Category Archives: Cranky Middle Aged White Guy Rants

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Can We PLEASE Get Rid of John Kerry?

Why the long face?

Why the long face?

Seriously.

Can we please get rid of John Forbes Kerry, the most ineffectual, useless, gutless, waste-of-space in the Senate today?

This poseur has been in the Senate since the early ’80s and, because he represents Massachusetts, has barely been challenged since. He has been hiding in Ted Kennedy’s (considerable) shadow since then, occasionally showing up to Washington between trips to his various yachts (including gas-guzzling powerboats – so much for the value (or credibility) of Al Gore’s endorsement), mansions and vacation spots.

Can you think of one useful piece of legislation the guy has been responsible for in all those years?

Say what you will about Ted Kennedy, at least no one accuses him of not representing the Commonwealth, taking a stand on an issue or making his mark during his tenure. Can you say that about Kerry? The guy’s a key example in Wikipedia under the term “flip-flop”.  You think I’m kidding?

Completely, utterly, gutless and useless.

You know, it’s one thing to be useless, it’s another thing to be arrogant and useless. And that’s why I particularly despise this guy.

Here’s a quote from Kerry just after a brief “debate” with his Democratic challenger on TV this morning, when asked if there’d be any more debates:

“This is what we negotiated, this is what we agree to, and we’ve done it,” he said. “I go back to work in Washington. I’ve got a full-time job, unlike my opponent.”

Are you kidding me?!

He’s never held a job, made a payroll, started a business, run a business or even worked in the private sector, to my knowledge. He comes from money, marries into super-money, does a half-assed job as Senator, loses his bid to the Presidency to the most ridiculed, least-liked sitting President in modern times, and that’s his attitude?

Shouldn’t he have retired in embarrassment after that? I guess if you have no shame you can’t be embarrassed. Of course, had he any shame he wouldn’t be running for re-election on his record, such as it is.

The sad thing is, we’re still in Massachusetts, there’s no one that will challenge him who’s got any gravitas and so we are likely to have to endure this effete, haughty, empty suit and haircut of a politician for yet another six years.

Crassen rassen frassen…

 

[for an updated and sympathetic view, check this out]

Basking in the Sunny Rhetoric of Change

I’ve generally been staying away from politics in this blog – I think there are plenty of people covering the various positions with more enthusiasm and insight, without another semi-qualified bloviator chiming in. But really, what’s with all the smoochies for Obama?

I made fun of Hillary’s “35 years of change” for the empty, grasping phrase it was. But is it only because people are finally seeing her for the phony, say-or-do-whatever-it-takes-to-win mercenary she really is that people are embracing Barack Obama with such fervor? Or is it just because all the other choices (for Democrats, anyway) are out of the race? I’m not sure, because I felt that most of the Democrat choices were pathetic, empty vessels to begin with. Edwards was a total haircut, and his “two Americas” position was belied by his own ridiculously opulent lifestyle, funded by shaking down corporations in the courtroom. Biden was probably the only really qualified Democrat candidate, but as a long-term Senator, seen as part of the problem rather than part of the solution.

But all this “love” for Obama? Why?

Because compared to Hillary, he’s palatable. It’s as simple as that, unfortunately. And that’s all that’s left to the Democrats.

I mean, who among us didn’t throw up a little into our mouths when Hillary summed up her recent debate appearance by saying how “honored…truly honored” she was to be appearing with Barack Obama. Honored?! Are you kidding? She RESENTS his presence in HER run for the Presidency! This was supposed to be HER slam-dunk nomination! How’s she going to be the First Woman President? Honored? She’d kill the bastard if she could get away with it. And at this point, everyone’s kind of figured that out, at last.

So, those who consider themselves “Democrats” or to the Left can bask in the sunny, empty rhetoric of “change” coming from someone who isn’t Hillary. Never mind that he’s accomplished nothing that would qualify him to be President of the United States. You can even feel kind of good that you’re going to vote for a Black Guy who is (bonus!) well-spoken and not particularly threatening; proving (at least, to yourself) that you’re not, even in the least bit, prejudiced against black people. Sure, he sounds nice, and reasonable; you’re sure he really represents the best hopes and aspirations for the country, right?

