Saturday, February 26, 2011

Fast Food and Inconsiderate People

I only wish I wanted to discuss something as esoteric as Pete Townshend’s Iron Man Soundtrack and the tune crooned by the late Nina Simone “Fast Food" but alas, no such luck.  I am still just a caveman.

I don’t eat huge amounts of fast food but I admit I like some of it just fine, particularly Whataburger.  The thing about Whataburger is, aside from clogging my arteries like the rest of ‘em, you have to wait.  Good “fast” food; relatively long wait.  If I wanted to wait I could go to a place that deserves to send me to an early grave, such as Fuddruckers.  But once in a while, OK.

Yet tonight inconsiderate twits, not the evil fast food giants, commit the crime.  I was in a rush to get back home to get medicine to my girlfriend and had already been to Walgreen’s.  I ran by Jack-in-the-Box next door because I needed a fizzy drink for her and frankly, I was starving as we had skipped dinner for an early show and then never ate since she wasn’t feeling well and we left the show early.

So I arrive in the drive-through lane behind 3 other cars near midnight and figure, “oh well” and place my order within a couple of minutes.  Twenty minutes later, I am still the third car in line and wondering what the hell is going on.  Meanwhile, 5-6 more cars are now behind ME, probably wondering the same thing.  I’m sure some of you are thinking, “Hey, if you choose to go through a drive-through for your cuisine, you deserve whatever you get” but I disagree.  I recently wrote about deficiencies in customer service but I haven’t yet written my blog about how OTHER CUSTOMERS can ruin everything for you…and you KNOW they can.

When I finally got to the window I saw the lady had a cast on her arm and I immediately felt badly but I commented “well, I was going to ask for your manager because clearly you guys don’t have enough help to handle the workload and that isn’t fair to YOU or the customers.”

She apologized and informed me that there were only two people working but normally that is PLENTY, I just had the great fortune of getting behind…. not one…not two…. but THREE people who went through the drive through to get 5-6 meals.   SNAP!   Now I get it.   Pinheads or Patriots?

Here’s some advice for you inconsiderate folks – and this is Round 2 tonight because I already left a nasty note for someone taking up two spaces in a crowded parking lot.  IF YOU NEED A WHOLE BUNCH OF FOOD, DON’T USE THE DRIVE THROUGH.  All it does is make EVERYONE behind you wait with NO ESCAPE.  Of course, maybe you’re too stoned and hungry to think about anyone else.   Let’s hope not.

What more is there to say but to start playing the “Real Men of Genius” theme?  It’s simple:  if you’re catering a small party and ordering the provisions through the drive-through, it isn’t going to work out very well for anyone.  I realize the choices at midnight are limited but the dining room and the grocery are but a couple of options that don’t leave the rest of us trapped in claustrophobic inescapable “fast” food lines for an eternity.  And we might not have to nominate you again for Moron of the Week.

And as for the rest of you, from the guy holding up the returns line to bring back 1/10th of a bottle of white wine at Costco which was “too bitter” (of course it appears to have been alcoholic enough to drink it anyway) to the guy arguing about the surcharge at Quiznos for extra meat because the sign didn’t tell you how much extra meat would be (you know who you are), I can only say…please for the love of God, ease on down the road.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Is Customer Service - and Common Courtesy - Nearly Dead?

Have you noticed that getting someone on the phone with your cable provider, credit card company or other public or private bureaucracy is getting more fun all the time?    Dealing with big government is not our only problem – being stonewalled is everywhere, like a national pastime.

I recently went into Garden Ridge to buy a few things and found some lamps I was interested in.  The only one left had a broken frame and when I inquired as to whether there could be any sort of discount considering it was the last one and I would have to do some repairs, I was told it was corporate policy that everything is sold "as is".  Somewhat surprised, I left the store with nothing and promptly wrote the corporate office to which I received in return – you guessed it — nothing.

A little better was my experience at Pier One.  I moved a couple of years ago and had stashed away some expired coupons for Bed Bath and Beyond, Old Navy and Pier One.  Knowing that BB&B always allows these I made a purchase there, got my discount and proceeded over to Old Navy where they didn't even bring it up and honored my reward certificates.  But at Pier One, the lady at the counter couldn't even put theirs into the system.  So she asked her manager, who promptly told her "uh…NO" from the back and then went out of her way to come all the way back to the sales counter and inform me in a shockingly snide tone, "Yeah, next time you really ought to bring them in sooner than two years after they expire” followed by (yes, really)  "Oh, and by the way, your NEXT reward certificates expire 3 months after you get them so that should give you plenty of time to use them."
 < SMIRK >  REALLY?   That’s HER smirking and ME thinking “REALLY??” btw.

