Category Archives: In Our Time

Sorry, governor: It wasn’t me; it was Facebook

One of the things I hate about Facebook is the way it will randomly grab an image from my blog to go with a post that has no image.

People think I spend a lot of time on Facebook every day. I don’t. When I post something on my blog, the headline and link automatically post to Twitter. All of those Tweets — plus all of the Tweets I compose directly in Twitter itself — automatically post to Facebook. It’s not me; it’s the algorithms.photo (14)

If there was a picture in the post, that also shows up in the Facebook post (which up to a point is cool — I wish Twitter would do that, too).

But when there isn’t a picture in the post, Facebook goes and finds one. As often as not, it grabs one of the scores of header images that are generated randomly from my image library to display at the top of each page on the blog.

This makes for some picture appearing with posts that are wildly unconnected to the subject matter. Which is frustrating.

I particularly hate what it did last night — pairing the header image below, from Nikki Haley’s campaign appearance with Sarah Palin in 2010, with the headline “These are some bad guys. Some really, truly bad guys,” and the link to my post about ISIL.

Please allow me to apologize to Gov. Haley (and to ex-Gov. Palin, although you couldn’t really see her). I know I’ve been critical at times in the past, but I did NOT mean to say that about you.

And I wish to set the record straight with everyone else. I was not saying that about our governor.

The only good news in all this is that to the best of my knowledge, you could only see the governor in the phone version of Facebook (the iPhone app version, anyway). The iPad version and the browser version randomly cropped the image so that you couldn’t see anything but some of the granite steps. Which looks stupid, but at least doesn’t seem to say something I don’t mean to say.

Facebook can be such a pain…

cropped-HaleyPalinheader

The Golden Age of Television Overload

Good riddance to you both! Now can I have my life back for awhile? And could somebody turn up the lights?

Good riddance to you both! Now can I have my life back for awhile? And could somebody turn up the lights?

Pope Francis recently disclosed that he hasn’t watched television since 1990. Which means he’s like way behind on “Game of Thrones.” Among other things.

I’m beginning to think His Holiness is onto something. I’m feeling… a bit out of control with my own binge-watching lately. Wouldn’t I be a better person — more productive, more attuned to the needs of those around me — if I stopped watching Netflix, HBO NOW, the downstairs TV, the upstairs TV, the Roku, the Apple TV, the iPad and on very rare occasions, actual broadcast television?

The Pope has enough on his plate keeping up with matters relating to this world and the next, much less Westeros and all those other fictional universes out there.

Today, the front of the Arena section of The Wall Street Journal raises the question, “How Many TV Series Can Your Brain Take?” An excerpt:

“Game of Thrones,” which will leave multiple story lines dangling for a year with Sunday’s season finale, is notorious for befuddling even ardent fans with its many clans, lands and simmering subplots. But it’s just one of many shows taxing the memories of audiences who have been flooded with complex story lines and crowded character ensembles.

“Orange Is the New Black,” which returns Friday for a third season on Netflix, uses more than 20 characters to populate a fictional women’s prison with inmates and staff. On “Orphan Black,” finishing its third season on BBC America this month, lead actress Tatiana Maslany plays six different characters, all clones, in a sci-fi conspiracy story. New viewers have to absorb dense mythologies if they hope to jump aboard returning shows such as CBS’s summer series “Under the Dome,” which, in its coming third season, might finally explain why a bubble is encasing the town of Chester’s Mill.

The deluge of compelling shows means fans have to be good at time management to keep up with the best offerings. But they also are grappling with the limits of memory. How many shows (and knotty plots and twisting character arcs within) can we keep track of at once? In a binge-watching world, where we aren’t limited to weekly installments of network TV shows, is there a limit to the number of narratives we can keep straight?

Actually, I don’t think that frames the question correctly. Binge-watching doesn’t cause the problem of having trouble keeping up. What I find is that failing to binge-watch makes it harder to know what’s going on.

Dramatic series are written for binge-watchers, not for people who watch an episode, walk away and lead real lives, then come back in a week or more to try to pick up the thread again. That is part of what makes the new breed of shows so absorbing — they pull you into a complicated world, and if you can’t stay there until the season (at least) is over, you’re likely to be disoriented when you return.

For instance — when the third season of “House of Cards” came out several months back, I did what I had with the first two seasons. I started watching to see what everybody was talking about, then got fed up with it and quit, and then, when curiosity built up enough, came back and pushed through the rest of it.

SPOILER ALERT! Consequently, when I saw the season finale the other night, I was somewhat at a loss: Why was Claire leaving Frank? Yeah, they had been slightly weirder together the last few episodes — which means five percent more than their usual standard, which is creepy as all get-out. But what precipitated this blow-up? Surely nothing that had happened recently had showed her anything she didn’t know about her husband. Not to mention that she’s no bargain herself on the decent-person scale.

