Monday, November 28, 2005


Just this morning as I was perusing an e-flyer from Circuit City, I happened to notice an ad for a new kind of digital music service. It’s called “Get Digital” and the service is the mass-ripping of large collections of CD’s. No joke, they want to charge you to rip your CD’s and convert the music to MP3 files, for your Ipod, car MP3 player, etc.

Now, the first question in my head is, why would anyone pay someone to do something you could do just as well and for free at home? Even yuppies who are tied to a laptop or cell phone 24/7 can usually find a few minutes to slip a favorite CD into that laptop’s CD-ROM drive and rip it. Get Digital’s prices range from $1.49 per disc for 50 to 200 discs, to 99 cents per disc for 400 or more (if you want bitrates over 256 Kbps, that costs a few cents extra). Now, I was never that good at math, but if you send these guys 1,000 of your precious music CD’s, that adds up to, let’s see, $990.00. Not including the cost of shipping the darned things. And speaking of shipping of shipping, do you really trust the postal service or UPS to handle your precious music collection with care, and not lose it? I didn’t think so!

If this service catches on, there are other specters lurking on the horizon. Will the RIAA in its infinite greed and arrogance mandate a kind of DRM (that’s “Digital Rights Management”, or “Digital Ripoff Method”) which would make home-copying of CD’s impossible, forcing you to mail away your music to someplace like Get Digital, who will doubtlessly be strong-armed into charging “use royalties” on top of their existing fees by cocaine-addled record company wonks? Will money from use royalties rightfully belonging to artists like say, Leo Kottke, Frank Zappa and Thievery Corporation instead end up going to whoever’s at the top of the RIAA sales charts, as has always been the case? Will the resulting MP3's be programmed to disappear from your player after a pre-set time?

Let’s hope that this super-consumer-soaker scheme goes the way of the 8-track tape, real soon.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

The high cost of mall jobs

Recently I saw the movie "Wal-Mart – The High Cost of Low Price". Through interviews with independent business operators, the movie describes how the arrival of a Wal-Mart in a Midwestern town guts the local economy by undercutting local businesses. Wal-Mart workers (or Wal-Martyrs as some people call them) go into detail about their minimal-pay, about being forced to work off-the-clock (read: for free), about the company's all-but-useless high-deductible health "benefits" and – this is the kicker – how they often have to turn to public assistance (with the encouragement of their managers) just to make ends not quite meet. All of this against a backdrop of Wal-Mart’s CEO rhapsodizing to stockholders about how virtuous and socially-responsible the company which they have invested in is. You don’t have to look too far to find out if the film’s assertions are correct. As excerpts from local television news programs included in the movie prove, the media is full of corroborating evidence.

I certainly don't disagree with the film's basic premises, that the 21st-Century robber-barons who run this giant corporate octopus are ruining lives and communities. But as far as I can see, Wal-Mart’s business practices are only slightly more egregious than those of any other national chainstores. Furthermore, the detrimental effects of chainstores upon local economies has been a fact of life long before Sam Walton’s Arkansas discount store chain went national.

Back in the early 1960's, a developer was planning to build a suburban-style shopping plaza (what we would now call a strip-mall) only a few minutes from downtown. My father, a very active participant in the local business community, tried to warn every retailer he knew about the adverse effect this would have on their businesses. He suggested that they buy up the land before the developers could get hold of it and donate it to the city as a park. They pooh-poohed my father's advice, The subsequent construction of the shopping plaza, capped by the arrival of the giant discount chain Grand-Way, sent downtown's retail economy into a steep downward slide from which it has never recovered.

Retail sales used to be a respectable profession with potential for advancement, not the dead-end McJob it has largely become. For instance, when you walked into a camera shop in the 1960's, the people behind the counters were either photographers themselves or at the very least knew what you were talking about when you asked for anything more specialized than a roll of film. When you went to the local electronics store to buy a stereo or a TV, the salespeople there had some background in electronics. No business operator of that day in his right mind would have hired a salesperson who had no knowledge of what he or she was selling. So, what happened?

In the mid-1950's, a little hamburger stand near Chicago called McDonald’s started raking in the bucks by selling cheap hamburgers, and milkshakes by the carload. When Ray Croc bought the business, he made some fundamental changes. Out went the skilled - and highly-paid - personnel, like short-order cooks. In went an assembly-line-like system whose individual tasks were so dumbed-down that unskilled minimum-wage earners could perform them. As the fast-food chain and others like it grew by leaps and bounds over the next 20 years, the management of other corporations watched in awe, and said to themselves “Hey! I want some of that!”. The chain stores which displaced traditional retailers over the last 30 years employ much the same business model as McDonald’s; reduce skilled tasks to a series of simple routines, hire cheap, unskilled workers and watch the money roll in. It apparently has worked, because that is how nearly all national mass-market retail chains do business now.

