Thursday, May 18, 2006

Happy versus Unhappy (Rebuttal to Rob)

Here is the column as it appeared in the May 17th Dodge City Daily Globe.

A while back I wrote a column about being happy. I was for it. I received an e-mail from an old friend of mine. He was against it. He said being happy was over-rated and actually works against mankind. Part of his theory stated happiness leads to complacency and complacency leads to a kind of stagnation. He said Thomas Edison was angry about stubbing his toes on the furniture in the dark and that was why he invented the light bulb. According to my friend negativity, not necessity is the mother of invention.
I see his point of view. I am quite happy when I am sitting in my chair listening to good music and doing almost nothing else. At those points of my life I may be happy but I am not doing my part to end world hunger, promote a greater sense of understanding amongst people of different races and religions, or develop a clean renewable power source to save the environment. Then again, on my most productive days I might get the grass cut, some dishes washed and the laundry folded. None of which is exactly Nobel Prize winner material.
Negativity probably is a wonderful motivator. This great nation of ours was founded by a group of rabble rousers set on tossing out the king. We should thank them for being negative. If not we would have to drink tea everyday of our lives (yuck), even more of our friends and neighbors would think Benny Hill was actually funny (ack), and Wimbledon would be more important than the Super Bowl (gasp).
When you really think about it unhappy people probably have done more good for mankind. Susan B. Anthony wasn’t happy with the way things were. Mahatma Gandhi wasn’t happy with the way things were. Martin Luther King Jr. wasn’t happy with the way things were. George de Mestral wasn’t happy with the way things were. Who is George de Mestral you ask. George de Mestral was an amateur mountaineer from Switzerland who was not happy with the way things opened and closed so he invented Velcro, and now the world is a better place.
It is not just in the grand scheme of things that unhappy people effect the most change. It happens in the homes of normal everyday people all the time. If you are a parent of almost any age child this will be familiar to you. A grown person with logic and intellect calmly and politely explains to a young person the benefits all parties involved in the situation would enjoy if the young person would turn the music down and remove the dirty gym clothes from the dining room table so the family can enjoy a meal together. That style of approach elicits a blank stare akin to the one Alan Greenspan would get explaining how the Nikkei average affects the price of gas in Boise to Paris Hilton. (Heck, Alan Greenspan explaining Nikkei averages to almost anyone would cause blank stares.) The parent who has absolutely had it with the child’s slovenly manner and has resolved to create a Norman Rockwell moment around the dinner table even if it kills them, will yell at the kid to “get his junk off the table this very minute or he will be grounded until Chicago Cubs win the World Series.” This causes the child to move her/his lazy behind and do what s/he is told. Happy, calm parents may be what Dr. Spock and T. Berry Brazelton recommends, but frazzled and annoyed parents get results.
I will not go completely over to my friend’s way of thinking. I still think it is better to spend extended periods of time with people who are happy. Getting stuck in a room with people who believe (as Woody Allen once stated) that life is divided into two categories, the horrible and the miserable and one should be thankful if they are simply miserable is not my idea of a great Saturday afternoon. I do not want to go too far the other way either. I want to spend time with folks who are reasonable in their happiness, not so gleeful they make Kelly Ripa look like a character from an Ibsen play. If I am on a transatlantic flight I do not want to be sealed into the cabin of a 747 with a youth group singing camp songs and trying to talk the stewardess into making s’mores. Moderation is the key to all things.

Christopher Pyle once flew to London on the same plane with a youth group. There were no camp songs but the level of “cute happy” in the cabin caused him to contemplate using his seat cushion not as a floatation device but rather a suffocation device.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Reading the fine print can be fun

“For medical emergencies seek professional help” is actually printed on the side of a box of band-aids. This brings to mind a rather unpleasant image. Someone has suffered an accident while juggling chainsaws. A variety of body parts have been marred, if not actually severed, and the person crawls to the bathroom to get a band-aid. Only when he sees the precaution printed on the box does it occur to him that calling an ambulance might be a good idea. When interviewed by the local press the hospital patient says, “I owe my life to the manufacturers of band-aids. If they didn’t have that warning on the box I probably would have just taken a couple of those little circle shaped thingies and placed them on my arteries.”
There are so often terribly obvious things stated. I don’t know if they are stated because people are actually not intelligent enough to know them or if companies have to tell us to avoid being sued. There was the famous case where a lady successfully sued a fast food chain because she was burned when she spilled coffee on herself. I tried coffee a few times twenty years ago and hated it. So, I have not put a cup of coffee to my lips in quite a long time. But I do know that coffee is HOT. You can ask most any sentient being if coffee is something they would like poured into their laps and they will most all answer, “No.” Heck, dolphins would probably tell you, “If we had laps we would not want to pour coffee on them.” Well, due to the lawsuit the aforementioned fast food chain now has to have printed on all their coffee cups a warning about the contents being hot. Something comes to mind along the lines of “No kidding, Mr. Holmes.”
The tiny print at the bottom of television commercials is often entertaining to read (if the Evelyn Wood Speed Reading course paid off and your glasses are powerful enough). The ones that state the obvious are always the car commercials. They show a truck being landed upon by a flaming meteorite with a force akin to a small atomic weapon and at the bottom of the screen it says: professional driver on a closed course and dramatization. Darn it. I wanted to get a car which was proven to withstand the impact of a burning hunk of the original big bang.
Medicine commercials do similar things. There is the usual list of possible side effects read so fast people pick up every other word. Most of them discuss things so horrific I think I’d rather have the illness. “If you take this medicine for occasional heartburn possible side effects could include diarrhea, constipation, dizziness, headache, irritable bowel syndrome, heart palpitation, temporary blindness, rhinorrhea, scurvy, rickets, and an uncontrollable urge to sing Toby Keith songs.” I don’t know about you, but I would simply rather burp repeatedly.
I noticed the small print on a commercial plugging a medicine for colds and allergies. The large print which was also spoken by the authoritative-announcer-voice-guy read “Feel Better Faster.” The tiny little print not spoken at all said “versus no treatment at all.” So, what they are saying is, it is clinically proven you will get better faster if you take this medicine than if you do not treat the symptoms at all. Thank you for that little tidbit of information, Jonas Salk. You would probably get better faster if you ate a fifty cent can of chicken noodle soup and took a nap than if you did nothing at all.
Television commercials will probably keep trying to give misleading information and then make the government and their lawyers happy by putting tiny print on the screen to disavow any responsibility. Beer companies would have the most fun. Here is the advertisement I can envision.
A very homely man and woman are sitting in a bar. They both have a beer and then look across at each other. They are both slightly more attractive. They order several more beers. There are now a bunch of beer bottles in front of each of them and their eyes lock in a feverish moment of passion. The man is now the hunky doctor guy from the TV show Lost and the girl makes Angelina Jolie look like Granny Clampett. They clasp hands and leave the bar together. The tiny print at the bottom of the screen reads: This is what it feels like, but the next morning you may find yourself to married to a woman nicknamed The Diesel. We are not responsible for any legal fees or tattoo removal expenses.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

