Cloverfield

Pirated video that shows clearly what the monster really is.

It’s been a while since we’ve posted… I know.

To put it simply, Cloverfield is effin’ scary. I would venture as far as to say that it was the most viscerally affecting movie I’ve seen since Children of Men. This isn’t just a monster movie; it’s a movie, that, like The Mist and I Am Legend before it, plays on our greatest unthought-of fear, that something so disastrous could happen that all manner of government protection would be rendered moot. Mass chaos with no way out, and nothing to keep you alive but your own strength of will in circumstances that you’d never imagine yourself in. Cloverfield is so effective at what it sets out to do, reminding us that our modern “civilized” society is one catastrophic event away from being reduced to nothing more than bickering people who’ve been taken over by primitive “fight or flight” survival instincts.

The way the reviewers have talked about it, I’m sure you’ve all heard complaints ad nauseum about the “lack of story”, the “unlikeablility” of characters, the illogical choices made by certain people, and that it didn’t make sense for someone to keep recording through the whole thing. Honestly, I didn’t care about any of those things at all, and it’s a testament to how involving the movie is that I only once stopped to think about the fact that a camera battery wouldn’t last as long it does, and only one other time to think about how long it would take them to walk in a subway tunnel the distance that they said they did. Despite the rich, hipster vibe that the characters exuded, I didn’t really find them all that grating, even though it was basically as if Godzilla interrupted an episode of Felicity (with good reason; both the executive producer and the director were co-creators of that show). If they indeed go ahead with a sequel to be shot in the same style, telling a different story from the same night, I would love to see people from the opposite end of the spectrum and how they managed, how different their priorities were, and just how they would differ in their actions in general.

More often than not though, I found myself sitting in my chair, with my mouth wide open, totally enraptured by what was going on. Would I too be able to climb across a roof of a forty-story building that was leaning at a sixty degree angle from the ground, only being held up by the building next to it? Would I have gone back to save someone from a giant killer spider-crab in a pitch black subway tunnel? Why was this monster movie the first one that ever made me question the lengths I would go to survive? As intense as it was, The Mist, never made me feel this way, despite the fact that the subject material was quite similar. In my opinion, it goes to media theorist Marshall McLuhan‘s statement from his book “Understanding Media:Extensions of Man“, that “The Medium is the Message”. To put a very long and convoluted series of the oftentimes contradictory thoughts by a raving Canadian lunatic into a simplistic summary, the method by which a message is sent from one person to another is oftentimes more important to the delivery than the message itself. The best example of this is the famed Nixon-Kennedy debate where the majority of radio listeners seemed to think that Nixon had won, while the television viewers, able to see Nixon’s body language, sweating, and poor make-up job, were convinced that Kennedy won. On a side note, I always wondered if the people who did that study took into account the differences in politics between the people who listened and people who watched, and if that played into their answers to the question.

How this idea of medium applies to Cloverfield is that we’ve been programmed with the language of film over the past one-hundred years. Even if we aren’t aware of it, we’ve come to expect a certain syntax. We don’t notice it though, until a reverse angle of a shot doesn’t match, or an edit isn’t smooth. The Mist lives by these rules, and the whole time it tries to invoke this question of “what happens when the world goes to hell?”, while also playing it like a 1950s B-horror movie creature feature. Issues with the unfocused nature of the plot set aside, it’s the fact that the movie’s presented in the language of Film that makes you step back and realize how preposterous the story really is.

Ironically, it’s the movie inspired by the crude and incredibly repetitive Godzilla series that has effectively transcended this medium and broken out of the box, leaving genuine lasting emotion. The same way that we’ve been trained to understand that movies aren’t real and that we shouldn’t feel anguish when Jason Vorhees, “an unstoppable killing machine“, hacks someone up with a machete, we’ve been trained to recognize video as infallible. Which affects you more: watching an alien pop out of someone’s chest killing them in a movie, or watching a video of a skateboarder falling fifty feet to a hard wooden surface and seeing his shoes explode, but then being able to walk off, relatively unharmed? We haven’t yet learned to apply the same reality filters to video that we currently do to film, and this is what Cloverfield exploits.

No matter how many times you try to tell yourself this movie isn’t real, the medium that the message is delivered in contradicts your thoughts and plays to your instincts. What would happen if you took this movie over to undeveloped parts of Africa (as McLuhan puts it, a place where people have not been “immunized” to this medium) or if someone years down the line saw this without the context to put it in? It’s very likely that they might think it actually happened, especially if they’ve seen the 2001 attack footage. Critics (used literally, not film critics) of the movie have been saying that it exploits September 11th imagery, but I would argue that it successfully uses those scenes we have committed to memory to scare us in a very real way, much more than any slasher flick or monster movie has done before. Maybe it’s the fact that I’ve been spending a large amount of time in the area that was directly affected in the movie. It’s more likely that I was less able to discern the difference between the two because when the twin towers fell I was watching it on a movie screen in a film auditorium. Watching Cloverfield, it was hard not to think back to this moment and relate the two, drawing all that emotion out.

