Friday, August 24, 2007

Race from the White House 2007

The well-worn path being created as more and more folks scamper out of the Rose Garden has to make the current resident of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue feel a little abandoned. If all my friends were devising weak reasons to stop hanging out with me I know I’d become worried. Nobody has resigned from the Bush White House because she had to wash her hair, but I expect Condoleezza to announce that any day now.
In an article published in the Hutchinson News Saturday, August 18th the Associated Press reported eight different high level advisors had resigned over the past few months. I knew most of the polls were showing only 30 to 40% of those polled approved of the way he was doing his job. However, I never guessed the people responding did not have A.C.L.U. cards in their wallets but rather employee parking passes for the White House.
One of the most recent to report his impending departure was Tony Snow, the Press Secretary. He said it was a decision based on financial concerns. The quote was: “I will not be able to make it to the end of this administration, just financially.” When you find out he only makes a lousy $168,000 dollars a year you understand. Really, he is a married man with three children. It must be hard to make ends meet supporting a family on that income. Hold it a minute, I’m a married man with three children. I make much less than the $3,230.77 a week he grosses and I get by. I’m sorry. I shouldn’t question what he says. As the President’s Press Secretary, he is the spokesman for the most powerful man in the free world (don’t tell Rupert Murdoch, we’ll just let him go on living the fantasy), so of course Mr. Snow has never uttered a false statement. (I’ve got to be careful because Alberto Gonzales hasn’t quit yet.)
Also, one of the most powerful men behind the man is going to leave the White House. Karl Rove has been one of the most, long-standing, influential confidantes (or co-conspirators depending upon your political leanings) for George W. Bush. He has announced he will be leaving his job soon. One of his chief reasons was he wanted to spend more time with his family. Hmmm, he has an ex-wife, a current wife and an 18 year old son. It sure takes a lot of time to fulfill those obligations.
My guess is the ex-wife would not be real thrilled to come home and find Mr. Rove parked on her couch eating chips, sipping a Bud, and watching the Braves game. She had a reason to divorce him so spending a Sunday afternoon discussing John Smoltz’s Hall of Fame credentials with her ex-husband (a.k.a. the ex-chief advisor to the commander-in-chief) cannot be on the top of her “to do” list.
As far as his current family is concerned if his eighteen year-old son is like most eighteen year-old sons he is enjoying the carefree days of college life. Having the old man show up at the frat house when you’re putting the moves on the highly cute and slightly inebriated girl from your comparative religions class is totally not cool. On the other hand since he can arrange to have the chief rival for her affection suddenly find himself sunning on the pale sands of exotic Guantanamo Bay, good ol’ Dad might come in handy.
But, the unkindest cut of all has to be his own daughter. Jenna announced her engagement. In order to distance herself from Dad she is willing to marry Henry Hager, some politico Padawan (that’s Jedi talk for apprentice) to the aforementioned Lord of the Sith, Darth Rovious. (I admit I have crossed a nerd line here, but it works, he got his start as an intern for Rove.) Henry’s father was Virginia’s first director of homeland security, so at least George knows their mail will be read and phone conversations listened to, making it easy to keep tabs on his little girl.
I bet the Georges Bush (Dad and Grandfather) are disappointed their little girl has stepped so far out of the circle to marry. Oh sure, he comes from a solid family, a rich family, he is politically motivated, he’s a Republican, but he didn’t go to Yale. I can just hear them at the dinner table: “Can you believe she’s marrying a Wake Forest man? Oh, the shame...”

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Going to Cell in a Hand Cart

