Saturday, April 09, 2016

What Feminism Hath Wrought

"How was your date?" I asked, reaching for my coffee. 

"Awful," she replied. "That's over for good."  Apparently, they'd been getting along fairly well, but the sex, she volunteered, was horrible.  "He was just performing. I asked him, 'What are you doing?' and he said, 'I just want to please you.'  It was weird. The guy had obviously watched too much porn.  Whatever happened to making love?"

Quite honestly, it was more than I needed to know. I actually just wanted to find out if the restaurant at which they'd dined was any good, but her revelation did manage to hijack the conversation into a much more interesting direction, mainly because I'd been hearing the same type of complaints from people her age and younger. Just about all of the single people I know, from kids in their teens to middle aged peers had voiced similar sexual disappointments to me.

I know.  I'm that kind of guy.  People tell me stuff.  But hear me out on this, because what I suspect we're witnessing is no small thing. And despite the title of this piece, it's not what you think I'm going to say.  Yes, I'm going to lay this at the feet of feminism, but not for the reasons you expect. 

You should know that I personally harbor no bias regarding gender roles. I happen to love holding people accountable to my one set of impossibly rigorous standards, regardless of their ilk.  My scrutiny knows no sexual preference.  So in that sense, I've always somewhat supported feminism. And then one day, I watched as feminism's reach began to exceed its grasp, most notably with Gloria Steinem's pronouncement in the 1960s that  "A woman without a man is like a fish without a bicycle."  At the outset, it seemed to make sense, prying women off of their dependence on men. Good idea for anyone who valued freedom and independence. It really did open the eyes of both men and women to a whole new world of choices awaiting them.  What it didn't do was let them know that a fish without a bicycle rides both ways and that years later, everyone from kids to middle aged matrons would be paying for it:

Men no longer needed to depend on women, either.

The sexual liberation of both men and women gave rise to sexual freedom, but also undermined the main reason why people used to get married, so there was no longer any real reason for men to ever want to get married.  After all, men could dine out any time, without any of the maintenance costs.  They could have kids out of wedlock, pay child support and never suffer the inequities of community property.  And in the worst cases of sexual need, Steinem's quip about fish and bicycles was soon displaced by men's realization that they don't pay prostitutes for sex, they pay them to leave.

Add the mainstreaming of pornography to mix and it becomes clear as to how romance simply became obsolete. Most kids and people now learn about sex and romance from movies and porn, which leaves them pathetic at both.  What was once courtship leading to love and sex is now swiping right, leading to hook up and disappointment.  People really think life is a quick cut movie with no transitioning scenes. At this stage, most of them don't know that they're missing because they've never seen it.  And most of them are left bewildered and unsatisfied. 

The constant overreach of feminism into emasculation certainly hasn't  helped.  Stupid TV Dads and ever more ridiculous degeneration of male gender roles have continued their relentless attacks on primal masculinity.  For every John Wayne of yesteryear there are now two Pierce Brosnans, Ben Afflecks and George Clooneys.  You know, women with penises.  Not the best role models for those attempting to reconcile their natural maleness with society's distorted views.  Somewhere along the line, feminism crossed over from equal opportunity to denigration and opposition of gender roles.  That doesn't sit well with most men -- and from what they tell me, it doesn't play all that well with women, either.  After all, if someone called you up every day to tell you how wrong you were about who you are and what you do, how long would you welcome their calls?

You want everyone in the game to have an equal shot in the marketplace? I'm right there with you.  You want to be politically correct and accommodate far-fetched excesses of feminism?  Knock yourself out.  But then don't complain about a harsher world without love and understanding of what makes men and women, well, men and women. 

You must remember this
A kiss is just a kiss, a sigh is just a sigh
The fundamental things apply
As time goes by
And when two lovers woo
They still say, "I love you"
On that you can rely
No matter what the future brings
As time goes by
Moonlight and love songs
Never out of date
Hearts full of passion
Jealousy and hate
Woman needs man
And man must have his mate

That no one can deny.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

The Defibrillator

No matter what generation in which you are born, there are certain lessons you learn at your mother's or father's knee, or more accurately, at the end of their pointed fingers.  Everyone has heard the constant refrains about washing their hands before eating dinner.  Another old saw has to do with how long after lunch one has to wait before going swimming.  You know the drill, right?  These are warnings we've all heard a million times, and because we've heard them, we now know not to cross the street until the light turns green.

