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Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Might be legal, but it ain't regal

I was hoping to post something positive about being back in my hometown, but today one of those instances occurred that remind me that maybe, just maybe a matinee isn't just a matinee and the flavor of popcorn can't make up for douchebaggery of corporate scope.

No one would mistake "Colombiana" for great art. Luc Besson's covered this territory before but I think everyone should go see a movie by a director named Olivier Megaton. It's bound to be a blast. Okay, I'll stop. The movie was what I was looking for in a popcorn kind of way, particularly on another kind of warm day in the Big H; normally, I would have even enjoyed its preposterous action and Femme Nikita retread ways. However, having my bag searched by an usher is not the way to earn my repeat business. Seriously, it's not.

I admit that I should have acted immediately and told the young lady who took my ticket, "Nope, sorry, and can I speak to the manager" but my mind went on auto-pilot and instead, I picked up my popcorn and drink and headed into the cool of the theater. Like an idiot, I shouldn't have patronized the place. I watched the movie with a smattering of folks in from the heat and as I left the theater, I decided it was time to start doing some investigation, fire off some e-mails and make some phone calls.

Apparently, this sort of thing is happening around the country at Regal theaters (although this is the first time it's ever happened to me at one.) Here are some urls to check out:!/piracyhappens2/status/3820889657311232

I'm harping on Regal because they're the largest chain and this is the sort of thing that might need closer examination.

As it is, I've sent emails to the ACLU (yeah, yeah, I'm a card-carrying member) here in Houston and to Regal's corporate office. I'd like to chat with the theater manager, too, and if this is a corporate policy call for a national boycott. If it's just a theater by theater policy, then that should be addressed similarly. Heck, I posted on Yelp here to see what kind of feedback I get.

If you follow the piracyhappens tweet and go to Darren Todd's page, you'll find a post titled "Movie Searches Go To Far."

He notes, quite cogently,
"I understand that the rules of illegal search and seizure do not operate the same way in private establishments, but think about what acquiescing to a search means.

"The threat of someone sneaking in a camcorder is extremely low, but the possibility of patrons sneaking in candy and soda is rather high. Nearly ever dime a theater makes is from concession, hence the rise of popcorn prices coinciding with the rise of ticket prices: fewer customers because of high prices means they have to extract more profit from fewer people. So are theaters willing to “fight piracy” for movie studios only because it gives them carte blanche to eradicate outside concession? Likely. And this probably means a higher profit margin per head in the short term, since those who wouldn’t buy $7 popcorn or $4 Twizzlers can’t then bring in their own goodies from home. But the penalty for this sort of heavy-handed tactic can only end with fewer customers."
I, of course, acquiesced and now I really wish I'd said something at the moment. He finishes up his point with this:
"So while Hollywood has theaters checking for camcorders, several will be turned away for outside concession, and several others will decide they’re fed up with theaters altogether. No one likes being tacitly criminalized via a search after being raped on tickets 30 seconds earlier. Thus, this anti-piracy measure – like so many others – will fail miserably, blowing up in the faces of theaters who’ll lose customers (like me), and movie studios who’ll suffer from smaller ticket sales."

While I too understand that search and seizure rules differ in regard to private establishments/property, one can expand on this to the point at which other establishments initiate similar searches. It's hard to imagine that a restaurant or a retail store would look assign employees to search handbags ("we just need to make sure you're not bringing in your own silverware") but the most poignant point is, as Darren says, "no one likes being tacitly criminalized." 
Plus, neither reason for the policy is likely to win much sympathy. Whether you're searching a middle aged guy's book bag for recording equipment or as a potential popcorn/candy mule, this is doomed to create ill-will among moviegoers like myself who really don't want to see theaters vanish. However, I don't have to patronize specific theaters and I'm perfectly content to share my story with other people. Until I have a discussion with the manager of this particular theater, I'll give them the benefit of a doubt (let's be real, they're wage-slaves and do what they're told) but I suspect I won't be going back to that theater anytime soon.

Photo source:

Monday, August 29, 2011

Start with where you are

I don't want to spend a whole lot of time discussing each moment of the day, although I could. That kind of Proustian  approach has its merits; but I'm no Proust. Consequently, I'm perfectly happy to post photos and videos to add a more visceral (and less verbose) dimension to the proceedings. For instance, I'm currently in Houston and contrary to what people might think, it's no cultural backwater nor is it without its beauty.

Well, inside the radius of 610, anyway.

Another aspect about Houston in particular, but more generally regarding the Gulf Coast that I've treasured since I was a child is the sky. Sunrises, sunsets, cloudy days and days of encroaching rainstorms decorate the inverted bowl of the sky (thanks Omar K.); there'll be plenty to come over the next few days as I inundate this space with photos.