If I’d watched it all straight through, I think I might have a good feel for it. But as things stand, I don’t.

Not that it matters, right?

Last year, David Carr wrote in The New York Times about the problem of “Barely Keeping Up in TV’s New Golden Age.” I could really identify:

The vast wasteland of television has been replaced by an excess of excellence that is fundamentally altering my media diet and threatening to consume my waking life in the process. I am not alone. Even as alternatives proliferate and people cut the cord, they are continuing to spend ever more time in front of the TV without a trace of embarrassment.

I was never one of those snobby people who would claim to not own a television when the subject came up, but I was generally more a reader than a watcher. That was before the explosion in quality television tipped me over into a viewing frenzy….

And what a feast. Right now, I am on the second episode of Season 2 of “House of Cards” (Netflix), have caught up on “Girls” (HBO) and am reveling in every episode of “Justified” (FX). I may be a little behind on “The Walking Dead” (AMC) and “Nashville” (ABC) and have just started “The Americans” (FX), but I am pretty much in step with comedies like “Modern Family” (ABC) and “Archer” (FX) and like everyone one else I know, dying to see how “True Detective” (HBO) ends. Oh, and the fourth season of “Game of Thrones” (HBO) starts next month.

Whew. Never mind being able to hold all these serials simultaneously in my head, how can there possibly be room for anything else? So far, the biggest losers in this fight for mind share are not my employer or loved ones, but other forms of media….

I think back to a time before all this. Say, the ’80s. In that whole decade, I can remember watching only one dramatic series on television that in any way compares to the shows I’m juggling now: “Hill Street Blues.” There was that, and maybe “Cheers” — both on the same network on the same night. I was very, very busy with a demanding job in the daytime and a family full of young children at night, and entertainment wasn’t high on my list — which made the lack of high-quality options a good match for my lifestyle. And “Hill Street” was written for people who only visited that world weekly. There were continuing story lines, but everything was episodic. One episode held you for a week.

Lately, I’m juggling, off and on:

  • Blue Bloods” — My only current show written in that old fashioned episodic form, and the only one coming from commercial broadcast television. But I’m watching it the new way. I had never seen it before a couple of months ago, when I started the first season on Netflix. It’s the perfect length for a workout on the elliptical. I’m not quite as obsessed with it as I was with “The West Wing” last year, but I do like it.
  • Foyle’s War” — Watching this on two temporal streams. We just finished the current season of new ones on PBS last night. Meanwhile, we’re almost done with the previous seasons on Netflix.
  • Game of Thrones” — ALMOST caught up. I’ve got one more episode to watch (last week’s) before this Sunday’s season finale. And I’ll be glad to be done with it for awhile. I wanted to be up on the cultural phenomenon, and now I almost am. I don’t find it very satisfying.
  • The Wire” — The best of the lot right now. I’m trying not to spend it all at once. I’m past the halfway mark in the second season.
  • Orange is the New Black” — We were really into this, but my wife and I sort of lost interest during the second season, and didn’t get more than a few episodes into it. With the new season out today, will we get back into it? I don’t know.
  • Daredevil” — Probably the best adaptation of a Marvel franchise ever to appear on television. I’ve only got one episode left in the Netflix season, still waiting to see him in the red superhero costume. The series is taking the origins thing at a stately pace.
  • True Detective” — Got started on this and got sidetracked. Want to finish the season before the new one comes out.
  • Mad Men” — Lost interest a couple of seasons back. There’s just so much moral vacancy one can take. But my wife and daughter say the last season was as good as the early ones, so I’m going to take it back up soon.
  • The Walking Dead” — Haven’t watched it in months, but I do want to get back to it and catch up. I just want to know one thing before I do: Daryl doesn’t die, does he?
  • Justified” — It’s as good as some of my friends here say, but since the only way I can see it is on DVDs from Netflix, I only get back to it periodically. I’m only up to the second or third episode in the second season.
  • Better Call Saul” — Since we don’t get AMC (the only station I miss from cutting back on cable), I bought the season on iTunes when it first came out. So since I paid for it, I really must get back to it and watch the rest of the season at some point. It’s good, but it’s not as compelling as “Breaking Bad.” I’ve just got this investment in it.

It’s over now, but for a few weeks there, we were really into “Wolf Hall” — which we’d watch on Apple TV the night after each episode’s release, because I didn’t want to stay up past 11 on Sunday night. (One good thing about this — it forced me to go ahead and finish reading Bring Up the Bodies in order to stay ahead of the show — which I shoved aside The Guns of August in order to push through.)

Meanwhile, it seems that Netflix releases a new series daily, and some of them are bound to be good. It’s just ridiculous.

