The end of hatred on (our) airwaves?

(Or: Rush Limbaugh should just STFU.)

I believe we are witnessing the death of hatred on the public’s airwaves.

Let me start by saying that I will defend, to the death, the right of anyone to say anything they damned well please, so long as they do not represent a public threat (the classic “shouting fire” rule).  When Rush Limbaugh took to the airwaves on his nationally syndicated talk radio program and verbally attacked a Georgetown student because she wants her insurance to pay for birth control, he inadvertently taught us a valuable lesson.

This is America, where every citizen has a right to say whatever vile, hate-filled and disgusting things they can think of. Thank the Founding Fathers and the First Amendment for that right. Rush is absolutely protected from prosecution from the government for calling the student a slut, a whore, and several other equally unflattering and, frankly, misogynistic names.

But that doesn’t mean Rush is free from the effect of his words.

Today, national advertiser “The Sleep Train” pulled its ads from Limbaugh’s show, citing intense blowback from the mattress manufacturer’s customer base, which took to the interwebs to defend the young woman against Rush’s fury. The advertiser made what it believes to be the prudent decision to cease a voluntary affiliation with someone who spouts hatred and venom, as Rush did in his attack on the Georgetown student. This will cost Rush and his investors precious revenue and will cut, however insignificantly, into that $20 million he makes a year. To his credit, Rush has yet to call out The Sleep Train on their withdrawal from his program.

But Rush and his somewhat-smaller bank book is not where the real story lay. For that, one has to understand how syndicated radio works.

Talk radio operates on advertising revenues. Rush makes money because Sleep Train pays him to run its ads during his program. Affiliates pay Rush for the right to broadcast his show, in which Rush has a certain number of advertising minutes reserved for The Sleep Train and other show sponsors. The show comes down with gaps in Rush’s programming, which the individual affiliates hope to fill with advertising of their own — enough to pay the affiliate fee and to produce a profit  justify carrying his program.  Pay attention, because this is where it gets a little tricky.

Radio stations sell those ads to local businesses. Some stations also take part in regional or national advertising networks that ship them ads to fill space. So, without having any real input, Molly Mabry Realty and Joe’s Seafood Emporium are advertising on the Rush Limbaugh Show, whether they realize it or not.  So are some national companies, like Century 21.

And lest you think Century 21 is unconcerned about this dilemma, they took to Twitter today to confirm that they are in point of fact not a sponsor of the Rush Limbaugh Program, in direct response to the Georgetown Birth Control flap.

Now the affiliates are involved in revenue loss, perhaps they will start paying attention to what goes on their airwaves. Just maybe, they’ll take notice of Rush’s antics and rein in the Big Guy. Or, maybe, they’ll find out he can’t be reined in and they’ll just remove him from the airwaves all together. Either way, this is the start of something very different, very exciting and quite new. And Rush doesn’t get to complain about this. It’s simply the effect of the free market.

God bless the United States of America.

Wal-Mart, you’re still the Devil

A couple of weeks ago, I tweeted that Wal-Mart is the Devil. This morning, the company’s Twitter-monitor replied. Below is the e-mail I sent to the Twitter-monitor, who asked if there was anything that Wal-Mart could do to make my customer experience better.

To Whom it May Concern:
I recently received a tweet-reply to a comment I posted about the fact that your company is the Devil. Thank you for your concern about my recent experience at a Wal-Mart store. There are, in fact, things your company could do to make my customer experience better.

1.) Hire qualified people. The people you hire are the lowest common denominator of the lowest possible level of competence or initiative. Better people would make a better company. That would make for better customers.

2.) Hire more people. It would be one thing if the people were just incompetent. Your stores are ludicrously understaffed. This makes it doubly infuriating when, after wandering a store for 45 minutes looking for someone to direct you to whatever abandoned coal mine the toothpicks have been moved to, you find the person and they speak so poorly, are so uninterested in their jobs, and are so under-trained that your 45 minute search for help would have been more productive if you’d spent 45 minutes finding a tall edifice from which to throw yourself.

3.) Carry more than 1 variety of a product (in addition to the Greater Value brand, which is quality-shy, at best) and stock more than two of them.

