Tuesday, July 30, 2002

World's Worst Marketing Campaign

The Tour de France is one of the biggest sporting events in Europe but passes largely unnoticed in the United States even though an American currently dominates the sport.

Lance Armstrong rode to his four victories wearing a hat and shirt emblazoned with the logos of his sponsors. Nothing unusual there. The event is also one of the most expensive sponsorship opportunities in the sporting world with companies spending millions of euros to have their name associated with the athletes.

So who is Armstrong's sponsor? The United States Postal Service.

If you think about it that makes about as much sense as the Bank of England sponsoring Jimmie Johnson's NASCAR team at the Talladaga 400.

Why advertise to millions of people who can't possibly use your service? And for that matter, why advertise at all if you are a government run monopoly? Is anyone going to buy more stamps, write more letters, or read more mail just because the USPS has sponsored Lance Armstrong?

And why is an organization that is hemorrhaging money squandering its scarce resources on nonsensical marketing campaigns?

Hmmm . . . I wonder if anyone from the Post Office got to attend the victory parties in Paris?

Wednesday, July 24, 2002

Let's Give a Hand for Islamic Justice

The enlightened protectors of the holy cities have handed out justice against two pickpockets. I guess "handed out" is a poor choice of words since the justice involved involuntary amputation.

Interestingly, the Arab News reports this procedure as a "wrist amputation.” Does that mean they got their hands back but without the wrist?

Isn't that a bit like calling beheading a "neck amputation?"
9/11 Neutrality Watch

The Metropolitan Transit Authority is currently sponsoring an art exhibit at Grand Central Station called "Seen From Above.” It consists of large paintings of the view from the World Trade Center done in 1998 when the Port Authority gave 10,000 square feet of vacant office space in Tower One to a bunch of artists.

The exhibit, which is advertised heavily in the subways these days, is described in fluent newspeak as “an environment to reflect on the events of September 11.”

"Events?" Obviously a lot of deliberation preceded the selection of just the right word to describe what happened that day.

Why not "attacks?" Or better yet, "barbaric terrorist attacks on innocent men, women and children?" Exactly who's feelings are they trying to protect behind the word "events?" Why is it better to obfuscate the truth rather than to recognize it?

Indeed, just down the hall from the "Seen From Above" exhibit is a far more authentic artwork: the spontaneous collage of missing persons flyers posted by families and friends of lost terror victims. You see real faces of real people. You learn about them and see why each one was special and you can't help but compare them to your loved ones or even yourself.

I walk by that exhibit every day and it never fails to remind me of the ghastly injustice of the 9/11 attacks and it replenishes my thirst for vengence. Yes, I want the people responsible for these "events" to suffer as their victims did.

That has nothing to do with justice. God can determine what is just. But here on earth we administer vengence.

I can understand strongly held opinions even if they are diametrically opposed to mine. But I can't understand, nor can I respect, neutrality.

You cannot see this and remain neutral.

There is a time for contemplation and introspection . . . but this is not that time.

As we approach the one year anniversary of the September 11 attacks I will list here sort of verbal contortions people and organizations come up with to avoid offending somebody other than me.

Thursday, July 18, 2002

Six Plans for Ground Zero

Six preliminary plans for the World Trade Center site are now on display at Federal Hall on Wall Street and online at www.renewnyc.com and, not surprisingly, they please no one.

Except me. I like two of them. They're the ones bearing the hauntingly evocative names Concept 5 and Concept 6.

Both of these site plans call for a relatively small open space memorial flanked by mid-sized office towers. Concept 6 includes a broad and elegant boulevard reminiscent of upper Park Avenue leading from Ground Zero to Battery Park. I like the dignified squares that mark the footprints of the toppled trade towers. There is also a quiet cul de sac for tiny St. Nicholas church, the original of which was vaporized under 200 stories of prime office space.

There are no building designs in these plans, but Concepts 5 and 6 lend themselves to a dignified traditional look that will stand the test of time better than some abstract modern statement.

Faced with such a (literally) monumental decision, New York architecture esthetes naturally turn to Herbert Muschamp for guidance. Muschamp, as I have noted here before, is the pretentious gas bag who passes judgement on architecture and the sweaty proles who have to live with it from the pages of The New York Times.

The plans "have little to recommend them" sniffs Muschamp, presumably while adjusting his monocle. They demonstrate "little besides a breathtaking determination to think small.”

The Duke of Muschamp complains that the designs are inappropriate for such an historic site. Too commercial says he. He also adds this absurd observation:

"Nor will you find any sign of recognition that ground zero has become a tragic symbol of the troubled relationship between the United States and the rest of the world.”

Well, thank God for that.

Personally I would much prefer a smoking, glow-in-the-dark crater in downtown Mecca to symbolize the troubled relationship between radical Islam and the United States.