One of the most harrowing scenes in the whole thing is the destruction of the Brooklyn Bridge, which I’ve walked over a few times. It may very well be the most frightening destruction of a major landmark ever to be created in a movie, far scarier than anything in the modern classic Independence Day or its red-headed step-brother The Day After Tomorrow, completely because of its realism and the point of view of the person delivering the message.

Here’s where the debate rages though. Should a movie be judged on how effective it is at making you feel a certain way, or on the quality of story and characters? If it uses the story and characters as well as technically impressive work to achieve this emotional effect (such as in I Am Legend), then it’s obvious that it’s a good movie. What happens though, when the two aren’t mutually exclusive, when character development and a tight story take second chair to exceptional method and incredibly well-realized scenes? Is it still a good movie? This isn’t to say that Cloverfield offered no cohesive story or successful characterizations (the realism in the actors’ portrayals ” not so much film acting, but moreso being in the situation with a natural intensity that you would expect of someone living out this unthinkable scenario””certainly drives the moments and carries the film as much as the technique), but it’s a chase movie in the most basic sense. Something’s attacking, nobody knows what it is, but we’re running from it. There’s really nothing more to it than that, and I would be hard-pressed to say the movie had an effective story to tell, instead opting to give you a few character dynamics and letting them provide the motivation for an hour’s worth of recorded events. I’ve heard completely mixed reviews from friends and film critics in regards to this movie, and it seems as though this question of how to judge is where the basic disagreement lies. For me, the movie was incredibly effective at what it set out to do, and was plenty enjoyable from start to finish (and I loved the epic “Cloverfield Theme” that scored the credits) and that’s all I can ask for in a threatrical experience.

One last thing. If in my diatribe about the presentation of the movie I left out the success of The Blair Witch Project, which this movie couldn’t have come about without, it was because that was not a successful movie. Where the difference between the two films lies is that while The Blair Witch created a very real found-footage aura, it was overly-long and for the most part, boring and whiny. Think about it. The bulk of the movie was about kids wandering around the woods and arguing with each other. It took on the found-footage medium and while it succeeded at creating a realistic portrayal of what one might look like (as in “normal people are generally boring and spend a lot of time fighting and talking about nothing at all”), it completely failed as entertainment for all but about 15 minutes. It had a few interesting story elements, but needed to pad out its runtime with lame characterizations and nothing really happening. It was also completely visually uninteresting, giving you nothing to fall back on when you got tired of all the complaining going on onscreen. Cloverfield takes a look at the mistakes of this film and basically imports action movie beats into the style in order to fix its problems, never stopping to let us take a breath or think about all the implausibilities. The people behind this movie have brilliantly created a hybrid “found-footage/blockbuster action movie” medium, and by doing this, it skews our perception of its events, leaving our common sense to duke it out with our basic media instincts, and that is why it truly succeeds.

****½

Cloverfield is not only a genre-redefining movie, but a medium redefining movie that uses the language of video and film together to confuse our perception of events. You know it isn’t real, but once it wraps you up in its swift pace, that notion leaves your mind, making the horror of the scenario all the more genuine. The entire group of people involved were committed to making you believe that this had really happened, and they succeeded admirably at doing it. Now next time, give us some better characters and a more plausible story arc for them.

While I’m at it….

The Mist
*½
I really wanted to love it, but it completely tears itself in two directions, trying to be a giant killer insect horror movie, and a bold statement on how far our civility falls when we’re presented with dire circumstances. Not only that but characters are either underused (Andre Braugher) or completely over-the-top crazy (Marcia Gay Harden), and though Tom Jane gives a strong performance (before he brings it on a little too strong at the end) he can’t keep down all my hatred for the main antagonist, the crazy religious nut-job who wants everyone to repent or die. If it’s supposed to be allegory, it takes a very ham-fisted approach that really turned me off. Subtlety isn’t this movie’s strong point. Visually, it’s spectacular, but unfortunately a great premise is undermined by story issues, probably stemming from the source material. Much like most of the movie, the end sort of rips off of “Night of the Living Dead” in its painful irony, though it may have one of the best “downer” endings I’ve seen in a long time.

