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Archive for January, 2011

Shut the forecast up

That steel smell fills the air again, the kind of smell that belongs only to winter. It’s dry and cold and hard, and you can sense it seconds after stepping outside. Breathe in deeply and it will clear your sinuses, or at least make your nose sting, like a good horseradish. It is also the lingering signal that snow is on the way.

That steel smell fills the air again, for a…well, I’m not sure how many times it’s snowed this winter. I’m not sure I could count them all: the major storms, the small accumulations, the sleetings, the flurries that don’t even bother to build up. I don’t want to count them all. But many flakes have fallen, too many inches have been counted, and what we’re left with now now is a massive foundation of the stuff. We’re done building.  We are all weary.

And yet, each time a storm threatens to pass over the area, the grinning weatherfolk spring into action. “Welllllll, Philadelphia, have you had enough this winter? Because we’re looking at another two inches at least, and up to eight if the storm hits just right. Expect snowfall to start early [whatever day] evening, then tapering off by early morning. Let’s toss it over to the traffic desk to see how this will irrevocably fuck up your day, but not before I tell you we have another storm coming down the pike. Don’t put the rock salt away just yet!”

This is all they do.

It snows every winter, but every winter, every storm is 100-pt headline news. SNOW ON THE WAY. PEOPLE BUYING SHOVELS BY THE SHOVELFUL. REGION PUMMELED BY SNOW.

And, just, ugh. I don’t want to hear about it anymore. I don’t want to hear another weatherman telling me how massive this next storm is going to be. I don’t want to hear a family member or friend telling me how this next storm is “supposed” to go. That’s always how it’s phrased — “I hear we’re supposed to get X inches.” What is this, fucking whisper down the non-plowed lane? Who gives a shit how much we’re supposed to get?

How about this new policy? Everyone get a shovel, get some rock salt, get some boots. Weatherpeople, you tell us when it might snow, and we’ll wait. If it snows, we’ll shovel, we’ll deal, and the individual civic areas will hopefully plow. No one will run out of milk and bread because no one ever runs out of milk and bread. But please, for the love of god, cut out the snowstorm hype.

To illustrate my point, here is a very incomplete and off-the-top-of-my-head list of things I would rather hear than people talking about snowstorms:

  • A baseball argument about the value of batting average, or grit.
  • A 15-minute vintage Neil Young guitar solo.
  • A War and Peace book on tape, as read by Gilbert Gottfried.
  • An endless loop of Tanya Roberts screeching, “James! James! Don’t leave me!” as from the Bond classic, A View to a Kill.
  • An endless loop of people baby-talking to horses.
  • 23 consecutive Sarah McLachlan ASPCA commercials.
  • 24 consecutive hours of WIP sports radio callers. Or any sports radio callers, really.
  • Sarah Palin, the broadway puppet musical

Anyway, you get the idea.

Now, you may be sitting there thinking, “Come on, Mike, that’s a bit absurd isn’t it? Isn’t that meteorological knowledge something worth having? Isn’t it better to have an idea of how much snow you’ll be getting, rather than be surprised by a foot of snow? Wouldn’t you rather have that idea than sit there anxiously, wondering if this will be a dusting or a big, big storm?”

And I would say damn, theoretical person, that is a lot of questions. But yes, it is fairly absurd. About eighty percent of my motivation for writing this stems from my personal distaste for snow and winter, so I’m as biased as a Pepsi fortune heir filling out a cola survey.

Beyond that, though, I would find forecasts and snowstorm discussions useful if they were conducted with precision. If a TV meteorologist told me, “We will get 5.5 inches of snow in the 10 hours between 6 p.m. and 4 a.m,” that would be fantastic. That would also be somewhat revolutionary because that never happens. In reality, a week or so before a given storm hits, weatherpeople start cranking that hype machine by telling the public a snowstorm is coming. Then, three or four days out, they’ll guess how much snow will fall and sort of when it will happen. A day before, they’ll make slight adjustments, but the predictions are never exact. Then the storm turns into a traffic event.

