Tag Archives: the simpsons

Trader Joe’s coming to Houston?

To match Houston’s awesome selection of cheap beers, it looks like we may have a proper source of ultra-cheap wine, as Trader Joe’s comes to the Lone Star State with its three buck chuck, not to mention limited selection but inexpensive groceries.

The story, broken by the Dallas Morning News and Swamplot, should be music to the ears of cost-conscious foodies, spendthrift winos, and the 713’s collective Napoleon complex. Finally! We can join the ranks of those supposedly superior California and Northeast locales with their ever-so-hip TJ’s. This is even bigger news than the time Cleveland learned it was getting an Ikea.

But there are a few little points of doubt in this otherwise good news.

1. Does Houston have enough out-of-work youth to work at a Trader Joe’s?

If I’ve learned anything from my shopping adventures at the NYC Trader Joe’s, it is that the only people who work there are slightly charming, definitely surly, urbanesque attractive 20- and 30-somethings. I’m simply not convinced that Houston has enough of this visually important demographic to properly stock a TJ. And if they do work at Trader Joes, then who will work at Whole Foods, or Moon Tower Inn, or any bar along lower Westheimer?

Furthermore, with Trader Joe’s salary starting at $40–60,000 per year, store managers earning in the low six figures, contributions to a standard 401(k) plan, pay for entry-level part-timers at $8 to $10 an hour, and  health insurance benefits to part-time employees and their dependents, TJs is certainly a tempting employment option.

2. Trader Joe’s is going to Dallas first.

Dallas? Really? Screw Dallas.

3. Will Houstonians like the Trader Joe’s style?

The huge appeal of Trader Joe’s in places like New York City is that it is quality food at megacheap without going to a club store. TJ’s can pull this off by carrying fewer goods and extremely few outside brands, opting instead for its own private labels.

This policy does help nix those fallacy of choice issues where consumers spend hours contemplating their ketchup-catsup problems.

However, Houston’s modus operandi seems to be consumer freedom at all costs. Houston is the home of no zoning, Enron’s deregulation fantasies, and 26-lane freeways instead of public transportation. Houston has the reputation as a place where people will drive through 2-hour traffic rather than even contemplate mass transport, because personal choice and control is preferable to any sort of top-down dictation.

Through that philosophy, why would Houstonians want to shopwhere there is only one brand, when they could go to Kroger’s (not that Kroger’s lets go to the good Kroger’s) and choose among three trillion different types of cereals with marshmallows in them.

Furthermore, Houstonians already have the option of this sort of top-down, limited option shopping at Whole Foods or Central Market, and those places have higher quality, more options, and shorter lines.

Trader Joe’s will have to find some other way to stand out. I can think of three key niches that Trader Joe’s could fill in Houston

1.  poor-man’s, less organic Whole Foods

2. That Place With Three Dollar Wine,

3. The cheaper of a Whole Foods-Central Market-Trader Joe’s trifecta of yuppie grocery stores.

Which brings this blog entry to point number 4

4. Will Trader Joe’s really be that much cheaper?

In New York City, grocery shopping at TJ’s can cost nearly half as much as shopping at a normal grocery store. The lack of cars means that people are less able to drive for a deal, and thus usually only shop at places near them. This means less competition between stores. Furthermore, a premium cost for space means that prices are higher all around.

However, Houston has giant grocery stores that, due to cheap land and nearly-total car saturation, are in nearly constant competition. Options are abundant and prices are low in this open market fantasy land of giant parking lots and free samples. In NYC, people are willing to walk and wait in long lines to save money, but how much cheaper can things actually get in Houston?

Maybe applying TJ’s methods to a different style of city will still work, driving prices even lower. And people do go out of their way to get some of Trader Joe’s private labels. (I hear stories about people who will bring empty suitcases when visiting locales with TJs so they can bring home some of their favorite Trader Joe’s cereals). But that stark difference between Trader Joe’s and other grocery stores in New York City won’t exist in Texas sprawl towns. Trader Joe’s will have to stand on its own merits.

On that note, where will Trader Joe’s go in Houston? It will need a place with a large parking lot, probably near the more youthful inner loop neighborhoods. Maybe it will go in some of the less developed areas of Montrose, near Allan Parkway, or somewhere in the Heights? Then again, maybe it will take the Five Guys approach and start outside the loop along the I-10 energy corridor.  And if I remember correctly, the first Whole Foods in Houston was in a small shopping center along Bellaire at Stella Link. (Edit: I remembered poorly. The first one was on Shepherd, south of Westheimer, next to the Bookstop. Now it is a pet store).

