(Mid-January) Notes From a Friday Afternoon

Friday, 15 January 2010 09:23 AM Written by

(melting the ice of my mind)

For your consideration: another curious collection of thoughts, reactions, and observations that didn’t make it into a full-length post this week...

• This Just In: Rush Limbaugh now says that President Obama caused the earthquake in Haiti — with help, apparently, from Al Gore and Osama bin Laden — so he could divert attention from the health care debate and burnish his global humanitarian credibility and dupe you into giving him all your contact information with that bogus White House web site donation link.

• Okay. That’s not true. Except for the last part. I made the rest of it up. But it sounds true, doesn’t it?

• Here's a headline, ripped from the pages of this morning's PG, that hardly inspires a lot of confidence: Officials hope to prevent students being left on buses. Way to step up and be bold, Pittsburgh Public Schools. Way to take a firm stand for the safety of all the children in your charge. Parents all over the city can now breath a sigh of relief that you hope, and dream, and cross your fingers, and might even someday wish upon a star that their students will not be abandoned or forsaken by their school bus drivers.

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Here's What I Hate About "Sustainability"

Thursday, 14 January 2010 02:43 PM Written by

(the total lack of discrimination)

As if both the word and the whole, global host of concepts it has come to represent had not already lost both their cachet and their credibility, the final death knell for greenness surely sounded a few weeks ago, with the printing of this Post-Gazette headline:

Cranberry is going green

Buried at the end of the subhead, ten words later but still much too soon, was the word that first usurped the buzz, the hype, and the cool of green, and that already threatens to usurp both its conceptual ubiquity and its rhetorical futility:


If you’re paying attention at all — and I know you are — then you’ve heard this word more times than you care to, and surely more times than you need to, in the past few months. It’s hot; it’s hip; it’s happening. It’s the thing to do, to be, to promote. It would be the future, if it didn’t already feel like the past.

To see what I mean, look no further than this article in this morning’s PG, which recounts the thoughts, the urgings, and the occasionally inscrutable ramblings of sustainability specialist Dr. John Ehrenfeld.

One way to live a more sustainable existence, Dr. Ehrenfeld says, is to stop tweeting and shut down your Facebook page.

No, really. I’m not making it up. I swear.)

This from a man who defines sustainability as the possibility that all life will flourish on the planet forever.

(We could argue about whether that’s possible, or practical, or even desirable — how would that have worked with, say, dinosaurs? — but that’s another issue for another post. For now, let’s stick to the Who Knew Sustainability Was as Simple as Euthanizing Your Social Media Self? theme.)

The account continues:

To make [sustainability] happen, individuals need to stop addictive consumption and realize that technology, while positive in many ways, “is not a solution to every problem.”

It’s difficult to argue with the wisdom of that last point, of course. Especially at a time when people are putting down their maps and their common sense, picking up their GPS systems, and damned near freezing to death on logging trails because those little satellite-linked video screens on their dashboards told them too.  But still, I thought, the article must be oversimplifying. Surely the lede was a tad too sensational.

Or not:

“Facebook is my poster child for what’s not a good idea,” said the 78-year-old grandfather of nine. The online social network “debases the value of friendship” because it focuses on a user’s quantity of friends instead of the quality of those connections.

He contends that a lifestyle characterized by less consumption and better core values, such as goodness and honesty, will advance sustainability by allowing individuals to step back and reflect more deeply about how their actions and business dealings connect them with each other and with the earth.

You’ll get no argument from me, of course, that the world could do with more goodness and honesty, and that many of us sure could use some better core values, but I’m unconvinced that truth-telling and step-backing and deep-reflecting will allow all life to flourish on the planet forever. Nor am I certain how Facebook, or even the often silly self-indulgences of the Twitterverse, stand at odds with those qualities and values.

But then, I suppose it doesn’t really matter.

It doesn’t matter that for many people, Facebook is very much about the quality of connection with friends and family. It doesn’t matter that Twitter is a long, long way from green chemistry. And it doesn’t matter that a word or the whole, global host of concepts it has come to represent maintain their own intellectual integrity.

What matters is that sustainability, once about ecosystems and natural resources and the often delicate balance between them, can now also be about honesty and friendship and Facebook and Twitter and values and addiction and status updates and fantasy football scores and bad human habits and any damned other ink blot of a subject at which sustainability experts, fast replacing economists as the meta-doctrinaires of our time, gaze and see only themselves.