This doesn’t relieve anxiety. People go completely bonkers over snowstorm rumor and speculation, mostly because they can’t speak with any certainty or authority. And so you start to hear people — even newspapers, for crying out loud — giving snowstorms nicknames. Sooner or later, people start talking about snowstorms like office workers talking about raises.

“Well, I hear we’re going to get one in April.”

“The bosses are supposedly giving a little salary bump at Christmas.”

You know what snowstorm I enjoyed most this winter? The one that dumped more than a foot of heavy snow on the region. I believe it was the largest storm of the season, but I didn’t mind because news forecasters completely screwed the prediction. They underplayed the amount and botched the timing, so people couldn’t build it into anything. It just…happened. And once the snow stopped falling, I got out there and shoveled, because that’s what you do, however much you hear you’ll get.

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Earlier today, I learned of a subtle little fold in the No Taxpayer Funding For Abortions Act.

The people who proposed the bill don’t want any taxpayer money having anything to do with any abortion ever in any capacity — Any! (except for the exceptions) — even going so far as to say that insurance policies that provide abortion services should not get any gubmint money or tax benefits. It’s one way to try to start sneaking Roe v. Wade out the back door, and at least one way to guarantee abortion becomes more dangerous, and definitely a way to show your lack of compassion. It might also just be a way to inflame the culture wars to distract American voters from issues like the economy. In any event, it sure seems like Republicans have their priorities in order.

The bill also modifies the exceptions, which are that taxpayer money can’t be used for abortions except for rape, incest, and when the pregnancy threatens the woman’s life. That’s weird by itself, because if you’re so dead-set against abortion, why have any exceptions at all?

With this bill, though, it’s “forcible rape,” and incest, but only if the woman’s a minor. This was all brought to light first by Mother Jones, and is, needless to say, abhorrent. Well, needless to say for everyone except for sponsor Chris Smith of New Jersey and the bill’s 173 co-sponsors, a number of whom are women, which is baffling, because the bill is not kind toward women.

I could go on about what I think about the bill, but I don’t need to, because I can just share the letter I sent to my U.S. rep earlier today. Hey, they always say they want to hear from you, right?

Mr. Fitzpatrick,

I’m writing you to express my anger and dismay that you’ve co-sponsored the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act.

I don’t agree with the bill at all, but recognize there’s nothing that I can say that will change your mind about choice issues. But what truly angers me is how the bill defines the exceptions, specifically rape.

I’d like you to tell me what “forcible rape” is, and how it is different from statutory rape or date rape or rape in which a man threatens violence*. No, really, please explain to me how “forcible rape” isn’t redundant, or why rape is somehow considered legitimate only when a rapist holds a woman down before raping her? By definition, every rape is forcible because there is no consent. This definition only makes the lives of rape survivors harder.

In addition to this definition of rape, I’m upset that you’ve co-sponsored a bill in which an abortion exception is made for incest, but only if the female is a minor.

In my mind, there wouldn’t have to be a list of these exceptions at all. In my mind, abortion is the individual woman’s choice, not a choice that politicians or anyone else can make for her. And in my mind, this bill will fail, and fail hard, because it’s absolutely heinous.

Sincerely,
Michael P. Garvey

(*There’s some of the letter that doesn’t make sense, or at least isn’t clear, like the part about threatening violence. I suppose I intended that phrase to mean threatening violence with a gun but not actually shooting. But even then, that’s fairly violent and terrifying. I’ve been thinking about this for a day or so, and have come to the conclusion that the word “violent” sucks when you’re talking about rape. You can assign too many different meanings, when you don’t need to qualify rape at all. It’s horrible in any form. The lesson is, I could have done a better job proofing before sending it away, but I think I did an okay job of making the point.)

I got a form-letter response in which the Rep says I’ll be getting a more detailed response shortly. I’d like to see that.

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WHERE IS SILAS!?

It’s worth pointing out* that cable TV got a little less smug yesterday, with Keith Olbermann being fired/forced to resign/quitting/etc. Some rejoiced. Some were outraged. Some rightly wondered if Comcast was behind the move. Others, like Philly Daily News staff writer Jan Ransom, only mentioned that notion before quoting a bunch of Twitter accounts belonging to people irrelevant to the story.

