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Wednesday, March 28, 2012

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Radio Shack and Bad Customer Service

I went to the Radio Shack where I bought a micro cassette and tapes just two week ago. The clerk tries to sell me digital video cassettes. Once I got them to understand I meant audio the clerk tells me "we have not carried that for years." There were full racks at the Boulder City Radio shack when I purchased it to document my PhD interviews.

No I do not need a cell phone.

I went to CVS and Walgreen's. Both had micro cassette players but no tapes on display. No one around to ask for help at either store.

What happened to customer service?

There were additional items I intended to buy, but I walked out in all three cases buying nothing.

Maybe retails should look at their own staff and inventory before they cry about customers going on-line to purchase items.

I did.

It will delay things a few days, but with free shipping...

Five Ways Our Need to Fit in Controls Us

As a society, we Westerners exalt individualism and self-reliance, and yet our biology moves us in other directions. Humans evolved as social animals, and we posses a number of behaviors that motivate us towards group conformity.

The feeling of wanting friends, of desiring a peer group and of needing to feel like we are valuable members of that group is something we all can directly relate to, and we usually experience those feelings as a positive thing. Yet there is a bit of a dark side to our social nature that we might not notice, particularly because so much of its action goes on underneath the level of conscious awareness.

Our biological wiring for group cohesion is so strong that we will do almost anything to fit in, and feel anxiety if we don't belong or if our sense of social standing is low. Here are five proven ways that we bend over backwards to be part of the group, even when we don't want to:

1. We sway to group pressure.
Nobody likes being the odd one out. That's why many of us will agree with the group rather than stand apart, even when we know that the group is wrong. Take the Asch conformity experiments, in which 1950s students were subjected to a mock vision test. The students were placed in a group of fake "participants" and asked to match up images of lines according to their length. These planted participants stated that certain lines matched when they blatantly didn't. When the real participant was asked to match the lines later in the mock test, he or she would mimic the rest of the group, giving an obviously wrong answer in response to peer pressure.

This bending to conform doesn't just happen in experimental settings; everything from teenage trends to political movements utilizes the power of direct peer pressure. Active policing of behavior seen as disruptive to the group has even been observed in chimpanzees. With such strong proscriptions against social upheaval coded in our genes, conformity comes naturally to us. Demonstrating solidarity, whether it's with a particular group or with society at large, marks us as cooperative and predictable group members: an asset rather than a liability.

2. We obsess over broadcasting our status.
When you see somebody decked head-to-toe in designer labels and bling, do you immediately think he has something to prove? Whether its a fast car, an immaculate lawn or a pair of the latest Louboutins, we use these symbols to signal our group status. It's no surprise, then, that studies have shown that when we're reminded of our low place in the social hierarchy and our status feels threatened, we are more likely to buy expensive luxury goods or even to consume higher-calorie foods. The irony is that these unconscious compensatory actions can often indirectly lower our social status by putting us in debt or making us fat.

Among evolutionary biologists, this boasting behavior is known as signalling and is part of selling oneself to potential mates. When the ability to pass on your genes hinges on your place in the hierarchy, status displays become about more than just an ego stroke. Though our ancestors may have been able to show their social status by taking physical risks during a big mammoth hunt, we are left with Ferraris, Hermès and lobster dinners to prove our worth to potential partners.

3. Groups make us stupid.
By their nature, groups can reinforce the roles we have written for ourselves in our heads. Group dynamics can make the shy person withdraw even further and the extroverted person even more outgoing and effervescent. And though many of us consciously dumb ourselves down in social situations for an eventual gain, groups can also insidiously undercut our intellects without our knowledge. For some people, the social cues they receive in group settings can alter the expression of IQ, making them functionally less intelligent. In studies, this was found to be particularly true among women, possibly due to pressure to conform to traditional, weaker gender roles.

A 1996 study subjected Asian-American women to a mathematics test. The researchers found that when the women were first reminded of their ethnic identity by answering a few questions pertaining to being Asian-American before taking the test, they performed better, in accordance with positive stereotypes about Asian-Americans and math. When instead they were reminded of their gender identity beforehand using the same methods, they performed worse, corresponding to negative stereotypes of women and math.

4. We engage in groupthink.
Peer pressure can consciously entice you to change your behavior, but what about those things lying deeper in the psyche? The social milieu in which you exist can also unconsciously shape how you perceive reality itself. A classic example of groupthink in action was how the U.S. military rationalized away any concerns prior to the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Despite ample evidence that the Japanese military was prepping for an offensive attack, the U.S. simply couldn't conceive of the attack being on the United States. The dominant social perception of the invulnerability of the United States colored how its military interpreted information.

