Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Ending the Run

This will be the last post on this blog, for a while, maybe forever.            I'm discontinuing it in favor of a new blog on WordPress.

I suspended it in August, but when I checked back recently I found that all the links back to the earlier posts had broken. I don't know why; maybe something to do with the site's conversion from http to the secure https (protection I neither asked for nor need). An entire weekend at the keyboard and I finally succeeded in re-establishing a way to link back. One of the few successes I've been able to celebrate in this arena. 

The reason for suspending it is that, as has been the case before, about the time I feel I have a grip on something in the online world, it becomes obsolete. This necessitates my becoming a late adapter of whatever has superseded it, thus setting myself up for the next round. 

In this case I have read that the Blogspot site from which a writer sends his thoughts out into the world is now considered the instrument of amateurs (fair enough!). Solo blogs altogether are apparently being replaced by social media. However, since WordPresss offers the chance to create a website, which isn't obsolete yet, you can run a blog as part of that and still appear cool.     

You will have noticed by now that I have not invited you to the new blog. It would seem the obvious step so, yes, there's a reason I'm not doing it.   I haven't been able to complete the website. 

WordPress makes available a detailed series of steps with which a child can build a site. No longer a child, I'm having problems. I have five pages up and reasonably linked to each other but have not been able to establish control over type size and spacing. Similarly, my clips and samples can display like the first line of an eye chart. However, buoyed by my success in re-linking this blog, I am confident pretty much that I will win through at the end and will have a site up and running soon. You might want to check occasionally at . 

Sunday, August 21, 2016

White Papers

White Papers are in favor among internet marketers these days, especially those selling to businesses, and they score high among preferred lead-generating devices. I think it’s the carefully crafted aura of impartiality that does it.  
There is a definition of the White Paper that says it derives from British government documents so named a few decades ago to distinguish them from other British government documents called Blue Books. Sounds reasonable.
I wonder, though, if the White Paper may not go back further than that, even to events like Ferdinand and Isabella hiring Columbus. The final results were royal charters and voyages of discovery, but can’t you just imagine the studies that preceded them?

Court of Spain, 1491: The Project which Applicant propofses seems suicidal, if only for the fact that the Earth is Flat and he could sail off an Edge, taking Your Majesty’s ships and goods, to substantial loss to the Crown. Another danger arises from the very Crew, ruffians well-aware of the presence of Sea Monsters in the Western Longitudes and easily incited to Mutiny if conditions become difficult.

Ameliorating those factors, however, is the pofssibility of Great Wealth being gathered from yet-undiscovered Lands; and the stipulation that the man Columbus is willing to take the Risks and has not asked that anyone from the Court accompany him. On Balance, therefore, this Commission is inclined to the Belief that Funding of such Projects would be to the Crown’s advantage.

Then, for sheer magnitude of effect on the lives of people, there is Great Britain’s White Paper of 1939. In effectively reversing the policy of the Balfour Declaration of 1917 establishing a Jewish state in Palestine, it determined the fate of millions.
My own White Papers are of much less consequence, but they carry on the tradition. If you can muster the curiosity to wonder about
           (a) the significance, for businesspeople, of three executives’ hopscotching                     efficiently between Los Angeles, New York, Houston, Springfield                             Illinois and Augusta Georgia in one trip in 1988, or 
          (b) how a new business proposal goes together,
those White Papers are available.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Can't Help Myself

Yet another on-line debate with a “content marketing” guru. I know the futility of these arguments by now, but I’m like the firehouse dog responding to the bell.
What started this one was an article citing a study that found just 30% of business-to-business marketers who do "content marketing" define themselves as "effective," which translates to 70% ineffective. The study was by the Content Marketing Institute(!)

Of course I jumped on this as proof from the horse’s mouth that “content marketing” is a fraud perpetrated on the marketing world. I apparently struck a nerve, and the answer came back in a sarcastic tone, which I matched in my reply. 
The odd part, however, was that the answer cited another study showing that the technique had been "researched and proven to work." Another case of dueling surveys. However, since this one was in the Harvard Business Review, it was presented in the tone of revealed truth.
This put my adversary in the difficult position of showing his own study being contradicted by a more authoritative study.  I pointed this out in my reply, but haven’t heard anything back at this writing.  
Still, as I may have mentioned before, I am the King Canute of marketing, demonstrating that the tide of “content marketing” can not be held back for now.     I believe it will run its course, though, and will be replaced by something (probably with a catchy name) that will revert to a more direct effort at selling things.

“Engagement” will give way to “Attention” and “Interest,” the opening steps of the old AIDA formula; “storytelling” will go back to the demonstration of customer benefits; “friending,” “sharing,” “follows,” “pageviews,” “click-throughs,” and “likes” will be abandoned for  sales. If we really clean house “personas” will go back to being researched prospects, the “customer journey” will be the sale process, “pain points” will once again be customer needs, and “funnels” will be what you use to pour ketchup from the old bottle into the new one.
Or have I mentioned my opinion of “content marketing” already?

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Dispatches from the Park

... an occasional series, vignettes, each of which isn’t of much consequence alone and which together still don’t have much substance, but whose compilation satisfies a craving for taxonomic orderliness.

A Dog-Powered Recumbent Bike
I’m sitting on one of my benches, and here comes a recumbent bike being pulled by a black cocker spaniel on a leash, a heavyset man sitting regally in the seat.
They go by pretty fast, the dog looking eager enough. They come around the circular path that surrounds the greenbelt and bench a second time, and they’re still going along at a pretty smart clip. I start to wonder if that fat guy is taking advantage of the dog. He doesn’t even have to pedal; the dog is doing all the work.
It’s alright. They come around the third time and the dog in in the guy’s lap, getting the free ride this time.

