Too Much Car?... Not Enough Logic
SUVs Seen as 'Too Much Car' for Teen Drivers
By Elizabeth Williamson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, December 28, 2004; Page A01
(My response to the article follows)
There has been considerable attention paid to the sad phenomena of fatal teenage car crashes. Your most recent article, "A Lethal Combination," suggested several 'contributing factors' to many teens' deaths:
1) "vehicle's excessive speed"
2) "the darkness"
4) "inexperience as a driver"/ young age
5) "not wearing a seat belt"
6) driving an SUV
The article offers no proof besides anecdotal evidence to suggest that taking all the other factors into account, SUV's have been the factor contributing most to the increasing number of crashes. (This raises another question as to whether there really is a significant increasein crashes or whether there has simply been an increase in the amountof media attention paid to them.) Yet, the SUV factor alone is the focus of the article.
There is a saying that "voodoo and a bit of arsenic can kill a man." It is actually an example of a logical fallacy, specifically one of causation. Lacking the data it would take to conduct a proper factor analysis, I would offer that most if not all of the other factors contribute more to the problem than the type of car. Perhaps the increasing percent of crashes involving SUVs is at least partially asimple result of the increasing percent of SUVs on the road.
If this is really about solving a problem as opposed to assigning blame, the we should focus our attention on the factors on which parents and other authorities can have an impact. Underage drinking and unsafe driving practices can be addressed in the home and in driving courses. And even as passengers, our children can be taught to make smarter choices. I doubt risky behavior in teens is something that will ever be solved, but hopefully it can be reduced.
Brainstorming BliXie, III
The BliXie Brand, II
With a distorted image that should still be familiar to many young men, BliXiE dispels the notion that a product will make you a great athlete. Our market is full of lazy, overweight men who could never come close to dunking.
BliXiE also tells them that it is OK, that there are plenty other losers out there as well, and that we have got to stick together.
A Brand Looking For A Product
As my daughter opened her presents, particularly her bathtime Elmo doll, I began to understand the essence of what makes a brand.
For her, Elmo (or simply "Mo" as she says it), is nothing but a red dude with a squeaky voice who makes her happy. The little waterproof doll does nothing. Still, upon ripping open the wrapping paper, the mere sight of Elmo elicited a squeal of delight and big semi-toothy smile.
She is just 14 months old, yet already she knows what to expect from this product: good times.
Even when completely severed from any sense of function, the brand still elicits this conditioned emotional response.
Which made me wonder, does a brand even need a product to have an identity? This requires a little experiment.
First, I needed a brand name. In the fine tradition of Madison Avenue, I created a sort of portmanteau from 'bliss' and 'pixie.' Nice component words, no? Makes you feel all warm and fuzzy? So I put them together and get 'blixie.' Because it is a brand name, I capitalize it, and will also capitalize another letter in the word for no particular reason.
Thus I give you "BliXie" (pronounced BLICKS-ee) Now, because this is a post-modern self-aware brand that has no association with any product, the advertising and PR campaign associated with this brand will have to match. BliXie will have to elicit the sort of smug satisfaction from knowing you are being targeted with false hopes and promises, grokking that the marketer knows that you know, and digging it anyway.
The following is a first stab at a thought for a campaign to build the BliXie brand. The next couple posts will hold other attempts.
The recent batch of artificial words created to brand big companies has got me thinking. “Verizon,” born of GTE and Bell Atlantic, “Cingular” from SBC and BellSouth, and “Accenture,” (with a “>” over the “t” modifying it in inexplicable ways) formerly Anderson Consulting.
These names are completely fookafka, that is, they are made up. Already my trusty word processor has alerted me to their alien nature with squiggly red underlines, as it has beneath fookafka. These names reek of Madison Avenue goodfellas armed with Oxford English Dictionaries on their laptops and focus group findings by the truckload.
The fookafka names seem to get their start from fragments of real words, which are carefully sewn together and given life. They are to Frankenstein’s monster what real words are to the enraged townsfolk.
“The Verizon (vur-EYE-zon) name comes from the Latin term "veritas" which means truth and connotes certainty and reliability, and "horizon" which signifies forward thinking and limitless possibilities. It is a name we believe reflects a new kind of company that is a leader in global voice, data, and Internet communications.”
