Wednesday, January 28, 2009


What is "faith" and what's it good for ?...I asked myself recently. Without getting bogged down in semantics and/or embroiled in religion, I pondered the question, because sooner or later it seems to come up in so many of life's situations. Granted, the usual context the word connected with involves a belief system revolving around a "higher power". That belief system is nearly always connected with a religion, and more often than not, a hierarchy of an entity or entities that are better than YOU. So too is "worship", the act of paying homage to such an entity, or entities (referred to as a deity, or deities) to acknowledge their greatness as a God, and your shortcomings as a mortal human. But how do you know, how do you really ever know that the system of belief a religion is predicated upon isn't just some sort of scam? Simple - FAITH. Or so it would seem. But let's examine "faith" a little more closely.

In order to do that, we need to have a constant, something that is held to be TRUE. That would be "belief". If I say (in all truthfulness) that I believe something, it means that through what I've gathered in my experience, and corroborated with the experience of others, through all of the data that has been presented and documented , that the statement, condition, situation, occurrence, existence of, or whatever is TRUE, and evidently FACT. That the sun will 'rise' tomorrow is a fact. That I live in a house is a fact. That I have a cat is a fact. That I have eaten, will eat, sleep, drink, etc., etc. are all facts. I believe them as true because they are constantly happening. But do I have faith that the sun will rise? No, I don't need to. No faith required. Yes, it is possible I could die, and not live to see another sunrise, but death eliminates all doubt. Without DOUBT, you cannot have FAITH.

So since faith and doubt are symbiotic, but opposite counterparts (if there was no doubt, there would be no need for faith), what place has doubt in faith's nature and value? A very important one. "Eh, I don't think that car is gonna start" is doubt. There is a (sizable) chance the car won't start. "I have faith that the car will start," is an indication that perhaps in spite of the odds or conditions, there is a positive desire for the car to start. In fact, the one with faith actually believes that the car WILL start! One has to have some basis of belief to have faith. One does not have to have faith to have a system of belief. In this example, the odds are that some condition (the age or care of the car, the weather, etc.) possibly affects whether the car will start or not. So faith (or doubt) comes in when there is a possibility that something contrary to belief may happen, result or exist. It could be your belief, it could be someone else's. In a way, faith is "sticking to your guns".

Although at some time or other most all of us have professed belief in something we didn't sincerely believe in ("Yeah, I believe you're telling the truth"), when you say you have faith, you're declaring your belief come hell or high water. Even though there could be some doubt. No matter how hard you try, you can't prove the existence of GOD (you can make some compelling cases, quote scripture, point out how many other people believe in a god through religion, etc.) but you can't present any concrete evidence that there is one of more deities running the show. You need to have faith to make this particular belief system work- for the belief is unsupported by tangible evidence of its truth. Does that mean that faith could be delusional? Perhaps. But faith is also an integral part of a core belief system that aspires towards something positive rather than something negative, such as doubt.

Phrases like "faith in our fellow man", "he was a man of faith", "faithful until the end", and "his faith was strong", bespeak of faith as a positive attribute. "Oh yee of little faith", "She was a faithless hussy" indicate that lacking faith is necessarily a bad thing. So is faith "blind belief"? Again, not necessarily. In order to have faith, there has to be some underlying reason WHY. (Here's where things get tricky.) It could be one's upbringing (tradition), a personal experience or occurance that affects, alters or enhances one's belief system, a yearining for certain things to be true, or simply a desire to view life in a certain way. It also happens to be a lot easier to to have faith in someone or something that is in some way "unknowable", being that there is a lot more leeway for unexpected or unwanted circumstances and conditions. ("It was God's will.")