An elderly parent/dutiful child going by on the footpath. You can always tell; they’re together, but a little apart. This time it’s a father, probably in his late 80s, and a son probably late 50s or early 60s.
The son watches the older man, who walks very slowly and with an occasional wobble. The older man wears what look like Birkenstocks, the sandals popular years ago.
Both men wear shorts, but shouldn’t. I mean if you’re going to wear baggy shorts, go all the way and do those great boxy yard-wide English World War II jobs that could have accommodated an extra person. At least they had style.
There’s no conversation between the men. Playing parlor psychiatrist I deduce that the son feels imposed upon to have to nursemaid his father, but at the same time guilty because his father did it for him 50 or 60 years ago.
The old man has run out of things to say and even things to do and is really just biding his time to the end. But the weather is fine and it’s good to get out for some son and heir.

As I write, the old man has wandered a little too far afield and his son, keeping a discreet distance, trails him. The son is getting a little business done on his cell phone, so the day isn’t wasted entirely.

Sunday, July 31, 2016


The railroading of the Trans Pacific Partnership trade pact that will be attempted after the election makes an old subject -- outsourcing -- current again.
Outsourcing of jobs -- under one name or another -- has been going on for some years, but now conflicting forces are pulling at it.
It’s become somewhat less popular as wages in third-world countries begin to rise to poverty level from slavery, where they’ve been. If the trend continues long enough it will eventually make sense to bring those jobs back. Wages being equal, patriotic firms will want to employ our poverty-level workers.
The TPP, however, could once again make outsourcing popular, in the tradition of previous trade agreements. (It would also have other disastrous, although not unintended, consequences, but -- one disaster at a time.)
The one thing you can count on during the negotiation of these trade pacts is that there will be conservative commentators justifying the agreements on “free market” grounds. While there will be some period of “adjustment,” they tell us, the invisible hand of the free market, now leveraged on the long arm of the trade agreement, will work its magic and everyone will be OK in the long run.
The operative principle in this is that these people -- the economic gurus and business analysts pushing the pacts -- do not expect to be among those who will lose their jobs in the ensuing “adjustment.” There will always be the need to explain how things work or why they didn’t, and they’re the people who do that.            They will be OK long before pie-in-the-long run day.
Wouldn’t it be fun if their jobs were exported? 
Knowledge and communication have expanded worldwide; surely there are people in other parts of the world qualified to take over that work and willing to pontificate for less money. Everyone would win. We would get a fresh perspective. Economists in other countries would find work. And our domestic commentators would have the ultimate scientific experience: the chance to observe at first hand the effect of a process they advocate but know only theoretically. 
Here’s to the Economic Commentary Export Act.   

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Preventative Maintenance

 ...something that reduces the need for correctative maintenance later on.

I never learned to maintain things when I was growing up. You didn’t own a car in New York City (there was no place to park it, and the subway would get you wherever you wanted to go with less hassle anyway) and the apartment house superintendent took care of everything else. Ironically, I was put in charge of a computerized artillery piece for a couple of years, but luckily it was never put to the test under realistic conditions. We did OK on the practice range, but conditions were pretty closely controlled to keep scores up, and the targets didn’t shoot back.

But maintenance goes on all around me now and I alternately complain about it and wonder at it.

 The greenbelts in our senior community are mown to within an inch of their lives, and something is always being painted. Most recently it was the carport fascia, which looked OK to me but got a coat of paint anyway.

I understand the concept and I have to admit, in cooler moments, that the community looks pretty dam’ good for being 54 years old, and preventive maintenance is what’s done it.

The tradeoff, though, is having to listen to leafblowers seemingly every other day and fighting for a parking space on the street when all cars are ordered out of the carport for painting. Inconveniences but, looking at it another way, they do give you something to worry about when you no longer have real day-to-day worries. It used to amuse me to see old men doggedly pushing leaves and bits of paper off the sidewalk with their canes, but I’ve come to understand. Developing some crotchets to fume about can be a kind of preventive maintenance for your brain.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

How Old Are You?

Some recent events have brought the topic of age into sharper focus for me.  

There’s a school of thought that holds that “You’re as old as you feel.”

Well, yes and no. You may feel youthful, but the facts are the facts. At “a certain age,” many of the people you knew are no longer in touch, or are no longer; gravity has played hell with your jowls; and you’re less inclined to laugh at the comedian who says, “Who wants fat hair?” as your own gets thinner. You’re as old as you are.

But there are pluses to that. One friend decided that when he hit 65 he was going to tell everyone exactly what he thought about everything -- no niceties, no tactful evasions. He said it took so much pressure off...

You can dress more comfortably. You can take that all the way back to being a kid if you want. A lot of men around here wear shorts. They look like hell, but they must be comfortable. I don’t do that. It took 12 years to get  my first pair of “longies” and I’m not going back.

You can play golf if you like the game. You can do that when you’re young, too, but now you can do it all day. I don’t do that, either. It has always seemed a silly game and doesn’t have the justification of being exercise. I understand from my wife that in some places and times in the Midwest it was known as “cow pasture pool.”

Travel seems to be the other big leisure activity. Again, it’s a matter of preference. What with big-screen, high-def television and cameras that can show you the glint in a tiger’s eye from 300 yards, I feel I’ve already visited the wonders of the world. I’ve seen the Eiffel Tower and the Taj Mahal (in the same evening); I’ve sat in on debate in England’s Parliament; dived on the wreck of the Titanic; seen all the National Parks; peeped into the lives of all kinds of animals; seen the view from the top of Everest. That would satisfy a lot of people’s bucket lists.

