Wednesday, August 23, 2017

I no longer understand.

I am fast coming to the conclusion that I no-longer share a language with many of the people around me. In fact, in many meetings I take a sheet of paper (remember paper?) and start marking down words people use that I don’t know the meaning of. Or, better, words that are so over-used, so vague, so pretentious, that they have no meaning altogether.

In my darkest moments I wonder if many people have lost the understanding what language, written, visual and spoken, is supposed to do in the first place. It seems that many of us are trading in a language that obfuscates rather than communicates.

That’s a roundabout way of saying in about half the meetings I sit in, I don’t understand what’s going on, because I don’t understand the meaning of the language being used.

Let’s take a look at a term so simple and ubiquitous that you probably don’t even notice when it is used: nurture email.

I heard that phrase yesterday and all of a sudden, galloped off thinking about it. Let’s see, I said to myself, email’s been around for 20 years. If I’ve gotten 100 emails a day every day for 20 years, I’ve received 730,000 emails in my life.

It’s safe to assume that some of those emails were nurturing, but, and perhaps this is due to my horrid childhood, I’ve never felt nurtured.

I wonder if the same loose-lipped bullshit that allowed Dick Cheney’s CIA to call torture “enhanced interrogation,” allows us to call junk-mail (itself a euphemism for, simply, junk) nurture emails.

Mind you, I am not picking on email here. What appalls me is our sloppy, meaningless use of language.

I’ve never leaned forward.

I’ve never dwelt in an ecosystem.

I’ve never been on a customer-journey.

I don’t know what agile means, or robust, or hundreds of other terms that are so widely used mean.

If you have any interest at all in good, clear communication, I would ask you to read writing that is good and clear to see the difference. Pick-up something by MFK Fisher, or AJ Liebling, or, Updike, or Roger Angel, or the apotheosis of good writing, Joseph Mitchell.

There is a precision in their work, weight, distinction and meaning. Clarity.

Which is what communication should bring.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Cake walks.

Having watched President Trump last night on television, it's easy, especially if you have no greater sense of history, to think that we live in the darkest of times.

Feeling especially disheartened as to Trump refusing to denounce Nazis, I picked up a few days ago John A. Farrel's biography, "Richard Nixon: A Life."

It's a good book to read if you are the anti-Candide, and you believe these are the worst of all possible times.

When Nixon was in Congress, in the Senate, and in the White House, racism, anti-semitism, and general intolerance toward anyone or any group who were not WASPs, was the norm.

Nixon and his peers hardly even made an effort to conceal their disdain for people different from they.

People, of course, don't remember the cruel and unjust levels of bigotry and hatred in this country. They don't know that virtually every public housing project in the United States was officially segregated, and that it was virtually impossible for a black family, no matter how affluent to get a government-backed mortgage.

People also don't remember the level of violence in this country. In the decade of the 1930s, there were over 300 lynchings in the US (download Billie Holiday's "Strange Fruit" sometime.) And they don't remember that in one 18-month period between 1969 and 1970, 370 terrorist bombs were detonated in the US.

None of this is to apologize for our current feckless state of affairs, or for our Troglodyte in Chief.

Never have we had a such an incompetent in the Oval Office, including Ronald Reagan and Warren Harding. 

But as bad as things are, we will not only endure. We will survive.

As my oldest and wisest friend, Fred, wrote to me not long ago, 
 The world has endured far greater atrocities than Donald Trump.  The world has endured famine, war, holocaust... the list goes on.  And yet you and I showed up on the other side and have lived bountiful, productive lives.  Enduring Trump is one of the world's easier challenges. Maddening, indeed.  But we'll come out on the other side, and we'll realize, that compared to what others have endured -- this was a cake walk."

Monday, August 21, 2017


It couldn't be quieter, perhaps anywhere on earth, than it is right now, on my floor at work.

There isn't another person, or another sound than the clack-clicking of the keyboard of my three-year-old Mac. I looked at my watch as I walked to work this morning and saw it was August 21st. We are 2/3 done with summer. We have one month left--if we make it without a nuclear conflagration with North Korea, some armed insurgency by the radical right, or the sun melting our ice-caps and flooding our cities.

My two cents we got lucky when we elected Donald Trump as our first Fascist president. We could have gotten a fascist who was smart, hard-working, calculating and efficient. Instead, we got a bumbling idiot who even the bumbling idiots who voted for him are realizing is a bumbling idiot.

You thank god for small favors.

Of course, Donald Trump won't be the last bumbling idiot with 20,000 nuclear warheads at his fingertips. There will be other, smarter and better bumbling idiots.

But what can you do? 

You can march and boycott Fox and boycott companies that support Fox and Breitbart and Sinclair. You can speak out and protest. You can even, in the stealth of night, throw stones through the plate-glass windows of the plutocrat class.