4.) Quit removing self-checkouts. We already detest most of the employees in your company because of incompetence, rudeness, or unprofessional behavior. The one island of serenity is that moment when the polite, soothing and efficient computer voice welcomes us to Wal-Mart at the self-checkouts. When you eliminate those, turn them off, or don’t repair broken ones, that forces us to interface with the incompetent, mismanaged and (sadly) overworked cashiers that you guys just sprang from the county clink. That’s just bad form.

I could go on, but I think we both agree that to do so would be to waste my time and yours. After all, the chances of Wal-Mart actually attempting to fix any of the 2.8 trillion or so things that are wrong with the customer experience are next to zero.

Thank you again for your attention,

Michael DeVault

Quinn Fabray is dead (Or at least she should be)

English: Dianna Agron as Quinn Fabray, perform...
Image via Wikipedia

Before I go any farther down this particularly dangerous rabbit hole, please understand that I am a huge Gleek. First among my loves on Glee is Miss Quinn Fabray, portrayed by the ever beautiful Dianna Agron. That being said, I’m a writer, acutely aware of storycraft and always on the lookout for  those times when writers either succeed tremendously or fail miserably.

Right now, Glee creator Ryan Murphy is straddling that fence and it’s five-to-three and picking on which side he’ll land.

Spoiler alert.

Are you still reading? I take this as a sign that you either know what happened or are ready to learn. You have been warned.

Murphy and gang left his rabid fans with a classic cliffhanger. Ripping a page out of the Dallas playbook, the viewers were stunned when, at the very last second of the program, Quinn’s darling VW bug is T-boned by a truck. We don’t know if she is alive or dead. We don’t know how bad the accident was–but it certainly didn’t look good.

Only one thing is certain: Murphy has left us with a binary state worthy of Schrödinger.

Either Quinn is alive, or she is dead. And we won’t know which until we’ve opened the box in mid-April.

I believe that we’ll lose our dear Quinn because that’s where the story dictates we go. As Chekov famously said, if there is a gun on the wall in the first act, it had better go off by the second.

After all, we already had the close call with Karoffsky, who survived to torment and grow another episode or two. Giving audiences two close calls would be cliché. After all, does nothing bad ever happen in Lima, Ohio?

If Quinn is in fact dead, Murphy will have succeeded in doing that which he set out to do: deliver a shocking, attention-grabbing storyline about the dangers of texting while driving. If Quinn is alive, that message will ultimately fall flat.

Then again, it is entirely possible that he will bring Quinn back, but give her a handicap that will rob her of that cheerleading championship she promised Coach Sylvester.

That outcome would be less impacting that her death. It certainly would diminish the power of the “Don’t text while driving!” message. And it would be the worst possible ending to the storyline as it has been introduced. It may even be what Gleeks everywhere want.

That raises the question: is it even possible for a show like Glee to jump the shark?

An Open Letter to the Bully Tracy Morgan

Or: Why people ignore celebrities, even when they’re right

Dear Mr. Morgan,

As a huge fan of NBC‘s 30Rock,  I’ve grown accustomed to your on-screen persona, Tracy Jordan, spewing any amount of stupidity. So it really came as no surprise to me when I read on TMZ.com that you had taken to the stage at the Ryman Auditorium and unleashed a string of unfunniness that I can only hope you intended as a joke. A really bad joke.

Unfortunately, I don’t believe you did intend this as an unfunny joke but instead were attempting to be legitimately funny by singling out in a crass or otherwise shocking way a minority (gays in this case) in order to endear yourself and entertain the majority (everyone else). We have a word for this in our language, Mr. Morgan: bully.

I am not surprised that you think bullied gay kids should just toughen up and deal, Mr. Morgan. Why am I not surprised? Because you, sir, are a bully. You’re part of the problem. But it goes beyond bullying.

As a media celebrity, you have a pulpit from which to speak that many of us — even the more reasonable amongst us — will never have. Because of your hard work and your talent (and more than a little luck, as you yourself have admitted on many occasions), you have a platform from which you can enlighten and edify the people around you.

Take for examples Lady Gaga, Bono, Madonna, Sean Penn, George Clooney and Princess Dianna.  Right there you have individualism and tolerance, international monitary policy as a tool for fighting poverty, children’s rights, disaster relief, genocide awareness in the Sudan, and anti-landmine legislation the world over.

