Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Advertising on the Fly

I have a peculiar talent for creating advertising. One that is frequently beyond my control. Take yesterday. My girlfriend and I were driving east on Lisbon when we came across a dilapidated chicken joint named Champion Chicken.

I involuntarily launched into an announcer-like voice and said “There isn’t a chicken in the joint that hasn’t gone fifteen rounds and come out a champ! No matter how hard you hit ‘em, they’re the chicken you can’t keep down!”

A second passed before peals of laughter emanated from the passenger seat. It was then that I realized the awful double entendre.

Madison Avenue fears me.

Streaming Thoughts

I’m stuck. I start a blog, and after a paragraph or two lose all focus and sense of direction.

Doesn’t matter if it’s about Mitch McConnell and John McCain and the remarkable athletic ability they display while leaping from one position to another, the especially fine Dylan bootleg I downloaded last week or my ongoing unemployment.

My blogs just sputter to a stop like a car out of gas.

And that’s another topic: rising gas prices. Where’s the deflation economists were so worried about last year? Demand remains flat, the non-Wall Street economy is still on life support, yet gas prices continue to rise. Why isn’t the dynamic of supply and demand coming into play?

Did it pull a groin or something?

I thought the gravity of low demand kept prices down. Is everything we learned in Economics 101 wrong?

Then there’s the pending reform of Wall Street.

I’m not holding my breath, and neither should you. Like our recent health care reform, the financial re-do will be gentle. Corporate-friendly. It will be faint like the light from a distant star.

Despite the valiant efforts of people like Elizabeth Warren, there’s just too much campaign cash at stake. Too many golf junkets. Too many days to turn into Christmas for our pocket-stuffing congressional representation.

Ironic that the public has no choice but to ask the town drunk to watch the liquor cabinet, isn’t it?

Despite the questionable covers and reportage on personalities like Justin Bieber that make me feel like I wandered into a copy of Young Miss, Rolling Stone continues to do an excellent job of reporting on the farce that passes for governance in the United States of Whatever.

And it doesn’t matter from which side of the aisle the farce originates; Democrats and Republicans alike are stripped of pomp and PR when deserving. Matt Taibbi’s writing deserves Pulitzers.

Considering the subject matter, he must take a lot of showers.

Oh yeah. And then there’s the Dylan show. Re-invigorated by a near-fatal bout with pericarditis and the release of the stellar Time Out of Mind, Dylan is in prime form here.

His is one of a handful of voices actually enhanced by age, not diminished by it. Its gravelly texture only adds resonance to songs of faded love and longing. And the band is expert; responsive, empathetic and supple, providing shading and sparks as needed.

Playing with arrangements, experimenting with phrasing, Dylan is one of rock music’s most challenging (on a bad night) and arresting (on a good one) performers. Here, at the Irving Plaza in New York City on the evening of December 8, 1997, he is very definitely one of the latter.

Sweet Jesus.

Finally, a shout-out to my friends whose music blogs have been snuffed out. It’s funny—now that I can’t download the music they shared I suddenly have the cash to purchase $16.99 CDs at the local big box store and support global giants like Sony and Universal and Bertelsmann.

Or so the powers that be must think.

Long live David. Death to Goliath.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

You're Working Class and Conservative? Why?

I’m trying to understand working class conservatives. Really. I want to understand working class conservatives. But I can’t.

I understand wealthy and powerful conservatives. What I don’t understand are conservatives who drive Hyundais. The ones who do their own shopping. Mow their own lawns. You know, the folk who provide the GOP with numbers while remaining blissfully ignorant of the fact they’re cutting their own throats.

The best example comes from Raleigh County, West Virginia. Here’s the tragic confluence of small government, big business and a malleable electorate too addled by the sizzle to realize the steak is for someone else.

The last Republican president was a great believer in removing the reins from business and letting it run free. Pure, unfettered capitalism would cure America of all its ills.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) was neutered. Likewise the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Countless regulatory agencies had their staffs and funding cut. Statutes were winked at. Protections ignored. Penalties intended to drive responsible corporate behavior were scaled-back or eliminated altogether.

Nowhere was this more true than in the coal industry.

The intimacy big coal enjoyed with the last Republican president should have aroused the suspicions of the First Lady. Advances made by generations of miners, their unions and local, state and federal governments all but disappeared under that administration.

The ultimate expression of this largesse came from Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship.

He concluded it was more cost-effective to pay the fines levied by government inspectors than to upgrade the safety infrastructure in his mines. And thanks to the small government, big business climate created by conservatives, it was.

It wasn't all bad. While guilty of thousands of violations over the past decade, no one could accuse Massey of filling their workers with propaganda like "Our employees are our most-valuable asset" could they?

As punishment, the good voters of northern Appalachia again voted Republican in the 2004 and 2008 presidential elections.