Political scientists sometimes talk about groupthink as a spiral of silence, the idea that individuals are unlikely to voice opinions on issues if they feel their opinion is in the minority. As mass media popularizes a certain dominant viewpoint, those who hold contrary opinions will suppress them due to an unconscious fear of becoming isolated as a result of their difference. Groupthink begins to shape not only how these people see the world and those around them, but it can make or break social issues thanks to the sway media has over group opinion.

5. Groups can make you temporarily insane.
So you buy some extra flashy gear, or act a little dumber around cute potential mates. Big deal. You may think that all this social behavior is a bit boring and obvious, but on the far end of group conformity we find a slew of human behaviors that are downright scary, dangerous or even deadly. Consider the mercurial whims of the stock market, and the inevitable pandemonium once a bubble bursts and we scramble to save ourselves. Human "herd behavior" can sometimes veer into extreme, sudden violence like riots and massacres. It may even devolve into genocides like those we saw over the course of the 20th century in Nazi Germany, Cambodia and Rwanda.

If a group feels threatened, it takes frighteningly little to convince its members to turn on its supposed persecutors. In these circumstances, the drive to fit in reaches a point where individual identity itself is almost lost.

If you grew up in the Western world, raised to believe in individuality and free will, these insights may be a little unsettling. It's not so comfortable to realize that we are often compelled to follow social norms subconsciously, despite our best efforts to go our own way. This doesn't mean that we're somehow doomed to strict obedience to a herd mentality, but it does help us to understand why we so often feel anxiety about wanting to fit in and to be an asset to the group. And the good news is that the urge to cooperate, properly directed, can help make society function more effectively.

For more by Michael Taft, click here.
For more on emotional intelligence, click here.
From the Huffington Post (click here)

Magic Johnson Consortium pays Two billion for the Dodgers. Lucky not so lucky for working LA Crews and Background. Modern Family cast makes bank. Lionsgate banks on two hit franchises. Cable networks lose audience and revenue.

The Skinny: I've developed a new drinking game. Take a shot every time someone says "Marilyn" on NBC's "Smash." You'll be hammered by the end of the show. Wednesday's headlines include the sale of the Dodgers to a Magic Johnson-led group, a new deal to bring back CBS's "Two and a Half Men" for a 10th season, and the cast of ABC's "Modern Family" wanting a bigger paycheck. Also, meet Vito Vincent, an actor who's trying to claw his way to the top.

Magic Johnson got the Dodgers
Photo: Magic Johnson. Credit: Al Seib/Los Angeles Times. 

From the LA Times and the LA Times Company Town Blog.

He'll have to sell a lot of Dodge Dogs! A group led by Lakers legend Magic Johnson emerged Tuesday night as the new owners of the Dodgers, ending months of uncertainty for the storied but troubled baseball franchise.

Johnson, who guided the Lakers to five NBA championships during the "Showtime" era of the 1980s, is a partner in the group along with longtime baseball executive Stan Kasten and movie executive Peter Guber. The controlling owner would be Mark Walter, chief executive officer of Guggenheim Partners, a Chicago-based financial services company.

Walter and McCourt met privately in New York on Tuesday, coming to an agreement only hours after Major League Baseball owners approved three final bidders.

The winning group paid $2 billion for the team -- a record for a sports franchise -- according to an announcement issued jointly with previous owner Frank McCourt.

"I am thrilled to be part of the historic Dodger franchise," Johnson said in the statement, adding the new owners "intend to build on the fantastic foundation laid by Frank McCourt as we drive the Dodgers back to the front page of the sports section."

After taking the team into bankruptcy last year, McCourt had sought to retain control of the parking lots surrounding the ballpark. It was announced he and "certain affiliates" of the new ownership will be "forming a joint venture, which will acquire the Chavez Ravine property for an additional $150 million."

Johnson's group will control the parking lots for Dodgers games and work with McCourt on any future development.

In the statement, McCourt said the sale "reflects both the strength and future potential of the Los Angeles Dodgers, and assures that the Dodgers will have new ownership with deep local roots, which bodes well for the Dodgers, its fans and the Los Angeles community."

The announcement Tuesday ended three years of turmoil during which the team's performance on the field deteriorated and the front office struggled financially.

McCourt chose Johnson's group over St. Louis Rams owner Stan Kroenke and a partnership of hedge-fund billionaire Steven Cohen and biotech billionaire Patrick Soon-Shiong.

The Dodgers last won the World Series in 1988, their sixth championship in half a century of O'Malley family ownership. The Johnson group would become the Dodgers' third owner since the O'Malleys sold the team in 1998, following News Corp. and McCourt.

