Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Could we use a man like Herbert Hoover again?

Normally, I write about books over on the ol' Literary Supplement, but what I have to say after finishing An Uncommon Man: The Triumph of Herbert Hoover is far less about Richard Norton Smith's book, which had some pretty serious flaws, and more about Hoover, the man.

Strengths: Efficiency. Thrift. Churned out a lot of words. Anti-militaristic. Fed people (entire starving nations, in fact). Supported equal pay for women, the end of child labor, etc.  Worked hard. Worked tirelessly, into his ninth decade. Self-made man, as they say. Traveled the world. Known to offer up a pithy comment or two. They loved him in Belgium. And Poland. Random acts of generosity. Enthusiastically supported young people, from Scouts organizations to Boys' Clubs to answering thousands of letters people wrote to him, well into his old age.

Example: He agreed with a young woman that "the chances of a female president were improving; after all, 'the men have not done too good a job of government...in the last forty-seven years' and wishing her well 'if you are a candidate for President about thirty years hence."

Another girl, Kathleen, told him she wasn't yet born when he was president and she wanted to be not president, but a doctor. He wrote, "My dear Kathleen, You were saved a lot of trouble by not being born earlier. I am glad you want to be a doctor and not President. We do not have enough doctors, and there seems to be a sufficient number of candidates for President." --from p. 383 of An Uncommon Man 

Weaknesses: Probably wasn't meant to be a president, namely because he didn't excel at the compromising political schmoozing of it all. (On second thought, maybe this is a strength.) Listened a little too carefully to some of Joseph McCarthy's fears, although not the rabid paranoia.

Fascination factor: High. He was born in 1874 and died in 1964. The year he was born, Thomas Edison was inventing the duplex telegraph, Jesse James was robbing trains, and Hoover's eventual alma mater, Stanford University, did not yet exist. By the time he died, he had gone from meeting with Charles Lindbergh through advising against dropping the atomic bomb to congratulating John Glenn on orbiting the Earth. He also outlived, among others, his wife Lou, his pal General MacArthur, and Eleanor Roosevelt, not to mention his successor FDR and John F. Kennedy, whose father the ambassador to England had known Hoover for a while.

The man got around. He met everyone from Hitler to Eva Peron, and he was friends with other presidents from Woodrow Wilson to Harry Truman, with FDR being basically the exception (he spent time with and was consulted by Eisenhower AND Kennedy). Bottom line is that Hoover had a fascinating decades-long pre-presidency career and an accomplished decades-long retirement, but all most people know about him is "the Depression!" And really, he was unfairly blamed for the so-called Great Depression, as if any one person caused it or could solve it single-handedly, and it's interesting to note the complicating factors of his administration, such as: Congress. The economic policies of his predecessor, Calvin Coolidge. The fact that FDR was his own brand of crazy, when he swooped in to "save" the day -- and the fact that FDR used some of Hoover's ideas and already-started-before-FDR-got-there tactics.

Other  fun facts gleaned from this bio, in a more-things-change-the-more-they... way:

*In the aftermath of World War I, "Washington sports fans cheered a uniformed sailor for shooting to death a fellow spectator who refused to stand for the national anthem."

*In a 1935 speech, Hoover noted the way some politicians stifled dissent: "They set up a glorious ideal to which we all agree unanimously. Then they drive somewhere else or into a ditch. When we protest they blackguard us for opposing the glorious ideal. And they announce that all protesters are the tools of Satan or Wall Street. When we summon common sense and facts they weep aloud over their martyrdom for the ideal."

*"If America joined the [World] war [II], he said,  and was rewarded with victory, 'then we will have won for Stalin the grip of communism in Russia and a greater opportunity for it to extend in the world. We should at least cease to tell our sons that they will be giving their lives to restore democracy and freedom.'" -p.298

*In a 1954 critique of foreign policy, he noted: "We should cease to jabber about leading the world. Sometime the world will turn on us with remarks as to where we have led to."

Furthermore, I hereby declare that we should bring back the name Herbert. Come on, hipsters, get with me on this! I previously mentioned, during my reading of the William H. Taft bio, that I really like President Taft's brother Horace--he was a fun guy!--and that I kind of wanted to bring back the long-forgotten name Horace. Well, now I'm adding Herbert to my list. If I have twin sons, perhaps they'll be named Horace and Herbert. Or maybe I should just get two puppies or kittens for this purpose.

While I learned a lot about Hoover, I should probably check every fact in this book, because author Richard Norton Smith and his editors apparently couldn't be bothered to do so themselves. I've ranted elsewhere about the incorrect statement that the Hoover Dam is on "the California/Nevada border" (hello, can you read a map?) but that isn't the only fact Smith gets wrong herein. So, I do advise you to learn a thing or two about Hoover, but maybe check out some other sources while you're doing it.

And may we all hope to be as accomplished and prolific in ninety allotted years on this Earth!

Friday, April 18, 2014

Seller Beware!

What would that be in grammatically correct Latin? Caveat vendit? Caveat vendor?