I Am Legend
****
Visually, the most realistically drastic transformation of any actual location that I’ve ever seen put to film, I Am Legend decides to “show” us, and not “tell” us about the collapse of humanity, unlike The Mist . By that I mean that while the previous movie spends its time preaching to you about how everyone will turn on one another to survive, this movie shows the result of that, in a devastatingly real fashion. You are left to create your own account of how it all went down, only giving us brief glimpses into society’s fall in flashbacks that serve more to develop Will Smith’s character’s personal story. It was completely refreshing to see a movie that doesn’t give you every detail and leaves some things open to the imagination. Will Smith’s character and portrayal are perfectly subtle in the ways that his past, his loneliness, and his obsession with curing the sick have taken its toll on his sanity, but the critics are correct that unfortunately all of this strong set-up seems to devolve with about twenty-five minutes left into some more action-oriented, less suspenseful version of Signs, right down to the “oh, it all makes sense now, God has a plan for me” revelation. I Am Legend is a completely haunting vision of what life would be like if you were the last person on earth, Zombie storylines aside.

Throwing Your Vote Away

I don’t really believe in voting. I know that’s not the most original sentiment and even sounds like the type of overwhelmingly “look how anti-establishment I am – I’m sure that no one else is as serious about it as I am” phrases for which I could call someone out. But, my argument is the same as the usual (it’s super-rare for one vote to matter) and the wonderfully apolitical “status quo” thing. Case in point: the big hubbabaloo about the balance of power shifting to the Democrats in Congress last November. A whole lot of nothing has come of that. Iraq is still going on and the president’s rather liberal immigration make-over was deeee-nied. Status Quo!

flush
It was kind of like this.

Every November, this leaves me at a cross-roads – what’s a better way to waste my vote? To not vote? To go to the booth with zero knowledge of anything going on? Yesterday I chose the latter.

First, let me say that the voting location, The Pennsylvania Institute of Technology, is probably the creepiest set of buildings I’ve ever seen/been inside. Architecture that screams “stay out,” the type of church/chapel that you’d see in a movie where the devil comes back and has his big face-off with a holy warrior, big trees which make creaking sounds at night, and worst, a wholly inadequate access road for fire trucks.

Having manned up enough to get out of my car, I walked around rather aimlessly looking for an entrance to the fortress. No doors were labeled, but I managed to walk into what I learned was the completely wrong wing of a building that I’m sure you’ll see on Ghost Hunters in a few years when the county condemns the place. Voting was simple – I signed my name, waited in line with one person in front of me, listened to one of the other voter’s 3-year-old scream like a maniac, then was next in line.

I got into the booth which had electronic push buttons, then developed a strategy. I saw there were a lot of women in the races, so simply, for every random guy I voted for, I voted for two random women. I also made a point not to vote for the school board person who registered under both Democrat and Republican. How dare he make a mockery of our two party system! How dare he!

So, having done my part for women’s lib., I pressed the green “vote” button to lock it all in, and I had just done my civic duty. Of course, if Delaware County effectively closes down for one week each month due to my voting patterns, maybe I did more harm than good. (I should really be a stand-up comedian.)

****

Throwing Your Vote Away gets four stars. It sticks it to the man (or maybe the woman, in this case) and gives me slight moral superiority over those that protest voting by completely not voting. Unfortunately, it kind of takes a long time getting there, finding the right entrance, then getting back (especially if the voter in question chose to man-it-out and not actually look to see where the place was, and instead, relied on the “fact” that he could, in his mind’s eye, picture the street sign which said “Manchester” though he had no idea where that sign he was remembering actually was.) In terms of doing even more to throw a vote away I have a few options: vote on only one item – so when they talk about about how many people voted, the actual races will have fewer total votes than there were actual voters OR play battleship with the two columns of little lights which glow when you press the candidates’ names. Ah, democracy.

2006-07 Academy Awards Nominations


This year, the movie that I chose to not see, but still complain about is “Dreamgirls”, a movie that wasn’t even nominated for best picture… and I’m not really even complaining about it… which makes me feel real strange.

