Archive for the ‘Consumerism’ Category

  • R.I.Prius

    Date: 2015.04.06 | Category: Consumerism | Response: 1

    According to an IHS Automotive study, the average age of a car on the road in America today is 11.4 years old. A few weeks ago, I would have been one of the drivers pushing that statistic up; our Toyota Prius was purchased in July 2002. I wrote about it here back in November, and what I feared eventually came to pass: the Prius eventually required too many pricey repairs and it was time to give it up. Joe and I decided to donate it to our local animal shelter, which has a deal with an organization that tows it away, sells it at auction, and splits the profits so the charity gets 70% of the take. (We haven’t found out yet how much the car sold for, but considering that the Kelley Blue Book value was south of $3000, I can’t imagine it’ll be a big donation; still, every bit helps, right?)

    The guy from the car company came to pick it up at 6:45 AM (I’m not a morning person, but the time was non-negotiable; “I’m coming down from Stockton!”). The plates had been removed, and I’d emptied the car of all of our old maps and canvas grocery bags and expired car wash coupons. (I also found a tiny notebook in which I’d recorded the price of gas back in the summer of ’02: $1.45 a gallon!) I couldn’t bear to watch him put the car on the tow truck and drive it off; late last year, we drove a rental car right behind an AAA truck towing the Prius to our mechanic in Berkeley, and I found it almost heartrendingly poignant. It looked so vulnerable up there somehow. The car had been part of my life for so long; it was super cool and cutting edge back in 2002, but it hadn’t been high tech or trendy for over a decade. Still, we had put over 98,000 miles on the car (so bummed we didn’t make it to 100K!) and it felt sad to let it go.

    Our mechanic persuaded me not to buy another hybrid, simply because we don’t drive enough to make it worth the extra cost. The 2015 Corolla we wound up buying does get very good mileage; we had no trouble driving it from the Bay Area up to Ashland, OR (350 miles) last month without stopping to fill the 13-gallon tank. We like the hands-free cell phone feature (just push a button on the steering wheel to answer a call!) and the fact that we can stream podcasts or music directly from our phones with Bluetooth (on the Prius, we had to hook our phones up to a clunky cassette adapter).

    Other than that, though, it’s a pretty boring car. It’s what you buy when you want something reliable and relatively inexpensive to get you from point A to point B. I thought that maybe at this point in my life, I’d be driving something cool, but why bother when the vast majority of our trips are to Trader Joe’s, the farmer’s market, the dog park, or my book group? Despite our recent trip to Oregon, I doubt there are tons of exciting road trips in our future; the Prius only left the state once, back in 2006, for a swing through Arizona, New Mexico and Nevada.

    So far, we haven’t added any personal touches–the Prius had fun personalized plates and a Boston Terrier sticker–and it’s possible that I will never feel as attached to it as I was to the old car. Which is probably for the best. Madison Avenue has persuaded us to spend more than necessary on “cool” vehicles (there was that horrendous Super Bowl commercial with the faux focus group in which a bunch of women said they’d rather have sex with, uh, meet a guy who drives a truck than one who owns, God forbid, a compact), but for many city dwellers, a car represents just one part of our transportation mix. Joe and I both have Clipper (transit) cards, and we deliberately chose to live in a neighborhood where many destinations are accessible on foot. Car-sharing and bike-sharing programs are growing in popularity in dense urban areas. And maybe–just maybe–when it’s time to replace the Corolla, Google will finally have perfected those self-driving cars.

  • Driving Away

    Date: 2014.11.20 | Category: Consumerism | Response: 2

    What could be more exciting than a new car? Now that the holiday season is almost upon us, I’m sure those ubiquitous Lexus commercials (you know, the ones featuring luxury autos bedecked with gigantic bows) will be all over the TV soon. On “The Price is Right,” there’s no prize more valued than “a new caaaaaaaar!” And “new car smell” is so popular that simulations of it are available in sceneted oils, candles and air fresheners.

    carI, on the other hand, find the idea of trading in my 2002 Prius for a shiny new auto to be… well, sad. Yes, the car is 12 1/2 years old. The acceleration is, to put it kindly, poky. The steering wheel is so worn that it feels pebbly to the touch. I had it detailed for the first time about a year ago, but the interior still bears stains. It’s got dents and scrapes a-plenty, and while it’s possible to listen to music or podcasts from an iPhone, it requires plugging the phone into a cassette adapter. Oh, and the sound system’s on-off switch doesn’t work, so you have to turn the volume all the way down if you don’t want to listen to the radio.

