11/13/2014

The tyranny of the minority in Westminster

In Berkeley, California, citizens voted on a measure to add 1 cent per ounce to sugar and/or HFCS drinks (diet and water based drinks exempted).  It passed by a majority vote.

In Westminster, MA, three members of their board of health attempted to be the first in the nation to ban the sale of all tobacco products.  The board of health was eviscerated by angry citizens and the hearings ended abruptly.

Both actions were based on controlling health.  Adding $0.20 to a 20 ounce bottle of Mountain Dew may sway people into buying Diet Mountain Dew, water, or anything else with sweeteners to avoid the tax.  With the current excise tax of $4.51 on cigarettes in Massachusetts, people can choose to avoid the tax by not smoking or going to a state with a cheaper tax.

Banning smoking is a noble venture, but the way Westminster's Board of Health is doing it is the worst form of high and mighty paternalism.  It's little wonder that the attendees brought a torches-and-pitchforks fury to the hearings, but when you patronize the residents and attempt to implement personal biases as law, you get the anger and disgust you deserve.

Simply put: without appropriate public comment, imposing these laws would be tyranny of the minority.  Hence, the dissent from the public was justified and necessary to keep a check on power plays like this.

Granted, both Berkeley and Westminster have huge problems with Big Business and are using health concerns as a foil to protest against those practices, but at some point, tobacco sales will be prohibited, or regulated so much that buying cigarettes will be a financially dangerous proposition.  That decision will come at the hands of the citizens, not bureaucrats who blindly impose their will.  What Berkeley did was use the ballot box, and perhaps Westminster would be wise to follow, rather than using a ham-fisted and arrogant approach to being "first in the nation" to ban smoking.

UPDATE 11/20/2014: In a 2-1 vote, the Health Board declined the ban on smoking.

11/04/2014

Slimming down Christmas Creep

It's not even four days into November, and by the time the elections are over, Christmas ads and songs will be foisted upon the populace.  Christmas in December is fine.  Christmas in October is not.

I would like to put a huge lap band on Christmas Creep, because its holly jolly robustness is becoming obnoxiously dangerous to man, woman, child and beast.

Here's a proposal: since there are many others who can't hobble together a Christmas - either because they're away overseas in the military, they've lost loved ones, are infirm, or are broke even after working five jobs and all the money's been divvied up , it's time for the retailers dumping Christmas on us like an unwanted blizzard to pay up.

By pay up, I mean that if retailers want the ads, the blow-up Santas, and the 9 foot trees that take a PhD to figure out before Thanksgiving, they must pledge 25-50% of their total profits from Christmas items to a fund up until December 24, where those profits from selling wreaths alongside the leaf blowers will help those who can't have Christmas at least have a better one.

Those who don't pledge the profits cannot have even one tiny ornament or elf on a shelf until December 1.  (Also, a National Blue Law forbidding opening stores on Thanksgiving until 6am on Black Friday would be in full force.)  After that, let the tsunami of sugarplums, corny tunes, and bad Christmas sweaters commence.

The reason for this is not to deny retailers profit, nor shoppers from getting way ahead before the maelstrom that is Black Friday.  It's to take away a huge incentive from unscrupulous retailers - those whose "bottom lines" need fluffing up - from taking advantage of an extra month to dump stuff others won't use, don't need, or will re-gift to someone else.  It's also to prevent retailers from squeezing lower-level employees just so they can tell their shareholders, "Look!  We made X amount more money to distribute among ourselves!"

Also, smart consumers will avoid being captive audiences where they're emotionally manipulated to buy things.  They will wait until all the drama and hype is gone, and shop out of necessity, not because the latest "it" toy at $39.99 is going for $800 on eBay.

When a major retailer makes $2.5 billion and decides it's better to have half of that money go to people to have a better Christmas, especially when kindness is in short supply, they will receive not just praise, they will bring in new customers, who once they're on their feet will spend in their stores.  They won't miss half the money if a family who's struggling has a nice upgrade on Christmas.

P.S. In less stringent terms than this article, however, I don't wish a total war on Christmas.   I'd like Thanksgiving to come first. 

11/02/2014

The political message: "Buzz off" is absolutely free

For the past couple of months, we've all heard of the political ads that tells viewers that candidate "A" is "too extreme", candidate "B" is "not for us," and that "we will all lose" if  candidate "C" is elected.  And vote no on Question 19, unless you want to conjure the ghost of Buddy Hackett, and make sure you vote yes on Question 11B, otherwise the deep pocketed vending machine interests have won.

The PACs (political action committees and lobbies who designed these ads will be the real winners in this election, not the elected or voters.  Their super-slick PR packages would put the hardest Type A advertisers to shame.  They also fund robo-calls, push polls, flyers, and other obnoxious materials.  I've gotten to the point where I ignore the ads and change to something else.

It would be very satisfying to tell these groups to "buzz off" (and in even less polite terms) but so long as we have desperate politicians who when the summer began had a comfortable 30 point lead but now are at a dead head, or we have political operatives who fear their influence - along with their own jobs - will end along with their bosses', the onslaught of mudslinging will continue.

