Monday, March 30, 2015

Week of 03/30/2015

Messing Up Their Own Markets
This column will be going online during the week of April 1st, which is the nineteenth anniversary of the weekly commentary that you know today as Brutally Honest.
There is a lot that has happened since that very first article went online.  Some good... a lot bad... and more than some that have been completely horrible.
But what’s sort of interesting is how today’s world has been gradually resembling the fictional one from my very first article.
In “An Electronic Nightmare from the Not-So-Distant Future”, I give you a hypothetical world that has been sanitized and dumbed down to the level of a child, thanks in no small part to censorship legislation.  A world where computers were pretty much nothing more than toys, and an actual computer to do actual business work with was an outdated subject.  A world where a computer store was a rapidly dying business and you can literally hear its dying breath in the closing of the door.
Well the legislation was thankfully squashed in the courts, but it seems a lot of the other things are sort-of coming true.
Computers... actual desktop computers... are being replaced with not just laptop computers, but tablets, smartphones, and, yes, watches.  All of your files can be stored on cloud servers, including your music and videos.
The most popular programs?  Mindless games and apps designed for the simplest of users.
Big electronics stores like Best Buy used to put computers up in the forefront.  Where are they now?  In the sidelines.  You know what took their place?  Cellphones.
And it’s not just the location of the computers in the store that has changed.  Wireless networking is no longer with the computers.  Routers, switches, cables, they all are located in the same area as overpriced wireless speakers and custom-controlled lighting systems.  Battery backups?  Over by the TV sets.  What used to be strictly computer accessories are now shared by gaming consoles, TV entertainment centers, and, of course, cellphones.  Oh, sorry, smartphones.
That brings us to the ongoing downfall of a longtime electronics store, and one that had a hand in the early years of my days in online radio.
When I was younger, Radio Shack was “the” big electronic store.  The toy store for anyone who was “too old” for toys.  Not only could I buy a radio there, I could actually make a radio.  They offered kits and boards and soldering equipment.  Back when CB radios were the “social networking” of the day, you could buy one, and an antenna, and walkie-talkies, and stay connected thanks to Radio Shack.
When I got started doing audio effects for my school theater group, and later did amateur DJ work, I got my equipment from Radio Shack.  My amplifier, microphone, headphones, mixer boards, batch cables, and adaptors galore not only came from Radio Shack, but they carried the in-store Tandy brand.  Most of that same equipment would later be used when I started my online radio shows, ten years after I originally bought them.  Yes, electronic items used to actually last that long.
Those were the days.
So it saddens me to see the recent news reports of Radio Shack’s financial implosion and the news that over eleven-hundred stores nationwide are being closed down so what is left of the company can possibly survive bankruptcy.  My quest for those rare adaptors and patch cords to make my various devices work will be that much harder in the future.
But they’re not the only ones struggling.
Office supply companies Staples and the combined Office Depot/Office Max conglomerate have also announced they’re planning on shutting down stores even as their so-called “business experts” work on a merger that would essentially create one monopolist office supply company.  In fact Staples has already shut down the local store here, forcing customers to either travel further into Atlanta proper or seek those same materials at Wal-Mart.
Funny, isn’t it, how every so-called “smart business decision” ends up driving customers more and more to Wal-Mart?
Yet if you look at these stores, you’d see that there seems to be a common thread to their downfall... and it’s not just the threat of competition from so-called “big box” stores like Wal-Mart.
Radio Shack used to be known as the place you would go for electronic devices and electronic equipment.  Yet, when I would show up in any of their stores, what would be the first things I would see?  Remote-controlled toys, telephones, and cellphones.  They pretty much skipped past the computer revolution, providing only the occasional hard drive or blank CD-ROM discs.  It’s as if their target audience age dropped from 20 to 8.  Oh, they still had the occasional cables, cords, and adapters.  But those would be in the far back... behind the $5 remote-controlled helicopters.
Same with the office supply stores, but not to the extent that Radio Shack went to.  Yes, they would have at least half of their stores dedicated to actual office supplies.  Chairs and tables and folders and filing cabinets and all sorts of papers and cards and pencils and pens and desk goodies.  And, yes, they also have copiers and shredders and printers and printer ink.  In fact, when my mom’s brand-name printer needed ink, I’d have to pay Staples a visit, because all of the so-called “big name” stores like Best Buy and Wal-Mart had no idea this particular kind of ink even existed.  (And we’re not talking some rare kind of ink or an outdated printer either!)
But what do you see when you walk through those doors?  First things right up front... cellphones and cellphone accessories.
Are you noticing a pattern here?
Let’s get brutally honest here... I’m not going to Staples or Radio Shack for a cellphone.  In fact, I’m not even thinking cellphones when it comes to those stores.  Do you?  It’s like going to McDonald’s for tofu and bean sprouts.
I understand why these stores would want to expand into cellphones... they were trying to compete against Wal-Mart and the other “big box” stores.  But they were doing it the wrong way.  Instead of highlighting what made them unique, they tried to be what they weren’t, and then wondered why people weren’t showing up.