There does come a time in one's life, however, when we simply have to temper the warnings of childhood with the wisdom of experience.  Just as most of the adult world has figured out that "not stopping that" hasn't -- and probably won't -- render them blind, there comes a time when some of our childhood fears have to be re-examined or even reversed.

Among those that we reverse is our fear of electricity.  As kids, we're warned to stay away from electrical outlets because we're told that one finger on a bare wire could electrocute us.  Electrocution burns the skin and shocks the nervous system.  Electricity can kill you.  But like fire, electricity has its good points, too.  It powers everything in our lives, from can openers to large screen televisions.  Without electricity, there is no internet, no communications.  In fact, without electric power, our entire civilization breaks down and the system as a whole dies.

So imagine the fear one must endure when his physical health is in jeopardy.  The doctor confirms that your heart isn't performing properly.  That vascular pump -- itself driven by bio-electrical power -- is the engine of your overall health, distributing oxygenated blood and nutrients throughout the rest of your body, enabling all other organs to function.  But now, your doctor says, your heart is slowing down, and not performing its function.  In turn, those vital organs aren't functioning well.  They're breaking down and malnourished.  This, your doctor tells you, means that your whole system is breaking down.  Not good.

As you mull the bad news, you fall asleep, waking only to the sound of rush and panic. Your eyes barely open to reveal a team of technicians surrounding you.  One has two silver paddles pressed to your chest and yells, "Clear!"  At that moment you realize that he's going to electrocute your, jolting you with a shock in order to restart your heart.

Emotionally, you know that the same electricity of which you were warned is approaching, and that the very same danger about which your parents wagged their fingers is about to send its power through you.  It's scary. You've never done it.  Yet rationally, you know that if the doctor doesn't do it, that's it.  The end.  Your heart won't restart.  Your organs won't be restored to their previous vigor.  Your whole system will break down -- for good.

I don't blame people for harboring fear.  I do blame people for harboring irrational fear, especially when their entire system is about to break down -- for good.  At that point, you have no choice but to go with the effective option, because your survival depends on it.  The question is whether you can overcome the irrational fear to get to the effective solution.

Especially when the only man holding the paddles happens to be a Republican.

Friday, March 04, 2016

Millennial Amnesia

By now you already know that I write a lot about issues tangential to branding, although most of the time, the topics on which I opine here are borne more from some glancing tangent having to do with brand strategy.  Branding is about human behavior and the circumstances around them.  Those who believe branding is about products or companies are way off base:  Branding is all about people.

At the time of this writing, the United States is undergoing a presidential election unlike any in recent memory.  And I don't use the phrase "recent memory" any too lightly here.  The issues, candidates and voting blocs are strangely unfamiliar.  To be succinct, this is not your traditional presidential election.

One of the characteristics I've observed about this election is that the opinions expressed by its most ardent participants seem to be derived from two primary sources:

1.  Facebook memes
2.  Comedy Central comedians

I know, it sounds odd to me, too.  Because we live under the illusory existence of the "informed voter," which I assure you is about as real as the "informed consumer," neither of which has a good chance of being discovered any time before someone hauls in Bigfoot.  We're somehow laboring under the outdated notion that people are still motivated to investigate, compare, challenge and discuss before they render their carefully-thought decisions.  That process left the building ages ago.

In today's search-engine society, more people are inclined to push a button and expect an answer in a millisecond.   Good for Google.  Maybe not so good for you.  Here's why:

It occurs to me that the internet (the popular usage of it) is now roughly 20 years old.  That means anyone under the age of, say, 30, has pretty much spent his conscious life pointing and clicking.  He's never known anything other than instant answers presented to him, rather than his own motivations to access alternate viewpoints on any given topic.

But it gets worse.