I’m just not adventurous. I’d rather sleep in my own bed at night, and exotic food puts me off. As a generality, things that crawl aren’t on my menu, not even dipped in a good sweet-sour sauce. Pretty dull by some standards. I never could handle a bullwhip, though, and on me a fedora would just look 1940s.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Direct Response

“Direct response” is a sub-specialty of copywriting, one I’ve enjoyed working at in the past. I’d like to continue to do it, so I’ve been responding to some job offers. The problem is in that word “past.” As with any writing job, an employer expects to see sample of past work, and mine will seem to be out of the distant past.

What will today’s copy chief make of an ad for an exciting new-technology pay phone? Or a service that tracks down misappropriated personal pagers? These were important things at one time, but a lot of the people I’m applying to weren’t yet born then. It’s auditioning for a Broadway musical by belting  out a couple of verses of “Over There.”

To make things tougher, I’ve been pursuing only “remote” jobs. I’ve decided my commuting days are over. Dress code is (home) business casual: the levis can have a stylish hole at the knee, and flipflops are what you wear when you’re not barefoot. But remote jobs are a tiny fraction of the jobs offered and there’s plenty of competition for them. Worse, there will almost always be a  requirement for at least one face-to-face meeting. You have to shave for those. They can be anywhere from New York City to North Billerica, Massachusetts.

The door-opener in one of these situations is the cover letter you send, showing why you’re the ideal writer for the job. It’s a balancing act. Some of the best (most successful, not most aesthetically pleasing) direct response advertising is done in those TV ads for non-stick frying pans and spray cans of stuff you can patch a hole in a battleship with. Direct response is about results. So you want your letter -- the first writing sample they’re going to see -- to sell. At the same time, you don’t want to end it with ”Call now!” and I can’t double the offer even if they respond in the next six minutes.

I suppose I could legitimately say “This offer may not last.”

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Naming Names

Naming things is an art; probably always has been, but never more so than now. Bad things are being foisted on us at an astounding rate, so the need to make them sound innocuous, and even beneficial, burns strong.

Previous posts have dealt (although not harshly enough) with “native” advertising, the practice of trying to deceive readers that a planted, paid-for commercial message is part of the editorial matter of the publication. That it’s objective, or at least neutral. It isn’t; it’s trying to sell you something. “Native” is supposed to make it sound like something good, like “natural” on your cereal box.      

Then there’s “cookie.”

Lured by some bit of propaganda for “content marketing” that I find particularly egregious, I will sometimes visit a site of one of its proponents. Often I will post a snarky comment. It will be ignored, and probably just as well. The one or two times it has resulted in actual dialog, no one’s mind was changed on anything.   
However, on one of these occasions I did run across something interesting that I didn’t find controversial. In a glossary defining current jargon for the digitally clueless, like myself, I found this explanation of what a “cookie” is:

An invisible JavaScript tag is placed in the footer of a website which leaves a ‘cookie’ in the browser of every visitor. That visitor will then be targeted with theoretically relevant adverts when they [sic] visit other sites
And I was transported in memory back to junior high school, where we thought it hilarious to attach a sign reading “kick me” to the back of someone’s jacket.
Because their cookies somehow attached themselves to my computer, I am repeatedly invited to sample the wares of a pricey restaurant in a distant city, and to “follow” a garage sale/antiques website. I am not interested in either. Granted, it’s not a lot of effort to delete things, but you have to wonder why you should need to.
The other aggravating use of the cookie is a technique called “retargeting.” You’ve started to look at something on a website but decided you aren’t really interested, so you’ve left it. Wrong. A cookie has taken a grip on your lapel. You will be importuned to go back to that site and do whatever it was you decided you didn’t want to do. You thought you left that sort of thing behind when your kids grew up.

The ultimate name game, of course, is “content marketing,” but I’ve gone on about that for so long and at such length that I’m sure no one needs to hear anything more about it from me. It has taken over the marketing world, and mine is a voice in the wilderness critical of it. It’s about that time in the cycle, however, to start wondering what the next marketing fad will be named. It doesn’t matter, because whatever the gimmick is, it can’t be as bad as what we have now. 

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Flogging the Novel - 2

Way back when I posted some words under a similar title I was talking about trying to market the novel in its digital version. You can buy it on Amazon for a couple of bucks, or you can sample it free on Smashwords to see if you want to go the route.

This time -- I have a real book. Some people will take exception to that probably, but to some of us not of the millennial generation (or the X or even Baby Boom cohort) a book is a book; you can heft it in your hand, and it has a cover you can open and pages you turn.

The marketing possibilities become entirely different. While I’m not up for book tours to other cities and I don’t have money for an advertising campaign, still a book in your hand has advantages over the online product that I think will make the difference.

Industry advice tells us a book must find a niche if it’s going to succeed. And it doesn’t get much nichier than mine. It wasn’t consciously designed that way, it just self-selects its audience. I like to think it’s a respectable number, but as a percentage of the population at large, animal rights enthusiasts must show up as a pretty small slice on the pie chart.

On the other hand, we are a committed bunch. I’m betting that subject matter alone will get the proper peoples’ attention. Copies strategically misplaced in animal-related venues will bring it to hand. After that of course the book has to stand on its own. I consider that I’m a pretty good craftsman with the language and it will be readable and mostly correct. What is yet to be proved  is whether I’m a good storyteller as well, and only an audience can decide that.

If you live in my neighborhood expect to find it at your vet’s office and the local shelter, where I will be planting copies (I can afford to do that at the price, as related in last week’s post) each spiked with  an invitation to buy your own. Revenues, if, as, and when will be split with each host organization.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Hard Copy

Faithful readers of this blog (!) will have heard about the novel. It’s plugged on the home page, and has been mentioned in several posts.

Talk about ups and downs: the satisfaction of finally finishing it, followed by the realization that no one cares, verified by rejections from a dozen agents, offset by the thrill of publication (even self-publication electronically) giving way to the realization (did I mention this before?) that no one cares, and then -- and then, a physical, printed book.