For now, here's a small selection from around town.
Houston's home to some remarkable architecture. The city has a reputation for not preserving its history, so one assumption is that developers best replace what they raze with something at least interesting to look at.

This is from an apartment in a high-rise that my sister was looking at near Hermann Park and the Medical Center. There's something about the grid design of a lot of the buildings around Houston that appeals to me. Plus, the reflective surfaces lend a lightness to the structures.

This is another case in point. I forget what the name of the building is, but its across the street from what I know as the Republic Bank building (now home to Bank of America.)

Speak of the devil. This is the Republic Bank of America building. Took this yesterday on Houston's 175th birthday. Thanks Allen Brothers!

Houston may be the epitome of the modern American city to which Sartre referred on his tour of the states after World War II. As I recall, he remarked on the transient nature of the post-war developments that were beginning to dot the landscape. I grew up with a sense of impermanence, partly owing to how fast my world changed.

When we moved from West University to what is now the Galleria area, there was prairie and still dirt roads off some of the main drags. I used to climb trees where there are now office buildings and you could follow Buffalo Bayou and its tributaries just a little down the road from where we lived. Over a period of time, I saw ground broken, foundations laid and huge edifices erected over what had been field and wetland. I considered myself fortunate for having had the opportunity to explore what nature I could. I also grew to accept that there are certain individuals for whom nature exists only to be paved over and built on. I didn't like it then and I'm not fond of that fact or the underlying motivation for it now. That said, knowledge of this matter of the temporal nature of things in the world (and the world itself) has led me to a great appreciation of both the vanishing of Nature herself in the wake of development and, I hope, an understanding and even a sense of compassion for the individuals whose corporations continue to level landscapes both here and in other parts of the country and the world, for that matter.

Point of Departure

I walked out of Woody Allen's “Midnight in Paris” in a state of euphoria. It reminded me that art is a method of opening to the harder places to get to. It also rang true throughout. There wasn't a false note in it and it brought me back to a place I haven't been for a while, but come back to every now and again; the place where I'm not a “Buddhist” or a “Report Analyst” or any of the labels with which we identify (in my case, I swear it's usually for utter convenience; I couldn't care less about being a Buddhist, any more than I do – or did – about being an analyst) or by which others will attempt to define us (and themselves in relation to us.)

I'm going to India. I'm going to India because I think it's finally time to go to India and engage this long harbored notion of going to India. I don't know what I'll find there, exactly. If I knew what I would find exactly, then I wouldn't go.

I get the question, “so, what are you going to do there, in India?” I do. I have some ideas. I think mostly what I'll do is take advantage of the exchange rate so I can afford to there what I can't reasonably afford to do here. This would entail, but not merely be limited to, going on retreat, haunting libraries, attending teachings, hiking in the Himalayas, traveling around the Indian sub-continent (something you really can't do in the U.S., I think). I may volunteer for a non-profit or two and probably will be studying Tibetan in greater depth and so on and so forth.

I may just decide to while away some time drawing or painting or writing. Who knows? Maybe I'll contract some nasty fungus and shit myself into the next life. The point is, though, I'm more intrigued to what I don't know will be coming up. The point of travel is to shake loose of preconceived notions and get out of one's comfort zone.

I also get “you always talk about living in Latin America...what's with India?” I love Latin America. I do. Lots. However, India has loomed large ever since I first read “The Bhagavad Gita” thirty-seven years ago. I had to write that just to see what it would look like. Looks good.

But who knows what India is going to be like on the ground for me. Most everyone I know from there or who has travelled there, has effusively proclaimed how much I'll LOVE it. And what if I don't? What if I don't like it, even? It's like so much in life. The choice is implicit, to me anyway, to like or dislike something. I'm not a fan of hair shirts or suffering for the sake of “character building” but nothing is learned without effort. Sometimes we like making the effort; sometimes not so much. However, to me it's interesting how often once a problematic situation has been endured/suffered through, we come out saying that it wasn't so bad.

In the meantime, I have a buttload of stuff to do before I leave. Settle taxes, pay for tickets, say farewell to various and sundry and contact folks on the other side of the Atlantic. But am I doing this as a Buddhist? I'm surely not doing it as a report writer or analyst since I'm going to be unemployed. I would prefer to just go as this unique, localized being; and this does not imply some limited view of same nor does it not imply the probable tunnel vision that might accompany such a phrase.

I'd be curious to know if people sometimes find even as expansive a label as Buddhist confining. I'd be curious to know how people feel like they are defined by what they do (as opposed to who or how or even what they are, in whatever way they take the verb to be, to be.)