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EAGANBLOG ARCHIVE
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Category: Culture

Just So You Know
Just so you know, a dedicated cyber thief could easily hack into your computer. He could steal your identity, drain your assets, and ruin your life. He could destroy everything you’ve worked for and care about. He could get away with it, and you’d be helpless to stop him.

Still, you gotta love computers.

Anyway, just so you know.
Face of the Franchise
Let’s say you’re the founder and CEO of a company that advertises on TV, and you’re thinking of casting yourself in the role of pitchman for your product. For starters, you think, I wouldn’t have to pay somebody else to do it. And besides (you might say to your team), who could resist my charm, my good looks, and my knack of always being right? Right?

Before you commit to this plan, however, perhaps it would be worth your time to look at the track records of others who have similarly stepped into the spotlight. Their experiences, if you ask people outside of their inner circles, are spotty at best.

John Schnatter, the founder and now spokesman for Papa John’s Pizza, is one of the most prominent examples. He’s all over the tube during football season, and he is the lead actor in all of his ads. Some of his ads feature him laughing during outtakes with his fellow actors. This is a bad sign; some one on his ad staff, seeing that Schnatter was not particularly likable on camera, probably stitched those scenes into his ads in an effort to show that the boss is a regular guy. It doesn’t work; I don’t like John Schnatter, and I’m not going to be buying any of his pizza.

Yes, I understand that these are matters of personal taste. You may think he’s a good fellow and that I am some kind of cranky misanthrope. I won’t argue that point. I am simply reporting the news from my own viscera, and in the case of Papa John Schnatter, the news is not good.

On the other hand, I do like like Jim Koch. He’s the guy you see in Sam Adams beer ads. Maybe it’s because the ads feature him as a genial doofus being dunked in tubs of beer for charity’s sake and such, or maybe it’s because I like his product. It doesn’t matter. My viscera reports to me that he is a much more likable person than Papa John. He might be an S.O.B. in real life, but all I’ve got to go on is his TV persona.

Some other visceral reports: Dave Thomas, founder and one-time spokesguy for Wendy’s: passable. Same goes for his replacement and daughter, Wendy Thomas. Domino’s J. Patrick Doyle: almost, but not quite. Richard Branson, the Virgin guy: okay, I guess; you gotta love the space tourism thing. Ralph Lauren: bogosity incarnate, even without speaking.

There is also a class of ads that appear mostly on local TV. These feature owners pushing their products with wacky costumes and silly hijinks. I have never bought anything from these people, and I never will. That’s right: my decision is based solely on their ads. I don’t want their roofing services, their furniture, or their large home appliances, irrespective of their price or quality.

Finally, let me mention one C.E.O. whose main product seems to be himself. Or rather, let me not mention him, because I don’t want to give him any more notoriety than he already has. He reflects something ugly and repugnant in our culture, and I’m not buying into any of it. So there. I’ll leave you to guess who he is. Keyword: loathsome.

It may be that you and your team are right, and you are indeed charming and likable. It may be that your style and appearance will play well on television. However, if you are not certain that you are getting honest opinions from your inner circle, if you suspect that you might be even be repellent to potential customers, then please take a deep breath before you dive in. Or better yet, send me a demo tape; I’d be happy to offer my assessment — as a member of the cranky misanthrope demographic.
Cars
According to Aristotle, there is an ideal form for every object, and it exists, conceptually, within all objects that claim to be true manifestations of that ideal form. For automobiles, that ideal is a ’53 Chevrolet Business Coupe.

It’s bright blue-green, so painted to conceal its previous identity as a captain’s car in the fleet of the California Highway Patrol. It never let me down, and although it would not count as a technological wonder when compared to our modern, computer-managed cars, it could teach those modern marvels a few lessons it in its role as the ideal form.

Its most striking feature is its shape: round, feminine, lovely. The shape of today’s cars, by contrast, has been dictated by practicality, or so they would have you believe. The teardrop profile now seen in almost every vehicle is the product of an effort to promote superior aerodynamics. I know these engineers are just trying to help, but practicality has bought us stultifying sameness from top to bottom. Nowadays, you can’t tell a Maserati from a Mazda. I never had any trouble distinguishing my Chevy from its cousins, the Buicks and Pontiacs, much less from Fords and Desotos. All were round, and some were lovely, but none looked like any of the others. More importantly, they gave the impression of aerodynamics — a much more satisfying attribute than a low coefficient of drag. Cars used to be art; now they are little more than the creations of other machines.

Beyond the drive to enhance (perceived) practicality, there is also the unrelenting pressure to make things new and exciting. As with most of the “advances” made since the Golden Age of the automobile in the 1950s, however, new does not necessarily mean better.

Take the horn. On my Chevy, the big, obvious button was right in the middle of the steering wheel, as it was on all cars. If there was an emergency need to honk, my hand — all our hands — knew exactly what to do, without thought or visual confirmation of the button’s whereabouts. Today’s horn could be anywhere; it is merely one of a dizzying array of buttons that might activate anything from your clock to your cruise control reset. In an emergency, when fractions of a second are often critical, the time for action might easily slip by — leaving you to be smeared like a bloody booger across eight lanes on the interstate.