Meanwhile, I’ve been trying to read The Guns of August, a really compelling history book, for months. But if I read a chapter in a sitting, it’s unusual. And it was interrupted first by the trip to Thailand, and then by Bring Up the Bodies. Mostly, it’s a couple of pages over dinner. And talk about losing track of characters and story lines — of course, books are supposed to be that absorbing and complex. TV never was before.

Yeah, it’s true, and it’s appalling: I’ve only finished on new book so far this year.

The Pope has the right idea. I just need to summon the self-discipline…

"Daredevil:" Matt Murdock still hasn't fully donned his superhero persona.

“Daredevil:” Matt Murdock still hasn’t fully donned his superhero persona.

Verizon-AOL deal: “You’ve got a white elephant!”


That was actually my second reaction when I heard Verizon had bought AOL for $4.4 billion. My first was that I didn’t know Verizon was into collecting retro kitsch.

What on Earth does Verizon want with AOL? Here’s what they’re saying:

The company has developed valuable technology for serving mobile video and advertising, and Verizon is billing the deal as a way for it to expand its video offerings. Already a leader in distributing mobile video through its robust national mobile phone network, Verizon is making a push to become a leader in so-called over-the-top video, shorthand for television content distributed through the Internet.

But in acquiring AOL, Verizon is buying much more than websites that host streaming content. Along with its video and online advertising technology, AOL owns The Huffington Post, a sprawling collection of international news websites with growing traffic.

It also manages a dwindling but profitable dial-up Internet business, providing online access for those who live in areas too remote to have broadband, or who never canceled their subscriptions…

Yeah, well, the WSJ is not impressed, saying the “deal suggests a crumbling empire more than it shows the power of the network:”

Neither Verizon nor AT&T is going away. But their place in the world seems ever more insecure. What is their purpose in this converged world? AT&T has taken a path into the past, agreeing to buy satellite-TV operator DirecTV for nearly $50 billion. Verizon is spending $4.4 billion on AOL, a loose confederation of advertising-technology businesses, random “content” plays, and a beguiling, money-leaking adventure called the Huffington Post.

This puts Verizon in a number of intriguing, if conflicted, new positions. It will have to be neutral arbiter in these advertising businesses, but also have to nurture and develop its offerings of online video and content. Does a phone company have the mettle and creativity to do this well? Does the prospect of a TechCrunch video show—brought to you by Verizon—captivate or horrify the average millennial?

The answer is that no one has the answers. It is a war of all against all. Platforms against platforms. Content against content….

Like “Game of Thrones.” And that analysis makes Verizon sound kind of like the Starks at the end of Season 3 (which is where I am).

Does this make sense to anybody? I mean, don’t go by me — I’m the guy who thinks Facebook is the AOL of this century. Think about it — It’s another messy, way-too-busy interface that tries to be your one and only portal to the Web. I find it hugely irritating, and more of an obstacle than a useful tool. But it’s still going strong, so, as I say, don’t go by me…

If you live in Columbia, buying the new Toyota hydrogen car could actually make sense

Something jumped out at me in this story in The Washington Post about Toyota’s new hydrogen-powered car, the Mirai (the name comes from the Japanese word for “future.”)

Along with all the gee-whiz stuff, such as the 300-mile range and the fact that it takes only five minutes to refuel (versus all night for other electrics), there were some caveats — and that’s where I found the good news for South Carolinians who’d be willing to pony up the 50 Gs for one of these things:

The Mirai’s sole fuel source is hydrogen, which you can get in only a dozen fueling stations across the country: 10 in California, one in Connecticut and one in South Carolina. More are in development, but there’s still no way this will be a road-trip car anytime soon.

And, last time I looked, that one was in Columbia.

No, wait… there were two in South Carolina, weren’t there? One was around Aiken, I believe. So maybe one closed. I hope that wasn’t the one in Columbia…

The long-awaited collapse of the ‘bundle’

Sopranos

This is me in the past, wondering why I couldn’t just pay for the channels, or specific shows, that I actually wanted to see.

Back when I was editorial page editor, Bud Tibshrany used to ask me out to lunch about once a year. That’s because he was doing PR for Time Warner Cable, and his job required that he check in with me periodically, and going to lunch with him was less of an interruption to operations that a full editorial board meeting. I had to eat anyway.

Each year, he’d ask me if I had any questions about Time-Warner or the industry. And I always had just one question: When will I be able to buy channels a la carte instead of having to pay for scores of channels I didn’t want just to get AMC? It was really all I wanted to know.

I knew I was being a pain, but he asked.

The answer was always the same: Not in the foreseeable future. The cable providers’ hands were tied by the contractual demands of the content providers, and so forth. Which was true.