Here’s a couple of nice pieces casting some criticism on Mr. and Mrs. Obama. ‘Cause if the Clinton Presidency taught us anything, it’s that you’re getting the spouse with the candidate.

I think what’s really needed is an alternative to the flawed primary system that doesn’t let ninety percent of the American people vote for the candidates they’re REALLY interested in supporting. Why do a few, unrepresentative doofuses in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina get to influence MY opportunity to vote? I’m sure I can’t be the only one who feels this way. Alternatives, please!

Barriers to Exit: How Quicken Screws its Customers

When I was in business school, we learned (amongst other things) about developing various competitive strategies. One of the ones hardly anyone seemed to pay attention to, but was fascinating to me, was the concept of creating “Barriers to Exit”.

This is the complement to the better known “Barriers to Entry”, which typically implies that if you can enter a market first, and make it either so expensive or so time consuming to a competitor to consider entering that it would not be worth their while to follow you into that market, they would therefore  concede it to you.

Barriers to Exit implies that you make it so expensive, time consuming or otherwise difficult to leave a market (or a product) that you have captive control over it. And that’s where Quicken comes in.

Quicken is one of the few examples of an independent software company which has successfully fended off Microsoft’s entry into its domain. Their original product was and is a personal finance and check writing program. Over the years (and decades now), it has evolved from a simple checkbook balancer to a complex combination of tax reporting, investment handling and personal finance adviser. Its foundation, though, is still basically a checkbook program and, as such, it’s very convenient. Many of its customers, myself included, have been using one version or another of Quicken for over 15 years, even predating Windows back to the DOS era. Think of the brand loyalty implied in that record of accomplishment! We were glad to be able to support an upstart company which beat back the Microsoft juggernaut with a superior product and a great customer orientation. As the need would arise, usually when some significant improvement in the software would occur, I would upgrade to the newer version, which they would make available to past customers at a reduced rate.

Unfortunately, over the past several years, there have been increased numbers of complaints about both the Quicken software and its dedication to the customer. Reports of buggy software are common now, and the annual version upgrades seem to offer little improvement over the previous year’s. So, most people would keep their old versions, with which they were perfectly content.

Of course, without annual upgrades by enough of the user base, company management can’t drive the requisite increases in revenue they need to justify their positions. So, they’re forced to choose between happy customers, and greater revenue growth. Guess which they choose.

So, Quicken now has adopted a “sunsetting” policy on its old software. Now at most software companies, that just means that they just stop supporting the old software with patches, fixes and so forth. Not at Quicken. They actually inform their customers that the online components of their software, including some basic functionality that users need every day to download bank balances and credit card transactions, will be turned off. That’s right. Even though these functions work fine, they’re going to shut them off. Leaving customers with three choices: upgrade, find some other program, or go back to entering all transactions manually.

What makes this particularly ugly is that when one does a little research into the new upgrade versions, one finds that the customer satisfaction levels with those new versions are terrible. Not just so-so or mezza-mezza. Awful. People generally hate the new versions as buggy, non-functional or just plain unnecessary. And reviews of the once-great Quicken customer service are similarly poor. Check some place where there’s customer input, like Amazon or elsewhere. It’s shocking. Review after review of people saying “I’ve used Quicken for (5, 10, 15) years and now I hate them” or similar. It’s hard to imagine a company doing a more successful job of ruining its reputation without actually dumping oil into a village of baby seals or releasing poison gas into a highly populated third world hellhole. But they have.

And that’s where Barriers to Exit comes in. Because despite all these facts, you really have no choice. You have to upgrade because you depend on it. Over fifteen years of comprehensive personal finance records, several loans, a mortgage, a handful of bank accounts, IRAs, 401(k)s and the lot. All currently kept up to date at the push of a button. Until shut off time. And from all accounts the Microsoft competitor is even worse. And there’s nothing else out there.

So you’re stuck.

And they know it.

Revisionist Pop Culture History

They say that history is written by the victors. I say it’s written by who’s around. A slight difference perhaps but here’s how I got there.