What if these ads were actually honest?  You would have ads telling the public they're only interested in being rent seekers on their own constituents; you would have ads telling the public they spend money on their own interests and whoever seeks favors; you would have ads saying "I'm really a socialist/fascist, but because I would be seen as an unelectable fringe candidate, I'll lie my way in as a Party A/B candidate until I'm elected, and then I'll vote any damn way I please."

To be honest in those senses is not to be a politician at all.  In fact, a few months in office with mindset would be grounds for recall, if not indictment.

10/30/2014

Thomas Menino 1942-2014

I actually had two meetings with Mayor Menino, both when he was a city councillor: once, when he handed my diploma in 1990, and the other when he visited my grandparents personally in 1993 in honor of their 50th wedding anniversary.

Depending on your feelings for the former mayor, he was either the savior of Boston or the hardest politician to get through.  He was skilled in getting things done, even though it seemed he was talking through PlayDoh.  If something didn't please Menino, he blocked it until it benefited everyone.

His finest hours were when the city needed him most: the Marathon bombings, major snowstorms, even outside of the public eye.  To serve twenty years as major is a feat that no other mayor in this nation can replicate - not even the notorious James Curley can speak to that kind of longevity.

His health - cancer, especially - was the one thing that the mayor could not negotiate or bargain with, even though he tried with an iron will.  The city of Boston will be forever in his debt for making it better.

10/26/2014

Dale Dorman 1943-2014

Back in the late 1970s, cartoons came on at around 2pm on Channel 56 and my brother and I (and later, my other two brothers when they got older) watched them religiously.  
"Uncle" Dale Dorman came in and announced each half-hour, and told jokes only kids would cackle about in between commercials.   He also did Creature Double Feature and weekends at V66 video channel.

Dale Dorman was a consummate DJ and announcer.  He arrived in 1968 in short hair, and left in his trademark long hair with a ponytail (in one picture in 1973, his hair was nearly at his waist!).  At WRKO, WXKS and WODS, he was more lovable goof ball than boss jock, messing up song titles, telling dumb groaner jokes and announcing that someone from Quincy won two front row seats to see Prince.

Dale was already retired when WODS changed its format to AMP 103.3, but you always wonder if he would be ready for one more go, one more dumb joke that you get out of Laffy Taffy, one more "Aretha Franklin is coming to TD Garden and I've got tickets!"  Now he gets to enjoy life elsewhere, meeting up with legendary jocks of yore like Jefferson Kaye, Jim O'Brien, George Michael (of Sports Machine/WFIL fame, not the singer from Wham!), Juicy Brucie, and stars past who departed much too soon.

I met Dale once when I did the Walk for Hunger in 1990.  (At that time, if I remember correctly, he was wearing a mullet).  We talked for a bit - hey, you don't see local celebrities that often! - and then I went on my way.

Thanks, Uncle Dale.

A castle cemented by cronies and sycophants

Most journalists of the past reported stories that brought down leaders of all stripes.  However, if those editors are too cozy with those leaders in question, then those who wish to expose wrongdoings are blocked out by those who wish to keep the status quo, either out of convenience or corruption.
In this article, a former CBS reporter has lobbed the first arrows over the moat against the reporters and editors who routinely blocked stories and scandals that would damage the Obama administration.  If the person in office were a Republican, she would have praise and prizes lavished on her; she has done so in the past.  Since the people who were involved in these scandals were cronies of the President, she's now as welcome as a skunk.

The real reason the rest of the press will not go after the President is that the fear of access to the President and his inner circle would slam shut.  Cronies too happy to shower the President with money and donations would also slam shut and put them at risk for investigation - up to and including arrest, seizure of property and assets, and lengthy jail terms.  Hence it's easier to put up puff pieces and demonize their bête noires than investigate why such scandals occur.

If members of the media demanded why Wall Street executives masterminded the largest transfer of wealth in history in 2008, many of those same Wall Street executives would receive federal prison terms.  Those same Wall Street executives are also donate heavily to Democrats for influence peddling, so for the media to have wall-to-wall stories about this theft would crimp that ability severely.

These days, however, the media is happy to gossip about celebrities, dole out medical quackery, and complain about why we're not like Europe with their high taxes and "free" medical care.  The media fears people who go outside that box and not only direct sunshine to dark places, but to their shallow and superficial colleagues codependent on Washington's leaders.

10/24/2014

TLC's Boo Boo: not getting rid of other programs

I never watched the Honey Boo Boo show, but given that TLC canceled the show, I'm glad the network chose common sense over profits and publicity.

I don't watch reality TV shows if they exploit people through drama and conflict.  Reality shows have become conduits for this kind of sleazy exploitation of the fringes of society: the poor, the uneducated, the socially inept and awkward, and the ignorant. Producers regularly egg on these types of people to do outrageous things for ratings and buzz - "what are they going to do next" is a great hook for an easy profit.

However, when a show introduces people who have criminal records, especially those in which they're required to register as offenders, it is no longer funny.  Someone in TLC's upper management discovered that having an offender who regularly violated children as Honey Boo Boo's mother's boyfriend would cause enormous outrage.  That person, seeing their future profits would be sullied and child protection groups would be demanding their heads, wisely ordered the show to shut down.

TLC should review all of its reality TV shows thoroughly.  Then it should decide whether to dump all of them and revert to its old intentions as The Learning Channel.  An appropriate first show?  How to Stop Exploiting Children For Profit.

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