the mouse that quibbles

the mouse that quibbles

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Surviving Mom Jeans

Life is hard enough and the mainstream media has a lot to answer for in making it so much harder –financial ‘experts’ like Jim Cramer spreading Wall Street rumours and urging viewers to buy Bear Stearns stock just before the investment bank collapsed, the Investor’s Business Daily’s scare-mongering with false claims the health care reform bill would make private medical insurance ‘illegal’, Lou Dobbs and his incessantly silly conspiracy theory over Obama’s birth certificate, Hardball’s collaboration with Karl Rove in the intentional misleading coverage of the Plame CIA leak, the non-stop maudlin eulogies for Michael Jackson drowning out any other more boring news like, oh say, more soldiers killed in Afghanistan, Glen Beck’s high-pitched hysterical assault on our (largely medically uninsured) eardrums, and now...

… Mom Jeans.

This is big news, according to Greg Gutfeld and the immaculately bleached and botoxed and blown-dry Laura Ingraham on Fox’s O’Reilly Factor as the first ‘dork’ President of the United States has appeared in public wearing Mom Jeans, bought with a gift certificate, apparently, from the now bankrupted Mervyn’s. Americans should be scared – scared, I tell ya – that the POTUS dresses like a band teacher. Greg Gutfeld barely cracks a smile as he warns us ‘this isn’t going to intimidate Putin’ and ‘our adversaries in Iran will not take [him] seriously,’ especially since he also throws a baseball ‘like a little girl’… all symbols of something ‘deeper and more sinister’…

I kid you not. I wish I did. CNN’s Jeanne Moos has also had a good laugh at the President’s expense as well, linking Mr Obama’s fashion faux pas to that other political heavyweight, Jessica Simpson, who was even shown being hounded by the media for her stylistic stumble. Moos brings on celebrity fashionista Robert Verdi (wearing horizontal orange striped shirt, wrinkled khaki chinos and a pair of oversized white rimmed sunglasses down low on his forehead) for an in-depth queer eye for the straight guy study of the President’s pants. ‘Too short, frumpy, two big tree trunk legs, terrible – they’re Mom Jeans, for sure.’

All in good fun, right? Well… maybe not so much.

Karl Frisch of Media Matters sure isn’t amused. ‘What is being brought to the table here?’ he asks. ‘Conversations about candidates’ names and cleavage? Or things that people actually care about, like health care and the war in Iraq? Funny or not, when Jeanne Moos does these types of fluff pieces, she is advancing these attacks, doing real damage. This is CNN, not Comedy Central.’

It’s also a matter of who is yucking it up over the Barack O’Mama jeans to understand the why. The last time a fashion icon spit the dummy over a President’s lack of style, Manolo Blahnik called for Dubya to be impeached for the unforgivable High Crime of wearing crocs. (Check out this photo - why he didn’t mention these hideous baggy shorts, I have no idea, not being a fashionista myself). But that particular gaffe went nearly unnoticed…

…at least in the official reality proscribed by FOX and like-minded conservatively slanted news organizations, who had their hands full on a daily basis just trying to manage the damage control for this poseur POTUS.

Barack Obama epitomises the kind of class, intelligence, self-respect, and stately dignity that the White House has not seen in a very, very long time. The message always has more power when the messenger is seen to be trustworthy and honourable, which makes fighting the message a lot harder for those whose ideology can’t stand competition on a fair playing field.

So the MSM – in order to undermine the message – undermines the messenger. Ridicules him. Mocks him. Yucks it up. Pokes some fun. Oh, c’mon, lighten up, it’s just for a little laugh, folks, nothing serious. Har, har.

Really? Once upon a time, Joseph McCarthy was the most feared man in America. Jerry Rubin and Abbie Hoffman, along with a number of other political satirists, defied the House Committee on Un-American Activities with humour – dressing up as Santa Claus and Revolutionary War soldiers, blowing bubblegum, and openly mocking the committee. Zero Mostel before them had fired the first shot, defending his right to portray a butterfly at rest anywhere he chose and making the committee look foolish. It was in large part open mockery that defused the near absolute power of HUAC and led to Joe McCarthy’s eventual downfall and disgrace. The power of humour is still a force to be feared – Jon Stewart may arguable be the most influential political authority in the media today.

