April 30, 2012

The "Peace Studies" malarky should be the tip-off...

Walter Russell Mead, Europe's Jew Hatred Isn't Just On The Fringe:

...Not so, alas. Norway's Johan Galtung is no ordinary professor of sociology. Known worldwide as the "father of peace studies," Galtung is famous for his work on the peaceful resolution of conflict. He is the founder of the Peace Research Institute in Oslo and the Journal of Peace Research, the recipient of numerous awards, accolades, and honorary degrees and professorships, as well as a hugely prolific writer on issues of peace and conflict. His Wikipedia entry calls him the "principal founder of the discipline of peace and conflict studies," a discipline offered at universities around the world. He lived through the German occupation of Norway during WWII and saw his father arrested by the Nazis.

Galtung has long been a respected and influential member of the European academy. He is no immigrant from the Middle East and is not identified with any fringe political movements. He is as establishment as they come.

And he is also a vicious and hate-spewing anti-Semite.

In remarks at the University of Oslo and a follow-up email exchange with the Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz, Galtung betrayed his true feelings on Jews.

He hinted at links between Anders Behring Breivik's attack on civilians in Norway and Mossad, Israel's intelligence agency. He suggested there was some truth behind the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. He said that Jews share some of the blame for what happened at Auschwitz -- they had provoked the poor Germans under the Weimar Republic. He suggested that Jews control the American media and academic establishments. The list goes on and on -- the kind of remarks that haters call "common sense" and "daring to tell the truth" but that sane people see as hatred, error and bile....

What fascinates me is that Mead, an intellectual giant, has no explanation for this. He doesn't even make a stab at one. And I, a mere pygmy, have the answer. (OK, OK, I think I have the answer.) He should read RJ.

To boil it down, probably too far, the conventional view is that religious faith in the West has been declining over many centuries. I don't think that is true. Rather, overt Christian and Jewish worship has been declining. BUT, people remained "religious," because they retained many of the habits of thought that derived from faith. They continued to believe in objective truth, for instance. And in objective morality. And many traditional Christian moral beliefs. (They thought divorce and abortion were wrong. And that it is admirable to be a "good Samaritan.") They retained the idea that they might join some cause or truth, even if they had not yet done so. These are all things that are bigger than the "self." All are holdovers from Jewish and Christian faith.

But, habits wear off. These wore off, for many people, around the middle of the 20th century. (Yes, it ties in with the book I'm writing on the transition to the Information Age. They are inter-connected. I'll resist the temptation to go into that now.)

The result was nihilism. That is, as I define it, the lack of any cause or belief bigger than ones self. Maybe for 20%, or 30% of Americans. And for even bigger percentages in Europe. This change in thinking was HUGE! And its effects are seen all around us.

For instance, most of those people assumed disguises, to cover their spiritual nakedness. The most popular one was "liberal." Followed by "pacifist." That's where the "Peace Studies" baloney comes from. Galtung has never accomplished anything in actually promoting peace. But no one cares. The point is, war is vastly offensive to the nihilist.

Why? Because what he hates is belief. And war symbolizes belief, belief that there is something worth fighting for. Even dying for.

I predict, even without knowing anything about him, that Galtung also hates or sneers at America, armed citizens, war (even against the worst tyrants), Israel, Western Civilization, traditional morality, and traditional art and architecture. And most of all, he hates Jews. All symbolize (and I think people mostly react to symbols, not conscious thought) belief in something greater than the self. All are symbolically God.

(I can explain all these points in much greater detail, if anyone cares. Or there are other posts here.)


Posted by John Weidner at 8:41 PM

April 29, 2012

"Formula of lament"

I used to read the mysterious Catholic commentator "Diogenes" with avidity. He's gone silent these last few years. But you can still search for his work at CatholicCulture.org

I just stumbled upon this tidbit, at the post: 3 Degrees Kelvin:

...ATTENTION ALL ACADEMICIANS: First-person complaints of a "chilling effect" are performatively (retorsively) self-refuting. For: no agency so trammeled by cliché as to make use of the term "chilling effect" has any intellectual heat to cool off (Diogenes' First Law of Thermo-semantics). For the sake of your own reputations, please find another formula of lament.
Posted by John Weidner at 10:09 AM | Comments (1)

April 24, 2012

Analogous to making more money by lowering the price of the product...

I thought this piece, Rethinking the War on Drugs - WSJ.com, was very interesting. I don't have any policy recommendations, but I'm glad people are thinking in new ways...

...Larry Long, a district court judge in South Dakota, developed one promising approach, called 24/7 Sobriety. Started in 2005, it requires people who commit alcohol-related crimes—originally just repeat offenders for drunken driving but now other offenders—to show up twice a day, every day, for a breathalyzer test as a condition of staying out of jail. If they fail to appear, or if the test shows they have been drinking, they go straight to jail for a day.

More than 99% of the time, they show up as ordered, sober. They can go to alcohol treatment, or not, as they choose; what they can't choose is to keep drinking. According to the state attorney general's office, some 20,000 South Dakotans have participated in 24/7 Sobriety (a large number for state with just 825,000 residents), and the program has made a big dent in rearrests for DUI.

By distinguishing sharply between people who use alcohol badly and the larger population of non-problem users, 24/7 Sobriety moves past the simple dichotomy of either banning a drug entirely or making it legal in unlimited quantities for all adults....

The interesting ting is that the penalty is minor--one day in jail! So there is no hesitation or difficulty in applying it.