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Here's What I Love About Google Ads

Thursday, 14 January 2010 04:12 AM Written by

(their total lack of discrimination)

Everything you need to know about why I love Google Ads is contained in the screen cap below:

I pulled this off TRM early this morning. It may be gone by the time you read this post, but as I’m writing, it’s still live on the page:

An ad for the Vermont Teddy Bear Company, directly adjacent to a post in which I lampoon the site’s teddy bears, ridicule the bears’ high prices, deride the company for a silly, non-apologetic apology, call their site tawdry, call their products immoral and insensitive, and suggest that their bears promote, among other things, theft, stereotyping, perversity, promiscuity, and cross-species pederasty.

Maybe the Google ad-bots have a built-in satire detector. (If so: don’t miss the title of this post.) Maybe the new-fangled Google adders subscribe to the old-fashioned theory that there’s no such thing as bad publicity. (If so: see Woods, Tiger.) Or maybe the Google servers just have a really great sense of humor. (If so, that would explain why, on one of the Tiger Woods stories I checked for that last link, the first ad that appeared was How to Protect Yourself.)  

But whatever the reason, you have to admire the fearlessness — which is to say, shamelessness — of an advertising program that trolls for clicks and pennies on a page that suggests its teddy-bear-producing client might best relocate from Vermont to somewhere between Sodom and Gomorrah.

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Of Dumb Signs and Dumber Laws

Wednesday, 13 January 2010 05:29 AM Written by

(and the direst of front-page contrasts)

The city’s sudden decision to prohibit — or, more accurately, according to its awkward signage: to not permit — sledding on Frick Park’s most delightfully sled-enticing hill got me to thinking about the head-shaking hilarity of DumbLaws.com, a site that chronicles a whole host of inane, archaic, altogether idiotic laws still on the books in cities and states across the country.

In a city that wants to ban a decades-old tradition of outdoor fun and frivolity because a few people occasionally get hurt and paramedics recently had to be called to the scene (by that standard, they ought to prohibit attendance at Steelers games too), in a state that still refuses to place any sort of restriction on using a cell phone while driving (even though the National Safety Council announced this week that cell phone use plays a roll in 28% of all traffic accidents), and in a nation of states that prohibits drunken driving but does not, anywhere, prohibit the equally dangerous cellular driving (see the previous parentheses, or numerous studies that make the case), it is either a small comfort, or a cruel joke, to know that laws like these are on the books... 

In Blythe, California, where crimes of fashion are never in style, you are not permitted to wear cowboy boots unless you own at least two cows.

In Belvedere, California, where crimes of grammar and syntax apparently go unpunished, No dog shall be in a public place without its master on a leash.

In Chico, California, where al Qaeda operatives are no doubt already living and taking up a collection, detonating a nuclear device within the city limits results in a $500 fine.

In Los Angeles, California, where men are men and women own tape measures, it is illegal for a husband to beat his wife with a strap wider than 2 inches.  Unless she consents.

In San Francisco, California, where diversity is important but aesthetics are even more important, persons classified as ugly may not walk down any street.

In Baltimore, Maryland, where innumerable warrants for my arrest have been issued since 1991, you may not curse inside the city limits.

In Allentown, Pennsylvania, where George Michael, Pee Wee Herman, and Malin Akerman are apparently unwelcome, men may not be aroused in public.

In Pennsylvania, where bears and sporting goods stores are still in good stead, you may not catch a fish by any body part except your mouth.

In Florida, where legislators apparently spend too much time thinking about sex and not nearly enough time actually having it, it is illegal to kiss your wife's breasts, to engage in oral sex, to shower while naked, or to engage in sexual relations with a porcupine. Heterosexual sex with another human is allowed, but only the missionary position is legal.

Your tax dollars at work, folks. God bless America!

And deliver us, please, from bureaucrats who offer protections we surely do not want, while lacking sense and courage enough to extend us ones we most surely do need

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Crazy Love, Vol. II

Tuesday, 12 January 2010 08:19 AM Written by

(one more flew over the teddy bear’s den)

Seeing a whole lot of Valentine’s Day displays in stores this weekend — only 32 more shopping days left! — got me to thinking about a minor Valentine’s Day gift kerfuffle that erupted a few years back when the Vermont Teddy Bear Company began selling what they billed as a great gift for someone you’re crazy about.

Promising that She’ll go nuts over this bear, the VTB offered up the Crazy For You Bear, which sported not just a white straight jacket with an embroidered red heart, but also commitment papers to document his official diagnosis. I always figured she’d go nuts over her Valentine’s inability to find a better way to spend $69.95, and yet there was something about the bear that, in some small, silly way, kind of charmed me.

