Monday, May 23, 2016

Maryland state song—From bloody rebellion to House and Garden

Here at (the culturally influential) Brandsinger, we frown at  efforts to sanitize references to history's unpleasantness. When actor Ben Affleck asked public television producers to omit mention of his ancestor who owned slaves—in a show about his ancestors!—we guffawed. When students suddenly realize that their college dorm is named after a long-dead guy who was not politically perfect by today's standards, we snicker and mutter, "Children."

There are exceptions. Sometimes the past must yield to an enlightened present. Those Washington Redskins must—and will—change their name (to Washington Pigskins or, why not, just Pigs). 

And what about the lyrics to "Maryland My Maryland"? The lyrics were written at the start of the Civil War by a Southern sympathizer calling the people of Baltimore to attack Union troops passing through Maryland.

This song—for some reason—was embraced as the state song in 1939—looong after the Civil War had ended, I'm sure. Here's the opening: 
The "despot" here is our beloved Lincoln. To hum along, the tune is the same as "Oh Christmastree." Here's the last verse:
Odd, but this bitter reference to "Northern scum!" was tolerated by the good people of Maryland for 77 years. But recently the state's legislators have decided that 77 is enough! So this year they're going to scrub the song of "Northern scum."

Here is one proposed new version being sung by school children and tourist guides
This version begins, as you can see, with Maryland's famous mountain vistas, well known for skiing, avalanches... wait, what mountains? The highest point in Maryland is Hoye Crest—all 3360 feet above sea level. The 99th highest peak in Colorado is more than three times higher—Mt. Silverheels. 

From these "rounded mountains' highest 3360-foot crest" the proposed verse moves to "ocean beaches with bikinis blessed," then to city streets where ... what happens in Baltimore's city streets? Better not ask... and gets on to "the Chesapeake's abundant charm." 

I love the way "oaks growing gracefully" rhymes so well with "crabs swimming beautifully"—and don't miss the "lawyers writing dutifully."

Ah, the scrubbing of the historical past. We like our state songs, statues and university names so clean and idyllic that they sparkle like the countertops of a suburban kitchen. 

...which inspires my proposed new verse: "For modern kitchens shining bright, my Maryland will stand and fight."


Thursday, May 19, 2016

New York Times bias

Is The New York Times biased in favor of the left? Let me count the ways!... Or just give a recent example. 

If the paper were not biased, and supporters of a left-leaning candidate threw chairs and lodged death threats against people they opposed, well, you would expect the paper to report these acts in a straightforward way. The story would open like this: 
Shocking behavior: The supporters of such-and-such a leftist candidate have been accused of throwing chairs and threatening the lives of people they opposed. 
That would be the expected opening line, right? That would be the way you would report such death threats unless you instinctively favored the leftists who were the ones accused of throwing chairs and lodging death threats. 

This is the May 16 NYT headline on the violent behavior of Sanders supporters:

Now let's pick up the article's opening lines: 

"No, this is not the work of Donald J. Trump supporters"?? Excuse me?? Well, no, it's not the work of Trump supporters—because this is not an article about Trump but a report on the violent behavior of Sanders supporters. 

So programmed is the reporter, Alan Rappeport, to besmirch the Trump movement (but not our leftist darlings), that even his article on death threats from Sanders fans opens with a gratuitous slam at Trump supporters.   

It would be as if I wrote a piece on Jason Blair (the notorious reporter who fabricated articles in the Times), and opened by writing this: "Acts of journalistic fraud were not the work of current Times writer Alan Rappeport, who is not known to have made up his reports for the Times, and who is not the reporter Jason Blair, who was in fact exposed as a fraud while writing for the same paper for which Alan Rappeport writes today."  

I'm just following the example of my local paper of record. 


(...or as the Times might explain to you, this Brandsinger fellow who is exposing our leftist bias is not the same person accused of knocking over an old lady on West 96th, stealing her purse and chalking mean things about her on the sidewalk.) 

Monday, May 16, 2016

Physical labor in the computer age

Sitting at your screen all day? Working hard are you? Sweating it out, as it were? 

When you walk around New York City, you're struck by how much work is still done by human hands—with the help of human shoulders, backs and legs. 

Even in this age of computer-screen work, there are thousands of lift-and-haul-and-push-and-dig-workers—the ones who use muscles other than their fingers and eyelids. I'm talking about laborers—the usually invisible guys you step around on the sidewalk, the ones who LITERALLY sweat—and who do their jobs without a grunt or a gripe. 

I was walking to work on a chilly morning morning a few weeks ago when I came upon some guys lifting heavy boards up and up and up along the side of a building. 

You will be amazed at their dexterity and teamwork. 

Think about these workmen the next time your coffee is not quite the way you want it or when there is a slight, annoying glare on your computer screen. Think about what these guys are accomplishing together with their bodies while you sit there frowning at the supposed exertions of your mind. 


Monday, May 2, 2016

Lawless gun owners

When you drive up to the shooting range, you're greeted by this sign...
Seems simple enough. You blast the flying clay objects... take out your spent shells, and you put them in the big oil drum. 