The nation’s second and third-largest coal-producing states (Kentucky and West Virginia) have become the reliable source of Republican presidential votes the Great Plains and Rocky Mountain states have been for generations.

Like battered wives, the mantra of working class conservatives seems to be don’t bite the hand that beats you.

Given the institutionalized abuse shown the working class by Republicans, this seems an extraordinarily steep price to pay for gun ownership. Or to protect fetuses until they emerge from the birth canal. Or to impose an angry, hateful God on the population.

Actions still speak louder than words. And I still don’t understand.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Ambushed on Amazon

I often peruse the book reviews on amazon.com. There, I am refreshed and renewed by the thoughtful and literate discourse that takes place. It’s almost like another country.

I find it enormously heartening whenever my fellow Americans make new and exciting word choices that only rarely combine ‘Obama’ and ‘socialism’.

But all that changed after visiting the page for Michael Lewis’ The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine, a book about the Wall Street cutthroats who savaged our economy for personal gain.

Techies who fancy themselves environmentalists have littered the site with belligerent demands and accusations, most of them centered on either a. Amazon’s b. the author’s or c. the publisher’s refusal to offer the book on Kindle. And how that refusal dooms planet Earth.

Never mind their entertainment options.

As a confirmed business-hater and avowed environmentalist, I would ordinarily pump my fist and yell right alongside them.

“Flaming death to the fascist corporate pigs!” Or something like that.

But not this time.

The contradiction is staggering. Traditional books are bad for the environment, but plugging in an electronic device that necessitates repeated charging and uses a stream of disposable batteries is somehow good for it?

Okay. Let me get my Shirley Temple on so I can deny the visions of coal-fired power plants in my mind, too.

Maybe I’m too cynical. I admit to viewing technology through the jaded eyes of one whom has seen—and heard—way too much breathless, this-is-gonna-change-the-world hyperbole. I mean, the last thing that lived up to its brochure was my 1991 Honda Civic.

In addition to the technology itself, I’m also a mite skeptical of people who unblinkingly embrace it as a panacea.

It was noneother than Groucho Marx who wrote that technology is the opiate of the people. And when it comes to technology, my money is on the guy who asked “Shall I call a cab or would you like to leave in a huff?”

On the other hand, perhaps it’s ignorance. Sheer, dumb-as-fuck ignorance. I mean, maybe it is just that simple. Plug in, log on and save the planet from imminent apocalypse.

I don’t know.

Mostly, I think it’s a collective shriek from the Twitchy Nation, caught in the spasms of tech-denial.

It’s these very circumstances that provoke their greatest and most hideous fear: techlessness. I’m sure it’s in the Constitution somewhere that you should never have to live life in real-time. Ever.

Well, logging off now. I’m re-reading Walden.

And yes, it’s available on Kindle.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Undateable

One of the nice things about getting older is the sense of perspective you gain. With fifty-some years under my belt, I have seen lots of change; both the evolutionary and devolutionary kind.

So when Undateable: 311 Things Guys Do That Guarantee They Won’t Be Dating or Having Sex came out, I was struck by its similarity to the things feminists railed against in the late-sixties and seventies. The things they called sexist and chauvinistic and misogynist. The things they charged were shallow and demeaning.

Authors Ellen Rakieten and Anne Coyle go into excruciating detail about what guys should and shouldn’t wear. About what they should and shouldn’t say, do, or presumably, think. It’s everything a guy needs to know about being the perfect guy—especially if you find yourself attracted to one of its authors.

Undateable states that women draw far-reaching conclusions about compatibility in the first fifteen to twenty seconds of meeting a man. Afterwards, the window inexorably closes. While you and I have been taught you can’t (and shouldn’t) judge a book by its cover, apparently Rakieten and Coyle can.

Speaking as a man who didn’t always make good first impressions (I was shy and socially awkward), and yet as one who enjoyed his share of female friends and lovers, I can state this absolutely is not true. If it were, I would be Rush Limbaugh.

The reason I am not is that as sentient life forms, women possess the ability to adapt and update their impressions as more data is made available. Which is a very clinical way of saying they have the ability to change their minds. They are flexible.

Beyond their intellectual agility, women (at least those not named Rakieten and Coyle) just aren’t as fixated on appearances as men are.

While this doesn’t excuse men from being slovenly and unhygienic, should tube socks really consign them to the sexless and permanent bachelorhood Undateable says they should?

Ultimately, Undateable and its authors come-off as the female equivalent of men who judge women against Playboy centerfolds—even when they’re not seventeen. It, and they, are immature; obsessed with appearances and the status a prospective partner can bring to their own unfulfilled lives.

A philosopher once stated that we become what we hate. Insofar as Undateable is concerned, he seems to be correct.