Online Shenanigan-sanity

I like to go online and weigh in with a nice dose of balanced, well-reasoned sanity in the comments section after news or opinion articles on, say, Sarah Palin, where the great mass of goombas hiding behind names like Bubba01 ejaculate angry misspelled sentences packed with vitriol. It’s like tossing a carrot into the mouth of the fat kid that’s already overflowing with French fries and Whopper juice. Confusion abounds. And no one ever comments on my comments. There’s the occasional thumbs-up by some poor soul looking for some sanity, but rarely ever thumbs-down I’m guessing because they probably never get past an opening  like “Actually, and while I disagree with the overall premise for reasons I will make clear below, the article is very well written and the support the author provides is relatively sound; however, in light of…” Snooze. I can just imagine them getting about 8 words into it, punching a mental “delete” button, and scanning down for words like “dumbfuck” and “dipshit”, then smiling gleefully when they come across them. The carrot, while nibbled, is left uneaten to rot.

All Hail the Essayist – Or Why News Skews and the Warlord [Name] Might Not be Such a Bad Guy

One thing I try to do (and often fail at) is get most of my information about important people, places, ideas and things from essayists; meaning, to me, writers who research more, take longer to consider, write in greater depth, and, generally, are less bent on convincing anyone of their particular opinion. That is not to say they are without opinion (and some great essays are very much drenched in opinion), but their opinions are, again, better researched, have more depth, and therefore generally more thoughtful. They also show an awareness and respect for opinions that don’t line up with theirs. I find that that sort of thoughtful approach generally leads to a better understanding of the depth and nuances of the subject about which they write.

Without even bothering to talk about the FOX News and MSNBC’s unashamedly biased silliness (a silliness that has it’s place, mind you, but it’s place is to entertain and not to inform), I think that, in general, news skews, and even when they are not trying to skew necessarily. It’s more a result of taking a tiny piece of a story – that which is news and so that which happened recently – and putting it out there all by itself. Even with the obligatory set-up and few paragraphs of background, the gist of the story then acts as a sort of soundbite that is ingested like a potato chip and often misconstrued as a balanced meal. Imagine a headline like “Warlord bombs tiny village – women and children among dead.” The first few paragraphs would be explanatory of exactly what happened – “Forces allied with the [Name], the [place] warlord, bombed a tiny village in [name], leaving [xx] people dead – among them [x] men and women, many of whom were elderly, and [x] children. The bombing took place during a battle the [other name] forces for…”

That is generally about as far as many of us will read, if in fact, we get beyond the headline at all. So we walk away with “Warlord is evil and [other name] forces are good.” Even if the reporting is accurate, and despite the fact that killing women and children (let alone any innocents) is certainly very, very wrong, and without my making up various scenarios where it might not be necessarily the wrongest wrong…coming to the conclusion that the  Warlord is evil might be quite far from the truth. But the news story did the best it could, and maybe buried down in the article, if it was long enough, we could find a bit more background to explain that.

Like the constant barrage of economic figures tossed our way – “the biggest drop in unemployment since 2008” – these sorts of news stories are but a tiny slice in time and provide absolutely no context. “But 2008 is only four years ago and our country is 235+ years old – our economy even older, how does the biggest drop in the last four mean anything whatsoever, beyond the fact that five years ago we had a bigger drop?” It’s like peeking through the blinds of a ballroom for three seconds and walking away thinking you have some idea of what took place that night at the ball.

To those who would argue, “I’m busy. I don’t have an hour to read an essay on that.” I would contend that if you skipped the news and saved that time up, you might find that you do have time enough to read the essay and gain a much better understanding of the subject. And you pick and choose. We are so inundated with news now that we sometimes feel like we need to know what’s going on everywhere. You can’t. So pick your battles. If you have strong opinions about something – focus there. If you’re of a serious political bent – know all sides of the argument inside and out. If you love American history or have family from from Eastern Europe and are concerned about what happens there – read essays on American History and/or Eastern Europe.

Obviously, I’m making this all sound rather easy and of course it’s not. A person needs to know where to find the essays, then get to know those who write on those subjects, then actually sit down and read them. And work went late, and the kids have homework and hockey, the lawn needs mowing, the in-laws are coming … so flipping on the television news, turning to your Google news (which is in a constant state of tailoring – deciding for you, thank you very much – the news stories you see) or glancing at the newspaper (if you are among the dwindling few who do), it seems is all we can pull off sometimes.

