Confessing My Inner Geek

In the category of stating the obvious, I’m a nerd. I love gadgets, I think computers are very cool, I like being connected in a dozen different ways. I love “all-access” passes not so I can hobnob with the celebs but so I can sit at the sound board or watch the lighting engineer or hang out on the catwalks with the riggers. When I went to Disney World a couple years ago my family was embarrassed – although not surprised – when I walked around with a scanner in my back pack tuned to the frequencies used by park personnel.

In my office at F-H I have seven TVs.

Now, there’s a tourist guide for people like me. I heartily recommend Top Secret Tourism by Harry Helms, a guide to “germ warfare laboratories, clandestine aircraft bases, and other places in the United States you’re not supposed to know about.” I’ve spent part of the weekend reading about places like the Dugway Proving Ground in Utah, Mt. Weather in Maryland and – of course – Area 51. And, for extra crunchy nerdiness, I’ve been supplementing my reading by looking up these sites on Google Earth (one of the best nerd applications on the planet).

Given the world we live in, it wouldn’t surprise me that this combination of behaviors has triggered several levels of interest from the really big computers at the NSA (also in the book) that sift – oh – everything for patterns that may point to “persons of interest”. Hopefully, they have fit this recent behavior into my overall profile (the one labeled “harmless nerd”). Otherwise, if I should suddenly fall out of sight, it probably means th

Bullshit Rains

There are times when clear communication is not the goal, and you have to applaud the accomplished communicators at PepsiCo. They’ve struck a blow for bullshit.

Challenged by a group called Corporate Accountability International to make it more clear that the water in those Aquafina bottles is tap water, PepsiCo will now label their bottles with these mountain-stream-clear words: “Public water source.”

Can you see the meeting? “God, they want us to make it clear we’re selling tap water. What can we say, without making it clear we’re selling tap water?” “OK, how about, ‘hydration product sourced at natural liquid conveyance?'” The mind reels.

Public water source. Fire hydrant? Niagara Falls? That’s public. Street gutter after a rainstorm? A spring on public land? That’s public. The Mississippi River after the carp, tires and used condoms have been filtered out? That’s public. The beauty of “public water source” is that it could by any of those things, so it admits nothing. It’s brilliant language — blank ammunition. It makes a sound and does nothing.

The news story says PepsiCo will now offer “some clarity” about the source of its water “to spell out that it comes from the same source as tap water.” Some clarity indeed. “Public water source” provides not the least bit.

“The water you’re about to hand over $1.29 of your hard-earned dough to a rich businessman for is tap water — purified, but tap water. You can get the same thing at your sink or from the drinking fountain down the hall. Enjoy.” That’s clarity.

OK, most people get that if the bottle doesn’t say “spring water” it’s probably treated river water. The point is not that everything should be labeled to death. The point is how adroitly the PepsiCo folks, when challenged to come clean, came up with language that only obfuscates. It’s a thing of beauty.

— Bruce Benidt

They’ve Got Issues

When I’ve worked on political campaigns in past lives, this was the stage when candidates were huddled with earnest armies of propeller-headed wonks, doing their homework on a dizzying array of issues.

What are agricultural loan deficiency payments, and am I for or against them? Where exactly is Hertsogovenia and why should we care about it? Why can’t there be a middle ground on abortion? What are the various constituencies’ hot buttons on the issue of forest fragmentation?

Judy Dutcher, among many other former candidates, can tell you that this cramming is time well spent, especially early in the season when you have more time, and when obscure issue-oriented interest groups and activists hold sway in caucuses and fundraisng.

Thoroughly knowing your policy stuff is most definitely a necessary condition for getting elected. But it’s not a sufficient condition. In addition to working on THE issues, candidates need to work just as hard on THEIR issues. That is, they need to mitigate their perceived personality problems.

The voters who are still undecided late in the general election don’t typically take a detailed inventory of policy positions to make their selection. Rather they choose the PERSON they feel good about, or, more accurately, less bad about. Who do/don’t I trust? Who would/wouldn’t I want to have a cup of coffee with? Who will/won’t embarrass Minnesota? Who is/isn’t in touch with my values and struggles?

Do the current crop of Senate candidates have issues? Darn right they do. And they have nothing to do the interest group issue questionnaires they are filling out.