But all you can really do is what you can do in your own small way. You can teach your children. You can stay educated. You can speak your mind and vote your conscience.

I had a fantasy this morning that I got into a fist-fight with a Nazi somewhere down in Virginia. I said something fifth-grade to him, like if you're so tough, drop the weaponry and the body-armor and let's have it out mano-a-mano.

I was pretty tough when I was a kid, with the endurance of Stonehenge. But today, I think I would likely get my head kicked in. And I have a sinking feeling that my vaunted old-man-strength from five years or ten years back, has shrunk as my waistline has grown.

Nevertheless, though there's nothing anyone can really do to combat small-minded prejudice and hatred, I will continue to do all I can--even if it's only donating to the ACLU and dreaming of throwing red paint over the sign at Lincoln Center that says "David H. Koch Theatre."

We all do what we can.

Friday, August 18, 2017

5 minutes with our CNO.

AD AGED:  Good morning. You're a CNO. Could you elaborate...that's a title I've never heard of.

CNO: Of course, mine is a new role in most agencies. But an important role nonetheless.

AD AGED: Would you tell me what CNO stands for?

CNO: Yes. I am a Chief Nod Officer.

AD AGED: Interesting. And what is it that you do?

CNO: Well, that is fairly tautological. I nod. No one nods like I do.

AD AGED: Please elucidate.

CNO: Say an employee needs a raise or has a problem with a supervisor. Naturally, they're sent to me.

AD AGED: And what do you do?

CNO: I nod. 

AD AGED: And then?

CNO: And then, nothing. 

AD AGED: So, you give the illusion of caring, the hint of action, and an inkling that you're paying attention.

CNO: [Nods]

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Three things we can do.

The first thing we should all do is stop watching Fox. I don't care if it means missing the concussion-festival we call football. Or the baseball playoffs and, in the parlance of Ring Lardner's rook, the World Serious.

This is serious.

Fox, Murdoch and his affiliates in print, radio and TV, is rife with racist hate-mongers.

How far is it from lending credence to the canard that Obama was a Kenyan-born Muslim, to the hate-filled-events that are shaking our country, most recently in Charlottesville, Va. (Actually, most recently in Boston, where a Holocaust memorial was vandalized last night.)

Do we really want to watch a station populated by hate-spewers like Sean Hannity, who has contrived the phrase "alt-left," to create a false-equivalence between the KKK and the Nazis and god-knows who else, and those protesting them?

The second thing we can do is to encourage our clients to pull their advertising from such places.

Advertising--and I don't care about its reach and efficiency--is putting money into hate's pockets and legitimizing it.

These are not normal times, and by advertising and viewing channels steeped in racism and hate, we are endorsing hate.

The same will go for the stations of the nascent Sinclair network which will be further poisoning our airways when their manipulation of the FCC allows their brand of hate to penetrate the troposphere.

170 years ago, Henry David Thoreau went to jail rather than pay taxes that would support what he saw as an evil war, the Mexican-American.

We can no longer NOT pay tax--taxes are taken from us up-front, but we can max out the number of withholdings we claim--up to nine.

Yes, this is inconvenient. And will probably mean writing a big check in April. But in the meanwhile, the monies going to our Racist government will decrease.

None of these things are major. 

I wish we had stronger ways to show our contempt for this illegitimate state-supported hate, but we really don't. We can march, we can yell, we can write stupid blogs.

My two cents says the best thing we can do is withhold our eyeballs and our dollars.

They understand dollars.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Amusing ourselves to death.

What's happening in our country now is not normal.

I mean, in two words, Donald Trump.

Donald Trump peeling the lid back on the festering hate of conspiracy-theorists, race-baiters, racists, anti-semites, and a whole host of other troglodytes.

What's happening in our country now is not normal.

But we treat it as it is.

We go about our way. The news covers its usual trivia. We conduct business as usual.

And no one speaks up.

Oh, I know there are marches.

And people post things on Facebook.

But I can't help thinking we're fighting this horror wrong. That every time we listen to some "entertainment" story on the news--instead of the truth about what is happening and why, well, an ounce of integrity drains from our system.

I applaud Kenneth Frazier, CEO of Merck. But where are the other CEOs?

And what are we doing besides being grumpy and despondent and shaking our heads.

Neil Postman wrote this in his great book "Amusing Ourselves to Death."

What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one.

Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism.

Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance.

Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture, preoccupied with some equivalent of the feelies, the orgy porgy, and the centrifugal bumblepuppy.

As Huxley remarked in Brave New World Revisited, the civil libertarians and rationalists who are ever on the alert to oppose tyranny "failed to take into account man's almost infinite appetite for distractions."

In 1984, Huxley added, people are controlled by inflicting pain. In Brave New World, they are controlled by inflicting pleasure.

In short, Orwell feared that what we hate will ruin us. Huxley feared that what we love will ruin us.