Of course, these individuals will find their messages a little more dulled today because, after all, they’re just celebrities and they don’t know anything. Just look at what that silly Tracy Morgan at the Ryman. That’ll tell you all you need to know about “celebrities”, don’t you think?

I have another solution, Mr. Morgan, for my own personal manner in which this will be handled: I’m turning off your T.V. show as long as you’re on it. Sorry Tina Fey, Sorry Jane. And, Mr. Baldwin, my humblest apologies. I just can’t stand to look at someone who I thought was acting who turns out to really be the person he’s playing on television, not when there is that much venom and hatred behind his “act.”

Yours truly,

Michael DeVault

The “N-Word”

Or: Why Samuel Clemens would pimp slap Alan Gribben.

Note: This blog post will use language that some (read: Alan Gribben) might find offensivem, including frequent reference to and usage of, racial slurs. If you are offended by my use of these words in this post, please click here … and never ever come back. -md

It was fifteen minutes before I could work myself up to go and humble myself to a nigger; but I done it, and I warn’t ever sorry for it afterwards, neither. I didn’t do him no more mean tricks, and I wouldn’t done that one if I’d a knowed it would make him feel that way.

– Huck Finn, in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain

It has taken me a few days to work out all of my feelings about a recently announced censored version of the Mark Twain classic, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. After all, when I first read the story, I was convinced it was another impressive parody from The Onion. After all, it isn’t every day a scholar who has never published a work of fiction of his own creating has the cojones to publish his own version of what is arguably the greatest American novel ever written.

For those who did not study literary theory in college, let me summarize the theme of Twain’s “Huck Finn.”  The book is a tale of one boy’s path to enlightenment in a world of abject hatred and ingrained racism. Through his relationship with a runaway slave named Jim, a man to whom Huck frequently refers as a nigger, Huck transcends the racism inherent in the system and comes to appreciate the humanity of Jim.

Twain intentional chose to refer to Jim as a nigger — and many other characters as such — as a direct affront to the delicate sensibilities of his readers. In fact, the Concord Library banned the book from its shelves because of its crude humor and focus on the baser elements of American society. That was kind of Clemens’s point.

Luckily, Gribbens and his edition have not gone ignored by the Main Stream Press 0r the blogosphere. Most of the defense falls among two lines:

  • Twain’s use of the word is an artistic choice and artistic choices in this country are sacrosanct.
  • Twain’s use of the word was and remains an accurate reflection of the social mores of the day.

While both of these are true, both diminish the most important defense that should be waged for calling Jim a nigger, for Pap’s rant about the nigger he met on the road, and for all of the uses of Injun throughout the book. Twain used these words because seeing them in printed form created an incredible discomfort in the minds of the people responsible for perpetuating and defending the racial divisions of the nation. You can see as much in the instance of the Concord Library.

This visceral response his readers had is tantamount to the response of “racially sensitive” Americans when they hear the word used by white folks today.

And this effect was intentional.

Twain wanted his readers to feel uncomfortable when presented a portrait of themselves, because through such a harsh reflection he sought to change the mores. And, if literary theorists and historians are to be believed, he in some small way contributed to the process.

Today, we still live in a divided world. The president is increasingly marginalized because he is black. We set people up as “the Other,” and thus the “lesser”, so we can diminish the power of their message, their actions or their words without ever having to actually process the message, actions and words. Because Barack Obama is (as one acquaintance recently put it) a nigger, we can turn off our ears and our minds and simply ignore him until he goes away.

The same can be said of the woman with the WIC card at Wal-Mart, or the eight unsupervised kids at the playground. Or that bright orange 1988 Buick Roadmaster. Nevermind the fact that the woman at Wal-Mart, the unruly children or the driver of the Roadmaster are just as frequently whites, we are too often content to label the black offenders “niggers,” and thus assign some underlying genetic deficiency to otherwise culturally patterned behaviors.

How far we have come in this world! Yes, Mr. Gribben. Now is precisely the time you need to be expurgating nigger from The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.


