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.