Those same Millennials also have spent their conscious years (any time after the age of 10, if I'm generous) never knowing any other political or economic environment than the last four years of George W. Bush and the last eight years of Barack Obama.  Put it all together and the math produces the answer to why so many younger people embrace the likes of Bernie Sanders and eschew the man called Trump:

They simply haven't experienced what life was like before times got tough.

In what could be called Millennial Amnesia, those under 30 would have no memory of stable jobs, a thriving middle class, a strong defense, traditional notions of character or affordable lifestyles.  They may have been breathing, but all that stuff vanished before they blew out the candles on their tenth birthday cakes, in an age when pimples are more important than politics.  When you backdate them from their thirtieth birthdays, that means anyone born after 1990 or so -- people who are now eligible to vote -- make their decisions based on what they've grown up with and what they see on Facebook and Comedy Central.  They never bother to investigate further, because they've never been taught to do so.  

They dismiss the experiences of those senior to them because they never lived those experiences firsthand.

This would mean that an entire generation has grown up believing that a weak economy, unstable jobs, unaffordable lifestyles and the loss of traditional notions and character are normal, because to them, it really is.  Even scarier is that they accept the current situations as normal and have no notion of why or how they'd remedy them.

That's scary.

I call it Millennial Amnesia.  But maybe there's a better term.  After all, you can't really forget what you never really knew.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Apple, Privacy & Fools

I've written a lot of blog posts, and believe me, not all of them were tremendously popular.  As soon as I've expressed my usual, iconoclastic views, those whose tolerance runs at lower levels either unsubscribe or write hate letters.  I'm okay with both.  It's the ones who have no opinion I lament the most.

This is one of those posts. I'll probably tick some people off, but if you can stand the rationality, I'd advise your sticking with it, at least to the end of this piece. Then, if you really think I'm out of line, well, I'll see you around.

In the meantime, what I have to tell you may come as a shock, especially if you're the type who gets his news and information from social media like Faceboook and Twitter.  It only gets worse if you only watch lopsided "news" shows on FOX or MSNBC without balancing them off each other.  If you're an American, this may bother you; if you're a young American, this will blow your mind.

As you probably know by now, in 2015, a couple of radical muslim terrorists decided to kill off 14 or 15 of their co-workers in the offices they shared together for five years in San Bernardino, California.  There's no question that the married couple were guilty.  Plenty of eyewitnesses and victims can attest to that.  The couple can't weigh in, because they were killed by a volley of police bullets when they refused to be taken peaceably. 

Along with an infant child, the couple left all kinds of compelling evidence, including their now famous iPhone, whose contents at the time of this writing remain encrypted by Apple's wundertechnology.  The FBI wants Apple's help in decrypting the contents of the phone.  Apple is steadfastly refusing, citing the dangerous precedent of "unlocking one person's phone means unlocking everyone's phone."   Within moments of Tim Cook's announcements, thousands of Apple fanboys rallied to Apple's defense, citing their own right to privacy.  For a minute, that seemed to make a lot of sense, until one realizes a very compelling, sobering fact:

In America, there is no such thing as a right to privacy.

Forget about whether you think Apple is aiding and abetting known terrorists.  Put aside the fact that an iPhone is no different than a file cabinet or a safe deposit box.  For the moment, think about the Constitution of the United States and how nowhere in that document is there anything even remotely close to a citizen's right to privacy.  Nothing. 

What you will find in the Constitution is the prohibition of unreasonable search and seizure.  But if you read that carefully, that doesn't mean the government can't search you or seize your possessions.  It means that it can't be unreasonable about the searches and the seizures.  That's it.  So you have to ask yourself this question:  How unreasonable is it to search the contents of a proven, guilty, dead terrorist/criminal? 

There's a reason the Founding Fathers wrote it the way they did:  The Constitution was adopted when the nation was still young and very vulnerable.  The government needed a balance between personal liberty and attacks on those liberties from within -- very much the same situation we now face with "moles" planted by radical muslim terorists.  However, even the pursuit of those terrorists is accorded the concept of reasonableness.  That's why prior to the cops raiding your residence, they have to find a judge who will sign a search warrant.  The Feds and police can't just barge in and take what they please.  The judge has to sign a warrant attesting to the fact that the search is reasonable and not arbitrary or illegal.