Muschamp seems undecided about which of the plans he hates most. He says two of them "reflect the New Urbanist retro theme park approach" but doesn't say which ones they are. In the end he disqualifies the lot of them because “all six plans emanate from the underlying ideology of privatization.” Presumably, this privatization nonsense would leave an irreparable scar Manhattan's Financial District.

Imagine that . . . the private sector having a say in urban design? Good heavens no!

Of course, what has Muschamp truly bothered about the redevelopment plans is that no one has consulted him.

Even in the New York Times it's unusual for a reporter to devote half a news story to the news that he wasn't involved in the news story. As usual Muschamp drones on for another 700 words or so about the shortsightedness of everyone but him before ending his article in a characteristically petulant huff.

But enough about that bore, the plan that I like best of all is the one proposed by the firm Franck Lohsen McCrery. The FLC plan calls for a dignified and reverential square with a traditional memorial and a grand railway terminal bordering a sunken lawn. The firm recommends buildings that are "majestic and vigorous" in the style of the early 20th century "celebrating American pluck at its best.”

This is what people have in mind when they imagine a fitting replacement for the fallen towers. No recognition of American failure. Far from it. A rededication to the very things that make medieval Islamists blind with fury and the rest of the world green with envy: defiance, confidence, competence, and unshakable optimism.

That's what will eventually be built on the site of Ground Zero and Herbert Muschamp ain't gonna like it one bit.

Sunday, July 14, 2002

The Way the World Works

Inexplicably, The Guardian has included me on their list of blogs they like. It notes that The Invisible Hand sometimes deals with politics and the Middle East.

For those of you joining us from the UK let me explain that, as does The Guardian, this blog has a point of view.

Regarding the Middle East my point of view it is this: Israel not only has a right to exist but it has thus far defended that right with the sort of restraint not often found in that region of the world.

The Palestinians, regardless of their grievance, have delegitimized themselves by allowing extremists to use murder to further their political aims. Those aims are not the establishment of a sovereign state but the ethnic cleansing of the existing sovereign state of Israel.

I also reject the labels "Liberal" and “Conservative.” They no longer describe coherent political perspective . . . and in the case of the Europe and the United States, they have taken on entirely contradictory meanings.

If I were to divide the world into two opposing political perceptions I would describe one as being made up of people who see human society as governed by natural laws of human behavior. Human beings quite naturally seek advantage for themselves. This urge to improve is neither good nor bad. Like gravity, it simply is. People in this category don't try to change human nature; they act upon it. They understand that everyone else is seeking their own advantage and the resources of intelligence, creativity and skill are not evenly distributed. This makes life an exhilarating experience in which individual combinations of talent can result in infinitely varied outcomes. As people seek to fulfill their potential they unintentionally create new opportunities for others to fulfill their own entirely different promise. The people with this outlook see life's awesome opportunities and are stirred.

The other political perspective is more pessimistic. These are people who believe the world is dominated by a permanent hierarchy of “others.” These "others" are unassailably powerful. They seek only their own interests and view the strivings of common people as a threat to their advantageous position. The primary concern of the "others" is to keep everyone else out of the ruling cabal. If the "others" can ever be dislodged it would be through violence and even then there would be no guarantee of success. The people holding this outlook live in a state of permanent opposition. They believe power rests with an unelected elite and they aspire to be unelected elitists. They never need to demonstrate progress toward their goal of a more just world because . . . well, the fix is in anyway, so failure is the only realistic expectation. Building a better world is out of the question at least not until the existing one is destroyed. These people look out on the vastness of life and are shaken by its bleakness.

So here are my two political categories. Those who are stirred and those who are shaken. What is useful about these categories is that they transcend all the various iterations of liberal and conservative.

In fact, individual political movements can evolve from stirred to shaken over time.

For example, the civil rights movement in the United States began as a movement of the stirred. With racism written into the laws of the government Martin Luther King challenged the status quo eloquently and nonviolently and succeeded in changing those laws. When he was murdered, the movement changed. The goal became segregation rather than integration. Its leaders spoke of the struggle against institutionalized racism even though the fix which had truly been "in" statutorily for so long had just recently been removed.

The movements toward social justice almost always started off stirred and end up shaken. This happens not because their leaders come to believe that progress is futile, but because inertia is far less challenging than progress and a shaken movement is more accepting of inertia than is a stirred movement.

Because this is a blog I will now attempt to simplify this construct to a childishly unsophisticated level.