The makers of Wal-Mart - The High Cost of Low Price also took Wal-Mart to task for breaking with founder Sam Walton’s ideal of buying American, and sourcing much of its merchandise from China, which is known for extremely low wages and deplorable working conditions. Actually the “made in China” issue has been around since at least the mid-1980's. About that time, CBS aired an installment of “60 Minutes” which outlined how Chinese manufacturers were undercutting American manufacturers, putting many of them out of business. The program featured a business encounter with a representative of one Chinese manufacturer, who informed her American client, on-camera, that quality control in her employer’s factories was enforced through beatings of workers who failed to meet quality-control standards.

My own experiences working in the modern retail industry spoke volumes about it. At one mall job, after explaining to my boss that I had skills and experience with cameras, recorded music and home entertainment gear (which I did have and still do), he assigned me to cover the automotive department, even though at the time I had never worked on a car. At another I was the only one in my department who knew anything about the camera or computer equipment we were selling, apart from whatever was printed in the weekly sale flyer. The pay at these mall jobs was whatever the minimum wage was at the time give or take a few pennies. Benefits were non-existent. Only a handful of commission salespeople in departments which sold big-ticket items worked full-time. Management often treated my co-workers and I as if we were petty criminals or mental defectives. Each company reminded us, and reminded us often, that we were expendable and that they could (and often did) force any of us out on a whim. One particular employer used a sure-fire cost-cutting tactic. When they decided that they had no further use for you, instead of laying you off or firing you, they simply cut you down to four hours of work per week in order to force you to quit so that you couldn’t collect unemployment insurance. Unions? Never heard of 'em. At least partly as a result of the way they were treated by management, my mostly high-school and college-age co-workers never took their jobs seriously and it showed in the mediocre level of service they delivered. Customers' simple questions about products often got answered with an indifferent "I don't know", in no small part because we never received any information from the company about the things that it sold. Management just hired us and put us in whichever department they chose and left us to fend for ourselves. One of my co-workers was an older woman whose demeanor was the very epitome of resignation. “A job is a job is a job” was what she would often sigh whenever our break-room conversations turned to work-related issues.

America cannot afford to put up with Wal-Mart’s current business practices, no two ways about that. Wal-Mart cannot be permitted to merrily trash local economies and soak taxpayers by letting welfare agencies feed and house their underpaid work force. But as bad as it certainly is, Wal-Mart is not unique. Wal-Mart’s issues are merely the big-screen version of what is wrong with America’s “service” economy. Realistic minimum-wage laws (also known as living wages), genuine fair-labor practices enforced by law, and unionization of retail workers are the only true long-range solutions to the sorry situation of not only Wal-Mart workers but American service-sector workers in general.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Actual spammer names and subject lines

Those pestilential junk e-mails for everything from counterfeit pharmaceuticals to bogus debt relief schemes are usually sent with fake usernames, some of which are generated randomly by computer. Some are sent from non-English-speaking countries, which also results in some interesting word combinations. A few examples of this uniquely 21st-century accidental-art form are presented here. Everything you see below is a sender name unless otherwise noted.

Nonindustrial G. Landscape

Well, that would describe most of the Northeast, wouldn’t it?

The do so wirecutters (subject line)

Yes, from the same people who brought you “ALL YOUR BASE ARE BELONG TO US!!!”, a cartoon series about a band of superhero electricians!

Loudspeaker F. Tinny

Don't buy a stereo from this guy.

Sex and The City spacecraft

Omigod...Metrosexuals from outer space! Run for it!!!!

More to come, I'm certain.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005


21st Century Edition

A CEO slumped in his executive chair,
Having drunk more Martinis than he could bear;
So he fell asleep with a troubled brain
To dream that he rode on the Hell-bound train.

The engine with sweatshop workers’ blood was damp
And was brilliantly lit by a plutonium lamp;
A demon, for fuel, shoveled Iraqui bones,
While his cell phone rang with a thousand ringtones.

The boiler was filled with Coors lager beer
And Grover Norquist was the engineer;
The passengers were listening to Motley Crue-
Republicans, televangelists, John Roberts too,

Owners of sweatshops, Amway shills,
The people who sell us those overpriced pills,
Michael Savage fans spoiling for a fight
All gathered together-O God, what a sight!

