It’s the Little Things: TV Edition

June 30, 2010


As a response to Stoutcat’s  post of yesterday, I got to thinking about the insidious nature of television commercials, and started a quick compilation of “little things” which, taken singly seem innocent enough, but which, when bombarded throughout the 24-hour cycle, are little short of damning in their  flaunting of  flat-out rudeness and out-and-out celebration of bad behavior…

  • In one of the Nikon D-5000 ads, the all-too-full-of-himself photographer insists on getting his fashion show pictures by blocking the other cameramen
  • Miller Lite depicts an antique appraiser joking about dropping a customer’s vase
  • Not to be outdone, another Miller Lite commercial shows an indignant delivery man taking back product because a nightclub has a reserved section for paying customers
  • Volkswagen commercials build on the old child’s game of “Punch Buggy” (hitting a chum on the shoulder at the sight of a VW) by having adults do the same
  • Cat Genie has unhappy cat owners throwing out litter boxes, one of which almost hits a jogger
  • In an Advil commercial, a woman rudely leaves a shopping basket full of other pain relievers in mid-aisle
  • Let’s not forget Geico’s Charlie Daniels, as he embarrasses himself in a French restaurant, and then takes a customer’s bread stick
  • Quality Inn has John Ratzenberger at a buffet line heaping his plate to the point of overflowing onto the floor and then walking away… his wife just watches and walks away as well
  • Allstate shows a man being hit by a car and then asks, “Are you in good hands?”
  • Starbucks shows the result of an affair uncovered – a slap
  • Lite and Fit yogurt has a woman slurping an empty container like a five year-old
  • A talking Super 8 sign berates a man (on his own property) for not taking a vacation

And so it goes. It’s reached the point where a reclusive billionaire feels the need to remind us of core values, putting his money where his mouth is in a series of public service commercials:

Sigh. Has it really come to this?

Alan Speakman


It’s the Little Things…

June 29, 2010

 

The late great Robert A. Heinlein had his finger on on the pulse of society, and  was able to tell us succinctly what’s wrong in the world today. Amazingly enough, he pointed this out to us nearly 30 years ago, with the publication of his novel, Friday, in which two of his characters discuss how to spot a sick culture: 

It is a bad sign when the people of a country stop identifying themselves with the country and start identifying with a group. A racial group. Or a religion. Or a language. Anything, as long as it isn’t the whole population…

Before a revolution can take place, the population must loose faith in both the police and the courts.

High taxation is important and so is inflation of the currency and the ratio of the productive to those on the public payroll. But that’s old hat; everybody knows that a country is on the skids when its income and outgo get out of balance and stay that way – even though there are always endless attempts to wish it way by legislation. But I started looking for little signs and what some call silly-season symptoms. [Emphasis mine]

I want to mention one of the obvious symptoms: Violence. Muggings. Sniping. Arson. Bombing. Terrorism of any sort. Riots of course – but I suspect that little incidents of violence, pecking way at people day after day, damage a culture even more than riots that flare up and then die down…

These are all things we’ve been experiencing in large and small ways for some time now. For every item in the list above, I’m sure you can call to mind several recent occurrences that you’ve read or heard about in the news. Good grief, if our current economy and the ridiculous legislative attempts to spend ourselves out of debt isn’t a poster-child for doom, I don’t know what is.

But there’s more to it than that, and as you might expect, Mr. Heinlein isn’t done with us yet:

Sick cultures show a complex of symptoms as you have named…  But a dying culture invariably exhibits personal rudeness. Bad manners. Lack of consideration for others in minor matters. A loss of politeness, of gentle manners, is more significant than a riot.

This symptom is especially serious in that an individual displaying it never thinks of it as a sign of ill health but as proof of his/her strength.

This may seem like a little thing–a tiny annoyance to be lived with. But it seems that this kind of sickness starts at the top: at home as well as in government. When adults abidcate their roles as parents, turning that job over to schools, daycare centers, home computers, and television; when parents attempt to be “friends” rather that parents to their kids; when parents are still children themselves; all these things lead to, among other dire outcomes, the loss of manners and civility, and the rise of thuggish behavior, crudity, boorishness, disorderly conduct, and a coarsening of public discourse.