Locally, Olbermann’s sudden leave was a hot topic on Twitter Friday night.

“Keith Olbermann is the voice of reason in a sea of garbage,” tweeted Tamra Burgess. “This is a travesty.”

DJ Luciano said: “I want Keith Olbermann back! Or I move to CNN.”

Several die-hard Olbermann fans started online petitions demanding the ousted host be returned.

But not everyone sang Olbermann’s praises.

“Keith Olbermann, to unemployment. Left lost its voice,” tweeted Silas Kan d’Kumquat. “So how’s this yes we can thing workin’ for ya?”

Silas Kan d’Kumquat’s name is actually misspelled, which makes me think no one copy edited this story, or it was thrown together 15 seconds before deadline, or both. It should be Kain instead of Kan, and I know this only because I had to figure out if this was a real person, or a character in a cartoon book about food. Additionally, Silas is not local — not unless you count Boston as part of the greater Philadelphia area. The Twitter inclusions are so baffling, it’s hard to get your head around them. Silas doesn’t appear to have an insider connection to Olbermann, MSNBC, or Comcast, like millions and millions of other people.

By the way, this is something I found that Silas wrote recently, posted yesterday. An excerpt:

I’m sorry it’s been a while since I’ve submitted an article and for that I apologize.

Anyway, there are three pieces I have in various stages of development.

One of the pieces is about James Franco and his return to General Hospital.

Well, that’s not exactly germane to politics, is it? Not that writing about soap operas is bad or anything. But if there’s anyone Jan needed to include in an article about a prime-time cable news show host abruptly leaving his post, it’s Silas Kain d’Kumquat. By the way, did you catch the byline on that post? Silas Kain? That sounds like an actual person’s name. The “d’Kumquat” is likely a fake last name, a small indulgence for a person who mentions food and cooking on his Twitter account. 

I don’t know for certain if it’s fake, but after poking around online for only 10 minutes, I raised enough doubt to make this name not appropriate for a news story. It’s hard to imagine someone screwing up that badly, unless something needed to be thrown together in 15 seconds.

What I really don’t understand is why any of the Twitter stuff is in there at all. If you take all of it out, all the reaction, you have a perfectly reasonable short news story — Olbermann doesn’t have a show, here’s what MSNBC says, here’s what NBC says, here’s how long Olbermann’s had the show. Done.

But then Jan Ransom, or a Philly DN editor, had to rub mud all over the story by including Twitter accounts. And I could understand that if the Tweets were from, say, Keith Olbermann or a high-ranking Comcast exec. But Tamra Burgess? Silas Kain? DJ Luciano? It makes me think of that Dave Chappelle bit in which he recalls watching MTV after the 9/11 attacks. He remembers an MTV host getting Ja Rule on the phone. “Who gives a fuck what Ja Rule thinks at a time like this? I don’t want to dance, I’m scared to death!”

The whole point of that was to illustrate that celebrity is not an intrinsically valuable thing, and to say that people should calm the celebrity worship that’s so prevalent these days. What you have to say is not valuable or pertinent simply because you are famous.

So this situation is a little different, perhaps the polar opposite to Ja Rule — what you have to say is not valuable simply because you said it on Twitter. It’s not that someone on Twitter can’t make a good point, or that a non-famous person couldn’t have an opinion that provides a fresh angle on a news story.

It’s more that there has to be some news value to a quote in a news story. If the person’s opinion makes such a good point, maybe the reporter ought to do some more research or make a few more calls.

You can make the case that the reporter’s aiming to gauge public opinion, but I don’t think that was accomplished from a few plucked Twitter posts that illustrate the predictable range of public opinion. We really couldn’t guess that some people liked the MSNBC/Olbermann split, and that some people did not?

There has to be some connection, some reason those quotes are in there, some indication as to why I should care. Including the vox populi mishmash of Twitter turns the story into a TV news segment, and including it in a hasty manner opens you up to all kinds of errors, errors like “Kan” and possibly fake last names.