There's nothing in that warrant, by the way, that mentions anything about privacy, because privacy is not a right.

There's a lot of editorial out there bemoaning the entitlement of the younger generation.  One needs only acknowledge the candidacy of Bernie Sanders to see proof of that.  Another aspect of the Sanders campaign is its reliance on a lack of education, especially the way it fuses its advocates' wants and needs into a standard of rights.  But they're not rights.  They're wishes of people who have no education or knowledge about the Constitution. 

And while they may wish privacy were a right, it isn't.  It never has been.

I'm sadly bemused by the temerity of an armchair billionaire like Tim Cook, who prances about, merrily posing as the protector of free speech and privacy, when in fact he's doing nothing more than spinning a danger to the Republic for his own marketing purposes.  There was a time when this country valued its collective responsibility to safeguard its citizens.  We looked after each other because we wanted to, not because we were told to.  Those days, apparently, are over.

Today, it seems perfectly fine to send a soldier to his death to protect your freedom.  What you can't do is crack open a terrorist's iPhone, because, you know, that would infringe on a right that nobody in America ever had to begin with.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Why the IRS Will Never Die

Every four years, we here in America are treated to a national edition of American Idol, in which politicians of all stripes vie for the top spot in the American government. We call it "the national presidential election," but in so many ways, it more accurately resembles a talent show.  Like the television show, it even has a national vote to help decided who the winner should be.

Just as predictable as the show, the national election dredges up the same acts and performances we've come to expect:  Instead of the country music singer, we get the religious zealot.  Instead of the opera soprano, we listen to the noble idealist.  You can see where this is going.  Every four years, it's a reprise of last season's show, with a few new twists.

One aspect that never changes, however, are the candidates' pie in the sky promises, the loudest of which is usually the pledge to "eliminate waste in government."  Of those, the charge generating the loudest applause is in response to the politicians' mighty oaths to slay the dragon that is the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).

For those of you not in America, the IRS is the Federal government's organization responsible for monitoring taxation, collecting taxes and enforcing tax rules.  It is not, to put it lightly, the favorite institution of American citizens, who view the department as the largest, laziest bunch of clock-punchers whose only mission is to make life as miserable. as possible for their fellow Americans  IRS regulations are not only often inconsistent, they're so complicated that even its own experts can't figure out how to consistently apply the same regulations in identical circumstances.  This makes compliance with IRS rules difficult at best and burdensome at most, costing American citizens and businesses a lot of time and money -- and that's not including the time lost when the IRS decides to audit them.

So it's no wonder that Americans love to hear politicians demonize the IRS and threaten its existence. More than one candidate has sworn to simplify the tax code, reducing a hundreds-page long tax form to a simple post card. Others have gone even further, vowing to wipe the department from the face of the earth.

Newsflash: It's never going to happen.

While promising and never delivering is nothing new in politics, there are simple reasons why nobody in power would ever want to abolish the IRS.  In the first place, the IRS has employed, on average, roughly 110,000 people, all of whom are civil servants.   That's a lot of jobs that can seriously increase the unemployment rate, especially when you figure that without an IRS, there aren't many places for those people to go.

But that's just a drop in the bucket:

The truth is that all that tax code confusion employs even more people in private industry.  In fact, according to, "Tax preparation is BIG business – there were 300k people employed at 109k firms in 2012 - generating $9 billion in revenue in 2012. The industry grew over 2% from 2010-2015, and is expected to speed up the pace of growth. Revenues of $11 billion are forecast for 2018. "   You show me one candidate that would boot another 300,000 people out of their jobs -- for a total of over 500,000 unemployed -- and I'll show you a loser.

Yet one more reason why nobody would shut down the IRS is that those 500,000 employees and the 109,000 tax preparation firms generate billions in tax revenue for the Federal government.  How quickly do you suppose any of them would propose losing that income?

