards and other things I needed), I try to stick the iPhone in there and it's clearly too long and won't close on the Velcro strapping, etc. She looks at me and says, You mean you want a man purse. No, I don't want a man purse ... well, OK, maybe ... no, I want an iPhone case with a money clip. She goes back to watching television and I continue searching online fruitlessly. What I want is clearly not out there.
And yet, I know that this item would sell if it were available. If I'm looking for it, clearly there are others. And while there are thousands of cases out there, there isn't a proper money clip iPhone case that a man could own (and love). Why is this? Maybe because I don't own a manufacturing company that would have invented this already and thrown it out there. Surprisingly, or maybe not so, the big iPhone case companies have nothing that resembles this, with the exception of the purse thing ... not the Mac store, not the AT&T store, not Otterbox, not anyone else.
So I guess I'll just stick with the case I have. It's frustrating though. And, in many ways, I wish I had never desired the money clip iPhone case in the first place. I wouldn't have wasted all this time thinking about it.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The Noise Top 30 chart for February

Reporting: 14 different radio stations and Internet programs

1. Freezepop – Imaginary Friends
2. Faces on Film – Some Weather
3. Jenny Dee and the Deelinquents - Keeping Time
4. Deer Tick – The Black Dirt Sessions
5. The Lights Out – Rock Pony EP
6. The Sheila Divine – “The Things that Once Were”/”The Innocents”
7. Andre Obin – Front Runner EP
8. Marc Pinansky – The Auburn Days EP
9. Streight Angular – Alright EP
10. The Hush Now – Shiver Me Starships
11. Spirit Kid – Spirit Kid
12. Viva Viva – Viva Viva
13. Ad Frank & the Fast Easy Women – Your Secrets Are Mine Now
14. The Everyday Visuals – Things Will Look Up
15. Winterpills – Tuxedo of Ashes EP
16. Bell & the Bees – Meadowtapes
17. Buffalo Tom – Skins
18. David Wax Museum – David Wax Museum
19. Deer Tick “Christmas All Summer Long”
20. Old Abram Brown – Restless Ghosts
21. Penis Fly Trap – Triple Suicide
22. The Townies – One for the Ditch
23. The Michael J. Epstein Memorial Library – Library Card
24. Spirit Kid – “It’s Christmas Time (Feelin’ Lazy)”
25. Wicked Whiskey – Under the Gun
26. Pernice Brothers – Goodbye, Killer
27. Hallelujah the Hills – Collective Psychosis Begone
28. Oranjuly – Oranjuly
29. Guillermo Sexo – Vivid Nights
30. Madame Psychosis – Analysis Paralysis EP

King's Gamble

In the Public Interest By Ralph Nader

Bob King, the new president of the United Auto Workers, whose membership is down under 400,000 from a peak of 1.5 million in 1979 is rolling out an initiative to organize foreign auto plants in the U.S., expand the union's reach overseas and forge alliances with social justice organizations.

Ordinarily, the response to these ambitions would be “With What?” Few unions have been beaten down as much as the UAW whose workers enduring the bankruptcy of General Motors and Chrysler in 2009 and a debt-burdened Ford Motor company. During this period the UAW gave up billions of dollars in wages and benefits. Thousands of workers were laid off to save these companies.

Well, for starters, Bob King starts with the union's strike fund. It contains over $800 million. “We have really unlimited resources to devote to this. It's unlike anything that's been seen in the UAW in many, many years,” King told The Wall Street Journal.

King would agree with Labor Professor, Harley Shaiken of the University of California, Berkeley, that this “unprecedented pivotal to its survival.” I interpret his remarks to mean that a long declining union has to push forward or its spirit and ranks will shrink further as automation and the taxpayer-rescued auto makers seize the initiative for more concessions.

The UAW's problems start with those earlier concessions that included the astounding two-tier wage system. New workers start at $14 an hour, less than half of what senior workers are paid. If Bob King cannot offer a better deal for non-unionized workers (108,000 of them) at U.S. factories run by Toyota, Honda, Nissan(where the union failed in an earlier organizing drive), and Volkswagen, Hyundai, BMW, Mercedes and Kia, what is going to be the appeal? To make matters more difficult, most of these plants are in so-called “right-to-work” southern states.

