Friday, September 28, 2007

The Delicate Art of Obfuscation

This is what drives you nuts when you: a) really do think climate change is going to affect your life, and certainly the life of your four-year-old son; and b) you're in the "perception" business and know B.S. when you see it.

So the leader of the United States of Carbon got up in front of the Major Economies Meeting on Energy Security and Climate Change and said the following:

"We acknowledge there is a problem, and by setting this goal, we commit ourselves to doing something about it."

This is frustrating for two reasons. One, I'm still waiting for an apology from the Climate Change Deniers who spent years ridiculing those crazy liberals and academics who've been harping about this issue for years. Funny how those "crazies" turn out to be right about so many things. The real crazies are the people who say (and this is a direct quote from someone I know): "Only God can change the weather."

The second reason is that it's complete and utter B.S. Why? Because while it sounds like the Bush Administration is suddenly serious about this issue, and CNN is covering it with the headline, "U.S. Prepared to Cut Greenhouse Emissions," the real focus is on cutting "carbon emissions intensity," which is a term made up of one part "bull" and the other part "crap."

Pay special attention to that last word: "intensity." Remember when we didn't find WMD in Iraq and Bush suddenly said Iraq was engaging in "weapons-of-mass-destruction-related activities"? This is the same obfuscation that allows you to include the term you want to stick in the minds of the public ("weapons of mass destruction" or "carbon emissions"), while actually negating its meaning.

"Emissions intensity" does not refer to a net reduction in carbon emissions, which is what we need. It refers to emissions per unit of GDP. Bottom line, you can reduce "emissions intensity" while actually raising net carbon output.

The climate doesn't give a rip about intensity; it responds to net emissions. On this issue, these bullshit-related statements do nothing but raise America's level of ignorance intensity.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Shallow Thoughts

Sports radio personalities all have stutters. ("I-I-I-I just don't think Belichick should have gotten that fine, I-I-I just don't. I-I-I mean, I'm just stating my opinion, and you can disagree with it. It's a free country. But I-I-I think all he did is what a coach should do.")

My four-year-old son gets the concept of metaphor better than most people I know. The other day, he told me that Earth is a ship, and the universe is the ocean, and the other planets are islands. Run.

One of my business axioms (okay, my only business axiom) has once again been proven: A business that starts offering a clearly brand-non-sequitur product is always on its last legs. Mac Groveland is the perfect petri dish. The bagel shop that suddenly started advertising "We now have smoothies!" closed in four months. Now Home Video, which a couple of years ago converted a huge chunk of its space to an in-store Dunn Brothers and started advertising "Home of the $2 Latte!!" on Sharpied neon green poster boards is closing ("Damn you, Netflix!"). Mysteriously still alive: Grand Photo, which started selling umbrellas a year and a half ago.

Speaking of brand non-compliance, Macalester College continues constructing its mammoth new athletic facility/natatorium and sodding a new baseball field. How long before the Mighty Scots football team can defeat the Flailin' Irish?

Did anyone see Jeanine Garofalo on Bill Maher last Friday? I usually resist the temptation to discount what someone says based on their "crazy appearance"--especially when the right uses that tactic to talk about those crazy liberals ("Hey, John Kerry looks French!"). But something's up with Jeanine.

The best show on TV that no one's watching is "Mad Men." It's got the cinematography of the best Hitchcock with oddly effective Mametian dialogue. It also has the coolest opening credit sequence in TV history. And lest you think it's high brow, all the characters do is smoke, drink and copulate. And kudos to the creators for creating a triple meaning with two words. (Ad Men, Mad (Crazy) Men, Madison Avenue Men... yeah, it took me a while to get it, too.)

Libertarianism is trendy and annoying. Basically, it's based on the belief that the actions of one individual have no affect on another individual. It's an ideological vacuum. Sure, this is true when it comes to some things (consensual sex comes to mind), but it's a total fallacy when it comes to others (burning tons of fossil fuel, polluting the water supply, and yes, smoking in public). The truth is that the world has so many people consuming so many resources with such sophisticated technology that our actions are more interrelated than ever before. Which is why this is exactly the wrong time for Libertarianism to be fashionable.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Sorry, Charlie

Fourteen years ago, I endured embarrassment and ridicule from my siblings when my girlfriend at the time insisted on shopping for a dresser during the second half of The Game of the Century: Notre Dame vs. Florida State. I deserved it.

