To Amazon Prime, or Not to Amazon Prime

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Amazon Prime is causing some degree of debate for subscribers this year, since they decided to increase the yearly fee by $20.

I dodged the increase, since my Prime day fell in May, but there are others who are considering the real value of Prime membership now. Gizmodo‘s Adam Clark Estes brought up some important issues surrounding the ubiquitous Amazon, and the nature of Prime membership.

Personally, I can’t empathize much when it comes to building up a Pantry order to get free shipping, since I think I’ve made only a couple of those orders myself – one was delivered to a friend. However, my reasons for never getting sucked into the Pantry buying has everything to do with the fact that I tend to shop local regardless. My food purchases on Amazon are scant, and include imported items that I simply can’t find at all in my local stores.

I also can’t speak to the idea of buying for the sake of buying, and getting the most out of my Prime membership fees. It’s true that I can end up with piles of Amazon boxes in my house, but that’s typically because of holidays. Otherwise, my purchases tend to fall in the category of “I can’t find it at all, or I can’t find it for less in a regular store.” That said, multi-packs of inexpensive earbuds, charging cords, phone and tablet cases litter my purchase history, right beside various specialty purchases like beach cabanas and soccer cleats. Yes, I am definitely guilty of having my kid try on shoes in a store, checking the price on Amazon, and if the shoes aren’t needed for another 48 hours, buying them online instead to save money.

We aren’t living in a “Smart House”, and it’s doubtful that we ever will. Frankly, the concept of my refrigerator being hacked terrifies me. So, I never seriously considered purchasing the privacy-invading nightmare that is Echo. I tried to make use of Siri and Cortana, and because those experiences were filed under “epic failure”, Alexa never caught my eye. Ok, maybe it did a little, when the stories about dildos being offered as a potential purchase when someone asked for something innocent surfaced. But, that’s just prurient humor that can be enjoyed via YouTube, not in my own home on a device that cost me a couple hundred dollars.

My point is that while I understand that Prime membership probably has lead many people down the path of impulse buying to a degree that probably is harmful, it doesn’t have to be that way. Are there compelling reasons to cut back on the use of Amazon in general? Definitely. Estes enumerated several of them, from unfair labor practices, through price-gouging on at least some products to make up for “free shipping”. Personally, as long as I remain the one in control of the situation, I suspect that I will continue having Amazon Prime. But, no matter what, yes I will be taking stock of the situation in April, well before my Prime day arrives.

Image: By Quote Catalog

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To Amazon Prime, or Not to Amazon Prime

Jennifer Lawrence Is Going Political

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Jennifer Lawrence is taking a year off from acting, so she can get political. Before anyone starts rolling their eyes, it’s important to recognize that unlike many of her colleagues in Hollywood, she’s not talking about paying lip service to pet causes or using the spotlight to push a national political agenda. Lawrence apparently isn’t taking this step to run her mouth on politics, like some people have complained about with other celebrities.

Lawrence is choosing to involve herself with a grassroots non-partisan organization dedicated to fighting political corruption. Her chosen organization is Represent.Us, and appears to be a slightly idealistic group that is determined to remove money from the political influence game. We’re talking about campaign finance reform, on a rather severe level. Otherwise, the organization also appears to be interested in using technology to fix our ballot boxes, since they want to remove bureaucracy between voters and the act of voting. While it’s not a totally hopeless cause, it is fairly limited, and definitely will be most effective from the bottom up – local first.

And that is why Lawrence should be commended. She is leading by example, showing her fans that it is important to know about our political process, and how they can get involved, too. We can only hope that in addition to promoting her own work at Represent.Us, Lawrence decides to learn about similar organizations focused on other issues – offer suggestions to young people who may not be interested in her personal cause. We can also hope that more celebrities take a cue from her, and choose to promote political organizations on the grassroots level instead of using their status to fire up divisive politicking and rhetoric. Young people particularly need to learn that political change doesn’t happen in large leaps at the top. It happens with incremental steps and hard work from the bottom up.

