Monthly Archives: August 2002

Too Connected?

When you have downtime between cities, sometimes there is just nothing to do, but watch TV.  OK, I have been known as a news junkie:  Always have been and it stems back to radio days when we had a Broadcast News and Canadian Press feed into the newsroom.  You were always plugged in, hard, to the first draft of history.  And I haven’t shaken it, really, since.

On the various news shows, there is constant coverage of the David Westerfield trial and sentencing phase.  He’s the monster who stole a kid from his neighbour’s house in the night, raped her repeatedly and killed her, burying the body in the woods.  Well-meaning folks on either end of the political spectrum are now arguing capital punishment for Westerfield.  You can predict who is on which side of the argument, as easily as you can predict the Star Trek crewman in the red shirt will die before the first title credit.

My answer is easy.  Do Not Debate Capital Punishment.  Its a zero-sum game.  So, rather than debate Capital Punishment and all that entails, I just want Justice.  Which is significantly different from Capital Punishment or Guilt or Innocence. 

To that end, my solution.  Convicted of a major crime?  General Population for you.  Prisons are a microcosm of society, with right and left wing people.  Prisoners will decide for us.  If killing a police or peace officer is not considered bad by their society, then you live.  If raping and killing an eight year old is considered bad by their society, then they’ll decide on the punishment. 

The neat part of the argument is:  We don’t argue about it. 

A jury of the bad guys’ peers argues about it and carries out the sentence.  Our hands are clean.  Their hands, arguably already dirty, mete out the appropriate punishment in a more creative way than our society can and without endless legal manoeuvring.


Greenspan Alert–A New Economic Model

There is a way to see how the global economy is doing.  It’s almost infallible and works in any economy that has a Yellow Pages type of book for their phone system. 

So far, in the cities that I’ve visited on the trip I occasionally check the Escorts pages.  Now, not because I want to book these professionals, but the number of pages of display ads tends to tell you about how the economy is running.  If the whores are busy, then people have enough cash to buy some professional boot polishing. Which means the economy is doing OK.

When escort display advertising is down, then folks are hoarding their money and even promises of luscious things can’t convince them to part with the coinage.  Ergo, the economy is in the shitter.  It works in every city except known convention towns like Vegas and New Orleans, where there is always a market for trouser hoovers for salesmen from Dubuque, Iowa in town for the “Sheetmetal Screw 02” convention.

The next time you’re on the road, scope out the poontang pages and see the real economy in action.  Greenspan would never testify to a Senate committee that this is the real measure of an economy.

Mall Of America: Retail Assault Troops Attack!

I broke down and did the Mall of America on Sunday.  Forgive me all: I did it for Marylou, who wanted, at least by proxy, a visit to the biggest, baddest retail environment in the US of A.  So, I went and looked at it.  I even bought some stuff I needed.  I walked all four floors of this colossus, all four corners. 

It is set up as a retailing environment around an amusement park in the middle.  Each floor has, like any other mall, a target audience and a programed feel to it.  Upscale women’s clothing followed by jewellery, followed by shoes and more fashions, then something for the teenage daughter.  Men?  Not unless you count The Gap.  I walked for nearly five miles in the mall proper looking for a men’s store, as I wanted to buy some golf shirts and underwear.  Nope.  I have to be a teenager or a woman, unless I want a t-shirt that says “I’m old and I smell.  Get over it.”

The Amusement part of Mall of America consists of a lame ride or three and the more dangerous, “Cereal Adventure”  Here you can, courtesey of General Mills, learn about breakfast cereal, but only if you’re under 16.  Adults are only welcome if they are accompanying their youngest, immobile infants.  Otherwise, General Foods wants you kids, alone.  Judging by the number of unescorted yard apes, Mom and Dad had no problem parking the issue for a couple of hours to be indoctrinated into the Capitalist Brotherhood. 

I couldn’t go in, (no kid with me) but I did notice the blending station, where young consumers can choose the percentage of varior cereals to be mixed in their box.  The proportions start with 99% sugar and go up from there.  I’m certain any child choosing the low-sugar option (cardboard off-cuts from the packaging line) would be swiftly whisked off for reprogramming while being forced to watch the animatronic Farmer Brown one more soul-scarring time.

Rides? Ferris wheel, Pirate ship and “The Giant Axe”  I think its a sort of Paul Bunyanesque tribute without mentioning Paul Bunyan or Babe the Blue Ox.  Oh, there is also the Underwater Adventure, which as best as I can tell is a big aquarium and the sole tip of the hat to ‘edjacatin’.  Is West Edmonton Mall bigger?  Hell yes and has a decent amusement park at the expected usurious ride rates.  West Ed also has a Hooters and more restaurants that offer food you actually can eat.  Mall of America has the biggest selection of Poppy Wokky Popeye BK McD Orange Julius Nathans than any retail environment needs. 

There ARE upscale fooderies here.  Planet Hollywood and an Italian place that looks almost respectable, but noboy eats there.  There is more than one fork and the napkins aren’t in a fiberglass clown, therefore it is dangerous to Midwestern sensibilities.

Is Mall of America a success?  Of course it is.  It rakes in buckets of money every day.  Based on my eyeball survey, each consumer was loaded down with at least $100 worth of stuff.  Not counting the drinks and snacks and nibblies that they needed to sustain themselves for the marathon. 