Wal-Rant 2.0: Another day, another Wal-Mart excursion

Or: Why I won’t shop at Wal-Mart until the dictatorship changes regimes.

Anyone who has been a longtime reader of this blog will know I have a long-standing love/hate relationship with Wal-Mart Stores Inc., the Svengali-esque corporation that controls 11% of the Global Domestic Product. That’s not an exaggeration, by the way, that’s according to a number of easily accessible Economics sources.

Love/hate aside, I was trepidatious when “We’re Remodeling” banners and signage went up around our local Wal-Mart. After all, it’s taken me almost two years to get used to the last refresh. An overall remodel would no doubt rock a boat that is already, understatedly, rocked every time I walk into one of their stores.

Here’s what the remodel ended up consisting of. Mainline brands — clothes, cleaning supplies and housewares — now occupy  about 40% of the total floorspace. Hardware, which once spanned 20% of the store, occupies four aisles along the back wall. Automotive’s six aisles of goods are sandwiched into two aisles. The pharmacy has remained relatively unscathed. Petcare, once three full aisles, now occupies two small half aisles and a strip along the back wall. And groceries, which once accounted for almost 40% of floorspace, has been reduced to just over 1/3 of floorspace.

This was accomplished by WalMart reducing the numbers of brands of each item they carry while simultaneously spreading out the remaining numbers of brands in thinner shelves. And the kicker: they now stock fewer of each item. Where they once stocked 7 brands of pasta, 8 boxes deep, they now stock 3 brands of pasta 4 deep. The same is true in hardware, in petcare, automotive. Even office supplies weren’t spared the brunt.

Now it would be easy to say “Well, just buy your things elsewhere,” right? Wrong. WalMart requires many of its vendors to enter into exclusivity agreements. You can sell to WalMart or you can sell to someone else. But not to both. And, because of the company’s unique supply chain, it can afford to buy insanely huge quantities of any item. So, if you manufacture candle holders and sell them to WalMart, Freds, and Costco, WalMart gets the luxury of saying to you, “Sell to us, or else.” The else being to find another supplier to copy your product and sell it to WalMart at such a volume discount as to make it impossible for you to sell your product to anyone for anywhere near the price WalMart will pay your competitor.

This has a decidedly anti-market effect. But what happens when WalMart stops carrying the product? You’ve already tooled your entire supply chain to service the behemoth and — in many cases — WalMart owns the patents that make your new supply chain methods possible. You have a choice. Retool your entire production line or go out of business.

Unfortunately, these suppliers and manufacturers have been operating at such narrow profit margins in service to volume that retooling production and supply lines is an impossibility. They shut down.

Since the product you once wanted was a low-volume product for WalMart, WalMart doesn’t miss the revenue. The product doesn’t exist anymore and thus you’re forced to purchase some other product — a product that, chances are, WalMart carries. Meanwhile, WalMart’s strategy of fewer products means it can further  reduce its staffing needs and add to the profitable bottom line — 19% last year, a year in which they ‘laid off’ an estimated 9,000 employees worldwide. (They say they laid them off instead of fired them because, a.) it sounds better, but b.) if the employee remains on unactive status for a certain period of time, in some states, WalMart is able to avoid paying unemployment.)

Meanwhile, there are all these savings, right? Wrong again. Prices last year increased in WalMart stores by an average of 7.4% according to one watchdog group. For those doing math, inflation in 2009 was less than 1%.

At the end of the day, the question is a simple one: for how long do we let Standard Oil decide the price of gasoline?

Rise of the Übermensch.

So the world is upset that Justin Bieber was caught smooching in the back of a car. Before we go any further, let’s stop for a second and weigh this. So a famous teenager gets caught making out in a Honda with a girl — and this upsets the teenie boppers everywhere. Had the Bieb been caught making out with Justin Timberlake, then I’d understand why this happened.

Let’s take a minute and appreciate what this video says about American children today. Just on its own merits.

… Done yet? Okay…a few more seconds. (Dee dee da da da dee dee da…) Okay.

Now. Let’s put it into this context: on tonight’s season premier of CSI, Bieb did a turn as a psycho serial killing teenie bopper homeless kid. And it was his kiss — not his acting ability — that got these girls upset.

