08 November, 2010

ABOUT POLITICIANS

Truth is irrelevant. What matters is how you portray the opposition.


Let’s face it. Our legislators have very few original thoughts. At one time they were great academicians, now they have speech writers. Their greatest challenge has become how to issue a pithy spin that can enhance their party line while casting a pall on the competition.

Its high time Americans come to realize that the Democratic and Republican National Committees are in truth huge, privately held multi-million dollar companies masquerading as not-for-profit corporations. Candidates can only get funding if they adhere to the party line. Only marginal experience is required. Sure an individual prospect must possess ‘likability’ to be selected as a candidate. Let’s call this the ‘Palin’ effect. Being the Governor of Alaska is about equal to being the Mayor of Washington, DC (they have roughly the same population).

I promise you that the vast majority of our legislators have little interest in helping average Americans. They don’t have to be helpful. That might have been their initial goal. However, after a few years in government an otherwise earnest representative is so busy concealing their own personal array of corruptions that they have little time to look after us (we), the puny people.

Additionally, the only way to remain in office is to please the party elders. No party affiliation, no campaign finance. It’s the law of supply and demand - meet the demands of anyone who provides you with the largest supply of money. It’s all about funding. Further the party platform with sound bytes and photo ops. Results are desired but not required. Campaign funding rules the day. The recent mid-term election was perhaps the most expensive in political history. As you are fully aware it was one negative spin after another.

The 21st century has (so far) provided us with vivid, intimate awareness not only about our celebrities, but about our politicians as well. Tabloid magazines. Twitter. Even the Pope and the Queen have Facebook pages. We already know that some of the political electorate is guilty of infidelity, bribery, collusion, conspiracy, blackmail and malfeasance.

It is true that we as the public select our celebrities for adulation and elect our politicians in like fashion. We expect that our experience with previous behavior will deliver superior results. That is sadly more certain among low end workers and diminishes accordingly among our executives.


To paraphrase Mark Twain; 'Two things you never want to see being made: laws and sausages.'



In part and in addition to international relations, we elect the congress to look after our regional and local needs. In a perfect world it is the job of our representatives to secure funding for our schools and improve our infrastructure; to keep our taxes low while promoting industry, creating jobs and soliciting investments that will augment our prosperity. And yet so much prospective funding legislation is ‘pork’. And we call it ‘pork’ because much of it lacks wide ranging, even pertinent distinctiveness; construction projects, or grants that favor campaign contributors. You can find many examples on your own.

The truth is that our legislators are nearly incapable of doing the work for which they were chosen. Ham-fisted. State and local as well as Federal houses of government are peopled with master manipulators. Longevity on the job often indicates a level of expertise in networking through the complicated protocols of ‘the deal’. However, it is more likely that an experienced legislator is skilled at managing hirsute affiliations rather than duties to the electorate. A smooth politician.


To paraphrase Honore de Balzac: “Law is a silvery web that lets the big flies pass and catches the small ones”.

Think about it. America desired independence from Britain because there was taxation without representation. The colonies paid import, export and sin taxes to the crown without even so much as a voice in the royal ear to convey issues in a true way. Out with the old.

We then proceeded to elect our royalty and have been doing so ever since. In with the new. Our representatives are provided with high salaries (they can vote themselves a pay raise), they receive perks like free dining privileges and excellent health care insurance. They are permitted to postpone the obligations of their current office so they might go onto the campaign trail, effectively pursuing a different job while being fully paid for the one they seek to abandon. Try that at work! Perhaps they are named Adams, or Bush or Kennedy or McCain or Clinton.

I suppose there is a case for brand loyalty. I am, after all, inclined to replace a failed appliance that has served well with a model of the same brand. Moreover, I often hope that previous employers will remember to call upon me again when the chance arises.

Now what about lobbyists? Executive legislators can influence the policies of generations to come and as such are continually tempted (if not harangued) with and by special interest groups who seek to interpret the public good according to their own private agenda (s). A flood of data coupled with persuasive incentives hoping to affect a vote or at the very least elicit support. It’s safe to say that our electorate encounters the faces of familiar lobbyists far more frequently than they might encounter ‘Joe or Sally housecoat’.

A revolving door exists between the Department of Defense and Defense contractors; it is the same between pharmaceutical manufacturers and the FDA. The same exists between the FDIC and brokerage firms like Goldman Sachs and Merrill Lynch. In view of recent events in the Gulf of Mexico I think it’s safe to include the Mineral Management Service and its cozy relationship with the petroleum industry as well.