Well, needless to say I informed them that I really didn't NEED that fireplace grate and to please forgive my ignorance about the reward certificates but perhaps I would be back at another time.  Again, I promptly contacted customer service and to their credit, they expressed dismay at the behavior of their manager and said they routinely replace reward certificates through their underwriting bank.  It took me three additional phone calls to the bank, back to a Pier One supervisor and finally a bank supervisor to get the tickets reissued but they are supposed to be here around the first of March.  Yes, I had to work at it but the future’s so bright, I gotta wear shades.  Too bad Pier One doesn’t carry them.

This is the kind of experience most people have on a day -to–day basis and often say this is a good illustration of why the big bloated government can't run anything.  But it's big business and small business too.  And it's individuals – maybe that is WHY.

My father had showrooms at the Apparel Mart in Dallas for many years.  When I was little, missing an appointment was considered very bad manners.  By the time he retired, we way overbooked his appointments know many people simply would not show up.

The other day I found a chair for sale online and contacted the owner to meet so I could look at it.  He was very friendly and agreed to call me back as soon as he dropped off his kids.  He never called me back.  So I texted him and called him and STILL he never called me back.  Finally I e-mailed him and left him a voice mail, "Listen, if you've changed your mind that's fine but I'd really appreciate the courtesy of a phone call or message from you so I know you're no longer interested in selling the chair."  NADA.  ZIP.  ZERO.  Is this the “trickle up economics” or attitude from the bottom up as opposed to the top down?  Or are we just one incredibly flawed species?

But all is not lost – yet.   I had someone come over to work on my fireplace.  They charged me very little and sent a guy who is a trained engineer but working for a friend while he tries to get back into his profession.  Courteous, helpful, thorough…everything you would wish for in every transaction you partake in.  Well – keep wishin’ – all we can do is demand more…from our own kids, from adults we deal with and from everyone we encounter.  Encourage those around you to be excellent and TELL THEM WHEN THEY ARE.  I gave those guys a five-star rating on both Yelp! and Citysearch, believe me.  And TIP generously -- especially when you are served well.  My last waitress at Bone Daddy’s (A Hooter’s-like BBQ joint) was a former microbiology major studying to be a psychotherapist.  She was cute, sure – but she was bright, delightful and I told her “You go girl!” and gave her a big fat tip – not because her navel was pierced but because she did an awesome job.

I'm not sure what has happened to most of the decorum, common courtesy, and customer service in our society.  Sometimes you're trying to get help from an agency or company who just doesn't have the resources to hire people who are knowledgeable enough (or even plentiful enough) to solve your problem.  Sometimes you're just dealing with one inconsiderate jerk who doesn't care.  Either way, it doesn't bode very well for us.  Fail.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Letter to Dad (not what you'd expect)

I grew up in a very liberal household.  My Dad grew up in the Bronx and still goes to Enstein's for free bagels even when we don't have room for any more.  My Mom is a yellow-dog Southern lady and neither one of them like Republicans.  But as I've gotten older, I've become more conservative.  I don't care much for politicians or pundits in general.  My Mom isn't very happy that I'm not as much of a Democrat as I used to be and she shuts down during disagreements.  My dad will debate but it's futile.  So, I'm going to let it be.  But I had to give it one last shot:

Dear Dad,

I really think you are failing to see the big picture and this is my last individual rant about it — from now on you can read my blog if you want to and we should stick to talking about bagels, getting rid of crap we don't need and more fun things, especially since Mom gets so pissed off at me.

Contradictions abound.  The left consistently accuses the right of being dishonest, racist and anti-poor while pro big business, etc. but tonight there was video on Hannity of several white liberal people suggesting that Clarence Thomas and his wife — "be strung up," "have his toes cut off and fed to the dog" and finally "be sent back to the fields."  If those aren't hateful and racist statements, what is?  But you will see NO outcry from the left because Thomas is a conservative and the statements were made by liberals so the mainstream media, Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton and all the other cretins who decry the Right as "racist" and "hateful" will say nothing.  

My point is not that the left is bad but that these people live by a double standard and at best are NO better than the people you despise on the right.  You think O'Reilly was disrespectful to the President?  What the hell are THESE people saying and why doesn't anyone on the left complain?

I would tend to agree with you that many conservative commentators tend to be a bit condescending and rude at times.  I ceased listening to Rush Limbaugh forever when he had the unbelievable indecency to mock the tears Dan Rather shed on the Letterman show following 9/11.   But the more rabid liberal commentators simply don't get national airtime on TV or radio so they tend to fly under the radar.  For whatever reason they don't seem to generate the same ratings which I totally don't understand since we're a divided country – but in contrast as much as I enjoyed Keith Olbermann he was admittedly very sarcastic and sometimes snide.