Yes, it sounds really nice to live in a world without the Internal Revenue Service.  And yes, we really do have software that could probably handle the workload more efficiently than the hundreds of thousands of people currently sitting in cubicles.  But don't hold your breath waiting for it to happen.

Remember, it's a national election. Politics. Nothing is going to happen unless Simon Cowell decides to run for President.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

The Hyphenated American

There was a time, not too long ago, when America described itself as a "melting pot," a nation singular in the notion that it was composed entirely of immigrants.  Oh, sure, there were those who opined how the American Indian ( or Native American, if you prefer) was here first, but if you really want to be accurate about it, the Indians were just as foreign to North America as anyone. They migrated from Asia. So when you get right down to it, America really sits on a continent of immigrants, with the United States having codified it as a melting pot.

Except we're not supposed to say "melting pot." Apparently, someone, somewhere decided the phrase was a trigger of micro-aggression, inciting feelings of racism or something like that. I know, it confuses me, too. How can a nation of immigrants be anything but a melting pot? No matter, I've never pretended to understand the whining of mediocre minds, but the concept does bring to mind an issue that probably should concern us all.

One can't venture past the breakfast table without inadvertently bumping into a victim claiming some sort of discrimination. It's become so routine as to become tiresome, numbing the population to the point where we really don't empathize with victims, especially when they lodge their complaints with an attorney at their sides.  I have noticed, however, that just about all of the complainants identify themselves with a peculiar punctuation: the hyphen. We have Afro-Americans, Mexican-Americans, Asian-Americans, Muslim-Americans, Jewish-Americans, and probably some Short-Fat-And-Hairy-Americans, too. 

Nobody seems to be a plain old vanilla American any more.  And that's not good -- for anyone in America.

The fact of the matter is that if you label a yourself a hyphenate American, you're not an American at all.  The whole point of this country has been, and continues to be, the new home of immigrants who have consciously forsaken their homelands in order to adopt another. Nobody comes to America to be come an African-American or a Japanese-American or a Mexican-American.  Assuming you come here legally, you're supposed to leave all that foreign baggage at the front door, because once you become an American, that's all you are: an American.

That's not to say all immigrants should immediately reject and abandon their heritage. Quite the contrary: it's the mongrelization of our society that makes America so great. We all borrow from each others' customs and practices, trying each one on to see how well it does or doesn't fit, and emerge healthier and stronger as a result. I love the fact that a blue blood WASP injects a little Yiddish into his oratory. I'm charmed by the way an Asian guy might describe a swagger as "having real cojones."  That's the brilliant part that adds sparkle to an immigrant culture.

But when you add a hyphen to your self-description, all of that goes away.  The hyphen loudly declares, "I'm not an American. I'm not like you. I'm another ethnicity who just happens to live here." And that, my friends, is not a good thing, because it turns those immigrants inward, to a self-segregated "safe space" where they begin to inbreed themselves out of the national fabric.  On university campuses across the country, various ethnic groups are currently declaring entire dormitories off limits to any group other than their own, claiming safe spaces that supposedly shield them from racism and other threats, imaginary as those may or may not be.  The truth is that those safe spaces are really nothing more than shelters for narcissism, prolonging a polarizing adolescence until graduation and the discovery that the country isn't such a bad place after all -- assuming you embrace it with as much welcome as it embraces you.

Hey, I'm not denying that racism and competition and hard knocks are out there. They are, and at the time of this writing, it's going to get a lot rougher before it gets any better. All the more reason to drop the hyphen and join your neighbor in a productive, supportive manner. You don't have to be best friends, you simply have to be curious and appreciative.

That's always been the American way.

Saturday, January 09, 2016

Self-Driving Cars Will Kill You

At the time of this writing, there's a national election brewing in the United States, waves of  refugees over-running Europe and economic peril hovering over China. It is easily not the best of times, which is how a momentous incident recently occurred without anyone much noticing:

A few weeks back, General Motors invested roughly a half billion dollars into Lyft, the Uber competitor that's disrupting the transportation industry via hand held technology. If you've been asleep at the wheel, Lyft connects private drivers with passengers who need a ride, using an application consumers keep on their cell phones. Riders are connected to a driver who uses his own car to charge them for the ride. It's not only cheaper and more convenient than taxi cabs, it's also helping to put those taxi cab companies out of business.  But that's another story. More consumers use these services because it's cheaper than owning, maintaining and insuring a car. In fact, some industry analysts predict that private car ownership will eventually disappear altogether in favor of "rides as needed services."