But what about faith in yourself? Do you have to believe in a higher power for that? No, not really. Faith in one's self is simply knowing your capabilities and believing you will "do the right thing" or "perform in a certain way" because you think you know yourself best. But on the other hand, there still has to be some doubt, some possibility you will fail at whatever prompted you to even think about having faith in yourself. It is faith in one's self that permits triumph over adversity (winning a scholarship, athletic contest, surviving a catastrophe) discipline over temptation ("He was a faithful husband") and acceptable quality work ("She rendered a faithful adaptation"). Of course, you could always pass the credit to the deity ("It was my faith in God that made me what I am today"), but that's kind of like thanking the Academy after you won the Oscar. If you didn't have the drive, determination and faith in yourself, you wouldn't even be there.

So why does it seem like I'm a bit cynical when it comes to faith? Perhaps because it is an unquantifiable quality that has been put on a pedestal and revered as an ideal while being used as a shield (and often, a sword as history bears out) against unbelievers, doubters and those considered to be lacking in virtue. You know, you can still be an optomist and not have faith. I feel optomisitc at times that this new administration will be somewhat better than the past one. I don't have any faith in politicians though. Is that just contradictory, or am I reserving a little room for some good, healthy doubt?

Friday, January 23, 2009

Best CD you NEVER Heard!

Yesterday I was listing a CD in my store, Windhamearl's Black Lodge, one I wasn't completely familiar with. Usually, there is some frame of reference for even the most obscure CD albums but not this one. The name of the band is MUSEUM and the album's title is 'LOST'. It was originally released in 2000 on an obscure label called Noria. The only description/review I could find of it was on Amazon, and that brief little paragraph just wasn't enough for me. The CD is out of print now, and difficult to find. Apparently any reviews or discussion of it on the net have long since evaporated or have been relegated to 'lost' discussions on message boards buried deep in archives where even the web spiders fear to tread.

After listening to it, I gave Museum's Lost CD a brief but reasonable item description in Windhamearl's Black Lodge, but I still feel that I didn't do it justice. Besides the Nine Inch Nails (musical) and David Sylvian (vocal and musical) comparisions, there is also an element of David Bowie in the vocals. The first six tracks are on the raucus side, driving and hard-edged. The second half of the CD is more laid back, but still as dark as the first half. You can't call this Goth, or Industrial, or really even Alternative, when consider what most 'Alternative Rock' is these days. It might fall vaguely into the 'Art Rock' category, or even slightly 'Progressive'. The music is totally eclectic, the kind that just isn't being made anymore.

The band consists of Michael Danke (lead vocals, programming), Toshi Yanagi (guitars & violin), Chad Rafferty (keyboards & backing vocals) and Tim Santen (bass guitar). The band has a Museum website where there is hardly any information about them at all, except for the mention of a forthcoming album. This is really odd; you'd think a band that was this good (and possibly still active) would have at least some kind of following or condsidering all the musical cheezos out there who have TONs of people writing about them.

Be that as it may, this is one of those CDs that if you have an ounce of ecletic taste in your musical soul, you're going to fall in love with. Danke's vocals are deep, powerful and achingly emotional. The music is extremely well done and the songs are in a word, FANTASTIC! I tend to be somewhat jaded about new music I haven't heard, since I buy and sell so much, and also write music reviews. A lot of crap passes my way. But Museum's 'Lost' is the very exceptional 'once in a great while' album that defies convention. Not a single bad track on it. I strongly recommend you buy it ASAP. You won't be diaappointed. Even if you don't buy it from me (and I only have ONE copy), this is one you defineitely need to add to your collection.

And it makes me wonder, how many other CDs are there that I've never heard, that could be this good, but never got the push they deserved...

Monday, January 19, 2009

Bonanzle- Heir-Apparent to the eBay Throne?

Today, a friend forwarded me post from The Digital Daily by John Paczkowski titled "eBay Q4: Letting Go of a Very Successful Past" that prompted me to the topic of why I believe Bonanzle is the "Heir Apparent" to eBay. World-wide household name that it is, eBay's crown as the king of online auctions and a global community marketplace has tarnished considerably over the last year, creating a mass-exodus of sellers, powersellers, and buyers. The spurious new policies of the colossus are plethoric- increased seller's fees; censorship of seller feedback on buyers; weak fraud protection; impossibly stringent regulation of seller ratings; arbitrary enforcement of certain listing policies; unfair limitations on shipping charges in certain categories; preferential treatment for large business entities and corporations; strictly limited payment options; an numerous other changes that have spawned nicknames including Feebay, Greedbay and Fleabay.

