Saturday, February 21, 2009

The names have been changed to protect the profits

A phenomenon which is new to me is the concept of rebranding. This is an image facelift in an attempt to change the public’s perception of a company or other entity. Often times it is only attempted after a large amount of bad press or a particularly distressing incident.
The first one I heard of was Phillip Morris. Phillip Morris is a company known far and wide as the manufacturer of cigarettes. The only thing to accumulate more bad press than cigarettes is probably…uh…I’m gonna have to think about this one…well… Nazis.
So after a chain of lawsuits that makes Nuremberg look like an episode of Law and Order Phillip Morris decided it was time for subterfuge, oops, I mean a public relations makeover. To do this they didn’t stop making cigarettes. They didn’t stop trying to sell cigarettes to as many people as they could. They did, however, change their name. Phillip Morris became Altria.
This was brilliant. The name Phillip Morris sounds like a man who sits in a glass and steel corporate skyscraper behind a mahogany desk larger than a Volkswagen dispensing orders to buy and sell stock while chomping on a foot long cigar, stepping on the human rights of any and all underlings, and instigating environmentally insensitive policies with a loud guffaw. While Altria sounds like the Greek goddess of empathy who was known for her kindness to large-eyed orphans and kittens.
Actually, I learned the word Altria is derived from a Latin word meaning “high”. This begs the question, is this company making cigarettes from the usual tobacco or has Michael Phelps found a new endorsement deal?
Their logo makes no sense to me. It is a square made up of a bunch of different colored squares. It looks like that thing you get when you select the “more colors” option on your computer. Is this supposed to indicate the diversity of their product lines? Or is it representative of the wide variety of phlegm colors one can produce after having smoked for a number of years.
Another company who decided to rebrand is Blackwater. Yes, the warriors for hire company who got such a rosy report back in the United States after its endeavors in Iraq. This firm put itself through its own version of witness relocation by changing its name to Xe. Nope, I did not make that up. They chose to adopt a company name which is more like an algebra notation than an actual recognizable word.
In one way it makes sense because people who are trying to hide from their past are often referred to as Mr. X in the journalistic exposes recounting the unfortunate events. This company did not adopt the motto of John Wayne type heroes. The old kicking tail mindset of shoot first and ask questions later. They preferred their own variation on that theme: shoot first and refuse to answer questions later.
There have been discussions amongst some political pundits after the recent presidential election that the Republican Party needs to go through a sort of rebranding. They are not suggesting the party simply change its name (even though I would love the chance to name a whole political party) but rather spend time and effort to re-define what the party stands for so it better reaches the voters. While I am not a political operative in any way, shape or form I am a person who spends a lot of time with the younger generation and I think I might have a good idea about how to grow the party by becoming attractive to kids who could not vote in the last election but will do so in 2012.
The Republican Party needs to become the party of the virtual candidate. They need a nominee who was created via the Spore internet site. One who has an ample presence on Facebook. A candidate able to win battles in the World of Warcraft, rescue Princess Zelda, collect voluminous campaign contributions in Lego studs, and willing to name Steve Jobs as his running mate/programmer. I have the perfect name for this candidate as well: George Wii-shington. His slogan would be: “Now is the time for all good nerds to come to aid of their gaming consoles.” If voting becomes the newest app for the iPod touch the election is in the bag.

Christopher Pyle would like to form the Delightfully Apathetic Dudes (DAD) Party. The chief planks of its platform would be mandatory Saturday afternoon napping, a man’s inalienable right to have chocolate covered doughnuts for breakfast and year round NFL. To register in this party e-mail Chris at

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Superstitions and Valentines

