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Modernity and Its Pains in the Butt

One of the many vexing things about this modern world is all the neologisms one has to keep up with. In just the past week we’ve had to become familiar with such awful-sounding phrases as “butt dialing,” “throuples,” and “revenge porn.”
“Butt dialing” is apparently what happens when ¬†you have one of those fancy “smart phones” in a back pocket and somehow squirm around in such a way that you inadvertently call up a number the device has somehow memorized. We’re not sure how that happens, as we have an old fashioned “flip phone,” which is an onerous enough concession to the modern world, but that’s what we’re told. Our Dad actually helped us to the latest jive a while back after our brother dialed him up that way. It’s been much in the news lately, because President Donald Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani wound up “butt dialing” a couple of reporters and leaving suspicious and cryptic voice mail messages about Ukraine and former Vice President and potential Democratic nominee Joe Biden and something about needing a few hundred thousand dollars in a hurry.
The current rules of journalistic ethics don’t require reporters to keep “butt dialed” voice mail messages off-the-record, so Giuliani’s rants were all over the cable news and the late night comedy shows. By now Giuliani has bigger troubles than the ridicule he’s received, but he’s done the world no favor by making “butt dialing” a permanent part of the lexicon.
A “throuple” is apparently an exclusive and ongoing menage a trois, and that newly coined word has been in the news lately because recently resigned California Rep. Katie Hill was involved in such a relationship with a staffer and the staffer’s husband. Hill campaigned as an openly bisexual candidate, and given California and the Democratic party she probably would have survived the scandal, despite the inner-office and power imbalance dynamics that have ruined the careers of so many male politicians, but there was also a naked cell phone picture of her smoking a bong in the shower with her female paramour. Given California and the Democratic party she might have survived that, but careful viewers noticed a small tattoo of a Nazi-era Iron Cross on her pelvic area, and it was too much intersectionality even for a California Democrat.
We have no idea who gave the picture to a little-known anti-Democrat pro-Trump web site, which then passed it on to the United Kingdom’s salacious Fleet Street tabloids, which took an unusual interest in a freshman congresswoman from far-off California and was not constrained by America’s more puritan standards for photographs that appear on the front page. One can only assume it was someone Hill would share a naked and bong-smoking moment with, and “revenge porn” is what the young folks call it when someone spitefully disseminates racy pictures of someone else taken in happier times. In announcing her resignation Hill said she would devote herself to the cause of banning “revenge porn,” and we wish her enough success that the cacophonous phrase falls out of use.
For all their unfortunate effects on the public discourse, at least none of these newfangled words will affect us personally. We’ll not own one of the stupid “smart phones” until they stop selling any other kind of phone, and even then we would never put such an expensive device in our back pockets. “Throuples” are out of the question at our age, as we’ve already had more than enough trouble with the old-fashioned couples arrangement. We’ve always been rather camera shy, too, even with our most intimate acquaintances, so any racy pictures you see of us on the internet are fakes, and we can assure you we’ve never even met any of the Kardashians..
Even so, it’s a rather dreary modern world we have to get around in.

— Bud Norman

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Our Humble Marketing Advice for Hillary Clinton