John Kennedy............................................Richard Nixon
Margaret Thatcher......................................John Major
Ronald Reagan..........................................Walter Mondale
Martin Luther King.....................................Jesse Jackson
Malcolm X.................................................Louis Farrakan
Virgin Atlantic............................................Swissair
Thomas the Tank Engine............................Teletubbies
Rolling Stones...........................................Beatles
The Jackson 5...........................................Michael Jackson
Lesley Gore...............................................Gore Vidal
The Blogesphere........................................The Guardian

I hope that the editors of The Guardian will understand that I make no judgement about the merits of being either shaken or stirred.

That they have chosen my blog for special mention on Guardian Unlimited demonstrates their wisdom and insight . . . but it also could mean they believe resistance is useless.

Either way, thanks for the link.

Thursday, July 11, 2002

Outrage in Neverland

Michael Jackson is the latest washed-up celebrity to blame unseen forces for personal shortcomings, although the multi-millionaire plays the race card with certainly quirky panache. Essentially Jacko says he’s unpopular because he’s so popular.

According to the New York Post, Jackson claims music executives conspired to ruin his career because of his awesome ability to sell millions of records. He says the recording industry began to hate him once he had sold more records than the Beatles.

That makes sense. After all, if there’s one thing that record executives can stand it's selling records and making obscene amounts of money. That's where they draw the line.

Specifically Jackson claims that record execs can't stand the thought of a black artist selling millions of records. I'm sure Gore Vidal has verified this well-known yet little-known fact. What's more, these Hollywood types are exercising a chokehold on the book publishing industry as well.

Music moguls "are liars. They manipulate our history books. You must know that," he [Jackson] said, as the crowd cheered him on. "If you go to the bookstore at the corner, you won't see one black face. You'll see Elvis Presley and the Rolling Stones."

It's pretty clear Jacko hasn't been to a bookstore in quite some time . . .nor has anyone from the crowd cheering him. It's also a bit peculiar that music moguls would be spending their time suppressing record sales by keeping books off the shelves. But Jacko knows this business better than I.

Actually I suspect it's a hell of a lot more likely that the last time Jackson was in a bookstore, Elvis and Mick Jagger were there too and taken together none of them had a black face.

That's hardly the sort of grievance that sustains a political movement. Let's see if it's enough to revive a spent career.

Tuesday, July 09, 2002

Gore Vidal in Wonderland

Gore Vidal presents us with a target rich environment this morning care of the LA Weekly. It seems that the Chomsky of Amalfi is the last guy on earth who knows the truth about 9/11 that the Bush Administration has not yet been able to silence. Another FBI/CIA screw up no doubt.

Rather than make a conventional critique of the US response to the 9/11 attacks, Vidal immediately cliff dives into murky waters with some insane yarn about how Unocal Corporation needed the Taliban to help them build a pipeline to the Caspian Sea. This was going to be one hell of a long pipeline since Afghanistan is nowhere near the Caspian. The purpose was to sell oil to China. Of course, it would be a lot easier to sell Alaskan oil to China and Caspian oil to Europe . . . or that's just what THEY want you to believe.

Indeed, according to Vidal, the US government has been deliberately keeping American students in the dark about geography for the past 40 years for this very purpose . . . of course that doesn't explain 76-year-old Vidal's ignorance of the Caspian Sea's general location.

Unocal, with the US Marine Corps, was planning to occupy Afghanistan in October 2001. Apparently everyone knew about this but kept it quiet from you and me. Not sure why since we're powerless anyway.

Osama or somebody (this key bit of information eludes Vidal) attacked the United States pre-emptively on September 11th but that just provided Bush the pretext for toppling the misogynist Taliban regime. Which is good but for all the wrong reasons, and on and on.

At this point Vidal, with warning lights flashing and klaxon horns blaring, goes into full meltdown. Unocal, Enron, Henry Cabot Lodge, Noriega, The New York Times, the United Fruit Company . . . it's a conspiratorial Chernobyl! Even the interviewer loses patience with the old fool. The fact is, Chomsky is far better then Gore Vidal at this nonsense and frankly second-tier lunatic conspiracists are thick on the ground these days.

Gore Vidal is a true 20th century intellectual. He believes a cabal of huge corporations controls the world and that he is boldly speaking the truth to power. But the huge conglomerates of the last century and the command and control strategy they relied upon evaporated long ago. There isn't anyone in control . . . not the Rockefeller brothers, not the Trilateral Commission, not even the United Fruit Company.

Now some people would greet this realization with optimism . . . after all if no one is in control than that means each of us is free to strive and either achieve or fail on our own. But to others, the bracing breeze of freedom is a bit too chilly. They want to believe there is someone or something keeping them from being part of the controlling cabal . . . a position they deserve to occupy . . . well, isn't it obvious? If they're not getting the recognition and prestige they crave it must be because the fix is in. The alternative is a bit to troubling to contemplate . . . especially if you're fast approaching your eightieth birthday.