Sunday, November 22, 2015

Abusing history

Last spring, it was revealed that actor Ben Affleck urged the PBS producers of his genealogical profile to omit a distant ancestor who had owned slaves, or at least served as a trustee of slaves. This limb of the family tree “embarrassed” the actor, Affleck said. Obligingly, the producers removed the ancestral miscreant from the program, giving them more time to dote on ancestors who fit the actor’s self-image.

Hey, wait a minute. Can he do that? Is that allowed? Can anyone just switch around a few names and dates so that we look better? Can we pretend that what happened years ago didn’t happen – or that it didn’t mean what you think it means but really means what I think it means?

Answer: Are you joking? Of course we can. Ben Affleck was clumsy and unsophisticated — “Uh, just make sure my people look like champions of justice, okay?” — but he was doing nothing different — in principle — from anyone else picking over the past for evidence supporting their chosen narrative.

Affleck and PBS twisted facts to support a present need. But such abuse of history is what humans do. Not all examples are so obvious. Many abuses serve causes far more consequential than an actor’s vanity.

Take today’s debate over Syrian refugees. Should refugees be warmly welcomed by the tens of thousands or carefully vetted under tight restrictions?

Sadly, the knee-jerk reaction of many is to invoke history — in particular FDR’s post-Pearl Harbor internment of American citizens of Japanese descent. These were American citizens who had done nothing wrong — and no one today doubts that FDR’s policy of putting them in camps was a gross violation of the Constitution.

But day after day we hear that, because this act in 1941 was so wrong, we must not tighten restrictions on incoming refugees today. How does that make sense? The fact that fear of sabotage drove the internment of Japanese Americans causes a bell to go off — ding! — and suddenly history dictates that fear of terrorism must never drive policies on foreign immigrants?

It is prudent to search history for examples of wisdom to follow and evil to avoid. But it is facile and irrelevant to say that since FDR was wrong in his hysterical suspicions in 1941 we may never base policies on reasonable suspicions of foreigners seeking entry.

We can’t relive the past or undo it. We can look for parallels in history and try to extract value. But every era is unique. Let’s not delude ourselves into thinking, along with Ben Affleck, that distorting or mis-applying the past is going to make us look better in the present.


Saturday, October 17, 2015

Is fall a brand?

Step outside and feel the chill… Turn your collar up. It’s officially fall. Time to get ready. That’s the brand essence of fall: Preparation.

If you’re a bird, you change feathers and begin storing up fat. If you’re a human, you decide whether to get a flu shot.

Hey, thanks for the reminder. This looks like fun. Couldn't you find a BIGGER needle? Sheeeesh. 

Fall’s two sides are symbolized by two names: The formal, feminine “autumn” suggests rich colors and the smell of wood smoke. Autumn brings scents of cinnamon and roasting meat. Time to cuddle up.  

The season’s other name is “fall,” however — which suggests decline and doom. A "fall" brings scrapes and the sting of medicine. When movie actors fall, they lie there and blink several times before getting up. Someone always rushes up and says, “Are you all right?” 

"I'm fine... Just a little fall." 

Autumn is a beautiful time of year.
But FALL is what comes into every life now and again.

Better get ready.   


Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Is syntax important?

There are many components to clear communication — obviously. Strong verbs are the foundation. Adverbs tend to be histrionic and overused. 

What about syntax. Is sentence structure important?

According to a New York Times obit today, the crime boss who died last week (John Riggi, 90) kept an iron grip on the New Jersey construction industry. 

Mr. Riggi once boasted: “Not a nail doesn’t go through a wall that we don’t get a piece of.”

Laughably poor syntax. Ominously clear meaning.


Thursday, July 23, 2015

Connecticut Democrats Spurn Jefferson

The Connecticut Democratic Party recently dropped the names Jefferson and Jackson from their annual fundraising dinner. The event had been called the Jefferson Jackson Bailey Dinner, but because it’s been brought to the Party’s attention that the two Presidents owned slaves, the dinner will be renamed.