The great Bob Newhart used to perform a comedy routine titled “Abe Lincoln vs. Madison Avenue,” which imagined a telephone conversation just before the Gettysburg Address between a slick ad man and the rather dim fellow who had been cast to portray the wholly manufactured and thoroughly market-tested public image of the rail-splitting Great Emancipator. It’s a brilliant bit, the sort of shrewdly observed satire that comedians no longer seem up to, but for sheer laughs about Madison Avenue-style politics even the eerily prescient Newhart would be hard-pressed to beat a recent Washington Post report headlined “The making of Hillary 5.0: Marketing wizards help re-imagine Clinton brand.”
Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign has “recruited consumer marketing specialists on to her team of trusted political advisers,” according to the report, and “are sketching ways to refresh the well-established brand for tomorrow’s marketplace.” One of the wizards is taking a leave of absence from her job as a marketing executive for Coca-Cola, and another has previously produced commercials for such corporate giants as Southwest Airlines and Wal-Mart. The pair are busy at work on an “H” logo, with the article suggesting it might become as iconic as Coca-Cola’s contour bottles or the McDonald’s golden arches or that three-pointed Mercedes-Benz hood ornament that all the rappers used to wear as jewelry back in the ’90, but they’re also involved in developing a broader campaign message that will reportedly stress “economic fairness.” The authors acknowledge that “authenticity can be a powerful trait,” and note rather ruefully that “despite some raw displays of emotion” in her past failed presidential campaign Clinton “often came across as overly programmed,” but they seem hopeful that the new marketing wizards will solve that problem. They note that the Coca-Cola has a reputation for selling aged brands to youthful consumers, and we’d point out that Wal-Mart has acquired such a reputation for working class authenticity that upper-class liberals such as Clinton won’t allow one in their neighborhoods, so the pair might well be able to work similar magic for their candidate.
It probably isn’t helpful, however, for the Washington Post to make like Toto and draw back the curtain on the wizards as they pull the levers of a smoke-spewing candidate. Democratic primary voters are prone to thinking of “economic fairness” in terms of sticking it to the hated corporations, with manufacturers of sugary drinks and carbon-emitting airlines and minimum-wage-paying Wal-Mart right up there with the Koch Brothers and Monsanto in the liberal hierarchy of villainy, and it might blunt the necessary anti-capitalist message if the audience knew that it was produced by corporate ad agencies on behalf of a board member of numerous corporations. The Southwest Airlines and Wal-Mart guy even came up with the “Don’t Mess With Texas” anti-littering slogan that since become a rallying cry of Lone Star State conservatism. A Liz Warren insurgency campaign could easily lure the guys who did the campaigns for Ben & Jerry’s and other hippie businesses, or even the ones who came up with those exceedingly multi-cultural and vaguely homosexual Benniton ads, and make hay of the competition’s corporate connections.
Being untainted by any history of corporate marketing, and eager to avail ourselves of an already formidable campaign chest, we are willing to offer on speculation a few suggestions of our own for the “re-branding” of Clinton.
We would urge that the “new” Clinton be black. Race always trumps sex in the Democrats’ hierarchy of victimology, as Clinton found out to her dismay last time around, and a black Clinton should be able to counter all challenges. Racial transformations are possible, as proved by James Whitmore in “Black Like Me” and Godfrey Cambridge in “Watermelon Man” and Michael Jackson in what was more or less real life, and with help from the most skilled plastic surgeons and Hollywood’s finest make-up artists we think we can get Clinton looking something like Pamela Greer back in the “Cleopatra Jones” days. She’d have to work on that “ain’t no ways tired” minstrel show accent she does, but with help from an ebonics coach and some practice at wagging her hips while waving a finger snap she should do fine.
A black lesbian Clinton might be needed to cover all the bases, along with enough American Indian ancestry to match whatever Liz Warren is claiming, but there’s no telling if the fashion for lesbianism will still be strong come election time. A black and bisexual Clinton seems a surer bet, but that new governor that Oregon installed after the other one was kicked out because of his much-younger fiancee’s phony-baloney “green energy” scams has already staked out that historic “first,” and there’s obviously no way for a Democrat to out-liberal Oregon. In any case, some sort of sexually transgressive tattoo will be required.
The “economic fairness” schtick sounds promising, since only a handful of us doctrinaire libertarians and our puppet masters the Koch Brothers are for economic un-fairness, but it’s always best to not get too specific about such things, since somebody’s ox will inevitably be gored and none of it’s likely to achieve that elusive 3 percent annual growth in the gross domestic product, so we recommend a catchy slogan instead of any policy positions. “Hope and Change” is probably too ’00s, Huey Long’s old “Every Man a King” is too gender-specific, William Jennings Bryan’s “I will not be crucified on a cross of gold” doesn’t make much sense even if you are bold enough to revive the free silver issue, and “You have nothing to lose but your chains” is a bit explicitly Marxist, so we suggest something along the more original lines of “Don’t mess with Hillary.”
Of course, the biography will take some tweaking as well. The “old” Clinton was undistinguished as a lawyer and once chortled about the child-rapist she aided despite knowledge of his guilt, was most famous as a First Lady for pretending that her philandering husband was being framed by a “vast right-wing conspiracy,” her brief tenure in the Senate produced nothing of note, and her tenure as Secretary of State was one deadly blunder after another, so the “new” Clinton will need some accomplishments that the press will be willing to report. Given the willingness of the press, these deeds can be as fanciful as the claims made for Coca-Cola and Southwest Airlines. Our tale would begin with Clinton being born in a little log cabin that she built with her own two hands, then her years at sea with a kindly old Portuguese sailor, followed a storybook marriage written by someone other Jacqueline Susann, more talk about her being “dead broke” from all the lawsuits stemming from problems that we really don’t want to get into, and then her sudden epiphany during a strangely erotic Beyonce concert at the White House that she is and always has been a black woman. Along the way there will be world peace and economic revival achieved and vast right-wing conspiracies quashed, and the focus groups love all that stuff.
Authenticity is what counts most in politics, however, and once we teach Clinton how to fake that we’re sure she’ll be a sure-fire winner in the market place. With our well-remunerated help she could be even bigger than New Coke.