And as for government, well when we have President Kick-Ass and Vice President Smart-Ass as our role models, what else can we expect but gross incivility and ultimately, downright vulgarity?

And why is civility in society so important? Of course, Heinlein has an answer to that as well:

Moving parts in rubbing contact require lubrication to avoid excessive wear. Honorifics and formal politeness provide lubrication where people rub together. Often the very young, the untravelled, the naive, the unsophisticated deplore these formalities as “empty,” “meaningless,” or “dishonest,” and scorn to use them. No matter how “pure” their motives, they thereby throw sand into machinery that does not work too well at best. [Time Enough for Love, 1973]

Given what I’m seeing these days — in the public sector especially —  if civility were the hallmark by which our society were to be judged, I don’t think we’d even be able to scrape by with a passing grade.

Our culture is sick, possibly even dying; there’s no denying that. And there seems to be precious little we can do, or that we as a people want to do, to effect a cure.

Clearly, this is the public discourse version of the Broken Window theory. We could clean up our act if we wanted to. But sadly, a very visible, very vocal, very popular, and very influential minority of society (think Hollywood, Washington DC, the recording industry, and professional sports) are not terribly invested in having a vibrant and healthy culture. But they are the arbiters, the trend-setters, the emperors of what little culture, or anti-culture, still exists.

And so… Ave Imperator! Morituri te salutant!

Stoutcat


James Taylor And Carole King – A Troubadour Reunion, 40 Years In The Making

June 26, 2010

The dictionary defines a troubadour as  “one who composes or sings verses or ballads.”

History has been littered with them. Some better than others.  But to dismiss  James Taylor or Carole King as merely troubadours would be like saying a Ferrari is merely a car… a Lear Jet is merely an airplane.

Few recording artists have sold more records. Even fewer songwriters have had a greater impact on the lives of the boomer generation.

Carole King had already been established for a decade  before James Taylor hit the scene. Together with her then-husband Gerry Goffin, King was responsible for many of the Top 20 hits of the Pre-Beatles era, including songs for  Little Eva (“The Locomotion”), and her first hit composition (at the tender age of 18), “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow”) by The Shirelles.

As the 60s progressed, so did  her songs, which were recorded by such groups as The Beatles, The Monkees, Blood Sweat & Tears, Dusty Springfield, Steve Lawrence, Aretha Franklin and others.  In fact, from 1955 through 1999, King penned or co-wrote 118 songs that made it into the Billboard Top 100, making her the most successful female songwriter of that era.

By the late 60s, however, musical styles were changing.  King divorced Goffin and went out on her own.  By 1971, she had updated her songwriting to reflect the changing times and recorded the landmark albumn, “Tapestry” which remained number 1 on the Billboard charts for 15 weeks. It also remained on the charts for 6 full years making it one of the best-selling albums of all time.

The album spawned a number of hits for her (“It’s Too Late,” “I Feel The Earth Move,” “So Far Away”). But the song that was supposed to be her first single was delayed by King so a young singer she had met could release his own rendition first. The singer: James Taylor. The song became one of his trademark tunes: “You’ve Got A Friend.”

This began a bond of friendship that has lasted over 40 years. Taylor, of course, has been a prolific songwriter on his own, writing from (by his own admission) a self-centered position. But it’s his introspective angst that has yielded his most lasting songs. From the tormented “Fire and Rain” to the biorhythmic high of “Whenever I See Your Smiling Face,” it turns out that many of us shared the same angst and the same highs. His music chronicled our lives as did King’s.

Over the years, the paths of Taylor and King have crossed musically and socially.  Two and a half years ago, the two agreed to do a concert together to mark the 50th anniversary of Hollywood’s Troubadour night club where (as Taylor puts it)  they “had played repeatedly, evidently.”

The two were accompanied by Taylor’s original backup musicians, Lee Sklar (Bass Guitar), Danny “Kootch” Kortchmar (Guitar) and Russ Kunkle (Drums):


When all was said and done, Taylor and King enjoyed themselves so much, they decided it was time to tour together. And it’s turning out to be one of the most successful tours of the year.  Several charities are benefitting tremendously from the tour as well. According to Ally Schweitzer of The Washington Post, Taylor and King have announced they have raised $1.5 Million  for The Natural Resources Defense Council, The Alliance for the Wild Rockies as well as other groups.