This disenchantment with eBay prompted a seller's revolt of sorts, beginning with the boycott of 2005 leading to the creation of
'Powersellers Unite', a site dedicated to eBay alternatives. While there is no clear major victor in the crusade to wrest the mantle and scepter of the Auction Titan, Bonanzle is poised to become the 'Next Big Thing' in the small to medium seller online marketplace, and it isn't even an auction site!

Why Bonanzle?, you may ask. It has a kind of funny name, a similar front page look to eBay, and a site motto that might allude to 'mostly weird stuff' ("FIND EVERYTHING BUT THE ORDINARY"). Well, to quote Bonanzle founder Bill Harding's Mission statement:
"Bonanzle's goal is to be the simplest marketplace online, with an upbeat community that makes buying and selling fun again." That simple statement, along with Feebay's blatant disregard for those who have made them so much money has been the reason why so many ex-sellers of the titan have migrated over to Bonanzle.

I first heard of Bonanzle after reading the response to an article by investment mavens
The Motley Fool titled "5 Stocks You May Be Thankful For" where they foolishly touted eBay as a good buy back on November 6, 2008. (Later on toward the end of December, the Motley ones reversed course with a much gloomier outlook for eBay in "The Fall and Fall of eBay".) It wasn't the article but the response to the article that piqued my interest; it was the very first time I heard of this Bonanzle place (with a direct link to the site no less), but certainly not the last. I decided to check it out myself, and after reviewing the site's policies, and scouring their community forums (where many ex-eBayers held sway), I decided that Bonanzle had a lot of potential and I had nothing to lose. My eBay sales had been steadily declining and their policies were putting a stranglehold on my financial future. With the economic downturn being such as it is, to go down with a sinking ship seemed the least prudent of all my options.

Bonanzle bases their marketplace concept on on 'stores', or 'booths' as they call it, where individual sellers set up shop for the items they sell. Booths can be merchandise-uniform (similarly themed and /or typed merchandise) or as varied as stuff you might find in an eclectic garage sale. Some booths have only a handful of items, while others have thousands. Bonanzle has some significant advantages for both buyers and sellers- no listing fees; payment options that include the acceptance of Google Checkout, money order, Paypal, or cash; the ability for a seller to import their items to offers a Bonanzle from eBay or Craigs List; simple 'One Page' item listing; a built-in realtime chat feature where you can talk to sellers live in their stores; the ability to display four separate pictures for each item listing for free (with a cropping tool included); the ability for buyers to haggle over prices by process of offer and counter-offer; a simple structure of final value fees far less than eBay; GREAT, EFFICIENT and TIMELY technical support, and a community of welcoming and caring people who aren't too self-absorbed with their own enterprises to offer assistance, praise and encouragement.

Bonanzle has only been in existence since June, 2008, a relatively short period of time for any major online enterprise. (How long did it take eBay and Craigs List to reach any degree of popularity ?) When I first came aboard in November 2008, Bonanzle had in the vicinity of 10,000 registered members. As of this writing, Bonanzle has over 20,000 registered member and is poised this week to break the million mark in the amount of items listed. These listings are NOT of "test' or bogus origins either, a practice that eBay was notorious for in order to inflate their listing statistics. Granted, some of the Bonanzle items may be "freebies' (some item you can get from a seller if you buy something from them for a price), but this accounts for a very small percentage of items overall, and is still real.