Image: By Jennifer_Lawrence_at_the_83rd_Academy_Awards.jpg: Mingle MediaTV derivative work: Tabercil (Jennifer_Lawrence_at_the_83rd_Academy_Awards.jpg) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

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Jennifer Lawrence Is Going Political

Fergie Fouls on Anthem?

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Some people were a little upset with how Fergie sang the National Anthem at the NBA All-Star game. While it’s true that her version wasn’t exactly “straight”, perhaps the outrage is a bit… well, misplaced? In case you haven’t seen or heard it yet, here it is:

Yes, she did put a little “heat” into her rendition, but that’s Fergie. She made her hits and her reputation in the music industry on her ability to make just about anything at least a little sexy. If anyone should be catching fire today from the public, it should be the event organizers for hiring her in the first place. And that is assuming that you really think it’s utterly disrespectful to croon the anthem that way. Remember, Fergie just played around with the style – making it her own. Even though she made it a little sexy, Fergie didn’t overtly show disrespect while singing it, like someone else did:

While it’s true that Fergie definitely did the anthem in a way that no one else would – or could – she definitely didn’t push the envelope to the point that some people might think. At least now we know how she’ll sing the song, and it’s a fair guess that Fergie isn’t on anyone’s list of “artists to book for the singing of the National Anthem.” Well, maybe Jimmy Kimmel might ask her to do it on his show, but what else should we expect?

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Fergie Fouls on Anthem?

Art Gallery Twitter-style with #VisibleWomen

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If you’re into art – illustrations particularly – it might not hurt to take a moment and look up #VisibleWomen on Twitter. A significant number of female artists have taken to social media to show their work:

Yes, these women are out there doing their work in places you actually know about.

Here’s some from Disney:

And Cartoon Network:

And the world of comic books:

And fantasy/video games:

All I can say is drop by Twitter, check out #VisibleWomen, and keep scrolling to see the work from these remarkable women.

Image: Twitter/Maria Nguyen/@DTNart

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Art Gallery Twitter-style with #VisibleWomen

Misspent Outrage about ‘Peter Rabbit’

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Yes, Sony did put a scene in Peter Rabbit about severe food allergies. Yes, it is a serious subject. No, it probably wasn’t necessary for anyone to start calling for boycotts.

It’s been a long time since our society responded to situations like this in a more adult manner, so bear with me here. While I’m tempted to just relegate this to the “faux outrage” pile, I can’t, but that’s only because Sony chose to depict a potentially fatal allergy on the big screen.

But, instead of the extreme response we’ve seen from parents and groups on social media, perhaps the better route would have been to turn this into a teaching moment – for everyone. Saying that Sony was insensitive and calling for a boycott of the film forced the corporation to apologize publicly. Simply pointing out that the film showed a behavior that everyone needs to know is wrong would have left the door open for a deeper conversation about potentially deadly allergies in general.

Now, it’s not likely that many health teachers will think about pulling that scene from the film for class as an object lesson about what not to do. They will be rightfully concerned about reigniting the current outrage.

The fact remains that this film is pure fiction, and showing it as a dramatization of what not to do offers more than one lesson for kids. It also offers the opportunity to reinforce the ongoing lessons about the difference between fantasy and reality. No matter what, because of this outrage, Peter Rabbit has probably been lost as a teaching tool in general, and not just for learning about food allergies.

Maybe the outrage itself can be a teaching tool. When people are upset about something they see in media or entertainment, perhaps they need to think twice before crying for boycotts or other extreme actions. While many people might seem supportive of the outraged people, sharing that feeling doesn’t educate anyone on anything except the fine art of getting upset. Righteous indignation might feel good for a moment, but in the end it doesn’t promote discussion on what caused it in the first place. That discussion falls too far below the headlines, and isn’t tweetable. In the case of Peter Rabbit, even asking why Sony decided to put a poorly done Jackass stunt in the film would have brought more attention to real issue – food allergies. At least then, people might have asked why Sony got it so wrong.