It’s not just humour, however. It’s the jeans. It’s something MSM understands all too well – the insidious power of image over substance. There’s a reason so many female FOX anchors look like Ingraham clones, all those bleached blonde, botoxed, boob-jobbed, blow-dried, braindead bimboes. There’s a reason for so many programmes like Make Me A Supermodel, and 10 Years Younger, and Dr. 90210, and Extreme Makeover promoting clothing and radical plastic surgery as the panacea to women’s (and even sometime men’s) self-esteem. There’s a reason magazines routinely Photoshop already stunning models into inhuman perfection and publish diets and advice for those desperate to fit into a size zero, something the French (who the MSM has told us repeatedly we are supposed to hate, remember) have outlawed. There’s a reason why producers can slap braces and a pair of funny glasses onto the drop dead gorgeous America Ferrara to instantly transform her into ‘ugly’. There’s a reason for the sharp rise in anorexia in women over 40 – it’s not just a teenage disease anymore – when faced with the constant barrage of ultra-skinny Callista Flockharts and Victoria Beckhams and Terri Hatchers.

We have become a nation obsessed with image, and the MSM has profited quite handsomely from it; reality tv rules. It understands the huge power the media can exert over the fragile self-image of viewers who constantly compare themselves to what they see on television as being the ‘norm’ and grieve over falling so short – and rush out to buy the clothes, the make-up, the exercise machines, the drugs they see advertised between that testosterone oozing O’Reilly and Miss America’s Gretchen Carlson. It's a vicious money machine.

It also understands the power of Mom Jeans. I’d never heard of Mom Jeans before Obama threw out a baseball while dressed in what looked to me like a perfectly acceptable pair of jeans, maybe a bit loose but then he’s got all that body armour underneath to worry about. But instantly – instantly! – I started worrying about… Mom Jeans. All my jeans are well over ten years old, and since for health reasons I’ve dropped 20 kilos over the last year and a half – down from 85 to 65 (that’s 187 lbs to 143 lbs, not exactly a size zero) – they’re even more baggy and comfortable than they were before. In an admittedly knee-jerk reaction, I scrambled for advice, finding this website to instruct me on how to wear jeans ‘appropriate’ for my age...

...Yeah, right. If the model in that picture is my age, I’m bloody Angelina Jolie. I’ve come back down to Planet Reality again, thankfully, where I know most normal men of my acquaintance are completely baffled by this obsession over fashion and do not give a toss about my jeans… unless they’re gay. Which kinda defeats the purpose.

Two weeks ago, I’d never heard of Mom Jeans, didn’t give a hoot if my jeans had nine-inch zippers and pleats or made my bum look flat. So why should I care if President Obama wears Mom Jeans?

...Because if I can be so easily seduced into worrying about my own self-image, lured into that quagmire trap of disappointment and dejection, then maybe I can be suckered into believing Barack Obama is likewise not quite good enough as well. He’s not going to be one of those perfect people I only ever see on television with whom I compare myself. He’s going to be like me… aging… unattractive… ordinary and pedestrian. If I can be so easily convinced my hair, my make-up, my wrinkles, my weight, my jeans make me undesirable and unworthy, then maybe I can be convinced that Obama isn’t such hot stuff, either.

But like quite a lot of what you see on MSM these days, this may just backfire. If Obama can survive Mom Jeans…

...then so can I.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Smile When Your Heart Is Breaking… Yeah, Right.

Whatever you want to call it - recession, depression, major economic clusterf*ck - there are very few people anywhere that haven’t been affected, and not in a good way. I’ve been writing and selling novels for over two decades, just had my seventh novel out last year. It’s been increasing tough for mid-list writers for quite some time, and I sold my seventh novel for about a third of the advance as I earned on my very first – to add insult to injury, I was told by my agent that I’m actually one of the ‘lucky’ writers – I’m still selling books when so many of my fellow novelists, all talented and seasoned professionals, have seen their careers disintegrate into oblivion. But this year, pitching a new novel to my agent and editors has been far harder than ever before, and I’m wondering if I’ve now joined the ranks of these erstwhile colleagues.