The sale must be confirmed by the court in a hearing April 13. The transaction is set to close by April 30, the same day McCourt must pay his ex-wife $131 million in a divorce settlement.

If the deal closes as expected, the Dodgers would be owned by an entity called Guggenheim Baseball Partners. Kasten, former president of the Atlanta Braves and Washington Nationals, would run the team.

"Stan Kasten is my man," Johnson told The Times in announcing his bid last December. "He's a winner. He's built two incredible organizations, and he's well-respected. That is what was important to me. I had to get with a winner, a guy who understands baseball inside and out."

The sales price was nearly three times the previous record price for a baseball franchise, $845 million for the Chicago Cubs in 2009.

The bulk of the funding to buy the Dodgers came from Guggenheim. Walter is not expected to play a significant role in the day-to-day operation of the Dodgers.

Guggenheim President Todd Boehly and Bobby Patton were also listed as partners.

Johnson, who has built a reputation for community involvement since his playing days ended, would own a small stake in the Dodgers, as would Guber, who is co-owner of the NBA's Golden State Warriors. Johnson and Guber are partners in the Dayton Dragons, a minor league baseball team that has sold out 844 consecutive games, an ongoing record in U.S. professional sports.

Johnson brought five championships to Los Angeles, marrying sports and entertainment as leader of the "Showtime" Lakers in the 1980s. The three-time NBA most valuable player was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2002, by which time he had launched a business empire that has included movie theaters, banks, restaurants and film production.

The Daily Dose: Thanks to reality shows such as "Basketball Wives" and "T.I. & Tiny," cable channel VH1 has made gains among African American viewers. However, that's bad news for BET, which like VH1 is owned by Viacom. While BET is still dominant among black viewers, so far this year it has seen its ratings among its key demographic decline as VH1 has made gains. Cable television networks, which enjoyed record growth, are facing a period of declining or divided audiences and far more difficult revenues.

Tough town. Like many struggling actors, he came here in search of stardom. But after some success in New York doing commercials and even a bit part on "30 Rock," Vito Vincent, an orange tabby cat, is finding it's a lot tougher in Tinseltown. The competition is stiffer and even a weight loss program hasn't paid off yet. The Los Angeles Times looks at Vito's struggles to make it big. Hey, Hollywood, I have two tuxedo cats -- one long hair and one short -- available for auditions.

Modern family, old story. The cast of ABC's hit comedy "Modern Family" wants bigger paychecks. The Hollywood Reporter says the majority of the cast makes about $65,000 per episode (Ed O'Neill makes more) and wants $200,000 in their next deal. Of course, their current deals still have a few years to go but the cast sees that 20th Century Fox Television, which makes the show for ABC, has already sold reruns to USA Networks. Typically, studios will renegotiate early in return for the cast agreeing to extend their deals for a few more seasons.

Winning! While the cast of "Modern Family" figures out how to get more money, CBS is getting closer to a new agreement with Warner Bros. to bring back the comedy "Two and a Half Men" next season. There are lots of complications having to do with Warner Bros.' rerun deals, as well as a new contract for Ashton Kutcher, who wisely signed only a one-year deal when he agreed to replace Charlie Sheen. Details from TV Guide and Variety.

All in the family. Cable operator Cablevision Systems Inc., which primarily services the New York City area, has gone through a lot of turmoil over the past several months. While many key executives have left, including Chief Operating Officer Tom Rutledge, one executive has risen up -- Kristin Dolan, wife of Chief Executive James Dolan. The Wall Street Journal looks at the drama at Cablevision and how Wall Street is reacting.

Rumble at the bike rack after school. Fans of "Twilight" and "The Hunger Games" should be able to find common ground, but instead they bicker over who's the bigger dork. I mean, they argue over which is the better franchise. It's all good for Lionsgate, the studio behind "The Hunger Games" and the new owner of Summit Entertainment, which makes the "Twilight" movies. More on the battling fan bases from USA Today.

Stage used for filming HBO's 'Luck'

Photo: Workers rebuild part of a stage at GMT Studios in Culver City as the set of the HBO show "Luck" is dismantled. Credit: Katie Falkenberg / For The Times

HBO Canceling "Luck" Deals a Big and Very Personal Blow to Production Community. Some uprooted their families to relocate to Los Angeles. Others recently bought houses or signed long-term leases and were banking on at least 10 months of steady work to pay down their debts. Many had turned down higher paying jobs to work for two of the top creative forces in the business -- Michael Mann and David Milch, executive producers of the HBO TV series "Luck."