I don’t want to go off on a rant here, but what on earth are these parents thinking? First of all, their children have developed levels of attachment to a pinup boi so unhealthy that, just a few short years ago, we were making pretty damned scary films about girls with these same sorts of imaginary   attachments. And it seems today we’re still making films about them. But now, instead of Oscar-worthy turns by Glenn Close or passing attempts at fear by Bridgett Fonda, we’re left with YouTube darlings.

While in the 1980’s, my childhood,  parents would have beaten their children for this kind of stupidity. Today, though, with corporal punishment falling into disfavor at the hands of more innovative theories of child discipline, we’re left with no real way to address this kind of craziness. Or are we?

Thanks to the troop drawdown in Iraq and Afghanistan, we’re faced with a question. What do we do with all those innovative “enhanced interrogation” practices. Let’s turn the US PsyOps on the little crying kids and use our skills to convince them to protest Bieber’s sexual development by refusing to procreate. Such an act would immediately trigger Nietzsche’s übermensch.

On the Merits of “Service Compris”

Or: Tip? I got your tip right here!

I lunched just the other day with a friend at a local buffet that also provides a la carte service. I’ve frequented this establishment since it first opened and was, in fact, the very first paying customer through the door on the day it opened. Which is not to say I’m somehow more vested in this restaurant than you or your grandma, mind you, but just a note of my better-than-passing familiarity with the people.

Entering on this particular day, though, I noticed a new addition to the door. Amidst the “Open” sign and the near-constantly changing HOURS decal, beside the PUSH and the poster for a two-weeks-past gallery crawl, a simple note, written in heavy black marker and shaded with highlighters.

A 15% Gratuity will be added to each buffet purchase.

Say huh?

Thinking I had somehow misinterpreted it to mean “For parties of 8 or more,” I looked again. Sure enough, this was covered by the disclaimer, in ballpoint and unhighlighted at the bottom.

Also, a 15% gratuity will be added to all parties of 8 or more.

So let me get this straight. I’m going to leave my table and my friends, stand in line to prepare my own plate, a plate I’ll carry to the table myself, and then pay a 15% gratuity to the person who brought me the glass of water that has now been empty for 15 minutes?

In all fairness, I have two problems with the “automatic” gratuity. First, I almost never tip less than 20% on restaurant purchase — buffets included. Secondly, though, I really don’t appreciate an arbitrary removal of my right to decide how much my waiter was worth. If you’re going to charge the gratuity automatically, it ceases to become a “gratuity” and becomes a part of the cost of the meal.

We have a phrase for it, familiar to foodies everywhere as the height of dining elegance. Service Compris (ser-veese cohm-pree). It’s French for “tip included.” Essentially, the restaurant has factored into  the cost of your meal providing your servers with a living wage.

Before anyone goes Joseph Roberts on me, understand this: I was a waiter. A good one. And I never once “gratted” a check. Not one. Not the table of Mom, Grandma, and six kids. Not the birthday party for 26 heavy drinkers. And certainly not a single diner chowing down on a self-serve buffet. The reason? I always made sure I provided adequate enough service that it would never ever cross the mind of my customer to tip only 15%. A roll of the dice, sure. But one that paid off. Time and again.

Refusal to grat tables provided a powerful motivator for me to provide a superb dining experience and also gave the customer the privilege of deciding just how superb that experience had been for them. Allowing them to set the tip proved to be an effective barometer of my performance. Not once was I ever tipped less than 20%. One customer went so far as to tip an embarrassingly excessive 40% on a large check. We ate well that night at Casa del Michel.

But what of this mandatory tip at the buffet? “Is it not service compris in effect, if not name?” No, it’s not. It’s a gratuity, added to the bill after the fact, so that the restauranteur can continue to pay his workers sub-standard wages to provide a service for which they should be better compensated by him. If he cannot do so at the price he set, then he should raise prices adequately to compensate. Or even better, hire a busser and put a drink dispenser in the dining room — a move with which I would be perfectly content.

And if the busser was any good, I’d probably leave a tip on the table anyway.

