03 April 2014

As Mad Men Begins To End

The first few years featured delicious character development but most of these people, despite this or that life event, have become static over multiple season, which is a shame. Or...they become the polar opposite of what they were before, which is a bit pat.

To state the obvious, the people and their jobs are the embodiment of the 60s zeitgeist which is why the show can and should wind up. It's a hall of mirrors as we regard our past selves, America regards its unprecedented postwar economic power and standard of living, we look back at morality and all the various isms that are part of the current lingua franca of politics and, in turn, current advertising.

No doubt Don Draper will be in the last shot of the series but then Don Draper was conceived and functions as a cipher so are you really seeing a person or merely looking at an illusion similar to that which he deftly created in his professional work and personal life? The crossover into the 70s has a couple of major signposts: the moon landing (have they included that already?), Woodstock (overrated but still lazy cultural shorthand) or merely Dec 31, 1969 becoming Jan 1, 1970. The producers have mostly resisted the temptation to do a 'Forrest Gump' by involving the characters directly in historical events but those events are freely used as a backdrop.

If we go beyond 1970, in keeping with the advertising theme, the end may coincide with Jan 1, 1971, when the ban on TV commercials for cigarettes was imposed. Given the prevalence of smoking (although it continued long thereafter) and the importance of tobacco advertising to the firm and its personnel as well as the show's characters and various storylines, it seems a most obvious dénouement.

While others have changed clothes, grown more hair and sideburns and beards, Draper still has his hat, side parting, white shirt, narrow black tie and grey suit - which furthers my belief that he appears differently to every character in the show i.e. he is a projection screen for them (and us) which explains the persuasive power that begets their sense of awe when they are around him.

As for Draper being 'exposed' within the world of the show, that ship sailed several years ago. Pete found out, threatened them and they called his bluff. Don's (ex) wife already knows anyway and his clients simply won't care about his past. But the question 'Will Draper be exposed to the audience?' is a legitimate one.

And so, even a minor change in the Don Draper archetype will signal the end of an era both on and offscreen. Perhaps he quits smoking. Perhaps he quits drinking. Perhaps his hair grows over his ears or he sports facial hair. Perhaps he tosses his hat out a window, off a roof or out of the car as he speeds along. Perhaps - I hope - he finally summits Mt. Joan. Whatever the resolution, I hope that Weiner can resist some 2014-vintage socially redemptive soul butter. The dissolve to/from young man to/from old man along with the tearful contemplation of the past has been done already in 'Saving Private Ryan.' No need to plagiarize.

There's no doubt in my mind it will be ambiguous, perhaps controversial, but I do hope he avoids taking the coward's way out as his mentor David Chase did with the Sopranos.

14 March 2014

Let Juan Pablo up - he's had enough

Card-carrying cynics like us and many others are having a grand time swatting the large piñata that is Juan Pablo, along with his unfortunate female castmates.  It seems that even TPTB are getting in on the act.  But to the extent we want this show to survive it may be time to put the cat o’ nine tails back in the bag for now.

The internet has, for good or ill, eliminated much of the mystery and naivete from life.  Things that used to make us wonder, explore, read, etc. are resolved in a matter of seconds with a Google search.  But a cheap payoff usually means the lesson isn’t as lasting or memorable. Why stand in line for 2 hours in the blazing sun to see Star Wars in the cinema for the 12th time?  Because it couldn’t be downloaded and viewed on a loop on one’s computer which didn’t yet exist. Social media, whatever you think of it, strips away any inscrutability. 99% of those in the Bachelor contestant demographic would sooner live without food and water than their phones.

In short, we have gone from ‘I have a healthy skepticism about the process but will defer judgment because lightning might strike’ to ‘This is a farce and a joke but I’m here so I might as well play along and have a laugh.’  I daresay even Chris Harrison has crossed this particular Rubicon.

I have no brief for some of the decisions made by Mike Fleiss et al but in the era of 350 million Truman Shows airing simultaneously, he has a thankless task in establishing and maintaining his bubble of isolation around the contestants. 

We used to mock the average cast member for sounding clueless and getting caught up in the fairy tale (although some revealed their true selves in Bachelor Pad, a much-missed outlet for the also-rans), but now we are hard-pressed to compete with the jaded, tongue-in-cheek attitudes of the contestants themselves.