My books have always been kinda dark. The current novel nearly completed is a black comedy about domestic violence. ‘Nobody wants dark books,’ my agent admonished me in our last conversation. ‘It’s not a good time for gloomy stories. People are struggling with their own lives, they don’t want to read about other people in the same sinking boat. Readers want to escape from their miserable existence right now – they want upbeat escapism and happy endings, they want fairytale historical romance, they want lightweight fluff to read on the beach – think you can write that?’

‘Guess this means the murder mystery with the Neo-Nazi serial killer paedophile as a pharmaceutical lobbyist anti-hero is out of the question.’


This insistence on promulgating the ‘feel-good’ factor despite the realities of life seems to be endemic. Catchy little upbeat messages on over a thousand billboards are popping up across the States, dubbed ‘Recession 101’, designed by Charles Robb, founder of Charchin Creative in Florida, on behalf of an anonymous East Coast ‘donor’ – although with Members of the Outdoor Advertising Agency of America donating the space, printing materials and labour needed for the campaign, what exactly the anonymous donor is paying for is unclear.

‘Interesting fact about recessions,’ says one billboard in Rhode Island. ‘They end.’

My, how profound. Most things do. Eventually. It’s that ‘eventually’ that is killing us. So these billboards better have a long shelf life, because Rhode Island’s 12.1 per cent unemployment rate in May tied with South Carolina for third-highest in the country, behind only Michigan and Oregon.

It’s also doubtful these cheery little Pollyanna proverbs are making that much of an impact. Gail Robnett, 53, from Exeter, said she did not know anyone unaffected by the recession. ‘You're not paying attention to stuff like that when you're trying to put groceries on the table.’

‘Bill Gates started Microsoft in a recession’, another billboard reminds us.

Which didn’t do much to cheer up 24-year-old Ryan Korsak, who works for a Providence software company. ‘I appreciate the sentiment,’ he said, ‘but I'm kind of not Bill Gates.’ Exactly. Not many of us are. Or have any hope of ever being – we’re not dreaming of becoming fabulously wealthy anymore; we’re just hoping to hang on to what little we have left.

‘Stop obsessing about the economy, you're scaring the children,’ says another big billboard.

‘That's the overriding concept of the thing,’ says Robb, the brainchild behind the ‘God Speaks’ billboards in 1999 that threatened, ‘Keep using my name in vain and I'll make rush hour longer’. As if it's all our fault for not being Christian enough rather than driving hundreds of thousands of SUVs and not being willing to adequately fund public transport. Yup, why take any personal responsibility when it’s so much easier to blame the ‘godless’.

And why should Americans expect any different? We’ve raised an entire Generation Y of selfish, manipulative, consumer-driven, arrogant children to respect nothing - not teachers, not parents, not crushing debt, not bosses, not global warming.

Kids enter university after a lifetime of ‘esteem passing’ unable to write a coherent sentence or spell in anything other than text – 'trophy' kids rewarded for participation rather than any accomplishment, shuttled through the educational system regardless of ability or effort because not passing the little darlings might hurt their self-esteem.

Oh, wait, Robb has a billboard for that – ‘Self worth is greater than net worth.’ Good thing, then, because we’ve produced a whole lot of people with nothing but self worth and no ability to produce any net worth, believing themselves ‘entitled’ to the world being handed to them on a silver platter.

It is changing, which is good for those of us teaching English at universities, as the smarter of these trophy kids realise real life ain't so kind, and that to compete for the diminishing number of available musical chairs they need real skills. Debbie Bougdanos of the renowned advertising firm Leo Burnett, in charge of recruiting for the creative department, has seen a multitude of portfolios crossing her desk. Many of these Entitlement Generation applicants think they are ready for and deserving of the best jobs at the highest salaries straight out of college, but she’s equally adamant that the most definitely are not. ‘If I sense any of that attitude that arrogance, that expectation, that entitlement, that is an immediate turnoff.’

In a tight job market, getting the most out of your work force is increasingly critical, which ironically enough is starting to benefit the aging Boomer generation as savvy employers are starting to hire older workers over the Generation Y’s. The stereotype of older workers is changing fast - ‘That they're more reliable, sick less often, and have a work ethic bar none? Is that what you mean?" said Stephanie FallCreek, president and CEO of Fairhill Partners.