As much as I like Glenn Beck in small doses, tonight he railed on the protests in Wisconsin, comparing them to the protests in Egypt and Muslim revolutionaries and also managed to find some kids at the Wisconsin rally who had absolutely no clue why they were marching and so referred to ALL the kids as "useful idiots" and “political pawns” while Ed Shultz countered with footage of kids who knew exactly why they were protesting.  Beck of course had nothing to say  comparing HIS rallies or the Tea Party rallies to Egypt or extremists and didn't highlight the dopes who attended THOSE.  Not to be outdone, Mr. Ed was all over him about it.  This is the epitome of SPIN.  There is no doubt in my mind that some of the kids in the Wisconsin crowd were ignorant and others well informed – wouldn't we find intellectuals and idiots in ANY crowd?   It's a question of who you CHOOSE to highlight and everything being subject to interpretation.  What story  do you want to tell?    From the man on the street to a high profile commentator, some folks  have an agenda and others just tend to interpret "news" in a way that supports what they already believe which is especially understandable when what objective facts are reported are also  surrounded by commentary telling you what it means.   Subjective reasoning at its best, deliberate or otherwise.  

But Mr. Ed also tonight referred to Rush Limbaugh as "the drugster" and said the governor of Wisconsin is "cooking the books" to make things look worse than they really are and a lot more.  He also proceeded to say that President Obama needs to stop "parroting the Republican Party's talking points."  Is THAT accurate and is it treating Mr. Obama or the office of the President with respect?   His see-saw diatribe continued, saying that the Republicans are trying to steal money from public workers and the poor.  Are you KIDDING ME?   The poor and public workers have free everything paid for by you and me and public workers have the best benefits available, particularly if they are union members.  When the economy sucks, they have to make sacrifices like everyone else especially when we have NO MONEY TO PAY THEM.    Oh no, one of his guests compared them to the noble followers of Martin Luther King.  Maybe some are but ALL OF THEM?  I don't think so.

And yes, every time I hear about O'Reilly being disrespectful to President Obama (you yourself accused of interrupting the President 73 times, but who's counting -  and being hateful) I can't help but think about people like Michael Moore screaming at George Bush at the Oscars and Natalie Maines of the Dixie Chicks publicly insulting President Bush during their last European tour while our military men and women are risking their lives to defend out country against terrorists and regimes who wish to destroy America and Israel.    There is a lot wrong with our wars but there is also important work being done in the interest of democracy and our country's security so these comments were totally inappropriate.  The problem is when you have a preconceived notion of what you think of someone, it's hard to view them objectively.   I didn't see O'Reilly's interview and I will watch it — chances are I won't be quite as offended as you are but it isn't because I am enamored with the Right.  I don't have any respect for Rush, the mean-spirted commentary of Ann Coulter or Michael Savage and other rabid conservatives.  I just don't agree that O'Reilly is one OF them.

Everyone's perspective tends to be skewed.  The TRUTH is that yes, the rich work hard to STAY rich, powerful and keep the government out of their business while SOME of them want that same government dictate what goes on in our bedrooms.  Yes, they have money so they can buy their own stuff.  Meanwhile, the poor and union members really don't have buy squat to because somebody GIVES it all to them and makes the rest of us pay for it whether they are REALLY hardworking or just lazy slackers.  If they can work the system they get a handout and there is no real effective accountability.  Some of them really need it and others are generations of welfare families driving cars more expensive than ours.  The government is not nearly capable of discriminating and stopping the abuse, so what will eventually happen is the pendulum swings the other way and policies will be made that hurt everyone.  Those who really deserve a  leg up AND those who have EARNED what they have both will be thrown under the bus along with the ones who should have been off the dole or had their entitlements cut long ago.