“Accenture is a coined word that connotes putting an accent or emphasis on the future… The change to the new name expresses not only what we have become as an organization but also what we hope to be. Our aspiration is to transcend the definitions of traditional consulting, bringing innovations that dramatically improve the way the world lives and works.”
“Cingular is a name that shows the importance of the individual customer, as well as the unity of this joint venture," quotes “Cingular” President and CEO Stephen Carter in their press release. "It is about simplifying the wireless industry, offering personal service and standing out among the rest of the industry."
Standing out seems to be something of a problem these days. To that end, I offer the following large corporations my assistance in any present or future re-branding campaigns in which they may engage:
Sallie Mae- The brand name is a little too Beverly Hillbillies. It doesn’t inspire college-educated people to pay back their debts. I suggest something with a little more sex appeal. My informal research among a sample of male lawyers and IT professionals found that two of the most popular new names are Gabrielle and Babette. Sexy, a little exotic, and probably good-in-the-sack. This will be a new brand guys will desperately want to write checks to.
Morgan Stanley Dean Witter- Take a page from Crosby Still Nash And Young; become simply MSDW. (If you think a modern company’s lineage can be confusing, you don't know CSNY). Encourage the firm's board to recover from their drug and alcohol addictions, work on their solo careers, tour with Pearl Jam, and sire children for lesbian couples.
AOL Time Warner, über-purveyor of content worldwide, has already played the initial card early in its corporate life, and AOLTW is just too much of a mouthful. I suggest a hip, modern name with a wink and a nod to the savvy New Economy elitists. Perhaps Wheretedturner-works or Suckonthisgates, although the names might be too long to stick. A more simply name, such as Mindschlock, may break through the static.
Saturday Morning Cartoons
an image taken from this morning's fare
Sure there are cartoons on day and night nowadays. But in my youth there was one small window in which to watch the animated antics and adventures. And by that I mean the quality shows. There were the few afternoon, come-home-from-school cartoons, but they were generally of a lower quality, or re-runs of Saturday shows I had already seen.
The one show I always remember from my youngest TV-watching days was Thundar the Barbarian. He had a cool flaming sword thing and a Wookie-looking sidekick. It was Conan meets Star Wars.
But the Saturday morning cartoon experience is more than just watching the shows. It is coming down in your pajamas and eating breakfast in front of the tube. It is scattering toys around you and occasionally playing with them during the commercials (except the good commercials featuring products you desperately wanted your parents/Santa to get you).
It is pointedly ignoring your parents' requests to clean up, dress, get going, and wondering at the scientific validity of their statement that watching too close to the screen will ruin your eyesight.
(OK, maybe it is one of the contributing factors to childhood obesity and low test scores, but there is a risk in everything, right?)
So we sat and watched and played this morning. Actually, I am more interested in Spongebob than she is, but she likes Patrick Star. She focused more on putting plastic colored shapes in and out of a tub, which frankly seemed like too much effort to me. I missed the end of 'Pizza Delivery' episode because she needed a diaper change and a snack.
Maybe next week I'll let her hang out with her Mom while my cartoons are on.
Graduation Speech, 2001 (archives)
Dean Arterton, Faculty, Honored Guests, Fellow Students…
As far as I can tell, the traditional valedictory speech is supposed to contain one or more of the following elements:
1) A recognition of our shared hardships as we struggled to reach this point, designed to engender a sense of community
2) A pithy saying or bit of wisdom that we are supposed to remember, apply and quote often as we venture out into the real world.
3) A challenge or a charge to take our skills and our passion and use them to serve some greater good. Mom, apple pie, democracy, and so forth.
Well, forget it. I couldn’t really think of any of those things.
The only thing I could think of is a warning. And that warning is that we are all now in serious danger of “going Washington.”
Let me review some of the warning signs that you may be “going Washington”:
Ø If you’ve ever set your VCR to tape Meet The Press. Even worse, if you’ve saved that tape for your library.
Ø If one of the preset stations in your car stereo is C-SPAN radio.
Ø If you know that the Cook Report is not a culinary magazine.
Ø And finally, if you’ve earned a Masters Degree in Political Management
In a few moments, we’ll all be clutching those diplomas that will prove to our friends and relatives here and back home that we have completely lost touch with reality.
“So, a Masters Degree in Political Management. Ohhhhh.” they say. “So, what is it you do exactly?”