That’s right; I now have a book I can hold in my hand, turn its pages, and squash a bug with if it comes to that. All the things about a book that you can’t do electronically/digitally, and the difference is night to day.

You can read your own words just so many times, and I’d about hit the limit on that, re-reading the digital file recently for typos (found three, bad ones). Then I had it printed (details below)  and everything changed. It’s like reading if for the first time. I think it’s because I’ve been a reader all my life, and ”a book” was something someone else had written and managed to get published and printed and bound in physical form; someone else’s work.

And I’m not the only one impressed by the new format. People who didn’t know or knew vaguely that the book existed digitally suddenly saw that here was a book, something they understood, one of a class of objects they had learned to value.

 Next thing you know the bloomin’ thing is liable to start selling.

I owe it all to an online outfit called PrintToPress, which I heartily endorse and recommend to anyone who wants to get a book into print. They’ve made the process so simple and so inexpensive that I spent a while looking for the catch. There was none. You just punch two numbers -- size and page count -- into the calculator on their home page, and a number comes up telling you what it will cost to print a single copy.  The number is unbelievably low; I don’t know how they do it. My 176 pages in conventional 6”x9” format printed for four dollars and change. For Pete’s sake, the postage to send it to me was more than that. A single copy; something you couldn’t have begun to do in old-style printing.

Maybe there’s some good features to this digital stuff after all.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

A new chapter in my like/hate relationship with LinkedIn.

LinkedIn has quietly initiated a service with which members selling skills can be matched up with members who want to buy those skills. It’s an ideal arrangement. Not an unusual idea, of course; there are myriad online job-matching outfits. The difference would be, or that’s the hope, that buyers on LinkedIn would be a cut above the bottom-feeders you find on many of the other services. At least until they invaded the system, the penny-a-word, $5-per-article, plagiarism-obsessed, work-for-hire blatherers might be missing. I registered immediately I heard about it.

In the registration instructions LinkedIn puts heavy emphasis on recommendations from clients and others you've worked with. I hadn’t done anything about that on my home page, but certainly I could manage a few. I wrote to three people I had worked with in the past asking if they wouldn’t mind putting up a short paean to my writing prowess which, since it was my writing we were writing about, I would write for them. Then I went about registering.

The problem -- and you just knew that with LinkedIn  there would be one -- is that LinkedIn has made recommendations the coin of the realm. There are, if I’m reading the numbers correctly, an astounding 282 pages of names at this writing,   13 names to a page, in just the “Copywriter” category. A little discouraging, but you knew the competition would be fierce; nothing new there.

The kicker, however, is that LinkedIn has ranked people according to number of recommendations, and presents them that way. The runner-up at this writing has 125, just behind the leader with well into the 200s. The name of someone with a modest 20 or so wouldn’t begin to show up until ten pages in. My three would have put me in the 130s-140s. At the rate people are joining someone who hasn’t yet started to amass his or her recommendations would find himself or herself somewhere close to page 300.

My first reaction is that I don’t think I know 200 people altogether, much less 200 who can vouch for my writing. Second, since listing doesn’t seem to follow any other criteria -- not experience, not location, not specialties or languages or even alphabetization -- what's the likelihood that anyone in the vast middle of the list will be found? Third, recommendations can be manufactured; enough said. Fourth, with that kind of competition, the logical next step will probably be to make it a two-tier system, as LinkedIn already does with its regular membership: you can hang around for free, but if you want the good stuff, there’ll be a charge.

One more mirage in the job-hunting desert.     

Sunday, June 5, 2016

“Native Advertising” 2: The FTC Tries to Square the Circle

There used to be something called Public Relations, whose goal was the same as that of today’s native advertising -- to have a product or company mentioned favorably in a publication’s (now website’s) editorial matter, taking on the authenticity and presumed impartiality of the publication or site sponsor itself.
The difference between that and native advertising -- and it’s a crucial one -- is that PR wasn’t bought. Editorial mention was achieved on the basis of newsworthiness. The  “news” might be contrived, but an editor had discretion to distinguish whether the information would be useful to his or her readers and to publish or reject it accordingly. That doesn’t work when the publication has taken money for it.
Mind-bogglingly(!), the FTC has promulgated rules to try to ensure that this inherently deceptive practice won’t deceive people. And predictably (see last week’s post)  marketers try to evade them, which brings us to the prestigious clothing retailer,  Lord &Taylor.
The FTC caught Lord &Taylor red-handed, and its report lays out a campaign the company organized to sell a new model dress. Among other things, 50 on-line fashion “influencers” were paid (between $1000 and $4000 each) to love the product publicly (if you haven’t had an opinion one way or the other about “influencers” you might form one now) on websites this writer never heard of but that obviously are important to young women who buy dresses. 
The good news is that the FTC acted, and Lord &Taylor is forbidden to do it again. That’s also the bad news, because although the FTC acted, that’s the extent of its punishment of Lord &Taylor.
The dresses “quickly sold out,” for some unreported but no doubt considerable amount of money (enough, apparently, to justify the expenditure of between $53,000 and $200,000 to the “influencers”). The FTC either doesn’t know the amount or won’t release it publicly. But the company is not being fined. It gets to keep the money it acquired deceptively. A letter (not mine) during the public comment phase suggested the company should be made to disgorge the profits it had made deceptively. The FTC declined to do that:
The Commission has determined that the conduct relief obtained 
by the order is appropriate, and will serve to deter future violations 
of the FTC Act by Lord &Taylor.   If Lord &Taylor violates the Commission’s final order, it will be liable for civil penalties of up to $16,000 for each separate violation, pursuant to Section 5(l) of 
the FTC Act, 15 U.S.C. § 45(l).
Naughty Lord &Taylor has been told not to do it again. The penalty, or "conduct relief," is some monitoring, record-keeping, and reporting tasks that will ensure the company obeys the rules in future that it ignored profitably last time.
The way I read the message to everybody else, it’s “Do it once and do it big.” You won’t get to do it twice (or not the same way, anyway) but you do get to keep the profits. You can apologize later.
Caveat lector.   

