Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Shop or your neighbors will lose their jobs

You know some kids – whether in Horry County, South Carolina, or in a third-world village in Africa – had a lousy Christmas. Maybe they had no Christmas at all.

As Christmas Day gets closer each year, ministers and do-gooders remind us that Christmas isn’t about material things. They remind us to keep Christ in Christmas, tell us that it’s better to give than receive, and bemoan the intensity of our consumerism.

Yet two days after Christmas 2011, the news suggests we might not have spent enough on our friends, families, and selves.

Sears Holdings Corp. announced they are closing “between 100 and 120 Sears and Kmart stores.” For the eight weeks ending on Christmas Day, Sears and Kmart sales were down a combined 5.2 percent. We have seven Sears stores in the greater Grand Strand area, and three Kmarts, according to the companies' websites.

While Sears Holdings hasn’t said how many jobs will be affected, The Inquisitr notes that other Sears and Kmart stores probably can’t absorb all the employees of 100 to 120 locations.

So thanks a lot, acquisitive, consumerist Americans – you obviously didn’t spend enough on Christmas this year.

Were you giving to charities instead of retailers?

Did your family decide not to make this Christmas about shopping, spending and big gifts under the tree?

Oh, that’s so good of you. Now people are going to lose jobs in an already struggling economy.

Spending at retail stores is charitable giving. If you don’t shop, someone could lose a job.

Admittedly, that’s not the full picture.

You did shop, didn’t you? Shopping wasn’t quite the issue, was it?

For one thing, U.S. retailers, as a whole, saw a 4.5 percent increase in sales during the last week before Christmas, when compared to the same week last year.

So consumerist, acquisitive Americans did a little better this year – pat yourselves on the back. Most of you simply decided to steer clear of Kmart and Sears.

That’s probably because, at some locations, Sears and Kmart stores can make for uninspired shopping experiences.

Sears and Kmart stores don’t have that Target sparkle that appeals to every middle-class mom with a Suburban. Even Walmart can be, in many locations, a more enjoyable shopping experience than Sears.

But maybe the plight of those Kmart and Sears stores – and their workers – points out something about our economy: It depends way too much on people buying things they don’t absolutely need.

For better and worse, we can’t withhold our money from Retail Land -- no matter what we're buying -- without impacting our neighbors. And when our sales-associate neighbors lose their jobs, not all of them will have the computer-whiz abilities to slip into an information-technology career.

Maybe the real issue is the sustainability of our retail economy, at least in its current form.

On one hand, as reported by The Two-Way, 120 Sears and Kmart stores would amount to about 3 percent of the parent company’s 4,000 locations, even if the executives haven’t said how many people will lose jobs. Three percent doesn’t seem like much. Just a minor adjustment.

On the other hand, consider why these stores are closing. According to Sears Holdings, for the eight weeks ending on Christmas Day, Kmart sales were down 4.4 percent and Sears sales were down 6 percent.

I don’t have a Masters in Business Administration degree, and I realize budgets are tight. So I’ll just play the dummy: I don’t understand how anything can be sustainable with such a slim margin for error. Consumers are fickle and the economy is a roller coaster, even in better times.

Perhaps this is a chance for Sears to reinvent itself. Some commenters on an NPR blog have noted that Sears more or less moved from a full-time sales staff to a part-time sales staff, and that took the appeal from the department store.

Perhaps Sears and Kmart can find an appeal like Target’s.

Old names can reinvent themselves.

Consider the brand of world-famous rock band Van Halen. Brothers Eddie Van Halen and Alex Van Halen brought back their original front man, David Lee Roth, one of three lead singers over the years. Then the brothers added Eddie Van Halen’s son Wolfgang on bass guitar to replace original bassist Michael Anthony.

With something old and something new, they’re getting ready to tour in 2012, and I bet tickets will sell out.

-Colin Foote Burch
(This originally appeared on and was back-dated and re-posted here in July 2014.)

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Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The rise of the Bon Jovi myth

Twitter, my favorite social networking site, recently became the conduit for a fake story that Jon Bon Jovi had died.

Bon Jovi responded to the false reports by posting a photo of him with a sign that read, “Heaven looks a lot like New Jersey.”

I’m not sure how he got Heaven and Hell mixed up, but that’s not the point.

Think about how many fake things have shaped and influenced our world. Devious tweeters have also posted fake death announcements for Mick Jagger, Will Smith, Bill Cosby, and Justin Bieber. Colin Powell became the vehicle for a fake story about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. “The Girls Next Door” and “Kendra” on the E! channel became vehicles for Kendra Wilkinson’s fake boobs.

