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. 


Thursday, February 11, 2016

Once more unto the breach

A flood of memories comes back whenever a news report touches on a topic once explored by Brandsinger. We revel in that second look at a subject we wrote about earlier, though our observations have as much profundity as a teenager ordering an after-school snack. We know our limits—but we take pride in being ahead of the news. 

Consider Republican candidate John Kasich. Back in December we mocked him for sending an email overloaded with unseemly first person pronouns. "I'm running, I was, I can, I'm running, I helped, I can, I'm running, I served, I was, I'm running, I can, I won."—we counted 'em up. Well after a strong showing in New Hampshire, Kasich's latest email reads: "Fellow Conservatives, we did it." WE did it? Someone has been reading Brandsinger. 

Last night the Manhattan Symphonie performed Aaron Copeland's Lincoln Portrait, with the venerable former Mayor David Dinkins as narrator. What did Lincoln say? "Fellow-citizens, we cannot escape history." — perfect advice for Ben Affleck about whom we wrote in November

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.

I can now add, inspired by Lincoln, "Mr. Affleck, you can intimidate friendly PBS producers, but you cannot escape history." 

Last month we commented on the unpopularity of the term "politician"—which is a dirty thing to call anyone. As Donald Trump rolls on and on with his "I'm not a filthy politician" campaign, I am reminded of the quip of e.e. cummings: "A politician is an ass upon which everyone has sat except a man." Cummings clearly would have been a Trump voter. He was a Republican

Way back in 2013 I wrote a disgracefully sarcastic comment on librarians ("Ask Marian," 2.15.13) about which I often felt remorse. Who could possibly suggest that librarians are obsolete and irrelevant in the age of Google search? Well, here's a recent article in the Wall Street Journal that says exactly that... written by... a saddened but acutely alert and realistic... librarian.

Was Brandsinger kicking a beleaguered profession? It looked that way, and I regret what seemed to be glee. Mr. Barker ended his lament with a wistful: "The role for librarians and public libraries is shrinking. But I imagine that in another hundred years, we will still be here, in one form or another."

Every now and then during the football season we came across the controversially named Washington Redskins. Despite all the politically correct scolds calling for a name change, the name seems to endure. But is that right? Hell no! That name is a vicious racial slur and must go, as we said in 2013. Some day Brandsinger will have the pleasure of looking back on its obliteration. Pigskins is a better name for that bunch.

Speaking of the NFL, a recent New York Times article discussed at length how the NFL keeps failing to tackle the issue of "what's a catch." To help out, I quote from Brandsinger 1.15.15: "An object is tossed by a schoolchild, friend or colleague ... and it's flying in your direction and you reach up with both hands and gain possession of the object,  bring it close to your body and then come back to earth on both feet. What do you call that?" NFL take note! 1000 lawyers won't help you answer that one. Get a child to do it. 

Finally: A few posts back Brandsinger depicted WINTER as a brand full of mirth at humans' expense. Ha ha, winter laughs, as we labor against its mighty blast. Just last Monday the Brandsinger chariot nearly became the latest butt of winter's joke when a truck up ahead lost its footing on the Interstate. "No injuries," winter snorts. "...this time." 
Time? I've got news for winter: Time is on our side, pal. Just wait around a few weeks. Come April, we get the last laugh. 


Monday, January 25, 2016

"Politician" —n. an unloved person

This morning's cartoon puzzle—the "Jumble"—shows a politician exploring nature on the "campaign trail." He asks fellow nature-lovers for their vote, and one tells him to "take a hike." 

Why the gratuitous belligerence toward a poor politician doing his job? 

In our culture—which celebrates freedom of speech and democratic choice—calling someone a "politician" is a rebuke—even an insult. 

Look up politician and you may find something like this: "a person who acts in a manipulative and devious way, typically to gain advancement within an organization." 
Linking politicians to odious behavior has a long history in our culture. If you recall Shakespeare's Hotspur railing against the hated King Henry IV, he calls him "this thorn, this canker" and "this king of smiles" and—of course—"this vile politician." 

Calling your king a mere canker is not damning enough. You need to add "politician"! 

Today, Donald Trump disrupts the U.S. political scene—blowing up formalities, shocking officials, sneering at newspapers, mocking journalists—and what is his central message? What makes Trump different and, to so many, appealing? It is simply and basically this: 

"NOT A POLITICIAN!" Not a VILE politician, he might have said, to add a Shakespearean je ne sais quoi. 

Ironic, isn't it? Even as we revere our form of civil government, we use a reference to our elected representatives as a curse.


Friday, January 15, 2016

Trump v. Bush — "It's so obvious"

In the 1954 classic Seven Samurai, the two main characters (1) stand out in a field to watch a duel to the death. 

Before the duel unfolds, the two duelers pose for a moment (2), seeming to freeze... and one of the observers — a veteran swordsman himself — says, "It's so obvious."

Just looking at the two duelers preparing to fight, the veteran knows who will win. The stance, the expression, the position of the sword — the body tells all.

There is a scream, a charge, one terrifying swipe of the steel blade (3, 4)... and then (5), the victor holds his pose as the hapless foe tumbles into the dust.

The same is true for presidential debaters. Look at these two duelers. The fated outcome is so obvious.
The first man here is negotiating — preparing for give and take, and expecting to get struck in the face. He's not exactly pleading for his life — but he seems hoping for something to intervene... Maybe a fuse will blow and the fight will be called off.

This second man enjoys fighting — especially the punching and slashing. We observe from the sidelines and watch his combatant's jaw and hands. We sense that his feet are planted under him... and that he expects to win.

It's so obvious.