While the train rushed on at an awful pace-
The greenhouse gases scorched their hands and face;
Bigger and denser the housing tracts grew,
As faster and faster the engine flew.
Louder and louder the cluster bombs crashed
And brighter and brighter the missiles flashed;
Hotter the global-warmed air became
Till the clothes were stuck to each quivering frame.

And out of the distance there arose a yell,
"Ha, ha," said Norquist, "we're getting near Hell"
Then oh, how the passengers all shrieked with pain
And begged Grover Norquist to stop the train.
But he capered about and danced for glee,
And laughed, and took some ecstasy.
"My faithful friends, you have done your jobs well
So I’m having you all at my condo in Hell

"You've attacked the innocent, robbed the poor,
The downsized workers you've turned from your door;
You've put all your money into offshore banks,
The money you’ve made selling bombs, guns and tanks
"You've justice scorned, and corruption sown,
And trampled your dear planet down.
You have murdered, cheated, plundered, and lied,
And mocked at humanity in your chicken-hawk pride.

"You’re all going first class, so I'll carry you through,
For it's only right you should have your due.
Why, the Wal-Mart workers get paid what they earn,
So I'll land you in Hell and watch you burn,

"Your flesh will waste in the flames that roar,
The pundits will torment you forevermore."
Then the CEO woke with an anguished cry,
His clothes wet with sweat and his hair standing high.

Then he prayed as he never had prayed till that hour
To be saved from his sin and the pundit’s power;
He stopped outsourcing to points far and wide
And moved his company’s operations stateside
Provided health care (how the workers rejoiced!)
Welcomed labor unions and gave workers a voice
He divested his holdings in war industries
And stopped donating to Focus on the Family
And his prayers and his deeds were not in vain,
For he never rode on that Hell-bound train.

revision by Doctor B.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Unbridled Stupidity, or Why There Is No Hope, Part 1

Many years ago, The Progressive got in trouble for publishing a rough outline about how a nuclear device is built. The article contained few of the technical particulars needed to build a real bomb, but that didn't stop the federal government from going after them.

Recently, some geniuses at the United States Department of Health and Human Services published the actual genome of the 1918 influenza virus, a virus every bit as deadly as the "bird flu" virus now being tracked through Asia and Europe, on the Internet in their GenBank database. Any terrorists out their must be drooling their faces off. Given, you cannot yet buy genetic engineering equipment at Circuit City, someone who really wants to fuck shit up good, and who has access to a posh enough corporate or university lab could conceivably drum up lots of business for funeral directors and for CNN. You can read more about it here (

In these times when women getting on airplanes get their grandmother's antique bone knitting needles confiscated by TSA agents, why is our government, in its infinite bureaucratic stupidity, giving the tools of our destruction away to terrorists and other miscellaneous wack-jobs for free?

(Story originally appeared in Boing Boing)

Sunday, June 12, 2005

Life In Copyright Hell

A few years back, I took a trip to New York with a friend. Music junkies that we are, we made our way to the East Village, availing ourselves of the legendary record and CD shops there including Venus Records, Sounds, and Kim’s.

Kim’s was an odd kind of place. For one thing, it had 3 locations on other streets. For another, this one (which I believe was called Kim’s Underground) occupied all 3 stories of the building it was housed in. The bottom level was CDs. Though it wasn’t that big, the selection was unheard of to my friend and me. I mean, what can you say about a store where, when you dip your hand into the nearest CD bin, you come up with an album by an obscure Japanese electro-rocker whose album opens with a cover of Can’s “Yoo Doo Right”? Though I didn’t get that particular title then (silly me), I didn’t walk away empty-handed. I came back a few years later and bought, among other things, a CD of 1970's German electronica (for $4.00! New!) and a reissued Hawkwind CD (In Search Of Space) which had been playing on the house sound system. I never got to check out the upper floors, the second of which was crammed with music videos, because the first time we’d gotten there only 30 minutes before closing and the second time, I was running late catching a Greyhound bus home (don’t worry, I caught it OK).

Fast forward to last Wednesday (June 8, 2005). According to a New York Times article, investigators had carried out a search warrant for “counterfeit trademarked goods” being sold through Kim’s. Several people were arrested, among them the author of the message which appears below which was posted to Snuggles, the Negativland listserv. Though I cannot vouch for its authenticity, a spoofer or troller could probably find other more titillating subjects to blather on about. Also, I’ve heard similar stories of official misconduct from various sources over the years. And the current jihad by the RIAA against music piracy (real or imagined) makes the scenario which is described below even more likely. Therefore, I am presenting the following message with no editing or corrections, along with links to two articles about the police raid on Kim's.