So who is representing you? There is deserving concern that Americas greatest invention, the middle class, is dissolving. A few weeks past President Obama addressed a fund raising dinner at $30K for each plate. That is more than many people earn annually. Even as government contemplates curtailing unemployment benefits, they also deliberate on extending the so-called Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest 1% of Americans. So how is representation going for you?

25 August, 2010

ABOUT SIT-COMS

For the less initiated this particular blog addresses: ‘situation-comedies’. You know. Those semi-endearing, character driven, often ridiculous televised portrayals of life we once enjoyed before there were true ‘reality shows’. As far back as ‘Ozzie and Harriett’ and the ‘Honeymooners’ up to and including ‘Two and a Half Men’ and the ‘Big Bang Theory’, they are prime time staples.

They’re still 30 minutes long (21 if you deduct commercials). There are still 7 main characters. They still use laugh tracks, a practice I find personally insulting. I know when to laugh and I do not require prompting.
I sometimes reference these shows as ‘comfort media’. We’ve seen these programs many times. We know the names and histories of the characters and cast. Many have concluded production and exist now only in ‘syndication’.

Syndication as you know is that state wherein a show that was terminated as far back as the fifties can still find a market (albeit sometimes in international translations) on today’s broadcast schedule. How else could a twenty something of today embrace ‘I Love Lucy’ or ‘Bewitched’ or the black and white televised images of ‘Amos and Andy’!

One can hardly turn on the tube without encountering reruns (sorry, ‘encore presentations’) of ‘Friends’ or ‘Everybody Loves Raymond’, or ‘Frasier’ or ‘Cheers’ or ‘Reba’ and many more. In fact, the entire schedule of the ‘TV Land’ network is comprised of the very many half hour shows that lost popularity among previous audiences decades ago… hence they were cancelled. But just as the ‘Mummy’ might say: “Death is only the beginning”. Where else can cheesy effects, clumsily written stereotypes, stiff acting and fabricated  pretense find an everlasting time slot.

18 June, 2010

ABOUT SUMMER

What will you do with your summer? It's a big ol' world out there. Swimming, diving, camping, hiking, and don't forget sports. Perhaps it's time to work on that tennis game or try your hand at windsurfing. How about a few weeks at the lake? Snorkeling is good. Maybe you'll finally make that California trip. Branson, Las Vegas...you might even get around to that cruise vacation! Even in the old neighborhood there's plenty of community parks around!


When I was a kid (not that long ago) I would go to the playground on Prospect Avenue near my boyhood home... that would be in the Finger Lakes region of upstate New York. We had a softball team and a couple of patient college aged supervisors who taught macramé and boondoggle when they weren't breaking up some minor altercation! Anyone care for a pot holder?

On the weekends I'd have a traveling lemonade stand in the bed of a little red wagon pulled by the younger brother. Hardly anyone would venture into my marginal neighborhood so I had to get the product out to them (I'm actually still doing that). In later years I had the summer job thing happening... I picked strawberries for ten cents a quart. (I really hated that job.) When I was old enough I had a small lawn mowing business and was actually able to buy my first guitar with the proceeds. Of course Dad had to haul me and the mower around which was not high on his list.

Each year the family made it's annual pilgrimage to Roseland Amusement Park in nearby Canandaigua, NY. It was a kind of budgety Six Flags but we always had a ball. I could hardly wait till I was old enough to go on the adult rides. Dad had an old black and white Mercury with a 'merc-o-matic' transmission... the gear shift was mounted on the dashboard and the starter was on the floor. Curiously there were a number of cigarette lighter burns on the front seat... oops!

Occasionally we'd all head out to the 'cottage'. This was a small lake house built by one uncle on the 'high banks' of Seneca lake. A long rickety staircase led down a shear embankment to the shore. The water was nearly always freezing and the bottom was covered with sharp rocky shale... quite the perfect way to slice open your chubby pink toes! It was always exciting when we were permitted to drive my uncles' home made go-cart up and down the dirt access road. For some reason I always associate these days with the spice 'dill weed'. That aroma always rekindles the 'cottage day' experience.

There was one street light near our house. The pavement was red brick, and the neighborhood was integrated. As often as possible we'd all try to stay out late to play 'kick the can' under that streetlight. Generally by 9 pm the folks would tire of that 'can sound' and call us all inside. Around mid-evening a street vendor would pass by selling ice cream treats.

One night each year June bugs would hatch out (kind of an over large ladybug). We children, being cruel things, would do our best to swat at them with baseball bats. Once in a while we'd all go to nearby Genesee Street park and play 'Red rover, red rover, I dare you come over'! Chestnuts would fall from the trees at the end of summer and be collected just to see who could gather the most.
I was a small town boy. In fact my graduation class had around 64 students. We would not have been so large except that our school district merged with another in the last semester thereby doubling the size of the senior class! Those summer nights meant so much to me and are the very reason I relocated to South Florida. Now every night is summer! The heat, the beach, the strawberries... if only there was someone in this neighborhood who played 'kick the can'.