This show and its whole-cloth soap opera are easy targets but if we want them to be around in future we sheath the long knives for now.

23 January 2014

Obamacare Enrollment Shell Game

Let me see if I have this correct:

The federal government strongarms each and every American into purchasing something they may neither need nor want (in effect, signing a contract under duress for the remainder of their natural lives). At the stroke of a pen, all Americans are, in ways large or small, participating in this scheme.

Despite the universal, compulsory nature of this law, citizens, taxpayers and media must rely on 'signals' and 'estimates' when it comes to their so-called representative government providing honest, accurate enrollment numbers in order to gauge the financial viability of the program. Individuals who have, by the admission of HHS, merely 'selected a plan' are nevertheless declared 'enrolled' despite a fraction of that total actually paying for something, anything. Those responsible for conceiving, implementing and administering this panacea repeatedly and doggedly refuse to provide data even during testimony before a co-equal branch of government, for no other possible reason beyond the protection of fragile political egos during their eyeblink of history in DC seats of power.

The HHS press release suggests we 'hear stories of Americans enrolling in the Marketplace [capitalization theirs].' But how is the story of a cousin, a neighbor or a complete stranger 500 miles away relevant since all personal circumstances are unique? Very fond of stories, are these Democrats. Statistics tend to reveal unpleasant facts. Better to rely on a 'narrative.' Do we need stories of other Americans complying with laws regarding bank robbery or auto theft in order to decide whether to comply ourselves? And if noncompliance carries penalties, isn't such inspiration surplus to requirements?

You must pay the rent! And what is the rent? What will the rent be next month, next year or ten years hence? They're not saying. Funny sort of landlord.

04 August 2012

Sally Satchelbottom, DC Bureaucrat

Sally Satchelbottom (not her real name) works as a data analyst and compiler in a cubicle at the Bureau of Labor Statistics.  She is a product of a full 17 years of our self-esteem 'educational' system, graduated with a degree in economics from State U where her professors revered Marx and thought Keynes was a right-winger.  She couldn't wait to get to the DC area and go to work (?) for Uncle Sam where she could 'make a difference.'  She pays $2,000+/month for a 1,000 sq ft flat in a drab concrete high-rise built in the 60s.  She regards any place west of Hagerstown MD and south of Richmond VA as Terra Incognita full of rednecks wearing criss-cross cartridge belts, armed to the teeth, listening to David Allen Coe, driving their pickup trucks to the cleaners to drop off their Klan robes after the weekly cross burning rally.  Data she sees at work tells her these people have a wide variety of occupations but she believes it's all a front for a secret highly organized militia movement.

Sally proudly drives a Prius with its COEXIST bumper sticker.  She isn't a lesbian but has strongly considered adding a rainbow triangle sticker to show her solidarity with the gay movement.  Sally didn't date much in school (she's pleasantly plump) so a photo of her nephews (who live in Indiana, Ohio or one of those other flyover states) in a school-project yarn frame hangs from her rearview mirror along with her Federal ID security badge which keeps those icky citizens out of the halls of government by the people, for the people and of the people.

Sally is proud of the DC Metro and thinks that green public transport should be implemented everywhere especially in places she's never been like Texas and Montana.  But the Metro station is very crowded and noisy so she chooses to drive to work where she can listen to Tori Amos, doing an average of 15 mph on the Beltway along with thousands of kindred spirits who believe in reducing emissions at all costs.  She sees the empty HOV lane and swells with pride at 20% of the freeway lanes going unused.  She has contemplated stopping to get coffee and a bagel but the staff don't speak English at the places along her route.  Still, she believes that diversity is strength and that America would be better off if our borders were thrown open.  Needless to say, Sally voted for Obama.  She's contributed $100 to his campaign but hasn't yet received her 'O 2012' reelection sticker but plans to get one from the pile on her coworker's desk today.  Finally, Sally reaches the office.  She swipes her badge, sits at her desk and begins compiling Labor Statistics.