A car by any other name...

The other day I was blithely driving along in my tiny little two door car. My sound system, otherwise known as a factory issue AM/FM radio, was tuned to a local music station. Then all of a sudden the world went dark. I don’t get a chance to watch the news very often, but I was pretty sure there had been no mention of a total eclipse of the sun happening around 5:00 PM on Thursday. I looked to my left and learned the sun had not been blocked by a celestial body, but rather the sky had been blotted out by a vehicle large enough to apply for statehood. (“We recognize the fifty-first state in the union: The Jones Family’s SUV.”) The car, car is such an inadequate word; the gasoline powered pachyderm passed and merged in front of me. That is when I was able to read the model name, the Armada. I had to look up to see the chrome plate affixed to the rear of the car. It was a like driving a car built for Hobbits behind a vehicle with Paul Bunyan legroom.
The name makes sense. The Spanish Armada was, in its day, the largest group of fighting ships ever assembled. The gargantuan vehicle in front of me could have been assembled using twenty or thirty 1990 Ford Escort hatchbacks similar to the one I was driving. Then it occurred to me, maybe it had been made from unsuspecting compact cars, maybe I was in danger, maybe I had better start evasive maneuvers. That was when I started laughing. Evasive maneuvers in a sixteen year old Escort were as likely as Dick Cheney being named People Magazine’s Sexiest Man Alive.
Naming cars sounds like a great job. I am sure there is tons of research done by market analysts to best target just the right audience. I am not sure they are always sending the message they intended. For example, there is a car called an Aspire. It is a little car, so little it looks like the consumer needs to buy two, one for each foot, to be a useful mode of transportation. The name fits. It appears to be something which hopes to be a car one day. It aspires to be a real car like Pinocchio hopes to be a real boy.
There are quite a few that just do not make sense to me. The Hummer is someone who doesn’t know the words. There was a car called a Citation. Isn’t that what police call it when they give you a little slip of paper requiring the payment of a fine or an appearance in court? Tundra? Yep, I want to drive a car named after a frigid nearly lifeless part of the frozen north. If we follow that logic we might as well name a car after a dangerous region of the world. Ladies and gentlemen introducing the Chevy Beirut. There is an Expedition. How about the Ford Donner Party, with a built in barbeque for those gridlock traffic jams in Los Angeles?
The next step in the evolution of car names will probably go along the lines of food and cigarettes. The government will require truth in advertising. Instead of the Chevette the government would have required it be called “The Boxy Car which Guarantees Never Attracting Girls.” When a person goes to his local dealership to purchase one of those giant SUV’s he wouldn’t ask for an Escalade but rather, “Do you have a ‘To Heck with the Environment’?” One of those flashy little two-seater sports cars would be called the “Mid-Life Crisis.”
The majority of car names are rugged and macho: Magnum, Viper, Mustang, and Explorer. This only made sense. For years men were the chief consumers for cars. It was a true rite of passage for a man to buy his first car. It usually entailed things like looking under the hood and kicking the tires. Both of which I can do. The problem lies in the fact that as long as there is an engine in plain sight and the tire doesn’t explode when my Chuck Taylor high top makes contact with the radial I have no further insight.
With more and more attention being paid to equal treatment for the sexes I fully expect Detroit to start targeting the female demographic. I can hear Queen Latifah doing the voiceover for a new commercial: “For Mother’s Day the Mazda Bouquet – That new car smell beats sniffing a dozen roses any day.” Maybe a television commercial featuring Julia Louis-Dreyfus introduces a new car: “the Nissan Lifemate – more dependable than any man. It takes you shopping, waits patiently in the parking lot, and even carries all your packages home without complaint.”