Make a memory this summer. You won't regret it!

13 May, 2010

ABOUT STAR TREK

My appetite for all things Star Trek has bemused my friends. All the series and the movies… even the ones that might have been done better.

Don’t be misled; I have no interest in dressing up like Captain Picard or Mr. Spock. Perhaps I’m a poor ‘trekker’ in that regard. I’ve never attended a Star Trek convention, nor do I possess trek memorabilia of any kind. When I was small I did assemble a model star ship ‘Enterprise’ with flashing lights but that was all. I have managed to collect a range of televised Star Trek episodes on VHS. Sadly VHS has gone the way of cassettes, 8 tracks and vinyl albums.

To appreciate the Star Trek phenomena as do I you really have to grapple with those times.
I had finally gotten to the age where my parents would allow me stay at home (alone) on Friday nights (instead of dragging me to the grocery store). This was fine with me in part because I actually had control of the television for a few hours. Of course, we had only 3 channels but I did stumble onto Star Trek one night at 10 pm.

These were volatile years for America. It was shortly after the Kennedy assassination and our nation continues to be rabidly obsessed with that great mystery. We were making the conversion from ‘black and white’ to ‘color’ televisions, and those weren’t the only colors of the day. America was undergoing the civil rights movement. Inner cities throughout the nation were over the top with violent demonstrations. These demonstrations weren’t always about civil rights. We were still immersed in the Viet Nam war and tempers flared. Additionally, the ‘draft’ was still in place and the ‘space race’ was in full swing.

As you already know, a succession of Gemini and Apollo launches would eventually culminate in the first men to walk on the moon. You might not know that the final moonwalk was in 1972 (many years past).
Somewhere along here comes the fictional star ship ‘Enterprise’ representing an earth peopled by our future selves; an earth that has ostensibly eliminated war and poverty and discrimination. A powerful vessel, replete with food ‘replicators’ (no one goes hungry) and with hand held weapons that can be set to ‘stun’ (instead of kill). Doors retreat into the sidewall and computers speak aloud. Medical instruments scan our bodies and injections are administered pneumatically. This multi-national crew carries what appear to be ‘flip phones’. And however odd it may seem, some of these scripted elements are today’s reality.
A multi-national crew it is; an Asian navigator (Sulu), a Russian helmsman (Chekov). A female Watusi (Uhura) handles communications with a Scottish engineer and an Irish doctor and even an extraterrestrial with pointy ears! And of course this able talent was intuitively commanded by the all American hero from Iowa (James T. Kirk). And they weren’t alone; there exists an entire ‘Starfleet’ of ships. We had survived great trauma as a people and somehow the best of our society had prevailed. We found hope.

And yet more hope. As the star ship ‘Enterprise’ speeds throughout the galaxy new worlds are revealed. Most of these worlds were allegorical to our own. A cold war, a convenient war, a corruption; a power struggle, a despot… it was all out there in the stars. We’ve traveled hundreds of light years at warp speed only to meet our previous selves. As above, so below.

For in the end, however far away we may have traveled, the adventure was always in our hearts and minds. ‘Starfleet’ was larger than any of us. A community of planets. We were encouraged to be open and honest and kind; to save, to heal, to preserve, to respect. In accordance with the mantra of Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry: “Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combination”.

The series was and remains very much a discourse in topics that are not readily addressed in conventional media. Greed, prejudice, oppression, discrimination; all these issues were confronted by our fictitious crews and more. To paraphrase Roddenberry: “We talked about stuff you couldn’t say in the news and it went right over the censors head, but all the 12 years olds got it.”

16 March, 2010

About TV Advertising

If ever you have watched a few hours of day time television then you have been educated though you may not know. Resting between the cooking shows and the game shows and the morning gab and the afternoon soaps is the complete panoply of our personal woes.

All the problems of our society exist side by side, on the tube, every day.

Who advertises on day time TV? Well, who watches it? Law firms soliciting class action participants pose alongside pharmaceutical companies drumming up product awareness (remember Phen Phen?). Repair your credit or buy a car with no money down and no credit check. Can’t get around very well, you must need a scooter. Slip and fall litigation, DUI defense, the list is long. Declare bankruptcy or study for a new career. ‘Institutional’ ads insinuate to the viewer that you wouldn’t be home watching TV in the middle of the day if you salvaged your career through vocational training! Save your house from foreclosure or get in on the ground floor as the housing market floods with bank owned properties. An entirely new set of potentially litigious circumstances include allergy and asthma medication, feminine hygiene products, depression aids and more. Check out these contraindications, may cause: headache, nausea, dizziness, drowsiness, blurred vision, ringing in the ears, anal leakage, joint pain, redness or swelling of mouth, face or throat, shortness of breath, anxiety and more. And while I’m at it, since I’m paying my doctor to know what’s best for me, why should I ask him about any prescription medication?