Sunday, May 29, 2016

“Native Advertising” 1: Dissembling for Dollars

You may or may not know by now that you're being subjected to something called "native advertising" when you read something on line. Here's the industry definition: 

                    "Native advertising is the process of using content to build 
                     trust and engagement with new prospects through paid 
                     channels. The difference between native advertising and 
                     traditional display advertising is that native ads will sit 
                     within the natural 'flow' of content on a social media 
                     platform or online publication."

And bank robbing is a form of engagement with bank tellers and Ponzi scheme promoters are really good at building trust. Except for being dead and in prison, respectively, Willie Sutton and Bernie Madoff could be the new Thought Leaders for native advertising. The typographic emphasis above is mine, but the words are industry canon. 

C’mon, folks; stripped of the pious wording, it’s a way of camouflaging sales pitches to look like objective information. Deception is inherent. Baked in. A feature, not a bug. ”Non-deceptive native ad” would be an oxymoron, a contradiction in terms. A non-deceptive native ad becomes a conventional display ad, and display advertising is still available most places. Why are marketers not just using that? Maybe because they want to deceive readers about the origin of a story praising their product? You think?  

Publications used to go to some trouble to avoid letting promotional material be confused with editorial. The vehicle for doing that was the advertorial, labeled and formatted to make it unmistakably advertising. The name alone alerted you: ADVERtorial. It would also further be distinguished from the host publication’s editorial matter by being formatted in a different  typeface. But that’s changed.   Paid promotional material today “sits within the natural flow" of the content.  

There are some rules, with which the FTC attempts the patently contradictory and probably impossible task of making native advertising not deceptive, and which will be evaded, ingeniously or blatantly, as marketing people test the limits. That brings up the case of the Lord & Taylor campaign, to be discussed in the next post here.

Sunday, May 22, 2016


As I said in a previous post, I wouldn’t try to compare myself to the late Bernard Baruch in any other way, but he was known for conducting business from a park bench, and I’ve found that to be a really good way to do that.
My bench -- I’ve come to think of it as my “writing bench” -- is in a park-like area of the senior community I live in. It has figured in another post or two on this blog. I keep coming back to it not so much to look at the scene, although that’s really soothing, but to listen to the quiet. Most days the breeze is off the ocean and there’s no sound; you don’t hear anything. True, airliners go over periodically at a few hundred feet on the flight path to the airport eight miles to the west, but that’s less an annoyance than a reassuring reminder that you’re still part of the world outside your little community. You don’t want to become completely disconnected from the world, wars, and famines.
There are squirrels that live here with us, and I used to feed them at this bench (the final piece of the picture of the Senior Citizen) but since coyotes discovered easy pickings on the campus I can’t do that any more. It’s considered fattening the squirrels for the coyotes, who became amazingly bold at one point, inviting an eradication program to be put in place. Now if a squirrel looks like it’s coming toward the bench I get up and leave. One day I had to watch as one actually hopped on to the bench to see if I’d left anything for him, and of course I hadn’t. I’ve stopped carrying peanuts.
Between stiffing the squirrels and knowing the coyotes are being euthanized it’s a bad time for an animal lover here.  Last hope is the rabbits, whose babies start to appear about this time of the year. They’re prey animals, of course, but they’ll have to carry the ball; the rest of us are sidelined.    

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Benches and Why I Like Them

Park benches seem to be good places for epiphanies. I had one, and it was about park benches.
When I was a kid, in good weather, when most of my friends were playing baseball, I was sitting on a bench overlooking the Harlem River, in New York, and reading. Probably the reason I never made it to the majors. The epiphany today was that all these many years later I’m sitting on a bench and writing. There’s a kind of symmetry to that that I find satisfying.
At some point in its course northward, for some reason probably now forgotten, the East River becomes the Harlem River. Nothing about it changes but the name.         At the point where I knew it it divides Manhattan from The Bronx. It’s quite narrow at that spot; you can throw a rock across it easily.
Give you a time marker: had you thrown one while I was reading, you’d have hit a Hooverville on the bank on the Bronx side. The corrugated tin and cardboard shacks were there through the Depression years, until World War II restored the country to prosperity and the occupants found work at Iwo Jima, Anzio, and the Ardennes. I’d seen the West Pointers of a decade or two earlier described as “the class the stars fell on”; they were the generals. Those guys across the river were the generation the sky fell in on. I knew a man who went straight from riding the rods to fighting his way across Saipan. He was only five years older than I was.
But I digress.
Bernard Baruch, who is cited variously in other posts here, used a park bench to meet with people while advising the government. I don’t know if he holds the record, but he advised six presidents in office through two World Wars. Woodrow Wilson to Harry Truman; think about that. I doubt the presidents themselves left the White House for his bench (but then I don’t know that they didn’t, either.)   
Were he alive today, Baruch would be an Internet “Influencer” and “Thought Leader.” I don’t know that he was ever a CEO, so he might not have  been eligible for that ultimate validation. I also don’t know if (but I like to think that) he fed squirrels from his bench, as I like to do. In no other way would I try to equate myself with Bernard Baruch, but squirrels are democratic. On the end of a peanut, Barney and I would be the same to them.   

