Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Google this: WP31001575

Try this: Type WP31001575 into your Google browser and see what you get. Go ahead, amuse me.  

Amazing isn’t it? Aren’t you astounded? Well, I was.

Let's back up: Our 25-year-old Maytag drier stopped heating the clothes. We called our appliance repairman—Victor, originally from the Ukraine—who has a similar power over 25-year-old washers and driers that Ryan Gosling has over 25-year-old women. 

Several hundred dollars later, Victor had repaired the drier, and now the thing works like a charm. Hot clothes again.

By the way, I said to Victor as he headed out, can you replace the burnt-out bulb in our 25-year-old washing machine?

Victor screw-drivered open the washer, studied the old bulb and went out to check in his truck. No, he had no such bulb.

Too bad. That little light in the washer was useful… well, quaint the way it came on when we slid back the lid… but useful at night.

Victor made a suggestion. Google this number—WP31001575—just type it in. You will find the bulb, and they will ship it to you. 

So I did and they did.

And there you have it. Type WP31001575 and put in your order and in 4 days the tiny bulb for a 25-year-old Maytag washer will come in the mail. "They" ship it to you. They, the gods of the internet. They, the tiny forces that respond to your most obscure and trivial wish by taking a request and relaying it to other theys who find stuff and wrap it and give it to other theys who make sure the stuff you need comes to you in a little envelope labeled with your name and the name of the thing itself—WP31001575—just like that. 

And here it is.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

New Year’s Eve Tipping Point

Who built that post office? Who planted that old elm? Who named the silvery light in the sky “Moon”? What kind of people were the two who gave birth to the two who gave birth to the two who gave birth to you?

As I write, this day is still part of “2016”… but in a few hours we will say it’s 2017. This eve is a symbolic tipping point. 2016 will be put in the “past”—and 2017 (the “future”) will instantly become the “present.”

But is the past ever past? For all of 2016 our fellow human beings twisted in agony over what the past does to us here in the present.

For example, angry professors at the University of Virginia asked their school’s president to stop quoting Thomas Jefferson, the school’s founder. They reasoned that because Jefferson owned slaves in centuries past, invoking his words compromises the work of seeking an “inclusive, respectful community” in the present.   

Another example: Islamic terrorists blew up ancient Assyrian artifacts—which lay in the Iraqi desert for thousands of years. They believe that remnants of past paganism undermine their quest for religious purity in the present.

Finally, of course, our recent presidential election was a bitter battle over the meaning of the past: Democrats decried their opponent’s tactics, rhetoric and indeed very existence as “unprecedented”—i.e. never reassuringly evident in our past. Republicans countered that a prosperous future requires unity, not ethnic fragmentation, and that our goal should be to restore America to greatness “again.”

Are actions that are “unprecedented” necessarily illegitimate? Was America ever “great”—and is an idealized past a useful beacon to the future?

We go about our business minute by minute absorbing what has been established around us while rearranging present reality to suit our desire for a better future. We cope with the past—or rely on the past—or try to transcend it. In any case, as William Faulkner said, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”

Happy New Year, fellow time-travelers.


Thursday, December 29, 2016

Indiana promo: Metaphor Mania

Here’s your challenge:

You need to lure growing companies into your state.
Your state earned CNBC’s rating as number one in “cost of doing business.”

But you ranked a dismal 45th in the category “quality of life.”

After all, your state is hundreds of miles from any sunny ocean beaches...
and you have no scenic mountains—since, let’s face it, your highest point is Hoosier Hill at 1257 feet above sea level.

Your solution? I call it Metaphor Mania.

You promise "Mountains" of savings and "Oceans" of opportunity —Get it? Metaphorical shenanigans to the rescue. 

I kinda like this solution. It's flat-out eye-catching—not that corny—and pleasingly plain. 


Sunday, December 25, 2016

The year speeds by, flutters—and falls silent

December is a time of nostalgia... The twinkling lights take me back into the past. 

Remember that time we stopped for hot coffee? Or wait, wasn't that someone else?

These forest muses are trying to remind me of something, but I can't decipher their stares.  

I look down and see December's distinctly long shadows.

I wander into an empty library—where memories reside but do not seem alive. 

Tell me: Will I remember this December in future Decembers? 