And I think Jan Ransom and the Philly DN editors recognized that, but pushed ahead because they didn’t want to be a boring, dry newspaper, or they really thought it could liven up the piece. Or maybe it’s just that Jan Ransom heard the news and had this series of thoughts:

“Oh my god, this is terrible. Could somebody please…find Silas Kain, get a hold of this motherfucker so I can make sense of this.

“Where is Silas?”

 

 

(*It’s also worth pointing out that, just for clarification’s sake, I made some changes to portions that took unfair and non-germane shots at Silas.)

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Earlier this evening, I discovered that I had six dollars in my checking account. I knew it would be low, because I still needed to deposit my latest paycheck, but not six dollars low. So I check the charges and see one for about 75 dollars.

Had someone stolen my checking card numbers again? That happened a year and a half ago, somehow, and the person who took the numbers tried to buy hundreds of dollars of Kangol hats and a subscription to eHarmony.  It was bizarre. Maybe LL Cool J was broke and looking for love.

Luckily, the card and its numbers had not been stolen. The charge was from Norton, of anti-virus fame. I didn’t remember purchasing anything, and best I could figure, it was an automatic renewal of services. I have very mixed feelings about those automatic renewals, or changes to agreements of service. People sign up for a lot of things — credit cards, auto insurance, health insurance, software, magazine subscriptions, gym memberships, shopper’s clubs, warranties. Keeping track of all the terms can be tough. Sometimes, a credit card company instantly raises rates, because it reserved that right, in very small print, on the document you signed. Other times, people forget about an annual service, and I think that was the case here. I didn’t need, have, or want Norton on my computer. So I sought a refund.

One of the great joys of big business is getting in touch with the company. It’s not like, say, a bike shop. If a mechanic at my shop torques a bolt improperly, or messes up the threading while installing a bottom bracket, I know where to take the problem. That’s why I love my local bike shop. It’s never messed up anything, but if it did, it would fix the situation.

With banks and other companies, whose headquarters are many miles away and whose services aren’t necessarily tangible, this task becomes tougher. With Norton, I had two choices — wait on the phone listening to bad music, or wait on my computer for a service rep. I decided to wait online, and this is what happened:

Mike has entered room.
If you get disconnected, click the link to reconnect to the same chat session.
We are experiencing higher than usual service times. Please wait and an analyst will be with you shortly.
We are experiencing higher than usual service times. Please wait and an analyst will be with you shortly.
We are experiencing higher than usual service times. Please wait and an analyst will be with you shortly.
We are experiencing higher than usual service times. Please wait and an analyst will be with you shortly.
We are experiencing higher than usual service times. Please wait and an analyst will be with you shortly.
We are experiencing higher than usual service times. Please wait and an analyst will be with you shortly.
We are experiencing higher than usual service times. Please wait and an analyst will be with you shortly.
We are experiencing higher than usual service times. Please wait and an analyst will be with you shortly.
We are experiencing higher than usual service times. Please wait and an analyst will be with you shortly.
We are experiencing higher than usual service times. Please wait and an analyst will be with you shortly.
We are experiencing higher than usual service times. Please wait and an analyst will be with you shortly.
We are experiencing higher than usual service times. Please wait and an analyst will be with you shortly.
We are experiencing higher than usual service times. Please wait and an analyst will be with you shortly.
We are experiencing higher than usual service times. Please wait and an analyst will be with you shortly.
We are experiencing higher than usual service times. Please wait and an analyst will be with you shortly.
We are experiencing higher than usual service times. Please wait and an analyst will be with you shortly.

Well, there were about 60 people in front of me, so I had to wait, and wait, and wait. I would like to meet these people in front of me, mostly to figure out if they, too, wanted to toss their laptops across the room.

Abhilash has entered room.

Oh! At long last.