I follow various news organizations on Twitter – thus creating a personalized news feed – but the thing that bothers me about the social networking site is how quickly it can deliver false information. A few people decide to “re-tweet,” and before our national debt can jump another billion, everyone on the planet knows the news.

Imagine this scenario: Someone tweets the false news of Bon Jovi’s death, and just after that, terrorists hit power grids across the United States.

For hours, days, weeks, perhaps even months, everyone believes Bon Jovi is dead.

The nation, already in severe withdraws from television and Internet, trudges through the additional burden of knowing Bon Jovi would never sing “Livin’ on a Prayer” around a post-electricity campfire.

This mass deception further dispirits the struggling millions who don’t know how to cook over an open flame – no freezers plus no microwaves equals no meals. Livin’ on a prayer, indeed.

So while most Americans believe that Bon Jovi is dead, the man himself begins appear to groups of people and proclaim he really is alive, never died, and the death announcement was just a hoax on Twitter.

This only complicates matters.

Some claim to have seen the ghost of Bon Jovi. Others claim he has become a zombie. Still others claim that he has risen from the dead, adding that it kind of makes sense because Bon Jovi concerts were religious experiences.

But at least without Twitter, these rumors take longer to move around.

Then again, that makes the rumors into taller tales.

As the months pass, news of Bon Jovi spreads. Now some are saying he touched a darkened television set in Sayreville, N.J., and the tube illuminated with re-runs of VH1’s “Pop Up Video.”

Others now say he levitated above a crowd under a New York City bridge and proclaimed, “You live for the fight when that’s all that you’ve got.”

Many copied down those words on their tablets – paper tablets that required pencils.

But some copied down, “You live for the night,” not “fight,” so divisions form among Bon Jovi’s followers. Most people feel obligated to choose a side, so one’s beliefs about Bon Jovi become the central matter of identity in the U.S.

The "night" side and the "fight" side come up with various rituals and institutions to memorialize their founder and instill proper beliefs in their youngsters (how are those youngsters going to rebel? Become religious fundamentalists?).

Entrepreneurs invent hand-tooled leather bracelets that read, "WWBJD?" All the kids wear them.

So even in the post-electricity apocalypse, Twitter creates a new myth, a new religion, and Bon Jovi’s name lives on in a blaze of glory.

-Colin Foote Burch
(This column originally appeared at and was re-posted here in July 2014.)

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Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Spies like us

As Christmas approaches, I think we should note that Jesus has been appearing in a new TV show produced by J.J. Abrams.

“Person of Interest,” which appears at 9 p.m. Thursdays on CBS, stars Jim Caviezel, perhaps best known for playing The Savior in “The Passion of the Christ,” a film which had a pretty good reputation until director Mel Gibson became internationally known as a drunk-driving anti-Semite and baby-momma batterer.

Jesus, or Caviezel, plays Reese, who – for the record – only had an oversized first-century beard during part of the premiere episode.

In “Person of Interest,” Jesus isn’t always watching over you, but his employer certainly is. Jesus’s boss easily taps into massive networks of surveillance cameras and cell phone transmissions – for good purposes – in a way that ought to scare us all.

The employer, played by Michael Emerson, is Finch, the architect of a post-9/11 database that draws information from close-circuit television cameras and phone calls. Based on that information, the database predicts who might be a potential terrorist threat. Development of the database was funded by the U.S. government.

Although the machine was designed to predict terrorism, it also finds out about non-terrorists who might be running into trouble in the near future. The U.S. government didn’t want to deal with the people who aren’t threats to national security, so Finch left himself a backdoor into the system to find out who else might need help.

As a 9/11 survivor who apparently was assumed dead and now walks with a limp, Finch can’t chase the bad guys and protect the good guys. So Finch picked Reese – former special military agent who can take on gangs singlehandedly – to swing fists and fire bullets into non-lethal body parts while protecting innocent people in trouble. Jesus can really kick ass, and that’s the fun part of the show.

When Finch’s machine alerts him to a new person of interest, he immediately gets on his computer and accesses all kinds of personal information, files, records, and even photos. (Note to self: change privacy settings on Facebook.)

Watching the first few episodes of “Person of Interest,” I absorbed Finch’s access and quickly took it for granted. After all, Finch and ex-Jesus are good guys. As created characters, their work is ethical and intended for righteous ends. Finch has the access to the surveillance database, so why not use it?

Of course, the U.S. expanded its surveillance of its own citizens following 9/11, and that made some Americans uncomfortable. But there I am, each Thursday evening, watching someone watch surveillance feeds, watching someone spy on Americans – for a good cause. It’s a timely issue, like the end of “The Dark Knight,” when Batman hacks the cellphone networks to find the bad guys.