Those of you reading the newspaper today probably do not suffer from paraskavedekatriaphobia. If you did you’d probably be hiding under the bed because today is Friday the 13th. That twenty-three letter word is an amalgamation of the Greek words Paraskevi meaning Friday, dekatreis meaning 13, and phobia meaning fear. Those of you still reading do not suffer from hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobia, the fear of long words. No, I did not make up that word, but I really wish I had.
Why would Friday the 13th be considered unlucky? Thursday the 27th may be pretty crummy but nobody talks about it. The number thirteen has long been considered unlucky. One explanation I found for this is because the number twelve is often considered a good number. Numerologists consider twelve to represent completeness. This is because there are twelve months in a year, twelve hours on the clock, twelve inches in a foot, twelve tribes of Israel, twelve apostles of Jesus, twelve gods of Olympus, twelve drummers drumming and twelve ladybugs at the ladybug picnic (I loved that song on Sesame Street). Because twelve is complete, meaning it is well-centered with a firm grasp of its own self-worth, thirteen is horribly jealous and therefore goes around trying to screw things up.
Friday also has a spotty past. In Norse mythology Friday is named after Frigga, that wild and crazy goddess of love and fertility. Well, when the Norse tribes converted to Christianity Frigga was banished to some fjord or something in the frigid north and was none too happy about it. So, every Friday she and a bunch of her closest friends, witches and a guy called the devil, would get together, throw back a few drinks and plan all the crummy stuff they would pull on people over the next week.
I guess this all means today is unlucky because an indignant number and a ticked off love goddess haven’t taken a twelve step program to outgrow their pettiness. Maybe if we made it a thirteen step program they’d be interested.
If we all survive today tomorrow brings a whole new set of issues our way. It’s St. Valentine’s Day. Why we connect February the 14th with romantic love is as convoluted as why we connect Friday the 13th with Ziggy-type ill-fortune and guy wearing a hockey mask.
Hours and hours of exhaustive research, well, okay, three and a half minutes on Wikipedia, showed me the Saint Valentine whose feast was on February 14th has a biography even shorter than the attention span of a ten year old watching Timothy Geithner explain how the Federal Reserve changing the prime interest rate can cause shockwaves in the Nikkei average….zzzzzzz. Sorry, it isn’t just ten year olds who find that stuff anesthetic.
Back on track. Valentine of Rome was a priest in, you guessed it, Rome, who suffered martyrdom in 269 was buried on the Via Flaminia and whose relics are at the Church of Saint Praxed in, there is a theme developing here, Rome. I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t feel comfortable if my relics were on display for just anyone to see.
The earliest surviving valentine is a fifteenth-century rondeau, that’s a poem for the non-romantics out there, written by Charles, Duke of Orleans, to his wife. This was along the lines of a Casey Kasem long distance dedication because Chuck was sitting in the Tower of London after coming out on the wrong side of the Battle of Agincourt.
Since that time Valentine’s Day has been taken from romance to commerce. There is an arc of commercials being presented by a chain of jewelry stores which describes a guy who is so in touch with his inner romantic he hand crafts a card with special paper, curlicue lettering on the front, sealing wax on the back and a poem he wrote himself because he couldn’t find a card to express the depth of his emotion. The commercial goes on to say since every other guy is incapable of that we need to get our sorry behinds to Helzberg’s and drop a chunk of last month’s paycheck in order to buy the affection of the lady in our lives. Neither choice is very attractive to me.
A friend of mine had the right idea. He wasn’t a Shakespearian romantic nor was he a diamond purchasing Casanova. He would take his wife to the store, guide her to the rack of cards and show her the one he would have bought for her if he had been inclined to spend any money on such frivolity.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Who do want to be when you grow up?

What is a hero? When looking at a dictionary we find a description of somebody who is admired because of outstanding qualities or achievements, or we find a description of an impressive sandwich which can also be admired for its qualities and achievements. I think most everyone has someone they wish to emulate. As we go through life the criteria we have for selecting our heroes tends to change.
Looking back I think the first hero I had was Batman. By today’s standards this brings to mind a dark, brooding avenger for justice with a single-minded sense of purpose and an unswerving dedication to serving mankind. I could pretend that is what attracted me to him, but…not so much. I was a devotee of the wham, socko television show with Adam West. This means my hero was prone to walking up the sides of skyscrapers (with cameos from people like Sammy Davis Jr. sticking their heads out the windows), matching wits with grade B has been movies stars playing such villains as Olga, Queen of the Cossacks and Chief Screaming Chicken as well as putting the word “bat” in front of every possible noun in order to make it sound impressive.
“Quick, to the batpole so we can get to the batcave and jump into our batmobile and drive down the bathighway listening to our bat8-track player singing batsongs and have a batpicnic with batsandwiches.”
“Holy get a grip! You’re making me crazy with all this bat…guano.”
I outgrew that.
Like many young boys my next heroes came from the world of sports. I was a big fan of Ed Podolak. He was a running back for the Kansas City Chiefs and he had one of the most impressive games in playoff history. Christmas Day 1971 he racked up 350 yards, running, catching returning punts and kickoffs. He was amazing. The Chiefs lost.
Later I shifted my heroic attentions to the movies. I thought Sean Connery was cool. Why is it Americans think anyone with an accent can play any nationality? Connery, a kilt-wearing Scotsman, has played Englishmen, Arabs, Americans, Russians, an ancient Greek king, and a winged fire-breathing lizard, but the guy was cool with a capital “C” and a capital “OO”, the “l” can remain lower case otherwise it would be ostentatious.
Now that I am a grown man heroes are harder to come by. Comic book characters are no longer viable because the idea of running through alleys in the dark of night pursuing evil doers holds no allure. Actually the idea of running, for any reason, holds no allure. Sports stars are out (see previous sentence). Movie stars are just people pretending to be things they are not. That is not an outstanding quality or achievement because I do that every time I tell my children I’m smarter than they are.
Still we all need people to look up to and pattern our behaviors after as we muddle through our day-to-day life. I have a friend who embodies many of the characteristics I thought I’d like to strengthen in my own personality. He is tireless. He is not only comfortable with all kinds of new technology he is very adept with it. He learns new things, masters them and then moves on to the next thing. He is so capable as a multi-tasker he has lost the ability to do just one thing at a time. I used to say I wanted to be him. Then it dawned on me. I possess neither the energy, the finances nor the mettle to be him. Also, I realized I really don’t want to be all that. It takes up too much time.
Okay, if I am going to figure out who my true hero is I need to get my priorities figured out. What do I truly value?
I value kindness. I value humor. I value intelligence. I value a really good pie. Oh, my goodness! My true hero is the Galloping Gourmet. How embarrassing.
Let’s try that again shall we. I value kindness. I value humor. I value intelligence. I value honesty unless it means you are telling me my weight, how much it costs to send my kids to college or whether I resemble Harrison Ford. Well, that didn’t lead to a hero.
One more go. I value kindness. I value humor. I value intelligence. Oh, my, it was right there all along. My heroes are my father, my mother, my wife and my kids. How boring it that?