Earlier this week I was part of a very large group of people placed in a contained space for over two hours. When we were released I was one of the few who did not feel the need to move as quickly as rats leaving the Bush White Hou…oops, I mean a sinking ship. Since I was taking a leisurely stroll to my car I was able to observe the other folks. This is my conclusion from that experience. Cigarettes have been replaced by cell phones.
I realize on first glance this seems like a dumb thing to say. Saying dumb things is something at which I excel. However, the more I think about this the more I think I’m bloody well brilliant for postulating this theory.
The first supporting detail was what I noticed Monday. Upon leaving the building a huge number of folks reached immediately for their phones. It was truly amazing to me how many people needed to talk to someone RIGHT NOW. It couldn’t wait until lunch time. It couldn’t wait until they drove to their next destination. It couldn’t even wait until the sun fully cooked away the residual air conditioning off their clothes. They had to call that very second.
That is an addiction my friends as insidious as nicotine, as hard to shake as a Lucky Strike habit, and as malicious as Marlboro mania. To put it simply… it just isn’t really a good thing for people to be that dependent on an electronic device for their happiness. Okay, so that wasn’t put simply. You get what I mean though.
The cell phone habit can do many of the same things that smoking does. The user may suddenly find himself facing a deficit in his cash flow. A two pack a day habit costs something like $40 to $50 a month. Cell phone bills can make that look like coins in sofa cushions.
As I extrapolate this theory further the parallels between cigarettes and cell phones are amazing. Cigarette packages fit perfectly into a man’s shirt pocket, so do cell phones. Cigarettes require you to use your mouth and your hands, so do cell phones. Cigarettes smolder for several minutes after you light them, so do cell phones.
A really cool cigarette smoker would keep a cigarette behind his ear as he walked around in public. A really cool cell phone user has a “hands-free” device attached to his ear as he walks around in public. Actually, both of these affectations makes me want to approach the person and very politely kick him in the shin and run away.
Back before they were outlawed throughout the land, cigarettes annoyed people in public places. Now cell phones do that. You’re sitting in a movie theater and just when the hero is deciding which wire to cut on the incendiary device planted in the basement of an orphanage filled with puppies the entire audience is treated to a tinny electronic rendition of Wild Cherry’s 1976 hit “Play That Funky Music, White Boy.” After the refrain and two choruses the yutz finally answers the incoming call. He proceeds to have a conversation, loudly. This makes everyone else in the audience want to strap an incendiary device to his Motorola, putting him out of their misery.
If you or a loved one are struggling with a cell phone addiction there may be help available. Lessons learned from watching people kick the smoking addiction could be applied to this newest scourge. Going cold turkey and flushing your cell phone down the toilet may not work for many people and it can be hard on the pipes. If a cigarette smoker can switch to a nicotine patch a cell phoner can get one which only texts. Some of the buzz without all the harsh health risks. A support group could help, but an 800 number hot line seems counter-productive.
If simpler methods fail one could turn to aversion therapy. For a smoker every time he took a puff a trained physician would administer an electric shock making the process of smoking much less pleasurable. Doing this for a cell phone addict would be much easier. They would not have to sit in a clinic. The cell phone could be wired so instead of playing an insipid song or vibrating when a call was coming in it could send 20 volts (not a commonly lethal level) into the person answering. After experiencing a few jolts like that talking to one’s BFF might be less attractive. The keypad could also be booby trapped with high voltage shocks so texting would require thumbs of asbestos.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Some things go together, some things don't

The old saying has always been, “politics makes strange bedfellows.” Well it appears business may create even odder ones. It was announced a few weeks ago the Energizer Company was going to purchase the Playtex Company. Just bringing this to your attention may be sufficient for a humor column. I am sure most people reading this have already come up with their own jokes about the Energizer Bunny and any one of many Playtex products. My work here is done…
Big companies have been buying big companies for ages. Here are some of note from the last decade or so. Exxon bought Mobile Oil and became Exxon/Mobile. Time Corporation bought Warner Communications and became Time-Warner. Then America Online bought them creating Time-Warner/AOL. These people may be stinking rich, but they are not very imaginative when it comes to naming their new companies.
This trend of just sticking the two names of the formerly separate companies together makes it easier for the general public to recognize the brands but it should not always be done. For example, if a certain diversified manufacturer purchased a particular heavy equipment manufacturer it would become Eaton-Caterpillar, which is down right unappetizing to say the least. However, if that same diversified manufacturer purchased a particular Pennsylvania company and then bought a certain insurance group it would be Eaton-Hershey-Chubb. This tells a simple story of cause and effect. If one major retailer purchased a retailer of home improvement materials it would be Target-Lowe’s, sounds like Robin Hood is trying to hit the Sheriff of Nottingham’s ankles.
There are some companies which should be able to do the hostile takeover thing simply because of their names. Pep Boys would have no trouble with La-Z-Boy, but neither of them have a chance against Manpower. Everyone who has ever used a quick hand game to decide who gets the last slice of pizza knows International Paper beats Rockwell International.
Another recent example of one company buying another is IHOP restaurants purchasing the chain of Applebee’s restaurants. These are two companies which do basically the same thing, feed hungry patrons. Yet they each bring something of benefit to the other. Applebee’s offers car side service, a wide variety of appetizers, menu items friendly to vegetarians and people trying to eat healthy. IHOP offers a dirt load of syrup.
The merger of two restaurant chains makes sense. Anyone can see them living together harmoniously, but some companies just do not go together. Can you imagine a merger of Smith and Wesson and Wesson Oil? The combined name flows off the tongue quite easily, Smith and Wesson Oil. Even though you can shoot the chicken and fry it up in one fell swoop, it is most difficult to load the bullets with your fingers covered with 100% pure vegetable oil.
Okay, maybe that example is a bit far-fetched. How about this? Phil Knight at Nike decides to buy L’Oreal. Athletic shoes and hair coloring products do not at first glance go together. However, I have seen women with such a bad dye job running away seemed like a good idea at the time. Upon closer inspection it is the snappy slogans associated with the companies which make them natural allies. Just Do It Because You’re Worth It. It even makes a complete sentence.
Slogans are very important to corporations trying to make sure they stay at the forefront of the public’s awareness. Think back. You can probably remember slogans from your early days. “Plop, plop, fizz, fizz, oh what a relief it is,” is instantly recognizable to more than one generation of television watchers. As powerful as slogans are getting them mixed up can cause some real damage. So, merging companies must exercise caution.
Think of the disaster if the slogan Sonic is using to point out their restaurants are open deep into the night (Even sweeter after dark) became associated in the consumer’s mind with a different product. A product like maybe, Coppertone? People would be very confused. Or if the slogan Colgate toothpaste is using at the moment (So clean you can feel it) got mixed up with a company which sold kitty litter.
Now let’s take a moment to pick out some companies which really should merge. Taco Bell and Tums make a natural partnership. Without the existence of the one the other would take a real hit to his bottom line. Anheuser-Busch and Bayer are a match made in hang-over heaven. It may be a vicious circle but Jenny Craig being purchased by Russell Stover makes sense on many levels. Finally, for all you parents of diaper wearing children Huggies buying large chunks (no pun intended) of stock in Renuzit is a no-brainer.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Supermarketing does not always make sense

