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Monday, Apr 24, 2006
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Monday, Apr 24, 2006

One of my main excuses for not having a cell phone is the byzantine way the service is priced—it seems designed to generate maximum confusion and get people to pay different amounts for exactly the same thing, depending on how gullible they are. I don’t want to be gullible, and I am somewhat risk averse, so I steer clear of this market. I’m not adequately compensated for the price of feeling stupid by having the privilege to chitchat with people when I’m walking to the subway.

But don’t cell phone companies eventually want to sign people like me up? Why the opaque pricing?

Tim Harford theory is that confusion pricing is a simply another way companies shop for customers and categorize them in terms of how careful they are about their money. Some customers—let’s call them the stupid ones, the ones who need branded luxury goods to feel significant—allow companies to operate with high margins, others squeeze companies by being better informed, forcing companies to earn their money. By throwing out a bunch of confusing plans, cell-phone companies are filling the waters with chum, luring the idiot customers who’ll eagerly pay more without thinking or understanding what they are really paying for. The rest of us, if we choose to have a cell phone, are forced to look past the illusion of customer service presented in these plans and log some unpaid time on a customer-service hotline waiting to be told the real facts. Of course the burden is always on the consumer to make sure he’s not getting ripped off, but any industry that makes its business practices purposely opaque seems a good one to avoid. The perpetuation of confusion pricing suggests to me that there hasn’t really been enough competition yet in that particular sector, which suggests that whatever is being sold isn’t truly necessary. (Cell phones are luxury items for people with the time to burn figuring out what they cost.)

Harford seems all too trusting, it seems to me, that these reps will give you the straight deal and won’t try to bamboozle you more—he assumes that they’ll conclude you’re too smart for that just by virtue of having called demanding an explanation. I prefer not to do business with companies that force me to jump through hoops before they will treat me with respect. So I may be without a cell phone for a very long time.

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Monday, Apr 24, 2006
by PopMatters Staff

I Love You But I’ve Chosen Darkness
“According to Plan” [MP3]
multiple songs [MySpace]

I Love You But I’ve Chosen Darkness formed during the summer of 2001 in Austin, Texas. Members past and current have been involved with previous Austin bands Windsor for the Derby, Paul Newman, Glorium, and Salute the Curse. Utilizing a simple lineup of three guitars, bass, drums, and the occasional keyboard, the band picked up stylistically where previous projects had left off, featuring intricate guitar interplay and simple but effective song structures. The previous two years have been spent touring and writing music for their first full length LP, Fear Is On Our Side, an understandably more dark and gritty affair than their debut. 2006 will be a year full of touring, writing, and recording new material.

The Futureheads
“Skip to the End” [MP3]

Cosmic Starfish
“Fish in a Bowl” [MP3]

Silversun Pickups
“Kissing Families” [MP3]

Peter Walker
“What Do I Know” [MP3]

“Mansfield & Cyclops” [MP3]

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Sunday, Apr 23, 2006

It’s kind of a difficult toss-up but I’d have to give the edge to the U.S. government for being more nervy than your run of the mill arena rock star.

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Friday, Apr 21, 2006

Where I grew up, in upper Bucks County in Pennsylvania, (though I’m sure this is true elsewhere) it was commonplace to use the word gay pejoratively, as a synonym for lame or lousy. It was an unfortunate habit I certainly picked up and have had to stifle ever since. In my mind, I pretend the word, when used pejoratively, has nothing to do with homosexuality, the same way fags can be cigarettes. But obviously the force behind the disapproval expressed when I declare “Coldplay is gay” or “Those capri pants are gay” or “We need a less gay bass line for that middle section” comes from the societal disapproval for homosexuality, the suspicion with which it is held and the alleged strangeness strenuously associated with it. Though I’m not out to express any disapproval for gayness at all, I’m perfectly happy to appropriate the contempt others feel for it and then relay that to European walking shoes or the lingering smell of cologne in an elevator. Even when I don’t use the term out loud, I’m correcting myself in my mind. So in a way I’m relying on something I otherwise detest to give my offhand remarks rhetorical efficacy. I really have to knock it off.

But what to say/think otherwise that will give my comment kick, to put force behind my disapproval (when I don’t have the thinking to back my feelings up, especially)? It’s laziness that makes me reach toward hate speech, just as un-PC comedians are always lazy. (Anyone can get a laugh by breaking taboos, or pricking someone’s notion of offensiveness.) We have these societal pools of hate and bigotry to draw energy from to render things abject, occult, abnormal. The pejorative gay in particular implies a falseness, a phoniness, an inauthenticity, again as if there was something insincere about homosexuality that then lends the epithet its potency. It means something distinctly different from another dubious epithet, retarded. In the forbidden nomenclature of my mind, it’s “retarded” when someone makes a turn without signaling, yet it’s “gay” when someone stops in the middle of the sidewalk to whip out their BlackBerry.

What might replace that stand-by source of social energy (the energy of social exclusion, of class antagonism, of xenophobia) to use to rhetorically reject or fence off things in one’s mind? Is that energy something we all use in different ways to order categories of things in our psyches? Does everyone, every culture, have their equivalent of “gay”? Multiple equivalents?

Gay carries with it at the same time the threat that homophobes feel at the idea of cultural permission—they think, If those guys can kiss right there on the street, then anyone could—meaning, of course, that they themselves could, a thought that apparently troubles them deeply. So when I call something gay, what I must mean at some level is that it shouldn’t be permitted: Coldplay shouldn’t be allowed on the radio. I don’t think this means, however, that I secretly want to listen to Coldplay, but maybe it does; I don’t want to allow the solace that other people feel in hearing music like that because I don’t allow it to myself, don’t allow myself to swept up into such stuff with no questions asked, simply because it is on the radio. Instead I have to call attention to it—“Gay”—and try to proscribe it. I wonder if I use gay pejoratively only for those things I suspect others of having a secret pride in, a pride that for whatever reason I want to deny them. At the root of it, it’s gay that everyone is not exactly like me.

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