Image: YouTube Capture

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Misspent Outrage about ‘Peter Rabbit’

Happy Trees with Deadpool?

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Fans of Deadpool have been waiting for teasers and trailers from the upcoming sequel, but they probably weren’t expecting this:

So, millions of people will never think of Bob Ross the same way again!

Does this mean that the sequel is going to be over-the-top? Maybe…

Of course, some people are interested in the words about the upcoming film. (Yes, some people actually are reading the plot synopsis!)

Then there are the rumors, because we must have those – especially about potential character introductions.

And then the talk about how some characters might be changing…

But, let’s be honest. While this teaser is great, it’s still just that – a tease! We want more, right?

Let’s just take a deep breath, commune with those happy trees, and whack off while we wait, shall we?

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Happy Trees with Deadpool?

Media and Participation Trophies

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Over the past few days, there has been a pile of righteously indignant (and ridiculing) posts on social media about the fact that GQ decided to make Colin Kaepernick their “Citizen of the Year.” While the general sentiments of people are probably understandable, one thing doesn’t seem to be coming up often:

What exactly is the GQ Citizen of the Year Award?

A quick search on Google for “GQ Citizen of the Year 2016” yields the following:

No, you’re not missing something, and no Google isn’t simply flooded with this year’s recipient. There wasn’t a “Citizen of the Year” named by GQ last year. It’s a new invention this year, and only time will tell whether or not it will be repeated.

So, for anyone who was thinking that this was some kind of important honor, it’s most likely that the editors of GQ were looking for a way to elevate Kaepernick in the eyes of the public by calling him “Citizen of the Year” – basically, a magazine version of a participation trophy. It’s possible that they will name someone next year, and the year after that, but no matter what it’s going to take years for this “honor” to hold any real value – if it ever does.

Frankly, these things are becoming a marketing tool for print magazines that are trying to occasionally boost their hard copy sales throughout the year. Time magazine has been devaluing the honor of being named “Person of the Year” by repeatedly choosing either groups of people or highly controversial individuals. It is becoming obvious that the only real reasons the magazine editors are giving out awards are about selling magazines. It’s certainly not about any real accomplishments of the winners. In the case of Kaepernick, it’s probably best to say that he’s becoming the political activism version of the Kardashians. If people are brutally honest with themselves, they can’t truthfully point out where the noble cause really is for him, since his activism is swimming neck deep in self-interest. Kaepernick would just be yet another pro-athlete who ceased to be valuable to pro-teams because of under-performing on the field. No one would be talking about him if he hadn’t turned what probably was a session of sulking on the sideline into a political statement. That’s even a stretch, since the “movement” he started still hasn’t clearly stated what it is protesting or more importantly, what concrete changes it wants to see in society. It is an amorphous feeling that attaches itself to various headlines along the way, pushing indignation and disrespect without a substantial purpose that could promote real change.

As for GQ, we have about a year to wait and see if this was just a one-off stunt for sales, or if they’re really going to try to offer a quasi-real award for citizenship each year. No matter what, don’t expect much. These awards still aren’t about anything except the bottom line for media companies that are desperately trying to sell more glossy print.

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Media and Participation Trophies

How Much Do You Love iPhone?

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If you’re not measuring that in hundreds (if not thousands) of dollars, maybe you need to think twice about grabbing that iPhone X.

Several weeks ago when I forced myself to watch the product reveal from Apple, I was pretty impressed as I watched the facial recognition and other improvements – in the iPhone 8.

Then they brought out the iPhone X…

Sure, it was neat to think about such a sleek machine, but the two-sided glass design stopped me from thinking very seriously about ever acquiring this phone. The price tag made more than a few people cringe, but that didn’t bother me very much. Google’s latest Pixel is in the same range, and the financing options are far more limited for it than any iPhone.