    Despite all that, though, I love the car’s familiarity. I know all of its quirks. I love its small size and tiny turning radius, so appropriate for city living. I also love the fact that it’s long since paid for and insuring it only costs $500 a year. Because we make a lot of short trips, the mileage isn’t as high as you’d expect from a hybrid–usually we get around 35 miles per gallon–but overall, it’s been extremely cheap to maintain and run.

    But now, the trusted mechanics at Art’s Automotive, who have been caring for the Prius for a decade, have informed me that the car has reached the point of no return, where the repairs will become increasingly expensive. Because Joe and I share the one car (an advantage of living in a walkable community with good public transit), reliability is a must. We don’t have a second car to tool around in while one is in the shop.

    And so I find myself researching new autos. I am definitely a Toyota fan, but considering how little we drive (the Prius only has around 98,000 miles on it despite its advanced age), another hybrid probably doesn’t make sense. If money were truly no object, I’d buy a Tesla Model S, but I’d have to have enough cash to bathe in a la Scrooge McDuck before I could feel comfortable spending that much on a vehicle. We’ll probably wind up getting something dull but practical like a Corolla.

    The Prius is only the third car I’ve ever owned; the first two were a couple of Fords (a new Escort and a used Taurus) that vexed me with their unreliability and need for repairs. I was glad to see them go; I think I traded in the Escort, and donated the Taurus to charity (it wasn’t running, so it had to be towed away). But there will be a tear in my eye when I have to say goodbye to the Prius. I would happily keep it for a few more years, were it possible; I had at least hoped we’d make it over the 100K mark. No matter how many cool new features our next auto has, I’m sure it’ll take me a while to stop missing that little blue car.

    Photo: Wikimedia Commons

  • The Kindle Is Back!

    Date: 2014.09.10 | Category: Consumerism, Travel | Response: 1

    mykindleWell, it took almost a month, but my long-lost Kindle is finally back home. It arrived today via FedEx (billed to my account–I’m don’t yet know how much that’ll set me back, but at least it’ll be cheaper than buying a new device).

    I’m not sure how much my social media campaign helped, but at least I did get put in touch with a real live person in Central Baggage who responded promptly to my emails. My biggest piece of advice for somebody who is trying to retrieve a lost item from an airline is simply be persistent. Don’t let them forget that you exist. I hope it goes without saying that you should also be polite (after my initial flurry of Tweets and postings, I let everything play out behind the scenes). Everybody at Virgin America with whom I dealt after I posted my blog entry was pleasant and sympathetic.

    Twitter seems like the best way to get in touch with companies–most of them nowadays have social media teams that check their @ mentions frequently. I only have about 350 Twitter followers, but a couple of them were kind enough to retweet my initial complaint, which expanded its reach. You should also check out travel troubleshooter Christopher Elliott’s list of contacts in case nothing else you try is getting results.

    And most importantly: never get off a plane without checking and double-checking that seat-back pocket! I know that from now on, I’ll do just that, no matter how eager I am to disembark.

  • The Worst Writing Job in the World (2014 Edition)

    Date: 2014.04.17 | Category: Consumerism, Internet | Response: 0

    The most popular post on this blog was published way back in 2010, and was titled The Worst Writing Job in the World. The job? Writing Groupon descriptions. I felt it was high time to revisit that post.

    First, I had to check to see if the once-popular discounter was still around. I unsubscribed from its mailings years ago, and haven’t heard anybody mention that they’ve purchased a Groupon in forever. It turns out that the company still exists, and the writing is as marvelously awful as ever. One current sample: “The dough wizards at Papa John’s create circular masterpieces with original and thin crusts made from high-protein flour to support warm bouquets of toppings.” Somebody got paid to write that!

    Unfortunately for the Groupon writers, their stock options aren’t going to make them rich. Groupon closed today at $7.41, down from its NASDAQ debut (and all-time high) of $26 per share. Founder Andrew Mason, who was fired as the company’s CEO in 2013, released a CD of “motivational business music” called Hardly Workin’ after his dismissal. Sample lyric, from “K.I.S.S. (Keep It Simple, Stupid)”: “Don’t make me cut through no thistles/ You can keep all your fancy bells and whistles/ and shove them where the sun don’t shine.” Perhaps Mason could have gotten one of his former employees to ghost-write some better lyrics.

    Now that Groupon is no longer the hot new start-up on the block, it’s time to crown a new king, and I don’t think anybody would disagree with me when I say that the new Worst Writing Job in the World is… Upworthy headline-writer!!!!!

    Upworthy is the horribly annoying site that generates those hyperbolic headlines that just dare you to ignore them. When they first appeared, I clicked on them. But you won’t believe what happened next. I trained myself never to click on an Upworthy URL. Because the articles never lived up to the OMG this is so amazing! promises of the headlines.