Of course the real reason these contraindications are broadcast is to avoid litigation, after all you’ve been apprised of the down side in their commercial. So if you mention the product to your doctor then they know you’ve seen the commercial.

It’s very different at night. Night time television is all about health and/or fitness. The reign of infomercials. Juicers, work out programs and related gear. Make your hair curly or get it straightened, increase your capacity for sexual pleasure (that’s a class action suit waiting to happen). Lonely? Call our chat line and hook up with someone in your area. Maybe you want to work at home for yourself and sell knic knacks that you never see and don’t touch for small profits and a free web presence. How does that work anyway? I guess they sell those things to people without a vocation who watch TV all day! Internet shortcuts anyone? Again with the busty spokes model (preferably with a British accent).

I’ve lost track of the many fitness machines (including awkward to clean juicers and toaster ovens). I wonder where they get audiences for these shows? Who chooses to sit in the audience and be impressed by a sharp knife or a vacuum that can really suck? The crowd glances one to the other in appreciative enquiry. What? Another new grilling machine to congest the unused appliance shelf? I do notice that the taste of cooked food is impressed upon the viewer as aggressively as the cooking hardware itself? There’s always that one taster who rolls their eyes in astonishment.

There have even been a few scandals. The Dell spokes person was busted for pot and lost the gig. The Mac spokes person goes on to get a movie career. The sham wow guy is busted for spousal abuse. The oxy clean pitchman, Billy Mays, knocks his head and mysteriously passes on.

And so it goes in the 21st century.

27 January, 2010

About Time Pieces

A few days ago my watch band broke. It’s an old self-winding Timex watch that I purchased about 30 years ago. It was a good value at around $30. Certainly the 'Twist-o-flex’ band has been changed many times, but the time peace survives. It still works great. I don’t wear it often, mostly when I’m working and then only to keep track of my set times. You have to wind it if not worn since it is the swinging motion of your wrist that keeps it going. In the still night you can hear it make a soft, hypnotic ‘bonging’.

Mom had a cuckoo clock on the dining room wall with two pine cone weights on chains that had to be hoisted each day. It was very attractive and sounded out the hours all through the night. A little door would open and the tiny bird would pop out, bob up and down while calling to the sound of a bell, then make a speedy retreat.

This is certainly a far cry from the ancient sun dial, a crude if effective method of keeping time. Imagine if you had to run outside periodically to know the hour, and then never at night.

I notice that when you carry a watch on your arm, you do just that… watch it. Sometimes people look to their clock when you pass in the hall. It’s a kind of safety behavior. If they are busy looking at the time they are not available to greet or engage you in conversation.

An aphorism of old states plainly: “A watched pot never boils.” This portends of course that your perception of time, in this instance while boiling water, expands because you’re waiting for the event. I think the same is true for the wearing of watches.

How slowly the day must pass when you constantly remind yourself of the hour. Why is everyone so concerned with monitoring time anyway? They say time is money. So I guess the hours of the day actually tick away at our financial future. Nature has already divided portions of the day into light and dark. Imitating Nature, the US Government has actually legislated changes in this natural rhythm of time, moving the clocks forward and back twice yearly… Daylight Savings Time.

Whatever happened to the pocket watch on a chain? It was an elegant affectation with a snap-to cover instead of a glass bezel. A vested suit would actually feature a ‘watch pocket’. Remember the ‘Dick Tracy’ watch? These days a time peace is likely to have many functions. Some are two inches wide and they call it a chronograph. These components feature everything from television remotes to alarms to calculators to daily planners; they are waterproof depth gauges and look like they could indeed receive HBO.

For many, a time piece is a true fashion statement. A ladies watch has somehow become so tiny it is near unreadable. Is this to say that a woman places less emphasis on time than a man? They do take longer to get ready than men and seem to enjoy having us wait!

Sometimes I think that numbers on the face of a clock are insufficient for the 21st century. What we really need is a clock with verbs on it. We’ll call it the verb watch! Wake, shower, eat, drive, drive, drive, work, break, work, lunch, drive … maybe put a little sex in there on the weekend.

It seems we’ve reached the end of these remarks, my how time flies.

Just out of curiosity, did you take time to stop and smell the roses today?

Quotation of the Day

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