An Open Letter

TO: National Pork Board
1776 NW 114th Street
Des Moines, Iowa 50325

1-800-456-7675
515-223-2600
info@pork.org

FROM:Michael DeVault

RE: National Pork Board’s Cease and Desist to ThinkGeek.com

To Whom It May Concern:

Please let this letter serve as notice of my intent to lead a national boycott of American-produced pork products.

I am not a member of PETa, I am not a vegetarian or vegan, and I’m not a member of the Cattlemen’s Association. I love the products produced by the many fine members of your institution and consume pork on an almost daily basis. Why, then, am I leading a national boycott? I never realized eating American-produced pork would incite abject stupidity in the consumers of the products. I am referring, of course, to your ridiculous “cease-and-desist” demands on the web site thinkgeek.com.

I’ll spare you the legal arguments concerning why it’s ludicrous (parody/satire, fair use, etc.) and will spare you the arguments on how stupid it is to waste your money on filing such frivolous suits. Why? Because any organization that would mistake “Canned Unicorn Meat” for anything other than a joke is insane.

Other than clinical insanity, the only other possible explanation I can come up with is that eating American-produced pork makes one stupid. Therefore, I am mounting this national boycott of American-produced pork products until your organization instructs its attorneys to withdraw this obscene abuse of the American legal system.

Yours truly,

Michael DeVault
Novelist, provocateur and recovering journalist

P.S. I’ve posted this on facebook and my blog. I hope you don’t mind. -md

P.P.S Did I mention my blog gets about 400,000 pageviews a month? – md

Is this what Journalists have become?

Like every red-blooded American male, I love sports. I love sports news almost as much as I love the actual watching of the sport. Golf is no exception, especially since it produced for us an American hero.

Had he followed after President Barack Obama’s meteoric rise, we might well have referred to Tiger Woods as “the Barack Obama of PGA Golf.” But, since he was there first, sorry Mr President. You’ll have to live with being the Tiger Woods of American Politics.

We love us some Tiger. No detail of his life goes unnoticed. From the Nike contracts to the relationship with his dad, we want to know it all. We even know about his supermodel wife. So when word came down Friday morning that our American golf hero was involved in a serious car crash outside his home, we all jumped for the remotes, for the Interwebs, and started scouring the Infosphere for every last detail we could get our hands on.

Here’s what we knew:

  • It was 2:25 a.m.
  • The wreck took place outside his Windermere, Fla. mansion.
  • He was injured.
  • His wife freed him by busting out a window with a golf club.
  • Alcohol was not a factor in the accident, though charges are “pending” – but cops won’t say against whom.
  • He was treated and released from the hospital.

The first question — what was Tiger doing driving away from his home at 2:25 a.m.? Was he Jonesing for a Starbucks? Or was there some other reason a man would want to leave his house at 2:25 a.m.?

It didn’t take the disloyal amongst us Tiger fans to connect the dots and tie the wreck in the front yard to the wreck in New York. That’s right…Tiger Woods just might have a mistress.

That little factoid has led to a flurry of speculation Elin smacked ol’ Tiger around a bit before he was forced to flee his castle for possible medical attention.

It would certainly better explain the unanswered questions surrounding Tiger’s accident. Why was he leaving? Where was he going? How did he lose control in his own driveway? How did he sustain such serious injuries in such a relatively minor accident? Why was he driving a Cadillac SUV instead of a Buick?

Those questions are all well and good, but I’m left with a bad taste in my mouth after reading this gem from the Associated Press.

What specifically struck me is just how close AP got to answering all those questions above. But buried in the last third of the article, near the very bottom, was this little squirrel:

The accident came two days after the National Enquirer published a story alleging that Woods had been seeing a New York night club hostess, and that they recently were together in Melbourne, where Woods competed in the Australian Masters.

The woman, Rachel Uchitel, denied having an affair with Woods when contacted by the AP.

Let me get this straight. The National Enquirer publishes a story two days ago and now, you, the Associated Press, decide to follow it up with a visit with the alleged mistress? Seriously? The National Enquirer is now a trusted source in news? I guess this is the world built by Rupert Murdoch, after all, so it’s all fair game, right?

And we in Journalism are wondering why circulation is declining and ratings are falling.

Get well, Tiger. And don’t be too mad at Elin. Blame it on Rupert Murdoch.