Much like the lines at Trader Joe’s, I guess we’ll have a long wait.

Thank You Very Much Warren Christopher

Former Secretary of State Warren Christopher died. While he has a long and important personal biography, for me he will always be the man who put an end to all wars and thus turned America’s youth gay.

Here’s to Warren Christopher, and a life overly influenced by The Simpsons.

Another way in which Houston is like the Simpsons

A few weeks ago commented on the stark similarities between Houston and Springfield, from The Simpsons, noting the failed monorail, tire fire, and other various follies. Well today, another parallelism grew forth from the bowels of the internet.

Houston: City on the Grow(click to play)

And, of course, the Simpsons equivalent.

Though I suppose the Houston video is the sort of 1960s pseudojingoistic claptrap that the Simpsons is mocking. Its just funny to actually see one, because I think that most people’s exposure to this sort of media is through the satirical and mocking references to it, rather than the genuine article.

This reminds me of a time I was in middle school and made a reference to: “If you build it, they will come.” Some other kid thought I was talking about an episode of Married, With Children.

I suppose that The Simpsons is the ultimate source of knowledge of cultural tropes for people who actually haven’t seen the original source, from A Streetcar Named Desire to The Planet of the Apes. Though perhaps these days Family Guy is contesting for that title.

Burn Down the Houston Tire Fire

I love pictures of historical Houston. The city changes so much because no one cares. So many awesome buildings are demolished, entire neighborhoods destroyed. The face of the city can change completely in but a few years. Old pictures of Houston provide a crazy perspective of the city, where entire areas are entirely unrecognizable. That is why it is so exciting to see something that hasn’t changed over the years. Rice campus and downtown are excellent examples of this.

Bayou City History does an OK job covering this historical chameleon that is Houston. What you didn’t know was that at one point Houston was more or less Springfield.

One of the eternal mainstays of the Simpsons’ hometown of Springfield, dating from the first season, is the Springfield Tire Fire.

When the Simpsons was subtle and funny

Well, ‘ol timey Houston had its very own tire fire!

Someone still hasn't Burned Down Rice!

In fact, Houston has had many odd Springfield-esque establishments. For example, a failed monorail!

I call the big one Bitey!

That was the only folly the people of Houston ever embarked upon.

My new favorite court case, and it involves Jurassic Park

For those who can’t tell, I love Jurassic Park. Of course, who doesn’t? Its fun, interesting, has dinosaurs and Unix. Now you’re probably saying, “I know this!” But you probably didn’t know that the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals knows this, too, and has officially recognized, in law, forever, the awesomeness of Jurassic Park. Thus, behold the case of Williams v. Crichton. (PDF: Williams v. Crichton)

For those who don’t want to read the whole thing, I’ll cut to the meaty center: About 20% of this case is just summarizing the plot to Jurassic Park. I can’t imagine which clerk got the cushy job of reading and summarizing Jurassic Park for the court. Really, what were his conversations like?

Clerk 1: I have to research the legislative history of tariffs on beets to determine what sort of regulatory structure Congress intended for various rooted vegetables. What about you?

Clerk 2: I have to read Jurassic Park and then watch the movie Jurassic Park, and then summarize the plot.

[Judge walks in]

Judge: Hey Clerk 2, how’s the progress on the research for the Williams v. Crichton case?

Clerk 2: Its going well, but I think I need to watch the film again to really get a sense of its copyrightable attributes as distinct from mere scenes a faire.

Judge: Very well, keep working.

Clerk 1: I really hope we have a copyright infringement case about Congo, because I’m sure there was a previous story about supermonkeys using diamond-powered lasers.

Anyways, the point of the summary was to compare Jurassic Park to some guy claiming Michael Crichton ripped him off, violating the copyright of his “Dinosaur World” books, which were short children’s books with titles like “Saber Tooth: A Dinosaur World Adventure.”  Basically, the books are like what Jurassic Park would have been like if it had actually opened.  Booooring. Plus, this joke had already been made in the future by the Simpsons:

For those who do not want to watch a video, or if the Hulu video isn’t working, which is wasn’t when I wrote this, you can read the words said by the characters in that wonderful 5th season episode, “Sweet Seymour Skinner’s Baadasssss Song”:

At the Kwik-E-Mart, Apu chides Bart for abusing the self-serve ice cream dispenser and making a foot-high cone.  Milhouse spies a familiar face in one of the aisles.

Milhouse: Bart, look!  It’s Principal Skinner.  And I think he’s gone crazy — he’s not wearing a suit or tie or anything!