James Taylor and Carole King are currently touring the United States. It’s an evening to remember.  Literally. You will remember where you were and who you were with through all the sounds and music these two icons have provided for over 4 decades.  This is an opportunity that may not come again.  A great concert by two great music icons, with a portion of the ticket prices going to charities we can all feel good about. That makes it a win-win-win, in my book.  You can check the tourdates and cities at www.jamestaylor.com or www.caroleking.com (remember she spells her name with an “e” at the end).

For those of you who can’t wait to see them or can’t get to a city where they are performing, you can purchase a CD and/or a DVD of the acclaimed “Troubadour Reunion Concert” through either web site. Also, PBS is airing the concert throughout the month of June. Check your local listings for dates and times of the broadcast.

Gerry Ashley

Photos: Screen shots from the concert DVD “Live At The Troubadour” (see above for ordering information)


The White House Fly: New WH Phone System

June 23, 2010

For those of you considering calling the White House… be aware: They have a new phone system designed to streamline calls to their appropriate extension:

Gerry AshleyUpdate: I’ve received several e-mails asking if there really is a “White House Fly” who is giving us exclusive access to comments made inside 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. Others have been less diplomatic, questioning my sources and demanding proof that the White House Fly actually exists. In an effort to provide “full disclosure” and respond to all queries regarding this, I offer the following evidence:

The White House Fly… Semi-Fair and Nearly Balanced.

Thank you… now get back to work!


McChrystal v. Rolling Stone: The Medium is the Message

June 23, 2010

 

If you read the now famous “Runaway General” piece by Rolling Stone’s Michael Hastings, you (like most in the media) will very likely experience a Scooby Doo/Shaggy “Zoinks!” moment. “What in the world was General “Special Forces” McCrystal thinking?” But perhaps we should be the ones to rethink the issue…

“The general’s staff is a handpicked collection of killers, spies, geniuses, patriots, political operators and outright maniacs. There’s a former head of British Special Forces, two Navy Seals, an Afghan Special Forces commando, a lawyer, two fighter pilots and at least two dozen combat veterans and counterinsurgency experts…

“He carries a custom-made set of nunchucks in his convoy engraved with his name and four stars, and his itinerary often bears a fresh quote from Bruce Lee. (“There are no limits. There are only plateaus, and you must not stay there, you must go beyond them.”) He went out on dozens of nighttime raids during his time in Iraq, unprecedented for a top commander, and turned up on missions unannounced, with almost no entourage. “The fucking lads love Stan McChrystal,” says a British officer who serves in Kabul. “You’d be out in Somewhere, Iraq, and someone would take a knee beside you, and a corporal would be like ‘Who the fuck is that?’ And it’s fucking Stan McChrystal.””

In short, the general doesn’t sound like a blowhard. No doubt he is the wrong man to pick a fight with in a bar, but at the same time, he doesn’t strike me as a fool who rushes into any old fight unless he’s ready for bear.

So how do we interpret his possible resignation? The answer is simple… Do you remember Marshall McLuhan’s quotethe medium is the message? Well, forget today’s sound bytes. Forget the hanging apologies. Look at the medium: Rolling Stone magazine. The general chose to vent (over the course of several weeks, by the way) not to the NYT, not to the Washington Post, not to The Christian Science Monitor, nor to any other newspaper of any repute. No. He choose Rolling Stone, for God’s sake! Now, let’s see what else Michael Hastings has to say about our General:

The son of a general, McChrystal was also a ringleader of the campus dissidents – a dual role that taught him how to thrive in a rigid, top-down environment while thumbing his nose at authority every chance he got[Emphasis mine.]

If I had to guess, Rolling Stone was just one more way for McChrystal to “thumb his nose” at an authority figure he couldn’t respect.

So what lies ahead? Well, here are the options as I see them.

