Archive for November, 2012

Misinfromation Mars Small Business Saturday

Posted in Random Weirdness with tags , , , , , , on November 26, 2012 by davehurwitz

It's blue.  It's soothing.  It makes you feel good about shopping.

I have an American Express card for one reason only, so I can buy gas at Costco.  Okay, sure, sometimes I actually go into Costco and grab a sack of basmati rice and a case of Pellegrino, but on the whole the card stays firmly wedged in a dusty corner of my wallet.  Still, when Small Business Saturday rolls around, I give the Amex a bit of exercise.  The deal is, if cardholders buy at least twenty-five bucks worth of stuff from a participating small business, Amex will give them twenty-five bucks back.  Effectively, this means free stuff for anyone with an Amex, provided they can afford to wait a statement or two for a refund.  American Express even provides a handy online map which shows the locations of participating small businesses.

At least, that’s what it’s supposed to do.

The trouble began when my wife and I tried to find Mysterious Galaxy, our bookstore of choice, on the map.  It simply wasn’t listed.  Since I’d received an email from the store reminding me about the event, I felt confident that they were, in fact, participating.  My wife, who is a librarian and can never leave a question unanswered, kept digging.  Eventually, she found a listing for their Redondo Beach store, but it only became apparent when she zoomed the map in on its location.  It seemed to be invisible to the map’s search function.  The San Diego store never appeared at all, even with the map in hover mode.

Strangely, several other participating businesses in the same mini-mall were perfectly visible, including Game Empire, and the sushi restaurant Niban.  We decided to make an evening of it.

We know some people who are very into boardgames, and though we don’t shop there regularly, Game Empire is fast becoming a necessary stop at holiday time.  We went there first.  Now, I don’t want to spoil anyone’s Christmas surprise, but suffice it to say that we selected a couple games for certain people.  But when we brought them up to the counter, we got a holiday surprise of our own.

It seems Game Empire, like all those exotic merchants in the Visa commercials, doesn’t take American Express.  They never have.  And, according to the gentleman we talked to, they never will.  The transaction fee that Amex charges businesses is just too high, apparently.  Which begs the question:  Why was Game Empire on the American Express map?  Yes, it’s a small business, but it certainly wasn’t participating in the Amex offer.

According to the proprietor, we weren’t the first people to wander into Game Empire that day expecting to use our Amex cards.  Most of them had wandered right back out again once they discovered there was no chance of getting cash back.  The owner suspected that his store had been placed on the map deliberately, as a sort of message.  “See, look at all these customers you’re not getting because you don’t take American Express.”  A far cry from sending someone around to bust up his display cases, but in roughly the same spirit.

Now, I’m not a big conspiracy theorist.  I try not to attribute to malice anything that can be explained by simple incompetence.  The errors on the Amex map were probably just that, errors.  But let’s look at the overall effect of these errors.  Taken together, the mistakes in the map tend to send cardholders away from businesses that are sincerely participating in the Amex offer, like Mysterious Galaxy, and toward business that don’t even take American Express, like Game Empire.  Of course, I’m generalizing from a very small sample, but you can see how American Express might benefit from this behavior.  And I’d bet there are any number of similar ‘mistakes’ elsewhere on the map.

So how did my particular Small Business Saturday turn out?  We actually did buy some things from Game Empire, though not as much as we would have had the Amex offer been valid.  Afterward, I wandered around Mysterious Galaxy feeling preoccupied.  I picked up and put down Boneshaker by Cherie Priest five or six times.  In the end, I utterly failed to buy anything there, despite the lure of free books.  We finished with dinner at Niban, though we double-checked whether they accepted American Express before we ordered.  They did.

Dave Hurwitz

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Parker Movie Trailer Irks this Parker Fan

Posted in Cinema, Parker with tags , , , , , , , , , , on November 2, 2012 by davehurwitz
It's moody.  It's iconic.  It's invisible on your web browser.

