At An American Idol Audition Site

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Well, the questions about the “confessional” signs in my Brooklyn hotel lobby have been answered — apparently.

I noticed lots of techie types and Bluetooth-wearers and clipboard-carriers and beefy guys wearing “security” shirts in the lobby yesterday morning, and when I walked outside there was a barricade and people waiting in line behind it. I asked a security guy what was going on, and he grunted “American Idol tryouts.”

“Wow,” I thought, “is American Idol still on?” Apparently so.

Walking past all these excited wannabes in the morning, you couldn’t help but notice how they all tried to have a distinctive look — but nevertheless pretty much looked the same. In this crowd, skinny jeans on skinny legs, bulky shoes, and extreme pompadours and coiffures were the norm. My business suit would have stood out like a lighthouse on a foggy morning.

When I returned to the hotel last night a few stragglers remained. Maybe they had made the first cut and were making arrangements, or maybe they were just the last to sing their songs on a long day. The “confessional” no doubt had been well used.

The Bloodied NFL Shield

The season hasn’t exactly gotten off to a roaring start for the National Football League. With the release of the infamous Ray Rice elevator video, questions about whether the NFL properly investigated the Rice incident and treated other domestic violence incidents with the seriousness, concern and respect they deserve, and more recently the disclosures about Adrian Peterson’s treatment of his son, the NFL has been battered by bad news.

And now the unthinkable has happened: advertisers like McDonald’s, Anheuser-Busch, and Visa, that previously lined up and paid through the nose to associate themselves with the NFL’s familiar red, white, and blue shield logo, are expressing concern about the League. Nothing is more certain to get the attention of the marketing-driven, multimillionaire NFL owners than the possible loss of ad revenue.

It’s got to be a shock to the NFL, which for years has enjoyed bulletproof status as the most popular sport in America, with a Commissioner ranked as the most powerful figure in sports. Maybe the NFL had a bit of hubris about its position in American society, or maybe it figured that the advertisers, fans, and Super Bowl viewers who love to watch huge men crashing into each other with bone-jarring violence on Sunday afternoon wouldn’t be too troubled by if some of those huge men occasionally engaged in a little domestic violence on the side.

This time, the NFL figured wrong. For every fan who wears a Ray Rice jersey as a sign of support for a guy who cold-cocked his now-wife in a casino, there are countless others, male and female, who are starting to wonder: who are these guys, really? And, more troubling, what has the NFL done to shield them from the consequences of their actions?

On The LaGuardia Approach Vector

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I don’t care how many time you’ve flown into LaGuardia, even the most jaded traveler has got to enjoy the approach that takes you right past downtown Manhattan and over the Brooklyn Bridge. Even on an overcast day, it’s one of the greatest sights in the world. Of course, it helps if you are on the skyline side of the plane.

Fake Wireless Network Names

If you’ve got the wireless function activated on your smartphone, occasionally you’re going to get pop-up information boxes asking if you want to link to some random wireless networks that happen to be operating in the vicinity.  Usually the network names are generic and instantly forgettable, like “mywireless” or “Millerguest.”

Recently, however, my cell phone listed a wireless network name that stopped me in my tracks:  “FBI Surveillance.”

For all I know, it really was a network for FBI agents who were checking things out nearby, but I’m guessing it was a razz by a fellow American who is tired of the government snooping on our every activity and thought such a wireless name might cause the rest of us to develop  enhanced awareness of threats to our liberty.  If so, it worked.  It also got me to thinking:  what are some other fake wireless network names that might give the random cell phone user whose wireless search function is on a bit of a jolt?  Here are some suggestions:

mobileebolatestinglab

123KGBSleeperCell

Satan666

joebidensexden

DronePilotNet

HackMyNeighb0r!

KochBrothers$$$$

Your suggestions are welcome.  C’mon, America — let’s call an end to lame wireless network names!

Blind To The Obvious

The Urban Outfitters/Kent State sweatshirt controversy seems unbelievable to me — but maybe I just don’t realize how little companies know about the schools whose names get put on the front of products those companies sell.

