And The Winner for Best Picture…Suicide Squad! Wait, Never Mind

Yesterday was the 87th Academy Awards, better known as the Oscars. Or technically today, considering it stretched well past midnight despite cutting off everyone but Viola Davis’s speeches at 30 seconds. Probably because the orchestra supposed to play her off was crying too.

For most of the evening it was mostly a typical Oscars night. The favorites were mostly winning with a handful of upsets, there were lots of awkward racial and political jokes, and celebrities got pelted in the back of their heads with boxes of junior mints. Nothing tops seeing the camera cut to Mel Gibson eating a package of Red Vines. Ryan Gosling showed up with his half naked sister, while the majority of women wore giant puffy dresses that looked like they were headed to Cinderella’s ball.

La La Land was considered by most to be the heavy favorite. Going into the night it had 14 nominations, tying the record for most nominations by a movie. By the end of the night, the film had taken home 6 of those 14. But the story of the 7th that they thought they had won is what everyone is talking about today.

Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway were chosen to present the Oscar for best picture. It was what happened between the time they were handed the card with the winner’s name at the edge of the stage while waiting to go on, and the time Ms. Dunaway said “La La Land”, that the problems happened. Mr. Beatty was given the wrong envelope. It clearly said “Actress in a Leading Role”, and Mr. Beatty himself claims to have noticed this and thought it was a misprint. Then when he reached the stage and ultimately opened the envelope to see that it did, in fact, contain the card for “Actress in a Leading Role”, he did possibly the worst thing he could do. He handed the card to Faye Dunaway. Ms. Dunaway mindlessly read the name on the card and all hell broke loose.

It took several minutes, and several people from La La Land’s production team had already given speeches before the producer of the Oscars show stopped everything and revealed that the real winner was in fact Moonlight, not La La Land. He even had the correct card. Ta da!

So what went wrong, and how could it have at least been mitigated? It turns out that for every category there are two envelopes, each in separate cases at opposite ends of the stage monitored by accountants from PricewaterhouseCooper. First, the pair of accountants from PwC demonstrated to the world the care and thorough scrutiny the Big 4 accounting firms give their clients, which would explain a lot dating back to the run-up to the recession a decade ago. Yes, mistakes happen, but how hard is it to hand out 24 envelopes over the course of nearly four hours, especially when you supposedly only have one left where you’ve got two envelopes, and when they are clearly marked on the outside? Second, Mr. Beatty should have said something when he noticed the envelope was wrong on the outside, and then should have said something when it matched what was on the INSIDE. A lot of “wow, what a weird misprint” went on in Mr. Beatty’s head. He even could have been a hero in this. If, after opening the envelope and seeing it was wrong, Mr. Beatty had instead simply stuffed the card back into the envelope, held it up to the camera and said “I was given the wrong envelope. Hold on a minute”, then fixed it before announcing anything, he would have been the hero. Instead, in the face of the camera he’s been in front of for 50+ years, he froze. Third, the PwC people failed to follow their own procedure (at least at first) to run screaming onto the stage and stopping everything. The producers from La La Land made it all the way onto the stage, gave their speeches, then essentially gave a sad two line concession speech before handing their trophies over to the producers from Moonlight after the correction was made on the stage.

There were some winners in all this. Steve Harvey, for one. Marissa Tomei, the winner of the 1993 award for supporting actress, who was the victim of a long-held rumor that presenter Jack Palance read her name (Tomei being the only American nominated) instead of the “foreigner” who actually won. PwC, to their credit, always held that they would have intervened had that happened, and now we know that they do, in fact, eventually directly intervene, even if it takes a while.

Jimmy Kimmel also won, in that none of us are talking about the ridiculousness that was most of the night, like parading a tour bus tour group through the middle of the ceremony or pelting the celebrities with doughnuts parachuted into the theater. Doughnuts? Those people don’t eat doughnuts. Hell, the doughnuts weigh more than most of them do. One doughnut is like five days’ of calories for many of those actresses.