One unique concept Bonanzle has implemented is the use of a short-term sale event called a BONANZA. Kind of like a 'Blue Light Special', Bonanzle booth owners schedule a sale where many of their items are marked way down for only a few hours. If done correctly, this can generate a lot of excitement and a huge buying frenzy. Since Bonanzas are scheduled well in advance, you can always peruse the Bonanza list and time your visit to the booth of your choice appropriately. You can also be assured that a seller will actually be present in the booth to answer any questions you have in real time during a Bonanza.

Some Bonanzle sellers have also begun to experiment with holding their own auctions. Unlike the eBay auction, an impromptu Bonanzle auction doesn't last a week, and is usually a fast and furious affair. Depending on attendance and preparation, a Bonanzle auction can either be a riot or a dud. It is unclear whether Bonanzle will ever incorporate any permanent auction feature on the site. Right now, the trend seems to be geared towards downward pricing rather than upward pricing, and a number of members are opposed to the auction format taking over, fearing another 'Greedbay'.

To its credit, Bonanzle's marketing plan does not involve throwing huge sums of moolah into conventional advertising channels. Rather, they use a grassroots, word-of-mouth growth strategy. Bonanzle reward incentive for the top six or so members who invite the most users. (I was the recipient of one of those awards last month, and I'm still deciding how I'm going to spend my gift certificate.) Also, the Bonanzle team has been very effective at getting media coverage in such places as CNN and the like. Members are encouraged to do their own promotion, and Bonanzle's advice and assistance in this helps facilitate a seller's booth being listed with Google Products Search, and other promotional ideas involving social network sites and blogs that are investments of time as opposed to money. The Bonanzle community also offers promotional advice in their forums, and the forums can also be used as a way to promote one's business within the site.
Still, Bonanzle is not quite 'there' yet. In the uncertaintity of the economic climate, sellers struggle to sell, and buyers are hesitant to buy. No new enterprises have any assured sustainabilty and growth (except for maybe repo services, storage facilities and pawn shops) and the ability to 'hold on' while a new enterprise grows will put many to the test.

In the long run, nobody really knows what the future holds for Bonanzle, or other online marketplaces. As long as eBay continues their trend of seller alienation and buyer confustication as promoted by the current regime, their future remains dubious. While Bonanzle continues to experience exponential growth with a shopping environment that's really pretty cool, there is a lot of potential as long as it stays fun and a good, no hassle place to buy and sell. Granted, it won't satisfy everyone's needs, but then again, what ever does?

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Serious Black at Windhamearl's Black Lodge

This is my first-ever post at Blogger, and I'm feeling a little intimidated. Kind of like the comedy club heckler who's been pulled up into the spotlight on stage and handed the microphone. I've resisted the blog thing for some time, but since necessity is the 'Mother(s) of Invention' (great band, eh?) I'm here, spouting my little heart out in the firmament of the masses.

So, a little about me- I'm a musician with a dark electronic music project called Serious Black. I also have an online store specializing in 'fringe music' (Goth, Industrial, EBM, Techno, Dark Ambient, Psychedelic, Experimental, Electronic, Noise, Exotica, Renaissance, etc.) and also eclectic books, magazines, catalogs, and other curious items. This strange emporium is oddly enough called Windhamearl's Black Lodge. I suppose those in the know will appreciate the Twin Peaks reference in the name, and the duality of 'Black' ("Black as midnight on a moonless night.")

Black Lodge 2

I have to admit that I've been much more tied up with store business than making any new music lately myself. It has become a priority to promote Windhamearl's Black Lodge not only because I need the money (and who doesn't?), but also because I retailing/distributing new product by artists in the fringe/dark music categories. Recently added to the inventory of WBL are some excellent releases by Conure and 15 Degrees Below Zero, both projects of Mark Wilson from San Francisco. Wilson has a rich background in the world of experimental/electronic/ambient/ noise music and I've recently reviewed his latest release, 'STREAM' at grey-area music site, Chain D.L. K. Yes, did I mention that I happened to be a music reviewer too?

Well, I think that's enough for now. I'm still trying to get the hang of things here, but I'm sure I'll be back again soon, spouting more stuff.