The academy awards nominations came out this morning. And for some reason I decided that I don’t really care this year. It’s weird because I don’t know why. In fact, I wrote most of this review on Sunday, before they were even announced. I’ve become jaded to the whole celebrity scene this year, and I’ve stopped seeing this show as an affirmation that the movies that I enjoyed over the past year are good, and more as a means of keeping up the guise of celebrity importance. (review of the near future: celebrity feuds)

Maybe it was seeing people argue about which movies deserved which awards the way I used to, and thinking, “Wow, do these guys see how completely stupid they look, rooting for something that they think they have partial ownership in, just because they kinda liked it? Did I look that stupid, phony, and in over my head when I was complaining about how undervalued “The Man who Wasn’t There” was, or how that ridiculous “THEY MAKE THE RAIN AND SAY IT’S RAINING!!!” rant from Cold Mountain won good ole squinty-eyed Renee Zellweger her academy award? Well, chances are I did for the last one, because I totally used to do an impression of that was intentionally unintentionally hi-larious, and which has since failed the test of time, seeing as how nobody even remembers the movie a mere two years later. This also goes to show the unimportance of these awards, because I highly doubt that all the people that argue about these sort of things could even tell me without looking it up, who hosted the 2001 awards (held in 2002), let alone who won best actor and actress. Whoopi Goldberg hosted by the by, and I don’t even think I could tell you what movie won best picture ( Chicago maybe?) let alone the acting awards. The only reason I remember Whoopi is because my friends and I were watching in a TV lounge filled with people who actually thought she was funny. We couldn’t take it and ended up leaving in a huff. That’s beside the point.

All this is not to say that I’m not going to look and see who’s nominated or who wins. I’ll probably even watch the show. But at this moment, writing this review, do I think it’s worth having an Oscar “party” or doing an awards pool (in which I have participated numerous times)? Not really. Do I find that a little disheartening? Of course I do. Three years ago at this time, I was in the center of celebrity culture. I was in the bleachers for the Screen Actor’s Guild red carpet. I stood by the limo security checkpoint at the Golden Globes to get a glimpse of anybody relatively famous. I can’t say for sure if I would do it again. Maybe just to say I did it. Then again, I never really got “star-struck” to begin with. Most of the pictures I took of people were either for bragging rights, or because I knew friends might want them. But still, even the following year I went in on an Oscar pool.

What’s my point in all this? I’m not quite sure. All I know is that at this specific minute of this specific day, I’m thinking to myself “Don’t we have enough other things to be interested in or worry about than awards for millionaires (I know that the tech award winners are mostly non-millionaires, and the people who make the shorts and documentaries are probably even less well-off) we’ve never met and mostly think they’re better than us anyway?” I suppose you could argue the same of sports, but to me the difference is that football and baseball are designed to be competitions, and film isn’t, or at least shouldn’t. Why should it matter to us if a movie we like wins an award? Shouldn’t liking it be enough? Maybe it’s the validation that comes with being behind something that is regarded by professionals to be the best. Maybe it’s the ability to say to our friends “I totally knew Marcia Gay Harden was gonna win for Pollack, even though I’ve never even heard of the movie because it sounds boring and was only playing in 8 cities”, thereby coming off as knowledgeable, even though you just got lucky or read a newspaper article. Maybe it’s just that feeling that you know a lot about a subject, even if you really don’t, but just know a little bit more than your friends. Besides, ten years from now, “Saving Private Ryan” will be remembered even though it lost to the completely forgettable “Shakespeare in Love”, which was lauded by the pretentious set.

This pretentiousness is something that the Oscars and other awards do spur on, and I guess this is where my whole complaint starts. Soon enough, the debates will rage over which arthouse movie that nobody was able to see was more overrated, which one deserves more attention etc. And all these people will be arguing over the fact that we love a movie that we haven’t even seen, just because of the talent attached to it. And that “you’re” (the royal “you”) stupid and less important because you’ve never even heard of it. And that’s just wrong. I really don’t want to do that again. (Update: I was flipping through the morning shows today to see if anyone was talking about the noms, just to prove my case, and the new FOX morning show had on their two Oscar Experts… two women who looked to be a mere few years older than I am. Of course there were raving about how great Helen Mirren was in “The Queen”… and to make matters worse, the audience erupted in applause. Now, you have to be sure that in this situation, maybe 25 percent of the audience at most has seen this movie, and the rest are either being egged on by the stage manager/audience warm-up guy, or just don’t want to seem like they don’t know anything about anything. Strangely enough, I’m looking at the box-office tallies for this weekend, and “The Queen” is actually playing in more theaters than “Children of Men”, “Alpha Dog”, and “The Good Shepherd”.)

And maybe I’m upset that somehow I’ve grown to see something that I used to see as the Holy Grail of Film-making achievement now as a way to sell movies that otherwise wouldn’t have an audience. I mean, would anyone have gone to see “The Last King of Scotland” otherwise? It’s all part of the self-promoting hype machine, and I don’t know if I’m still down with that. Maybe in a case like this, yes, but that silly red carpet image stuff always seems to undermine the gravitas of the “talent-based” awards.