Last Saturday during the Notre Dame-Michigan State game, I went apple picking. Voluntarily. After that, I caught about 10 minutes of the game before taking the family up to my grandmother's house for dinner. Instead of tuning in for the fourth quarter when we reached Roseville, I enjoyed the sight of four live deer grazing in Grandma Lou's back yard. As I watched the youngest doe bound back into the woods, I thought, "Wow, we sure could use her offensive firepower."

Like many of the Notre Dame faithful, I'm left scratching my head at the profound disintegration of this program. When Jerry Faust came in from the high school ranks, it was clear that he was in over his head. When Bob Davie took over for Lou Holtz, the mediocrity was apparent from the first offensive series against Georgia Tech (I was at the game). When Ty Willingham stepped in for Davie, we got the over-achieving bounce from season one, then fell back to feebleness the next two years.

Those three coaches were basically unproven commodities who didn't succeed at ND. Weis is different. Here was a guy who had achieved success wherever he had been--too much so for it dismissed as mere coincidence or the product of living off other great coaches vicariously. ND overachieved in its first season, culminating with the near upset of the mighty Trojans. It played only above average against a soft schedule in 2006, but it did not experience a dramatic fall. Now Notre Dame, the team I grew up with--the team I imagined playing for as I carried a Nerf football up the steps to bed every night in South Bend, Indiana--is the worst team in college football.

I have little to add to what's already being shouted in ND nation. But I do want to say this: The media has planted the seed that this drop off to oblivion is due largely to a "recruiting gap" between Willingham and Weis. I don't buy it. Sure, such a gap exists, and Weis has (theoretically) greatly improved recruiting from the Willingham/Davie eras. But where's the young talent? Where's the spark? Good-to-great coaches don't experience dramatic meltdowns. They don't suffer six straight blowout losses. They don't get bad performances from talented players. They get great performances from average players.

Unless this team improves steadily throughout this season and dominates next year, I have no choice but to believe that Charlie has simply lost this team. No, I don't think he should be fired yet. Like most Irish-in-denial, I'll give him this one horrible year out of hope (not belief) that the recruiting gap is legit. But then, using the typical Weis offense as an apt closing metaphor, it's four and out.

Friday, September 21, 2007

I Guess This Is What Contests Do

It's nice to wake up to an AOL in box that looks like this. These are all folks who have requested to read "Deadbeat Boyfriends" just over the last 12 hours. For anyone with that unmarketed screenplay sitting under their Flyover Land bed, I highly recommend the PAGE International Screenwriting Awards--if anything, just to get messages from people who have "film" or "pictures" in their email addresses.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Let's Talk About Sex, Baby

As if the world needed any more proof that conservative politicians and pundits are institutionally neurotic on the subject of sex, enter Katherine Kersten (again). In her column today, "Forget Football, U's SHADEy Condom Brings Home the Big Prize," Kersten actually makes the argument that we should care more about football than about unwanted pregnancy and sexually transmitted disease.

What's her beef? The University of Minnesota was named by Trojan as the number one university for sexual health. The entire column is written with a cheeky sarcasm, ending with this amazing line:

"...[W]e can quit losing sleep over football polls and U.S. News and World Report academic rankings. Who needs them when you’re No. 1 for something with the word sex in it?"

Ladies and gentlemen, this says everything you need to know about the profound irrationality of today's "social conservatives." Anything with the word "sex" in it is bad. Even "sexual health." Think about that for a minute.

This is the group that to this day cares more about fellatio in the Oval Office than dead babies in Baghdad and Darfur. This is the group that drones on about homosexuality while never saying a word about rape and spousal abuse. This is the group that insists on a Designer but rejects the design. This is the group that covers the breasts on a statue. This is the group that thinks sexual preference, rather than consent, is the moral dividing line on marriage. This is the group that passionately wants to eliminate abortion, yet opposes every tactic that actually reduces it.