Abhilash
You are being transferred to Abhilash.
Abhilash>Hi Mike, my name is Abilash from  Norton Support. how are you doing today?
Mike>Okay
Abhilash>Thanks for your patience, I am sorry for the delay. We have more people contacting us than normal.
Mike>That’s fine, I just want to get this sorted out.
Abhilash>Just in case I need to call you back, can I please have your phone number with the country and area code?
Abhilash>Sure.
Mike>XXX-XXX-XXXX, country’s USA
Abhilash>Mike, I see that you are charged for automatic renewal and need refund ?
Mike>But I wonder what you can tell me about this renewal of services. I was charged 75 dollars on Saturday for, I presume, a renewal of anti-virus software.
Mike>correct

It was fun learning that the same cross-conversation problems of instant messaging applied to customer service chats with Norton. I find it amusing. I’d never walk into my bike shop, listen to a mechanic ask about my gnarled wheel, and then say something like, “You see, I have this problem with my wheel. It’s mangled.”

Abhilash>May I know the date of charge and the amount charged ?
Mike>1/15/2011, and for $74.19
Abhilash>May I know the reason for the refund ?
Mike>I didn’t request the service. At least, I don’t remember ever requesting the service, and I’m not even sure what it’s for.
Abhilash>Can I put you on hold for 2 or 3 minutes while I look into this for you?
Mike>sure
Abhilash>Thanks, your case number is XXXXXX176, please write this down.
Abhilash>I would like to assure you that I will help you with the refund.
Mike>ok

Now, at this point I was pretty pleased. I wondered if I could have fibbed about the money, and I also wondered how Abhilash knew who I was in the first place. Presumably Abhilash did, and should have known about the charge.

Abhilash>Mike, we’d like to keep you as a customer and what we we’d like to do for you is to install Norton 360 on to your new computer and provide you with an extra year onto your subscription at no extra cost. How does this sound?

It sounds fucking terrible is what it sounds like, Abhilash. Keep me as a customer? I just requested a refund. I don’t want to be rude, but that sort of implies I am rejecting your company’s services.

Mike>Wait, what?
Mike>First, I’m confused about this in the first place. Is Norton still running on my computer, and can you tell that it is?
Abhilash>Could you please check and let me know whether you see any Norton icon in the computer ?
Mike>I don’t see one
Abhilash>It is not in your computer.
Mike>And there’s no Norton/Symantec program in the programs list
Abhilash>Then you do not have Norton Program in the computer.
Mike >There is a Symantec LiveUpdate icon in my Control Panel, though
Mike>ok
Abhilash>Live Update is used to update the virus definitions.
Mike>ok

Abhilash>May I install the program for you ?

Mike>wait a second, no
Mike>I don’t want it, which is why I was requesting the refund
Abhilash>The refund will be processed within 2 to 3 business days and it will show up in your next billing cycle (within 10 working days depending on your bank). Would you like me to go ahead?
Mike>No, please do not install anything.
Mike>I appreciate getting the refund, and would just like to end the business relationship there.
Abhilash>I am not installing anything and I am processing the refund.
Mike>Okay
Mike>that sounds perfect

This exchange illustrates why clear communication is so important. After Abhilash asked if I wanted the year of Norton 360, I never said no, but I also never said yes. That’s why I found the question — “May I install the program for you?” — so bizarre. I imagine that Abhilash had an installation button beside the keyboard, and was waiting for the final go-ahead before launching that missile. But for all the waiting and the last-minute sales pitch, I was glad to get a refund without much hassle. It was a good resolution. But I was curious.