Now, this actually makes sense – since Jefferson also wrote the words “all men are created equal” – flagrantly leaving out women. He was from Virginia – which eventually seceded from the Union under the Confederate flag, which he might have saluted if he had lived another forty years. Also reason for denouncing Jefferson: He opposed John Adams – who did not own slaves. Also, John Adams signed the Sedition Act under which people with politically incorrect views could be thrown in jail – an attractive idea for modern Democrats who are heading in that direction. 

So it makes perfect sense for modern Democrats to renounce the slave-owning Jefferson and remove his name from their  dinner. Jefferson did other bad things in his life – farming (non-union labor), inventing (like Uber, new technologies destroy jobs of political allies), founding colleges (think: the burden of student loans), and buying the Louisiana Territory — remember, Louisiana also joined the Confederacy and flew the Confederate flag which Jefferson might have saluted if he had lived longer and traveled to Louisiana. 

This fall the annual dinner will get a new name, and as a brand consultant I have a few candidates for Democrats to consider:

The Bill Clinton Dinner — Clinton was a Democratic President, which is good. He was no slave-owner, was a staunch admirer of young women, not from a Confederate state… and… uh, sorry, is from a former Confederate state, Arkansas. So not him.

The Bill DeBlasio Dinner — non slave-owner, loves horses, hates German-named corporations, good father who warns his son about the bad guys (i.e. the police), is from New York, a non-Confederate state whose citizens never owned sla… okay some New Yorkers owned slaves. Way, way back. Okay, not him either.

The John F. Kennedy Dinner — This name is fool-proof. Martyred Democratic President – check. Non slave-owner from a non-slaveholding state, check. Not a true conventional family man (which for today's liberals is a BIG check), very rich (for Democrats a BIG check). Kennedy also believed in raising corporate taxes to… well, not really, he wanted to cut corporate taxes but that was a long time ago… Okay, he believed in marshaling the international community to halt Soviet expansion not act unilaterally… well, okay, he was a tad aggressive in his stance toward Cuba but he never actually authorized troops to invade Cub… okay… well, Kennedy’s administration didn’t pick up after French colonialist and start the War in Viet … well… Sorry, not him either. 

The Rahm Immanuel He Saved the Chicago Children Dinner? The Hillary Aperitif and Commemorative Multiple Smartphone Fundraiser?

Renaming the Jefferson Jackson Bailey Dinner is turning out to be tough. I don’t know who this “Bailey” was, but every Christmas I watch the hero George Bailey in It’s a Wonderful Life. So let’s just call it the George Bailey Dinner and keep history out of it.

Unless, of course, this Democrat Bailey erroneously believed that “all lives matter.”


Sunday, July 19, 2015

Technology bites

Having internet connection while flying six miles above the earth is a miracle wrought by modern technology. What a convenience! Smooth, comfortable flight from LGA to O'Hare -- about two hours. With internet and dry roasted peanuts. And a pleasant Delta serving lady.

How can one complain? or ever complain? -- My internet connection is too slow?... How bad could it be? I have to use my credit card and be charged 5 or 6 bucks? Only a whining, spoiled 5-year-old would ever complain... Ooooh the cabin temperature is not perfect!... Oh no, my seat back pocket has a slightly used in-flight magazine!...

Nope. No complaints from me. No complaints allowed, you absolute pampered sissies!

And yet... (here it comes)... and yet... technology always seems to have the last word, doesn't it?  Isn't there always a small insult to remind you that you are not really a cared-for human being but a 170-pound slab of cast-off protoplasm?

And here it is... That little insult to remind you that all this technological wizardry comes at the price of your dignity -- just a gentle snub to keep you humble: The first screen from the internet provider gives me two choices:

To move ahead in the process, I must click one of these buttons: "I've never used Gogo" or "I have a Gogo account." 

And that's it. The itsy-bitsy piece of spittle on my forehead courtesy of the gods of technology. Well, your god-nesses, fact is: "Never" is not right because I have used Gogo. But "I have an account" is not right either because I do not have a Gogo account. 

So what the fuck do I click? 


Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Kafka’s new book The Hospital

Newly discovered is a manuscript by Franz Kafka, the Czech-born German-Jewish author (1883 – 1924) whom you would know from his famous works The Trial and The Castle. These two nightmarish novels — in which the hapless K is frustrated by every bureaucratic terror known to humanity – seem like scenes from Sesame Street in comparison to the new novel, Kafka’s The Hospital.