True then, that is. Times are a-changin’:

Web streaming is upending the neat arrangement long enjoyed between TV channels and cable providers such as Verizon and Comcast. Verizon pays ESPN and other channels a certain amount to carry their programming, a cost that gets factored into customers’ monthly bills. But with consumers complaining about paying for too many channels and switching to online streaming alternatives such as Netflix, cable firms are feeling the pressure to cut costs — and even drop channels, especially those with plummeting ratings.

The swift decline in cable has been particularly harmful for Viacom, which typically presses cable distributors to run all of its channels — including MTV, VH1, Comedy Central and Nickelodeon — or none of them. The company announced this week that it will cancel some shows and lay off staff as part of a broad restructuring plan….

Talk about creative destruction.

Just last night, in response to an invitation via my Apple TV, I signed up for a free one-month trial of HBO NOW, which markets itself with the pithy tagline, “Now, all you need is the Internet.”

Well, that and $14.99 a month, which I probably will not spring for when the free month is up.

But in the meantime, it’s pretty awesome. We watched “Jersey Boys” last night, and enjoyed it. I see that I can catch up completely on “Game of Thrones” if I care to binge, starting with the first season. Or watch “The Sopranos” again all the way through, or any other series that has ever been on HBO. And I can send back that DVD from Netflix with the first episodes of “True Detective” on it. The whole series lies before me now.

Anyway, whatever I do going forward, I appreciate this brave new world…

Is anyone watching television anymore?

The New York Post reports that televisions ratings “see double digit declines for fifth straight month“.

Commercial ratings — the viewing “currency” that determines what advertisers pay for TV time — cratered across broadcast and cable networks, marking the fifth straight month of double-digit declines for the industry.

“It’s clear the downward spiral in TV ratings continues with no end in sight,” media analyst Michael Nathanson wrote in a research note on Friday.

Overall prime-time broadcast network ratings were off 12 percent last month compared to a year ago, while cable networks dropped 11 percent, according to his report.

Other than live sports, I really don’t watch television anymore. I have a few shows that the wife and I watch together after the children are all settled, but we don’t watch them live. 99% of the time the program is usually something streaming from either Netflix or Amazon. For movies, it’s the same thing. In fact, if it wasn’t for sports, I’d probably wouldn’t have a subscription to regular television.

Also, ever since the new year, I’ve been trying to cut down on the television watching. For me, watching television is like eating junk food – it’s fun while you’re doing it, but you feel guilty afterwards. Most of the time, I feel like I’ve wasted my time just watching tv. I mean, honestly, almost anything you do is more worthy that sitting in front of the Idiot Tube and being hypnotized by the beams of light coming out of it. I kind of think the television has something to do with the shape of this country. Watching (most) television makes you dumb, disconnected, and lazy.

It also makes it easy to just waste your entire night, and by extension all your nights. Television makes it so easy to simply do nothing. And we shouldn’t do nothing. We only have a little time on this earth, and watching television isn’t the way to spend it.

Some of the best nights I have are reading books, playing with my children and actually talking to people. Unless we’re talking about having the television on in the background when you’re doing mindless work with no one around, watching television is always an inferior choice to doing anything.

Accordingly, I’m glad that cable television is going down the tubes. Unfortunately, it’s probably due to all the other ways that we now have to distract ourselves.

All y’all already know this, but I’m encouraging everyone to try and make better choices with how we spend our time. Television is never usually the right choice.

Petition to have GOP Senators jailed now has over 241,000 signatures

As of now, over 241,000 people have signed a petition on the White House website to have 47 GOP Senators put in jail. Here’s the entire petition.

On March 9th, 2015, forty-seven United States Senators committed a treasonous offense when they decided to violate the Logan Act, a 1799 law which forbids unauthorized citizens from negotiating with foreign governments. Violation of the Logan Act is a felony, punishable under federal law with imprisonment of up to three years.

At a time when the United States government is attempting to reach a potential nuclear agreement with the Iranian government, 47 Senators saw fit to instead issue a condescending letter to the Iranian government stating that any agreement brokered by our President would not be upheld once the president leaves office.

This is a clear violation of federal law. In attempting to undermine our own nation, these 47 senators have committed treason.

So, it’s come to this. I’m so old, I remember when it was absolutely shocking and beyond the pale to say that President didn’t love his country. Now, we’re cool with saying that 47 Senators have committed treason?

Gotcha. Interesting times we live in.

These crazy kids today: They prefer to read dead trees

I spoke to the newsroom staff of The Daily Gamecock on Friday, and learned a surprising thing: While older folks (alumni and parents) tend to read the online version, most actual students don’t. They prefer to read it on paper.

In a couple of ways that makes sense — the students can pick up the paper for free as they go into and come out of classes, so it’s just convenient to pick one up and peruse it. Meanwhile, alumni and parents don’t have such easy access to the print version.