‘Mature age staff not only bring valuable experience to the workplace but also are more flexible with working hours,’ says an optometrist who replaced two of her younger staff members with two mature women. ‘We find that mature aged staff often have a better work ethic and body of experience,’ says a cafĂ© owner. ‘This translates into better service for our customers and a better team dynamic.’

‘Peek into the cockpit as you board your next commercial flight. Chances are you are putting your life in the hands of one of the 70,000 airline pilots that are over 50 years old,’ says Steve W. Martin.

Mark Bauerlein of Emory University has written a book, ‘The Dumbest Generation - How the Digital Age Stupefies Young Americans and Jeopardizes Our Future’, objectively assessing the data to identify that slice of the population that, compared to every other generation, has performed the worst on standardized exams, acquired the fewest educational degrees and been the least attracted to professional careers. Not young college kids in their twenties, much as all too many have exhibited an inherited sense of entitlement. Not those raising families and starting out in careers in their thirties, although too many are learning far too late the dangers of overstretched credit. Not us boomers with fond memories of Woodstock in our fifties and sixties.

It’s far too many of those in their mid-forties - the truly ‘lost’ generation that entered the workforce in the heady feeding frenzy days of Bonfire of the Vanities and embraced the pervasive ‘Me First, Fuck You’ attitude that in very large part contributed to the downfall of the American economy and have shown no shame in flaunting their unwarranted bonuses and flying private jets to Washington to demand government bail-outs in true arrogantly entitlement style. But back in Pollyanna’s billboard paradise, another billboard has been erected. ‘This will end long before those who caused it are paroled’… as if all that many who deserve to be bunking with Bernie Maddoff will ever see the inside of a courtroom never mind a jail cell.

Stop obsessing about the economy, you're scaring the children??

I should bloody well hope so. I hope we’re scaring the holy crap out of the next generation of kids, because we will not survive one more generation of MFFY’s.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

The Wheels on the Bus Go Round and Round

I’ve only recently joined the Twitterati, and not being the most technologically proficient of folks, accidently hit the ‘yes’ button to something that obviously must have read, ‘you don’t have any friends, you loser, so how about adding these twenty random people to your contact list?’ One of them, for some unfathomable reason, was Senator John McCain. I’ve managed to pare down my ‘friends’ list to… well… a few actual friends, but I’ve kept Sen. McCain on the list out of the same morbid curiosity that has me reading Red State’s emailed newsletter on a regular basis.

This morning, my Twitter box had a tweet (give me a break, I’m still learning the slang!) from Sen. McCain which said, ‘Vote on my amendment to eliminate $6 mill in wasteful govt subsidy to private bus companies for GPS systems - need to stop wasteful spending.’

Hmmm… thought I. Let’s go see what this is all about.

Other than the mention on Twitter, I haven’t had much success, even on the senator’s own website, in finding much about an amendment to axe funding for GPS systems in buses. A general Google search pulled up a plea by Peter J. Pantuso, the President and Chief Executive Officer of the American Bus Association, urging his members to petition members of Congress to reject a White House budget proposal that would eliminate $10 million a year to private bus operators from a national security program. The Obama administration considers the cuts justifiable as ‘the awards are not based on risk assessment, and the homeland security investments in intercity bus security should be evaluated in the context of the risks faced and relative benefits to be gained.’

But nothing specifically about Global Positioning Systems for buses.

In March of 2006, Mr. Pantuso addressed the US House of Representatives Committee on Transportation regarding the perceived need for security measures for the bus industry, a transit system that carries more people in two weeks than Amtrak transports in a year, and nearly 800 million passengers a year, more than all the passengers of airlines and rail services combined. Obviously, our nation’s bus transit system, both public and private, is an important component in mass transportation – which I personally would like to see more government support for rather than subsidies and tax breaks for oil companies.

But over the last decade, just about anything to do with government funding or subsidies of anything whatsoever for the benefit of the public sector had to be tied into that enormous sacred cow, ‘national security’: firefighters doing obligatory counter-terrorist training in order to qualify for funding for emergency communication systems or better rescue vehicles, night-vision cameras on police helicopters more useful to picking out carjackers than al Qaeda sneaking through the hedges in our backyards, and even the FBI has had to become creative in linking more mundane investigations like telemarketing fraud or tracking down meth labs or sports bribery to counter-terrorism and the War on Terror.