Our pop culture “history” is being skewed by those who currently create content in our media. Do you like to watch those ‘nostalgia’ shows on VH-1 about the 70s? The ones that focus almost entirely on the disco years, bad sitcoms and a few crappy Hanna-Barbera cartoon shows? Those of us who lived through the period know that there was, in fact, a lot of great music as well as some decent programming then. But then VH-1 is largely populated by 20-somethings, who only know what they can find on reruns or a quick Google search of the Billboard charts. They don’t have the boxes full of 12″ vinyl albums collected over years of diverse listening. They didn’t actually watch TV then because they hadn’t been born. So historical retrospective is shaped from a skewed viewpoint.

Allan Melvin died recently. If you read his obituary in most newspapers , chances are you learned he was “Sam the Butcher” on The Brady Bunch and, oh by the way, he did some other stuff too, but it was in Black and White so who cares. So, this talented actor who, amongst a lifetime of excellent character work, was a key player in Phil Silvers’ Sgt. Bilko series, which had more laughs in one episode than The Brady Bunch had in its entire run, is remembered only for a few appearances in a mediocre Sherwood Schwartz pablum-fest. Because the dweeb whose job it was to crank out the obit for the wire service probably never even heard of Allan Melvin before he died, except when one of his or her peers pointed out that he was “Alice’s boyfriend on the Brady Bunch”.

And while I’m on the subject, let’s talk briefly about Sherwood Schwartz. All of his shows sucked. Without exception. You probably have heard of Gilligan’s Island, his other “hit”. But he was also responsible for the mid-60s bomb, “It’s About Time” which, despite the presence of early TV legends Joe E. Ross and Imogene Coca, was horrible. I will say this about Schwartz though: his theme songs were GREAT. In fact, the theme songs were the only redeeming qualities of the three shows I’ve cited. I bet you can sing the themes to both Gilligan’s Island  and The Brady Bunch and, if you’re old enough, can remember at least part of “It’s About Time”.

Which got me to thinking about the power of a good theme song. Or jingle.

About a year ago, I was reading an article in an advertising trade publication where the 30-something pontificating creative being interviewed said that the advertising jingle was long dead. Replaced by licensed usage of pop and rock music. Jingles were history, like three networks and a captive audience.

I’m not sure of the connection between them but I do remember disagreeing when I read it. True, hardly anyone’s using jingles any more.  And yet, most of us remember the good advertising jingles we’ve heard through our entire lives. I can start them here and even without the benefit of singing them you could finish most of them (I threw in one which is local to the Boston area):

  • You, you’re the one…. you are the only reason…
  • Hold the pickles, hold the lettuce….
  • You’ll wonder where the yellow went….
  • Who do you call when your windshield’s busted?
  • Oh, I wish I were an …
  • Double your pleasure …

and so on. My point, of course, is that these jingles give instant and lasting product recall and, usually, brand preference as well. While most of our cherished rock music memories have been sold out to product placements, do they elicit the same strong product recall? Maybe the ubiquitous use of Bob Seger’s Like a Rock comes to mind, but how many millions or perhaps even billions of dollars did that take? And does it make you want to buy a pickup truck? Or does it make you want to put away your Seger LPs or CDs because you’ve heard it a million times now for a truck commercial?

More You Are What you Drive, you #&@#$!

Continued from https://steviethek.wordpress.com/2007/12/12/you-are-what-you-drive-you/

From the 90s to the Present Day

 The early 90s saw the emergence of a new lousy driver’s favorite: the beige or “champagne gold” GM sedan.

Whether Chevy Lumina or Buick Century, this nondescript four-door would announce proudly to the motoring public: “I’m old, and I drive like crap!”.

This inheritor of the proud heritage of Plymouth Valiants, Ramblers and K-Cars continues to the present day, dependably taking up both lanes in a divided roadway; as well as making the occasional, vague unsignaled sudden turn, the hallmark of the stubborn aging driver unwilling to concede that he or she needs those new fangled glasses that let you see both close AND far away.

As long as you can fit those wraparound cataract sunglasses over them, no problem.

However, these predictable yet relatively benign hazards soon gave way to a more ominous, dangerous set of roadway dangers: SUVs and cell phones.