In case you missed it, Urban Outfitters was offering a faux vintage Kent State sweatshirt that was daubed in red paint smears and splots.  Of course, anyone who knows anything about Kent State and its history would immediately think that the sweatshirt was referring to the shootings that killed four Kent State students and wounded others on May 4, 1970.  Not surprisingly, people were outraged by what seemed like a sick effort to profit from a terrible American tragedy.

Urban Outfitters claims, however, that it “was never our intention to allude to the tragic events that took place at Kent State in 1970 and we are extremely saddened that this item was perceived as such.”  Which is worse:  trading on a tragedy, or being so obtuse and insensitive that you don’t recognize that a red-spattered Kent State shirt would inevitably be thought to allude to the May 4 shootings?   It’s a close question in my view.

Urban Outfitters is one of those stores that tries to portray the most hip image possible.  I wouldn’t be surprised if the people who designed the offending sweatshirt had never heard of the Kent State shootings.  If you treat everything as just another “brand” and make no effort to understand an institution or its back story, this kind of embarrassment inevitably is going to happen.  Urban Outfitters should be ashamed.

Paying In Advance For A Restaurant Reservation

Cancelled reservations are a curse for restaurants.  Reservations get made, the diners-to-be never appear, and a perfectly good table goes empty on a busy night while people wait impatiently at the bar or in the foyer, or leave altogether.

One restaurant in Chicago, called Next, decided to address the problem by replacing reservations with tickets.  You buy your ticket in advance for a table at a particular date and time, and the tickets are non-refundable.  Next’s website explains that “[u]nlike an a la carte restaurant with many walk-in customers and dozens of menu items, Next is creating a truly unique dining experience and doing so at an amazing price. By eliminating no-shows, requiring pre-payment, and varying the price by time and day we are able to create a predictable and steady flow of patrons allowing us to offer a great deal more than would otherwise be possible at these prices.”

Requiring diners to buy tickets dramatically reduced the number of no-shows; Next experienced only five full table no-shows last year and the number of tables where the full party didn’t come fell sharply, too.  Other restaurants are beginning to adopt the practice, so it may be coming soon to a restaurant near you.

I would be perfectly happy with this system at high-end restaurants on busy nights.  If I like a restaurant, I want it to succeed.  If cutting out the lost profits from reservation no-shows helps a great place to stay in business, I’m all for it.

I also think, however, that the reservation/ticket process should be a two-way street.  Kish and I aren’t the no-show types — our problem is showing up at the designated time and having the restaurant tell us that the table isn’t ready yet.  We had a bad experience at one restaurant where we waited for a long while and the hostess just shrugged it off.  If we buy a pre-paid, non-refundable ticket and the table isn’t available when we arrive, we should get a free drink and a significant discount.

Word Games About War

The Obama Administration has an amazing, almost uncanny ability to stub its toe on the most ludicrous things imaginable.  The latest weird distraction involves whether our campaign against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria is a “war.”

Secretary of State John Kerry took pains, in two separate interviews, to say that “war is not the right terminology” to describe the U.S. actions against ISIS, which instead will be a “major counterterrorism operation.”  National Security Advisor Susan Rice similarly resisted describing the operation as a “war.”  The next day, however, a Pentagon spokesman and the White House Press Secretary both described the ISIS campaign as a “war.”

I’m guessing that what happened is this:  some political operative issued “talking points” that strongly discouraged using the word “war” because they don’t want Americans to think they’re going to see a repeat of the Afghanistan and Iraq campaigns.  But if you say you are going to destroy an an armed opponent, as President Obama said of ISIS in his speech this week, what you are talking about obviously is a war.  Quibbling about words makes the Secretary of State and National Security Advisor look like political flacks rather than the thoughtful, above-the-fray stewards of American foreign policy.

This is another instance, too, where the words can have real-world consequences.  America is trying to build a coalition of countries to fight ISIS.  If you are the leader of one of those countries that is considering joining the coalition, and you are trying to decide whether you can trust the United States, what message about long-term American commitment do you draw from the silly wrangling about whether the U.S. actions are a “war” or a “major counterterrorism operation”?  If you’re trying to decide whether to deploy your scarce military and economic resources, and potentially make your country a target of a brutal group of Islamic terrorists, do you want to rely on an ally that is inexplicably pussyfooting around about whether it is fighting a “war”?