We keep on hearing that the world of business is a simple matter of supply and demand.  But the truth is that there is a time and a place for both these things.  The “big box” stores are able to appeal to a wide clientele because that is what people see them being; an all-purpose super-general store.  But if your store appeals to a specific kind of “demand”, you can’t bring more people in by trying to provide a different kind of “supply”.  You do it by reminding people why your store is better than the “big box” competition.
And if you can’t do that, then all you’re really doing is just sending those clients right to those “big box” stores anyway.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Week of 03/23/2015

Mandatory Voting? We Already Have It.
So the man that spearheaded and championed the biggest capitalist enslavement since the Emancipation Proclamation under the guise of “reforming healthcare and making it affordable for all” now wants to solve the endless problem of voter apathy in America.
Yes, President Barack Obama wants all of us to fulfill our civil responsibility as Americans and vote in all future elections.  Apparently he’s been so moved by the turnout in the recent elections in Israel – in which the so-called “experts” got wrong – and equally disappointed by the turnout in America’s own mid-term elections – which, again, the so-called “experts” got wrong – that he thinks we should be a little more politically involved.  We are, after all, the United States of America.  We’re supposed to set the example when it comes to “democracy” and the “will of the people”.
And I have to agree that it is embarrassing and insulting to know that at any given time we cannot count on three-fourths of the American people to actually show up at the polls.  That every effort made to register people to vote is ultimately betrayed and slapped in the face when all of those newly-registered people don’t even bother to look at a ballot, much less make a choice.
So what is Mister Obama’s solution to getting us all to vote?
No, I’m not kidding.  President Obama thinks we should all be forced – by law – to vote in every election.
It’s not a new idea.  Eleven countries around the world do this.  Australians, for instance, can be fined or even jailed if they refuse to vote in elections.  Never mind the shrimp; your butt would be on the “barbie” if you don’t vote over there.
“If everybody voted,” Obama told people in Cleveland, “then it would completely change the political map in this country.”  He even speculated that it would counteract the obscene flood of campaign money that has been buying and paying for politicians like they were Amsterdam prostitutes.
Well I don’t disagree with the statement.  If everyone voted in the last election, you probably wouldn’t have seen the GOP taking over Congress.
But to force all registered voters to vote?  To force them with fear of fines and/or jail time to cast a ballot?
No.  Absolutely not.
In fact, to force Americans to vote is pretty much about as anti-American as you can get.  And, no, I’m not exaggerating when I say that.  I consider that to be as much of an abomination as the ongoing efforts of a certain political faction to suppress the vote of those that would not vote for them.
Besides, there are two huge reasons why Obama’s hair-brained idea to force all Americans to vote is an inherently bad idea.
First of all, we have a political system that has been carefully and meticulously designed to drive voters away.  And this is not by accident either.  This is intentional.
Between gerrymandering of districts into art deco projects, the loosening of campaign rules so big money can buy politicians like Amsterdam prostitutes, the scheduling of primary elections, and the deliberate manipulation of who can appear on the ballots much less in the debates, the Democrats and the GOP have systematically perverted the political system into a de facto plutocracy.  Their party bosses determine who is “allowed” to run for office, and they manipulate the ballot qualifications so that any kind of challenge faces a herculean uphill battle.  Special interest control the debates, and they spend obscene amounts of money on political propaganda, thanks in no small part to our court system.
Campaigns are nasty and dirty, and they continue to get nastier and dirtier, because they are meant to drive voters away!  It’s a game of attrition, not attraction.  The incumbents already have all of the support they “need”, so all they have to do is make sure nobody else votes and they are assured a re-election victory. 
And the masses have already been thoroughly conditioned to believe that no matter what the career politician says or does, no matter how outrageous or offensive, there is supposedly some false equivalent somewhere on the other side of the ballot to validate it.  Drunk driving?  Child molestation?  Sex slaves?  Murder?  “They all do it,” is the damnably scripted response, as if saying it negates the offense.
All of this is designed to drive the voters away from voting, President Obama.  If you want people to show back up at the polls, this is what you need to address first.
And I really don’t think you want to do that, sir.  Because to do so means you have to take on not just the GOP and their party bosses, but also every single Democrat in the House and Senate and your own party bosses.  It means you have to wage war against your lobbyist friends in K-Street and C-Street that have gotten fat and rich and powerful off the system as it is today.  You may not have to worry about running for office ever again, but Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid and Elizabeth Warren do.  And I really don’t see you changing the status quo if it means risking your own political party’s survival.
The other reason why the idea of “mandatory voting” is a failure... is because we already have it.
Let’s get brutally honest here... every single eligible voter already votes in one way or another!  If they don’t vote, then they automatically default to the ones that do.  It’s a passive vote of surrender to the inevitable outcome.
This is precisely the kind of vote that your friends in Washington have carefully crafted and coveted, President Obama.  Electing to not vote, to not take an active part in the process, to not choose between the lousy choices presented to them, because it gives your friends in Washington that much more power.  It gives power to all of those “consultants” and “advisors” and so-called “experts” that get fat and rich being able to orchestrate the outcome of the elections.
The same people, sir, that got you elected and re-elected.