But it still surprised me. I mean, I have easy access to The State and The Wall Street Journal, as I get both at home. But I almost never read them on paper. I prefer the iPad apps. It’s just easier to flip through the paper on a tablet while sitting at the breakfast table than to unfold the paper, turn the pages, try to fold it back into a convenient size and shape for continued reading, and so forth. And it always seems like the section you want has walked away somewhere. That doesn’t happen with a tablet.

And I never see the print version of The Washington Post, to which I also subscribe, at all.

So what’s with these wacky kids today?

I learned of this seeming anomaly from Sarah Scarborough, the advertising manager for Student Media. She told me about it before I met the news staff. Then it came up again while I was talking with the students, as they asked whether I had any ideas for making the online version more appealing to their fellow students.

But this is not just a USC phenomenon. One of the things I read on my Washington Post app this morning was this:

Why digital natives prefer reading in print. Yes, you read that right.

February 22 at 7:27 PM

Frank Schembari loves books — printed books. He loves how they smell. He loves scribbling in the margins, underlining interesting sentences, folding a page corner to mark his place.

Schembari is not a retiree who sips tea at Politics and Prose or some other bookstore. He is 20, a junior at American University, and paging through a thick history of Israel between classes, he is evidence of a peculiar irony of the Internet age: Digital natives prefer reading in print.

“I like the feeling of it,” Schembari said, reading under natural light in a campus atrium, his smartphone next to him. “I like holding it. It’s not going off. It’s not making sounds.”

Textbook makers, bookstore owners and college student surveys all say millennials still strongly prefer print for pleasure and learning, a bias that surprises reading experts given the same group’s proclivity to consume most other content digitally. A University of Washington pilot study of digital textbooks found that a quarter of students still bought print versions of e-textbooks that they were given for free.

“These are people who aren’t supposed to remember what it’s like to even smell books,” said Naomi S. Baron, an American University linguist who studies digital communication. “It’s quite astounding.”…

Anyone else find this surprising?

You’re worried about spoiling your skin with a ZIT? Really?

Zit

Last time I went to the mall, I ran across these pictures.

This time, what caught my eye was this instance of extreme irony.

Take a look at this guy, and look at what he’s advertising.

So let’s see — “every single day,” he uses this expensive product so that he doesn’t get acne. You know, zits — those things that are here today, gone tomorrow, and that in any case, you usually (but not always) outgrow around the time you become an adult and have other things to worry about.

And yet, he has deliberately and permanently defaced most of the visible skin on his body. I mean, if he had zits on his arms, who could even tell?

My daughter, who was with me in the mall, saw my sense of irony on this as being just another clueless old guy thing. She also told me who this model is. He’s someone famous, apparently. (And get this: He’s married to a Victoria’s Secret model, an unexpected tie to that previous post about posters in the mall. So I guess Proactive Plus really works.)

Look, even if I didn’t find all tattoos uniformly unappealing, I still wouldn’t get one. You know why? Mainly because they’re permanent. Because every day of my life, there’s something else I want to say. What I choose to say on Tuesday is not as pertinent, to me, as what I want to say on Wednesday. If I were to walk around with a sign hanging around my neck, I would keep changing, refreshing, refining and/or elaborating upon the message. With a computer screen, you start every day with a fresh canvas for self-expression. Or you can take yesterday’s and improve upon it. You only have one body. Cover it with tattoos, and you’re out of medium. Worse, you’ve got a bunch of stuff on you that you now regard as stupid, embarrassing, not quite the thing — something you’d like to at least edit, but you can’t.

You want to say something? Start a blog. Your medium is unlimited, and you can correct yourself, or even go back and delete stuff you’ve thought better of.

It is of course fitting that only (mostly) young people go in for this sort of thing. They haven’t learned that as they mature (assuming that they do), their notions of Ultimate Statements that they wish to make will evolve. (Personal disclosure: Most of my kids have tattoos. But they are all discreet, tasteful ones.)

There are only two scenarios in which I can remotely imagine having a tattoo — if I were a marine, or a sailor, and I was really drunk and bored one night (not a far-fetched prospect for that demographic) when I stumbled upon a tattoo parlor. If I were a marine, I’d get the letters “U.S.M.C.” on one deltoid, like the title character’s “S.P.Q.R” in “Gladiator” (and remember, the day came in which Maximus no longer wanted to make that statement). And if I were a sailor, a simple anchor. Because if you’re a marine or a sailor, that’s always a part of who you are.

Since neither of those scenarios is ever likely to occur at this point in my life, it’s a pretty safe bet that I’ll never get a tattoo…

Our new, entirely commercial, liturgical calendar, purged of all religion

A still from very shaky, low-res video I shot inside Macy's flagship store on 34th Street in New York on Black Friday, 2007.

