Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Best Protests Money Can Buy

If I ever open a chain of businesses, I think I'll take a controversial stance on something as fast as possible. Chick-Fil-A has two lines running long today: the protest lines, and the drive-thru's. From CNN:

Former GOP presidential candidates Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum encouraged people to show their support for Chick-fil-A by buying food there Wednesday. Huckabee dubbed the day "Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day" and touted in his TV and radio shows and online.
Over 550,000 visitors to Huckabee's event page on Facebook have responded that they will participate. The action enjoys the support of the Rev. Billy Graham.
Proponents of same-sex marriage have organized a simple counterprotest for Wednesday, asking people to donate the approximate cost of a Chick-fil-A meal, about $6.50, to gay and lesbian rights groups, according to the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD).

I've never eaten at Chick-Fil-A in my life. I'm not in any hurry to start. But I can't help but notice how it's been more free advertising for a business than I've seen in a long time.

The dialogue is all good, far as I'm concerned. The only real danger is when cities like Boston or Chicago threaten to either not approve future expansions in their cities, or threaten to ban them outright. It's one thing for individuals to act upon their consciences, but quite another for municipal governments. There's no such thing as a collective conscience- or if there is, there is no such thing as individual freedom of speech.

Update: The Indy Star (yeah, yeah) covered the long lines at Chick-Fil-A stores around the central Indiana region.

I Must Live In Abject Poverty

Why? Because I don't own a flat screen TV. I own one TV, not a flat screen, and to the consternation of my kids, it is intentionally unused and sits in the garage. We must be the poorest family in the United States. From CNN Money:
With income inequality at the center of the national political debate this year, it should be no surprise that conservatives and liberals are coming down on opposite sides of the tracks.

Conservatives point to spending patterns, saying consumption is a better indicator of living standards than income. Using that metric, the nation's poor are living better than they have been in decades, enjoying many of the amenities that the middle class have.

"People are not as badly off as you think," said Aparna Mathur, resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, a right-leaning organization.
Liberals, however, counter by saying that while electronics and appliances have become more affordable, basic necessities such as child care, health care and transportation have not. These costs have left the poor struggling to make ends meet.

And, as is my wont, I'll split that down the middle. You see, I've actually lived in an extremely poor neighborhood for several years, and while that often gets dismissed with a wave of a hand ("That's anecdotal!"), it struck me as being "real life".

For instance, my next-door neighbor made less than $25,000 a year. But he had season tickets for the Cleveland Browns. Decent seats, too. 10 games/year, two tickets at $40/each, tailgating before the games, beers and dogs during. He was spending 5% of his income on football, easily.

While at first blush I ridiculed his decision, I also instantly knew that this was what made his life tolerable. Better than tolerable- it was what he lived for. He was exultant every Saturday, because even though the Browns always sucked, his world was going to be glorious tomorrow.

It struck me. Am I elated 10 Sundays a year? I had to confess I was not. Maybe he knew something I didn't.

We all make decisions. Spending 5% of my income on sports doesn't make sense to me, but it made perfect sense to my old neighbor. He was badly off in many ways. His house was filthy and dilapidated. His car was always being tinkered with because it was always falling apart. He never went on a vacation. Their teeth. Oh, wow, they never went to a dentist.

But if you asked him, he lived well. I know, because I did ask. Those football events enriched him. I learned to stop worrying about his 'plight' and simply accepted him as a friend.

We can look down our nose on him if we choose to, but quality of life is relative and self-defined. He had cable TV also. But the dentist just wasn't important to him or his wife. I'm exactly the opposite. It doesn't make him a bad guy, just somebody with a different set of values. If he was stealing from me? Well, then he would have been a bad guy. He was poor by most standards, but he had integrity and a self-esteem.
Several conservative researchers, however, say that Americans don't have a true idea of what living in poverty means.
The average household defined as "poor" in 2005 had air conditioning, cable TV and a DVD player, according to government statistics cited by Robert Rector, a senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation. If there were children in the home, the family likely had a game system, such as a Microsoft (MSFT, Fortune 500) Xbox or Sony (SNE) PlayStation.
Poor Americans had more living space than average Europeans and were not hungry, Rector said.
"If you took the typical poor household and put them on TV, no one would think they are poor," he said. "They struggle to make ends meet, but they are not in any type of deprivation."

This is where the lack of perspective really hammers at us. Most Americans haven't traveled abroad. If you want to see poverty on a grand scale, sure, you could go to Detroit, but travels to other countries show a great difference.

I'll never forget going to Ecuador and learning the per capita annual income was $900. I was making that every few days prior to 2009. Wrap your head around that. $3/day! Small houses; meals with loads of rice, beans, and potatoes, not much meat or vegetables; few cell phones or other gadgets; cars with multiple owners and shared, if owned at all. And yet, they were getting on with their lives, and I dare say that as a people, seemed happier than Americans.

Or, a trip to Costa Rica. We visited a mountain village. I marveled at the construction of the houses. The materials were thin, the wires exposed, the air flowed through because the walls weren't sealed to the gables, the average entire house the size of my living room. The most delightful, generous people.

The average Ecuadoran or Costa Rican wasn't living with as much wealth as the poorest in America. That was plainly obvious. Plainly.

On the whole, I think we worry here too much. We stick our noses into other people's business, because we're so full of ourselves that we think we know better how other people should live. This applies to the right and the left.

People make decisions based on their own value systems, towards their own happiness. We may not understand their decisions. They do not necessarily constitute 'problems'.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

NBC & The Olympics

We haven't had cable TV for at least 4 years (I'm too lazy to suss out how long exactly), but that hasn't stopped me from enjoying sports viewing online. Many games are streamed, and I watch some of these.

The Olympics is being streamed, but for a charge. That's where you lose me, NBC. I don't care enough about the Olympics to pay to watch. Link: interesting CNN article on #NBC Fail.

If I paid for premium cable, then I could stream live free of charge. Well, that's $1,200/year I save. Trust me- the Olympics isn't worth it to me.

It's curious. Comcast owns NBC. It does not own ESPN, but I can stream a host of Major League Baseball games, and college football games on ESPN, as the website says, "courtesy of your internet provider". I guess NBC & Comcast are gambling that the interest is great enough for folks like me to leap over the cost hurdle. Alas.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Bye Bye, Indy Star

I know I've been a chicken little on this before, but it sure looks like the Indianapolis Star is putting the finishing touches on ending its existence. From their soon not-to-be-seen-by-me website:
Full Access digital-only subscriptions are available for $12 a month, only 40 cents a day. Beginning Sept. 1, we will limit access to news and information content consumed through our website, smartphones and tablets. Nonsubscribers still will be able to read up to 20 stories a month on before needing to subscribe.

Nothing has changed since 2009. The content the Star originates is not very good. They barely cover local government. Their columnists are shills for idiotic projects such as light rail.

Any media source has to deliver something unique. The Star is just like every other daily newspaper left in the US in one key way: The Sports Section is top notch. Everything else? A soup of AP/NYT/WaPo copy you can get anywhere, and thin, irregular coverage of everything else.

So, first they sell the building, then they announce a plan that will drive users away in huge numbers, and hurt their ability to sell ads for the online property. $12/month? I wouldn't pay $12/year for the Star's unique content.

Be sure to click the article and go to the comments. I have never seen the Star respond to comments, but in this case, they sent the cavalry. It just reeks of desperation.