Many of us probably assume that the U.S. government has pulled back from its surveillance after the death of Osama bin Laden – which makes about as much sense as Lindsay Lohan telling Playboy she has learned from her mistakes while arguably making the mistake of appearing nude on 10 pages of the magazine.

At least Lohan knew she was being photographed – well, I guess she did; we’ll never know for sure. I haven’t always been sure when I was being photographed, like the time Lohan’s fellow “Mean Girls” actress Rachel McAdams jumped my bones in the elevator of The Martinique resort hotel in Myrtle Beach. I was like, “Wait! Stop! Let’s not embarrass ourselves! There might be a hidden camera in here!” Just go with it. I had to explain the lipstick smudge to my wife somehow.

I also didn’t know when I was being photographed or video-taped during four trips to London during the past two years. Closed-circuit cameras were everywhere – not just in train stations and subways, not just on buses. In England, home country to George Orwell, author of 1984, everyone accepts that constant surveillance is a necessity in violent times.

I’m not sure if the London cameras actually deter people from stealing or vandalizing – I mean, when there’s not already a community-organized riot and arson session in progress – but there were several times when I thought twice before scratching my ass.

Who would see me scratch my ass? Pick my nose? Quickly adjust my uncomfortably situated boxers?

Would the watcher think less of me? Laugh at me? Notice that my quick, private moves were especially American in form? Or worse yet, would think they were French in form?

Maybe that’s why I will continue to watch “Person of Interest.” Maybe I want to know what I and my microbrew physique look like on close-circuit camera.

Plus, I can’t stop watching Jesus kick ass and his boss navigate high-tech surveillance networks.

So maybe Lohan has the right idea. If you can’t have privacy, you might as well make a few bucks exposing your privates.

-Colin Foote Burch
(This column originally appeared in and is re-posted here in July 2014.)

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Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Hands have renewed purpose in 'hand-lit' craze

I heard an advertisement for Brookgreen Gardens’ Nights of a Thousand Candles.

The ad enticed me with its promise of “hand-lit candles.” I found this reassuring. I certainly think the ambiance is best when the candles are lit by hands. Candles lit by Bacardi 151 can sure trash a living room.

If Brookgreen is advertising them, hand-lit flames now have high-end market value. Soon, everyone will try to make a buck on the hand-lighting craze.

Light the Advent wreath, the menorah, or the Christmas tree with your own hand, and you’ve got something special there. Show it off and charge admission. Add a surcharge if you use short matchsticks.

Local hotels will boast about buffets featuring hand-lit Sterno cans.

Now that hand-lighting has become a commodity, hands are riding a new wave of popularity. We’d almost grown tired of hearing “hand-crafted” in Samuel Adams Boston Lager ads and campaigns for other brews. These ads usually involved extra syllables – “ha-a-a-a-nd crafted,” calling to mind Goat Boy from older Saturday Night Live episodes. Just when hand-crafted was on its way out, hand-lit saves the day.

Hand-lit candles and hand-crafted beers aren’t the only new contributions of the five-finger gang. Hands have found new ways to promote actors and recording artists. Recently, for educational purposes, I was researching “famous pictures of all-natural tweeting birds” on the Internet. Search result? Top nude celebrity photos that have appeared on Twitter in 2011. This had nothing to do with tweeting birds, but I believe in learning from mistaken Internet searches. I learned hands have delicate and complex abilities to display both male and female parts of celebrity exhibitionists.

Hands have also become associated with South Carolinian activities, and I don’t mean pulling triggers. I mean a special image on a U.S. 501 billboard from Smoke Free Horry, our local self-appointed health nannies. In the image, a woman – presumably a South Carolinian – is displaying her very pregnant belly with one hand while holding a cigarette in the other. Surely the presence of pregnant smoking women is one of our state’s most endearing qualities – how else could other states look down on us?

But as the South enters the 19th century, we insist our women are no longer barefoot and pregnant. They’re smoking and pregnant. And our hand-lit cigarettes are neither light nor low on tar. If we’re going to hand-light something these days, it’s going to be something worthwhile, like a Marlboro Red, a beachwear store with good insurance, or a bottle rocket aimed into the wind.

Our hand-lighting is now reserved for special occasions, like frying a turkey for the holidays, or inviting our friends and neighbors to special events. So even in an age of lighters and electric grills, I believe the match, like the dead-wood book and the LP vinyl record, will always be with us, even if it becomes a little more upscale.

-Colin Foote Burch
(This column originally appeared on and was re-posted here in July 2014.)

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Thursday, December 1, 2011

Adam Carolla rants about Occupy Wall Street

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