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Three Things I Would Advise LinkedIn To Do

No one asked me, but wotthehell -- other people aren't bashful about putting their opinions forward, and I'm as opinionated as anyone you'll meet, so why not?            I hereby give myself permission to opine publicly. There's the additional advantage that the subject allows me an excuse to use a "number" headline, like the other 300 million people posting on LinkedIn do. 

There are three things that have bothered me for a long time.

- I would eliminate the title "Influencer" bestowed on some people found on line. 

If someone is an expert in some subject, call him or her an expert in his or her field of expertise. If he or she isn't an expert in something, or anything, maybe he or she shouldn't be pontificating. 

If, on the other hand, it's purely a numbers game and about being connected to more people than anyone else, coin a new word. I submit "gregariist." But a generic "influencer" makes no sense. Yeah, grammatically it's similar to the generic "player," but it doesn't have the heft. 

- I would return "content," as found on marketing sites on the internet, to its component parts, calling the written stuff news or entertainment or opinion and the graphic part illustration or photography or video or whichever element an item is. "Content" is a commoditization that keeps prices low on these things for buyers.   Or is that the idea? See earlier posts to this blog for some opinion on that.

- I would end the pretense that "content marketing" and "inbound marketing" is/are something new and wonderful. People have been using these techniques under different labels since forever. And what the "content" people like to derogate as "push" advertising and dismiss as useless, or worse, has sold a lot of product over the years. Narrow it down to business-to-business, where I live, and it's even harder to make a case for difference. Each generation is different in some ways, but today's bright young entrepreneurs are still going to do the things that maximize profit, and the old appeals are still going to work. 

I would also be careful about encouraging "thought leaders." One of the most successful in history led the world into an unpleasant period, 1932-1945.

Wait, that's four things. Sorry.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Strugglin’ with Some Barbecue

If you’re an aficianado of the sport, I’d like to suggest you consider the proposition that one man’s barbecue can be another man’s odiferous burnt offering.
It was brought home to me, not for the first time, while sitting on my writing bench. There’s a steady westerly breeze at my back there most days, and this particular day someone to the west of me decided to sacrifice a steak. From downwind, that’s nothing but the smell of fat frying, and it ain’t appetizing.
When I lived in a third-floor apartment in Los Angeles, a couple downstairs (but upwind) from us used to barbecue on the tiny balcony each apartment had attached. The smoke inevitably wafted upward and eastward to ours. I used to post an article at the central apartment house mailbox area citing medical evidence that barbecued food was carcinogenic.  The article kept disappearing, but I had taken the precaution of photocopying it and so could post it again each time it was taken down. Eventually we moved, and the debate was a draw.
But it’s a contest I don’t expect to win. The custom might have reasonably died with the Cro-Magnons, but then Lamb had to write his “Dissertation Upon Roast Pig” and glorify the idea. No, barbecuing  is here to stay, even if not as the rustic wood-  or charcoal-burning thing it used to be. Bad enough when it was a sack of chips and some accelerant your neighborhood arsonist would have admired. Now people are given to gas-fired kitchens-on-wheels lacking only radio and heater to make them completely self-contained.

I guess it’s fun for some people; just seems odd after all the trouble generations of our ancestors went through to bring cooking in out of the weather. I look forward now to a nostalgic return to outdoor plumbing.   

Sunday, April 24, 2016

A Hundred and Ten Blog Posts

Finally, more than three years in, done a D Check on the blog, and to my horror       I discover that I’ve written 110 posts. This is 111.

I had to check the links on the “Earlier Posts: Start Here” page to see if they went where they were supposed to go and the posts were where they were supposed to be. Everything’s on the proper page, although once you get to your page you may still have to scroll down some, because there can be six or seven posts to a page. You’re forewarned about this in the introductory text when you click on “Earlier Posts.”

But 110 posts? Good grief. Do I really have that many interesting things to say? Probably not. But since I don’t expect that a whole lot of people will be tuning in, the idea of the blog is partly to amuse myself and partly an exercise in meeting deadlines.

And I mean that part about “exercise.” I think you can go slack on meeting deadlines if you don’t keep in practice. The one outside one I had to meet this past week was a “Here it is, 3PM, we need it back tonight” assignment. You don’t want to be out of shape when one of those comes up. That’s the reason for the anguish of the April 3 “Placeholder” post and the excuses in the January 19 post back in 2015.

All of which is not to say the deadline is more important than the subject, but it’s important; when it’s time you may have to go with what you’ve got, and not every post or column will sparkle. Anyone doing this type of work will prudently try to stay ahead with a trunkful of ideas, but as the world turns, something written then may come to seem not as entertaining or clever or funny now. Print it anyway?  Certainly not. Unless you have nothing else ready.

Anyway, the links are working and the blue type is legible if your eyes are good.     If you’re looking for writing services, I would call your attention to the posts listed under “Selling,” because most of the others aren’t about that. 

Sunday, April 17, 2016


California has seven draw lotteries going all at once. You can play some semi-weekly, some daily, and still others twice or three times a day. One advertises “There’s a draw every 4 minutes.” You can add the national lottery to that, so if you’re feeling lucky there’s no lack of outlets for you to try. Oh, and if you don’t like to wait for drawings, there are seven scratch-off ticket games you can buy into from one dollar on up, for prizes up to the tens of thousands.
The odds vary from terrible to astronomical, but so what? The potential rewards are astounding. Someone won 22 million dollars just a couple of weeks ago. Not bad for the price of a dollar and a few seconds’ breathlessness as the numbers are drawn.   
The big numbers , like that 22 million, are yours only if you take the installment payout over the 20 or so years. If you take the lump sum up front -- a real temptation and the only practical course for some of us -- the amount is discounted for present value, which often comes out to half, and of course you pay tax on the half. You might wind up with only 35 percent of that big number, but -- wotthehell, wotthehell -- seven or eight million ain’t bad.
Some of my friends never play any of the games. I guess it’s the principle; they just don’t approve of gambling, or anyway not at those odds. Unarguable. But the other way to look at it is that for 365 dollars, you have 365 chances to win, on any given day, as much money as someone in a middle management job might make over 30 years. (We exclude bigtime corporate CEOs and hedge fund managers who hit their own jackpots long ago.) 

