Wednesday, May 16, 2012

It's good to know that Jim Henson is still offending people even today

I meant to write about this back when it happened, but I was probably distracted by a passing unicorn so I didn't.  But since this is the 22nd anniversary of the passing of creative genius Jim Henson, it seemed a good time to dig it up and mock it now.

The Hub (formerly Discovery Kids) has got a LOT of good shows on now - Transformers (both new and old), My Little Pony Friendship is Magic (where my bronies at?) and the new Aquabats show.  They also re-run Fraggle Rock, Jim's show for HBO, which was as new and different from the Sesame Street work as were his sketches for Saturday Night Live. He built a whole new world with new characters, and proved there was much more to come from Henson Associates.  It's universally loved and respected, and is still a classic of children's entertainment.

Except for this guy from Texas, that is.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Don't drop the good argument to go for the easy yet stupid one.

I'm an ethical debater. Ask anybody. Even if I AGREE with you on a topic, if you believe Thing ABC should be done, but for a damn fool reason, I'm honor bound to argue with you. 
When I was getting my first car, I picked a little foreign number that was reasonably priced.  I knew I wasn't going to drive it far, or often, and didn't want (and knew I didn't need) a brand new car or anything expensive.  So I showed it to my Mom, who vetoed it, saying...

"It's yellow. It'll attract bees in summer."

I spent a good five minutes trying to get her to grasp how featherheaded a reason that is for saying no to a car.  She finally responded that she's ALSO heard that this model of car was unreliable, and she wanted me to get a car with a bit more weight to it.

Again, I tried to get her to grasp that if she'd led with that perfectly valid reason, I'd have agreed with her straight away, and we'd have been done.

Much of my early life was iterations of that conversation.  So I'm really sensitive to the idea of leading off with your BEST argument, one that's hard to dispute.

OK, fast-wipe to today.

Rand Paul (The didn't-fall-far-from-the tree apple of Crazy Ron's eye) sent out an email (to be more precise, an independent organization sent out an email that he agreed with. And allowed his face and name to be used upon.  And signed.) urging local voters to put pressure on Congress not to pass the "Million rifle ban" that President Obama is pushing.

OK, let's look at the facts.
That was easy.

There IS no such thing.  There's no bill, act, initiative or back-bunch ulterior motive even CLOSE to that being put forth.  But that doesn't matter.  This letter SAYS there is, and that the president is behind it, and that's enough to get the arch-gun-nuts up on their hind legs to send their pointless emails to Washington, and increases their fear and distrust of the President, and maybe they better vote against him in November just in case he ever DOES want to create such a ban.

Now, that seems like a pretty good argument against this email, right?  They're making up something from whole cloth in an attempt to convince voters that he wants to take away their guns, one of the few issues they have feelings about, or at least think they understand.  Seems like a good club to pick, right?


There's the graphic from the email.It features a picture of Rand Paul on the left, because that's the direction you read, so you see him first.  And a picture of the president on the right, because he's the one the letter is about.  And in the middle, a picture of a rifle; the topic of the email, about which it attempt to de-bejabber you with terror.

So rather than argue the fallacious nature of the text. Everyone goes bats over the picture, claiming that "there's a gun pointing at the President's head".

There's that yellow car again.

The gun is NOT "aimed at Obama". It's a graphic element on the page. It's a stock photo. I did a Google search - something like ninety percent of the stock photos of guns I found point to the right.  I have no idea why.  Perhaps that's how they're usually displayed, maybe they're easier to pick up for right-handed people that way, I've no idea.  But most pictures of guns seem to point that way.

It's not even a well laid out graphic.  The rifle and the text beneath aren't centered, because they chose to use a picture of Obama where he's pointing in what I'm sure is supposed to be a bossy (dare I say "uppity"?) fashion, while Rand stands stoically, waiting to speak.  They also chose to place Rand's head in a slightly elevated position, at the expense of shearing off the top of his hairdo.  So, again, sloppy.

If there was more time spent on the fearmongering meat of the piece, it would come off as a more substantive argument. But going for perceived threats in the (poor) design of the art reduces the debate to alternating "Yuh-huh" and "Nuh-uh"s

In the sound-bite based 24-hour news cycle, there's no time for a reasoned and rational argument.  So the points of a specific argument against this policy of that stand are glossed over for a crappy Photoshop letterhead, or a snippet from a biography, or a story of bullying a hippie 50 years ago. 

It's only a matter of time before I see a headline reading "President rises 10 points in polls by holding up something shiny".

Thursday, May 10, 2012

The social equivalent of "I'm cold, go put on a sweater"

Long time friend John Wirenius hosted a long discussion about the recent verbal exploits of Rush Limbaugh on his Facebook page.  One of the topics discussed was whether or not boycotting Rush was considered a restriction of his free speech rights.  And by that, I refer to the colloquial definition (a person may say anything they like, and no one may stop them) a opposed to the actual verbiage of the first amendment (that the government shall not restrict freedom of speech).  He eventually wrote one of his meticulously researched blog posts on the matter. 