So, I'm just sitting there innocently working on my things and listening to some tunes when a JCPenney ad comes on advertising the store's "biggest sale of the season," taking place now through Saturday. I wasn't really listening, in an active listening kind of way, rather just allowing the save-big-discount-save-money-discount-blah-blah to wash over me, subconsciously knowing the music would come back on soon. Then, that telltale advertising voice shift happened, and the bright and chipper "Come save money!" gave way to the "NowI'mgoingtotalkreallyfastforthefineprintdisclaimertalk" lower voice. And this latter voice informed me that "biggest sale of the season" refers to the duration, the most days of sale, but that there might be another sale later that lasts for fewer days but has more items on sale.

To which the only possible logical response, of course, would be: Oh, you selfish stupid lazy entitled consumers of the US and wherever else your sorry selves are located, what the !@#$&* is wrong with you and why don't you go back to whatever !@$&* glacier you stepped out of?!  (As Julia Sugarbaker would say.) This is what we need disclaimers about now??! Because otherwise some jerkwad (I'm tempering my language right now to try to keep this blog reasonably family friendly) is going to come screaming into JCPenney and say whine-whine-whine you owe me money give me a refund i want my money back i am stupid i suck i have no life whatsoever but you said the BIGGEST sale and then later you had a BIGGER sale and I'm a total f****** loseramus but give my money whine whine pout I am terrible and horrible and give me my money. Ye gods, do I ever feel for JCPeneny, having to deal with and anticipate shite like that. It makes we want to go shop their "Biggest Sale of the Season" just to support them in the face of the abject loserdom that is US consumer society. Because I know from my Borders days that these kinds of things are what consumers waltz in demanding all the time.

You may be thinking that it was just a joke. That in this particular advertisement, JCPenney is making fun of the "NowI'mgoingtotalkreallyfastforthefineprintdisclaimertalk" voice that we hear all the time in ads. But that doesn't account for what happened yesterday.

Yesterday, the news went viralish that Cheerios or General Mills or some cereal corporate entity or other was including mandatory arbitration in their terms and conditions if you "Like" them etc. on social media. Meaning you can't sue them later when they say their cereal is "a healthy morning treat" and you find some jackass lawyer to support your jackass loserdom and you try to take them to court so you can get thousands or more dollars from their deep pockets when you say that "healthy" is a term reserved for the medical establishment-approved Ritalin and Prozac that big pharmaceuticals are pumping through your stupid, loser, jackass body and they totally wronged you by daring to claim that their cereal was "healthy" and oh by the way your 300-pound meat-eating dairy-drinking Walmart-shopping preservative-purchasing park-in-the-closest-spot-and-never-walk-on-any-errand-in-your-life self had better be compensated for such an egregious affront to your health.

Guess what, asswads? (trying, trying, trying to use gentle language, and failing) You have agreed to SO MANY mandatory arbitration clauses. Probably for Facebook itself -- and your car insurance -- and your credit cards -- and god knows how many other things. AND IT'S NOT ANYONE'S FAULT BUT YOUR OWN if you aren't reading the terms and conditions you agree to. You are NOT entitled to any of this shite! Any of it! You are not entitled to Facebook, or Cheerios, or Baby Einstein, or whatever.

Get the mighty !@#$&* over yourselves.

This really, truly makes me feel sorry for corporations. No, they are not people. They are corporations. You know who "people" are? "People" are the consumers who actually walk into a courtroom trying to get money from corporations who said their cereal was "healthy" or their Baby Einstein DVD was "educational" instead of those people focusing on real, actual, malevolent corporate wrongs such as those perpetrated daily by our military-industrial complex, for example.  Jeez, I hate people so much. The people that would find it anywhere within the realm of their possibility to sue Cheerios for claiming to be healthy. I hate those people. I hate them. This is the basis of my hatred. For today anyway.

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Mom, what's a chaperone?

So, the other day or week or whatever, a piece in The Atlantic started doing its viral thing, thus popping up in my Facebook news feed. It's called "The Overprotected Kid," and it details a lot of incredibly obvious stuff, like how kids need to play outside and discover things on their own and not always have parents breathing down their necks. It talks about how it's actually good for kids to not know how they're going to get out of a predicament, and then to get out of that predicament, because that's called growth. But we have reached the point, chronologically, where we now have college kids who have never had to get themselves out of predicaments, and I really wish that the college professors would stop capitulating to their whining. (I should rephrase: I wish they had never started. I wish not a single solitary grade had EVER been changed. Ever. Because: consequences, people!)

One of the interesting lines in the article was that kids are growing up now with the assumption that they are always being watched, and therein lies the problem. Now, of course the parents today offer up lots of good reasons to always be watching their and other kids, chief among them because otherwise the kids are going to be kidnapped. As the Atlantic author points out, child abduction by strangers is as uncommon as it ever was, and it seems to me that basing your entire life around those odds is kind of like doing your monthly budget with the assumption that you are you going to win the lottery. Yeah, you might (especially if you play), but it really has no practical purpose in your plans. Most missing children are either abducted by someone they know, which is often a parent, or they are runaways. And let's not forget that independent teenagers and adults can also be stranger abducted, as horrible cases like the recent one in Ohio remind us (and as Criminal Minds likes to remind us also--why doesn't that create some abduction-of-adults paranoia to accompany the abduction-of-kids paranoia?)