The mid-90s brought a new, more frightening phenomenon to the roads: the urban assault vehicle or, as it is commonly known, the SUV.

One of the most clever hoaxes ever to be perpetrated on the consuming public, the first SUVs were, in fact, crappy pick up trucks fitted with a slightly more plush interior as well as a permanent bed cap instead of the junky aftermarket one your plumber friend has on his. But gussied up a bit, their comfy insides combined with a much higher vantage point made the insecure female driver, formerly content to shield herself in the safe confines of the Volvo wagon, feel more confident in her ability to drive while drying nail polish or playing with the radio to find that station that plays Shania Twain or Faith Hill at least once per hour.

And so the American auto companies could dramatically increase profit margins on aging vehicle platforms without the need for actual product improvements. Meanwhile, the vastly increased number of these heavy, inefficient vehicles on the road contributed to a rise in serious accidents as well as fuel consumption nationwide.

Combining these larger, heavier vehicles with a new source of distraction in the form of the mobile phone has created a menace to the road-traveling public never before seen. Where an experienced person might encounter, on rare occasion, the intoxicated driver weaving across lanes or going inexplicably slowly, it is now rather common to see this kind of dangerous obliviousness on the roads. Almost without exception, the offender is driving while using a cell phone.

Epilogue

Today, with the ubiquitous presence of cell phones in cars, the dangerous driver has become universal; and so, the ability to identify poor driving by the type of car is becoming increasingly rare. Another remnant of my childhood, youth and early adulthood made increasingly obsolete by technology.

However as bad as cell phones while driving are, I propose in parting that a line in the sand be drawn in the case of texting while driving. As far as I am concerned, this is tantamount to a capital offense. Let me explain.

If you commit a crime with a firearm, you are committing a more egregious crime by definition than the same crime without the firearm. The reason for this is the threat posed by the presence of the firearm, i.e., the threat of lethal force. Texting while driving is exactly the same. If you are texting while driving a motor vehicle, that vehicle represents the threat of lethal force, and your texting dramatically increases the chances that the vehicle will, in fact, cause an accident which unleashes lethal force. 

Therefore, despite my relatively conservative approach to personal freedom and responsibility, I would advocate a law equating texting while driving to committing an assault with a firearm. Even if no accident takes place, it represents an undesirable and unreasonable threat to your fellow man, which should be punished severely whenever witnessed. Stop this dangerous menace now before it becomes as ubiquitous as cell phone use.

Or reality television.

It’s Not That I’m Older, Your Music Really Does Suck

The Offending Moment - Wardrobe MalfunctionThe Truth on a ButtonPreface

Do we automatically prefer the music that was dominant when we were teenagers?

Or, is the music of the mid 60s to the mid 70s truly the Golden Age of Rock Music?

This ongoing section will attempt to address this contentious area of popular culture.

 “There are only two kinds of music, good and bad.” — Duke Ellington

I’ll start things off with a rant I originally wrote right after the whole “Janet Jackson Boob Flash at the Super Bowl” mini-crisis a few years back. It started a lot of conversation at the time, and could serve to set the tone of this section.

Introduction – The State of Things, 2004

 (2/4/2004)

It’s not the boob that was the problem with the halftime, it was the entire halftime.

The Offending Moment

Popular music has been on the decline for quite some time, as “art” has been overwhelmed by the combination of lowest common denominator economics and the inability (or, in many cases, unwillingness) of parents to be able to guide their children towards some semblance of judgment and discretion. The consolidation of corporate ownership of music distribution has, for all practical purposes, dried up the investment in new artists that don’t fit the mold of either empty “American Idol” bombast or disposable ‘hip-hop’ sewage. Exceptions (such as Radiohead, for example) are few and far between.

What used to be a lively, passionate medium of expression and artistry has been reduced to a mediocre sludge of mass-produced ‘beats’ (often not actually played but ‘sampled’ from the creative work of others) and semi-literate mumbling with no vision, creativity or relevance beyond the tip of one’s nose (or other extremity).

“Performance”, previously requiring musical ability and craft, is now replaced by the playback of this studio-manufactured effluent, with lip-synching instead of singing, and the hiring of (usually scantily clad) ‘dancers’ performing the artistic equivalent of aerobic exercise at the local “Curves” salon providing what passes for spectacle.