This is the group that thinks anything is bad if it "has the word sex in it." It's time to grow up, people. Put a condom on it.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Deer Hunting with Jesus

Joe Bageant's Deer Hunting with Jesus is one of those enjoyable reads about relevant issues that seems to call you to action--but ultimately leaves you at the bar wanting to order another beer instead.

The premise is great: Instead of an Ivy League liberal writing about why Southern and Middle American working-class people vote Republican (as if they were prehistoric mammals to be studied), Bageant, a self-proclaimed redneck who became a liberal, goes back to his working-class town in Winchester, Virginia, to actually talk to the people he knows and try to answer the question himself.

Bageant is definitely what you would call a colorful writer, and that's the real appeal of the book. A guy who embraces the term "redneck"--both for himself and other people--has the instant anti-PC appeal that a lot of liberals secretly crave. He scores big points in some areas. He offers some insight into what it means to have Scots-Irish roots. He offers a little bitch slap to the Left on why the Second Amendment is no less relevant than the First. He meaningfully communicates that for a culture where value is determined by work, and the biggest insult is to say that someone "doesn't want to work," it's unlikely that someone will complain when they have to work three jobs to have the same life their parents had with one.

But in the end, Bageant kind of thinks everyone is stupid and ignorant--the people in his town and the liberal politicians who fail to communicate with them. Rednecks are ignorant because they don't get multiple sources of information, they follow a Rapture-based religious scam, they don't see how globalization takes their American Dreams away, they've drunk the Kool-Aid that unionization is a form of weakness, they don't see education as a way to improve their lives, they don't see (or refuse to acknowledge) the environmental degredation around them, and they fail utterly to see how profit-driven healthcare and shady real estate financiers are consciously marching them toward death and debt.

And liberals look at this and say, "lost cause."

So basically, the point of the book is that conservatives embraced opportunity where liberals gave up. Knowing that the machinations of the world would continue to make life miserable for the people of Winchester, conservatives pounced on the opportunity to shield them from that reality while using them as a means for generating votes, rising to power and staying there.

Okay, but this still leaves me intellectually unsatisfied. It's too easy to argue that conservatives have won because they're the only ones talking. If the message itself doesn't resonate, that tactic doesn't work. The message obviously resonates. So for me, it's still a marketing question of why. You might be raping someone with a bogus mortgage deal on a manufactured home that's never going to appreciate--and will fall apart in the first rain storm--but by making that person feel like an "owner" for a few months, you're appealing to something primal. And (much to my chagrin) liberals continue to fail in their effort to tap that vein.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Holy Crap! (Part II)

Friday, September 14, 2007

The Small Intestine of Rock 'n' Roll

Note: This post is about misheard lyrics, not bad lyrics. I, um, intended it to be that way all along...

After a hard work week and a plethora of serious posts, I thought it was time for something more participatory that also allows me to just get negative. The idea hit after I was somewhere this week and heard "The Heart of Rock 'n' Roll" being pumped through the sound system. I've hated this song from the hour it came out, but until that day, I never realized how mystifyingly awful this particular lyric is:

"Now the oboe may be barely breathin'."

Think about that. You're writing a song in a bald attempt to get radio play--a song that isn't really a rock song but is dedicated to rock songs, that mentions lots of different cities to elicit applause from those locales during the inevitable tour to support the album--and to really hammer home your point, you write, "Now the oboe may be barely breathin'."

Did the writer first pen "French horn" and then cross it out? Did he try "bassoon" and then slap his forehead and say, "I need a two-syllable classical instrument with the emphasis on the FIRST syllable!" Granted, and oboe is a very pinched-sounding instrument. It's also a very difficult instrument to play, with its two (count 'em, two) reeds, and one could say that the quality of its sound is strained. And if one were to anthropomorphize an oboe, one might say it sounds as though it is having trouble breathing. I get that. But it still sucks.