First, King is offering 11 principles of cooperation with the auto companies, eschewing confrontation or disruption on both sides, so long as the elections are free and fair. Second he is touting the relationships with domestic companies, saying “The winning team today is the UAW and American employers; with GM, Chrysler and Ford, we are building the best vehicles and have the most productive workplaces.”

Soon, however, the UAW begins contract renewal negotiations with these companies which are recovering both their sales, profits and stock values. No doubt, the members will expect their union to fight for a share of this rebound. It may become acrimonious.

Toyota is not worried at all about the UAW's organizing drive announcement. Company spokesman, Mike Goss said that of Toyota's 20,000 U.S. manufacturing plant workers, no hourly employees have ever been laid off despite the economic downturn. The Big Three U.S. manufacturers have laid off workers in droves, many permanently.

So again what is Bob King's appeal to an auto worker employed by a foreign manufacturer? It is nice that he wants to enlist support of various national citizen groups, including Jesse Jackson's PUSH and chapters of the NAACP. That may be good for publicizing equity, but the Toyota, et al. pay packages are fairly equivalent with those of the U.S. manufacturers.

Mr. King may see leverage in his global strategy to connect with overseas unions and agitate for independent unions in Mexico and Brazil to up auto worker wages there. King is no stranger to social justice movements and protests, having participated personally in marches here and with delegations to El Salvador, Mexico and other third world countries.

Still, it is difficult, to see what he expects to get out of what seems on the surface at least an enormous gamble. Of course, there may be much more between the lines here.

My suggestion is that Mr. King and his colleagues spend a weekend at their union retreat in northern Michigan with some other seasoned thinkers and organizers to ponder how most effectively to spend the union's allotted money.

One needed priority is to set up a small ten person advocacy group in Washington, D.C. to prod OSHA on worker health and safety. That would increase the AFL-CIO's personnel commitment by tenfold for advancing OSHA's responsibility to reduce the loss of nearly 60,000 Americans a year due to workplace trauma and disease, including autoworkers.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Martin Luther King Jr. quotes that seem as relevant today as before

"Change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability, but comes through continuous struggle. And so we must straighten our backs and work for our freedom. A man can't ride you unless your back is bent."

"Rarely do we find men who willingly engage in hard, solid thinking. There is an almost universal quest for easy answers and half-baked solutions. Nothing pains some people more than having to think."

"The question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be... The nation and the world are in dire need of creative extremists."

"The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy."

"We must develop and maintain the capacity to forgive. He who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love. There is some good in the worst of us and some evil in the best of us. When we discover this, we are less prone to hate our enemies."

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Think you can fix the federal budget deficit?

I bet you can ... I thought I could ... and did. :-)
I don't know how I missed this NYT graphic back in November but somehow, I did: ["Budget Puzzle: You Fix the Budget Deficit"].
The interactive site allows you to pick and choose options in the budget - cutting spending, raising taxes - in order to solve the budget deficit. I stumbled upon the graphic while reading an editorial in the Columbia Journalism Review chastising exaggerators in the Tea Party and GOP who say cutting federal government budget waste and not raising taxes can balance the budget.
I'll tell you this: I was able to make the necessary cuts to balance the budget and I didn't raise taxes on regular folks, I didn't cut benes to the elderly, and I didn't raise tariffs or implement a Wall Street transaction tax [the latter two options were not offered but are on my list of revenue enhancers]. The site is also flawed because it offers few options getting out the corporate welfare, subsidies, and giveaways that we all know are in the billions of dollars [there are a couple, but nothing that adds up to the $200B-plus suggested by Ralph Nader and Public Citizen].
The one tax I did change was the payroll tax above $108,000 [even though I didn't need to]. I don't know what the perfect amount is, but it should be raised. Maybe the payroll tax should be lowered but be implemented on all earnings, not matter how high. I also did not "means test" Social Security. If you change the payroll tax and if you paid into the system, you should get something back.
The one other thing I changed that might be perceived as something that would harm ordinary people was to cap Medicare growth to the GDP plus 1 percent, for a huge savings to 2030. If we can't do that, nothing can be done. That was a biggie - $500B-plus over years - but it has to be done.
Altogether, I ended up with a budget surplus - without getting at revenue enhancers we need, like tariffs and a Wall Street transaction tax. Basically, this graphic proves that no matter what the naysayers and "experts" say, yes, you can balance the federal budget without rescinding the Bush tax cuts and without raising huge amounts of taxes on working folks - with a lot of money to spare! Go give it a try and see how you make it.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

This is such a great story ...