Bart: [approaches him] Principal Skinner?  Um, I’m real sorry about my dog getting you fired, and biting you, and then getting it on with your leg.

Skinner: Well…maybe it was for the best.  Now I…I finally have time to do what I’ve always wanted: write the great American novel. Mine is about a futuristic amusement park where dinosaurs are brought to life through advanced cloning techniques.  I call it “Billy and the Cloneasaurus.”

Apu: Oh, you have _got_ to be kidding sir.  First you think of an idea that has already been done.  Then you give it a title that nobody could possibly like.  Didn’t you think this through…[later]…was on the bestseller list for eighteen months! Every magazine cover had…[later]…most popular movies of all time, sir!  What were you thinking?!  [realizing] I mean, thank you, come again.

However, the best part of this case isn’t just the retelling of the epic Jurassic Park story, even the part where “Velociraptors hunting in packs attack many people, killing some and narrowly missing others.  The children are attacked by a pack while hiding in the headquarter’s cafeteria, but they manage to trick the velociraptors into entering a giant freezer.” 84 F.3d 581, 586. The best part is not even footnote 2:
“Malcolm, near death, argues with Hammond that the park was doomed to failure from the beginning.  Hammond stalks off, and is soon killed and eaten by procompsognathids.  Malcolm also dies, succumbing to his injuries.2
2.   What seems to use a clear case of death is made more ambiguous by the sequel to Jurassic Park, a novel entitled The Lost World, where Malcolm is again a central character.

Not only must some clerk have read Jurassic Park, but The Lost World as well. Best clerk job ever (except maybe when the pre-Miller Supreme Court got to watch pornos all day long to decide if they were obscene or not). However, this leads to the Best part of this case. Now, due to this footnote, the plothole between Jurassic Park and The Lost World is now part of the official legal record. It can be cited in future cases and be held as binding. Sure, one could argue that this line, and indeed most of the summary of Jurassic Park, was just dicta. I say shut up.

Sure, maybe none of the other cases that cite this case deal directly with dinosaurs, but that doesn’t mean they can’t make references to dinosaurs when discussing applicability of this case:

“characters escape deadly, pack-hunting dinosaurs … when another dinosaur intervenes.” Robinson v. New Line Cinema, 42 F.Supp.2d 578, 593.

“electrical fences, automated tours, dinosaur nurseries, and uniformed workers were all ‘classic scenes a faire that flow from the uncopyrightable concept of a dinosaur zoo.'” Randolph v. Dimension Films, 634 F.Supp.2d 779, 790.

“Both stories centered a small group of individuals, including a knowledgeable adult guide and young dinosaur enthusiasts. Both depicted harrowing encounters with carnivorous dinosaurs from which the human characters escaped, via helicopter, ‘through the combined wit of the children and adults.'” Hudson v. Universal Studios, 2008 WL 4701488

Thanks to this case, contemporary and future jurists dealing with copyright cases can talk about dinosaurs. All judges who have a chance to use this case should use this case, simply as an excuse to deluge our judicial system with references to dinosaurs. (Also, any case citing this one should refer to its dissenting opinion as “inflicting dino-damage”)

Justice Scalia is a Battle-Ravaged Allosaurus

In conclusion, Jurassic Park is now legal canon, and it should remain that way, forever. Or, as Ryan Q. North put it referencing another wonderful pastime:

Question: Does the USS Enterprise not exist on the new Star Trek timeline?

Burn Down Top 10 Lists: Where the Intro is better than the whole thing

10 Movies/Tv show/books that are worth it just for the opening scene.

Some shows you just want to put on to watch that amazing opening sequence and then turn it off. Its not that the rest is terrible, its just that the opening scene is so good, its worthy to be watched on its own.

1. The Simpsons, “Much Apu About Nothing”

The main plot of this episode concerns Apu trying to stay in Springfield despite being an illegal immigrant in the wake of Prop 24, which would kick out all illegal immigrants. It has some nice scenes of Apu trying to get fake IDs and Homer trying to teach Apu so he can pass the citizenship test. But this episode stands apart for the opening sequence that is, as Homer puts it, like a country bear jamberoo.

With such great lines as: “Let the bears pay the bear tax, I pay the Homer tax,” “Arrest him on account of being a bear. And arrest him on account of being accessory to being a bear,” “Won’t somebody please think of the children!” and Lisa’s rock that keeps tigers away. The whole episode up to the actual plot is some of the best Simpsons work. Of course, the rest of the episode may be worth watching simply for the references in the newspaper to the Bear Patrol escalating bombing.