The Vermont Chapter of the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill, not so much. They deemed the Crazy For You Bear a tasteless use of marketing that stigmatizes persons with mental illness. How a stuffed animal in love stigmatized persons with mental illness, they did not explain. And yet they did not have to. The VTB, proving that they were at once both sensitive persons and wise capitalists, responded to the criticism with a standard, non-apologetic apology (We recognize that this is a sensitive, human issue and sincerely apologize if we offended anyone.) and an assurance that they would discontinue the bear after Valentine’s Day.  

How a stuffed animal in love qualified as a sensitive human issue, they did not explain. And it’s probably best that they didn’t, if only because an indelicate explanation of the hyper-sensitive absurd might have driven the poor folks at NAMI completely insane. Uh, I mean...

...it might have driven them nuts. No. Wait. What I meant to say was...

...it probably would have turned them stark-raving mad.

Damn. Sorry. Trying to finish this sentence is making me lose my...

...oh, never mind. You get the idea.

In any case, I decided to check back in on the Vermont Teddy Bear Company, almost five years to the day after all this craziness... er, silliness... started. Just to see if they’d kept their word.

Turns out they did. Sort of.

The Crazy For You Bear is nowhere to be found, and none of their furry little lot is wearing a straight jacket. But they do offer a Mad About You Bear, which seems like an obvious, somewhat less offensive replacement. The straight jacket has been replaced by a lab coat and the commitment papers have been replaced by a bubbling bottle of love potion, but that whole clinical doctor-patient vibe is still going strong. (I’m tempted to make an inmates are running the asylum joke, but for the sake of the folks at NAMI, I’ll pass.) Both the heart-pupil glasses and the crazy red wig suggest that VTB’s sensitivity to the Hyper-Sensitively Aggrieved on Behalf of the Mentally Ill Set has not increased by much, but apparently enough to forestall any more protests or press releases.

Still, it seems to me that those ursine Valentine degenerates at the Vermont Teddy Bear Company have plenty of other seasonal specials just begging to be protested by someone. Consider:

The Love Bandit Teddy Bear, which either stigmatizes persons who’ve committed a crime and done their time, or else teaches impressionable young persons that if you’re in love, it’s perfectly alright to steal.  

The Red Hot Redneck Teddy Bear, which clearly stigmatizes persons from the south, persons who wear trucker’s hats, persons with tattoos, and anyone anywhere who wears flannel shirts or jeans with holes in the knees. (That’s a whole, painful collection of sensitive human issues right there.)

The Let’s Get Bear Naked Bear, which surely stigmatizes nudists, offends people who like to wear clothing, promotes promiscuity, and provides some sort of strange, perverse kick for people turned on by strategically placed fig leafs.

But most depraved and offensive of all is the Puppy Love Bear With Puppy, which obviously and promiscuously promotes not just miscegenation and animal interbreeding, but also cross-species pederasty.

I’m sorry I ever went back to that crazy tawdry site. I had no idea that teddy bears, especially those in service to such a sweet and wholesome holiday, had become so immoral and insensitive.

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Paging Michael Moore

Monday, 11 January 2010 05:35 AM Written by

(roger and kim and him)

Remember those great What’s Wrong With This Picture? activities you used to do when you were a kid? An article in this morning’s PG includes a great game of What’s Wrong With This Paragraph?:

Pittsburgh is one of 15 cities recently chosen to receive first aid from the blight-fighting Center for Land Reform in Flint, Mich. The inclusion resulted from Pittsburgh officials having been invited early last year to "tell our great story" at the national conference of the National Vacant Properties Campaign, said Kim Graziani, Mayor Luke Ravenstahl's director of Neighborhood Initiatives.

We’re gonna get first aid from a blight-flghting Center based in a city that has lost almost half its population in the last forty years and that regularly ranks among the most dangerous, downtrodden, segregated, impoverished, economically disenfranchised cities of the country? Because we have a great story to tell?

What would we get if we had an even greater story to tell? Last rites from the Coalition Provisional Authority in Baghdad?

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Saturday Morning Mailbag

Saturday, 09 January 2010 05:32 AM Written by

(out through the inbox)

The comment threads have been gently buzzing on the subjects of politics and parenthood this week, and the TRM inbox has been following along. As I was trying to catch up to both this morning, I thought it might be fun to share a few choice excerpts from the emailbag.

The names have been changed to protect the insightful...  

Mr. S., on the gap between Obama fantasy and reality:

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(crossing the country of my mind)

For your consideration: another curious collection of thoughts, reactions, and observations that didn’t make it into a full-length post this week...

• First, a follow-up to Tuesday’s proud-father-of-a-published-writer post. On Wednesday, Adam’s essay was picked up by the fine folks at Runner’s World Magazine, who highlighted it on their home page, on their Facebook page, and in a column (“Three Cheers for Adam Hermann”) by online Executive Editor Mark Remy. The response to his piece has been, besides a little overwhelming, both a lesson for and an inspiration to Adam. I’m not sure that he needed either, but I am sure he’ll benefit from both.

• Ah, the power of the written word.

• Next, an update on yesterday’s post about President Obama’s conspicuous buck-passing: Two days after passing out blame to multiple members of his administration and to the agencies they oversee, the President yesterday declared, I am less interested in passing out blame than I am in learning from and correcting these mistakes to make us safer. For ultimately, the buck stops with me. As President, I have a solemn responsibility to protect our nation and our people. And when the system fails, it is my responsibility. These lines, and indeed much of yesterday afternoon’s remarks, feel like an obvious revision — and thus, a clear correction — of the mistakes he made in his remarks on Tuesday.  

Well played, Mr. President. Well played indeed.

• When we’re done beating up Janet Napolitano, can we go back to beating up Timothy Geithner? Please?

• If there’s one thing I look for in a Treasury Secretary, it’s a guy who, at his last gig, pressured a company to restrict and delay the disclosure of important [financial] information during the depths of the financial crisis he’s now charged with solving.

• The TRM Poetic Justice Headline of the Week Award goes to this little beauty on CNN.com: 14 Terror Suspects Mistakenly Kill Themselves. [H/T to Maria Maria and her fabulous Facebook feed.] It seems that all fourteen terrorists incompetents died when a bus they’d rigged with explosives exploded just a tad prematurely. Which makes me wonder: will they still get the 72 virgins? Is it the thought that counts, or do they actually have to be successful to claim their booty of booty? Does a botched effort result in a reduction in the number of virgins? A downgrade in the quality of the virgins? Maybe a few dozen non-virgins mixed in as a punishment? If I were a would-be jihadist counting on my reward in the after life, I’d want to know these things.

• I’d also want to know if, after a successful suicide mission, I were obligated to accept all of the virgins. Could I trade, or maybe just decline a few? I mean, 72 of anything in a row would get kind of monotonous wouldn’t it? Is a little variety too much to ask for someone who just took out a whole marketplace full of infidels?

Is this going to be the Tea Party Decade? Definitely. In the same way the 90s were the Reform Party Decade.

• As we drove down Shady Avenue earlier this week, Wendy and the boys spied a huge exercise bike that had been moved out of a house and onto the front porch. Which, we figured, was likely not a good sign for the New Year’s resolutions within.

• While we’re on the subject of changes wrought by the new year... In last year’s editions of the Notes, we had some Friday Notes fun with a semi-regular feature on Useless Information. Because there is no 2010 Calendar of Useless Information — are you telling me there are only 365 bits of useless information in the universe? could they really have run out already? — and because I got a totally cool calendar of different, bold, exotic, new, and true! Top 10 lists for Christmas, this year we’ll have some fun with those. First up, from the List of Top 10 Strange Holidays, we note that tomorrow is Play God Day, and Sunday is Peculiar People Day.

• Wouldn’t it save time to just have them on the same day?

• Another favorite this week, from the Top 10 Political Comment Bloopers: Utah Senator Orrin Hatch noting that Capital punishment is our society’s recognition of the sanctity of human life.

• I don’t know about all the other male Facebook users out there, but I’m feeling at least a little sexually harassed by all those bra color status updates.

• I’m also at least a little amused by the message urging women to make them: Write the color of your bra in your status. Just the color, nothing else. And send this on to ONLY women no men. Once we get past the suspect punctuation in the last sentence, it seems to me that, of all people, the forces for breast cancer awareness should be well aware that, aside from Frank Costanza few men would be eligible to accept the message anyway.  

• With less than one month until TRM hits its first anniversary, I’m thrilled to say that readership here continues to rise in ways I would have never thought possible. And in numbers that are more than a little overwhelming. December, despite low holiday traffic and three post-free days after Christmas, brought a one-month record of more than 150,000 readers to these pages. December 31st saw the most readers ever in single day, breaking a record that had already been twice-broken earlier in the month. TRM now averages just under 5,000 readers a day, which puts this humble little corner of the (MSM) blogosphere on pace for about 1.8 million readers a year.

• Thank you for that. For your patience, for your indulgence, and especially for your inspiration. I am both thrilled and humbled that so many of you have found something to like here, and I promise to work and think and write even better to deserve your attention in the year ahead...

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