Video did, indeed, kill the radio star.

Considering a Career Change

Every once in a while, we get to a point in our work lives where we wonder if we made the right choices. Maybe we’re working too hard, or slaving away at something so that someone else can get all the praise and big bucks. Or just doing something that isn’t ultimately satisfying.

I’m in that kind of a place right now. So, I’ve been thinking a lot about what my next job should be. I’ve been thinking of branching out to new areas I haven’t previously explored.

I read an article by a so-called “career expert” (which apparently means they have had an article published in a job-related website) which suggested making lists of the job attributes that I’d find most desirable in a new career.

So here is my list:

q       High level of renumeration

q       Relatively sedentary physical requirements

q       Completely unaccountable for results

q       Relatively high levels of ego-stroking and positive attention

q       Does not require extreme levels of God-given talents or gifts

I had to add the last one to exclude people like professional athletes, actors, or performers who, for the most part, were born with their abilities or looks and have been able to coast their whole lives. Hey, if you got it, you got it. I just ain’t got it.

So, using this list of ideal job attributes, I’ve developed a list of ideal next careers:

q       Economist

q       Psychologist

q       Meteorologist

Most have unwarranted attention paid to them, and/or get paid well above the average person. Virtually none are accountable for results.

Let me cite a few examples.

Economists and Psychologists, and Meteorologists, Oh My

Economists

I remember watching Lester Thurow, the well-known MIT professor and economic bloviator on a television panel a few years ago. I don’t even remember what the overall reason for the panel was, but what I did take away from it was Thurow’s smarmy declaration, “I get paid enormous sums of money for doing what I do”, or words to that effect. The context of his remarks were meant to seem self-deprecating, i.e., “I don’t really deserve it, shucks, etc.” but in fact he came across as a gloating, pompous,  undeserving ass which, by and large judging his actual positions, is true.

In economics 101 we learned that Government spending crowds out private investment. Anyone with a brain knows this. The late, great Milton Friedman (the one main exception to my assessment of Economists as a group) was the lone voice in the wilderness on this one. And yet this overcredentialed weasel, despite his statements in the eighties favorably comparing the Soviet economy with the United States (less than two years before the collapse of the Soviet economy), and his general advocacy for increased governmental participation in the economy, is a sought-after public speaker and frequent member of boards of directors (two classic and highly desirable something-for-nothing occupations – trophy jobs for the accomplished scam artist).

Psychologists

You know, when things are bothering you, sometimes it’s nice to have someone to bitch to. You can vent for a while, and you feel better. The effects don’t last, but hey, you feel better for a while. We know this. And yet, our airwaves are filled to overflowing with programming content featuring the most self-promoting of these pseudo-professionals spouting glittering generalities about “feelings” and “communicating”; even turning many of them into celebrities. Would you be surprised to learn that most of these hacks are more screwed up than you are?

(I have a story to tell about a psychologists convention I once hosted, which I’ll add here later on.)

Now, there are many psychologists who toil in obscurity, actually helping people who need help, and not getting particularly rich at it. To them I offer my admiration, and sympathies to them for having to share a practice with the self-serving, crap-book-writing, talk-show-appearing, BS artists amongst them.

Meteorologists

Although this one is increasingly falling into the category of jobs for lookers regardless of talent1, there is still some vestige of expectation that there be some accountability for results. At least in the days of crusty New England weathermen like Don Kent, you expected a 50-50 chance he’d be wrong. But nowadays we have nearly a dozen computerized weather “models”, Doppler radar and all sorts of other toys. But no, they’re still wrong at least as often as they’re right. And yet, they’re celebrities, and get paid some serious money in some cases.

And one final gripe. Can we, once and for all, get rid of the idiotic convention of congratulating or blaming the weather person for the weather?  “Boy what a beautiful day you gave us today, Dave!”

Just read the friggin’ teleprompter, news bunny. Don’t try to think or be entertaining.

Ok, I took a breath. I’m fine now.

1 Glaring exception: Mish Michaels. Beautiful and talented.
Mish Michaels