Our public transportation system, like our health care system, is a sorry joke in comparison to those in too many other Western countries. And Mr. Pantuso is probably quite sincere in his plea for better security on our nation’s buses – but the bottom line is, even our public transportation system has to beg for funding by making that all important six degrees of separation connection to terrorism. So Mr. Pantuso did what everyone else who goes to Washington with cap in hand has had to do – he asked for money to fund training bus drivers, dispatchers and even mechanics in ‘threat assessment’ and ‘crisis management’, communication systems, driver shields, bus stop cameras, ‘wands’ to scan passengers, and – yes – GPS systems.

The amount of money we’re talking about here isn’t all that significant in the grander scheme of things – a subsidy amounting to six cents per passenger in comparison to the subsidies granted to commercial airlines of $4.32 per passenger and $46.06 per Amtrak train passenger. However, I can see where CCTV at every bus stop in America or ‘wands’ to scan every bus passenger is not only unfeasible, it’s an intrusive invasion of privacy. A savings of $10 million may be just a drop in the vast ocean of debt the Obama administration is attempting to navigate, but it’s still $10 million that could be better spent elsewhere…

…except for maybe the GPS system.

Because while it may or may not be useful to national security for bus operators to know in real-time the status and location of all their motorcoaches, it is a significant factor in reducing financial costs to running a public transit system. With a GPS system, precise real-time arrivals at bus stops can be accurately computed, minimizing wait times for passengers, which would well be appreciated for those using public transport shivering at bus stops in winter, 11 degrees below freezing with a wind chill factor of a lot colder. For transit authorities, particularly those who operate on a rural on-demand system, a GPS information system is essential to designing a dynamically flexible bus schedule, improving operational efficiency as well as customer service, saving both time and fuel. GPS is a proven cost-effective way to overcome the limitations of the traditional static dead reckoning and signpost technologies. You can read an excellent study of the benefits of this system in the on-line edition of GPS World, dude, ‘Where’s My Bus?’ The article covers the practical applications of GPS but doesn’t mention counter-terrorism or national security, and is perhaps a bit heavy on the mathematical equations as it’s written by Professor Ahmed El-Rabbany, PhD, of the New Brunswick and York Universities and his research doctoral student, Mahmoud Abd El-Gelil of York University in Canada…

… oh wait. Those are Arabic-sounding names. Even worse, they’re working for Canadian universities. That definitely isn’t going to fare well with the American obsession to tie everything into Homeland Security and counter-terrorism. Scratch that idea.

A quick look at McCain’s Facebook page ,and this bold, mavericky move to oppose GPS systems in buses is gaining followers, judging by such erudite and rational comments from readers as: “Well after all bus companies tend to cater to certain minorities that happen to be much more taken care of than the typical white person. Don’t you know, it’s a sin to be white,” (thus making GPS somehow a racial issue), and “They have managed for years without them, if they feel they need one, they can buy themselves one!” (the logic here verging on the same mentality that objects to subsidies to fund artificial limbs for Iraqi vets, just because I don’t happen to need one), to the more succinct and pithy, ‘Socialism at its finest!” and that all-time favourite trump card, “Obama SUCKS.”

Yup, all very persuasive, ya betcha.

Frankly, any savings that can be made in the national budget – big or small – is welcome. Cutting the $10 million subsidy for CCTV cameras and security ‘wands’? I don’t have a problem with that. But $6 million that would be spent on GPS systems for our public transportation system?

It’s not glamorous. It’s not terribly controversial, even. It’s certainly not about counter-terrorism, but it is cost-effective and useful.

So sorry, Senator McCain. I’ll keep you on my Twitter list. But on the issue of subsidizing GPS for buses, I’m afraid I’m all for keeping the wheels on my bus going round and round…

update: It appears McCain's opposition has failed, with the good senator twittering, 'Came pretty close, 47 to 51 - too bad 51 Senators (including 46 Dems) voted to keep a $6m program even the President thinks is wasteful.' Oh well. I'm sure there will be some other burning issue for him to be all mavericky over soon enough...