2. “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom”

I think as Brett put it, “I don’t want to see Temple of Doom, I want to see the movie before it!” The whole “Anything Goes” musical number, and Indy dealing with the Chinese gangsters in Club Obi Wan provides some great urban noir that viewers rarely get with Dr. Jones. Plus, “The poison that you just drank!” has worked its way into cultural a priori knowledge so well, its hard to deny that this opening sequence is not better than the rest of the movie. Bonus points: Short Round.

Note: I can’t include Raiders on this list. While the opening scene is fantastic, the rest of the film is certainly worthy on its own. You can’t just turn on Raiders and not watch the rest. Its too good.

3. “Star Wars: Return of the Jedi”This may be a stretch in the definition of “opening scene,” but the fight on Jabba’s barge is the ultimate high point of this film. Nothing beats the musical buildup to Luke giving the high sign right as he walks the plank.

After it, what’s left? Ewoks? Another Death Star battle? Sure, “Its a trap!” is fun, as is the Emperor, but overall the rest of this film is very skippable.

4. Futurama, “Bender’s Big Score”With a drawn out plot and sub-par musical numbers, this return of Futurama was a mixed blessing to fans. Great to see Futurama return. But not up to its best work. However, the opening sequence mocking its cancellation and an extended Futurama theme intro are enough to make anyone vomit in joy from both their freshwater and saltwater stomachs.

Note: Family Guy, “North by North Quahog”: This episode was Family Guy’s return after cancellation. Like Futurama, it had an opening sequence that mocked its cancellation. In a traditional Family Guy pop-culture reference, Peter listed every show that Fox had brought on and subsequently cancelled between Family Guy’s death and resurrection. While a funny bit, the rest of the episode is surprisingly good, especially the clip from “Passion of the Christ II: Crucify This!” The difference in the good to bad ratio between the opening and the rest of the episode is not enough to merit it a place on this list.

5. & 6. Any episode Digimon or Teenage Mutant Ninja TurtlesYou probably have fond memories of the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon, and may be tempted to go back and watch some old episodes. Don’t. It is terrible. The new iterations of the show are pretty good, but the old one is so puerile and just plain dumb, its no wonder that it was such a big hit among 8-year-olds everywhere. But you just cannot deny that theme song. Yes, Splinter did teach them to be ninja teens. If only he taught the writers how to make a show for kids that was actually worthy of such a fantastic intro.

Digimon falls into the same category. Crazy coked-out, pseduo-techno intro theme. Crappy Pokemon ripoff of a show. So after they change into digital champions to save the digital world, change the digital channel.

Notes: Any episode of Cowboy Bebop may seem to fit here, too. However, the freakin’ amazing into credits don’t utterly transcend the rest of the show, like with Digimon or TMNT, but transition into it. Perhaps this would fit if there was one really bad Cowboy Bebop episode, but there isn’t. And that’s the real folk blues.

7. Muppets from Space

The most recent Muppet movie to be released in theaters, Muppets from Space was a slight letdown. It didn’t have the knowing comedy or fantastic musical numbers from previous muppet movies except the opening scene. This movie opens by following Kermit the Frog through the Muppets’ house, introducing every character in traditional wackiness before slowly transitioning into a song and dance rendition of Brick House.  But the rest of the movie is about as good as one of Fozzie’s jokes. Wakka wakka, this is not.

8. Star Trek: InsurrectionEasily the weakest of all Trek films, except maybe the crappy 5th one that Shatner directed, Insurrection has low quality action and is just the sort of boring Federation politicking that the reboot entirely jettisoned, to much aplomb. (I don’t think I used aplomb correctly there). However, the opening Data freakout and subsequence chase, complete with HMS Pinafore musical number, is entertaining enough to be watched on its own, without having to put up with the rest of the film.

Notes: Star Trek: The Final Frontier also opens with a small adventure and musical number, with Kirk, Bones, and Spock singing Row, Row, Row Your Boat. Alas, it is nowhere near as entertaining as Insurrection. Life is not a dream.

9. Lolita

Light of my life, fire of my loins, my sin, my soul, the end. Really, all you need is that opening ephebophiliatic adulation of a gross 12-year-old. Sure, maybe buddy road trip sex romps across the great USA were a new and impressive thing back in the 50s. But now, boooring! Its been done. Finish the intro and high-five Nabokov, you’ve basically read the greatest book of all time.

10. This listReally, you should have stopped after the first one. The rest kinda sucks. I really had to struggle to make it an even 10.