In the end, everything was straightened out. The producers from La La Land were very gracious in how they handled the situation, and publicly congratulated their friends who produced Moonlight.

Officially on the record, these are the 2016 Oscars. Looks like 2016 had one final horrific joke to play on us all.


The Dems Hopefully Elect a Uniter, Not a Divider

Given today’s political events, I offer up one more political post before returning to Andy Rooney-like rants about society or heckling the world like Statler and Waldorf from the Muppets.

Today, the national Democratic party elected a new chair, former Obama cabinet member Tom Perez. Mr. Perez entered the race later than several others, and is seen by some in the party as being the “establishment candidate” because he was supported by many of the high ranking DNC officials. The irony in that seems to be lost in that his closest opponent, Congressman Keith Ellison from Minnesota, was supported by some of the longest serving senators such as Chuck Schumer and independent but recent Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders.

The danger now for the Democratic party is the “Bernie Sanders” wing of the party fleeing like the proverbial rats off a sinking ship. This strikes me as an odd threat. Perez was long considered one of the most progressive members of Obama’s cabinet. But because he was “recruited” to run by party leadership, and because he also publicly supported TPP among other things (a position favored by his boss, and being the Labor Secretary, a position important to his own post), he is vilified by the Sanders followers.

It is more important than ever that the Democrats unite. We need a uniter, not a divider, or something like that. Perez, with Ellison as his deputy chair, can do that, but they need to get to work immediately. As I mentioned in my previous post, it is more important than ever for the Democratic party to shore up its base and ensure that the young, progressive types are on board and energized to get involved and vote. Those types are not exactly motivated to do anything beyond their own world without prodding. Physical prodding may be needed. Cattle style.

That base exists throughout the country. One of the downfalls in the 2016 election was ignoring that base in lower populated areas, especially in the Midwest. A popular theme in the DNC chair debates was developing a 50-state strategy to re-establish the Democratic party in every state and make it viable in local and state races. That is a great place to start. The voters who flipped in 2016 to vote for 45 made the news, but the real news was the base of voters who did not show up. For example, Hillary received roughly 300k fewer votes in Michigan than Obama in 2012, while 45 received about 160k more than Romney. Hillary lost by 13k votes. Had Hillary captured that 140k of votes that both did not vote for her but also did not vote for Trump, she would have won the state handily. Ignore your base at your own peril.

So what is my point of all this? The Democratic party is still fractured from last year’s election. Today’s election could serve to divide the party further, or worse, lead to a defection of an entire wing of the party. But it shouldn’t. Perez and Ellison need to start immediately to shore up that base and demonstrate what they are going to do to bring the change the core of the party wants and needs. If they keep doing what they’ve always done, they will keep getting what they’ve always got. And that’s electoral losses. Winning in this environment in 2020 and even in 2018 should be a slam dunk. Lets see if Perez can be Lebron.


A Night of Local Democratic Realization

Last night I attended a forum where four panelists, all Democratic candidates for state or national office, provided insight into what went wrong and how to fix it. The short answer: lots of things. The long answer: lots more things.

The original subject of this forum was to focus on “rural” voters and how to reach them, what their interests were, their thought processes. Of course, one of the first comments was “What’s rural?” My home of Bloomington has about 80,000 people including students at the university. To someone from New York our town is like we should have farmers riding tractors down the dirt roads. To locals though, we are the big city metropolis while nearly every other southern Indiana town between here, Terre Haute, Columbus, and Evansville is “rural”.

As I listened to the conversation in which the audience was allowed to contribute and ask questions, it became apparent that the very thought of “Bloomington vs the world” might be part of the problem. There is often a sense of superiority among the Democrats in Bloomington in comparison to the surrounding community. Leaders here, from elected party officials to party leadership, trend on the arrogant know-it-all side, and see Bloomington as the Indiana version of Berkeley (to paraphrase: I know Berkeley, I’ve been to Berkeley…Berkeley is a cool place….Bloomington, you are no Berkeley). Bloomington has a reputation of being a blue island in the red sea that is the rest of Indiana, but nowhere to the level seen on the coasts. Without the university, Bloomington would be every other town in southern Indiana. Local Democratic party elites tend to come across that they view the surrounding area like the movie Deliverance, while the surrounding area views the Bloomington officeholders like the second coming of Marx. The initial conversation had a feeling of “how do we get the redneck hicks to not hate our guts?”, but once the realization came that “we really can’t”, the conversation turned.