And yet, now, at a time when the complexity of our world seems to be expanding exponentially (or is that just a result of our internet-abled seeming awareness of absolutely everything?), our main source of information is the most simplistic imaginable – the 24-hour news station. The great dumbing down began in earnest in the last couple of decades and it’s taking hold. NBC News “In Depth”, I remember I timed some years back, was about four minutes long. In depth, indeed.

Focusing on essays rather than the general popular news outlets also allows you to miss out on all the news stories that we are bombarded with that really have no impact whatsoever on our lives – or most anyone else for that matter. “There’s Pink Slime in our Fast Food!” Wait a minute, fast food’s not healthy? “Snooki’s Pregnant!” Wait a minute, Snooki’s a girl?

And beyond that, grisly multiple murders are grisly and horrible, but if it happens a thousand miles away, beyond hearing about it, should I, or better yet, do I need to know more? Are the details relevant to me? Or are there better ways to spend my time than hearing about how “the gunman entered the building through a back door and went first up the stairs to the office of his former boss who was on the phone with his wife wearing a shirt with the company logo when the gunman opened fire and shot the 48-year-old father of two eleven times leaving behind a grisly scene of…”

There was a time when essayists were the bee’s knees for a larger share of the literate public, and the essay itself, considered one of the great forms of writing. And while among a small population, that may still be the case, essays have fallen out of favor for the general public. We modern folk like everything, information and learning included, to be quick, convenient and easy to chew – not unlike pink slime.

But there are always great essayists writing and we have oodles of them right now – and some of them decidedly hip! The late David Foster Wallace made much of his name with his book of essays, “A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again” – which was great fun! I’m currently reading “Pulphead” by John Jeremiah Sullivan, and have gleaned a more intelligent and thoughtful understanding of Christian Rock (of which all I used to be able to say was – ha ha – it’s an oxymoron), reality tv, Michael Jackson and Constantine Rafinesque (Who? Exactly.). My Atlantic and Harper’s magazines arrive monthly and keep me in good essays throughout the years (the latter skewing pretty liberal; the former a bit more centrist).

So it’s not all smarty-pants whatsoever. Essays can be great fun!

But I still do contend that if you want to understand something in some depth, you need to approach and study it in some depth, and essays provide that opportunity while being entertaining in the hands of those who know what they’re doing. And they’re not as long as non-fiction books!

So all hail the essayists. Let’s make them rich and famous rather than Snooki and the mass murders, and make ourselves as informed as we are opinionated.

The Clash of Humanity!

Had a stressful little turn in Target – the kids with their ever-present sense of entitlement and incredible lack of thankfulness being the stress-makers – that led us after to the Roseville Library to drop off “The Blind Assassin” – brilliant; and “Toward the End of Time” – mostly great but a bit much about the old guy’s lower extremities. I pulled into the parking lot and dropped into one of about 11 unused handicap parking spots in front of the door (totally not my m.o., by the way – i’m usually the guy who gives others the dirty look when they do that), left my car door open in a sort-of “hey, don’t worry, i’m just dropping these here books off and will be out of the way before the 11th handicapped driver pulls up for sure”, but ran headlong into a puffed up gentleman who shouted at me. “Those spots are not for dropping off books!” He was absolutely right, of course, as it’s illegal to park there. I noticed then also that there was no book drop off there anymore.

The Roseville Library – which was recently rebuilt and features a mostly featureless interior and like so many other libraries now seems to want you to know it as a big space with computers with the actual books relegated to elsewhere – moved my book drop. I jumped back in my car, stung and a bit embarrassed as I’m not the guy who takes spots from handicapped people (have I made that perfectly clear?), whipped a u-turn and parked, actually closer to the building, in a drop off zone. The puffed up guy was pulling out of his spot, considerably less puffed up, and our eyes met again. He rolled down his window. I walked over and he actually apologized, “I’m sorry,” he said. “It’s just that my own mother…” I stopped him. “Man, you are absolutely right. Don’t you worry about it.” “There’s a drive up drop-off right over there,” he said, helpfully. “There is?” I asked. The Roseville Library folks decided to move that from the convenient and obvious front to tucked way in the back. “Yeah, right over there.” He pointed.  “Thanks!” I said. And we parted.

Despite the discomfort, I loved the exchange. Now, for some reason, he was embarrassed. And yet I was embarrassed before. It ended so well. I practically had a new buddy -the same guy who looked like he might drop dead of an anger-induced aneurysm just moments before I was now patting on the shoulder through his car window.

