Warming up to Walmart

Recently, two things happened that changed my opinion of Walmart. If you plug "walmart" into Google you will probably find that the top 10 search results includes at lleast 3 sites that are critical of the retail giant. As the company has continued to grow over the last two decades many Americans, myself included, have had mixed feelings: Convenience versus impact on local stores. Low prices versus a shopping experience that is sometimes less than stellar.

I actually know some people who say they don't shop there. I know others who shop there but don't talk about it. I also know some people who will be critical of me for saying this, but here goes: "I shop at Walmart." Not all the time (the nearest one is 30 minutes from where I live). I like to do a fair amount of my shopping more locally. I stop in at Bob's Corner Store most days for milk and bread, cereal and maple syrup and such (Bob's is also where I get my mail--it's a post office and gas station as well as a store).

But from time to time I do make a trip to Walmart and recently two things have caused me to upgrade my opinion of the company. They might sound selfish, but here they are:

1. Walmart decided to carry a DVD that I played a part in creating, a feature-length documentary called Dare Not Walk Alone. Obviously Walmart carries hundreds of DVDs so what makes this decision exceptional? Well, for a start, Walmart is very selective about which documentaries it carries, so getting selected is a big vote in favor of the film (and a major accomplishment for our distributor, Indican Pictures).

Consumer Confidence Index At All-time Low

Just in case you thought you were alone in feeling totally bummed about the economy, consider this:
NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- A key measure of consumer confidence fell to an all-time low in October as the financial crisis weighed on American household budgets.
Consumer confidence index at all-time low - Oct. 28, 2008.

The index fell to 38 in October from a revised reading of 61.4 in September, slamming the index to its lowest level since its inception in 1967. In other words, Americans are more depressed about their finances than at any time in the last 40 years.

And of course, there was an analyst on hand to state the obvious: "Consumers certainly appear to think the sky is falling," said Adam York, economic analyst at Wachovia Economics Group.You don't have to be Chicken Little to see that.

Other economists, who were not named in the report, possibly for their own protection, had expected the index to have declined to only 52. (Apparently economists are still making good money in secure jobs.)

Reason #17 To Vote Early If You Can

Many states now allow early voting and I just woke up to one more reason why early voting is a good idea.

I'm not saying that I wouldn't vote just because there was ten inches of snow on my car and the driveway needed to be plowed before I could get out. But on the other hand, I'm sure glad that I've already voted!

Daylight Saving Time Offset Again

Just a reminder that next week America will be less behind Europe than usual. This has some implications for transatlantic businesses and families. This weekend the clocks will Fall back in the EU and UK. So Paris will be 5 hours ahead instead of 6 and London will be 4 instead of 5. Things go back to normal (5/6) early on November 3. There are several some ways of looking at this. First a table from the very helpful WebExhibits site:

Go to the site and they have a handy feature to input any future year and get the dates of DST changes. This little table covers the next year or so:

Happy 35th Birthday Oil Crisis

That's right, 35 years ago today the first "oil crisis" officially began. That's when OAPEC (the Organization of Arab Petroleum Exporting Countries) placed an embargo on oil as punishment for U.S. support for Israel in the Yom Kippur War. However, while the war was the proximate cause of the oil crisis, the underlying cause was of course that Republican rascal Nixon.

That's right, Nixon's decoupling of the US dollar from gold two years earlier had done a number on the finances of the oil producing countries. They were used to being paid in gold-backed dollars that ensured a direct correlation between the price they got per barrel of exported oil and the prices they paid for the western goods they imported (like cement, steel, medicine, and fine automobiles). The price they had to pay for imports started to go up, but without--what had previously been--an automatic increase in the value of their oil exports.

And so, once again, the West blamed the Arabs for getting angry at being screwed by the West, the Arabs muddied the waters by bringing Israel into the argument, and a crooked Republican president was right in the thick of it, and there you have the last 35 years.

Bamford Breaks Out: Shadow Factory exposes NSA, CIA, Hayden, Bush, 9/11

When it comes to books about the US intelligence agencies there's a lot of mumbo-jumbo and plain old BS out there. The shining exception has been the work that James Bamford has published about the National Security Agency [NSA]. And Bamford's latest book, the just released Shadow Factory, is really going to shake things up in the IC (spook-speak for Intelligence Community).

I ordered my copy from Amazon today and I urge you to do the same. But before your copy arrives you can get an idea of some of the shocking information it contains by checking out this explosive interview available in mp3 and Real Video. If the world was not in the middle of an economic meltdown right now, revelations like this would be headline news. Spoiler Alert: This interview includes explanations of how:

  • the NSA pays foreign companies and private contractors to create copies of all your Internet traffic;

  • the CIA prevented the FBI from tracking the 9/11 terrorists in America;

  • contractors in America swap tapes of our soldiers in Iraq calling home to their wives and girlfriends;

  • the head of the NSA, now the head of the CIA, General Hayden, agreed to Cheney's demands for an illegal domestic surveillance program to avoid personal embarrassment.

Bamford first brought the National Security Agency to the world's attention in 1982 with The Puzzle Palace. Back then the very existence of the NSA was classified, the book was essentially banned in the US, and Bamford was...

Love Forever Changes: The concert DVD you really need to hear

I rarely recommend products sight unseen. And I know that when times are tough, folks cut back on their impulse buys. But you won't regret buying this DVD.
My copy turned up earlier this week and although I was too busy working to watch it, I had a chance to download the soundtrack to my in-car audio system before I embarked on a 5 hour drive from Philly to upstate New York. Wow! What a blast.

Note: this is not a product referral post, this link to the DVD at Amazon does not earn me a penny. I just to share the love.

If you already own Forever Changes, the 1967 album by Love, then you will love this DVD. If Forever Changes has not yet entered your life, this DVD is great way to open those doors of perception. It features the entire album, played live, in original sequence, by the creative genius behind the album: Arthur Lee (a musician whose role in the history of rock remains widely under-appreciated).

The concert was recorded in 2003 in England, where Forever Changes was a fixture on record changers throughout 1968. Speaking for myself and a lot of my friends, we listened to Forever Changes way more than Sergeant Pepper.

That Arthur Lee's life took so many tragic turns made it seem unlikely that this concert would be anything more than a dim echo of faded glory days.

Microsoft extends XP downgrade rights date by six months

Good news for those of us who intend to keep using Windows XP until a viable alternative emerges: Microsoft extends XP downgrade rights date by six months.

But a warning to fellow XPers: Beware XP Service Pack 3. I am now pretty much much convinced that the purpose of SP3 was not to extend the life of XP (why would Redmond want to do that?). The effect, if not the goal, was to mess up a perfectly fine XP install and thereby nudge the user towards Vista.

That conclusion is based on my own experience doing an SP3 install on my test machine, and the oodles of posts I found from people who, like me, ran into problems, and evenetually uninstalled SP3 (after which my machine worked fine). I will not be putting SP3 on my 'main' machines.

An Interesting Lesson in Economics and De-regulation

As a big believer in trying to learn the lessons of the past, I found this short film (less than 15 minutes) to be very instructive, particularly if you are interested in the effects of banking deregulation (about which you will find some straight talk here). You can also watch a trailer for the video right here: