Thursday, January 31, 2008

Reporting from the Super Bowl.

Phoenix, AZ.
Ad Aged has knocked off a couple days early this week to report on the scene at Super Bowl XLII. As an homage to the use of Roman numerals, this post was to be translated into Latin, but the priest I had hired to do so decided to make-out with a twelve-year-old boy in a hot tub instead.

The steroid-hopped players as large and heavy as longhorn steers arrived earlier this week. No one in the media has asked how they got so large and what kind of pharmaceutical cocktail they've been ingesting since their tween years in Texas--the state that leads the world in executions but lags even the Democratic Republic of Congo in reading scores. Instead the press presciently pressed the players, "how does it feel?" they asked. The players responded by snorting, with braggadocio and a slurred affirmation that some supreme being is on the side of the Pats or the Giants.

Meanwhile advertising and marketing trons arrived like Roman plutofats at the trough, where they will revel in the largesse of too many too manys while their companies lose marketshare and money, but, hey, they've got a spot on Super Bowl XLII. This year, by the way, it's been discovered that all the spots running on the Big Shame are not consumer-generated like last year's but instead are computer-generated. A program selects and "mashes up" a single raised eye-brow which represents the viewer's cue to snicker, a pendulously cleavage-laden babe, two un-shaven representatives of a phantom target, a product shot, an animal and a body sound, preferably some reference to a fart.

This is all happening while America's sub-prime IQ rate drops with the government and the media vessels and vassals reporting on Heath Ledger-gate leaving fetal polar bears going under for the last time, the ice they had lived on for millions of years having finally disappeared.

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I–
I took the one more frequently traveled by,
Paid with easy pass and did what I was told and financed a $trillion offense budget.
And that has made all the difference.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

The best 30 minutes in the history of American movies.

There's a movie that no one has ever heard of, certainly the scurvy likes of you has never heard of it, that captures more of the sadness, that stasis and stultification of vigor and imagination in the technocracy of the workplace than any other movie I have ever seen. These 30 minutes include cinematic mastery, technique and intelligence and a litany of the aphorisms of the American way skewered like a chicken satay at a fat kid's Bar Mitzvah. The writing is satirical on the order of an Orwell or Swift. The acting is superb. By turns sad, comic, pathetic, riotous, depressing, mournful, uplifting.

The movie is The Sin of Harold Diddlebock, directed by Preston Sturges. You can buy it online. I can't find but one clip on YouTube and no script on line. But as they say in Yiddish, trust me.

Stupor Tuesday.

It's coming. Right after the Bud Bowl.

I'm already deadened by the politics, posturing and pusillanimity. Gad! It's just like agency life,

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Once I heard a client laugh.

How many times have you presented things to clients that were funny, only to have them look at you like they were staring into an abyss, waiting with a bayonet in their backs about to be stuffed into a cattle car on their way to Treblinka?

Emotion is something clients clinically remove from their cosmology like a cardiologist scrapping plaque from a fat man's arteries. Don't laugh. Don't react. Analyze with clinical detachment in a way that consumers don't look at ads.

Years ago I presented work that made a client laugh. I stopped the meeting and said, "Remember that laugh. It's what matters." In the course of the presentation he, and my vaunted account people, tried to find every good reason to kill the work I presented. But at the end of the day, I reminded them, it made you laugh.

Planets must have been aligned that day. The work was bought. The work ran. Some permutation of that work still runs. Laughter is good. It beats gloom. Or formula. Which is what most clients find affirming.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Buying two seats at the movies.

Next time you go to the movies, buy two seats for yourself alone and leave one seat empty. Then, in that empty seat, put your intellect, put your educated self, put your discernment, your judgment, your taste, your standards, your morals.

Get up at the end of the previews and take your other self with you. Go for a cup of slave-labor-picked $4 coffee. Have a heart to heart with your other self. Ask your other self what happened to this country. How in my generation we went from Billy Wilder to Van Wilder.

How did it all go so wrong, so fast?

Scher and Scher alike.

The sameness of much of what we see on the screens that surround us is oppressive. The candidates are the same, their signage, their false promises and shrill imprecations. Movies all pick from the same pool of special effects to the exclusion of character, plot and moral. The pervasive use of stock images and words, even when "originally" shot deadens our senses. All communication becomes little more than a stringing together of cliched words, images and emotions. You go girl! The existential "APPLAUSE" sign lights and we clap like Rhesus in a lab. Give me my banana already.

Jeff Scher is an animator who sees the world differently. His work has been featured in The New York Times for about a year now--about once every two months or so. So every 60 days, in other words, I get to see, hear and maybe feel something that hasn't been folded, spindled and mutilated like cheese in a can or Americans in a Dumbmocracy.

Three minutes and twelve seconds of originality. Brother, can you spare a hundred and ninety-two seconds? Nah. Why bother? The expected, the routine is so much easier. Unfortunately, we live in the neo-dark-ages equivalent of WWI trench warfare. No movement forward. No movement backward. The threat of death if you lift your head up. O tempore, o mores.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

A Hungarian found.

Born Endre Friedman, the world's most famous photo-journalist, reinvented himself at the age of 25 as Robert Capa. He took the pictures reprinted here and in so doing practically invented photo-journalism--at least war photo-journalism.

Capa had always assumed that hundreds and hundreds of his negatives were lost to the Nazis. Capa died, killed by a mine explosion during the early days of Viet Nam. Recently a trove of his unprocessed negatives were discovered. They are being developed and archived now.

Vita brevis. Ars longa.

You can read about it all here.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Another one bites the dust.

To my knowledge, Tim Kelly's dismissal after eight months as Sprint Nextel's CMO is what will be the first of many 2008 CMO-axings. CMOs are dropping these days like pants on prom night. And no wonder, most CMOs, like Tim Kelly are attempting to solve 2008 Marketing problems with 1985 briefs.

Here's what I mean. Sprint spends $1.2 billion on advertising. Kelly oversaw Sprint's switch from agencies TBWA/Chiat/Day and Publicis & Hal Riney (an alma mater of mine) to Goodby. But Sprint's problems are not problems advertising can solve. In fact, what Chiat and Riney were doing for Sprint was fine. Even if Goodby's work were a thousand times better, Sprint's problems do not stem from advertising, or integrated marketing communications, or their tagline.

This is from Ad Age: "Last week, Sprint reported a fourth-quarter loss of 683,000 postpaid customers, those billed monthly for service and who are considered the industry's most valued." In other words, Sprint lost almost 7,500 customers a day--despite having contracts with their customers that are "Shylock-ian" in their rigidity.

No advertising can fill a "bucket" that leaks that quickly. Mr. Kelly has been canned because he was throwing money at advertising to continue to re-fill Sprint's leaking customer bucket. I've learned over the years that it costs five times as much to acquire a new customer as it does to retain one. Kelly's $1.2 billion of marketing spend should have been focused on treating consumers well.

Then he would still be employed.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

January Haiku.

The crocus risen.
Global warming's impetus.
They know. We deny.

Heath Ledger. More important than 4,000 young men.

Nearly 4,000 young Americans have died in Iraq. The total rises most everyday. They have been pushed off the front page by Heath Ledger. Get your priorities straight or when you're tuned into another banality, more of your soul will be stolen from you.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

And so we made it through another day.

We've written our copy.
Kerned our type.
Fought for our integrity.
Tried to do something good.

Meanwhile, Richard Branson is promoting Virgin by sending people to space.
His "ad" is on the front-page of the NY Times. Above the fold.

He's thinking big. That's how you win.

A one-liner.

I adopted a highway but it decided to look for its birth mother.


Tuesday, January 22, 2008

The internet is the new Papacy.

Thanks to Bob Garfield, I've joined the Facebook Group "Comcast Must Die." While I think Garfield's focus on just Comcast is too limited--they suck, yes, but they are only one of dozens of companies that don't deliver on their promises--that don't provide even a modicum of customer service.

Putting that aside for a moment, I realized when looking at Comcast Must Die dot com that getting excoriated in a high-profile way such as Garfield's is the 21st Century of the Papal Codex.

The Codex was a list of thousands of books banned by the Papacy for the turpitude and lack of orthodoxy they would visit upon their readers. Should the edicts of the Codex be violated, you risked excommunication. Excommunication was tantamount to complete banishment, which was just a smidge less horrid than being burned at the stake.

Today the Internet has the power to excommunicate brands. And there's little advertising can do to stop the power of people talking.

Being 78 r.p.m. in a 33 r.p.m. world.

The world we live in was designed for people at the left-end of a bell-curve. It's slow. Docile. Dumb.

Not long ago I saw a sign on the doorway of a retail store. It said "Push In." Is there another way to push? At a construction site in my neighborhood there is a sign posted by the builder. It says in big type: "Workplace Rules." The first bullet-point beneath that sign says "These are the rules for the workplace." When I attempt to pick-up my voicemail, I push my extension and security code in too fast for the system. So I have to do it twice.

There are millions of instances like the above. Some Orwellian. Some just dumbwellian.

By the way, here's a picture I saw in the NYTimes today. I guess this is how we protect ourselves against terrorists.

It included this caption: A security worker served coffee to the stranded in Michigan last December. Steps like these may ease difficulties for travelers.

I'm a self-serving ass and I approved this commercial.

The sameness of the political messages that are being run by the people running for president scares me. There isn't a concept or an idea in the bunch. The trick to building brands (and make no mistake, our candidates are brands) is to make your brand likable, honest and different. The opposite of what the current roster of candidates are doing.

Below I've excerpted parts of a few commercials. The scripts and the video direction.The ellipses are where I removed things that would give away the identity of the candidate. Less ingenuity than a Pringles conmmercial.

"Successful as a businessman...and as governor...lowered taxes and stimulated the economy. But above all...a great father, husband and grandfather...a leader who loves our nation, recognizes our challenges and has solutions to confront them."

"After college...could have cashed in. Instead (s)he fought for change, working to rebuild an area torn apart... making people’s lives better. Cutting taxes for workers and winning health care for children.”

"But who is ready to make tough decisions? The difference? Strong leadership.”

"I’ve seen what change takes. This election isn’t about choosing change over experience. Change only comes with experience. And with a war to end and an economy to fix, we’ve never needed change more, or the strength and experience to make it happen.”

speaks directly to the camera, face in close-up.
photographs. delivering a speech.
The spot begins with a montage of standard still photos

In contrast to this spot done 44 years ago.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Have you ever been satisfied?

Saturday's NYTimes ran an article "Sprint’s Customer Erosion Prompts Cutbacks," which detail the telco's 25% decline in its stock price and its decision to lay off 4,000 workers and close stores in order to trim costs as its customer base shrinks.

Sprint like all telcos sucks. Telco advertising has for years trumpeted sound quality and reliability and fabulous offers. All three of those factors are over-blown and deceptive. And so, the inevitable happens. People have a problem and decide to complain. If they complain at the retail level they are met by surly stupidity and the inability of low-wage workers to handle problems. If they decide to complain over the phone, like Sonny Bono, they collide with a phone tree and then are met by surly stupidity and the inability of low-wage workers to handle problems.

There's one strategy to combat customer defection. It's not promising connections at the speed of light, or a dork saying, can you hear me now, or more bars in more places or having your fave five. No, the way to retain customers is to treat them well. Period.

If a telco adopts the Nortstrom way, it will prosper. If not, they will need tactics like extortionate fines to keep customers in place.

By the way, you might want to read this from Wired. An article that features the un-funny comedian Sarah Silverman. It's called "Why Things Suck."

Sunday, January 20, 2008


When you turn your car on, does it return the favor? For Cadillac via Modernista!
When you get into a Volkswagen, it gets into you. For VW via Crispin.

Friday, January 18, 2008

I don't know what this is but I like it.

Are you out of business yet?

A recent survey reported in Ad Age sounds yet another death knell for traditional television-based advertising agencies.
(Ironically, it also sounds the death knell for Ad Age who is as television-centric as the most ossified of traditional agencies.)

I can sum up this survey with a single phrase, "We're going downhill fast." Among male alte kockers aged 45-64, computer-based entertainment is preferred to TV-based entertainment 33%-23%. It's 36% to 18% for those men aged 25-44. And among males 12-24, it's gaming 34%, computers 22% and TV a lowly 6%.

OK. A short lesson in semiotics, the language of signs. Is there a traditional agency in America other than two-time Agency of the Year winner Goodby et al, who doesn't list TV first on their website? Does either of the big advertising trade journals editorially reflect the statistics noted above? Does any CMO's time-sheet have his hours allocated accordingly?

There are those who still behave like the sun will never set on the TV-viewing empire. But they're not reading this. They can't. They're sitting in the dark.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

The relative hourly worth of men and women.

Web advertising that doesn't think like web advertising.

Stand back.
Generalizations are coming.
But at least they're generalizations based on years of observation and experience.

The interactive branch of the advertising industry grew up out of the direct branch of the industry. People in direct, people in interactive don't believe in and don't understand the power of intrusion. For their entire history, their underlying thesis has been: list, offer, creative.

That is why you see in banner ads and the like a passive acceptance of tininess and quietude. That's why 99 out of 99.1 interactive ads suck.

Today Apple is running interactive ads on The New York Times site. They are large ads, above the masthead and abutting it in an upside down and backwards "L" shape. They are interactive. They speak to each other. They are funny, smart and intrusive.

They are by large measure the exception. Because someone at some Omnicom TWBA/C/D agency has said, the web is as cluttered as TV and print and we have to act accordingly. The dumb web agencies--you know who they are--don't get that. They don't realize that there are over 600 billion web pages in the world. They don't understand intrusion. Humor. Breakthrough.

They are boring.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

I didn't fully capture my outrage.

Pursuant to my previous post, during the Nazi era, Jews were not individuals. They were part of a community. Their guilt was collective. The alleged action of one Heschel Greenspan when he killed a German ambassador in France led to Kristallnacht--pogroms all over Germany in which over 1200 synagogues were burned to the ground.

The same, of course, was true during the slave and Jim Crow eras in our history. By definition, racism abnegates individualism and generalized group characteristics. So when Nat Turner rebelled on a plantation in 1830s South Carolina, all the slaves in the region were accused of insurrection and were lynchable. All slaves everywhere were on the cusp of rampaging, slaughtering and raping with farm implements.

How different is the phrase "black community" from "you people," or "those people."

Painting with a broad brush.

For virtually my whole career I have read misbegotten copy that includes phrases like, "this is designed for people like you." Reading that I always say, "blow it out your orifice, who are you to say who is like me?"

That said, there is a virulent and persistent strain of generalization galloping through our thought processes today--perhaps exacerbated by the impending presidential erection, er, election. Yesterday on the news, the news readers cited the opinion of the "Black community." Today, in a story on the Department of Vaterland Security, Chertoff was criticized for not enlisting the aid of the "immigrant community."

To me such spurious collectivism is racism of the lowest order, denying the individualism of people because they happen to belong to a racial category or in the case of the "immigrant community" because they happen to have moved here from elsewhere. I know I'm part, according to marketers and politicians, of the "Jewish community," but I don't even agree with my wife politically (or even about what we're doing for dinner) much less agree to a larger community that in reality doesn't exist.

"Hey," I say to my friend Fred, who happens to be Black, "do you want to grab some lunch on Thursday?" "No, I can't," he replies. "I'm having a vegi-burger with the Black community."

Oh, it's easy to classify people this way. It's easy to deny individualism. It's easy to generalize and put people in (the marketers' favorite term) "buckets."

I wonder what the "blogging community" will think of this post.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

It's time for a one-liner.

The economy is so bad, I had sub-prime ribs for lunch.

Assignment vs. Job.

Just over 100 years ago, Henry Ford said, "If I asked customers what they want they would have said a faster horse." In my parlance a faster horse is the assignment. That's what most clients and creative directors and account people ask for. "Give me something that's of or pertaining to something I've seen before, only with my message, political agenda and brand on it."

I say fooey.

That is the equivalent of generals preparing to fight the last war.

When all is said and done, I don't know what historians will call the era we're living through today. "The Digital Age." "The Post-Industrial Revolution." Or something else. I am putting forward "The Age of New." By that I mean there is little reason to do things the way they've always been done just because they've always been done that way. Death to best practices and those that practice them.

This morning on my way to work, there were monoliths of shrink-wrapped phone books in the trash in front of dozens of buildings large and small. They looked like Easter Island statues of obsolescence. That's right, the phone company or the directory publisher (who ever that is) is still distributing the white pages and the yellow pages. Are you serious? Has anyone under 25 ever looked up a phone number? Yet there goes another Amazonian acre.

Man, what would happen if catalog publishers distributed "Kindle"-light rather than sending out 80-pages of crap every three weeks?

I don't know.
That wasn't the assignment.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Womnipublisicom's Anti-Harassment "Resource."

The anti-harassment web "course" is harassment of the highest or the lowest order. You have to sit through two hours of badly acted drivel. With stock characters. Badly written.

You can listen to the voices accompanied by still photos (including those of two really hot women who are almost always shown with open mouths) and there's type so you can read along. Here's the thing. Even a slow reader can read approximately four times as fast as you can hear. Let me read the fucking thing, willya?

After 20 minutes the tool-bar (can I use the word "tool" or is that banned) shows the "course" has progressed 9%.
This is freaking ridiculous.

"The only hero is the man without heroes."

I woke up this morning to the cataclysmic snow storm that never came. The "experts" were wrong. Just as last Wednesday I woke up to the stunning Obama victory that never came. Just as we will be greeted as liberators. Just as "Peace in our time" was declared by Neville Chamberlain.

The title of this post is a line written by Mark Harris in his great book, "Bang the Drum Slowly." Which though it centers on baseball is really about living and dieing. I got to thinking about it this morning as pundits began making Michigander, South Carolina and Nevada proclamations. Nobody knows anything. Don't listen to anyone. Everything is a tactic, a negotiation, a manipulation, a ploy.

I grew up hearing "don't believe everything you read." Today I believe, "don't believe anything."

The dumbocrats are arguing over ML King's legacy--not a word of substance. The leading republikants don't believe in life after conception--McCain wants to bomb Iran like Curtis LeMay wanted to flatten Viet Nam, killing millions if not tens of millions. Huckabible doesn't believe in the FACT of evolution. Nor does Willard (his real name) Romney.

Don't believe the experts.
The experts say this is the best we can do.
The experts say we are complacent.
The experts say we'll take this nonsense.
The experts say two parties is American.
The experts say the Electoral College makes sense.

As Mel Brooks would say, "The peasants are revolting."

Thoreau in Civil Disobedience, I think in 1845, didn't pay his taxes over his outrage concerning the American invasion of Mexico/Texas and the subsequent annexation of Texas. We can't do that today, because taxes are removed automatically from our paychecks.

The experts have seen to that.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Is a brand about messages or experiences?

Fly the friendly skies.
We try harder.
That was easy.
Built Ford tough.

These are tag lies. United skies aren't friendly. Avis doesn't try. Nothing is easy at Staples. And Fords are rattle-traps. This is not an indictment of inflated taglines. It is an indictment of the "push a message at the consumer" advertising methodology. A soviet-style marketing schema where a message repeated repeated and repeated becomes believed.

Today I went to a "Times Talk." A moderated panel discussion sponsored by The New York Times that seeks to involve its customers in the Times brand. In other words, don't just tell me "These times demand The Times," involve me in it--give me a New York Times experience. I realize only an esoteric few avail themselves of the Times talks--perhaps not many people find Feist or Josh Brolin, of Sidney Lumet or Mel Brooks or Edward Albee or any number of brilliant speakers compelling enough. But the 400 seat auditorium I sat in this afternoon was 95% full and the line going in to the following event was positively Disney-esque. I am an inveterate Times reader, I love the brand; I advocate for it. I feel even deeper affinity for it after this afternoon's event. Now, what the Times needs to do is figure out a way to extend the influence and tactile-ness of a live brand experience and scale it.

More on this will follow. The future belongs to those brands that make you feel.

Welcome to Generica.

I just went out in the largest Jewish city in the world looking for a decent rye bread. Of course I can't find one. Everything is processed and dessicated and extruded to look like food when what it all really is is a chemical stew shaped and formed into something vaguely recognizable.

The same is true of our "news" reports. We are fighting two wars yet front pages read of Britney's melt down, professional steroid-ball (also known as football) and perhaps a pregnant marine. The processed cheese food pundits spout conventional wisdom about election projections and unveil no thought, insight or wisdom. The same is true of our industrial dream machine, Hollywood, now slogging through a writers strike when the real writers of the massed produced drivel that is the opiate of the people are focus groups that make all communications as flat as a plate of piss, as an old boss of mine used to say. Our industry, advertising, is also lockstep in the downward pursuit of mediocrity. How many fruit cake ads did you see this xmas? How many commercials have the same joke--ah! the deep deep humor found in a comb-over and a raised eyebrow.

It's all the same. The TV commentators. The ironic talk show hosts.Oprah the president maker whose most salient and incisive comment is "you go girl."

Lead in the pipes. Drivel in the schools. Lies on the airwaves or cliches. Long may making no waves wave.

Welcome to Generica. Land of the fee and the home of the slave.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

The above is Latin and it means "Who will guard the guards?" This has popped into my mind because I've been ordered to take a 2-hour Holding Company Mandated "Anti-Harassment" online course.

OK. I understand that the lawyers at Holding Companies need to indemnify the Holding Company. So if I haven't taken the course and fondle young things like a Priest in heat, they are responsible. But if I take the course, they are not. This morning I got another harassing email from HR harassing me to take the course. So, I go through the log-on and I get to the anti-harassment site. Which doesn't load. So I can't take the 2-hour course when I want to, because the company the Holding Company hired to teach me how not to harass (though it never occurred to me to harass anyone) built a crappy, non-functioning site.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Your word is your bond.


That stands for What Would Frederick Winslow Taylor do?

For those of you who don't know him, Taylor has done more to change the Advertising industry than Bill Bernbach, David Ogilvy, Jay Chiat and the ever-so-dreamy Alex Bogusky.

Taylor was a proponent of the management system that dominates agency life today. Oh! You think I'm kidding, don't you? But because agencies adhere to his dicta, everything sucks.

What Taylor did was take a mechanical operation and break it down into piece parts. Then he alloted each piece part a duration. So, for instance, digging a hole is made up of 100 shovel-fulls--each action can be broken down thusly:
Insert shovel in dirt, 1 second.
Fill shovel blade with dirt, 2 seconds.
Lift shovel to waist height, 2 seconds.
Rotate at hips, 1 second.
Empty dirt into wheelbarrow, 2 seconds.
So the total digging action takes 8 seconds.
100 shovel-fulls create a hole.
A hole takes 800 seconds.
If you are faster than 800 seconds you are a good worker.
If you are slower you get fired and then get rickets and die malnourished.

This is how advertising works today.
This long to write a brief.
This long to come up with concepts.
And so it goes.
The deconstruction of inspiration into component parts.

I gotta go.
I have an ad to write.

When I was a kid...

And a baseball or basketball got ragged, we put a big X of electrical tape on it.
xerox's logo makes me think of a basketball with its air escaping.

When you go on a job interview.

I've found that young people today make at least one crucial mistake when they have job interviews. They don't bring a little gift for the person interviewing them, or for the internal creative recruiter or headhuntress.

Over the years, I've found that almost everyone likes Lemon Squares, so I've included my Aunt Yetta's recipe here.



* 2 cups flour (use unbleached or whole wheat--Hecker's is the best!!!)
* 1/2 cup confectioners' sugar
* 2 sticks butter (margarine's ok if you're baking for Uncle Dick)
* 2 cups sugar
* 1 tablespoon flour
* 1 teaspoon baking powder
* 1/4 teaspoon salt
* 4 eggs, well beaten (again for Uncle Dick, use Egg Beaters)
* 1 heaping tablespoon grated lemon rind
* 1/4 cup lemon juice

Sift flour and powdered sugar together. Cut in butter until well blended. Press mixture over bottom of a 9 by 13 by 2-inch pan. Bake about 25 minutes at 300° until lightly browned. Combine remaining ingredients and spread on top of the baked crust.

Bake at 350° for 25 to 30 minutes. Sprinkle with powdered sugar.
Makes about 12 servings.

Some people prefer to bring Coconut Patties, but once I brought them to the legendary George Lois and it turned out he was allergic.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Our daily commute. (from the NY Times.)

Online recruiting.

I guess my resume is floating through cyberspace.
Seconds ago I got this software-generated solicitation from a recruiting company.
Toot toot.

Dear ________
The resume you have posted online indicates previous experience and skills that
indicate you would be a match for an available opening we are filling for our
client Consolidated Bus Transit for Full Charge Accountant. I would like to
extend an invitation to you to apply for this position with our client.

If you have an interest being a part of the Consolidated Bus Transit team in the
role of Full Charge Accountant then please click the link below to fill out the
application. If the link does not work, you may copy and paste the address into
your browser to visit the webpage.

Consolidated Bus Transit is a New York based school bus and charter company.
With over 500 busses and 2500 employees they are able to service the entire
state of New York. While relatively a young company, they are growing at a very
healthy rate. It is because of this growth that they need to hire a Full Charge

The Full Charge Accountant needs to be able to handle accounts receivable, accounts
payable as well as general ledger. This person will be responsible for month,
quarter and year end reconciliations. They will also be responsible for quarterly
payroll taxes. The ideal candidate will have a bachelor's degree in Accounting or
Finance with at least 2 years of real world experience. They must be self motivated
and be able to work independently or with little or no supervision. This is a
deadline driven position. Consolidated Bus Transit is offering a competitive salary and comprehensive benefits to the candidate they select for this position.

Please allow one to two business days to be contacted after you submit your
online application. I look forward to hearing from you soon.

Brown Shirts. Black Shirts. Blackwater.

Government sponsored thugs usually dress in drab colors. Black and browns. Even the Caesars' Praetorians dressed in black.

I bring this up because today I read in the NYTimes that Blackwater, our government's private army (soon patrolling a polling place, or anti-war protest near you) has inadvertently dropped cannisters of CS gas over Iraq.

Use of this gas is prohibited by our military and international covenants. Blackwater--unprosectuable, immune Blackwater, used it anyway. Zyclone B, I'm sure, is next.
The army's response to the use of CS gas is a classic of dangerous understatement or LTI (Lingua tertii imperium.) “This was decidedly uncool and very, very dangerous,” Capt. Kincy Clark. Uncool is wearing a sombrero. Dropping gas is un-human.

A space odyssey.

A fish, the old adage says, rots from the head. Though I avoid all mouldering whenever and wherever I can, particularly mouldering of the piscine ilk, I do work in advertising so I am quite familiar with rotting crania. Posit that and allow me to extemporize on advertising agencies and space.

About forty years ago my father was the Chairman of a large and thriving agency that has since been amalgamated into obsolescence. That agency was an original tenant of what was then called the Pan Am Building. Ever optimistic, this agency leased five floors and sublet the two they didn't need at that time. I remember my father some years after this arrangement was struck remarking, "We make more from real estate than we make from advertising." Fast forward twenty years and I find myself working for a noted medium sized agency on lower 5th Avenue. This agency was one of the first to make the move from mid-town to what were then the wilds of 18th Street. I remember one of the eponymous owners saying to me, "We got this space for $13/sq. ft. We're making more in real estate than we're making in advertising. Yesterday I read about Ogilvy's big move west, thereby halving their real-estate costs. (There is NO truth to the rumor that their new tagline is "last agency before the Lincoln Tunnel.)

So my question is this. Why have we so devalued the value we add to brands that we have as an industry become a cost-center rather than a profit driver. Businesses that add value are on Fifth, Park and Madison. Agencies, that profession with the rotting smell, are cosigned to the boonies.

Until we embrace building real returns to our clients, locating agencies in Queens and Jersey is next.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

As we fail, we prosper.

Not long ago I read David Halbertam's last book. It's on the Korean "police action" and is called "The Longest Winter."

One of the prime movers behind the death and maiming of thousands of American teenagers and twenty-somethings and millions of Chinese and Koreans, was General Douglas MacArthur--a vast ego swathed in strategically-distressed khaki accented with brass and ribbons. As MacArthur fubar-ed our involvement on the peninsula, he placed his friends in key positions. They added to the fubar-ization of the situation. And for losing lives and billions of dollars of materiel, these friends in key positions i.e. generals, got extra stars, extra medals and fatter retirement packages.

Now comes the advertising portion of today's diatribe. I've noticed recently a couple agencies in particular have given fatter titles to the already-fat-titled people who are leading their agencies into oblivion, obsolescence or obscurity. As those agencies contract in size and fire people (the advertising equivalent of killing boys) the generals, i.e. vice chairman, get even vaster titles, pay packages and even-shinier golden parachutes. Little people die. The fat cats fly.

So learn a lesson. Stop trying so hard. Fail, fail, fail your way upwards.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Early results from New Hampshire.

An Ad Aged exclusive.
I can't tell you who's won.
But I can tell you who's lost.

All of us.

This is not greek.

It's Latin.

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipisicing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

And it's from Cicero. This is what it means:

Nor again is there anyone who loves or pursues or desires to obtain pain of itself, because it is pain, but because occasionally circumstances occur in which toil and pain can procure him some great pleasure. To take a trivial example, which of us ever undertakes laborious physical exercise, except to obtain some advantage from it? But who has any right to find fault with a man who chooses to enjoy a pleasure that has no annoying consequences, or one who avoids a pain that produces no resultant pleasure?"

xerox. the copier.

after some numbers of years, XEROX has redesigned its logo and is now called xerox. xerox no longer wants to be associated with copiers, so they have copied the corporate identity trends pioneered by some of their peers. not long ago AT&T radically transformed itself by becoming at&t. i suppose there are other identity trailblazers who have also made the brilliant and innovative switch to lower case. they have also added a red ball with a striated x on it to convey a "holistic" company. interbrand, the company that redesigned the logo, said that lowercase logos are friendlier. ergo, this post, in my on-going efforts to be as friendly as e.e. cummings is in lower case as well.

a vice-president of advertising at xerox called richard wergan has this to say about the new logo. he said it “is one of the most significant changes we could make to disrupt the mental model of our being a copier brand.” i think he also has a bridge in brooklyn he'd like to sell you.

when christiantity broke off from judaism they did a massive logo redesign. they dropped the six-pointed star altogether and switched to the now-ubiquitous lower-case "t." of course, there is something more important than cosmetic alterations. there's substance. but that takes real change--not just a pushing around of type and cliches.

Monday, January 7, 2008

The Big Think.

The world doesn't need another website. But seems to have some promise. I read about it in The New York Times this morning. You can read about it here.

Basically, it is meant to be "a YouTube for ideas."

It's too early to really know if is worth a time investment. But I will tell you this--they need to do some work on their production. Their five minute introductory was sloppily edited and typographically crappy. Not a professional image for what could be an important site.

An agency that gets it.

Goodby, Silverstein has just won Adweek's Agency of the Year again. For the second year in a row I believe. Beyond the stellar work they do, I found these quotations in Adweek. They are evidence that they are seeing the changing advertising world in a way other agencies can only envy.

"The company changed more in the last two years than it did in the first 23," co-chairman Goodby... "It's a necessary change, and the whole business is going to have to change to exist. Nobody knows what advertising is anymore and the change in our company is a reaction to that fact."

With minimal growing pains, the agency in the past couple of years dared to overturn the TV-centric culture it had built its reputation on, reconfigured to better meet digital demands, and stretched its celebrated creative skills with award-winning multimedia work...

"It was a magical year," says co-chairman Silverstein. And it came in the wake of a methodical reformulation of the creative mix. With 60 percent of creative staffers now able to work in all media, up from 31 percent in the fall of 2006..."

I have nothing against breasts.

I like breasts as much as the next guy. That said, this morning I saw an ad online for Firebrand--the website that lets you watch commercials online. I couldn't copy the photo and post it here, but the hostess (the emcee? the newsreader? the babe?) has hardly buttoned her blouse and her breasts look like you could bounce a bowling ball off of them. They reminded me of Jane Russell from the 50s, or Jayne Mansfield. Breasts that could hurt you like torpedoes.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Amerika the Dutiful.

Welcome our Dupeocracy. Or Dunceocracy. Where we believe in the pursuit of Lies, Britney and the pursuit of Crappiness.

According to a Pew Survey, the percentage of Americans who believe that the war is going well has risen in tandem with the perceived diminution of violence — from 30 percent in February to 48 percent in November.

Meanwhile, the truth is that more Americans were killed in Iraq in 2007 than in any other year since the beginning of the war. That's what the picture above indicates. Those colored shapes? Those are dead 20-year-olds. The black squares are increments of 500.

Like the Nazis, our government still does not allow us to see coffins coming home. And we rarely see the maimed. Or hear about the 400% rise in suicides among returning soldiers.

We are being duped. Propagandized. Manipulated.

Don't fall for it.

Believe the news as much as you believe a "Sunny-D" commercial. The "Global War on Terror" will not give you stronger bones and a whiter smile. It makes you a resident/a citizen of Fascist/Terrorist state.

Friday, January 4, 2008

I am reading a book about nine Hungarians.

The book is called "The Great Escape" and is subtitled "Nine Jews Who Fled Hitler and Changed the World."

Lest you think I am merely indulging my vivid anti-Nazi revenge fantasies, I am reading it because it is all about overcoming adversity, much of that adversity in the form of people who say "You can't do that."

Of the nine Hungarians profiled, four were scientists and five were artists. However, regardless of their disciplines--all were CREATIVES. As creatives, they shook the timbers of dominant complacency until those timbers gave way and the stale, stilted stupidity of the old order crumbled.

This morning on the train I read a bit about the great film producer/director Alexander Korda. His last movie was "The Third Man." David Selznick, Korda's co-producer hated the project. He wanted to re-title "The Third Man" as "Night in Vienna." He wanted Robert Mitchum for the lead, not Orson Welles. Presumably, he wanted to expunge the movie's a-moralness, too, and edit out the best line in movie history:

"In Italy for 30 years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder, and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love - they had 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock ..."

Korda kept fighting. As did the other creatives portrayed in this great book. Arthur Koestler. Robert Capa. Andre Kertesz. Michael Curtiz. Edward Teller. Leo Szilard. John Von Neumann. Eugene Wigner.

That, boys and girls, is our lesson for today. Don't let anything stop you.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Andre Kertesz was kicked out of two countries.

Hungary and France. In Hungary, it was the anti-Semitic communists he fled.
In France, it was the anti-Semitic Nazis.

He came to America but never felt at home here.

This is his self-portrait. It's called "Lost Cloud."

Despite everything, he lived to be 101.

Something to think about when you've had a lousy day.


Whatever you do, do it well. Be the best.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Where I'd get my wash done if I were king.

The foundation of all great civilization. And advertising.

At first I was puzzled when I read that Jean Renoir, perhaps the greatest film director of all time, once said that "the foundation of all great civilization is loitering." But now that I've spent the last hundred or so hours loitering over his remark, I think I'm beginning to understand it. What's more, I think it applies to agency life, too.

We are all too busy DOING.
We get lost in the details--the momentary upsets, the flash cuts of life, the trends, the pettiness.
We don't take the time to think.
To talk.
To share.
To kibbitz.
To contemplate.
To laugh.
To love.
To puzzle.
To ponder.
To unravel.
To experiment.

Whether it's at work or at life, we are time-sheeted into moderation and mediocrity, having to be "productive" every moment.

"What did you do today?" we ask.
Not "What did you think today?"
Not "Who did you meet today?"
Not "What did you try today?"

Oh, I'm not going aesthetic on ya.
Not preaching a Shangri-la of directionless contemplation.
But damn.
Slow down.
Don't you think?

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Fascist America, in 10 easy steps

This is from Naomi Wolf. She is no slouch. Not a conspiracy theorist. A thoughtful, intelligent, well-read moderate. I have reprinted this from the Tuesday April 24, 2007 The Guardian newspaper.

"From Hitler to Pinochet and beyond, history shows there are certain steps that any would-be dictator must take to destroy constitutional freedoms. And, argues Naomi Wolf, George Bush and his administration seem to be taking them all

Last autumn, there was a military coup in Thailand. The leaders of the coup took a number of steps, rather systematically, as if they had a shopping list. In a sense, they did. Within a matter of days, democracy had been closed down: the coup leaders declared martial law, sent armed soldiers into residential areas, took over radio and TV stations, issued restrictions on the press, tightened some limits on travel, and took certain activists into custody.

They were not figuring these things out as they went along. If you look at history, you can see that there is essentially a blueprint for turning an open society into a dictatorship. That blueprint has been used again and again in more and less bloody, more and less terrifying ways. But it is always effective. It is very difficult and arduous to create and sustain a democracy - but history shows that closing one down is much simpler. You simply have to be willing to take the 10 steps.

As difficult as this is to contemplate, it is clear, if you are willing to look, that each of these 10 steps has already been initiated today in the United States by the Bush administration.

Because Americans like me were born in freedom, we have a hard time even considering that it is possible for us to become as unfree - domestically - as many other nations. Because we no longer learn much about our rights or our system of government - the task of being aware of the constitution has been outsourced from citizens' ownership to being the domain of professionals such as lawyers and professors - we scarcely recognise the checks and balances that the founders put in place, even as they are being systematically dismantled. Because we don't learn much about European history, the setting up of a department of "homeland" security - remember who else was keen on the word "homeland" - didn't raise the alarm bells it might have.

It is my argument that, beneath our very noses, George Bush and his administration are using time-tested tactics to close down an open society. It is time for us to be willing to think the unthinkable - as the author and political journalist Joe Conason, has put it, that it can happen here. And that we are further along than we realise.

Conason eloquently warned of the danger of American authoritarianism. I am arguing that we need also to look at the lessons of European and other kinds of fascism to understand the potential seriousness of the events we see unfolding in the US.

1. Invoke a terrifying internal and external enemy

After we were hit on September 11 2001, we were in a state of national shock. Less than six weeks later, on October 26 2001, the USA Patriot Act was passed by a Congress that had little chance to debate it; many said that they scarcely had time to read it. We were told we were now on a "war footing"; we were in a "global war" against a "global caliphate" intending to "wipe out civilisation". There have been other times of crisis in which the US accepted limits on civil liberties, such as during the civil war, when Lincoln declared martial law, and the second world war, when thousands of Japanese-American citizens were interned. But this situation, as Bruce Fein of the American Freedom Agenda notes, is unprecedented: all our other wars had an endpoint, so the pendulum was able to swing back toward freedom; this war is defined as open-ended in time and without national boundaries in space - the globe itself is the battlefield. "This time," Fein says, "there will be no defined end."

Creating a terrifying threat - hydra-like, secretive, evil - is an old trick. It can, like Hitler's invocation of a communist threat to the nation's security, be based on actual events (one Wisconsin academic has faced calls for his dismissal because he noted, among other things, that the alleged communist arson, the Reichstag fire of February 1933, was swiftly followed in Nazi Germany by passage of the Enabling Act, which replaced constitutional law with an open-ended state of emergency). Or the terrifying threat can be based, like the National Socialist evocation of the "global conspiracy of world Jewry", on myth.

It is not that global Islamist terrorism is not a severe danger; of course it is. I am arguing rather that the language used to convey the nature of the threat is different in a country such as Spain - which has also suffered violent terrorist attacks - than it is in America. Spanish citizens know that they face a grave security threat; what we as American citizens believe is that we are potentially threatened with the end of civilisation as we know it. Of course, this makes us more willing to accept restrictions on our freedoms.

2. Create a gulag

Once you have got everyone scared, the next step is to create a prison system outside the rule of law (as Bush put it, he wanted the American detention centre at Guantánamo Bay to be situated in legal "outer space") - where torture takes place.

At first, the people who are sent there are seen by citizens as outsiders: troublemakers, spies, "enemies of the people" or "criminals". Initially, citizens tend to support the secret prison system; it makes them feel safer and they do not identify with the prisoners. But soon enough, civil society leaders - opposition members, labour activists, clergy and journalists - are arrested and sent there as well.

This process took place in fascist shifts or anti-democracy crackdowns ranging from Italy and Germany in the 1920s and 1930s to the Latin American coups of the 1970s and beyond. It is standard practice for closing down an open society or crushing a pro-democracy uprising.

With its jails in Iraq and Afghanistan, and, of course, Guantánamo in Cuba, where detainees are abused, and kept indefinitely without trial and without access to the due process of the law, America certainly has its gulag now. Bush and his allies in Congress recently announced they would issue no information about the secret CIA "black site" prisons throughout the world, which are used to incarcerate people who have been seized off the street.

Gulags in history tend to metastasise, becoming ever larger and more secretive, ever more deadly and formalised. We know from first-hand accounts, photographs, videos and government documents that people, innocent and guilty, have been tortured in the US-run prisons we are aware of and those we can't investigate adequately.

But Americans still assume this system and detainee abuses involve only scary brown people with whom they don't generally identify. It was brave of the conservative pundit William Safire to quote the anti-Nazi pastor Martin Niemöller, who had been seized as a political prisoner: "First they came for the Jews." Most Americans don't understand yet that the destruction of the rule of law at Guantánamo set a dangerous precedent for them, too.

By the way, the establishment of military tribunals that deny prisoners due process tends to come early on in a fascist shift. Mussolini and Stalin set up such tribunals. On April 24 1934, the Nazis, too, set up the People's Court, which also bypassed the judicial system: prisoners were held indefinitely, often in isolation, and tortured, without being charged with offences, and were subjected to show trials. Eventually, the Special Courts became a parallel system that put pressure on the regular courts to abandon the rule of law in favour of Nazi ideology when making decisions.

3. Develop a thug caste

When leaders who seek what I call a "fascist shift" want to close down an open society, they send paramilitary groups of scary young men out to terrorise citizens. The Blackshirts roamed the Italian countryside beating up communists; the Brownshirts staged violent rallies throughout Germany. This paramilitary force is especially important in a democracy: you need citizens to fear thug violence and so you need thugs who are free from prosecution.

The years following 9/11 have proved a bonanza for America's security contractors, with the Bush administration outsourcing areas of work that traditionally fell to the US military. In the process, contracts worth hundreds of millions of dollars have been issued for security work by mercenaries at home and abroad. In Iraq, some of these contract operatives have been accused of involvement in torturing prisoners, harassing journalists and firing on Iraqi civilians. Under Order 17, issued to regulate contractors in Iraq by the one-time US administrator in Baghdad, Paul Bremer, these contractors are immune from prosecution

Yes, but that is in Iraq, you could argue; however, after Hurricane Katrina, the Department of Homeland Security hired and deployed hundreds of armed private security guards in New Orleans. The investigative journalist Jeremy Scahill interviewed one unnamed guard who reported having fired on unarmed civilians in the city. It was a natural disaster that underlay that episode - but the administration's endless war on terror means ongoing scope for what are in effect privately contracted armies to take on crisis and emergency management at home in US cities.

Thugs in America? Groups of angry young Republican men, dressed in identical shirts and trousers, menaced poll workers counting the votes in Florida in 2000. If you are reading history, you can imagine that there can be a need for "public order" on the next election day. Say there are protests, or a threat, on the day of an election; history would not rule out the presence of a private security firm at a polling station "to restore public order".

4. Set up an internal surveillance system

In Mussolini's Italy, in Nazi Germany, in communist East Germany, in communist China - in every closed society - secret police spy on ordinary people and encourage neighbours to spy on neighbours. The Stasi needed to keep only a minority of East Germans under surveillance to convince a majority that they themselves were being watched.

In 2005 and 2006, when James Risen and Eric Lichtblau wrote in the New York Times about a secret state programme to wiretap citizens' phones, read their emails and follow international financial transactions, it became clear to ordinary Americans that they, too, could be under state scrutiny.

In closed societies, this surveillance is cast as being about "national security"; the true function is to keep citizens docile and inhibit their activism and dissent.

5. Harass citizens' groups

The fifth thing you do is related to step four - you infiltrate and harass citizens' groups. It can be trivial: a church in Pasadena, whose minister preached that Jesus was in favour of peace, found itself being investigated by the Internal Revenue Service, while churches that got Republicans out to vote, which is equally illegal under US tax law, have been left alone.

Other harassment is more serious: the American Civil Liberties Union reports that thousands of ordinary American anti-war, environmental and other groups have been infiltrated by agents: a secret Pentagon database includes more than four dozen peaceful anti-war meetings, rallies or marches by American citizens in its category of 1,500 "suspicious incidents". The equally secret Counterintelligence Field Activity (Cifa) agency of the Department of Defense has been gathering information about domestic organisations engaged in peaceful political activities: Cifa is supposed to track "potential terrorist threats" as it watches ordinary US citizen activists. A little-noticed new law has redefined activism such as animal rights protests as "terrorism". So the definition of "terrorist" slowly expands to include the opposition.