    The site has become a favorite target of parodists (Funny or Die, riffing on the Pixar movie “Up”: “The First Ten Minutes Will Make You Sob. The Next 86 Will Change The Way You Think About Balloons”). A joke “headline generator” uses random bits of Upworthy-type phraseology to create counterfeit click-bait. Can you guess which of these headlines are real, and which were generated by the randomizer?

    1. Before You Say Babies Can’t Be Homophobic, Listen To These Six Words From A Former Klansman.

    2. Watch What This Make-Believe Girl Means To 1000 Sexual Predators.

    3. I Thought It Was A Deadly Poison. But Then I Saw This Amazing Short Film.

    4. 9 Out Of 10 Americans Are Completely Wrong About This Mind-Blowing Fact.
    At 1:05, I get a rude awakening. At 1:41, he starts talking about you.

    5. That Moment When An Author Gets Real About The Biggest Problem In America.
    Get ready to spend the rest of the day trying to pick your jaw up off the floor.

    6. His Military Dad Was Disappointed In Him When He Came Out. For A Really Good Reason.
    At 4:48, we meet his dad. At 5:20, we learn why his dad is so amazing. And I try to keep my composure. And at 6:53, it’s party time.

    7. Think You Have Job Security? Maybe You Should Listen To This Queer Former Model.
    At first you’ll be intrigued. Then you’ll be blown away.

    8. I’d Ask You To Like This Photo, But Then I Think That Proves The Photo Right.
    Seeing these three ads was like getting a tweeting-hearting-liking punch in the stomach.

    9. Watch A Slandered Witness To A Murder Become A Legend With Six Words.
    The good stuff starts at 0:30. Make sure to stick around till 1:34.

    10. This Amazing Kid Died. What He Left Behind Is Wondtacular.

    Ready for the answers? The even-numbered stories are real; the odd-numbered ones are fake. “I thought all ten of these headlines were real Upworthy stories. When I found out the truth, it blew my mind.”

    When I wrote my initial post, I was lucky enough to stumble upon the Groupon style guide, which revealed the secrets of achieving the “Groupon voice.” Well, Upworthy has been kind enough to make their how-to document available as well. Page 15 made me roll my eyes. Page 23 made me mad. And by the time I got to Page 28, I kind of hated life.

    Here is the key to writing Upworthy-style headlines, and what must make working there an unmitigated hellscape: you have to write 25 headlines for every single story. Twenty-five! And they illustrate that dictum with a photo of a toilet. In case you didn’t get the point the first time, the document repeats the 25-headline dictum over and over again. (“You should write 25 headlines unless you want the terrorists to win.”)

    The doc also reveals the target market for Upworthy content: moms on Facebook. “Almost all your traffic will come from Facebook,” says one slide, illustrated with a photo of Mark Zuckerberg with a Photoshopped crown on his head. “Middle-aged women are the biggest sharers on the Interwebs.”

    Unfortunately, relying on Facebook is a dangerous business strategy, since the social network site is constantly tweaking its algorithms; one report said that Upworthy’s traffic dropped by 51% after Facebook made major changes to its users’ news feeds. The assumption is that you’d rather see photos of your friend’s new baby than links to Upworthy or the many clones (ViralNova, Elite Daily, etc.) that have followed in its wake.

    If annoying viral headlines are still plaguing you, you might want to try installing a browser plug-in called Downworthy. No longer will phrases like “Will Blow Your Mind” and “You Won’t Believe” infect your web surfing; Downworthy will rewrite them for you on the fly. “Will Blow Your Mind” will be automatically replaced with “Might Perhaps Mildly Entertain You For a Moment”; “Will Change Your Life Forever” turns into “Will Not Change Your Life in ANY Meaningful or Lasting Way”; and “Won the Internet” becomes “seems alright.”

    By the way, if you enjoyed this blog post, be sure to share it with your social network. Feel free to tell them that this photo of a sleeping Boston terrier will totally restore their faith in humanity.

    sleeping Boston terrier

  • In the Bag

    Date: 2014.02.12 | Category: Consumerism, Personal | Response: 1

    Today, I did something I very rarely do–I looked at the traffic stats for this blog. By far the most popular post is a review of a Rush concert I wrote, titling it “What about the voice of Geddy Lee,” a reference to a song by my favorite band, Pavement, which mentions the Canadian singer’s distinctive warble. Apparently, anybody looking for info on Geddy’s voice winds up here. Somewhat disturbingly, another perennial favorite is an entry I posted shortly after a friend of mine committed suicide called “50 (or 25) Reasons to Go On Living.” The top search query that lead people to that one: “why go on living.” Somehow, I can’t imagine that anyone on the brink of doing themselves in will read about my desire to see the rest of August Wilson’s oeuvre or my curiosity about the ultimate fate of Toronto mayor Rob Ford and say, “Why, it really is a wonderful life!”

