Sunday, October 23, 2016

Those Cubbies? Some brands are all heart

If you want macho buy a Ram truck. If you're looking for low-fat try a Kind Bar. Obsessed with efficiency? Toyota's for you. If fall is your season, plant a red maple. 

But if you want deep, drippy-eyed old-time American sentiment, you want to take a look at this year's winners of the National League pennant — the Chicago Cubs. You know, the team that plays—and loses year after year after year after year—in their ivy-covered burial ground.
This is their year. After decades of crushed hopes, according to long departed and beloved Chicago songwriter Stevie Goodman, who sang, "The last time the Cubs won the pennant was the year we dropped the bomb on Japan."  

To celebrate the Cubbies' success, listen to Goodman's unmatched heart-strings plucking lament, "The Cub fan's last request."

Don't cry for me, the dying Cub fan sings. "We'll meet by and by. 
I've got season tickets to watch the angels now. You the living are stuck here with the Cubs. So it's me who feels sorry for you." 

"Do they still sing the blues in Chicago when baseball season rolls around?"

No more. They're singing Victory in the Windy City now. This brand is still beloved. Now it's also ascendant. 

If only Stevie Goodman, who died of leukemia in 1984, could be around to smile and nod and write just one more verse.


Wednesday, October 19, 2016

The ACLU got it right

People—usually on the political left—and recently including Hillary Clinton in the third Presidential debate—condemn the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling even more vigorously than they would disapprove of, say, the slaughter of baby seals.

Seriously. If you’re at a rally of Democrats and want to elicit polite applause, say, “I am absolutely against beating baby seals with a fungo bat.” But if you want sustained, ecstatic cheering and grim-faced nodding, just say you want to overturn Citizens United.

It’s automatic. 

My question: Do most voters even know what Citizens United is?

Here’s the nub of the case from Wikipedia:
“The conservative non-profit organization Citizens United wanted to air a film critical of Hillary Clinton and to advertise the film during television broadcasts, which was a violation of the 2002 Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act, commonly known as the McCain–Feingold Act. Section 203 of the act defined an "electioneering communication" as a broadcast, cable, or satellite communication that mentioned a candidate within 60 days of a general election or 30 days of a primary, and prohibited such expenditures by corporations and unions.”

Interpretation: A group’s intention to advertise a film critical of Hillary Clinton was considered a violation of federal law. Doesn’t that strike you as, um, slightly authoritarian?

The American Civil Liberties Union would have none of it. The ACLU filed an amicus brief in 2009 that supported (not the clubbing of baby seals!) the Citizens United argument that key parts of the campaign finance law were unconstitutional.

From the ACLU’s legal brief:
“The broad prohibition on “electioneering communications” set forth in § 203 of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002, violates the First Amendment... Accordingly, the Court should strike down § 203 as facially unconstitutional and overrule that portion of McConnell that holds otherwise.”

As for the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act itself, I’ve tried for years, tried my hardest! to read the law and decipher its clotted, diabolical words. Here, you give it a try. Read these excerpts from the law some people seem to love more than cuddly infant semi-aquatic marine mammals:
Here is another section of the revered Bipartisan Campaign Finance Act. Click on the image to make it more, er, readable:
Here is another excerpt from the law whose demise is so loudly lamented and whose glorious resurrection Clinton vows to achieve:
Do we really want to applaud the revival of this opaque soup of legalistic poison?

As a refreshing antidote to the obsession with "reforming" campaigns, try this crisp bit of 18th century prose:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Whew. That's more like it. Feel better? I do.


Sunday, October 9, 2016

Designer's revenge

Driving in heavy New York traffic, I stared at the back of a truck that seemed to be carrying "pests." 

It was very distracting... imagining the inside of a truck packed with — in crates? bubble-wrap? — pests

Why would you advertise such a disgusting cargo in giant letters? P - E - S - ... oh. Sorry, no. I misread it. Best!

My explanation: The only reason the logo designers turned a B into a P is that Best Plumbing, Tile & Stone didn't pay their bill.


Friday, September 30, 2016

Low-tech document mangler

I once worked in Oregon's big, central US Post Office—when most letters were sorted by hand—though many were at least moved along crudely by an electronic belt called, I think, the LSM for letter sorting machine.

Because of the frequent tufts of paper that flew out of this contraption, my fellow workers called it the letter mangling machine. Two older guys on stools at a big table had the job of piecing together and taping up bits of letters after the machine turned mail into mattress filler.

Today, shredding documents is big business—as is deleting emails and wiping servers. You'd think that shredding is handled by more sophisticated machinery than that old LSM.
So imagine my surprise when... Yikes! -- how's that for a cliche? — "Imagine my surprise when I began sentences with phrases James Fenimore Cooper rejected as trite..."