WARNING: The language in this message is somewhat indelicate, but so is the situation it depicts.

= = = = = = = = = = = =

From: [Name and e-mail address witheld]
To: "Cut and Paste"
Subject: Re: [Snuggles] more RIAA fun
Date: Sat, 11 Jun 2005 10:36:31 +0200

from an employee there:

Subject: Yes, i was arrested and in jail....for working at Kim's

Dear Loving Friends,

On June 8, 2005, i along w/ 4 other Kim's employees were arrested during a raid on Kim's. The RIAA hired some pigs to come and bust the store, the arrest was totatlly arbitary. They were supoosed to be busting down on bootlegs, thanks to the media exposure on Star Wars bootlegs (it happened to be a live 50 cent concert, so if he was involved in any way FUCK 50 Cent!). They took me since i am the manager on the 2nd floor.

Mr. Kim was no where to be found.

The store was shut down, employees lined up, a few of us got cuffed w/out being told we are being arrested and with out utilzing our miranda rights.

We were taken to the holding cell, where we waited approx 5 hrs before they fingerprinted us and put us into a chain gang to take us downtown (despite them telling us they were going to give us desk passes so we would not have to spend the night in jail...FUCK THE POLICE!!!).

So we went downtown, beforehand they confisicated our cell phones and thanks to technology, was not able to memorize anyone's phone numbers.

The pigs still have my cell phone & ipod.

So we got put into a pen w/ a bunch of other dudes.

The cells were packed constantly, filled w/ 30 or so people at a time, having 10 bull pens down there, body heat made things harder in the dank cells.

Hours later i was separted from the rest of my co-workers and put into a different cell, separated from the one guy whom had the name & number to the Kim's lawyer.

Those whom don't know, i have a hard time w/ authority.

i spent 30+ hrs in jail for working at Kim's. All the other employees were released from there cells before me, i had a panic attack that was prompted by all this stress, not eating (jail is not really vegan friendly) nor sleeping the entire time i was in. i got really claustrophobic, thought everyone was stealing my air (for those who live in NY, the jail cell was 10x hotter then the 2nd ave. F stop) my heartrate doubled, i couldn't breath and i started to crack. i started to waddle back and forth like orphans do from not being mothered long enough or at all.

My man Jerry [witheld], whom is the only numbered i remembered, for we call each other every day. He worked his ass off to help me out, big ups for [witheld], whne you see him, hug him and buy him a drink.

Calling mutual friends whom have lawyers and money to help bail me out. The Correction Officers were very reluctant to help him help me out in any way.

When i bummed a quarter off a fellow inmate, i was at the point of cracking, mumbling w/ the entire cell yelling and overall carrying on like it was a party for them.

Some also had arbitrary arrests, like walking through the park at night or some for more "serious" crimes like selling weed.

i would like to take this moment to give Guiliani & Bloomberg a big fuck you!
i can honestly say i hate these men.

Hours later, at a point i was almost convinced i was going to spend 72 hrs or more in jail (they can legally hold you for 72 hrs, but if it falls on the weekend, you stay over the weekend regardless), i got called, went to my arrainment and senteced to one day of community service.

i was arrested apparently for making and distrobuting bootleg material (a felony offense aka your going to Rykers), which is not true, obviously.

Charges were lowered to a misdeamor and i was sentenced to a day of community service. That was a relief in a since. You can only imagine how intensely pissede i am at Mr. Kim at this moment and was ready to quit when i go out.

Below is a clipping from NY Times, which article helped speed up our arrainment (so i hear). [Due to copyright concerns, a link to that article is provided here instead]. Mr. Kim is supposedly turning himself in on monday, i have no idea was it going out (that is how it was the entire time i was locked up, the pigs liked to keep you in the dark).

So, i am sorry i can't call everyone right now, but i thought this may be best way for mass communication. Needless to say i hate cops even more now and have even less faith in the united states legal system. Thanks for all your support. Hope to see you all soon. luv, chu

= = = = = = = = = = = =

See also an article in the Village Voice:,websylvester,64885,22.html

and in the New York Times - registration required, or check the article at your public library)

“Police Raid Video Store in East Village in Piracy Case”
Published: June 10, 2005

Friday, May 20, 2005

It’s about time!