    This is, in general, not a terribly popular blog. And I’m fine with that. It is simply a place for me to vent when I feel I have something to vent about. I can also target specific readers. This entry is dedicated to my friend Vallery, who always reads the blog and even comments. She is an extremely talented, generous and intelligent person whom I feel privileged to know. Vallery is an avid quilter; you can see some of her work here.

    She is also the person in charge of book bags for the mystery convention I’m involved with, Left Coast Crime. If you have never been to a mystery convention, when you go to the registration desk to sign in, you are given a canvas tote bag filled with books. Free books! Awesome!! However, if you attend a lot of mystery conventions, you will find yourself accumulating a closet full of canvas tote bags. I have at least a dozen of them, and I’ve given a bunch away over the years.

    The thing is, Vallery always does an amazing job selecting the fabric and design. The totes are sturdy and attractive. I almost always take them along on trips; if you see me in an airport, chances are that I’ll have a Left Coast Crime tote slung over my shoulder. However, I will be receiving two new totes next month–Joe is also registered–and I’m reaching a state of Tote Overload. Knowing Vallery, the 2014 tote will probably have unique features that previous bags lacked, but if the new tote becomes my bag of choice, what will I do with all of my old ones? Like a true pack rat, I don’t want to part with them–they hold too many memories.

    So here is what I’m suggesting for future conferences: a BYOT (Bring Your Own Tote) option when you register. If you’ve already attended a million other mystery conventions, simply let the organizers know that you’ll bring an old favorite along next time–no need to manufacture a brand-new bag. It would be fun–you can strike up conversations with people carrying souvenirs of Hawaii ’09 or Santa Fe ’11 and reminisce about times gone by. (I suspect I’d want to flaunt my credentials as a world traveler and would bring a tote from the U.K. CrimeFest conference.) The free books could be kept in boxes behind the registration desk, and you would be handed a few volumes to drop in your tote. Folks like me who have surplus bags could bring extras, in case somebody checks off “I’ll bring a tote” when they register but then forgets to pack it.

    So how about it? It would be economical and environmentally friendly. And I wouldn’t have to worry about running out of closet space in my tote–I mean coat–closet.

  • The Five Worst Christmas Carols

    Date: 2013.12.23 | Category: Consumerism, Music | Response: 3

    This morning, I had to visit a couple of stores to buy food so that Joe and I could, y’know, eat this week. This was nothing out of the ordinary; I always do our grocery shopping on Monday mornings, after I deliver Meals on Wheels. Monday morning is a perfectly fine time to shop. Unless it’s Dec. 23, in which case shopping becomes a nightmarish hellscape in which you are cursed to drive around and around looking for a parking space within a mile of the Safeway. Then, when you finally reach the store, because it is December, they will be playing Christmas carols on the P.A. In the Safeway, the carols are broken up by prerecorded P.A. announcements that go off approximately once every 30 seconds: Courtesy desk, two… oh… two! Courtesy desk, two… oh… two! And on and on, because nobody at the Courtesy Desk ever answers the page, and I’m feeling positively homicidal. I start wondering why I actually choose to go to the Safeway, when I could use that Amazon subscription service to have a 12-pack of toilet paper and a pallet of mac ‘n cheese sent to my house once every six weeks.

    Just as I was feeling in the mood to bludgeon someone to death with a honeydew melon, Safeway’s Muzak system began playing a version of “The Twelve Days of Christmas” featuring a children’s chorus. 11 AM isn’t too early to grab a pint of Bombay Sapphire gin and chug it down in the parking lot, is it?

    I think one of the reasons I hate Christmas music is overfamiliarity. Here’s an alternate example: “Smells Like Teen Spirit” by Nirvana. Back in nineteen-ninety-whatever, when I first heard that song, it sounded fresh and exciting. Now, I feel like I never need to hear that song again, ever. Because it’s been played relentlessly for the past two decades, I know it so well, every single note is tattooed upon my brain. Ditto the American Christmas canon. I feel like the people who are excited to turn on KOIT (a local FM station which plays nothing but Christmas music from Thanksgiving on) are as freakish as those who, say, think it’s fun to craft their own chain mail shirt. God bless ’em, but it’s just not for me, you know?