As for the specific nominations themselves, they seem generally fine across the board, as far as the movies that I’ve gone to see, and those are really all that I can discuss.

**

The 2006-07 Academy Awards Nominations get two stars for being a way to generally promote smaller, higher-quality movies. As far as awards competition goes, I’m not really a fan of how devisive it makes people, including myself, about movies we like, versus ones we aren’t planning on seeing, but dislike just for the sake of it . As far as this year’s specific award nominees go, I’ve got no major complaints, other than the lack of “Children of Men”, but I can live without it, knowing how the voting process, and awards campaigning go. Oh… and the fact that THREE freakin songs from Dreamgirls are nominated…. now that’s something genuine to dislike… but still, does it really matter?

Empty Bookshelf’s First 100 Reviews


Oh, those kids. Always at it. You guys really shouldn’t’ve.

So here we are at the first of what may be a few reviews of our first milestone, 100 reviews. Not only is this the first review of this milestone, but of what could be very many milestones. We here at the Bookshelf like the word “milestone“, and don’t believe in Thesauruses. So here we go, our first hundred in a nutshell.

The first actual review happened way back in October of 2005… remember that time before the Steelers won the superbowl, before “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire” movie, before Dick Cheny accidentally shot his friend while hunting, and before Bristol, United Kingdom celebrated the 200th birthday of Isambard Kingdom Brunel (actually April 9) by relighting the Clifton Suspension Bridge?

Dan’s first review was aimed at complaining about post-game hype surrounding an extremely long baseball game. Of course our readers probably care about boring Astros-Braves baseball games as much as they seemed to care about my terrible review of the dictionary. Even though that picture was good, it was nowhere near the five star quality of this image. I too tried my hand at reviewing food, but it was an utter failure. On the plus side, my review of the letter to the editor is one of my favorites, and my first review actually got eight comments, including this link. The few following that grilled chese review focused mostly on music, my opinion of “Good Night, and Good Luck”, a particular episode of Trading Spouses, and Dan’s opinion of My opinion of “Good Night, and Good Luck”. Dan also said that the Colbert report wouldn’t last, which seems to have been proven false.

October seemed to be us finding our footing.
***

November saw Dan’s Cleveland Trifecta, a diatribe against horses, a road that he liked, an episode of “Coach“, and his complaints about how much he aches, now that he’s an old man. I started the month strong with the Beth review, but struggled through the rest of it, with lame reviews like Thursday, a type of tooth”paste” that doesn’t work for me, and an insightful, yet completely unnecessary complaint about my nosebleeds. My FAO Schwarz review kinda made up for them, but the highlight of the month involved Dan and I sparring about how Christmas is coming earlier every year, and something about me being a time-traveling sheep.

November didn’t see much improvement over October, but the Christmas stuff was entertaining.
***½

December got a bit better, even with a few less reviews. I busted out the old NES games, for a few reviews that I swear are not trying to copy off of XE, another personal favorite, Christmas Cards, Adam’s first review, Dan throwing the hate down on Pitchfork media, and a suprising amount of people commenting on Roger Ebert’s take on video games. The biggest advance in December was the pop-ins, that added added some clarity to our parentheses-obsessed-writing.

December was a highly engaging and entertaining month, even with only nine reviews.
****½

2006 rolled around, and January saw Dan get political, review half of a book, not like warm winters a lot. I only contributed three of ten reviews that month, but all three of them were relatively alright, mostly because “Where In Time is Carmen Sandiego“, and “The Simpsons” after season 9 is so easy to complain about.

January’s topics fell off a little.
***½

February, while being the shortest month, was also a monster for us, as far as number goes. A whopping twenty-one reviews. To be fair, 17 of them came in our envelope-pushing live superbowl reviews, the biggest stunt pulled in the history of reviewing anything and everything on a five star scale. The only other reviews of any substance were my Gauntlet Review of the Beatles albums, and Dan’s digging up of our one-issue underground high-school newspaper.

Despite the big stunt, and two good reviews, February was kinda lacking.
**½

March just plain sucked. Four reviews total. One by me. Three megareviews by Dan.

½

April was slightly better, with another of my top five of my reviews, Legacy of the Wizard. The other four I would give an average of 3 stars to, but since there were only four during the month, that’s going to cancel out the Legacy of the Wizard bonus and take it down a half star.

**½

For my money, May was our best month yet. Dan’s contribution was the lengthy three-part TV landscape review. I threw out quality stuff with my Songs for Silverman, and Degree Navigator reviews. The shorter American Dreamz and Davinci Code video game reviews were serviceable, but my immense LOST season 2 review tops everything.