University of Chicago Press edition of The Hunter

Parker, the protagonist of Richard Stark’s novel The Hunter, is not a nice man.  He beats a prison guard to death to escape a California work camp.  He does this not because he’s serving a long sentence–he isn’t–but out of impatience.  Once free, he browbeats his admittedly traitorous wife into committing suicide.  He dumps her corpse in New York City’s Central Park, hiking up her skirts to make it look like a sex murder, then mutilates her face.  Later, he threatens and beats a prostitute into revealing the location of the man who walked off with his money.  Info in hand, he abandons the woman, leaving her at the mercy of the mob she just betrayed.  Next, Parker stakes out the mobster’s hotel by breaking into a hair salon across the way.  Finding a stylist still there, he ties her up and gags her.  When she asphyxiates and dies, he blames her death on his enemies.  Even when he’s killed the man who betrayed him, Parker, total bastard that he is, still isn’t satisfied.

While I’m a tremendous fan of the Parker books overall, even I have to admit that if I’d read The Hunter first, I would never have tried the rest of the series.  There are twenty-four books in total, twenty-eight if you count the four staring Parker’s more genial colleague, Alan Grofield), nearly all of which are heist novels.  These follow Parker and a rotating cast of other ‘operators’ through the planning and commission of a theft, along with the inevitable complications.  Many of these books allow Parker to display his finer qualities, such as they are.  He possesses a keen understanding of people’s psychological needs, needs he simply doesn’t share.  He dislikes unnecessary killing, not because of any moral stance, but because murders attract more law-enforcement attention than thefts.  Parker never betrays his fellow thieves, but is absolutely ruthless with operators who become greedy or erratic.

Parker reserves his nice manners for managing his victems.

Darwyn Cooke illustrates Parker’s smooth touch in his graphic novel adaptation of The Score

In The Hunter, Parker is nothing short of contemptible.  In later books he operates according to a code of conduct that might seem admirable if it weren’t entirely self-serving.  Just what attracts me to the series is hard to explain.  Whatever it is, Hollywood has occasionally fallen under the spell of Parker’s brutal appeal.

The quintessential Parker movie is John Boorman’s 1967 film Point Blank.  Lee Marvin plays Walker (Donald Westlake, a.k.a Richard Stark, never allowed the Parker name to be used during his lifetime) as a kind of emotionless force.  His quest to retrieve his money from the mob unfolds in all it’s meaningless glory.

Less successful was 1999’s Payback, another adaptation of The Hunter.  Mel Gibson, now called Porter, comes across as sort of puppy-eyed hardcase with a heart full of goo, who’s prone to irregular bursts of insane violence.  As the bodies drop, he goes out of his way to rescue the aforementioned prostitute.  Muddying the waters even further is Lucy Liu (who’s now cluttering up an otherwise serviceable Sherlock Holmes TV adaptation) as a comic-relief Asian gangster.

Jason Statham as Parker?  Well, if we must...

U. of Chicago’s movie tie-in edition of Flashfire

Now Hollywood is back at it.  January of 2013 will see the release of Parker (the Westlake estate allowed the use of the name) staring Jason Statham.  I’m willing to set aside Statham’s complete lack of resemblance to the character as described by Stark.  I’m more worried about other issues.  Though Parker’s new producers have dodged a bullet by not trying to adapt The Hunter yet again, the novel they picked–2000’s Flashfire–bears a remarkable similarity to Parker’s first outing.  After a successful score, members of Parker’s crew betray him and leave him for dead.  When he tracks them down, they’ve spent his loot setting up an even bigger job.  Of course, Parker isn’t leaving without his money.  Sound familiar?

Even more disturbing is Parker’s revised code of conduct, as mouthed by Statham in the recent trailer.  “I never steal from people who can’t afford it,” he rasps, “and I never hurt people who don’t deserve it.”  Sentiments Stark’s Parker would find laughable, or at least worthy of a fist in the face.  In a way, Hollywood’s efforts to soften Parker are understandable.  Most people don’t want to watch a movie featuring an uncommunicative sociopath, even if that’s how his die-hard fans would prefer it.  Let’s hope that, in their efforts to introduce Parker to a mass audience, Statham and company don’t undermine the very things that make this anti-hero so intriguing in the first place.

Dave Hurwitz