Two weeks after HBO announced its sudden decision to shut down production of "Luck" in the wake of three horse fatalities, those who worked behind the scenes on the weekly TV series were grappling with the harsh realities of suddenly being out of work in a tough job market. "Luck" employed about 180 crew members, 23 actors with regular and recurring roles, 20 weekly or day player actors, in addition to dozens of extras.

Many local prop houses and vendors that had supplied services and equipment to the HBO series also lamented the demise of one of the higher-profile shows filming in Los Angeles at a time when fewer dramas are shooting locally because of competition from New York and other states.

Although TV shows are often canceled, it’s rare for one to be scrapped in the middle of production, especially after it has been ordered for a full season, as was the case with "Luck." When HBO halted production, it was filming just the second episode of the second season for “Luck,” the low-rated racetrack drama starring Dustin Hoffman and Nick Nolte.

“This is the only time in our history that we've done this and we don't take this decision lightly,'' said Michael Lombardo, president of programming at HBO. "It has some real costs in terms of dollars and in terms of the emotional costs. The fact that people made life decisions based on their expectation of employment for a 10-month period was not insignificant to us.”

Lombardo declined to say how big a financial toll this took on the network, cast and crew. To help cushion the blow, the Time Warner Inc.-owned cable network is setting up a fund to assist affected crew members, Lombardo said. “We have asked producers to put together a list of people on the crew who are in a challenging life circumstance because of this decision so we can figure out a way to make the landing a little bit more comfortable.”

Mann said he feels responsible for many of the crew members, several of whom had worked with him on other films and TV shows.

“We've got folks who relocated from New York to L.A. and committed themselves to one-year leases and now don't have a job,’’ Mann said. “You're talking about hard working men and women who are carpenters, assistant camera operators, sound editors, location managers, in a community where there is not a lot of production."

The shutdown was especially difficult because of the strong bonds formed on the set, Mann said.
“There was a unified spirit," said the director of such movies as “The Last of the Mohicans” and “Public Enemies.” “Every time you walked on the set you couldn't help feeling that everyone wanted to be there. A lot of folks had given up higher paying jobs to work for 'Luck.'”

The timing couldn’t be worse for Peter Clarke, prop master on “Luck,” whose wife is about to give birth any day.

“I’m concerned about how I’m going to make rent in four weeks,’’ said Clarke, a veteran prop master. “The job market is pretty lean right now. I can’t pick up and move to Louisiana because we’re about to have a baby.”

Production designer Tim Grimes moved from New York to Los Angeles last year to work on “Luck.”  Grimes, who rents an apartment in Hollywood, was making good money -- about $3,600 a week -- on the show, but most of that was going to pay off debts. After the first season ended, he had to collect unemployment benefits because work in L.A. was so sporadic.

“We were thinking we would be paid until December and having the carpet pulled from underneath us was the biggest blow,’’ he said.

James Kent, set decorator on "Luck," moved from western Massachusetts to Los Angeles last year to join "Luck." He said the shock of the show’s cancellation was compounded by anger over how crew members have been depicted. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals "wanted to make us look like villains,’’ he said. “We were all very proud of the show and protective of the animals.”

"Luck’s" closure was felt far and wide in Los Angeles because the series filmed and spent heavily throughout the region, mainly at Santa Anita Park, but also at such locations as the Beverly Hilton, Hustler Casino in Gardena, Rod’s Grill in Arcadia and Marina del Rey.

HBO executives would not disclose the budget for “Luck,” but people who worked on the show said it was among the more expensive local TV dramas, spending about $140,000 per episode on prop rentals and purchases and set construction alone.

Among the beneficiaries was GMT Studios in Culver City, which rented three soundstages for “Luck.”
“The entire production community is hurting because filming is going out of state and this was one big show that was pretty substantial,’’ said Frank DiPasquale, president of GMT Studios. “They had a contract to be here till the end of October. It was definitely a setback for us.”

"Luck" was also a boon to the Santa Anita racetrack, which generated $10,000 to $20,000 a day in site fees from the series. About 75 people who work at the track earned extra income working as riders, gate guards and extras.

“It’s a big blow to us and something I don’t think we’ll be able to replace any time soon,’’ said Peter Siberell, director of special projects for Santa Anita Park.

 Inside the Los Angeles Times: The Dodgers have been bought for $2 billion by a group led by former Laker great Magic Johnson, the Times looks at the story form many points of view. Two Billion seems like a lot of money until the team strikes a new TV deal. The abrupt cancellation of HBO's "Luck" is a big blow to the Los Angeles production community. Production company Legendary Entertainment ("The Dark Knight") has raised nearly $250 million in new financing.

-- Joe Flint and friends.

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From the LA Times and the LA Times Company Town Blog.