Then too, not hitting the big one doesn’t mean you’ve lost the $365 for the year. Secondary prizes from several dollars to several hundred are bound pop up along the way. A near-miss, say four numbers in a five-number game, can return your year’s investment and leave you  playing for free  to the end of your fiscal year.
 But of course it’s not the calculation of ROI that keeps you going; it’s the dream: “What would I do with 7 million dollars?” Somewhere in the state, someone is wrestling with that question right now.

Sunday, April 10, 2016


It took 7+ hours, but we’ve retrieved almost everything on the computer. I say “we,” but I had little-to-nothing to do with it. My computer guy, Jack, taking over and working remotely, went into places in the computer I didn’t know existed. There’s  something almost surreal about watching the cursor flicking around the screen while you sit there idle.  
The main thing I was looking for was a database with a mailing list I had manicured for a decade or more but which had suddenly disappeared. Of course it was from something I did; files don’t literally disappear without some input. Trying to type faster than I really can I probably hit some delete function without realizing. 
Probably everyone who works a computer has experienced that feeling that comes a nanosecond after you’ve done it -- “No, I didn’t just do that, did I, but deep down I know I did.” If you haven’t felt it, I would say you’ve missed an emotion that rivals, in depth and profundity, what you felt the time you discovered the spinach on your tooth after delivering the valedictory address. The second thing I would say is, “If you haven’t, you will.”
We recovered almost everything, but through a peculiarity of the “Restore” function of Windows I now have two copies of it. Occasionally I had backed up a file manually (something I intend to do more of from here on) and in those cases I have four copies. If there’s a way to delete the extra copies all at once I don’t know it, so I have to plow through deleting them one at a time. It’s going to take weeks.     
Still, I can’t complain. The database shows some peculiarities I don’t remember from before, but the list is there. I’ve made three copies of it and pulled another onto a removeable drive. I should be safe. Like I thought last time.

Sunday, April 3, 2016


In the crime shows, the perp tries to delete the evidence that he’s been surfing the “How to Kill Your Wife” websites, but some third-level geek in the FBI lab pulls it up and they nail the guy for Murder One. “Nothing is ever deleted,” we learn. It’s in the computer somewhere.
So -- when my computer contracted a case of temporary Alzheimer’s, it shouldn’t have been that big a problem. Especially since I took the precaution, when first setting things up, of adding a huge-capacity backup hard drive. That should mitigate any effect of losing things on the primary drive, I thought.
Well, not necessarily. A lot of stuff went missing this past week for as-yet unknown reasons, and the loss included the blog posts I’d been preparing. My computer guy rummaged around in the bowels of the machine for six hours, and some things have been recovered, but not nearly all.

I hate to miss a deadline and I can’t let this one pass without proving to myself that I didn’t really miss it. On the other hand, I’m too annoyed to come up with 3-400 words that would be interesting, even to me. Maybe another six hours inside the computer...

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Election Rhetoric

There are books and even college courses in logic, argumentation, and the art of debate. But there are some techniques you probably won’t find in the schoolbooks, and this being a political year, we can look forward to seeing them. We certainly have in the past.
Some candidates will quote an opponent’s words or voting record selectively, or hint obliquely at scandals not proven, or use vocabulary with connotations known to the speaker’s followers.
But those are the sophisticated models. There are two that dispense with that kind of finesse and allow a debater to make his point without having to tap dance around the truth, because truth doesn’t enter into it. They’re pretty simple when you break them down, but it takes a practiced liar, a politician, or a corporate CEO to make them work.
One does depend on close timing, so it’s not always practicable, but it’s effective when you can manage it. Just as the debate closes, especially a time-limited one on television, you tell a whopper. The screen fades, the credits roll, the commercial starts, and your opponent is left with his mouth open but no way to refute the lie. 
The other one, you tell the lie in the first sentence, and then keep talking fast, loud, and long. You brush aside any attempt at question or correction, even if there’s a moderator ostensibly guiding the discussion. By the time your opponent gets a chance to answer, the original lie is buried under so much conversation it’s hard to get it back into focus to address it.
Against a persistent questioner it might not work well, but against someone inclined toward civility, for whom interrupting would be rude, it’s no contest. Your opponent writes notes to himself, rehearsing the stinging rejoinder he'll give when it's his turn to speak. But when he finally gets that chance, even though  he knows there was a pony back there at the beginning, he won’t be able to move enough verbal manure to uncover it for the audience in the time left.
Are there recognized gambits in debate, as in chess? I haven’t heard of any, but these deserve some recognition. Prevaricator’s Checkmate. Lie to Square One.

Sunday, March 20, 2016


Middle of March and I suddenly discover I’ve put up the same post twice in succession in February:  the 21st and the 28th.  
Was I especially busy the week between? If I was I can’t point to any significant accomplishments. No, it’s pure forgetfulness, and that can be ominous at certain times of life if you’re inclined to worry about your health.
Luckily, I’m not. With a clinic on-site and a medical group tracking everything about you -- by computer, now -- it’s easy to slip into a mindset of constant self-examination. You’re handed the notice for your next appointment as you exit the office from the visit just completed. In effect, your health is under constant surveillance. This was a great comfort for me when my mother was 101, but I don’t like it for myself. You keep looking for things, you’re liable to find them.
As for memory, I get mixed messages from my brain. Working with words all my life, it’s worrying not to be able to call up a word when I need it. It’ll hang there just out of reach, and of course the harder I try the further it will slip away. It’s like a cat; the more you reach for one the further away it moves, staying just beyond your fingers. The saving of it is that once I relax and stop trying, it will come of itself (the word and the cat).
Surprisingly, I find if I concentrate I can recall things like names and events from pretty far back. There’s real satisfaction in calling up the name of an old acquaintance out of the mists, although it usually happens when you start wondering if he or she is still with us. 
Anyway, I’m chalking up the February lapse to momentary carelessness, neglect of routine. I usually mark posts as used at publication, and I guess something must have distracted me when it was time to mark this one.
On the other hand, I’m not going back further than February looking for trouble. Forget that.  