No, the initial investment in an iPhone X isn’t a deal-breaker, but the $550 average cost for most repairs definitely is especially when anyone sees this:

While I haven’t personally broken an iPhone screen, I’ve paid for replacing them – I have kids. Now that there’s video evidence of just how fragile this phone actually is, I’m afraid to see what will happen to the device insurance rates. Just guessing, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they end up exceeding the 36-month finance payment rate offered on AT&T’s NEXT program for the phone itself.

Sure, I get it that Apple really needed to do something big, but maybe they went a little too far?

Let’s be brutally honest with ourselves here. That beautiful sleek design and all that glass is going to be a challenge for the design engineers at OtterBox, and the really rare thing will be to actually see that phone anywhere without a protective cocoon of plastic and rubber. I’ll wager that the end result may be people going around with phones that are thicker than an iPhone 4 housed in an OtterBox case, because it’s probably going to take much more than just a thin plastic housing to keep the iPhone X even relatively safe from harm.

Time will tell, of course. However, I suspect that we will see at least a little buyer’s remorse on iPhone X in the coming months. That will be coming from other people, of course. I’m taking a pass on this one. How about you?

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How Much Do You Love iPhone?

Farewell Fats Domino

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Fats Domino is no longer with us, since he died today at age 89 of natural causes. One thing is certain, though. His music will undoubtedly continue to live on, just as it has for all the years since he originally recorded the songs.

Ron Howard used to sing one of Fats Domino’s hits on Happy Days:

Fats himself performed it on The Ed Sullivan Show back in 1956, which in itself was a relatively ground-breaking feat, since at that time, there were still some “issues” with black performers being on stage and TV.

Then there are several Fats Domino songs that have been used in media for years, from commercials to the big screen. Remember this one selling paper towels and cleaning products?

Or how about this one?

Because of the contribution Fats Domino made to the music scene in the Big Easy, you can’t skip this one:

Speaking of New Orleans and Fats Domino’s influence on musicians from the Crescent City, there’s this…

… that was also recorded by New Orleans native Harry Connick, Jr.

Farewell, Fats…. You won’t be forgotten, or at least your music won’t be.

Image: By Hugo van Gelderen / Anefo (Nationaal Archief) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

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Farewell Fats Domino

Bruce Springsteen, Bryan Adams and Aging Rock Stars

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Earlier this month, Bryan Adams and Bruce Springsteen took to the stage in Toronto during the Invictus Games. A video of them performing together showed up on YouTube:

Many people would say that this was an unlikely duo, but they did manage to offer performances of Adams’ “Cuts Like a Knife”, and Springsteen’s “Badlands.” I tried to be objective while listening to both songs, but it was very difficult. I really wanted to like Springsteen’s performance on both songs, but that simply wasn’t possible. While it’s impossible to know for sure, I strongly suspected that Adams moved to sing with Springsteen on Springsteen’s mic because it seemed like whoever was manning the sound booth was turning down the Boss. Honestly, if I’d been there, I probably would have done the same.

Like it or not, Adams – particularly his singing voice – aged well in comparison. While his tone has changed some, he’s still capable of hitting the notes accurately. Springsteen is not faring as well. He definitely can still make his way through his own music, but he was definitely not up to the task of singing “Cuts Like a Knife.” Adams was able to shift from lead to background singer easily on “Badlands,” though.

Since I started out in the world of rock and pop music by being a DJ in a family business that specialized in music from the 50’s and 60’s, I’m accustomed to listening for changes in tone and quality of voices over time. I would regularly shift from playing original records by artists, and hearing them perform live up to over thirty years later, like this performance. I would love to say that the Boss still has it, but I can’t. That said, it would be wise to see him soon, because, assuming that people around him are honest, he may seriously consider not performing. It’s worth noting that Adams was the one who shared this video, not Springsteen.

No matter what, Springsteen will remain the Boss. Hopefully he won’t try to go beyond his own repertoire again, though.

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Bruce Springsteen, Bryan Adams and Aging Rock Stars