    Today on NPR, I heard a Spanish version of “White Christmas” called “Blanca Navidad” and it was actually pretty darned fun to hear a twist on a holiday classic. But some holiday songs should just be retired and never played again, ever, anywhere. Here are my picks:

    5. “Wonderful Christmastime”: This one is down at #5 because it’s not as ubiquitous as other Xmas songs–I don’t think I’ve heard it at all this year (yet!)–but it’s still terrible. It sounds like it took Paul McCartney about five minutes to write. Just thinking about this sing-songy nightmare is the mental equivalent of fingernails on a chalkboard.

    4. “Do They Know It’s Christmas?”: This needs to be up there just on the basis of Bono’s line “Thank God tonight it’s them instead of you,” which instantly makes this song the musical equivalent of Justine Sacco’s Twitter feed.

    3. “Jingle Bells”: I was subjected to this song during today’s shopping trip and it occurred to me how simple it is. Simple in a bad way. If you’re older than six, you have no business ever singing or enjoying this song. If my honorary nephew Eric, who is currently two, likes this song when he’s seven, I’m going to put a stop to it A.S.A.P., probably by forcing him to listen to Lemmy’s cover of “Run Run Rudolph.”

    2. “The Twelve Days of Christmas”: The repetition… oh God, the repetition. Mike Huckabee tried poking fun at Obamacare a couple of weeks ago with a “Twelve Days” spoof, to which Stephen Colbert rightly responded, “Folks, that is a great song to parody, because everyone know jokes get better the more times you repeat them. It’s what comedians call the rule of twelve.”

    1. “The Little Drummer Boy”: Everyone knows this is the worst carol of all time. Back in the pre-Internet era, former Grand Rapids Press film critic John Douglas used to write an annual column decrying the tune and tracking the first time he heard it each season. When I was a junior in high school, I had an internship working for Douglas’s production company; he was the sort of salty curmudgeon every 16-year-old should get to spend time with. Douglas’s “LDB” hatred rubbed off on me, and I become righteously apoplectic whenever I hear it in public. My first time this year was at the post office. The clerk seemed oblivious. Had it been me behind the counter, I would probably have started throwing packages around in a white-hot rage. The only mitigating factor is that I can’t help but feel some nostalgic warmth for John Douglas whenever I hear it. Such a lovable ol’ grump!

    Other terrible Christmas carols: “Jingle Bell Rock”: If this was a top 10, this would definitely be up there. It’s awful, no doubt about it, but I feel like the original “Jingle Bells” is just a tad bit worse. “Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer”: A truly dreadful novelty hit, but no one ever covers it and it must have been a good five years since the last time I heard it, so I’m letting it pass just due to its lack of ubiquity. “Baby It’s Cold Outside”: A favorite worst-carol pick these days due to its rapey lyrics, but the tune is actually quite pleasant. “Saturday Night Live” put a genuinely sweet twist on it a couple days ago.

  • It’s Showtime!

    Date: 2013.11.04 | Category: Consumerism, Personal | Response: 2

    If you’d peered into my kitchen window yesterday afternoon, you would have seen me sitting on the floor with a moist rag and a bowl of Ajax cleanser, wiping the dirty fingerprints and random food stains off the cabinets. Prior to that, I was dusting the wainscoting in the dining room, as well as the base of the pedestal dining table. I also cleaned between the countertop tiles using a grout brush.

    A few minutes ago, I was busily cleaning the kitchen island and spraying the living room with Febreze “Meadows & Rain”-scented air freshener. According to the manufacturer, it is supposed to smell “like a grassy meadow misted in early morning dewy freshness.” I actually find it quite pleasant, though its main selling point is that it effectively masks the smell of dog.

    Intensive cleaning is not something I just do for the fun of it. I only clean like this for one reason: people are coming over. If you are reading this and are upset that you aren’t on the guest list, don’t be–I didn’t decide whom to invite. Occasionally, we volunteer to host a cocktail party for supporters of a nonprofit we are involved with. There is no hard sell, or any sell at all for that matter, at these events, but hopefully they will make people feel warm and fuzzy and inspired to make a donation. A couple years ago, someone at one of our parties made a $10K donation shortly thereafter. Joe and I don’t have that kind of money, but we do what we can to help. In my case, that is to make sure the house is tidy. (I will note here that Joe does help, but he doesn’t obsess over the details like I do.)

    Even when our house is spic-and-span, though, I still feel like it is biding its time to return to its natural state of clutter. Have you heard of a “dry drunk”–someone who still has an alcoholic’s mindset despite the fact that they no longer imbibe? One of the reasons I was so obsessed with the now-canceled TV show “Hoarders” was because I sometimes felt like I was a few stacks of newspapers away from becoming one myself. You just give up that vigilance for a little while, and the next thing you know, you’re making your way through your house via an elaborate network of goat paths.