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Age Switch

Through all my school years I was always the youngest in my group. There were six of us at the core of a group of hard-thinking, drawling high school dudes you could find smoking cigarettes in the balcony of one of the local movie houses any Friday night.
It was only a matter of four months from the next-youngest’s birthday, his July to my November, but in that gap I could claim to be nominally a whole year younger than my peers. Later, at work. I was often younger than many of  my co-workers.   It created a particular mindset.
I don’t remember it happening, but somewhere along the line the poles reversed and I became the oldest in almost any group. (I have to say “almost” because when you live in a senior community as I do now there’s always someone older. Almost always.)
The fascinating thing is that the mindset persists. I don’t feel older than people younger than I am. True, some of their vocabulary and all of their digital-speak is a foreign language, but get beyond that and we can communicate just fine. A single case is anecdotal, though; some scientist ought to do a study on it. Follow the junior members of groups from high school onward to see if that early experience colors their outlook in later life. Maybe do the same thing for the oldest; see if it works in reverse.  
There may be something there akin to the relationships of siblings. I’ve read where there’s a “middle child syndrome.” The middle child often feels ignored; the firstborn’s place is secure and the youngest in the family gets the attention. You can’t pick your spot in that case, but is there an opportunity here to do some social engineering? Make sure your child, especially if a middle child, joins a group in which everyone is older than he or she is? Not disproportionately older; a few months is all it takes.
If it’s still working for me after this many years, maybe there’s something to it.       It doesn’t change things at home -- you’re still in the middle -- but out in the world, you’re the youngest. Even when  you’re old. 

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Cat on the Desk

Squiggly is sunbathing under my desk lamp. In the process he’s also scattering a stack of my paperwork, which I’ll have to reshuffle afterward. But he looks so dam’ comfortable.
He’s stretched out, all 24-plus inches of him, face up, resting on the back of his neck; his forepaws crossed left over right, his hind legs paralelled. The tail, another 13 or so inches, is curled between the desk clock and the computer speaker. The lamp lightens his long gray fur and makes his ears translucent. Apparently he’s dreaming, because he twitches, and judging from the action of his feet, he’s dreaming he’s running.
Sadly, that’s the only running he does or is likely to get to do. He’s a house cat.     He doesn’t get any further outdoors than the short footpath leading to our apartment door and the flower bed in front of the patio wall. He occasionally gets to pounce at a tiny lizard that lives there but, old and out of practice, he never catches it.
From what we were able to learn at the shelter, he was probably a house cat before, and the evidence certainly points that way. He had made it to age 13 when we adopted him, and I doubt many feral cats would have survived that long and in the good shape he was in.
 Last year, though, he was diagnosed with diabetes and I had to give him insulin shots. He took them with no indication that he even felt them, and at times I wasn’t sure I was getting the needle through all the fur. I guess I must have done it right in spite of myself  because the vet  declared him in remission.
 Does that count as one of his allotted nine? I wonder if he used up any before we got to know him.
- - - - -
That was September. I guess you don’t want to count your chickens if you’re dealing with diabetes, because in January Squiggly started to show the symptoms again. The vet confirmed them, so it’s back to the insulin shots.

I see lots of advertising for diabetes treatments on TV, and the humans there always come out of it enjoying bicycle rides or picnicking on the grass with smiling beaus. Not sure what the equivalent would be for a cat, but I’m hoping that’s how it’ll turn out.  

Sunday, February 28, 2016


Telephone scamming goes on everywhere, I imagine, but somehow the Academy of Telephony and Thimblerigging (AT&T, by coincidence) has pinpointed our senior community for extra effort.
We are supposed to be intimidated by a voice coming over this newfangled talk box, or senile enough to be convinced that we all have grandchildren unjustly jailed in Mexico. Some of us are, unfortunately, and are taken for varying sums of money despite weekly warnings in our community newspaper. Others succumb to threats that their electrical service will be cut off unless they pay ransom immediately.
For this latter scheme to work, the voice must be authoritative, and fluent enough in the language to sound like a representative of a major utility company. That’s one side of the industry, and it has no redeeming features.
The other branch, while even more annoying, does serve a social function. It provides entrée to the job market for recent arrivals. Almost all the calls I get, and at times there can be two or three in a day, are from people to whom the language is obviously of only recent acquaintance.
Socially valuable, yes, but at the same time extremely frustrating: you can’t insult the operatives who call you. I’ve tried. I’ve used every obscenity I know, suggesting feats of physical insertion I know to be realistically impracticable -- but they don’t understand. They plow ahead with the sales story, not realizing that they’ve been told off in terms a native recipient would respond to with, if within reach, a poke in the speaker’s eye.
What use, after all, are the carefully hoarded obscenities you so seldom get to use if not to tell off a telephone scammer? Yet what should be the satisfaction of letting loose to verbally demolish an adversary becomes in this case a futile gesture. You have brought up your most devastating linguistic artillery but the target, armored with unknowingness, doesn’t feel a thing. New arrivals should be required to take classes in Obscenities, especially if they’re going into telephone work.