Now, I turn it over to you. Not whole songs, but just individual lyrics, that top your Awful list. I have to throw in one more, and then I'll shut up. My top two are:

1. "Now the oboe may be barely breathin'" (Huey Lewis & The News)
2. "It's time to bring this ship into the SHORE, and throw away the OARS, FORever." (REO Speedwagon--note: ships don't have oars)

Monday, September 10, 2007

Connecting the Dots

After reading The End of Oil, The World Without Us, House of Bush/House of Saud and Sleeping with the Devil (the book that inspired the movie, Syriana), it's embarrassingly clear why we're in our current mess.

- All nations learn that the key to prosperity is economic growth, and the key to economic growth is access to cheap energy. That energy used to come from wood, now it comes from oil and gas.

- The U.S. learned this right quick. But then it learned that its own hydrocarbon fuel supplies would never be able to meet its own demand, so it had to look elsewhere.

- Starting in the '40s, we learned that Saudi Arabia, with its enormous petroleum reserves, would be the key to our prosperity for the foreseeable future, so we struck a deal with them: oil for security. Not only does Saudi Arabia have the largest proven reserves... it also has more than half of the world's spare capacity. Read: It can minimize the economic impact of oil prices by "turning on the pipes."

- Unfortunately, to keep this deal going, we've had to do business with a government that directly and indirectly funds terrorism to appease its enemies and stay in power. Who has given al qaeda half a billion dollars in direct funding? Hint: not Iraq.

- On a side note, who helped foment the Muslim Brotherhood (of which al qaeda is just a small branch office) by siding with the Mujahideen in Afghanistan in the name of containing Soviet Communism? Hint: not Canada.

- Also unfortunately, oil is on its decline and will run out this century.

- Also unfortunately, this resource has pushed atmospheric carbon levels to heights not seen since the Pleistocene Era, which is making the planet less and less livable for the 6.5 billion people who exist on it.

- Result: Death by terrorism, death by climate change. Every administration starting with Franklin Roosevelt has been guilty of myopia. At some point, someone had to realize that the formula was a Ponzi scheme, and that we needed to switch our energy infrastructure from oil and gas to something that wouldn't raise temperatures in both the atmosphere and the mosque.

- Nobody did.

Friday, September 7, 2007

What Kind of a Man Am I?

So the other day I'm doing the usual routine. I get home from work around 6:00 and start cooking dinner. This wasn't one of the easy nights, like Taco Tuesday or Pizza & Movie Friday. This was one of the adult meal nights: Greek oregano chicken salad with yogurt tahini dressing.

James (a.k.a. Seamus) is spastic, talking up a cyclone, running from room to room, automatically contradicting every word out of Anne's mouth. I'm trying to mix the dressing while not forgetting to turn the chicken while trying to remember to "clean as I go" while watching the clock, knowing that we need to leave enough time for a bath, when the kid runs into the kitchen and plows into my leg for fun. "GET OUT OF MY KITCHEN!" I hear myself scream as I rip open the baby spinach.

Kill me.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

The World Without Us

Thank you, Alan Weisman.

The World Without Us is the most compelling and creative expression of human peril I've ever come across. I've never been a card-carrying environmentalist, and now I know why the movement has never compelled me in the past: It hasn't been intellectually honest.

This book is intellectually honest. You may ask, "What's the point in writing a book about what would happen to the planet if homo sapiens vanished tomorrow?" There are several:

- It reminds us that the planet was not created for us. We evolved into it, and we are nothing but a blip in its history.

- It details how everything man-made--from our own homes to the Manhattan subway system--are shockingly impermanent and waiting to be reclaimed by water, mold, microbes, plants, UV rays and other animals.

- It points out the most if not all of what we refer to as "nature" would be better off without us.

- It reveals the short-sightedness of the environmentalist movement in focusing on how we are destroying "Mother Earth." The Earth is neither an ally nor an antagonist to humans. The truth is far more disturbing: It is absolutely indifferent to us.

- It shows in vivid detail how our particular mammal has been involved in a form of involuntary--I'll create a word here--speciesuicide. By choosing polymers, energy sources, agricultural practices and hunting methods that ultimately kill our food supply, pollute our water supply and increase fatal natural disasters, we are not destroying the Earth; we are destroying ourselves.