6. Engage in arbitrary detention and release

This scares people. It is a kind of cat-and-mouse game. Nicholas D Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, the investigative reporters who wrote China Wakes: the Struggle for the Soul of a Rising Power, describe pro-democracy activists in China, such as Wei Jingsheng, being arrested and released many times. In a closing or closed society there is a "list" of dissidents and opposition leaders: you are targeted in this way once you are on the list, and it is hard to get off the list.

In 2004, America's Transportation Security Administration confirmed that it had a list of passengers who were targeted for security searches or worse if they tried to fly. People who have found themselves on the list? Two middle-aged women peace activists in San Francisco; liberal Senator Edward Kennedy; a member of Venezuela's government - after Venezuela's president had criticised Bush; and thousands of ordinary US citizens.

Professor Walter F Murphy is emeritus of Princeton University; he is one of the foremost constitutional scholars in the nation and author of the classic Constitutional Democracy. Murphy is also a decorated former marine, and he is not even especially politically liberal. But on March 1 this year, he was denied a boarding pass at Newark, "because I was on the Terrorist Watch list".

"Have you been in any peace marches? We ban a lot of people from flying because of that," asked the airline employee.

"I explained," said Murphy, "that I had not so marched but had, in September 2006, given a lecture at Princeton, televised and put on the web, highly critical of George Bush for his many violations of the constitution."

"That'll do it," the man said.

Anti-war marcher? Potential terrorist. Support the constitution? Potential terrorist. History shows that the categories of "enemy of the people" tend to expand ever deeper into civil life.

James Yee, a US citizen, was the Muslim chaplain at Guantánamo who was accused of mishandling classified documents. He was harassed by the US military before the charges against him were dropped. Yee has been detained and released several times. He is still of interest.

Brandon Mayfield, a US citizen and lawyer in Oregon, was mistakenly identified as a possible terrorist. His house was secretly broken into and his computer seized. Though he is innocent of the accusation against him, he is still on the list.

It is a standard practice of fascist societies that once you are on the list, you can't get off.

7. Target key individuals

Threaten civil servants, artists and academics with job loss if they don't toe the line. Mussolini went after the rectors of state universities who did not conform to the fascist line; so did Joseph Goebbels, who purged academics who were not pro-Nazi; so did Chile's Augusto Pinochet; so does the Chinese communist Politburo in punishing pro-democracy students and professors.

Academe is a tinderbox of activism, so those seeking a fascist shift punish academics and students with professional loss if they do not "coordinate", in Goebbels' term, ideologically. Since civil servants are the sector of society most vulnerable to being fired by a given regime, they are also a group that fascists typically "coordinate" early on: the Reich Law for the Re-establishment of a Professional Civil Service was passed on April 7 1933.

Bush supporters in state legislatures in several states put pressure on regents at state universities to penalise or fire academics who have been critical of the administration. As for civil servants, the Bush administration has derailed the career of one military lawyer who spoke up for fair trials for detainees, while an administration official publicly intimidated the law firms that represent detainees pro bono by threatening to call for their major corporate clients to boycott them.

Elsewhere, a CIA contract worker who said in a closed blog that "waterboarding is torture" was stripped of the security clearance she needed in order to do her job.

Most recently, the administration purged eight US attorneys for what looks like insufficient political loyalty. When Goebbels purged the civil service in April 1933, attorneys were "coordinated" too, a step that eased the way of the increasingly brutal laws to follow.

8. Control the press

Italy in the 1920s, Germany in the 30s, East Germany in the 50s, Czechoslovakia in the 60s, the Latin American dictatorships in the 70s, China in the 80s and 90s - all dictatorships and would-be dictators target newspapers and journalists. They threaten and harass them in more open societies that they are seeking to close, and they arrest them and worse in societies that have been closed already.

The Committee to Protect Journalists says arrests of US journalists are at an all-time high: Josh Wolf (no relation), a blogger in San Francisco, has been put in jail for a year for refusing to turn over video of an anti-war demonstration; Homeland Security brought a criminal complaint against reporter Greg Palast, claiming he threatened "critical infrastructure" when he and a TV producer were filming victims of Hurricane Katrina in Louisiana. Palast had written a bestseller critical of the Bush administration.

Other reporters and writers have been punished in other ways. Joseph C Wilson accused Bush, in a New York Times op-ed, of leading the country to war on the basis of a false charge that Saddam Hussein had acquired yellowcake uranium in Niger. His wife, Valerie Plame, was outed as a CIA spy - a form of retaliation that ended her career.

Prosecution and job loss are nothing, though, compared with how the US is treating journalists seeking to cover the conflict in Iraq in an unbiased way. The Committee to Protect Journalists has documented multiple accounts of the US military in Iraq firing upon or threatening to fire upon unembedded (meaning independent) reporters and camera operators from organisations ranging from al-Jazeera to the BBC. While westerners may question the accounts by al-Jazeera, they should pay attention to the accounts of reporters such as the BBC's Kate Adie. In some cases reporters have been wounded or killed, including ITN's Terry Lloyd in 2003. Both CBS and the Associated Press in Iraq had staff members seized by the US military and taken to violent prisons; the news organisations were unable to see the evidence against their staffers.

Over time in closing societies, real news is supplanted by fake news and false documents. Pinochet showed Chilean citizens falsified documents to back up his claim that terrorists had been about to attack the nation. The yellowcake charge, too, was based on forged papers.

You won't have a shutdown of news in modern America - it is not possible. But you can have, as Frank Rich and Sidney Blumenthal have pointed out, a steady stream of lies polluting the news well. What you already have is a White House directing a stream of false information that is so relentless that it is increasingly hard to sort out truth from untruth. In a fascist system, it's not the lies that count but the muddying. When citizens can't tell real news from fake, they give up their demands for accountability bit by bit.

9. Dissent equals treason

Cast dissent as "treason" and criticism as "espionage'. Every closing society does this, just as it elaborates laws that increasingly criminalise certain kinds of speech and expand the definition of "spy" and "traitor". When Bill Keller, the publisher of the New York Times, ran the Lichtblau/Risen stories, Bush called the Times' leaking of classified information "disgraceful", while Republicans in Congress called for Keller to be charged with treason, and rightwing commentators and news outlets kept up the "treason" drumbeat. Some commentators, as Conason noted, reminded readers smugly that one penalty for violating the Espionage Act is execution.

Conason is right to note how serious a threat that attack represented. It is also important to recall that the 1938 Moscow show trial accused the editor of Izvestia, Nikolai Bukharin, of treason; Bukharin was, in fact, executed. And it is important to remind Americans that when the 1917 Espionage Act was last widely invoked, during the infamous 1919 Palmer Raids, leftist activists were arrested without warrants in sweeping roundups, kept in jail for up to five months, and "beaten, starved, suffocated, tortured and threatened with death", according to the historian Myra MacPherson. After that, dissent was muted in America for a decade.

In Stalin's Soviet Union, dissidents were "enemies of the people". National Socialists called those who supported Weimar democracy "November traitors".

And here is where the circle closes: most Americans do not realise that since September of last year - when Congress wrongly, foolishly, passed the Military Commissions Act of 2006 - the president has the power to call any US citizen an "enemy combatant". He has the power to define what "enemy combatant" means. The president can also delegate to anyone he chooses in the executive branch the right to define "enemy combatant" any way he or she wants and then seize Americans accordingly.

Even if you or I are American citizens, even if we turn out to be completely innocent of what he has accused us of doing, he has the power to have us seized as we are changing planes at Newark tomorrow, or have us taken with a knock on the door; ship you or me to a navy brig; and keep you or me in isolation, possibly for months, while awaiting trial. (Prolonged isolation, as psychiatrists know, triggers psychosis in otherwise mentally healthy prisoners. That is why Stalin's gulag had an isolation cell, like Guantánamo's, in every satellite prison. Camp 6, the newest, most brutal facility at Guantánamo, is all isolation cells.)