Why can’t the Democrats convert the rural masses? Several reasons. One, the church (collectively most Christian denominations) have basically become conservative recruitment centers. It’s like a right-wing business. You speak the words that get you the money. Those TV preachers have to pay the mortgages on those multi-million dollar mansions after all. Two, the rise of Fox News and other shameless news outlets (I’m looking at you Breitbart). It is not difficult to single out a Fox News viewer. They have tells like bad poker players. Say the word “Benghazi” and you can see their faces twist into a knot you didn’t think was anatomically possible. Third is the rise of the internet. It is not difficult to find the most depraved, psychotic stuff imaginable online. It passes for conservative news. And that’s the real news to our current president, while everything else is “fake news”. The fake news label being spewed is yet another tell of a Fox News viewer.

So, Democrats will never convert the rural, church-going, Fox News-viewing, Brietbart-reading masses that exist in most of rural Indiana and the rest of the Midwest. So then what? Excite the base. 100% turnout among registered Democratic voters would mean landslides in nearly every election. But how do you excite a base that is too lazy to look up from their smartphones to see their house is on fire?

Hillary was not popular among young people and progressives. Look at the crowds that turned out for Bernie Sanders. Progressives. Young people. This is the core base of Democratic voters now that Democrats must attract to the polls. Fact. Who came out to vote for Obama in 2008 that did not turn out in 2016 for Hillary? Young people. Progressives. Those who saw something different in their candidate. Something exciting. Sanders voters still believe their candidate would have won not only the primary but the general election had the Democratic Party not nominated someone they deemed “the anointed one”. He is viewed by that very base as the change candidate in a change, anti-establishment election. When Hillary wrapped up the nomination, there was little to no effort to reach out to the Sanders primary voters of the party. Those voters were lost, and despite the fact that enough voters turned out nationwide to give Hillary the overall vote win, it killed the Democratic Party from top to bottom nationwide.

If Democrats hope to win, whether it is locally or nationally, they can’t run Republican-light candidates. We elected a Catholic (the horror!) president in 1960 because he was young, popular, and offered a new direction for our country. We would have elected his brother in 1968 for the same reason. In 1976, we elected a peanut farmer as president on the anger against the establishment. In 1992 we elected a charismatic, late night TV sax-playing southern governor. In 2008 we elected a charismatic black man with only a few years political experience. Since  FDR, the Democrats who have lost the presidential election all had one thing in common: they were uninspiring party insiders. They did not excite the base. Trump won in 2016 in spite of his party leadership precisely because he excited his base of voters, who then turned out for him in droves while the Democratic party base in those states stayed home, resulting in the lowest turnout in most of those states in years.

Democrats must learn the lesson that appealing to moderates and independents is less important than appealing to your own base. That base is now Socialist Democrat progressives and young people. Republicans have learned that lesson. If Democrats hope to win in 2018 and 2020, they need to find candidates at all levels of government that bring something new and exciting to the table, or we may be facing eight years of President Trump. God help us all.


Are You Ready for Some Overtime?

It’s taken us all a few days, but we are now finally recovering from the Super Bowl, and I don’t just mean the collective national hangover. I mean the insane ending.

In case you weren’t watching and also spent the last few days in a cave, the New England Patriots defeated the Atlanta Falcons in overtime after the biggest comeback in Super Bowl history. For those of us watching and paying attention to the game, it was clear that the Falcons’ defense was not only demoralized as the fourth quarter came to an end, but was also completely exhausted. They then, thanks to the randomness of a coin flip, were given the monumental task of stopping the Patriots offense to start the overtime period. New England naturally took advantage and drove the ball down for the winning touchdown without Atlanta even having an opportunity possess the ball.