I used to believe the advertising and marketing of products was a well thought out process undertaken by intelligent and highly trained individuals. I mean look at Darren on “Bewitched”, both of them, he (they) worked hard to come up with just the right imagery. Lately, not all of the decisions of the Madison Avenue brain trust make a lot of sense to me.
The other day I took a leisurely stroll through the local supermarket. Usually, I run into the store, get the few things I have been sent for (plus something with nougat or caramel), rush to the self checkout (grumble as the guy in front of me pays using a penny jar the size of a shop vac), and then scamper out (being sure to eat the contraband candy before I get home). This time I looked around and saw many puzzling things.
I came across a selection of very healthy cereals. I read the boxes simply to pass the time. I have no interest in eating healthy cereals. This prejudice was validated the more I learned about them.
The first brand I saw was called Perky-O’s. In big letters it proudly proclaimed it was gluten free. I have no idea what gluten is so I was willing to believe I would prefer not to have it as part of any well-balanced breakfast. Then I noticed another large label saying it had thirty percent less sugar. How can something called Perky-O’s have less sugar? Perky equals sugar.
It got worse. Next I saw a cereal called Good Friends. The package featured two very happy people with their heads together smiling out at me. They were way too happy for early morning. It said it was very high fiber. I suppose if you are going to share high fiber cereal with a friend it had better be a good friend.
In order to make the ingredients sound attractive the makers of Good Friends gave them a lyrical quality. One variety said it was made of a quartet of flakes, blossoms, granola, and raisins. Blossoms? Then I remembered the lyrics to that San Francisco song from the sixties. “If you’re going to San Francisco. Be sure to wear some flowers in your teeth.”
The other variety touted a trio of flakes, twigs, and granola. It actually said twigs! Who would spend nearly five dollars to buy cereal which boasts of twigs? I can buy a knock-off brand of Froot Loops for a buck fifty and then go into my backyard and add all the twigs my little heart desires, for free. I suppose it comes in handy when the main dish supplies its own toothpicks in every spoonful. I preferred it when my breakfast featured a prize of a decoder ring or little plastic “Freakies” characters, not bits of dead tree. Somehow I think I could make several more jokes abut having twigs in cereal, but I’ll let you all play the home version while I move on.
Wait, one more. “Don’t worry, honey, the new cereal I got is fine. Its bark is worse than its bite.”
I had to get back to something I understood so I went to the regular cereal aisle. My old friends were all there: Toucan Sam, Tony the Tiger, and those elf guys with the onomatopoeia names. But, wait a minute, something is not quite right. There is a new version of Rice Krispies. The box has big letters saying it is an “organic” version. This begs the question if one of the elf guys should change his name. I mean if the cereal is organic and helps your digestive system stay regular maybe the last guy should add another “O” to his name.
Every big corporation wants a piece of the action in supermarkets now. Disney has all sorts of food products. Breakfast cereals, ice cream and even Mickey Mouse lunch meat. You have to admit with the questions surrounding the manufacture of certain kinds of meat products it takes real courage to put a picture of a rodent on your package.
Disney has a lot of marketing experience but this last product has to be a mistake, Old Yeller dog food. Didn’t anybody in the pet food division see the movie? “Our dog food is specially formulated for the family pet that contracts rabies after fighting off an infected wolf to protect the children. Included in every bag - a box of tissue and a bullet!”