We US citizens will get a trial eventually - for now. But legal rights activists at the Center for Constitutional Rights say that the Bush administration is trying increasingly aggressively to find ways to get around giving even US citizens fair trials. "Enemy combatant" is a status offence - it is not even something you have to have done. "We have absolutely moved over into a preventive detention model - you look like you could do something bad, you might do something bad, so we're going to hold you," says a spokeswoman of the CCR.

Most Americans surely do not get this yet. No wonder: it is hard to believe, even though it is true. In every closing society, at a certain point there are some high-profile arrests - usually of opposition leaders, clergy and journalists. Then everything goes quiet. After those arrests, there are still newspapers, courts, TV and radio, and the facades of a civil society. There just isn't real dissent. There just isn't freedom. If you look at history, just before those arrests is where we are now.

10. Suspend the rule of law

The John Warner Defense Authorization Act of 2007 gave the president new powers over the national guard. This means that in a national emergency - which the president now has enhanced powers to declare - he can send Michigan's militia to enforce a state of emergency that he has declared in Oregon, over the objections of the state's governor and its citizens.

Even as Americans were focused on Britney Spears's meltdown and the question of who fathered Anna Nicole's baby, the New York Times editorialised about this shift: "A disturbing recent phenomenon in Washington is that laws that strike to the heart of American democracy have been passed in the dead of night ... Beyond actual insurrection, the president may now use military troops as a domestic police force in response to a natural disaster, a disease outbreak, terrorist attack or any 'other condition'."

Critics see this as a clear violation of the Posse Comitatus Act - which was meant to restrain the federal government from using the military for domestic law enforcement. The Democratic senator Patrick Leahy says the bill encourages a president to declare federal martial law. It also violates the very reason the founders set up our system of government as they did: having seen citizens bullied by a monarch's soldiers, the founders were terrified of exactly this kind of concentration of militias' power over American people in the hands of an oppressive executive or faction.

Of course, the United States is not vulnerable to the violent, total closing-down of the system that followed Mussolini's march on Rome or Hitler's roundup of political prisoners. Our democratic habits are too resilient, and our military and judiciary too independent, for any kind of scenario like that.

Rather, as other critics are noting, our experiment in democracy could be closed down by a process of erosion.

It is a mistake to think that early in a fascist shift you see the profile of barbed wire against the sky. In the early days, things look normal on the surface; peasants were celebrating harvest festivals in Calabria in 1922; people were shopping and going to the movies in Berlin in 1931. Early on, as WH Auden put it, the horror is always elsewhere - while someone is being tortured, children are skating, ships are sailing: "dogs go on with their doggy life ... How everything turns away/ Quite leisurely from the disaster."

As Americans turn away quite leisurely, keeping tuned to internet shopping and American Idol, the foundations of democracy are being fatally corroded. Something has changed profoundly that weakens us unprecedentedly: our democratic traditions, independent judiciary and free press do their work today in a context in which we are "at war" in a "long war" - a war without end, on a battlefield described as the globe, in a context that gives the president - without US citizens realising it yet - the power over US citizens of freedom or long solitary incarceration, on his say-so alone.

That means a hollowness has been expanding under the foundation of all these still- free-looking institutions - and this foundation can give way under certain kinds of pressure. To prevent such an outcome, we have to think about the "what ifs".

What if, in a year and a half, there is another attack - say, God forbid, a dirty bomb? The executive can declare a state of emergency. History shows that any leader, of any party, will be tempted to maintain emergency powers after the crisis has passed. With the gutting of traditional checks and balances, we are no less endangered by a President Hillary than by a President Giuliani - because any executive will be tempted to enforce his or her will through edict rather than the arduous, uncertain process of democratic negotiation and compromise.

What if the publisher of a major US newspaper were charged with treason or espionage, as a rightwing effort seemed to threaten Keller with last year? What if he or she got 10 years in jail? What would the newspapers look like the next day? Judging from history, they would not cease publishing; but they would suddenly be very polite.

Right now, only a handful of patriots are trying to hold back the tide of tyranny for the rest of us - staff at the Center for Constitutional Rights, who faced death threats for representing the detainees yet persisted all the way to the Supreme Court; activists at the American Civil Liberties Union; and prominent conservatives trying to roll back the corrosive new laws, under the banner of a new group called the American Freedom Agenda. This small, disparate collection of people needs everybody's help, including that of Europeans and others internationally who are willing to put pressure on the administration because they can see what a US unrestrained by real democracy at home can mean for the rest of the world.

We need to look at history and face the "what ifs". For if we keep going down this road, the "end of America" could come for each of us in a different way, at a different moment; each of us might have a different moment when we feel forced to look back and think: that is how it was before - and this is the way it is now.

"The accumulation of all powers, legislative, executive, and judiciary, in the same hands ... is the definition of tyranny," wrote James Madison. We still have the choice to stop going down this road; we can stand our ground and fight for our nation, and take up the banner the founders asked us to carry.

· Naomi Wolf's The End of America: A Letter of Warning to a Young Patriot will be published by Chelsea Green in September.

"They've just re-branded themselves."

This has always galled me. When the advertising trade press announces that a company or a person has re-branded itself.

A new set of colors. A re-designed logo. Switching from dark pants-suits to pastels.

A brand is the soul of a company. Its pith and core. Its essence.

Fixing Adolph's hair, shaving his moustache, and rounding the edges of the swastika does not change the Nazi brand. Any more than Chrysler's new logo changes their fifty-year legacy of building really, really unreliable cars. Or Delta Air Lines running its type on an upward slant will change their on-time performance or their ability to actually deliver your baggage.

Branding is not cosmetic. It is not a coat of paint. It is intrinsic.

Now, a little Shakespeare:

'Tis but thy name that is my enemy;
Thou art thyself, though not a Montague.
What's Montague? it is nor hand, nor foot,
Nor arm, nor face, nor any other part
Belonging to a man. O, be some other name!
What's in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet;

So Romeo would, were he not Romeo call'd,
Retain that dear perfection which he owes
Without that title. Romeo, doff thy name,
And for that name which is no part of thee
Take all myself.

Lies, damn lies and Ticket Master.

I just bought tickets to a New York Times event--a forum moderated by Tim Weiner, the Pulitzer Prize winning author of "Legacy of Ashes," a history of the CIA. The tickets cost $25 each. Then they tacked on a 16% "service charge"--$4/ticket, for the privilege of downloading and printing my own ticket.

Calling a surcharge a service charge is a lie. I got no service. They did nothing for me. Likewise, when the airlines charge $50 if you re-book a ticket. WTF? They did not do $50 worth of work.

Not long ago I suffered through a delayed flight and tried to charge the airlines a "$75 inconvenience fee." Of course I am a vox clamatis in deserto--a voice crying in the wilderness.

A similar surcharge, of course, is surreptitiously foisted upon us by the telcos everyday. My guess is that millions of customers pay billions of dollars a day of false charges all in order to listen to some automatonic voice tell us how to leave or pick up a message.

For me, silent fees like these are not just costly annoyances--they are brand killers. Because the companies imposing them are ripping us off and attempting to conceal their malfeasance through linguistic shenanigans. I suppose the best example of this semantic and financial hocus-pocus hits us every year around a month after April 15th. That's when we get a $400 tax refund check from the government. The same government that through the legislative sleight-of-hand they call the Alternative Minimum Tax (which is neither alternative nor minimum) has decided to tax the vanishing middle-class at a rate higher that the mega-wealthy.

I guess my point is simple: If you're smart and aware, it's hard not to be angry.