A still from very shaky, low-res video I shot inside Macy’s flagship store on 34th Street in New York on Black Friday, 2007.

Once upon a time, we kept track of our days this way throughout what was termed Christendom:

  • Michaelmas — Sept. 29 — Not only a day to celebrate the archangels, and especially Michael, who defeated Lucifer in the original War on Terror. It was also the ending and beginning of the husbandman’s year, when the harvest was over and the bailiff of the manor would make out his accounts for the year. Big day, back when most of us were engaged with agriculture in one way or another.
  • All Saint’s Day — November 1 — Also known as All Hallows, making the night before… well, you get it, right?
  • First Sunday in Advent — fourth Sunday before Christmas, which this year was yesterday — The beginning, NOT of the Christmas season, but of the time of contemplative anticipation looking forward to the arrival of Jesus Christ into the world. Christmas begins, not ends, on Dec. 25, which if you go way back, was once Saturnalia. This occurred this past Sunday.
  • Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception — December 8 — No, this is not about the Virgin Birth, which is a whole separate concept. This was defined by Pope Pius IX in 1854, and he was infallible in setting out this dogma, because he spoke ex cathedra, and… well, it’s complicated. Elaborating might make Protestants’ heads hurt…
  • Feast Day of Our Lady of Guadalupe — December 12 — This celebrates the appearance of the Virgin Mary to an American Indian named Juan Diego (who has his own feast day three days earlier). She spoke Nahuatl to him. Among us Catholics, she is the Patroness of the Americas.

Anyway, you get the idea. There wasn’t a day in the calendar that didn’t have its own, holy designation — if you belonged to a liturgical church. Although some feast days were more equal than others.

But as Bob Dylan would say, it used to go like that; now it goes like this:

  • The Day after Halloween — When you can start to see the Christmas displays in the stores.
  • Black Friday Eve — A day once given over to thanks to God is now increasingly the day when those who can’t wait a day to shop traipse to the stores.
  • Black Friday — Not to be confused with the one in 1688, when the Anglican bishops were imprisoned, or the one in 1929 when the market crashed, or any of a couple of dozen other dark days in history. No, this is a recurring day, the observance of which has crept up on us over the last few decades. It’s allegedly the biggest shopping day of the year, and the “black” has a couple of meanings — it’s a day without which merchants’ books might never get into the black, and it’s also a hellish day to go shopping.
  • Small Business Saturday — Just in case you only went to the chain stores on Friday.
  • Cyber Monday — The reason this falls on a Monday is that people like to do all their online stuff while they’re at work, something I discovered back when I started blogging and tracked my traffic by the day and hour. Anyway, this is the day when people buy the gifts that they looked at while showrooming on Friday.
  • Giving Tuesday — This is the only day in this new calendar that bears any relationship to the traditional reason for the season. I’ve gotten solicitations from several local nonprofits, wanting me to give today. This is the first time I remember being aware of this one.
  • The Day After Christmas — Once known as Boxing Day in some cultures, it’s now the second-biggest shopping orgy of the year, supposedly.

You’ll note that, with the exception of Giving Tuesday, this new liturgical calendar is about nothing holy or transcendent, but all about the gimme-gimme, pure commerce. For that matter, Giving Tuesday is about trying to adapt altruism to this new, entirely secular calendar of recognized (and much advertised) observances.

This formalization of the shopping calendar has pretty much taken place entirely within my lifetime.

What’s WRONG with these poor young women?

poster1

I mentioned earlier about going to the mall today.

While there, I puzzled over this poster in the Victoria’s Secret window: What’s wrong with this young woman? Is she ill? She looks peaked. Does her stomach hurt? Is she wasting away? Is this supposed to be a come-hither look? It seems rather off-putting instead. Has she been bitten by a “walker“? I want to offer her a blanket, and then step away in case it’s catching. It’s not exactly heroin chic, but it’s off in that direction. Are they trying to sell that bra? If so, this is no way to do it. It seems to be a burden to her, causing her shoulders to slump in defeat.

Poor thing…

But wow, she’s not nearly as strange as the one below, from a window a few yards away. What’s her thing? More like Devo chic, or wind-up doll chic?

Are these images supposed to be appealing? If so, to whom? Men? Women? Robots?

The popular aesthetic has taken a strange turn. Again.

poster2

Some things I will NOT look at on the Web

This news

Jennifer_LawrencecroppedGoogle has removed two links to a site hosting stolen nude photos of Jennifer Lawrence after requests by the actor’s lawyers.

The takedown requests were filed under the digital millennium copyright act (DMCA), with her lawyers Mitchell Silberberg & Knupp stating that the stolen photos impinged on Lawrence’s copyright….

… reminds me of this new category of Web content that I have gradually become aware of recently.