But apparently... well, take a look. Those colorful things on the ground are shells.

No-one observes signs any more!... Well, gun owners don't. 

But then, if you think about it, who's gonna go up to a group of guys stationed near the back of a pick-up truck blasting away with shotguns and tell them to observe that sign? 
"Ahem, gentlemen, if you'll notice clearly lettered on that sign, you are supposed to pick up your shells and put them in that big can... Yes, that one over there... the can with all the bullet holes in it."

Okay, maybe not. Have a nice day.
If you need help picking up your shells, I'll be at the snack bar having a glass of milk.


Sunday, April 3, 2016

Okie from Muskogee—2016 style

In 1969–as America agonized over the Vietnam War, the struggle for civil rights, and the previous year’s murders of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Bobby Kennedy—the country music singer Merle Haggard came out with his anthem, “Okie from Muskogee.” In a silky twang, he sang:

 I'm proud to be an Okie from Muskogee,
 A place where even squares can have a ball.
 We still wave Old Glory down at the courthouse,
 And white lightnin's still the biggest thrill of all.

The song was a hit—a yuge hit—and seen as a reminder that most Americans respected traditional values, and that the boisterous hippies who grabbed headlines did not hold a monopoly on political opinion.

We don't smoke marijuana in Muskogee;
We don't take no trips on LSD.
We don't burn no draft cards down on Main Street;
We like livin' right, and bein' free.*

Later, in the PBS American Masters series, Haggard recalled the song’s impact:
"That's how I got into it with the hippies...I thought they were unqualified to judge America, and I thought they were lookin' down their noses at something that I cherished very much, and it pissed me off. And I thought, 'You sons of bitches, you've never been restricted away from this great, wonderful country, and yet here you are in the streets bitchin' about things, protesting about a war that they didn't know any more about than I did.”
Does this angry resentment sound familiar? 

Haggard sang “We like livin’ right, and bein’ free” to whooping crowds of middle-American white people. Meanwhile, hippies, war protesters, and civil rights champions—many of them college kids—sneered at this corn-ball patriotism. Imagine the animosity on both sides. 

This 'sixties America was one deeply polarized place. A bit like today, no?

Let's see... On one side you got your angry, uncouth Trump supporters—sick of being told how to think, speak and act by self-righteous, quick-to-scold leftists. On the other side, you have campus champions of safe zones and heroic foes of micro-aggressions who expose college life as an ugly cauldron of oppression.  

Kinda parallel. 

Any day someone is going to come out with a song like Merle Haggard’s to clarify today's cultural battle lines. Got a pencil and some sheet music?


* Postscript: Merle Haggard died three days after this post... Four days after the post, The New York Times carried a Page 1 obituary that cited these same lyrics.


Thursday, February 25, 2016

All the things I love: 20% off

I received this email with the subject line: "All the things you love + 20% off." Yes, you read that right. ALL the things I love 20% off. Dang!

Now, given that most of the things I love aren't for sale, I can't really ask for them at 20% off. So I decided to ask for 20% more of the things I love. I'm building a list...
Sound that cottonwood trees make in the wind—20% more leaves in motion.

Weeks without hearing from a troublesome sibling—20% additional days of no contact.

Delight in the comic strip Overboard—situations will be 20% funnier.

Appreciation for my consulting advice—20% more clients’ teeth exposed when smiling and 20% greater range of motion when they nod.

Shoes selected from my closet that don’t have a hole in the sole—20% higher frequency of dry feet.

Speed with which our dog does his business on the sidewalk—20% speedier pooping at the 11:00 p.m. walk.

Enjoyment during vacation—20% more colorful sunsets and 20% more colorful pronunciations from New England natives.

Heck, I could go on and on with this one. But let's wind it up with a grab-all uber-wish: I wish I could dream up 20% cleverer examples of things in my daily life I could improve by 20%.


Monday, February 22, 2016

Apple vs. Humanity: Battle of Brands

We watch in fascination as Apple resists the government's call to unlock a terrorist's phone. The government seeks evidence of other murderers and planned mayhem. But Apple says no.

According to this morning's AP report: 

WASHINGTON (AP) — Apple Inc. CEO Tim Cook acknowledged to employees Monday that "it does not feel right" to refuse to help the FBI hack a locked iPhone used by a gunman in the San Bernardino mass shootings. But he said that to do so would threaten data security for millions and "everyone's civil liberties."

Some agree with Cook and Apple on this. Behind the scenes marketers speak of Apple fighting for its brand differentiation. Some cast this battle as allegiance to customers versus responsiveness to "the government." "Data security" is paramount.

On the other side is "the government"—elected by the people and acting through its various representatives and agencies. The government speaks for past and future victims of barbaric acts—the ordinary people walking around living their lives killed by Islamic fanatics. The government favors life. Apple favors "data security."

This is a classic clash of brands. Apple's brand evokes the chic mystique of Silicon Valley. It is a global powerhouse run by a board of directors who speak for investors who value their ROI. 

The government values people—travelers, nurses, coffee drinkers. 

It's a clash of brand values:
Data security vs. people's lives.