Is Mall of America a societal success?  Of course, it gives the consumer miles of aisles of what they want in an environment that forces the shopper to part with cash.  And the whole place feels like The Stepford Wives Go Shopping.  Anesthesia and Retail.  The perfect mix.

Cities-Minneapolis:A Twin with Schizophrenia

There seems to be a couple of Minneapoli.  There is the upscale, wealthy, cosmopolitan Minneapolis.  The number of white tablecloth restaurants here is remarkable.  Chefs are known by name and their creations are monitored closely by the glitterati: “He’s using truffle oil infusions since his trip to Aix…”.  A Mercedes Benz dealer says he can’t get enough stock, fast enough to keep up with demand.

The other Minneapolis is the more modest.  Overheard in the hotel dining room:  “I don’t like it when those people on television use that word, a-s-s.  It’s just not seemly.”  This was said by a 40-ish man and woman, eating a meal.  Judging by the burr of their accent, they weren’t from Minneapolis metro proper, but perhaps from the smaller towns around the area. 

So, we’re confronted with a city that is ‘citified’ as well as ‘countrified’  As a general guideline, you don’t see Minneapolis on “COPS”.  If Toronto is New York City, run by the Swiss, then Minneapolis is Toronto run by the Norwegians.  They seem to take their differentness as a given; the reserve and politeness of the Midwest is endemic here.

Cities-Downer’s Grove

The ‘burbs.  The ‘burbs of Chicago no less.  A nice little community trisected by eight lane interstate width roads.  Accents?  Imagine George Wendt doing “Da Bears” and you’re not far from wrong.  It is easy to identify the native Chicagoans when they speak.  A kind of Midwestern burr with a touch of NYC.  Milwaukee accents are just a bit thicker.  But really nice folks.  Interested in me being from “Canader”  Some wonderment that I would come all this way to teach, then I remind them that Ottawa is only a two-hour flight from here.  Perhaps it is the American Insularity Gene kicking up a fuss. 

I’ll wait to critique the food when I’m in downtown Chicago at our office in The Loop. (On Wacker Drive, no less)  Downer’s Grove is essentially a bedroom community where people live here and work elsewhere.

It has also been raining like Noah’s Wet Dream.  Some underpasses were flooded this morning, so some students were delayed as traffic essentially ground to a halt when some of the freeways were clogged with dead cars and soaking wet occupants. 

Downstate?  No one knows, no one cares.  Downstate might as well be the Moon.  But that’s the Chicago way: Canada is more approachable than Springfield or any other downstate place.

Airlines In Trouble?

I think I may have come up with the WHY to explain the airline financial crisis.  They’ve decided to become transportation companies, rather than what they really are, service companies.  A transport company worries about the lowest possible cost associated with moving a truck full of pineapples from A to B.  Or machine screws.  Or gravel. 

Air travel for humans is not a commodity item, or more correctly, should not be a commodity item.  When passengers treat it as one and airlines treat us a commodities that must be moved as inexpensively as possible, then the customer has no loyalty to the transporter.

A Service company, by contrast, recognizes that the customer has an infinite number of choices at cheaper or more expenses prices and tries to build customer loyalty by treating the customer well.  Hotels went through this in the 60’s.  Occupancy rates fell when the major chains, Howard Johnson and Holiday Inn at the time, got eaten alive by the Motel 6, Red Roof Inn, Best Western chains that offered low prices but limited service.  There are now choices in the hotel industry at just about every price point from dirt cheap basic bed, bath and TV, to decadent rooms that have more luxe than most can be expected to stand.  You choose which you prefer. 

Airlines are about to go through that unpleasantness.  Until they recognize that treating all their customers as extraordinarily powerful consumers who can dictate the airlines’ fortunes on a whim, airlines will be running to Washington and Ottawa and Bonn and London with their hands out crying the fiscal blues.  The governments should, but wont, say:  Screw ya.  Treat us nice and we’ll be loyal.  Give us a fair price for better service and we’ll stick with you.  A frequent flyer program is nice, but it really is nothing more than luggage tags with your name on it.  Big freakin’ whoopee!  I just want some room, a snack or a meal a drink and someone to talk to me like a human, not a five year old with ADD.  Until then, hey, lowest price rules. 

And if USAirways goes Tango Uniform, I can only wave “Buh Bye”  Serves them right


The Steel City is wrapped around the Allegheny Mountains.  A river sort of meanders down the middle.  But the mountains are the dominant feature, slicing neighbourhoods into valleys and slopes.  Everything is either up hill or down hill.  And its worse than San Francisco, where everything essentially falls towards the ocean. 

The blue collar ethic is strong here.  Polite, firm and willing to help their neighbours.  So, in many ways its a small town with taller buildings downtown.  However, it also has the world headquarters of H J Heinz, PPG Paint and a bunch of other big companies.  There is a world-class art gallery or two, a symphony orchestra that is world-renown and a couple of world-class hospitals.  Is it a blue collar town or a white collar town? 

The air is reasonably clean, so its not really a blue collar town in the traditional definition.  Most of the steel industry is gone, replaced with mini-mills that remelt scrap steel and need perhaps 1/10th of the staff and run at capacity all the time with essentially no emissions.  Pittsburgh is very green along the hills, with a canopy of trees everywhere except downtown. 

A city in transition with a heritage of work and effort.  Is that Pittsburgh?