- If you're a conservative, it shows that "letting the market decide" isn't morally bulletproof; it only works under a short-term perspective with the assumption of unlimited resources.

- If you're a liberal, it shows that while "self interest" might have caused this problem, it is also integral to its solution.

- It points out (parenthetically) that weeds are actually a form of biodiversity, which for some reason is one of the most compelling facts in the book.

- It leaves you with this image: As much as we have already done ourselves in by over-consumption, every four days, one million more of us need food, water and energy.

I'll say it again: The biggest problem we face is the relationship between population, energy and the environment. Our only hope is that our worst trait, greed, is ultimately trumped by our best trait, intelligence.

That will only happen if we attain a sense of unity and humility as a species. And that's what this book offers--in abundance.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Masculinity Marketing

Once again, the Republicans are proving the marketing adage, "It's the Masculinity, Stupid."

After branding Democratic calls for troop reductions and withdrawals as weak ("cut and run," "aiding and abetting the enemy," etc.), Minnesota Senator Norm Coleman today came out and said the same thing but with a different spin.

Is Coleman a cut-and-run homo sissy homo bleeding-heart homo? No. He's backing a withdrawal of 5,000 troops by the end of the year "to send a message to the Iraqi government."

See what he did there? He made it about accountability--specifically, someone else's accountability. Coleman's whole spin is that the troops have achieved a great deal, but he's "not impressed with the Iraqi government." Withdrawing troops is therefore a way of saying, "Hey, we're taking your candy away. We're not going to continue to do our part if you don't have the balls to do yours."

And that makes it unwimpy.

Democrats make the mistake of confusing "accountability" for OUR accountability, which means they hate America, love terrorism, believe soldiers are dying in vain and are generally a bunch of whiny quitters.

Remember, Dems, you must, without fail, trumpet the ideals of personal responsibility and accountability. If someone tries to hold you accountable, question their masculinity (via their patriotism) and make the case that you're doing your part, it's the other guys who aren't stepping to the plate.

This is the tactic that separates a flip-flopper from a savvy centrist. And the reason that Norm Coleman will win reelection to the Senate without breaking a sweat.

LangAlert: Linguacopia

I was searching for some screenplays under my bed last night (not ones I've written; ones I wish I'd written, like "Tootsie" and "American Beauty") when I discovered a forgotten scrap of paper called Language Curmudgeon. This was my compilation of annoying corporate language trends in the last year of my previous job.

What's truly disturbing about this list is how many of the offending items have now become so commonplace that they no longer hit my ear like steel wool. Such is language. Always evolving, rarely in the direction you want it to.

Now, the list (with my translations provided in italics).

"Sorry I haven't looped back to you yet."

Sorry I've been blowing you off.

"This will lead to providing third box thinking."

We need to serve the client by serving the client's customer.

"I have also included our top three priorities and a straw man plan for next steps."

Here's some loose direction for you to go on.

"Let's bracket that for a minute."

Hold on.

"We have a similar style and similar footprint."

We're a lot like our competitor.

"We need more bandwidth."

We need more time.

"We'll succeed if we can get enough hands on deck."

We need more people.

"It has allowed us to increase the reach of our available spend."

We can stretch our budget farther.

"We patty our burgers fresh every day."

We touch the meat ourselves instead of using frozen patties from Sysco.

"Let me bandwagon on that for a second."

(Just go ahead and elaborate on whatever the previous person said. You don't need to announce your intentions, and "bandwagon" is not a verb.)

"We want to get to the point where we can say 'one plus one equals three.'"

I have no idea what I'm talking about.

"When was the last time you touched us?"

When's the last time we worked together?

"That's the first domino that needs to be set."

That's the first thing we need to do.

"That's the acid test I've always used."

That's the test I've always used. (You don't need "acid," and you really meant "pH.")

"Is that okay if I kind of dry-dock you for a day or so?"

I'll get back to you in a day or two.

"I'm going to need to dial you back."

I need to cut my budget.