    A few years ago, I tried out a few methods of keeping your house clean. One of them involved index cards–you were supposed to record all of your household chores on 3×5 cards, and then do a certain number of them every day. Fly Lady is another popular resource, though her command of “dressing to your shoes” even when you’re inside the house is a deal-breaker for me. (Scandinavians, like the Japanese, simply don’t wear street shoes in their homes. We are a slippers-wearing people. For events like tonight’s, I don a pair of simple black flats that I have never worn outside. And no, I don’t ask visitors to remove their shoes.)

    The only method I’ve found that is completely foolproof is having people over. Now that we have a house-sitter, I spend the day before we leave on a trip in a cleaning frenzy. (She always leaves the house tidy, though coming home from vacation always seems to require a week or so just to put away everything you brought back with you; I spent part of last night alphabetizing my Playbill collection.) But there’s something extra-intimidating about having people you don’t know in your home. I don’t want anyone to drive away asking their spouse, “Did you see the size of those dust bunnies?”

    Of course, no one ever notices the absence of dust bunnies. That’s one of the things that makes cleaning a thankless task. Plus, no matter how well you do it, you’ll have to do it again in a few days (or, in the case of dirty dishes, a few hours).

    As I was writing this entry, I received an email from an East Coast friend who is in the Bay Area for work this week. He’s coming over to visit us on Saturday. That’s good news: it means the house will stay clutter- and dust-bunny-free for a little while longer.

  • Commercial Music

    Date: 2013.10.11 | Category: Consumerism, Music | Response: 0

    Last weekend, Joe was watching football in the living room when he called out to ask me to come see something. It was an ad for a smartwatch–I’m not going to name the brand–which featured a montage of Smart Watches In Popular Culture, from “Get Smart!” and “Dick Tracy” to “Star Trek” and “Knight Rider.” It’s a clever ad, and I can only imagine how much work it was to get permission to use all of those clips. However, the reason Joe brought it to my attention had nothing to do with the product or the clips. It was the musical accompaniment, a simple eight-note melody playing over a bed of synthesizer sounds, which I suppose was considered “retro-futuristic” enough to back up the kitschy imagery.

    For me, though, that music is much more than just a bleep-bloop soundtrack for “Jetsons” and “Flintstones” clips. It is one of only a handful of songs I have heard in my life that I can say I love unreservedly. The name of the song is “Someone Great,” and it’s by LCD Soundsystem. There are no lyrics heard in the ad, which makes sense, since the song is about reacting to the death of a loved one. The songwriter, James Murphy, has never been willing to discuss who exactly he had in mind when he wrote the song, which makes it somewhat enigmatic; there are dozens of comments speculating about it on a site called, but no one will ever know for sure unless Murphy decides to spill. I kind of like the fact that he hasn’t done so. In a way, that means the song belongs to everyone who has ever lost a loved one; they can find comfort in it, as I did when I posted the video and lyrics on this site shortly after a close friend’s suicide.

    I hate to sound like an anti-capitalist fogey, but it makes me unhappy to hear that song being used in an advertisement. It cheapens it somehow. I recognize that it’s not my song, it’s James Murphy’s song, and he can do as he pleases with it; he disbanded LCD Soundsystem a couple of years ago, so he no longer has that revenue stream. (He is still active in the music world, though, most recently producing the new Arcade Fire album, Reflektor.) And I’m aware that a lot of people discover new music through commercials. Nick Drake would never have had his posthumous career resurgence were it not for the car ad that featured his “Pink Moon.” But still, I can’t help but feel, why did they have to use this song?

    Earlier today, through my TV lineups page, I received an email from a guy named Steve Young who writes for “Late Show with David Letterman.” He has co-written a book called Everything’s Coming Up Profits: The Golden Age of Industrial Musicals. These musical numbers were “glimpsed only at conventions and sales meetings… the audience is managers and salesmen, and the songs are about how great it is to be working at the company.” I was listening to a few of the tunes, like “An Exxon Dealer’s Wife” and “Don’t Let a Be-Back Get Away” (the latter from the 1959 Oldsmobile show “Good News About Olds”), and while the songs weren’t written and produced for the general public, they still made me think back to the days of commercial jingles. No one seems to write music specifically for ads anymore. It’s probably cheaper and easier to license pre-existing songs, and when they’re already fairly well known, you have the added emotional resonance that comes with them. In the case of “Something Great,” though, the feelings that song brings up in me definitely do not make me want to run out and buy a watch.