And there is more.  Poor management of resources, for instance, knows no boundaries either.  It purveys the local, state and federal government as well as many big and small businesses and to no surprise - many individuals can't run their own lives — I know because I've been one of those individuals and I'm smack dab in the middle of big public and private messes.  For example,   while AISD schools are closing and 700 teachers will be laid off (including Barton Hills and one of Katie's theater teachers) thanks to AISD's horrible mismanagement and  Robin Hood taking from "the rich" and giving to "the poor," the Superintendent will keep her $280,000 salary, rumored $1000/month car allowance, supplemental life insurance policy paid for by the district (outside of the policy every AISD employee gets) and a host of other extra benefits.  Many other districts have similar outrageous scenarios.  Again, it isn't about left or right; it's about SOME people really working hard to get a fair shake along with a lot of other people fighting for power to get more than they deserve:  rich overpaid bureaucrats AND CEO's getting richer from ridiculously high salaries, lack of government interference, little to no taxes and whatever else they can get away with, countered by those on the lower end of the spectrum expecting huge entitlements so the government can take care of them instead of getting their act together and EARNING a living.  They exist along with self-made millionaires who grew up poor (like yourself) and poor people who make every effort and still come up short.  But we ALL work the system and then criticize everybody ELSE for looking out for themselves.  When someone does o so to an extreme, they should be called on it.  Otherwise, we play with the hand we're dealt because who has the time to spend hiis life trying to change public policy unless he is getting paid for it?  You yourself, again, believe in higher taxes for the rich but you and Mom and the entire family do EVERYTHING you can to milk every loophole, get tax-free investments and take advantage of whatever you can to make more money and pay less in taxes.  Is this hypocrisy or just the way things are?  For most people, you put food in front of them and they eat it, even when they aren't hungry.  It's human nature.  And America is the fattest nation on Earth.

The same contradictions can be found in Obamacare, which, for instance is supposed to help Americans who have trouble getting health insurance and mandates small businesses to offer it; yet also offers exemptions for big businesses who are big donors.     If the law stays, Pro-Tape will have to offer health insurance or pay a big penalty — but McDonald's and other huge companies as will not — and this is OBAMA'S pet project!  I''m sorry but WHO is this supposed to help again?   To be fair, labor unions are also exempt…but they already have better benefits than small business because LIKE BIG BUSINESS they throw money at the powers-that-be.  There is no rhyme or reason to it other than money talks and bullshit walks.  

People on both sides are all right about some things and they are entirely wrong about others and sometimes, they are individually simultaneously right AND wrong about the same damn things.   I don't believe there are many exclusively "liberal" or "conservative" or "public" or "private" solutions to most problems.  It takes a partnership and some degree of consensus which we aren't going to have until we're under Chinese rule.  This is reality.

Friday, February 11, 2011

HELP!! TXMPA Factoids & Figurines for the Texas Entrepeneur Network

Greetings TXMPA fans!  I was asked to write a blog for the Texas Entrepeneur Network and it was just approved by Don Stokes and Jay Schuh, co-chair of our communications committee.

If you have questions, please visit the TXMPA website or contact me anytime via FB, LinkedIN or wherever I lurk!

Craig Berlin
Founding Board Member
Texas Motion Picture Alliance

Pro-Tape Systems
The Texas Legislature convenes this year with a problem that is not unusual if you look around the country but it is unusual for Texas:  a budget shortfall as high as $27 billion.  Since Texas cannot deficit spend as the Federal government does, the winds of cutting spending are blowing through Austin with the same hurricane force we hear about Washington, D.C.  With so much on the chopping block including every conceivable hurtful sacrifice from closing schools to cutting mental health programs to ending some kinds of aid to victims of child abuse, nothing is sacred.  To almost anyone then, ending incentives for film, video and video game producers ought to be a no-brainer.

While conservative “fiscally responsible” think tanks certainly toot that horn and a number of other economic development funds are being targeted, since 2006 it has been the job of the Texas Motion Picture Alliance ( to educate and inform the public and the Legislature that decreasing funding for the Texas Moving Image Industry Incentive Program will have the opposite of its intended effect, costing the State hundreds of millions of dollars in business and tax revenue and sending jobs elsewhere.

Programs in other states are justifiably being cut not just due to the prevailing mentality but because overly generous and corrupt programs full of loopholes cost their states more money than they made.  Seeing that, along with misinformation, has fueled a public and legislative appetite for cutting all programs back.

However, the facts have been largely overlooked or distorted and sometimes overshadowed by outright falsehoods.  The truth is that Texas went from being the Third Coast to an afterthought when other states began offering incentives, and when places such as Louisiana went from $20 million in production in 2002 to $620 million four years later, the Texas production community knew something had to be done.   The TXMPA was created in a near-panic to effect change and has worked closely with IATSE, the labor union for production crewpeople, to create a conservative but effective program which has brought in over $600 million in production spending since its inception and created thousands of jobs, resulting in tremendous trickle-down spending and tax revenue benefitting every man, woman and child in Texas.   It is noteworthy as well that without the program, much of this business would have gone elsewhere.  Prison Break, which stayed in Dallas for its third season (the second in Texas), did so primarily because of our new and improved incentive program.