And that is a big problem, because for the most part, we are taking jobs that are nearly indescribable to someone who doesn’t live inside the Beltway. By the way, using phrases like “inside the Beltway” is another sign of “going Washington.”
It will come as a complete shock to our parents and grandparents that our Representatives and Senators do not personally respond to constituent mail, but in fact each has a team of people our age doing all the writing.
If you tell your aunts and uncles that you work in grassroots, they’ll probably think you’re a landscaper and ask you what to do about the dandelions in their yard.
And more than once have I told someone that I am a pollster, only to have them think I said upholsterer and ask me how much it costs to refurbish a loveseat or sofa.
I’ve also had to resort to explaining my job by saying, “Well do you remember that episode of the West Wing…?”
That’s another sign of “going Washington”.
Another big problem about “going Washington” is that we are liable to fall for the grand illusion that we are important people. While endless self-promotion seems to be a prerequisite for career advancement in Washington, it can leave each of us with an inflated sense of our own importance that even further erodes our ability to communicate with people from the outside world.
Very few of us will ever actually be the person running for office, and fewer still will actually ever cast that deciding vote on the House floor.
The cliché goes that Washington is Hollywood for ugly people. What we should keep in mind I think is that we’re the ugly people working behind the scenes.
So when someone asks us what we do, the way around both problems is simply to say, “I help democracy work, but just a little bit.”
Then there is the other side of the coin. When we invest so much of our time and energy into a cause, an issue, or a person, we run the risk of not just being disappointed but being completely disillusioned.
We are too talented, too educated, and still far too young to have our skills go to waste because we gambled away our mental health on a long-shot horse that pulled-up lame.
We owe it to our causes, our issues, and our clients, candidates and bosses, not to mention ourselves, to avoid despair.
Finally, I would warn us all against hating the opposition. Whatever our partisanship, hatred not only coarsens our political culture, but from a real strategic standpoint, hatred also makes us underestimate our opposition.
I am a Republican, but I have taken steps to never again underestimate a Democrat. I married one. She is also a graduate of the GSPM. Come to think of it, that may be another warning sign of “going Washington.”
All of these factors: inexplicability, egomania, disillusionment, and hatred undermine our chosen profession.
The fact is that our chosen profession is an odd one. We are willfully entering another dimension here, a professional Twilight Zone.
We won’t have normal jobs. We won’t work normal hours. We won’t lead normal lives.
So why are we doing this again?
I can’t answer that for anyone but myself, because I bet there are as many reasons as there are people working in politics.
But if it is worth anything to any of you, I chose politics because I agree with Aristotle that the end of politics is the human good, and attaining that good for everyone is a pursuit both noble and divine.
We can all be proud of what we do. We are now officially skilled political professionals, and any campaign, organization or office will be fortunate to have us on the team.
And despite being misunderstood and maligned, maybe under-appreciated and almost certainly underpaid, we do help democracy work every day, but just a little bit.
Congratulations and good luck to us all.
The Colors (archives)
This blog is all about self-indulgence. So enjoy, or not.
(Hoo boy, this clip dates back to August 1999, but the original idea is from the early 90s. Nathan (whom the character in the clip below is named after), had a very interesting series of dreams which he described to a few friends. It was an epic fantasy involving multiple dimensions, an ages long game among the gods causing war among several mortal clans who are identified by a stripe of color that looks like a tattoed feather or flame runnning down one side of their face. Each color has several magical powers ascribed to them. Nathan's epic dream began in our world, when the war spills into our dimension, and inadvertantly awakens a cthonic inter-dimensional power who decides to insert himself into the game by creating a new color. He and his friends are chosen as the early players of the game, must struggle to survive while learning about this war/game, then use their new found powers to try and win. Purple are the main clan of enemies, Red are Purple's pawn and have much destructive power, and Yellow was the new clan, whose power turned out to be the ability to adopt and adapt the powers of other colors. The "mutants" mentioned are a separate story line that appeared in Nathan's dream, who allied themselves with Yellow and were eventually made members of the clan. Each color has two "Avatars" who are the leaders of that clan and have the ability to bring a willing person into the clan (at which time the color stripe appears on the person's face). The following is the only scene I ever wrote about this, and is clearly much further into the story. I also know the perfect reference quote with which to begin the novel, should it ever be written...)