One of them has to avoid being perceived as Senator Sycophant, the slick, spineless lapdog of the fat cats who will do whatever it takes to advance himself, even when it means cheerleading for an ill-connceived, incompetently run war.

One of them has to figure out a way to avoid being perceived as Senator Snake, a snarling shyster too wealthy to understand most people’s struggles, and too severe to warm up to.

One of them has to figure out a way to avoid being perceived as Senator Sophmoric, a dorky smart-ass carpetbagger class clown with a long history of employing the type of naughty name-calling that might give us all another bad spell of Jesse PTSD.

And as they deal with these issues, Senators Sycophant, Snake and Sophmoric will all have to avoid political consultants over-programming them, and using cookie-cutter ads to water down their humanity and legitimate personality assets.

Most of the people who work on campaigns are into THE issues, so this focus on personality and humanity doesn’t come naturally. But candidates ignore THEIR issues at their own peril.

– Loveland

“Hornseth Here” — Another Voice Joins the Crowd

In May on this blog, we were writing back and forth about people trying, with smooth words, to make something awful look less so. Paul Wolfowitz trying to convince the world he wasn’t going down in flames was the instance. Along comes, in the comments, a calm voice invoking compassion for the likes of Ray Price, Richard Nixon’s speechwriter:

“Still, though. One must marvel a bit at the task Ray Price had, clacking away in the late August night within the White House, trying to to figure out what most of us, at some level, have had to to figure out: ‘Now what am I going to do with THIS?'”

The “this” being how to explain the only presidential resignation in our history. The writer was Gary Hornseth, one of the most creative (read that exceptionally strange) thinkers I’ve ever met. Not that many people would try to put themselves in Price’s shoes as Nixon swirled around the Watergate drain. But that’s the kind of weird and wonderful nook and cranny of experience and perspective Hornseth explores. And that’s why we wanted him writing regularly on this blog. His bio — PR work, teaching, parole requirements — is on “Who Are Those Guys?” You should know he’s tired of liberals and conservatives just yelling their views without listening or hearing, and he’s not associating himself with all of the neo-socialist blather I’m likely to write here. But I welcome him anyway, and you’ll find his viewpoint challenging and his writing delightful.

— Benidt

Be Fair?

This week’s Economist (and yes, I love to name-drop the Economist as much as the next guy) has a terrific take on the Fairness Doctrine debate. I agree with most of it, but even if I didn’t I’d still admire it.  Within a space of about 1,000 words, this writer (Economist pieces are always unattributed)  covers a lot of territory, has a bit of fun and distributes some constructive, non-partisan jabs along the way.  It’s lively, forceful and written with, well, economy.

Opinion writing is a tough art form and I salute the craftsmanship on display here.  But I’m also intrigued by the thought of applying the Fairness Doctrine to today’s media landscape.  It doesn’t look like the idea is gaining any serious traction, even though it does seem to have decent popular support. But if it was tricky for the government to regulate media fairness in 1949, what prospects could it possibly have now?

– Hornseth

Flack Survival Training

Poor Cullen Sheehan. To let Senator Norm Coleman’s beleaguered spokesperson know we’re thinking about him, all the grizzled flaks in town should get together and send him a funny Hallmark, tater tot hotdish and pan of bars.

It aint easy being Mr. Sheehan. His boss’s disapproval ratings have risen to 48%. According to USA Today/Gallup, the President he surgically conjoined himself to has disapproval ratings of 66%.

So what do you do? Have the President join you on a flag plastered platform? Not so much. Scream “support the troops” even louder? Dang it all, that doesn’t seem to be working any more. Go with good ole “fight them over there so we don’t have to fight them here?” No, polls show Americans think the war has made them LESS safe. Go to Iraq and report back that it all seems a lot like Crocus Hill to you? Gosh, that isn’t working either.

Hey, I know, go to page 437 of the Hack’s Handbook to the chapter entitled, “If They Don’t Buy Your Message, Attack The Messenger.” And since you can’t really blame the huge majority of your Minnesota constituents who oppose your position on the war, that leaves but one messenger to attack — the liberals!

Hey, do you wise guys have a better idea? Short of announcing a position change on the war, which is out of the spokesdude’s hands, this is probably Mr. Sheehan’s only real play. Which is not to say it’s an effective play.

Anyway, I personally think chocolate scotch-a-roos are always a nice choice.

– Loveland