The Internet grants us access to almost anything that can be digitized. This is both a wonderful blessing and a terrible affliction. Once, I just had to avoid the dictionary to stay on task — if I looked up one word, I’d get sidetracked by fascination, as I’d inadvertently run into one interesting word that led to another that led to another.

Now, I never wonder about anything. No matter what I’m going at the time, if the thought begins to form, “I wonder…,” I stop and look it up — which in turn is likely to lead to link after link, because scratching that itch releases something in my brain, something related to what makes addicts act the way they do… hang on… dopamine. Dang, I could have sworn it was “endorphins,” but it turns out it’s dopamine. “Endorphins” would have given me an excuse to link to that clip in which Annette Bening says, in such a sexy way, that she digs “the endolphin rush.” Which, it turns out, is not that easy to find…

See what I mean?

But there are some things I won’t look at on the Web. There’s been a rash of them lately. They include:

  • The aforementioned nude photos of Jennifer Lawrence. I still agree with Ricky Gervais when he said celebrities should make it harder for hackers to get nude pics of them from their computers by not putting nude photos of themselves on their computers. But I have a responsibility in this, too, which is not to look when celebs fail to exercise that most basic form of good judgment.
  • The ISIL videos of the beheadings of Western journalists. I hear that they’re out there if you look, but I’m just not going to cooperate with the terrorists to the point of looking. I don’t need to get whipped up by viewing these atrocities; I’m fully committed to the “degrade and destroy ISIL” agenda without it.
  • The video of that football player beating up his girlfriend. Everybody has something that turns his stomach, and one that that does that to me is the very thought of a man hitting a woman. I have a very deeply conditioned response of revulsion at such a thing. I don’t ever want to see it. Just knowing it’s out there is bad enough.

What do you pointedly avoid online?

 

It’s so obvious that Ricky Gervais was right that it seems absurd to have to say so…

I mentioned this in a comment on a previous thread; I’ll give it its own post…

I see that Ricky Gervais has been castigated for Tweeting the following:

Screen-Shot-2014-09-01-at-3.12.17-PM

Now there‘s an assertion that should hold a permanent and honored place in the annals of “duh.” How could anyone question it, much less object?

And yet he’s being pilloried for… wait for it… “blaming the victim.” Which is possibly the most preposterous thing I’ve heard today…

Other causes envy the viral success of the ice-bucket challenge

Top staff at the Sisters of Charity Foundation, accepting the challenge last week.

Top staff at the Sisters of Charity Foundation, accepting the challenge last week.

On a previous thread, Silence expressed how tired he was of “everyone’s stupid ice bucket challenge videos.”

He’s not alone in that. Even this laudatory article (“The Perfect Viral Storm“) on an advertising industry site notes the meme’s “somewhat annoying ubiquity.”

That aside, there’s no denying that this is the best thing to happen in the fight against Lou Gehrig’s disease since, well, Lou Gehrig. (Even if, as Silence also pointed out, Gehrig may not have had ALS.)

Samuel Tenenbaum, head of Palmetto Health Foundation, made that very observation to me yesterday in a breakfast meeting in which he and I and Ashley Dusenbury were discussing the promotion of this year’s Walk for Life (watch for more coming on that very soon, teammates!). The Walk has been hugely successful, and they already have some mechanisms in place to make it even more successful this year, but Samuel stands ready to have ice dumped on him if it will make it more successful yet.

Then, over in the world of political advocacy, I received this yesterday from Conservation Voters of South Carolina:

Climate Challenge

Folks, here’s a challenge that doesn’t involve ice buckets.

When local officials, citizens and natural resource managers are meeting to prepare for sea level rise, wouldn’t you think it’s time for us to pay attention?  I challenge you to learn more about the public workshopsin Bluffton and St. Helena Island sponsored by the Beaufort County Planning Dept, Sea Grant Consortium and USC’s CISA.

When veterans talk about “climate security” and the increased frequency and intensity of extreme weather events to “critical infrastructure at home,” shouldn’t we take note? I challenge you to read Clay Middleton’s letter to the editor of The State.

When the Washington Post announces a series of climate editorials and observes that “despite ups and downs in the polling, a solid majority of Americans favors action to curb greenhouse emissions,” we are reminded of Governor Sanford’s warning in an op ed to that paper in February, 2007: “If conservatives cannot reframe, reclaim and respond to climate change with our principles intact, government will undoubtedly provide a solution, no matter how taxing it may be.”  I challenge you to ask Governor Haley to tell us where she stands on climate. Click here to send her a message

Yeah, she has a completely different point, but you can read in that lede a certain envy, a wish that her challenges might acquire the “somewhat annoying ubiquity” of the ALS phenomenon.

Success has that effect.