After I used the book drop-off, I went back past where he was parked and noticed that he was in one of the spots “saved for vans and car pools only” right next to those spots for handicapped drivers. But I was cool with that – he had a couple of kids with him – and that constitutes a car pool (among other things) by my measure.

What Dick Cheney and Barack Obama Obviously Know – That may be News to Us

“We may think we vote in line with our economic interests and social values, but our politics may be driven largely by our biological makeup. University of Nebraska researchers measured how aroused the nervous systems of highly conservative and liberal voters became while they viewed positive images, such as pictures of babies or cute animals, and negative scenes featuring car wrecks or fearsome insects. The conservatives showed greater interest in negative images, while the liberals responded more strongly to positive ones. When researchers showed both groups collages that intermingled positive and negative images while tracking their eye movements, they found that conservatives focused on the more alarming material. Even on a physiological level, conservatives appear to spend more energy ‘monitoring things that make them feel uncomfortable,’ psychologist Mike Dodd tells That may make them more receptive to campaigns that stress their fears, while liberals are more drawn to hopeful plans for the future. ‘It’s amazing the extent to which they perceive the world differently,’ said political scientist John Hibbing, who helped design the study.”

The Week
February 24, 2010

Why I Love Minnesota #72

The top-performing stock of the past 25 years isn’t Apple or Microsoft. It’s Minnesota-based hardware supplier Fastenal, which is up 38,565 percent since the market crash of 1987. Told of the distinction, 72-year-old founder Bob Kierlin said, “Oh, wow. Gee. Well, thanks. That’s great news.”


Everything Everywhere

That would be the title of my new book, inspired by the notion or idea or phenomenon that everyone or every entity wants to do everything or many more things than they should, by gum! I’m inspired again to write the book because of how many opportunities there are for my kids to trick or treat. What happened to trick or treating on Halloween night in your neighborhood? Now the malls do it, the schools do it, shopping districts do it, my kid’s pre-school does “trunk or treat” where the parents park in the parking lot and decorate the trunk or back of suv or whatever and the kids walk around and get treats. My bank has a Santa. Target has groceries. Gas pumps have tv. STOP!! That’s all for now.

The Grover BORGquist

The Grover BORGquist: resistance, apparently, is futile

The Grover BORGquist descended upon the Publicant’s and entered the party through the bottom, taking the easy path past the least of them; then veered right again and captured most of the rest of them. They signed themselves over, pledging themselves to assimilation with the BORGquist, They gave in and gave up on independent thought and action. (‘Rolled over and took it up the sick bay,’ might say.)


Meanwhile at the Democantina, all hell was breaking loose again. The party was on, everyone was represented – locals, freaks, foreigners – and everybody was demanding to be heard, like barkers at some whacked out baazar and there was no order because there were too many people and too many opinions; factions; ‘factionistas’ one man opined. Cantinacrats. But the music was good.

Simply Noted

The final bill for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, a new Brown University study says, will come to between $3,700,000,000,000 and $4,400,000,000,000 ($3.7 Trillion and $4.4 Trillion), including nation-building efforts; the cost of providing medical care, services and long-term benefits to veterans; and interest on what the U.S. borrowed to fund the wars.

Get out of my Facebook

Interesting article here. We’re finding things very similar with our clients and their Facebook presence. You can generally get people to “like” your company – especially if you offer something in return, but even if you stay truly active with your page, offering that “good content” that we all assume people are clamoring for, people seem to lose interest fast. I think there are a couple of reasons for that:

1.       As much as we all in the branding business like to believe it, people really don’t give a crap about most brands. Certainly there are some people who are serious brand advocates for a very small number of brands, but the other 99.99 percent of your customers just want what they want from you and then want you out of their face fast. (Unless you’re Apple, apparently.)

2.       I agree that by far the largest majority of people don’t go to Facebook to do business or engage with businesses or brands. They go there to chat and gossip and just hang out. Having a company/brand insert its face into that time is really kind of annoying to most people.

3.       People sense a sort of grim determination among companies to get onto Facebook and get into their face. It’s like they’re screaming “Look! Look how relevant we are! Cutting edge and all that!” And it all seems rather forced.

This could certainly change over time, but with all the brand messaging flying at each of us all day long, I really don’t see people welcoming it much more on their “social networking” site.