Mike>I am curious, though
Mike>How were you able to ascertain my account information/banking information?
Abhilash>Mike, I have processed the refund for the automatic renewal and have disabled the automatic renewal so that you will not be charged for the same in future.
Abhilash>It was a pleasure assisting you .Is there anything else I can do for you ?
Mike>Thanks. Would you be able to answer the question about account/banking information?
Abhilash>Sure, since you have registered it when registering the Norton Account online.
Abhilash>The refund will be processed within 2 to 3 business days and it will show up in your next billing cycle (within 10 working days depending on your bank). Would you like me to go ahead?
Abhilash>We include the auto renewal feature on our online store because a lot of our customers don’t want the hassle of remembering to renew their subscription every year to keep their PC protected. But it’s totally optional, and I can update your account to make sure you aren’t charged automatically in the future.
Mike>That would be great
Abhilash>Mike, I have processed the refund for the automatic renewal and have disabled the automatic renewal so that you will not be charged for the same in future.
Abhilash>It was a pleasure assisting you .Is there anything else I can do for you ?
Mike>But as far as identifying myself, did you use IP address, or email?
Abhilash>Email address.
Mike>Ah
Mike>Thanks for that
Abhilash>Before we finish today you will be receiving the refund with in 2 to 3 business days, would you like me to send an email confirmation on this?
Mike>That would be great
Mike>I appreciate the help
Abhilash>Mike, you will get an email notification of the refund and can also have the case number for future references.
Abhilash>Thank you for contacting Norton Support.  Have a great day!
Abhilash>Bye!

I’m not sure when I gave my e-mail address to Abhilash; maybe when I requested to chat on the Norton site. I did enjoy Abhilash explaining that the reason Norton has an auto-renewal feature is because many customers don’t want to remember to renew the anti-virus service every year. I’m just the opposite, of course. I’d rather have a company ask me before taking 75 bucks out of my checking account. I’m in the process of saving money, so often don’t have a lot in my checking account, and might have been staring at an overdraft fee. While I can appreciate Norton’s stance, I think customers are just as likely to forget the automatic charge as they are to forget to renew the service. Perhaps Norton could automatically send an e-mail as a reminder to renew, rather than snatch money.

But Abhilash provided a decent customer service experience. I went into the chat in an adversarial state of mind. I expected to argue over terms of an agreement, but Abhilash made it easy. It’s just too bad I don’t want the product.

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Snow makes it hard to do a lot of things and gums up the processes of day-to-day life during the winter. The sky dumps six inches of snow on the ground, and suddenly you’re budgeting time to shovel, wearing boots to work, re-mapping your driving routes to avoid big hills, worrying about your car getting plowed in, or worse, someone taking the parking spot that you spent half an hour clearing. Respect the folding chair, goddamn it!

It’s actually a little like a poison ivy rash — everything will be fine, but it’s a pain in the ass for a week.

Snow also makes it hard to stay active if you’re a road cyclist. I can handle the cold, but rock salt, slick compressed snow, and narrowed roads definitely increase injury risk. But this is convenient, because I’m sick of my bike by the time winter rolls around and don’t want to get burnt out. So I reduce saddle time to let my body rest, and challenge it in new ways. A great place to do this is at the gym. The only problem is, gyms can be expensive.

Luckily, there’s a moderately priced chain of gyms, a fitness oasis splashed in purple and yellow accents — Planet Fitness. It’s quite a bargain at $10 per month, about half of what I’ve paid at other gyms, which also tried to sign me up for a personal trainer on a regular basis.

Planet Fitness doesn’t do that. Instead, it presents itself like self-checkout at the grocery store. Sure, it’s a little impersonal, but you have the freedom to go in, get what you need, and get out. And if you have no idea how to work the machine, someone’s available to show you.

Above all, Planet Fitness markets itself like the anti-Gym, and I capitalize G because Gyms are what drive people crazy — the personal trainers, the grunts coming from the free weight pit, the juice and nutritional shake bar. They’re usually packed, and they’re usually packed with people who are very serious about fitness or very serious about getting fit.

Planet Fitness, on the other hand, seeks to remove the pressures of Gyms. Muscle shirts are discouraged, for instance. Every location has a Lunk Alarm, which sounds when someone’s making too much noise. The company also has an official, registered-trademark philosophy of being the Judgement Free Zone. According to the company’s website, this means, “members can relax, get in shape, and have fun without being subjected to the hard-core, look-at-me attitude that exists in too many gyms.”

That’s cool. No one likes facing all kinds of pressure from staff members while trying to improve fitness. To the company’s credit, or at least to the credit of the staff at my particular gym, the approach works. I’ve been a member for a year or so, and have seen only one person judged openly — he was grunting like Maria Sharapova while grinding away on an elliptical machine. And that works for him, even if it makes people around him nervy.