Many will argue that Atlanta had its chance. Its defense could have shut down New England and gotten the ball back. A meteor also could have fallen from the sky and wiped out the entire Patriots O line. That is not how fairness in sports is supposed to work. An overtime where the MVP of the entire league doesn’t get to take the field is not a fair outcome to a championship game of the biggest sports league in the country. The Falcons’ fate was essentially sealed by a flip of a bizarre nonstandard coin.

Overtime rules in sports are complicated. Look at soccer. In most leagues around the world, a game that ends in a tie in regulation ends in a tie. End of story. This may be why soccer is not popular among middle age sports bros in the US. Americans want a winner. American soccer also has playoffs to determine its champion, a feature unique to MLS. Pro soccer game that goes to overtime in the playoffs play the entire overtime regardless if one team scores. If it tied after OT, they go to a highly controversial and absurd penalty kick shootout. Soccer is not the model we want to follow. Can you imagine if football reverted to a field goal kicking contest, or basketball went to a free throw shooting contest? Actually, watching those 300 pound lineman kicking extra points would be totally worth sticking around for.

Hockey has made an effort to improve the overtime. They took the five minute overtime, made it sudden death, and then made it 3 vs 3 to encourage someone to score. Unfortunately, they still then move on to a shootout like soccer if no one scores in OT. Soccer tried the sudden death OT. For one tournament. They realized how stupid it was and went back to the old, full-length-OT rule.

So back to football. No OT rules are perfect. But how do we keep the game actually fair without ruining the game? Personally, I think of all the major pro sports, basketball has it right. You play a mini quarter of a game. Period. If that ends in a tie, you play some more. Soccer, football, and hockey could all learn and benefit from this. What fan wouldn’t want endless football? Well, maybe Browns fans. Baseball plays an extra inning, and continues playing more innings until you have a winner. Perfect, although fans would probably find it amusing to see it revert to a home run contest.

I for one was disappointed I did not get a chance to see Matt Ryan take the field in overtime to try and make Brady cry. Hopefully the NFL will consider changes to its OT rules that guarantee both offenses get to take the field. Or we can just watch 346 pound Dontari Poe kick an extra point. Either way, we win.

Retailers · Shopping

The Woeful Tale of the Paisley Chairs

You don’t have to go far on the internet to find people who believe the world owes them a deal.

A story recently surfaced right in my town of a fraternity…not to name names, but Delta Chi….that believed they were getting the deal of a century. Menards, a Midwestern home improvement store, was selling chairs that retailed for $358 for a penny. Mind you, not ALL the styles of this particular chair…the others were all still $358. But one style of this chair was a mind-boggling 99.9972 percent off, and people (including said Delta Chi fraternity) noticed.

So called “bargain hunters” have an apparent belief that transactions should be one-sided; their side. Never mind the consequences for the retailer. It should come as no shock to you that the instant this mistake was noticed, it was widely publicized on the internet and people flocked to buy up the chairs. Not one single person brought the issue to Menards’ attention. Instead, the bargain hunter cheapskates thought they had hit the jackpot. As for the deal being too good to be true, one such person said “Yeah, for the most part I figured [it was too good to be true,] but I’d figured I try it anyway. I was only losing a few cents”.

Then came the email from Menards: “For a brief period over the weekend a chair appeared on our website priced at 1¢.  This chair was a figment of a computer’s imagination and we are diligently looking into the cause of this temporary and isolated glitch.  We are sorry for any inconvenience this may have caused.  Obviously, if anyone actually ordered one, we will be very prompt in returning their penny.”

Back to the fraternity. Without knowing exactly what they would do with them, the fraternity ordered 4,200 chairs. That’s right, they paid $50 (with tax) for a chair order that should have been $1.5 million. Unsurprisingly, the fraternity continued to push the issue in some attempt at sympathy. “We feel this entire debacle has been incredibly unjust. Not only are they threatening to dishonor our purchase, but they’re putting the blame on the ‘imagination’ of ‘the computer.’” Menards is not “threatening” to dishonor the purchase. As within their rights, they cancelled it. Dishonored it, if you will. Not unlike the bargain hunters, the irony of attempting to essentially steal a million and a half dollars in furniture and calling it “unjust” is lost on them.