Everyone is talking about Ted Williams, the homeless man with the golden voice. Well, the New York Daily News has this feature on the woman he left behind - who raised all his kids without him, due to his drug addition: ["Behind golden-voiced Ted Williams is ex-wife Patricia Kirtley, the story's real hero"].
A true hero, indeed! Hopefully, she'll get a few minutes on television to tell her part of the story.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Giffords' shooter was crazy ... and ... er, but NOT a leftwing Kossack?

First, what a horrible tragedy in Arizona today. So many dead and injured. Terrible. The Congresswoman, Rep. Gabby Giffords, has reportedly, fully recovered from a gunshot wound to the head. Thank God for that.
However, the Web has been abuzz for hours about the gunman, claiming he was a rightwing militia nut and probably was inspired by Sarah Palin's gunshot target list, which Giffords was on. Well, it looks like that he wasn't a rightwing nut, but possibly a leftwing nut who liked to post on Daily Kos. Here, apparently, is a post he put up recently which has since been taken down: (Update: It seems as though this post was not the writing of the shooter. While the post was taken down, the poster has made other posts since that time, and admitted, in hindsight, that his rhetoric was a bit hot ... you think?)

So, not unlike jumping the gun in the Oklahoma City bombing case, blaming it on Arabs in the first 24 hours, people in the press and on blogs may have wrongly blamed conservatives and law-abiding gun owners for this horrible tragedy. It's too early to tell. We'll just have to wait and see. (Or blaming it on Kossacks too!)

Here is a composite someone put together of Daily Kos targeting Giffords after a controversial vote:
Note that it isn't a physical cross-hair on the district but a written bullseye on the district which is pretty much the same thing.
Friends described the shooter as a "committed leftist":
The shooter's MySpace site has been taken down but his weird, rambling videos about mind control and debt are still up.
This supposed English instructor has questions about the shooter's favorite books:

Challenge corporatist right-wing and one-sided media coverage

Guest perspective by Ralph Nader
The timidity and silencing of the left fuels the steady impoverishment of a dispossessed working class and a beleaguered middle class. It solidifies a corporate oligarchy that is dismantling the anemic regulatory agencies that once protected citizens from predatory corporations.

Don't let media outlets overlook reporting on the work of progressives.
Write your own letters to the editors of your local newspapers and national newspapers.
Write opeds about topics you think the editorial writers are missing.
Challenge one-sided news coverage.

Make a New Year's resolution to challenge corporatist right-wing and one-sided media coverage.

The following letter appeared in today's New York Times.

The New York Times
January 3, 2011
How the Left Is Left Out: Ralph Nader’s View

To the Editor:

“The Repeal Amendment” (editorial, Dec. 27) asserts that many Americans who are economically struggling “have no progressive champion,” and that the left has “ceded the field to the Tea Party and, in doing so, allowed it to make history.”

Hello! There are plenty of distinguished progressive champions lobbying, rallying, exposing, suing and organizing at the national, state and local level. Yet they have been mostly left out of the mass media, on television and radio and in the news, feature, style, opinion and book review pages of major newspapers, including The Times.

Meanwhile, the Tea Partiers have seen their modest initiatives hugely magnified and therefore expanded by major media. This has mainstreamed the radical right, including Sarah Palin, Glenn Beck, Ann Coulter and Pamela Geller, as well as the most extreme neoconservatives who still receive media attention despite their deceptive, disastrous Iraq war-mongering.

Check your own pages and you will see the evidence. Or better yet, have your public editor look into why flagrant, often bigoted right-wingers are given so much time and space compared with fact-based progressive leaders committed to the “equality and welfare” that your editorial espouses.

After all, mass media coverage matters greatly for social and political movements.

Ralph Nader
Washington, Dec. 28, 2010

Friday, January 7, 2011

Radio on Saturday ...