Something about the place’s marketing has always bugged me, though, specifically the Judgement Free philosophy. Planet Fitness markets itself like this easy-going, breezy place to get more fit, like a person saying, “Hey, man, you want to get more fit? Awesome, awesome. Well, we’ve got all these machines and stuff, so go for it. Right on.”

But doesn’t Planet Fitness still judge? It has deemed that people being too serious about fitness — grunting, wearing muscle shirts — is a bad thing, something that shouldn’t happen in its Judgement Free Zone. That seems like a judgment to me.

When I went a few days ago, a new banner hung above the entryway. I said something to the effect of, “If you need two hands to count your abs, this is not the place for you.” Well, why not? Because you’re too fit? It is possible for someone to be fit and not be an asshole about it.

Most people who are really into fitness don’t care all that much about fitness that is not their own. And anyway, I’m pretty certain that if an ultra-fit person at another gym was intimidating other members with fitness, or constantly annoyed because a less-fit member was using a desired machine, that person would be told to calm down or leave.

I suppose you could argue that a beginner surrounded by really fit people might become intimidated and stop going to the gym. This happens in cycling a lot, when advanced riders don’t give a beginner the time of day and yank the hope rug from under the newbie’s cleats.  I lucked out and was part of a club led by some fantastic people.

But that argument doesn’t fly in this case, because gym-goers are a lot more autonomous. And those people with gallon jugs of water, with fitness notebooks, with training regimens? They still exist at Planet Fitness. A lot of gym membership intimidation stems from the atmosphere and the staff itself, not other members.

Besides, Planet Fitness doesn’t actually prevent really fit people from joining, and I’ve never seen a person kicked out for having a defined midsection. What Planet Fitness really has here is a marketing approach targeted at fitness beginners who don’t want to spend a boatload of money on a gym membership.

So I applaud Planet Fitness for cutting out a lot of the bullshit about gym membership, and for figuring out a way to make it appealing to everyone. It’s a very chill atmosphere, it’s pretty inexpensive, and it works for a lot of people. And really, all that I typed above isn’t that big a deal, and it would be better for everyone if everyone stopped making stupid judgments and adopted an inclusive attitude, and I realize that complaining about marketing that slams fit people ranks about 15,000,000 places below important. But just maybe tell your marketing department to cool it on making judgments. At least spell the word correctly, for Christ’s sake.

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One of the really fun consequences of the Arizona shootings is the quest to figure out why it happened. Gun safety, Jared Loughner’s mental state, the state of political rhetoric, and the way the media covers politics — these are all things that have been blamed for the tragedy, or at least have been discussed as a cause.

What’s interesting is the discussion about rhetoric, because it has generated a whole new cascade of…defensive, politically charged rhetoric and analysis. Check out this piece from Salon. Pretty good and thorough. But hey, wait a minute…where is this column located on the site?

Oh.

But there are people making serious efforts to dial back the rhetoric because they think that will help. One of those, supposedly, is Fox News president Roger Ailes, per this.

I told all of our guys, shut up, tone it down, make your argument intellectually.  You don’t have to do it with bombast. I hope the other side does that.

I’m 100 percent certain he did not tell his broadcasters and commentators to shut up, because that would mean Fox News would cease to exist, and our society isn’t that lucky. I have no idea if he actually did tell his commentators to drop the bombast that fills the void created by the absence of fact. That remains to be seen.

I find the last line the most intriguing because he says, “the other side.” What other side? Liberals, Democrats, of course. We have known for years that Fox News is to the Republican Party what a stack of Marshall amps is to a Fender Strat. But I can’t recall him flatly admitting that before. And if he can openly admit that Fox News is not fair or balanced, maybe that’s more of a step in the right direction than any supposed directive.

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I’m not sure the verb here is the best verb Politico’s copy editor/web editor could have used. And maybe it’s supposed to be ironic that the hed is inches above a story about Palin and the gun sights map.

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