Welcome to The Fuddler, an occasional sounding board or soap box if you will for my opinions, musings and just plain rantings. This is the first of what will hopefully be many postings. I hope that they’ll inspire you to stop and think about things in our everyday lives apart from what’s on the tube or the talk show circuit. At the very least, I hope that you will enjoy reading them.

+ + + + + + + + + +

Service? What’s that?

A while back, I visited The Czech Republic, a central European nation which until the collapse of Soviet Communism was part of the old Soviet Bloc. A travel guide which I was reading warned that having come out from behind the "Iron Curtain" only recently, many Czech shop owners, restauranteurs and sales clerks would probably be indifferent, sloppy and even downright rude in their delivery of services. Well, upon arriving in Prague (a lovely city, but I’ll talk about that some other time), I braced myself for the worst. Well, it turned out that my travel guide was dead wrong. The bank tellers who changed my money were quick and courteous. The guy in the camera shop where I had my film developed was knowledgeable and spoke very good English too. The bartender in the pub where I had my first sip of Absinthe (served Czech style with a flaming sugar cube, of course) was cheerful and talkative. The salesclerk in a CD shop the size of a bathroom but nonetheless loaded with interesting titles was friendly, knowledgeable, and even gave me a free copy of a CD of some of his homeland’s native music for my edification. Even the cashier in the convenience store where I bought myself some Fidorkas, who didn’t speak a single word of English, told me how much I owed by punching the price of my purchases into a calculator and showing me the total. So much for Soviet-style non-service, indeed!

The Land Of The Free seems to be a different story. A few weeks back, I bought a broadband router/firewall for my computer from a local computer store. No problem with the store, whose name you’d recognize in an instant. Rather, it was the manufacturer who gave me the hell ride of my life. I ran into some technical problems with the router about 2 weeks after I got it, and so I went to their web site and looked up their customer service number. As often happens these days, when I dialed in, I got a robot answering system, but its female voice had a distinct Indian accent. Okay, I thought, a lot of companies are farming out call centers to India. I actually found the female voice rather charming. A few minutes later I was connected with a tech support worker. That’s when the real fun began. Between the slightly noisy connection and the fellow’s VERY heavy accent, it was very difficult for us to get our points across to each other. Halfway through our conversation, I got cut off. I tried calling back, but got a recording telling me that technical support was closed for the evening and why didn’t I go to their web site (which promised a 24-hour 7-day-a-week toll-free tech support number!).

More recently I contacted my record club about some outstanding charges. The fellow on the other end (who insisted that he was indeed stateside) obviously had a very poor command of the English language and needless to say, the transaction did not go very smoothly.

Now, if I travel to Bangalore or Tegucigalpa and I cannot speak the local tongue, too bad for me. But if I’m dealing with an American company whose clientele is primarily American, then I have a right to expect that whoever’s behind the counter or phone desk knows enough English to complete my transaction. Hiring some immigrant who doesn’t know proper English, simply because he’ll take any job and work cheap, is frustrating to the customer and damn cruel to the immigrant. And with all kinds of Americans unemployed now, why are corporations shipping call-center work offshore? (Answer: Why hire an American for $6.00 an hour when you can hire someone else for $6.00 a DAY?).

The Czech people are trying out capitalism after almost half a century of commissars and official quotas. It looks to me like they’re making a serious go at it. American corporations on the other hand, have gotten so huge that they appear to have become insulated from most real-world market forces. Their mania for cheap labor and goods whatever the cost to our nation is in my view a bigger threat to capitalism than anything all of the world’s Communists put together could do. What will it take, short of wholesale customer rebellion, to turn this situation around?

Saturday, February 19, 2005

Welcome to the Fuddler

Hello....(tap tap tap) this thing on? (Slight feedback)

Hello, and welcome to my blog. Hey, just what the world needs, right? Another internet soap box for yet another mouse-potato's semi-relevant opinions on life here in the New Millennium. Here you will see the usual blather about the current administration (as if there weren't already enough of that), opinions on cultural happenings or icons, philospihizing and pontificating on things in general. In short, here you will find everything for the man or woman who has a few minutes to kill and is tired of re-reading the op-ed column in the local paper, watching the news on the wall-mounted TV that's just a few inches too high up to mute or change channels on, listening to the clock radio with the blown loudspeaker squawking away in the next cubicle over, or perusing the ads for 9-million-dollar Florida condominiums at the back of the NY Times Magazine.

By the way, this weblog has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with an excellent publication called The Baffler.

Stay tuned. More to come.