*****

June fell off a bit. Four reviews total. Split two and two. Mine were based on a ridiculous news story, and anger at other people for coincidentally coming up with the same ideas as me. Dan tried to put everything into perspective by seeing how well the entire history of human ingenuity and artistry stacked up in the interstellar community, and complained a little about how the national geography of roadways isn’t designed to suit his needs.

**

July was filled with the (I gotta admit my ignorance as to the relevance of this phrase… and wikipedia does nothing to help) Navel Gazing set. I was had for a few minutes by a Jimmy Kimmel hoax, and I thought the critics were a little too harsh on Shayamalan. Despite the mediocre numbers for the month, I’d give it a 3.5

***½

This gives us a per-month average of 3 stars, which isn’t too shabby.

In my first ever review, I reviewed the concept of this website. I claimed that we wouldn’t be able to keep it fresh, that we’d run out of ideas, and that we wouldn’t be able to stay somewhat funny at least. I believe my exact quote was “It has the potential to provide hours of entertainment for readers, and shape their lives for years to come. However, the downside is that it could get old real soon, and provide us with nothing but an excuse not to get real jobs.”

Well, I think we’ve significantly proven wrong every single point that I just brought up. We have 29 categories, 19 subcategories, and even two sub-sub categories. We’re still writing about reasonably different things, and while we may have slacked on the funny in recent months, we still bring the ‘A’ game on occasion. As far as my quote goes, I’d be willing to bet that we’ve provided maybe a few hours of entertainment for a handful of people, which probably did nothing to shape their lives for even the near fututre. On the upside, it hasn’t gotten old, and we have gotten real-ish jobs.

For all of these reasons, I’m willing to up our star rating by half a star, over the average rating of 3. I’ve also realized that my method of calculating the rating might not be the best, so I’m gonna throw in another half star for a final rating of 4 stars out of five.

****

And for those of you playing along at home, yes, this technically is the 100th review and so therefore should be included. This review receives 3 stars for not having much to offer in the way of witty musings, and for having a faulty overall rating method, but for packing so many subjects and links into one review.

***

Outsourcing Phone Support to India

This topic has been beaten to death by the old and curmudgeonly (namely my dad and others social commentators similar to him), so it’s under no pretenses of originality that I submit this review…

Today, I learned that my name is Dan Suller. I must’ve been underneath a rock the last however many years thinking my last name was Fuller. Beyond that, I apparently live at 281 Linden Street.

Because the price was right, I signed up for Vonage phone service. It’s a bit less than half as much as comparable traditional phone service with the bonus feature that there’s a chance that when you call 911 as you’re being brutally murdered or your house is burning down, 911 won’t be able to pull your address from their phone system and see it on their screen. A win-win proposition. Oh yeah, also if the power goes out while your being murdered or burning alive inside your house-sized oven, Vonage is of no use.

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She may be pretty but her phone service sure isn’t.

I had some questions about the phone service, so I decided to call to order instead of placing it online. Actually, the ordering process went fine, it took longer than the online signup would have, but online has the benefit of a keyboard and it being your own darn fault if you mis-enter your billing, etc. information. After going through the whole spelling words out with my own personal phonetic alphabet, “D – as in, uh, … Dan; A as in, hmm, ‘a bird'” and so on (needless to say, the fact that my last name begins with “F-U” makes phonetic spelling quite the undertaking. “F as in, uh….hmm….hold on…[silence on my end]… umm….fox!” Thank god there are no “P’s” in my name. Anyway, we (the customer service person and I) plowed through the “data entry” part, and I was good to go.

Well, not so much. Ten days after that order (which was 8 days after it showed up on my credit card statement), the “starter kit” never came. I realized I had specified a Vonage.com user name for checking my account, paying bills, upgrading, etc. so I thought I could dig up the tracking number for the package through there. I had used my Gmail account to set up the Vonage service, so I used “dancfuller” as my user name but it wouldn’t go through. There was a default password set, but it naturally didn’t work. I tried the “e-mail me my password,” and that’s when I learned that there was no account with the username “dancfuller,” the one that I had definitely signed up with and had been definitely billed for.