I was one of the folks coming down against boycotting, but I fear one of the problems was that I have a rather specific opinion of what passes for botcotting today.  Allow me to specify:

If you don't care for a change to a product, a recipe, or even the packaging, or their choice of spokesman, you are well within your rights, and the rules of decorum, to stop buying the product, and by writing a letter, email, or angry 140-charachter tweet-missive.

If enough individuals do so, the company may choose to amend its actions.  Or it may do the math, and realize they got 35 negative letters, but sold 3 million additional boxes of Cheesy Chomps since they hired a Kardashian to be in the commercials (In honesty, they're not even sure which one they hired, save for it's not the horse-faced one), decide that the letters represent a vanishgly small minority (possibly comprised entirely of people who never have purchased their product, and never would) and discount them.

Note that I used the term individuals.

A true grass roots movement, representing the opinions of many people, all coming to their opinion independently, and joining up to make their voices heard, is the base of astounding change in the world, as well as in this country.  The boycotts of the mass transit system in Alabama is one of the most shining examples. The recent Occupy protests are another, though sadly there actions were not as efficacious. But again, it was MANY people, protesting a true injustice. What passes for a boycott today is a pale comparison. 

Nowadays they're the go-to tool of small tiny-minded groups of people who wish to overturn the opinion of the majority.  Some well-meaning busybody slaps a letterhead together, calls themselves the National Alliance for Decency in Television Entertainment, claims to have 30,000 members, and says that if Captain Happy's Fun Palace doesn't get rid of Princess Harold, they won't buy Squishy Bread anymore.  Not 30,000 letters, not even 10.  Just the PROMISE of letters. 

When thousands, millions of people, those directly affected by the issue, and those who support them, band together to combat an injustice, that's democracy in action.  When 17 people click a petition to, say, protest The Avengers for being anti-adoption, that's what used to be referred to as the "Lunatic fringe".  And if you'd like to trot out the pithy comment that they're the ones running both parties, this would be the place to do that.

I am a firm proponent of the free market, in its purest form.  Yes, we need oversight (and sadly, it seems we need more than one would hope we would) but one of its basic tenets is hard to get around - if people want a product (or can be convinced they do), it will sell.  If they don't want it, it will not.  The product or service should rise or fall on its merits, and not because Ned Flanders and his Online Christian Soldiers posted 25 comments on the company's website.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Short term smart, long term foolish

After patiently waiting, Verizon finally has refurbished iPhones for sale on their website, just in time for me to renew my contract.

But Verizon has just started charging an "Upgrade fee" of thirty dollars to people who want to renew their contract and/or buy a new phone.  Which would basically mean that the money I was going to save on the phone would go to them anyway.

This rankled me.  So I chose to speak to their Customer Service department, who have usually been very good at sorting out problems with billing and service.

Until today, alas.

The CS rep and his supervisor were both positively adamant about not being able to do anything about reversing, waiving or refunding the fee.  Their explanation was that these new smart phones were much more expensive than older phones, so this was a way to attempt to keep up with the added expense of the phone.

"Then why," I asked, "would you not just simply increase the price of the more powerful smart phones by that thirty dollars?  You say it's to cover the cost of the smart phones, but you'd charge me the same fee if I bought a simple feature phone, or even basic clamshell, wouldn't you?"

Yes they would, they admitted.

"So then," I continued, "you're not just charging the smartphone users more, you're asking ALL your customers to subsidize your supposed increased expenses."

They admitted that this was indeed so.

I marched onward.  "And to you grasp that by not being willing to waive this fee, which you only just started to charge, I will choose not to purchase a new phone, or ANY new equipment, and will NOT renew my contract, giving me the right to part ways with your company at any time, resulting in you LOSING far more than thirty dollars in business?"

They understood that.

"And you're certain that you, as a supervisor, can't find a way to keep me from paying that fee, be it a waive, a reversal, or simply a customer service credit?"

They were certain.

So I said thank you, bought nothing, and hung up.

The first person I spoke to told me he had spoken to at least fifty people that day alone who were also upset with this new fee. 

Huh.  Fifty people.  That's just one guy, and the day isn't even half over yet.

Can you see the problem?

So now I'm thinking about what I use my phone for.  Save the odd text from the folks at work, the main thing I use the smart aspects of my phone for is to stream music via Pandora and XM Radio, and quite literally, the only thing I listen to on XM is Opie and Anthony, and even that is only the two days I drive to work.  Well, I HAVE an XM radio that I could be using instead of the phone app, and an iPod that I can listen to music with.  Everything else; the apps, the games, the various social networking apps I upload the occasional photo with, I can do with my iPod Touch. 

So much like so many did when they saw what Netflix was doing to their fees, I'm now considering dropping my smartphone (and its thirty dollar data package) altogether, which will save me a GREAT deal of money, all because Verizon wouldn't waive a SINGLE thirty dollar fee.

But here's the irony.  If I re-up with them, and buy a simple feature phone...they'll STILL charge me the goddam upgrade fee.

But it'll be the LAST thirty dollars.

So that seems pretty damn fair.