Taking it further, the fraternity opted to write to one of the state’s US congressman that happens to be a graduate of their fraternity. Said congressman, Mr. Jim Banks, frighteningly ignorant of the “law” for a lawmaker, then issued a statement that Menards should honor the pricing. “The actions of the men of IU Delta Chi represent what we want from fraternities everywhere – a commitment to philanthropy and the betterment of our communities at large,” Banks’ letter reads. “I believe that the spirit behind the purchase of these chairs should be both encouraged and supported.” At some point in all this, the fraternity decided that it was going to sell the chairs at a discount from retail and donate the money to the Jimmy V Foundation. As of this post, Menards has chosen to ignore the request.

The fraternity was not alone. People crawled out of the woodwork bashing Menards for cancelling their orders of “hundreds of chairs” that they needed for this, that, or the other. Yes, people not only saw this deal, but all over the country thought “I’m going to order hundreds of these” instead of “this is wrong. I should say something”.

Menards, of course, is completely in its rights to cancel the orders. Laws against false or deceptive advertising require an intent to deceive on the part of the advertiser. If a company can demonstrate that an advertised price was simply a mistake, then it’s not false advertising.

For retailers, let this be a lesson in ensuring your terms and conditions are up to date, particularly if you sell online. Make sure that you don’t give the impression that “acknowledging an order” is the same as “accepting an order” when you send your emails. And for the love of god, make sure you have someone monitoring your system so these vultures don’t eat your company. “Wow, we’ve had a 10,000% increase in sales on paisley lawn chairs in the last hour” should be a hint.

You, as a retailer, have the power to say no. In cases like this, the law is on your side. In everyday business, bargain hunters are owed nothing. In fact, in my day job, I provide most of the companies I assist with data showing that these types of customers are in fact more of a drain on their company than they are worth. They may threaten to take their business elsewhere, but in the end that is the best outcome for the retailer. It is more worth their time to focus on fair yet reasonable pricing and sell to customers that value their time and money. Be the best, with the best quality.

We live in a culture where everyone expects to be given a deal. Retail is for chumps. Because this is ‘Merica, sites actually exist solely to prey on pricing mistakes and trumpet them to the world. Unsurprisingly, these types of shoppers are the most common victims of fraud, as they are willing to order from unfamiliar sites to save a few bucks, or go through shady means (like Craigslist) to get deals. These are not loyal shoppers. They will follow the deals. They will literally trample one another on black Friday to save 10% off an Xbox.

We as a society need to lay off the “deals”. If we want society to move forward, instead of asking what kind of deal you can get, ask “can you get me what I need, done well and on-time?” If something is too good to be true, it probably is, and if something is obviously a mistake, point it out and don’t be a douchebag and try to “take advantage of it”. Focus on quality, not quantity. And don’t trample grandma the day after Thanksgiving.

Random Thought

I’m not a professional writer. I’m barely an amateur.

This blog is dedicated to everyone everywhere who says “I’d love to write a blog but have no idea how to get started”, because I am now living proof that writing your thoughts on the internet takes no real level of professionalism. Or talent. Or even coherent thought.

As I continually post my thoughts on many random subjects from politics (oh dear god, please no) to religion (yikes) to ending the workday by pulling radioactive tumbleweeds from under my car, hopefully I am at least able to capture the essence of the thought in a coherent way and spark conversation that will spread across the world. You know, viral, not unlike a virus, but more “leave Brittany alone” and less “ebola”.

Please feel free to share, leave tasteful yet insightful comments (no, we don’t want to hear about how you make $500/hr working from home), or tell me privately what you think. I’d love for you to say hi. And if you want to make me aware of something to alert the world, please tell me!