If you want more people to show up at the polls, then you have to give them a reason to take part instead of surrendering by default.  It is not enough to get them to register.  Registration is not the same as actual participation.  They have to feel something personal at stake for them to take part.
For all that we condemn the GOP’s extremist factions for doing, they still manage to get the bible-thumpers and the gun nuts and the senile seniors to the ballot box, because they give those groups something to vote for.  The old people will show up if they feel their Social Security money is threatened.  The thumpers will show up if they feel a moderate could get elected.  The gun nuts will show up if they hear someone threatening to take their guns away.  The so-called “tea party” voters will show up in droves if some new tax program was at stake.
I’ve seen it happen on the local level.  Give them an issue to vote for or against that they feel strongly about and they will be there.
They know how to play the game, Mister Obama.  The real challenge is making it work for more than just the special interest groups.
You want us to vote?  Then give us a real reason to, and not just because you “said so” or threaten us with the government’s ever-present gun.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Week of 03/16/2015

Hey Airport People! We Will Call You What We Want!
Apparently the people in charge of the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport have a real problem on their hands.
And we’re the problem.
The Atlanta City Council are upset that people – you know, us - are not calling Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport as “Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport” in our conversations.  We’re simply calling it “The airport” or “Hartsfield”.  We’re not calling it “Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport” every single time.
Oh the horrors!  How dare we do that!
So the City Council have directed the airport’s general manager to come up with some remedy by June.
Yes, you read that right.  The Atlanta City Council is going to spend taxpayer money to have a government official come up with ways to force everyone in Atlanta to refer to the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport as the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport in all of our conversations, communications, and references.  Not “The airport” or “Hartsfield” or “The Atlanta Airport” or even “Hartsfield-Jackson”.  No, they want us to say “Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport” each and every time.
Now the reason they give is this: when you don’t refer to the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport by its full name, you are somehow “disrespecting” the memories of either William Hartsfield or Maynard Jackson, the two former mayors whose names got tacked onto the front of the Atlanta International Airport by the Atlanta City Council.
Did you get that?  If you do not refer to the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport as the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, then you are supposedly “disrespecting” two dead people.
And here I thought only young homicidal gang-banger wannabes were so vain and egomaniacal.
Tell me something, airport people... have you ever heard of the First Amendment?  Do you even know how asinine you appear when you approved of your little speech-control measure without even one of you opposing it on constitutional grounds?
How about this... how many of you in the Atlanta City Council refer to the Metropolitan Atlanta Transit Authority bus or rail line as the “Metropolitan Atlanta Transit Authority”?  Or do you simply call it by its acronym?  I’m guessing all of you simply call it “MARTA”.  According to your logic, you’re “disrespecting” the whole Metropolitan Atlanta area by not using the full name.
How about Turner Field?  How many of you simply call it “The Ted”?  Isn’t that “disrespecting” Ted Turner, for whom the field is named after?
Let’s get brutally honest here, Atlanta City Counselors... we will refer to Atlanta’s airport as we wish, and there is absolutely nothing that you can do to stop it!  We will call it “Hartsfield” or “The Airport” or “Hartsfield Airport” as we wish because it’s shorter than to call it by its full name.
A name, I should point out, that you – the Atlanta City Council – chose all on your own to make longer and longer.
You chose to add the late Maynard Jackson’s name to the already-long William B. Hartsfield Atlanta International Airport.  You did that.  Not the voters.  Not the people that use the airport and keep it going through their dollars.  You imposed this change and expected us all to simply accept it.   But what you can’t do is tell the rest of the world what to think or how to call it.  You have neither the power nor the authority to do that.
What adds insult to injury is that you chose to pick this fight at a time when your precious airport has some serious problems.  Not too long ago it was revealed the airport was the hub for illegal gun-smuggling.  More recently, it was revealed that some 1400 security badges were missing.
And here you are demanding the airport manager focus his attention on why the masses don’t call your precious airport by its full name instead of trying to plug all the security breaches.
Let’s not forget that the most dominant airline in your precious airport is on a money-grubbing fee-happy spree, hitting passengers up for every kind of additional fee that they can imagine.  And your second-dominant airline has a notorious history of being clothing Nazis.  No joke; they make the “Fashion Police” look petty in comparison. 
I don’t know about you, but I think those issues are far more important than whether or not the masses refer to your precious airport by its full name.
In fact, I think that’s what I’ll be referring to Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport from now on. 
“Your precious airport.”
Go ahead and try to stop me. 
The real problem, of course, is not whether the masses call your precious airport by its full name.  It’s not even about gun-smuggling or missing or stolen security badges or excessive fees or a draconian dress code.
The real problem is not the world, Atlanta City Council.
The real problem is you.
If you think that it is more important that you should worry about whether the masses refer to your precious airport by its full name instead of real security issues, then it is clear that you don’t deserve to be running the airport.  Maybe it would be better for the city and for your precious airport if control was given to an independent private entity.  Then at least the emphasis would be on making the “World’s Busiest Airport” one of the safest in the world.
Meanwhile, don’t worry about what people call your precious airport.  You should be more concerned that they are still using it, because all the names tacked on to it won’t mean a thing if people decide that it just isn’t worth the effort to fly anywhere.