The budget, economic development, incentives and the ancillary subjects are complicated but one thing is for certain:  the Texas Moving Image Industry Incentive Program brought jobs and business BACK to Texas and prevented others from leaving – all with a closely scrutinized process that requires that producers come to Texas, spend money and provide documentation of that spending before they get one red cent back.  If and when they are eligible they must do due diligence and their grants are structured in a way that benefits both the producers and the State.  Our program was designed from the beginning to rely on Texas being a great place to produce on its own so we will never have to give away the farm.  However, we do need the program to have adequate funding or once again, the industry will go elsewhere to work.

For more information on the importance of the program please visit our website at  If you would like to speak to a representative of the Board, please contact us. The TXMPA is a 100% volunteer non-profit organization and we are desperately in need of financial support to help preserve this program, which in turn generates hundreds of millions of dollars for Texas workers and other worthy government programs facing huge cuts.  Please contact us to learn how you can help.
Craig Berlin is a graduate of the University of Texas at Austin with degrees in Plan II, the Liberal Arts Honors Program and Radio-TV-Film.  He has operated audio-visual production and support company Take 5, Inc. dba/Pro-Tape since 1986 and is a founding Board Member and former treasurer of the TXMPA.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Just When You Thought You Knew Whom to Be Mad At

Ah, government.  For the people, by the people, people who need people, Foster the People, yadda yadda yadda.  To quote Duran Duran “What is happening to it all?  Crazy some say…where is the life that I recognize?”

While the left and the right are throwing stones at each other the man on the street is left to trust our elected officials to make some common sense of it all and do some things that the rest of us have to do at home and the office, such as stop spending money we don’t have (what a concept).   I mean, we CAN continue borrowing money from China but if they decide to call the notes one day and we can’t pay them my guess is they aren’t going to take back a bunch of fake watches and cheap electronics as collateral while we get our act together.  Maybe postage stamps?

The truth is, nobody knows what the heck is going on.  Obamacare is a catastrophe if you’re on the right and a lifesaver if you’re on the left, until you dig a little further.

Repealing the bill has been the Federal House Republican’s #1 priority but Politico reports some of the 16 freshman lawmakers — many of whom swept into office fueled by tea party anger over the health care law — are facing monthly premiums of $1,200 and fears of double-digit rate hikes since they declined their government health benefits.  As always, there is a different side of the story — about tough out-of-pocket expenses, pre-existing conditions and support for health reforms that would help those who struggle with their coverage as they venture into the free market for health insurance.  SURPRISE!

That does not change the face that Obamacare is 4700 pages long (that’s War and Peace on steroids and not nearly as interesting), questionably constitutional and has a list of other negatives for small business and others.

But I digress.  The thing I wanted to find out is who’s zoomin’ who about ALL of it?

As a Board member of the Texas Motion Picture Alliance, I am focused on the $27 billion potential budget shortfall in the State of Texas and our Moving Picture Industry Incentive Program, as with many others, is facing severe budget cuts.  So naturally, our efforts have been to work with the powers-that-be, which would seem to be the Governor, Lt. Governor, Speaker of the House, Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, Chairman of the House Budget Committee, the State Comptroller’s office and various and sundry influential types so we can advocate for our share of the pie.

Then I read an article from former State Representative Sherri Greenberg who says in the Austin American-Statesman (paraphrased):

However, the state's finances are not accessible and readily understood: discretionary spending, structural deficit, gimmicks, contracting out, economic development and budget process.  As a freshman legislator in 1991, I was shocked to learn that the Texas Legislature really only has direct control over about 15 percent of the total state budget when you take into account dedicated funds, tax exemptions, mandates and the like. This fact makes balancing the state budget a lot trickier.   Government has its own set of budget-balancing gimmicks. “   

Really?   Of course, your local government, other states and the Feds run a COMPLETELY transparent system.  And I invented the internet.  Sorry Al.

So, we really have a lot to learn if you are curious enough and have enough time on your hands to navigate the waters.  If so, God bless you.  No, really.  If you really figure it all out a lucrative book deal is waiting for you – or a show on talk radio or the new Independent Open-Minded News Channel, coming soon to a fledgling cable news network near you.  Because the guys talking to you now - they don't get it either.  It has largely been set up so you can't and that's probably no accident.

Craig Berlin is a graduate of the University of Texas at Austin with degrees in Plan II, the Liberal Arts Honors Program and Radio-TV-Film.  He has operated audio-visual production and support company Take 5, Inc. dba/Pro-Tape since 1986 and is a founding Board Member and former treasurer of the TXMPA.