— Bud Norman

An Ink-Stained Wretch

Even by the melodramatic standards of newsroom intrigue, the latest dust-up at The New York Times is noteworthy for its nastiness. The acrimonious departure of executive managing editor Jill Abramson features accusations of sexism, a plea of poverty, and an intriguing tale of an ill-advised tattoo.
Abramson was installed as editor of the Times in 2011 amid much self-congratulatory hoopla about her being the first woman to hold that once-prestigious position, but was replaced on Thursday by former deputy Dean Baquet, who was introduced at a news conference where Abramson was conspicuously absent, and with much self-congratulatory hoopla as the first African-American to hold the once-prestigious post. The past three years of newspaper gossip have chronicled Abramson’s frequent clashes with both the staff below her and the family heir owner above her, but according to the insiders at The New Yorker the final conflict occurred when Abramson discovered that she was being paid less than her predecessor and concluded that sexism was the reason. The accusation is so embarrassing to the Times, which has crusaded relentlessly and often embarrassingly against real and imaginary sexism in other corner of American life, that it responded with a frank admission that its bottom line no longer allows for the generous compensation it once offered to the editors who oversee its precipitous decline in readership and ad revenues. Our occasional freelance work for the Times has not brought us anywhere near contact with Abramson, so we cannot attest to the veracity of any claims about her difficult nature, which of course have also led to accusations of sexism, but our long experience of the newspaper business suggests that the economic explanations are quite plausible.
In any case, we were more struck by the odd detail in the International Business Times that Abramson had celebrated her editorship by getting the modified serif font “T” from the Times’ distinctive masthead tattooed onto some undisclosed location on her body. The 60-year-old Abramson spoke of the tattoo last month on a podcast interview, and said she also had three others that included a representation of a New York City subway token and the trademark “H” of Harvard University to honor both her alma mater and the husband she met there, leaving listeners to speculate what the fourth tattoo looks like. We’re hoping it’s a big red “Mom” or a likeness of Betty Page, but we suppose that even in this day and age she’s entitled to some privacy regarding the matter. So long as she’s willing to speak of the modified serif “T” we’ll avail ourselves of a chuckle about it, though, as it reminds us of a heavily-tatooed friend of ours who is forever adorned with the name of an ex-husband on one of her formidable biceps. Abramson is still married to her Harvard beau, they’ll never take that degree away her from, and one can only hope that subway token will always retain its meaning for her, but that modified serif “T” is likely to be a painful reminder of lost love.
Even more painful to contemplate is what that tattoo says about both The Times and the times. Back when the Gray Lady was The Newspaper of Record and would settle a bet in almost any barroom in America, its editors did not have tattoos. They countenanced the likes of Walter Duranty whitewashing Stalin’s mass murders and Daniel Ellsberg’s espionage and Jayson Blair’s affirmative action fabrications and countless never-mind corrections, but at least they were serious enough they weren’t sitting next in line to some trendy twenty-something co-ed at the local tattoo parlor. It is saddening but no longer surprising to learn that someone so high in the still-influential world of journalism is trying to keep up with the teenaged hipsters, as the age of the grown-up has clearly passed. A recent Wall Street Journal editorial rightly bemoaned the “selfie-taking, hashtagging” administration, where National Security Council members dismiss the Benghazi scandal by saying “Dude, that was, like, two years ago,” and the President of the United States is doing late night comedy bits with the hippest hosts and denouncing the opposition party’s proposals as a “stinkburger,” so it should be expected that those covering their reign with proper respect have a similar sense of style. This might not have anything to do with the rapid decline of the newspaper industry or the similarly rapid decline of the country, but it seems an interesting coincidence.

— Bud Norman