Okay, let's try this one: You may think that shredding is done by sophisticated technology, but allow me to set you straight by... ugh... but contrary to popular opinion it is... ach!!... but AU CONTRAIRE... gag!

Forget writing. Let's just go to the picture...

...which proves that sensitive data is actually recycled by exotic fauna roaming the city in big trucks.

Whew. Long way to go for that one. Sorry.


Tuesday, September 27, 2016

If Trump hired me as debate coach

Arms flailing, face distorted, Trump fell apart in the first debate with Clinton. He could not counter Miss-3-by-5-Card’s charges of stiffing workers, dodging taxes, mocking women and the rest.

If Trump’s people called me for help—and offer me enough money—the following debate strategy could save his butt.

Dear Trump team: Here’s how to avoid rambling defensiveness: Work from a basic, all-purpose framing of Trump’s life. 

Trump’s all-purpose narrative frame:
I’m a successful businessman—an outsider to politics—which is what our country desperately needs.

[As a businessman] I believe our leaders have ignored why they were elected—to keep America safe and strong—to make America great – not for pie-in-the-sky global purposes. All our policies—immigration, trade, taxes, education—should be for our people—and especially our people who are harmed by closed factories and failed inner-city policies.

Charge: What about releasing your taxes?
Counter: [As a businessman] I’m a private person. I don’t broadcast my affairs. As a public official you sold access for money, took hundreds of thousands from Wall Street, compromised national security and then lied about what was on your server… Let’s talk about that, not my taxes.   

Charge: You declared bankruptcy and stiffed workers.
Counter: [As a businessman] I’m an outsider, an entrepreneur playing by the rules… not an elected official. Your party has run Detroit and Chicago for decades—how about stiffing all the poor people who have rotten schools, raging violence and no hope? They trusted your party and you stiffed them.

Charge: As I said, you declared bankruptcy and stiffed workers.
Counter: [As a businessman] I hire thousands of people, build hotels and create jobs. I fly around in a jet built by skilled engineers. I hire pilots and mechanics. These workers benefit from my enterprises.  

Charge: You were given millions by your father—my father worked, and I started with nothing.
Counter: [As a businessman] I was given a million and built it into an empire… You’ve spent 30 years in government and are now worth hundreds of millions – how did that happen?

Charge: You don’t give to charities.
Counter: [As a businessman] I believe in giving people good jobs so they don’t need charity. Anyway, your Clinton Foundation is less a charity and more a money-laundering scheme.

Charge: You call women demeaning, abusive names.
Counter: [As a businessman] I don't live under a cloud of censorship, though I’m not proud of those words. My top advisers are women, and I’ve always treated women fairly. I hope I was respectful to you when you came to my wedding. 

Using this simple, credible frame, Trump—who stumbled like a drunk—could have prevailed as a debater.

My fee for this advice is one million dollars—mere peanuts for a better shot at becoming the most powerful man in America. Of course, if Trump pays me, follows my advice and becomes President, I’d probably use the money to move my family to Peru.


Saturday, September 24, 2016

Is fall a brand?

The other seasons have their distinctive qualities. They have strengths, I admit. But the other seasons can’t do what fall does. They’re okay, but they can’t make you cry.

Think about it. Summer is too ridiculous—the tiny shorts, the annoying presence of sweat. Spring struts around in gaudy pastels. Spring stands for newness. But what’s so great about baby blades of grass? Cute can't make you cry.  

Winter is too serious to do much emotional damage. You dig deep and fight through winter. Winter gets angry—but screw that, you get angry. Winter sends ice, you melt it. When rain turns to sleet, you put on your game face. Winter slams into your game face, and you give winter the finger and order soup.

But fall... is different. Fall touches you deep inside. Fall  knows who you really are. It has mysterious insight. The autumn moon seems… knowledgeable. That sudden coolness takes you by surprise—like biting into garlic. What's going on here...? These looong afternoon shadows are confusing. You better hurry up and figure this out.

Fall reminds you that you are a little kid heading off to school with new stuff in your bag. Fall reminds you that you are always planning for winter. Fall reminds you that you once dreamed of this year — and that you intended to have a certain life.

Fall’s reminders hit you like two-by-fours and make you cry.


Monday, September 19, 2016

DeBlasio refers to bombing as an "incident"

Last week, I asked students in my Strategic Communication class at John John College to draft a statement from the CEO of Carnival Cruise Lines after the capsizing of its largest liner. In their statements, students used various words to describe what happened... and we mapped them out as follows: 
It's a rough mapping, but instructive. I argued that the terms in the upper right were the most accurate, credible and appropriate for the public statement... and that the terms in the lower left were weak and waffling... perhaps even evasive. 

This past weekend the world learned of a series of bombings in the New York City area... and one chosen word of Mayor DeBasio appeared on our word map. 

Yes.. this explosion was a very bad "incident"... a word chosen with a specific motive in mind. What motive?—I leave that for you to discern.