The Hospital opens with K as a prosperous New Yorker who has actually survived his terrifying Trial and gained an official post at the Castle. His days are filled with normal tasks – taking the subway, eating bagels — until one day he is rammed by a rented Citi-bike driven by a heavy-set advertising executive.

After chaotic calls for help and shrieking sirens, K is scooped off the street by an emergency team from an ambulance festooned like the one on the cover:

"Where am I?" K asks… and one attendant says, “North Shore… LIJ… Lenox Hill” – causing K to pass out from brand overload. He wakes up in a ward trembling with fright and bewilderment. Where am I? he asks the nurse, who is dressed in the new livery of Alitalia: She replies by gently placing K's hand on her heart.

Cardiology? K sputters.

“Not Cardiology. North Shore-LIJ Medical Group Nassau Cardiology,” says the nurse, whose ID badge reads “Division of Clinical Cardiology at Lenox Hill Hospital” and whose pen, protruding from her gown, carries the logo of the “Department of Cardiology at Syosset Hospital.”

K’s head spins as he tries to unravel this brand architecture nightmare, and he swoons into the arms of a second nurse whom we later learn works at Lenox Hill Cardiology Associates, PC.

The next scene – I won’t give it all away – takes place in the ghoulish clutches of the Department of Endocrinology at Forest Hills Hospital where members of an integrated team of North-Shore LIJ doctors wear uniforms from the Division of Endocrinology and Metabolism at Lenox Hill Hospital or North Short-LIJ Medical Group Five Towns Endocrinology or North Shore-LIJ Medical Group Pediatric Endocrinology and Metabolism.

In the book’s final moments K is seemingly rescued not by a clinician but by a seedy-looking brand consultant who simplifies the entire North Shore LIJ system by renaming every department either Sam or Dave. The brand consultant only succeeds in making the entire institution even more Kafkaesque.


Sunday, June 28, 2015

Garrison Keillor — partisan hack

Sometimes, on a dreary Saturday evening, you might be stuck washing dishes and listening to the radio. No ballgame on... so you flip to the NPR station and resign yourself to A Prairie Home Companion. Completely benign choice, right? Can't hurt you.

But early in the show last night (June 27), Garrison Keillor opened with a partisan salvo so obnoxious that anyone listening (and washing dishes) risked dropping the favorite family china.

Keillor's opening lines (spoken with wry jubilation):

"The President had a good week this week, all thanks to Republicans." (applause and chuckles from the audience) 

"Republicans passed the trade bill... The Supreme Court allowed Obamacare to live... (applause and cheers)..."

"Republicans came out against the Confederacy after 150 years." (wild applause and cheers)

"They came out against it. It was not a good idea. (more cheers... then emphatically...) It was not a good idea: A war in behalf of the institution of slavery."

Now, many Americans know (though their numbers decline, I'm sure) that Lincoln helped to found the Republican Party to oppose the expansion of slavery — and rallied Republicans to fight a long and bloody war (over fierce Democratic opposition) so that the Confederacy would not prevail and slavery would not survive.

How, then, can we account for the smug, cavalier distortion of history in the line "Republicans came out against the Confederacy after 150 years"...?

1 Ignorance is out of the question, given the education and sophistication of both entertainer and audience.

2 Aging mental faculties and signs of dementia are possible, though not publicly evident elsewhere that we know of.

3 That leaves willful distortion of American history driven by partisan compulsion to slander Republicans and favor Democrats.

I'm not sure who loses when historical facts are glibly flipped around and tyranny becomes good government and cowardice becomes heroism. Does it matter? Should anyone care if the pious and cheering friends of public radio gradually forget that it was Republicans who led the nation to end slavery and pass modern Civil Rights legislation?

I don't know if it matters at all.

The surge of liberal Democratic values — including glib distortion of facts and the hounding of anyone who says anything not acceptable to the outraged mob — seems unstoppable. Lincoln and his Republican stalwarts are long dead. So let's join in: Long live the Great Democratic Party that saved the nation from the Republican murderers of Honest Abe. (cheers and applause)