It looked like the end of the world. Bright sparks of magic showered the thousands of combatants, providing a constant and multicolor illumination to the battlefield; purple, green, blue, yellow and red.
Red seemed to predominate. The mutants like fire and the destructive capabilities of the Red power, Nathan thought as he surveyed the scene from a location on top of a fractured shell of a building.. Good for now, but they must always remember their allegiance to Yellow. The lines that have separated our people must continually be blurred.
The Avatar continues to watch and scheme. At this point in the battle, there is little hope to organize quickly for any concerted attack. Things have degraded to a loosely organized battle royale, with small skirmishes and even one-on-one duels occurring between the more powerful mages. He can communicate with a few Yellow leaders on the field, using a primitive telepathy which he and fellow Yellow Avatar had only recently discovered.
He locates James instinctively in the tumult, striding almost casually but cutting a huge swath of pure Yellow magic across the plain. They were to take turns between combat and oversight, but James chose battle first and has refused to switch since the beginning. Nathan wished to join the fight, but understood and agreed with James on this. Although equally effective in combat, Nathan had a definite edge on James when it came to war, as James had on Nathan when it came to politics. They knew their roles, and played them without envy or pride.
James with his potent Yellow magic serves several purposes on the battlefield. First, it completely neutralizes any enemy magic in its wake. Even a Purple mage of the first order can not bend reality in the presence of the Yellow Avatar. Second, his pure magic amplifies the magic of any Yellow clansman around him, even when the clansmen work in another color. Thus the Mutant’s fire and brimstone burn almost white hot and extend beyond their normal reach when bathed in the Avatar’s aura.
Finally, he is an Avatar and a symbol of courage to his clansman. The mere sight of him urges them forward and can only discourage the other color-clans, whose Avatars rarely enter any fray except when the outcome is already determined.
The battle goes like this: Yellow is slowly pushing Purple and its allies into a corner, up against the lake and the river, boxing them in. The Mutants, in their frenzy, continued to press and press, slowly sealing off the enemies last routes of escape. Death Ground.
Yes, James. Nathan responded. I see it too. I am going to tell our western flank to ease off and give them an escape. I think this leads to other possibilities as well.
Agreed. I suppose you’ll want Sunshine to break off and prepare for…
Communication broke off. Nathan could see that several purple mages had formed a tight wedge, trying to amplify their power to break James’ aura. The initial blow knocks James back, but he recovers quickly enough and turns to face his aggressors. He looks a little pissed.
Trusting that James has things well in hand, Nathan tries to reposition his forces. All Captains and Yellow adepts, open a path along the river for Purple’s escape. We will set an ambush. Returning his next message to a more select audience, he broadcast… Sunshine clansmen, meet by the old brick smokestacks and prepare a surprise for the fleeing enemy.
Nathan and James had spent months individually selecting and training the members of Sunshine. The elite clansmen- warriors and mages each, each of their powers focused and specialized to combine in ways previously unimaginable. The color magics had worked side-by-side before, but never combined. The colors are a palette, with plenty of space for mixture. This was a thought that only the Yellow clan could have.
The battle turned slowly, as the path along the river opened. Purple was emboldened by band of heroes who challenged the Yellow Avatar, and Nathan could see that a moment to encourage their retreat had passed.
Nathan. Sunshine. Good. The response came from Karl. While the Avatars could communicate fluently, and could broadcast to most Yellow adepts, only a few Yellow clansmen had picked up the ability to reply so far. Karl was one of them. Sunshine was in place. The light that pierces the darkness.
Hold Sunshine. On our next wave, they should break.
Yellow adepts, sound the attack. Focus and squeeze them against the water’s edge. They will break. Nathan broadcast a more subtle thought immediately after, one of bloodlust and victory that did not require words. It could be received by all Yellow clansmen, for it was raw emotion.
The effect was immediate and certain. The Mutants were especially fearsome, running almost blindly toward the purple troops and mages, who dropped their swords and staves and turned to run away. Hitting the river the Purple combatants grew very frightened, Nathan could feel it. Some saw a path of escape to the South and the wave broke. Purple was routed.
If they hadn’t had an escape, Nathan thought, they would have turned and fought like wild animals. We would have been in trouble.
Chase them, brothers. But do not catch them. The trap is set.