I am sorry to be so rough with you, but these are life-and-death issues we are dealing with. The high beam button is another of these. There was a time (in 1953) when high beams were activated or deactivated by a button on the floorboard. It was situated to the left of the gas, brake, and clutch pedals, and it was operated by the ball of the left foot. Why was this perfectly good system abandoned? As with the horn, this button was moved to the edge of the steering wheel; as with the horn, it is now in a different place in every vehicle; and, as with the horn, it now takes extra thought and time to use. These changes were made in the name of practicality, but in reality they only serve the mindless mandate of novelty — mindless and deadly. This is particularly true in this era of halogen headlights, which (I have been told) can cause blindness in those unlucky enough to stare at them head-on.

The misguided quest for the new harms us in subtler ways as well. More often than not, the changes rob us of our competence to drive by shunting vital functions away from the driver and into the car. Cruise control, GPS, obnoxious warning alarms, and (stop the madness!) self-parking cars all fall into this category. Why not go all the way and simply let the cars go out and drive themselves while we stay home relaxing like those poor schlubs in The Matrix?

It would be easy, I know, to dismiss these insights as the kvetchings of a grumpy old fartknocker. I plead guilty to that charge, including the part about fartknocking, but I do not take offense. People have to do something to make themselves feel better about the creeping takeover of their lives by machines; I get that.

But one would do well to remember that Aristotle himself was a bit of a grumpy old fartknocker. His work De Charioti (now lost) outlines his observations on similar matters with respect to the vehicles of his time. I am confident, in fact, that were he alive today, Ari would choose to roll on wheels quite similar to my ideal form. Perhaps in something a bit more suited to his station: I see him in a top-of-the-line Bel Air Convertible, baby blue with white trim. Yes, there he is, conducting driver’s training with the young Alexander the Great, or just cruising the main with the top down on the streets of ancient Mieza — while Plato, riding shotgun, moons a Packard full of Peloponnesians. That, indeed, would be the ideal in its fully fleshed-out form.
The Twinkie
I had a Hostess Twinkie the other night. If reports are to be believed, it may have been one of the last Twinkies on Earth. It was not a guilty pleasure because there was precious little pleasure involved. There was some guilt, though; I ate the whole thing despite the fact that it tasted like crap.

Perhaps I felt obliged to eat it all simply as a tribute to this American food staple. The Twinkie has been around for over eighty years, happily providing us with our daily requirement of high fructose corn syrup. It had been decades since I’d had one, and the gummy texture and factory sweetness took me back to a gustatory era I’d sooner forget. Still, attention must be paid.

First, let us honor its creators for giving it a completely original name. “Twinkie” has since come to be used as a pejorative term for certain categories of people, but in 1930 it was a freshly coined word. It meant only one thing: a very specific version of cream-filled snack cake. Such words are rare in our general culture, and so it is in the small world of snack cakes. Ding Dongs, for instance, were the sound of a bell before Hostess made them. The same is true for Drake’s knock off version, the Ring Ding. Ho Hos were originally the sound of laughter, and so on. The Krimpet (also from Hostess) might earn a point for effort, but it is too obviously a bastardization of “crumpet” to be taken seriously. In fact, it must be docked a point simply for being a bad name for a snack cake. “Twinkie,” by contrast, seems the perfect light, unserious name for a product that just barely qualifies as food.

The Twinkie must be further honored for its packaging. Its box of 10 features a grinning cartoon Twinkie, clad in cowboy hat, kerchief, and boots, riding … a Twinkie! The realistic Twinkie/steed has been bitten into so that the cream (or cream-like substance) protrudes slightly from its sleeve of sponge cake, as if the pressure of the cartoon Twinkie’s legs on its sides has forced the filling out. I find this illustration troubling. I do take some comfort, however, from the fact that there are no spurs on the cowboy Twinkie’s boots.

Finally, before we bury the Twinkie once and for all, we should salute its status as a joke food. We have given the word “twinkie” its props for originality and appropriateness, but we cannot deny that it is also a very silly word. Perhaps because of its goofy name, it has become the stand-in representative for any food that has no redeeming food value. Furthermore, since it is widely agreed that the tube shape is indeed the funniest of all food configurations, then the Twinkie is right there with wieners, bananas, and veggie wraps in terms of loggish drollery.

So hats off to the Twinkie; cowboy hats, if you’ve got ‘em. It may turn out that some enterprising company, seeking to ride the recent wave of fame generated by the Twinkie’s demise, will buy the rights to its manufacture and thereby extend its very unnatural life. If that happens, we may not have seen the last Twinkie after all. I can say one thing with certainty, however: I have eaten my last one.
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Trump supporters are people who know what they believe.
~ JC, Bonny Doon