  • 50 (or 25) Reasons to Go On Living

    Date: 2013.05.17 | Category: Consumerism, Personal | Response: 4

    A few years ago, a book called 14,000 Things to Be Happy About was published, and it became a huge best-seller. Naturally, as a cynic, I thought this sounded ridiculous. (I like this customer review: “Should be 14,000 random things to put in a book. I am happy I could use this book to start a fire.”) I’m disappointed that somebody came up with the idea to write a spoof called 11,002 Things to Be Miserable About, because I should totally have thought of that! Judging from some of the items on the authors’ web site (“According to experts, canned tomatoes contain potentially dangerous levels of Bisphenol-A, a chemical that has been linked to reproductive problems, heart disease, diabetes, and obesity”; “More than two-thirds of elderly people will need assistance to cope with the tasks of daily life at some point”), it looks like the book could bear the alternate title, 11,002 Things to Worry About.

    But we’re not here to talk about misery! We’re here to talk about hope for the future! I went to the Amazon page for 14,000 Things and clicked on the “Search Inside/Surprise Me” link, and came up with pages featuring the following entries:

    • Harvest chowder (But what if you hate chowder? Plus, this looks like vomit.)
    • Baby-sitting (Then I must be one of the happiest person alive, since I babysit my faux-nephew every week)
    • Remembering your sunglasses (I had to share this one with Joe because he is constantly losing pairs of sunglasses)
    • Bean lovers (Does this mean that beans, the legumes, bring happiness? Or that people who love beans should fill you with joy?)
    • Men who explain their behavior, “I’m just a wild ‘n crazy guy” (That would make me think they are ripping off old Steve Martin comedy routines)
    • Little Women, the 1994 film version (Because seeing Winona Ryder portray Jo March is far superior to reading Louisa May Alcott’s classic novel)

    Anyway, I decided to see if I could come up with 50 reasons to go on living in the space of half an hour. Please note that I am not going to mention “family and friends,” because that should go without saying. Also, this is my list. Any one of these things may make you want to throw yourself under a bus; I don’t know.

    1. Eurovision is tomorrow
    2. There are still four August Wilson plays I haven’t seen yet
    3. My tomato plants are already so huge that I figure they must bear fruit sometime this summer
    4. I want to find out what happens to Toronto’s (allegedly) crack-smoking mayor
    5. There’s a new flavor of Mangria
    6. I just found out that there’s already a sequel out to the book I’m currently reading and enjoying (The Professionals by Owen Laukkanen)
    7. John Oliver starts hosting “The Daily Show” on June 10, and while I adore Jon Stewart, that should be an interesting change of pace
    8. The bakery down the street sells macarons
    9. Sue Grafton still has four more letters of the alphabet to cover
    10. I still need to buy and use some of those cool round Global Forever Stamps
    11. The ABBA museum opened in Stockholm
    12. One of my faux-nephew’s other faux-aunts is coming to visit in August, meaning she can babysit and Joe & I can go out for a quiet dinner with our friends
    13. “Parks & Recreation” got renewed
    14. Nathan Rabin’s new book will be published next month
    15. The Tony Awards are coming up shortly
    16. I still haven’t tried all the different Thai curries at Bluefin
    17. Josh Kornbluth’s new play
    18. Sopapillas
    19. Aspiring to not always be in fourth place (out of four) in the Fitbit rankings (though this may require one of my friends breaking an ankle or something)
    20. Sutter Brown
    21. Hoping to visit Australia & New Zealand someday
    22. Waiting to celebrate gay marriage legalization and the end of DOMA
    23. Upcoming reservations at Honor Mansion and Bravas Bar de Tapas
    24. My friend Janet from Ohio has promised to visit this summer
    25. Our third-row tickets to Pinter’s “No Man’s Land” (Berkeley Rep) starring Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart

    OK, time is up, and that’s only 25… so I’ll have to reset the clock and come up with the rest later on.

  • I Blame Gaga

    Date: 2013.05.10 | Category: Consumerism | Response: 1

    I didn’t mean to leave such a depressing blog post up front for so long; however, I am a slow writer, and I don’t often have time to fit blogging into my busy schedule. This weekend looks to be another hectic one. We’ll be attending a fancy fundraising event for one of our favorite arts organizations. It’s one of the very few occasions where I really have to try to glam it up a bit. This year, I decided maybe it was time for me to get a new pair of heels.