I called customer service, was on hold for only a minute or so and talked to a woman who kept asking if I was having “MAC address” issues (a computer network-related problem) to which I kept saying, “No, I have not and still have not received the startup kit from Vonage.” She tried pulling up my account, but again, no username “dancfuller” and no user “Dan (Or Daniel) Fuller” but a very real entry on my credit card statement. She realized it was out of her control and passed me on to “level two” tech support, probably some guy hiding behind a curtain. More likely, a guy that you’ll end up waiting on hold for 45 minutes then deciding against it and figuring you’ll just go through the painful process of exchanging one e-mail a day with their e-mail service department until it’s finally taken care of. During these 45 minutes, I was looking online and of course, found lots of people with horror stories about Vonage’s support, and going in, I knew it was supposed to be spotty, I just figured that as long as the whole phone over the internet thing got going, I could hopefully troubleshoot anything that’d come up without relying on Vonage’s “representatives,” but being that the “getting it going” part had been duffed by someone at Vonage, I had had enough of sort of being their customer. 45 minutes was too long, so I hung up the phone. Realizing that probably wasn’t going to get any help from their e-mail service (I somehow didn’t technically have an account with them and the first step in the customer service process is verifying that they’re spending their time on an actual customer, I’d be in a bad position. Of course I couldn’t cancel online (and I’m sure that it wouldn’t have worked if I could have), but they do make it look like you can (look through the support tree). That number goes to general Vonage technical support (in India) and once you get through the menus in that system trying to find the “cancel service” option, you’ll be on hold for a short time (a couple minutes), explain you want to cancel, then they’ll say you need to call a different number. That number is 1-800-681-4094. To make sure it shows up well in search results, here it is very obviously. The direct number to cancel Vonage is 1-800-681-4094. You’ll be on hold for a while (mine was 20ish minutes), but that’s the only way.

I talked to someone decidedly in the United States (not that someone in India couldn’t help me….oh wait) and of course he couldn’t access my account either, but he could look up my account via my credit card number. Let’s all note that this means that Vonage doesn’t do any name check against the credit card (I’m not sure this is standard procedure for online orders elsewhere or not). To a computer “Dan Suller” is just as much not equal to the name on my credit card as “Willem Smythe” would be.

So, that’s how I found out that my last name was Suller. Which means that the username associated with my account was dancsuller, and the e-mail address associated with it was “dancsuller@gmail.com.” (that explains why I never received a confirmation e-mail) So that’s three birds with one stone. But wait! There’s more! I needed the kit shipped to a different address than the billing address, but of course those were inverted and the billing address was just plain old wrong. There’s nothing like a phone company having problems with the audio clarity during the ordering process. Quality product, no doubt.

The person I talked to cancelled my account, and pre-refunded the various equipment return and cancellation fees (hey, Vonage doesn’t have contracts, they just charge you a fee if you cancel before an arbitrary amount time has passed….an arbitrary amount of time such as one year) that will show up on my credit card . I’m not sure what the solution is, but Vonage isn’t it. I guess it’s (finally) time I get my cell phone converted to a local number, as I never considered land line (or sort of land line, such as Vonage) phone service all that necessary. The guy’s recommendation was that I just sign up for all of it online to avoid the hearing/clarity/accent issues inherent with having the call center in India.

*

Outsourcing Phone Support to India receives 1 star due to problems with phone infrastructure, accents, and cheap American companies. Global Economy schlobal economy. I have nothing against people from India, the problems I had weren’t related to them “as a people,” but with Vonage’s reliance on it/them because the labor rate is so low. The accent issue isn’t really too bad, but the phone service (ironic in this case) at the call center is awful. I’d guess that someone decided to save money and limit the call bandwidth to a notch below “nominal” for the entire facility. I’ve had similar issues with Dell’s call center audio, and it’s like talking to someone in a third world country (hmm…). Dell’s was especially bad because the system is all about referencing “service tags” and easily muddled strings of letters and numbers. I’m not sure what the solution is. There are some industries where foreign workers can do just as good a job (or better) work than Americans and save the companies lots of money because of the insanely low labor rates, but being that the phone system (at a phone company) was so shoddy, in general American companies are probably more accurately “cheap” than “thrifty.” If the work involved speaking/conversation, I’d hope that companies think twice before committing to inevitable “accent issues.” They spent so little on the phone system that when the initial order representative phonetically spelled my name, it sounded fine to me. Of course, that doesn’t change the fact that she messed up the “bill to:/ship to:” section of the order. I’m sure that they could’ve found more technically proficient people in India to staff their support/ordering center. I’d make some sort of comment here about how in any case, Indian people are good at making bathrooms smell like a wolverine that has been dead for three weeks after an acute case of garlic poisoning, but that’d be culturally insensitive and not that funny. Really though, at college I shared a bathroom with a wolverine. It was awful.

George W. Bush’s January 6, 2006 Meeting with “The Old Guard”

A reading note: The Daily Show addressed this same topic on January 11,2006. Needless to say, we were first.