Now...what are the chances that Sally, her colleagues, and her like-minded bosses (appointed or elected) will produce numbers favorable to the Obama administration, no matter what manipulations of raw data and formulae are required?  Why is government trusted for one single second to evaluate its own performance?  It's akin to giving an NFL head coach the scoreboard controls and telling him to 'keep it close.'  Madness.

Texting & Driving: Another Government "Safety" Cash Grab

Anti-phone and anti-texting laws are more of the same smoke-and-mirrors that convince the gullible that government is "doing something" about a particular problem.  Results are rarely compiled and analyzed, motives are never discussed beyond vague notions of increased safety, etc.

However, in order for the cause to deliver the promised effect, let us examine the spots on all the dominos that must fall in the correct order:

1) The law must reduce or eliminate the deleterious behavior it claims to address
2) Police must not divert their attention from more pressing matters i.e. those which exist approximately 100% of the time spent on patrol.
3) If safety is our overriding concern, then police must also be prevented from the use of their phones, radios, and even in-car laptops while in motion, claims of superior driving skill and training notwithstanding (especially in light of their tendency to do 90 MPH on our highways).
4) Police must be able to discern the act taking place, often through dark tinted glass and often while traveling 70+ mph on the highway
5) Motorists can't claim to be adjusting the radio, their GPS, their mirrors, their air conditioning, their seat, their steering wheel, their iPod, or simply speaking on their phone as oppposed to using it to text.
6) Prosecutors must be able to prove conclusively that the prohibited activity was taking place.
7) The law's punishments should be directed towards cessation of the activity rather than monetary fines that are simply a stealth tax.

If the state fails to meet ANY ONE of these conditions (and many more not listed here) then that is prima facie evidence that the law is as flawed as the motivations behind it.  Worse, it is evidence of the state acting in bad faith when it claims to promote safety when its actual purpose is revenue generation (see also:  artificially low speed limits in direct conflict with traffic engineeers' recommendations).

The fact is that there are good and bad drivers with or without technological gadgets involved.  Licensing procedures and driving tests are an unfunny, undemanding joke especially when it comes to the inexperienced, the elderly and the infirm.  But keeping poor or flat-out incompetent drivers from getting behind the wheel would reduce license fee revenue, insurance premiums (which are partially converted to political donations), and the potential for revenue from moving violations and parking fines.

There are those drivers, despite claims by government and its enablers, that can and do rely on their own judgment, skill, experience and intelligence to use communications devices safely while in motion.  They complete thousands of safe trips every hour, every day - some of them lucky enough to still have jobs use their phones for business purposes.

One-size-fits-all clothing rarely is, and one-size-fits-all government "solutions" rarely, if ever, solve the problem they purport to address.  Indeed, they often make the problem worse.

We haven't even touched on the concepts of liberty, freedom, private property, etc. but they are potent trump cards in the fight against ever-encroaching statism sold under the rubric of safety.

31 May 2012

Voter ID: Individual Sovereignty Trumps Anti-Fraud Efforts

The libertarian side of me has a problem with Voter ID as a concept. Citizens ultimately have power over the state as in "whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it." If this is true, then it's impossible, unworkable and contradictory for the state government facing abolition to be the same state government that decides who it will and won't permit to vote. If you & I are deciding whether or not you will move out of a house that I own, I may solicit your opinion but what are the chances that I will allow your view to trump mine?

Obviously these are ideals and/or hypotheticals but then so are most of the concepts enshrined in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. Ideals are beyond individuals as they should be. Government of laws not men etc.

Now, as a practical matter I recognize that we must first clean house before we can hope to reestablish proper Constitutional structure and practices, therefore if Voter ID is the only way to reduce or eliminate vote fraud then it is a necessary evil but conservatives should be cognizant of the Law of Unintended Consequences. If and when leftists lose power via the ballot box, rest assured that they will make obtaining a photo ID so easy that the proverbial man off the banana boat will be able to obtain one with little or no documentation.

The left never seeks peace in class warfare. Why are is a driver's license and/or vehicle registration somewhat difficult to obtain in terms of bureaucratic nonsense?   How many times have you seen a fellow citizen approach the window at the DMV with a clutch of documents, acting in good faith, only to be turned away, or even scolded, for having the 'wrong' information e.g. typos on documents?  Experiences like these make the gainfully employed, law-abiding citizens shake their heads at the hand-holding that occurs at welfare agencies. Anyone who owns a car also owns freedom of movement. But again if an ID is required for voting then IDs will become as plentiful and free as leaves on trees.