I'll be doing a short stint on the radio Saturday morning with Samantha Clemens and her guest Richard Kazimer. The Samantha Clemens Show can be heard in Boston from 10 to 11 a.m. on 1510 AM and online at

Monday, January 3, 2011

Tweeting Away the Time

In The Public Interest By Ralph Nader

The start of the New Year is a good time to talk about Time. About this, we can all agree—there are only twenty four hours in a day. Zillions of companies and persons want a piece of that time from us in order to make money. But that supply of Time is not expandable. Unlike other supplies in the marketplace, this one has no give beyond twenty four hours a day.

Note the massive increase in commercial requests for our time in return for our dollars—directly or indirectly—compared to 60 years ago. Instead of three television networks bidding for our time in order to sell advertising, there are over 100 channels on any cable system. There are ever more radio stations, more online blogs and websites, more video games, more music. In 1950, there were no cell phones, no iPhones, no Blackberries, no e-mails, no text messaging, no apps, no E-books, no faxes. Entertainment fare is now 24/7 and expanding rapidly on the Internet.

But there are still only twenty four hours per day. What are these merchants expecting of the consumers’ time? Squeezing more into less time as attention spans shorten, for one. Marketing so irresistibly that people buy far more of these videos and other entertainment services than they have time to listen or to view.

Think of the VCRs and the DVDs piled up at home that have never been seen. Same for many books. The big bestseller on the universe: The Grand Design by scientist Stephen Hawking became status furniture on sitting room tables except for the one in a hundred who actually read that book.

In short, the gap between what we think we have time for when we buy these products and what we actually expend time on is setting records every day.

However, people of all ages are spending more time on casual gaming (75 million Americans is the estimate) than on solitaire or cards—apart from being addicted to competitive video games. So there is some substitution at play here.

E-mails and text messaging are taking a large slice out of the day, in part because they are so cheap and in part because they are so personal. “What gives” here is that less time is being spent on the telephone but by no means in equal measure.

So cheap and easy are modern communications that it is often harder to actually reach people than during the days of the dial phone.

How much time do we spend trying to get someone to return calls or even to react to E-mails (which are increasingly passé in favor of text-messages) during the day or week? After awhile one stops trying to make telephone contact because of the low probability of actually talking to the person you want to reach.

People are so overloaded that just getting them to respond to a friendly letter, call or electronic message requires many repetitions. The banality of abundance is at work here.

On the other hand, where you do get quick replies are from your “friends” with mutual gossip and personal tid-bits drive up the back and forth volume immensely. A 16 year old girl said that she sends 600 text messages a day and “would die without her cell phone.”

Still the sellers are more and more vigorously competing for a piece of the buyers’ time. Where is all this going? First the sales appeal may ostensibly be for the buyers’ time—eg. toys, DVDs—but it really is an appeal to the buyers’ hope or belief that he/she has the time sometime. That is what gives what economists call the “elasticity” to the seemingly finite twenty four hour day. Whether that time is devoted to the program or product is immaterial to the seller once the sale is made. The successful seller is happy.

But what is happening to the buyer? More stuff piles up. More sense of being time burdened when weeks and months pass without getting around to using the purchased goods or services. More susceptibility to buying the newest upgrade or version out of a sense of getting to now what they haven’t had time to get to before with the older purchase.

Moreover, as a society of buyers, we become ever more fractured audiences—especially for national television—and it is less likely that we see or react to the events of the day as a community.

I was reminded of this observation recently when Washington’s current outrages of endemic wars, waste and corruption rattle the public far less than Nixon’s Watergate behavior. In 1974 after Nixon fired his Attorney General and the Special Prosecutor who were investigating his involvement in the Watergate burglary and cover-up, Tennesseans sent 40,000 telegrams to one of their Senators over three days. Members of Congress, even with the ease of E-mail and Twitter, do not get that kind of meaningful volume.

When our time feels overwhelmed and the marketers are banging on our doors for more time claims, what time is there left for necessary solitude, for family and other socializing, for kids playing outside instead of being addicted to indoor screens, even at dinner, for, excuse the words, reflection and contemplation?

It comes down to whether we have any time from our absorption into virtual reality to engage reality, including civil and political realities. A Society whose people do not show up for public meetings, hearings, protests and even local folklore events is a society that is cannibalizing its democracy, its critical sense of community purpose.

Take back some of those discretionary hours from the marketers and electronic entertainers. Devote them to shaping the future for you and your children.