Without explicitly saying so, we generally avoid discussing legitimately contentious issues here at emptybookshelf.com. That’s not to say we have topics that are off-limits, just that we recognize that there are issues are both too multi-faceted to be fully addressed in an “intro, picture, funny caption, body, rating, conclusion format” and evoke too emotional of a response in people. It’s doubtful that anyone will be posting a (serious) review of the continual mess in the Middle East, abortion, religion, politics, etc. In fact, these are topics for which even tangentially-related reviews or discussions are considered to be yet more propaganda in arguments that have gone on for years+. So, it’s with great hesitation that I begin my review of recent under-reported political news.

Objectively, the war, liberation, struggle, uprising, etc. in Iraq isn’t going particularly well. That’s not fine, but that’s how it is. Most republicans admit it, democrats, even those that initially supported the whole thing, realize something needs to be done, figured out, and so on, while the apolitical agree on that same something. No, the political climate isn’t that simple, but reading between the lines, you’ll notice that “column C” was the “apolitical,” not the “indepent”… ooh, the intrigue.

cheese
Unfortunately, The Honorable Mr. Cheese never received an invitation. Picture from http://cheesegod.com

Anyway, George W. Bush realizes this too, and in the interest of maintaining his appeal among his initial/traditional supporters, he arranged one heck of a meeting at the White House to discuss Iraq. I’m not sure how long The Boston Globe keeps its archives free, but here’s the story detailing the meeting. Don’t worry on clicking on it yet, it’s not very substantive, and I’ll explain why in a bit. So, on Friday morning, George W. Bush had pretty much every living secretary of state and defensesince Vietnam over for “discussion” at the White House. Yes, that includes former Secretary of State, Colin Powell, as well as Clinton’s Defense Secretaries. Granted those are mainly “look, I can play well with people that supposedly don’t like me anymore” and “I can also play with the older kids’ friends, too” picks, but that’s a lot of experience in the room. Beyond those more “recent” guests, Robert McNamara, the secretary of defense during the beginning and worsening of Vietnam was also present.
The Boston Globe‘s rundown of the guests:

The eminent group included Robert S. McNamara, who at 89 was the senior statesman in attendance, having served under John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson; Melvin Laird and James Schlesinger, who served under Richard M. Nixon and Gerald R. Ford; Harold Brown, who was Jimmy Carter’s secretary of defense; Frank Carlucci, Ronald Reagan’s defense secretary; and William Perry and William Cohen, Pentagon chiefs during the Clinton administration.

The former top diplomats on hand were Colin L. Powell, Bush’s first secretary of state; Alexander Haig and George Shultz from the Reagan administration; Lawrence Eagleburger and James Baker from the administration of George H. W. Bush; and Madeleine K. Albright, secretary of state in the Clinton administration.

Cynically, it sounds like that might be too many dignitaries, but in theory, it’s quite a crowd, and heck, people work best in groups. That’s 13, not counting the president and the unnamed advisors in Iraq. It sounds like they must have had quite a meeting. It was so enlightening that it even went over schedule by fifteen minutes.

The whole thing was an hour and fifteen minutes. That’s…let’s see: about five minutes and forty-two seconds for each of the 13 guests. How substantive. No wonder the newspaper didn’t really have much to write about beyond, “He heard things he liked, he heard things he didn’t like.” I can’t imagine much more than that happened.

Obviously, the meeting was held as a response to the critique/complaint that the president is too closed off from everyone but his top advisors. Well, then, he meet with people other than his top advisors for a whole 75 minutes. Who cares about 2008, let’s repeal #22 and re-elect him tomorrow! I mean, come on, how could we not vote for him? He did something to superficially appeal to his (apparently not that insightful) critics for an hour and fifteen minutes; he’s the next Lincoln!

You can make me eat coconut for an hour, heck, you can even make it so the eating session goes fifteen minutes over schedule, but that doesn’t mean I’ll like it, and I’d hate to think people were so blindly trusting to think that I’d have changed my mind about coconut after an hour and fifteen minutes. I’ll still hate that awful satan fruit.

**

George W. Bush’s January 6, 2006 Meeting with “The Old Guard” receives two stars due to the fact that it was no more than a PR move. No, I’m not saying that most actions taken by any sitting president/politician aren’t PR moves or photo-ops, but this one was rather see-through. As I said before, I’m undecided as to whether it was under-reported, but the fact that anyone thinks that the hour and fifteen minute meeting accomplished anything other than “politics” is delusional, or more likely, answering with “politics” in mind, which really shouldn’t be surprising or shocking to anyone, but that doesn’t mean the status quo deserves positive reviews. And yes, if Bill Clinton were president now and had that same meeting, it would’ve been just as negatively reviewed.