My holiday cocktail napkin suggests that the answer is no


Thursday, December 15, 2016

New York Times overlooks woman in peril

I noticed this dramatic picture in Tuesday's New York Times... and read the caption: "A man fleeing to rebel-held areas of Aleppo, Syria, on Monday, carrying a child with an IV drip."

I turned back to the picture and stared... The caption did not fully describe what appeared in the photo... Another "object" was neither identified nor even acknowledged. 
...another human being... a woman... the mother?... part of a fleeing family?

I don't remember seeing such a picture in the Times with such a caption. How do we explain this oversight?


Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Violent Extremism in the 21st Century: Inside the Islamic State’s brand strategy

Our guest blogger is Ardijana Ivezic, a Siegel Fellow in my Strategic Communication class at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. 

In a new era of terrorism, we live in a world where radical extremism can be communicated into minds of millions—simply by the click of a button. The Islamic State spreads their message of jihad beyond its borders through the use of social media. Horrifying videos of ISIS militants executing “unbelievers” by burning them to death, beheading them, and throwing them off towers have gained millions of views on YouTube. Shocked western eyes are strategically exposed to exactly what ISIS wants us to psychologically experience: terror. Hundreds and thousands of twitter accounts spreading extremist rhetoric have been deleted, yet ISIS’s powerful influence remains.
            A sophisticated communications strategy enables extremists to connect with people worldwide, encouraging sympathizers to fulfill their religious obligation by carrying out attacks against the enemy—the West. What’s terrifying about terrorists being Facebook and Twitter savvy? It allows people from all over the globe to like, retweet, and share their fundamentalist ideology, amplifying its influence.
            ISIS propaganda is designed to attract young men and women to travel Syria and Iraq to join the Islamic State. What compels people to leave their normal lives behind to join a terrorist organization? Foreign fighters are influenced by the religious rhetoric promising paradise for those who do God’s work and follow the path of martyrdom. ISIS recruiters target the vulnerable—young people who are still in search of their identities, who don’t belong, and are seeking to be part of something bigger than themselves. They exploit disillusioned teenagers by offering them the adventure of a lifetime.
            Twenty-first century technological advances are a nightmare for the FBI, NSA, and Homeland Security because of the challenge of weakening the ISIS influence on the World Wide Web. Unlike any terrorist organization in history, ISIS has mastered the use of social media to induce its message of fear and mass terror throughout the globe.
            How can we weaken this propaganda machine? We must limit extremists’ social media platform. In partnership with US counter-terrorism agencies, social media companies must identify conversations from terrorists and eliminate their accounts in order to counter Islamic State extremism online and most importantly, in the real world. 
—Ardijana Ivezic 

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Guest post: Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Learning a Second Language

By Kelly Kondroski, Siegel Fellow and Honors Program student at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, New York City

America is falling far behind the rest of the world when it comes to learning a second language. Only 18% of Americans can converse in a foreign language, compared to 53% of Europeans.  

Professionals have argued that the main reason percentages are declining is because educators and bureaucrats not find learning a second language to be a priority. Therefore, budgets for foreign language programs are cut leaving teachers and students uninspired and lacking motivation.

American tourists face an unflattering stereotype when it comes to language barriers, which I have experienced myself. Over the past year I have traveled to France, Poland, and The Czech Republic and barely made an effort to learn each country’s basic phrases. I was absolutely amazed to find that almost every person I spoke to who was a native of that country was able to speak English. I felt embarrassed that, while I couldn’t even ask where the bathroom was, they were able to carry on a ten-minute conversation about the current political climate.  

In The Czech Republic I took part in a study abroad program with students from all over the world. The top criterion for admission: you have to speak English. There were students from China, Bangladesh, Mexico, India, France, Italy, and Pakistan and they were all fluent in this second language. Other students told me that learning English was required in their schools and that they use it throughout their daily lives to make sure that they do not lose what they have been taught.

Usually, students in America enroll in a second course in order to fulfill general requirements, and once that course is over the knowledge is never used. I have taken Spanish for nine years and, sadly, I would not be able to hold a conversation with a native Spanish speaker. I know words and phrases but anything beyond that is not in my expertise.  

The benefits of learning a second language are numerous. However, American school systems are left with small budgets to continue these programs for their students. More than 400 million people around the world speak English as a second language, and with the ever growing competition between countries, promoting foreign languages among our people is the optimum way to ensure America’s competitiveness.

—Kelly Kondroski