    Because I walk about five miles every day, I own a lot of comfy shoes. After years of searching, I finally discovered the Holy Grail of walking shoes: Easy Spirit Reinvent, which are incredibly lightweight, soft, comfortable, and reasonably priced (they’re listed at $79, but if you sign up for Easy Spirit’s mailing list, you can save quite a bit during their periodic sales). Plus, they don’t look too bad, as long as you avoid the more garish neon colors (I own them in black and the unfortunately discontinued dark red). A good 90% of the time, when I leave the house, I am wearing my Reinvents. I purchase them from, so I don’t spend much time hanging out in shoe stores.

    Since the party is tomorrow, however, I hit the brick & mortar shoe shops. First, I visited a cute little boutique in Berkeley. There were three sales attendants, standing around gabbing at the back of the store. No one greeted me or offered to help. They were probably judging me by my shoes (Ecco, Vibration II, silver). I flipped over a pair of snakeskin pumps to see the price tag. $190. Eh, too expensive for shoes I will only wear a couple times a year, at most.

    Then I figured I might as well visit the self-service discount shoe barn in Emeryville. It is the antithesis of a cute boutique. There are hundreds of shoes on display; you find the pair you like, then check the stack of shoeboxes underneath and hope that they have them in your size. I skipped the comfy flats and went straight to the high heeled dress shoes.

    What I saw there was truly horrifying. What has happened to shoes? These… things didn’t look like shoes. They resembled bizarre modern sculptures, or something you might imagine would be used in an S&M torture chamber. And there were rows and rows of them! Good God, are people buying them? Are they wearing them? If so, how?

    I remembered seeing pop star Lady Gaga wear this extreme footwear, but I had no idea it had trickled down to the masses. (The ones in the photo had been marked down to $19.99.) People, Lady Gaga may be a fashion icon, but no one should emulate her style in shoes. For one thing, not even she can walk around in these so-called “heel-less platforms” without tumbling down. And the singer’s career is now on hiatus due to chronic pain, which some are speculating may have been at least partially caused by her shoes. (Gaga, may I suggest you pick up a pair of Easy Spirit Reinvents while you’re recuperating?)

    The shoes do not have heels. I guess you’re supposed to put your weight on the front of your foot. They’re so high that it must feel like you’re walking around on tiptoe. In the interest of science, I decided to try on a pair. You can see them at left. It did indeed feel like the back of my feet were sort of floating in space. I walked about three feet in them, and almost twisted my ankle. Plus, they are super ugly. I remember hearing that when Oprah was still filming her daily talk show that she would wear sneakers until the moment she sat down in her chair. At that point, an assistant would whisk away the athletic shoes and O would don a pair of Louboutins. Heck, if I only had to sit, and if I had mad Oprah money, I’d wear Louboutins too. These are SO pretty! You could display them on a shelf when you weren’t wearing them! The Gaga-esque shoes, on the other hand, look like something you might use to tenderize steaks (perhaps they come in handy when you’re assembling a meat dress).

    Anyway, after an exhaustive search, I finally found a pump with a reasonable heel. I walked up and down the aisle a bit without tottering over. They were actually pretty comfortable… something I could imagine myself wearing, maybe not for a long walk, but to a restaurant or party. I noticed the name on the box… Easy Spirit. My old friends.

    It’s easy to laugh at these bizarre shoes, but to be honest, I find them pretty disturbing. Women are literally being crippled in the name of beauty. Some women are even undergoing surgery so they can better fit into pointy-toed stilettos. Obviously it’s a free country and anybody can choose to wear whatever they like, but it seems that a lot of women are making the choice to be really, really uncomfortable (in the now) and risk serious damage (down the road) in the name of fashion. I agree with this poster, who contributed a comment on an article titled “Wearing Heels Does Not Make You A Bad Feminist”: “The fact is as women we ARE pressured to dress and look a certain way, even the most intimate aspect of our appearance is judged and regulated by a culture that says ‘beautiful women wear heels, are white, have hairless bodies, etc etc etc,’ so it’s never that simple and it’s certainly worthwhile to keep challenging the emerging status quo. Indeed there is a certain privilege that comes with being the kind of woman who pulls off a pencil skirt and high heels, it can be difficult to get taken seriously when you’re a woman who wants nothing to do with the heels, make-up etc that we associate with being ‘dressed for work.'”

    There is one big advantage to heels, though (and this goes for men as well as women–if you think men can’t wear heels, well, check out the drag queens on parade in Broadway’s smash “Kinky Boots”): height. When I put on those horrible studded shoes, I was suddenly close to six feet tall. I imagined myself at a show at Bottom of the Hill or the Great American Music Hall, clubs where I usually wind up stuck behind some super-tall dude and have to settle for catching an occasional glimpse of the band’s lead singer over his shoulder. In those shoes, I could tower over almost everyone else. Then again, I wouldn’t be surprised if standing on actual stilts would be more comfortable.