Obviously, I think children should be prepared, as I was, for what to do in "stranger danger" situations. Sometimes you should  talk to strangers, politely, especially in places of business. If it's not one of those times, you should not be afraid to scream, make noise, run away, etc. And no, I'm not advocating for kids to be alone outside all the time --by all means, walk to school with friends, have curfews, keep in touch, come in before the streetlights go on, let your parents know where you are, and all the rest -- but my god, my nephew is ten-and-a-half years old and he is still not allowed to do anything by himself, or even, say, walk through the neighborhood with his eight-year-old sister but no parents to my dad's (their grandpa) house, which is less than half a mile away. I think I was babysitting other people's toddlers when I was ten-and-a-half. I walked to/from school without adults (with friends) from age seven or so. I've seen the car pick-up line at my nephieces' school. It hurts my brain. (This is also due in part to the reconfiguring of gifted education in that school district, making it a magnet program at only one school that necessitates driving longer, non-walk/non-bicycle distances for all the families who live in the zone of other elementary schools but have to schlepp their kids to the one gifted magnet school, and that's annoying and horrible for lots of other reasons too, but also my nephew could not walk the less than half a mile through the residential streets home from elementary school in second grade when he still attended in their very own neighborhood. Is second grade too young? Not with a friend, I'd say, and I daresay that's a good grade to start the whole Mom-walks-to-the-end-of-our-street-then-watches-you-go-down-the-street-toward-school thing even if the kid is alone, but I don't daresay that to my sister, because then we just have a big fight, because I'm not allowed to talk about parenting until I have my own kids or maybe not even then, although my sister herself admits she is "highly paranoid" -- her words, not mine)

OK, that parenthetical bit was so long you probably even forgot we were in parentheses, eh?

The point is: watching. A day or two after seeing some parental friend types post and ruminate about that piece ("Why can't I just send my kids outside to play?" mused the attachment parents, with the obvious implications just hanging there in cyberspace), I was typing something in a Facebook post or comment and it red-squiggly-underlined the word "chaperone" and I was struck. Aghast, I thought, 'My god, is this what it's come to??? We don't even use the word chaperone anymore in this modern/attachment/helicopter parent 21st-century?? Because kids are always being watched so they wouldn't even know what a chaperone is, because there's just always an adult there?!??!! There is no distinction!' Then I realized that the Facebook/Google/Blogger/internet spell-checking overlords apparently prefer the alternative spelling "chaperon" that I think looks incomplete and that I have never before this sentence used in my life.

But I was a little worried for a minute there.

Impact on my Mind

Whenever I hear someone talking-head-like say that something impacts something else, as I just this moment did on The Diane Rehm Show (it happens on public radio a lot), I recall a Designing Women moment when Julia is frustrated by a woman and says that woman is "such a--yuppie!" and Charlene says "Julia, you hate that word!" and Julia says she knows but how else could you describe someone who "uses impact as a verb"?!

I have continued to laugh/marvel/shake a fist at various yuppified verbings of words that make their way into our world in an irritating way (unlike fun verbings that have whimsy or poetry to them), with "partner" being a particularly irksome one. That was one Borders consistently tried to use to save its dying self; as a merchandising supervisor and corporate trainer I was always being asked to "partner" with this or that other department, and it was pretty terrible. (I don't think I even need to remind you all here that Google is not a verb. You can, however, perform a search using Google. While the registered trademark may sadly become accepted rather than just wrongly used as a generic one day, like aspirin or Kleenex, that's no reason for you to verb it. I will also slap you if you slip up when photocopying and use Xerox as a verb.)

Beyond impact-ing and partner-ing, there's also the need to think outside the box while focusing on outcomes during our teamwork and other best practices. Corporate jargon, as someone (Noam Chomsky?) has pointed out, has really become the Orwellian double-speak of our day, rather than military or government overlord speak (except for the massive extent to which corporate jargon permeates said military, because military-industrial complex), and we have all accepted it and happily brought it into our daily self-helping conversations.

But the point is: impact. WWJD (what would Julia [Sugarbaker] do?) in the face of the internet barrage of selfies and tweets and Upworthy and  everything else? I miss her. If you aren't intimately acquainted with the antics of the ladies (+ Anthony) of the Sugarbaker design firm, you have missed out. Think about the discussion they could have about the way people constantly post pictures of what they ate for dinner. I suspect Charlene would be the one to snap a pic of her meal, or maybe Suzanne would do it, going crazy with some bewildering app on her phone, and Mary Jo would fret about Claudia and her friends judging the adults' cooking by posting it on Facebook, and Julia would find it all so tacky... I long for a TV sitcom with the cheerful-yet-substantial, scathing-but-not-petulant, intelligent, political, personal, ferocious, beautiful brilliance of Designing Women to address these 21st-century issues. Any suggestions?