  • Gen. McChrystal hands in his resignation and the President accepts. That probably would be a cataclysmic mistake on the part of Obama, because without McChrystal, the tenuous war in Afghanistan may be lost. (At least General Stan could go off and write one whopper of a book, lecture, appear on TV and radio, and become a zillionaire. Beyond that, politics might have promise down the road for “Mr. Four Stars”.)
  • Gen. McChrystal hands in his resignation and Barack does not accept… Welcome to “The Wimp Commander in Chief, who undermines the fact of civilian authority over the military
  • Gen. McChrystal refuses to resign and the President forces the issue. (See bullet point #1 above.)
  • President Obama demands the general’s resignation, and McChrystal balks:  coup d’etat?

In short, I haven’t seen a leader being played like this since Dubya peered into the soul of Putin… Hey wait a minute, wasn’t Putin a Special Forces guy too?

Alan Speakman


Why Obama Needs To Keep McChrystal

June 22, 2010

Or Will America Turn To A “General Contractor” In 2012?

Gen. McChrystal

Something tells me that when General Stanley McChrystal (the top U.S. General on the Afghanistan war) arrives at the White House to meet with President Obama today, he will not be offered a beer in the  Rose Garden. There will be no warm and fuzzy “teaching moment.”

What there will be is attitude, ego, and bluster. Probably a few profanities, possibly an obscene gesture or two (depending on whether or not Joe Biden is allowed to attend).

This, of course, stems from General Hoof-In-Mouth’s comments to a free-lance journalist writing an article to be published in Rolling Stone this coming Friday in which he refers to “The wimps in the White House,” alluding to some of Obama’s aides. He referred to Joe Biden as “Joe Bite-me” and made other similar disparaging comments about other White House staff members as well as the U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan, Gen. Karl Eikenberry.

This isn’t the first time Obama has called McChrystal on the carpet. In October of last year, Obama went head-to-head with McChrystal over a similar incident where McChrystal wasn’t able to keep his thoughts to himself. At that time, our own Stoutcat pondered whether Obama would force McChrystal out. Ultimately he did not, and it’s to the benefit of every soldier in Afghanistan that he didn’t.

But will Obama fire McChrystal this time?  Not if  he’s smart.

In the Fox Forum today, James P. Pinkerton writes:

My guess is that McChrystal will survive in his post. The words attributed to him and his team in Rolling Stone–he felt “betrayed” by the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan; James Jones, the national security adviser, is a “clown”; and, perhaps most stark of all, he regarded “the wimps in the White House” as an enemy–were pretty strong, bordering on insubordination, and yet his apology was pretty abject.

And Obama really can’t afford to fire McChrystal in 2010, as Lincoln fired McClellan in 1862, and as Truman fired MacArthur in 1951. If the president does fire McChrystal, his administration will then see an enormous blow-up over Afghanistan policy, with critics on both the hawkish right and the dovish left pounding away at the commander in chief in the muddled middle.

Moreover, Obama might think to himself that if he fires McChrystal, he will be minting a possible new Republican presidential or vice presidential candidate to oppose him in 2012. 

But what about McChrystal? Is he, like General George McClellan in the Civil War, uncontrollable? Is he, like General Douglas MacArthur, so outspoken that he will openly criticize his commander in chief?

President Obama would be wise to keep on General McChrystal and listen to his evaluation of life on the ground in Afghanistan. And McChrystal would do well to learn that sometimes generals should be seen and not heard.

As to Pinkerton’s comment about Obama possibly creating a political opponent for the 2012 election, that’s not a comment to be taken lightly: McClellan ended up running against Lincoln in 1864, and MacArthur tried (unsuccessfully) to get the nomination to run against Truman in 1952. But Truman did eventually see the White House go to another general in 1952: Dwight D. Eisenhower.

Gen. Petraeus

If  history does, in fact, repeat itself, Obama may find himself facing a noble challenger in 2012, but not from McChrystal.  Like Truman, it may be another general that takes the spotlight and wins the hearts of Americans. And that might just be General David Petraeus.

Something to think about… Something very good, indeed.

Gerry Ashley


The White House Fly And Obama’s Golf Crisis

June 21, 2010

 

Gerry Ashley


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