Nobody seemed to care much about GM's investment in Lyft, because nobody seems to care about much anything these days if it isn't placed in front of their noses. In this case, however, one need only look slightly to the left of Detroit to see the real, potentially huge implications of GM's move. One has to ask himself, "Why would an automotive company want to hook up with a tech outfit?"  Here's one scenario:

Throughout history, car companies have promoted their products to the consuming public, but in reality, the big money has never been in individual sales, but in fleet sales, where one sale can move hundreds or thousands of units to one corporate customer. Rental car agencies, police departments, the military, taxi companies, delivery services and just about any other enterprise that recruits armies of drivers are sought-after customers.  They buy lots of cars with one stroke of the pen. 

Bearing that observation in mind, it would make sense for GM to get a foot in the door of Lyft if Lyft were planning on converting its model from private drivers to its own fleet of hired drivers.  And if vehicle ownership really is slipping out favor, GM would want to supply the fleets for whoever is left buying cars, like Lyft. In the tech world, total control of data is the brass ring, and by hiring its own fleet of drivers for its own fleet of cars, Lyft would be reducing the risk inherent in both, while ostensibly increasing the efficiency/profitability of each.  

But the fun doesn't stop there.

Assuming that scenario is accurate, it's not too far a stretch to imagine the day when Lyft dismisses all of its drivers and replaces them with its own self-driving cars -- with General Motors right there to supply them.  After all, if self-driving vehicles really are coming soon, and operations like Lyft are completely technology-driven, who really needs a human driver? Pretty scary, eh? It gets scarier. You think self-driving cars are cool? Think again. They're going to kill you. And here's how: 

First, realize that self-driving cars aren't really self-driving at all.  They're steered by interactive technology that responds to an infinite number of stimuli, ranging from consumer cell phones to Global Positioning Services (GPS) from satellites orbiting the Earth.  The only way the system can work is by maintaining a steady flow of data throughout the process.  Digital information which is archived and analyzed and never destroyed, which means you will be tracked wherever you go, forever, by a system that anyone can hack into or abuse.

The system also relies on electric power, so the day someone -- or some terrorist --  kicks out the plug from the wall, all those GPS systems will be rendered useless or worse: hacked to cause crashes and put passengers in real danger. This is one of those issues that nobody wants to acknowledge, like the water supply and the power grid, both of which are insanely vulnerable. If you don't think it can happen, remember the last time you couldn't get phone service or internet?  It's not exactly a rare occurrence.

But there are far worse dangers of self-driving cars that are affecting you even as you read this.  They're just one more way big tech businesses -- the ones that like to portray themselves as your friends -- are destroying humans' ability to provide for themselves. Brands like Amazon, Apple, Google and more aren't doing as much to enable your potential as they are destroying your self-reliance.  They're increasing your dependence on their services by requiring you to pay fees for something you can easily do yourself at no cost.  Instead of owning your music, you stream it. Instead of thinking through your decisions, you click.  Instead of educating yourself with truth, you Google it. Convenience undermines any need for critical thinking, replacing it with blind obedience. That's why nobody remembers your phone number; they have it on their speed dialer. 

Self-driving cars will continue technology's mission of atomizing society, further reducing human contact and estranging us all from one another. Autonomous vehicles reinforce the notion of "it's all about me" because you're not aware that someone else is out there in the lane next to you. There's not even a driver. There's just you. Alone. 

That may be good for Lyft and General Motors and Amazon and Apple. But it's bad for you, bad for your kids and bad for humanity.  If you really want to know why the world has become increasingly disconnected, look to the people who promoted connectivity in the first place.  You know, the same folks whose lack of conscience disconnects people's hearts and minds -- and keeps al Qaeda members up to date.