22 April 2012

About Those Anti-Smoking Commercials

By now most have viewed at least one of the HHS anti-smoking commercials featuring victims of various cancers and other ailments caused - they say - by smoking and tobacco use. It's a cliche but still true: these are our tax dollars at work. Your government commissioned these ads and purchased the airtime with your cash. HHS Secretary Sebelius and her minions risk another sort of medical problem - namely, rotator cuff injuries from patting themselves on the back for foisting these grotesque, voyeuristic images on an unsuspecting, undeserving public. This isn't a tear in the eye of Iron Eyes Cody when he sees litter along a roadway; this are 21st century bureaucratic bullies grabbing you by the scruff of your proverbial neck and rubbing your nose in the misfortunes of others under the rubric of education.

Let's stipulate that smoking is injurious to health and has strong links to cancer and other diseases. A reasonable person might also point out that anti-smoking campaigns have been in place for most of our lives and cigarette packages have carried anti-smoking messages for just as long, making these ads surplus to requirements. They rely on the Fallacy Of The Dramatic Example by showing the worst examples (apart from actual corpses - but let's not give them any ideas). But extreme scenarios involving death or disfigurement could be conjured up for nearly every activity in life: driving a car, skydiving, skiing, or even slipping in the bathtub.

The ads and the sentiments expressed are based in cowardice. If the substance being discussed is maiming and killing indiscriminately, why has it not been completely banned from use? We know the answer - and so does HHS - but the same government sponsoring this modern-day Elephant Man sideshow is hopelessly, er, addicted to the taxes generated by smoking. The ends-justify-the-means crowd have an enduring blind spot on this issue. Remember governors and state attorneys general rubbing their hands with glee over tobacco settlement money? It was supposed to be a twin panacea for public health and public finance. Where did all those billions go? And why aren't we all hale and hearty by now as a result of state benificences?

As someone once said, the Bill of Rights should be amended to include The Right To Be Left The Hell Alone. Most of us have precious little leisure time available. When we choose to allocate some of those hours to watching TV i.e. escapism, we do not and should not wish to be subjected to graphic video of amputations, prosthetics, voice kazoos, etc. when we are simply attempting to relax for a few fleeting moments before heading back to work (at least for those still lucky and/or disciplined enough to do so) in order to pay the salaries of Sebelius et al.

Elections mean pandering, and the ongoing political battles over health care mean that the disabled and the ill are often targets of such pandering. We are always scolded with 'person first, disability second' by many of these same DC health commissars. Don't rob them of their dignity or their humanity, we are told (and don't forget the inevitable ADA lawsuits). To them I respond: if you want dignity, then Step #1 is to refuse any offer to act as a political show pony. Surely by now you know that after a few seconds under the lights with a candidate for a photo op, you will be as distant a memory as last Thursday's lunch order. Ignore the blather about cautionary tales, etc. You cannot set a good example by setting a bad example, therefore anyone claiming to be your champion is lying. If you are self-aware enough to realize what your lifestyle has wrought on your body, then please be self-aware enough to realize when you are being exploited.

Leftists have a cult-like obsession with disease and death. Look at their pet causes: environmentalism (i.e. man is voluntarily poisoning his world and in turn himself), euthanasia (they've convinced millions that 'doctor-assisted suicide' is not an oxymoron) and, of course, abortion. They are equally obsessed with playing God, deciding who is worthy of medical care, drugs, and operations, as well as the nonstop coercion of food providers and consumers with laws, bans, restrictions, labels, etc.

Proponents of the ads will claim that shocking images are the only way to get people's attention and change their behavior. But why and how should government be in charge of our attention i.e. our thoughts? References to Orwell and 'Nineteen Eighty-Four' are easy but in this case they are absolutely relevant. As before, an intelligent, educated and free people should neither need nor want any central authority attempting to dictate what to think or how to behave. The individuals appearing in these ads and those subjected to watching them have one thing in common: a government constantly attempting to manipulate them in order to amass more power.