The new penitence: Using the ice bucket challenge to wash away one’s political sins

Editor’s note: This post has been corrected. The guy in the video is a candidate in Colorado, not Texas. Hence the picturesque mountains in the background.

Corey Hutchins brought this to my attention this morning via Twitter.

We have a self-described “right-wing Christian minister” running for the state House in Colorado who has accused a Democratic congressman of essentially being no better than the ISIS rebels who behead Christians (and others) in Iraq and Syria.

And above you see his video “apologizing” for his statement. Never mind that the “apology” is a passive-aggressive opportunity to repeat his points about the differences between himself and an “openly gay” Democrat. Never mind the problems with this passage:

I would never compare you to the ISIS rebels who behead Christians, right? Of course, you would never go in for something like that.

When a) he just did make that comparison, and b) the construction “you would never go in for something like that” bluntly reminds hearers just what the congressmen does go in for, nod, wink.

And forget the imputation that the only reason he has to “apologize” is that “some Democrats do not have a sense of humor”… about ISIS and beheadings of innocents.

What interests me about it is the way he uses the ice-bucket challenge as a sort of ecumenical-secular mode of baptism to wash away the political sins of which he apparently does not fully repent.

Wow. This meme is just insinuating itself into everything, isn’t it?

Note that he's baptizing HIMSELF, rather than having someone else administer it. Must be some fundamentalist Protestant thing...

Note that he’s baptizing HIMSELF, rather than having someone else administer it. Must be some fundamentalist Protestant thing…

I do not think Hemingway would do listicles, do you?

Hemingway

At first, I was pleased to see that Ernest Hemingway was following me on Twitter. It made me feel good, in the way that thing that are clean and true make a man feel when he is a man.

But then I perused the feed, and felt less good.

There were things that were true and right, such as:

But then there were the things that ruined it. You know the kind of things I mean. Things such as:

I do not believe the real Hemingway, the true Hemingway, would post such things. Do you?

A little ditty to help get you psyched for your next webinar, yo!

And now, from the genre of comedy that gave you “Dilbert” and “Office Space”…

If you’re all about lead generation (and who isn’t, homey?), you need to check this out, yo.

I found this in my inbox today:

Do you know DJ Dave, the dude who did the Whole Foods Parking Lot song? Well this guy from Workaholics and Dave teamed up on this video that I think your readers are going to go bananas over! B-A-N-A-N-A-S!

It’s one half marketing jargon and one half hip hop, one whole very funny video.

Check it out on the YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mXRG0bJt7EA&feature=youtu.be

If you like it, it would be really awesome if you posted it or shared it.

As a bonus, I’ll throw in DJ Dave’s previous hit, “Whole Foods Parking Lot:”

Frankly, THIS looks kinda like spam to me…

I’m puzzled when I get automated replies like this, generally to having sent a “reply all” to a group:

I apologize for this automatic reply to your email.

To control spam, I now allow incoming messages only from senders I have approved beforehand.

If you would like to be added to my list of approved senders, please fill out the short request form (see link below). Once I approve you, I will receive your original message in my inbox. You do not need to resend your message. I apologize for this one-time inconvenience.

First, a message like that looks a lot like spam to me — it’s something I had to call up, thinking I have a reply to my message, only to find out I’m wasting my time looking at it.

Second — I find that spam filters work pretty well these days, compared to their lame antecedents 10 years or so ago. Avoiding spam just doesn’t sound to me like good reason to slam virtual doors in people’s faces. Does it to you?

I don’t hit “reply all” on anything unless I have something legitimate to share with the group. Once or twice a month is about it. It just doesn’t seem that I should encounter things like that in the year 2014.

But thanks for the apology, anyway…

OK, now THIS is impressive technology

This is very cool, and very impressive:

Your bag of potato chips can hear what you’re saying. Now, researchers from MIT are trying to figure out a way to make that bag of chips tell them everything that you said — and apparently they have a method that works. By pointing a video camera at the bag while audio is playing or someone is speaking, researchers can detect tiny vibrations in it that are caused by the sound. When later playing back that recording, MIT says that it has figured out a way to read those vibrations and translate them back into music, speech, or seemingly any other sound….

Alexei Efros, a University of California at Berkeley researcher, says in a statement…. “This is totally out of some Hollywood thriller. You know that the killer has admitted his guilt because there’s surveillance footage of his potato chip bag vibrating.” The research is being described in a paper that will be published at the computer graphics conference Siggraph.

Although it’s only marginally more amazing than what my iPhone can do — know me by my thumbprint, not by scanning it visually (which my laptop can do), but by touch. The sensor in the Home button is so sensitive that it reads the tiny ridges in my thumb — either thumb, from any angle — and recognizes the pattern. Which just floors me. This is that kind of analysis of the tiny, the subtle, taken to another level…