Nathan notices a pocket of stationary Purple remained on the original battlefield. James was still locked in battle with the large wedge of Purple mages. Nearly one hundred of them, Nathan estimates. Perhaps if we had switched off like we originally planned, the one of us in that position would have been fresh enough to wipe them all out easily.
Nathan leaps from the roof of the building, almost a mile away from where James fends off the horde. Assuming a purple tone, Nathan angles gravity to let him fall towards his friend. Yellow clansmen cheer and fleeing Purple mages wonder as the Yellow Avatar flies across the night sky in a bolt of yellow magic tinged with purple.
Themistocles of Athens
I'm stuck though. I haven't really gotten into the war yet, because I am hung up on Themistocles. A great man of Greek history, he led the people of Athens through war and peace, making decisions that not only saved Athens from annihiliation, but grew the city-state into a power that rivaled Sparta. After doing this, he was eventually ostracized from Athens, then convicted of treason in absentia. Chased all over the Greek world by Hellenistic Tommy Lee Joneses, Themistocles eventually fled to Persia for amnesty.
Some thanks. Doesn't seem right, does it? It certainly didn't to me, mostly because my early conclusion is that Themsitocles was innocent of the charge of treason.
I'm not sure what I want to "do" about it. Something in me wants to tell his story and in someway "rehabilitate" his image. But to what end? It was 2,500 years ago, for goodness sake! Who cares?
Part of it lies in the fact that his life makes for a very compelling story, more of which I have pieced together by reading Plutarch's short biography of him. The arc of his life seems suited for a Shakespearean drama.
To date, I have written a short (fictionalized) outline of his story. I will append that outline as a comment to this post.
This previous Sunday's sermon was not one of them. Not that it was bad, it simply did not grab me and not let go.
Instead, my mind wandered off in search of its own meaning from the day's readings. For a second week, the Gospel...
And I should take a moment out to indicate that this blog will not be "churchy," it just so happens that the subject matter of this first post involves religion.
For a second week, the Gospel dealt with John the Baptist. In this reading, he send a message to Jesus from jail, asking for confirmation that he is in fact the Messiah. "'Cause gosh if your not, am I really going to look foolish." Jesus uses the opportunity to talk about our expectation of what the Messiah will be and won't be.
Anyway, what got me off on a mental tangent during the sermon was the whole John eating "locusts and wild honey" thing. My first thought was "yuck" as I imagined this year's Cicada invasion, and me walking along the sidewalk popping three or four in my mouth at a time while squirting honey from a Suebee bear in my mouth to wash them down.
Then I thought about Jesus and his culinary experiences. This let me to ponder that while Jesus was a carpenter by trade (being the son of a carpenter), he really had a thing for fine dining. He was more of an event planner/caterer, an early Martha Stewart if you will.
Three events stood out in my mind. First, was the wedding at Canaa. Jesus attends as a guest, as does some of his disciples and Mary his mother. Due to poor planning (or heavy drinking), the wine runs early out at the reception. After a little cajoling, Mary convinces Jesus to perform what was his first recorded miracle and transforms six jugs of water into wine. But this was not Two Buck Chuck he concocted. The sommelier takes a taste and comments to the groom that they should have served this better wine first.
The second event is the miracle of the loaves and fishes. Shortly after John the Baptist's execution, Jesus went off to be alone, but was followed by a bunch of people who wanted to see and hear him. Night approached, and Jesus realized there was no where for these people to go eat dinner. So he instructed his disciples to pass out the meager rations they had with them, five loaves and two fishes, which did not seem like enough to go around. The miracle was that those few items were enough to feed everyone, with enough leftovers to make doggybags.
Finally is the Last Supper. Jesus gets the fellas together one last time to share some parting words of wisdom, and establishes the ritual of the body (bread) and blood (wine) by which his believers remember him. He also uses the opportunity to lay a heavy guilt trip on Judas.
From these three events, I draw three lessons for any good event planner/caterer. In order:
- Only the best will do. If you are going to serve something, serve the finest, or serve nothing at all.
- In an emergency, find ways to "make do" without making it appear you had to cut corners.
- Dinner is not just the meal. It is an event. It is an experience people will take with them.
Good advice any of us can take into the holidays. So the next time you are shopping for a little soiree, ask yourself WWJS. "What would Jesus serve?"