...Having to call in every day to find out whether it is your day to be tested turns out to be powerful help in staying clean. As one probationer told a researcher, "Knowing I had to make that phone call the next morning ruined the high." Leighton Iles's Swift program in Texas has recorded equally impressive results, and there are promising pilot efforts with parolees in Seattle and Sacramento.

Substantial progress in suppressing the drug use of arrestees would be a great boon. It would deprive the illicit drug markets of their most valuable customers, which would, in turn, reduce violence in inner-city neighborhoods and take the pressure off Latin American countries now racked by drug dealing...
Posted by John Weidner at 12:29 PM | Comments (1)

April 22, 2012

"Humility... is the simple grace of being in the right place"

Fr. Dwight, writing on the question of why women cannot become priests....

...Finally, the argument, at its heart, also has nothing to do with "equality". I realize that to say so bluntly may make some people howl with rage. This is because at the very heart of the Catholic faith we believe in something greater than "equality". We believe in a principle we might call "equity".

Equity is the quality of being fair, objective, unbiased and even handed. Equity has more to do with giving everyone what they deserve rather than giving everyone the same thing. Equity is the idea that everyone has their rightful place in society, in the family, in the church, and ultimately in the cosmos, and that true justice is a matter of each person eventually finding their own rightful place in the greater order of things.

Dante's picture of heaven is of each person in the cosmos being in exactly the right place in relationship to God, and therefore in relationship to one another. As this is attained each person finds total peace, or as he says, "Our Peace in His Will". The achievement of this "perfect place" is the work of a lifetime. It is the work of a lifetime of prayer, surrender, mystery and service. This "place of peace"; this equity of heaven is also the result of humility.

Humility is understanding our rightful place and being there. Humility is not abject groveling, but the simple grace of being in the right place. Furthermore, this humble fact of being in the right place grants us not only humility, but great dignity. I am where I should be and where no one else should be. I am who I am. I am who God has made me to be. I am in my unique place in the divine economy. This individual dignity is far greater and the freedom that comes with it grants me much greater peace than I would ever find by seeking to be someone else just because I want to be "equal" to them.

Obedience to the divine will and submission to the divine teaching is the only way to attain this equity.  I am not writing this to women telling them to be submissive and shut up and know their place.

I am writing this to myself.
Posted by John Weidner at 8:10 AM

April 19, 2012

"Conservatism by inertia"

I recently stumbled upon an old nut I'd squirreled away, by Orrin Judd from 2003. He's writing on a piece by Roger Scruton, Decencies for Skeptics: Is religion necessary to make a moral society? No; but reverence is. (Roger Scruton, City Journal)

I think I liked the term "conservatism by inertia," but never got around to blogging it and remembering it...

Mr. Scruton represents that worthwhile but tragic strain of British thought that combines skepticism and nostalgia to produce a kind of conservatism by inertia--we can't believe in anything, but Britain was great when we did, so let's not get rid of everything we had then, let's act as if we still believe in something. This is the Right's version of "freeloading atheism".

But rational skepticism has a fatal flaw--one that renders it quite dubious as the basis of a political philosophy--it ultimately disproves itself and reason entirely. Having once denied that we can know anything with certainty about reality through the exercise of pure reason, one has denied the reality, reason, and the self. They can only be recouped by the exercise of faith. So the great response to the skepticism of Hume and Berkley is not an elaborate theory but Samuel Johnson kicking a large stone and exclaiming: "I deny it thus". No matter how taut their theory may be, no one will choose to live their life by it. We all believe certain things to be real, most especially ourselves, and, therefore, accepting their proof as valid, we all proceed from a stance of faith. That genie too is out of the bottle.

When Mr. Scruton then argues, quite accurately, that reason can offer no coherent basis for morality, that only religion can, we must ask: so what? Reason couldn't prove that you and I exist, but that does not truly make us doubt that we do. And when we turn to look at all of humanity today and all of human history, if we perceive, as we must, that you and I are rather insignificant, but that morality matters greatly, who is so self-absorbed that they would argue that faith is sufficient to prove our own measly existence but we can have no recourse to it to prove that the morality upon which decent human society depends likewise exists? The claim that I can utilize personal faith in order to know myself to be real but that any faith I disagree with, including (especially) one shared by billions of my fellow men, is necessarily illusion, because mere faith, is nought but egomania.
Posted by John Weidner at 8:10 AM | Comments (16)

April 15, 2012

This fascinates me...

I've often pondered the idea of creating new urban neighborhoods that have the charm of the old neighborhoods. I suspect it's impossible, but I applaud anyone who is giving it a try. (I'll try it myself, if anyone wants to put up $100 million or so.)

Welcome to Ikea-land: Furniture giant begins urban planning project - The Globe and Mail:

...I recently made the long drive into the vanguard of Ikea's city-building ambition, in a triangle of post-industrial wasteland surrounded by goods-shipping canals and highway ramps in the far reaches of East London, not far from the 2012 Olympics grounds. Here is the site of Ikea's effort to bring a very Scandinavian model of urban design and managed living into the English-speaking world.

Amid this 11-hectare expanse of ancient rusting machinery, waste piles and grinding construction equipment is a converted brick sugar warehouse where a team of Swedes and Brits are poring over blueprints and renderings. LandProp Services bought the land in 2009. Their vision is to turn this grey netherworld, once planning approval is done, into a tightly packed neighbourhood they'll call Strand East.

It will look, once complete, like a reproduction of the sort of historic, chic downtown neighbourhoods you find in the far more central parts of London or Paris, not in this distant expanse of former dockyards and bloodless public-housing project. At its core are straight, car-free streets lined with simple townhouses and ground-floor-access flats in five-storey rows. In the alleyways behind – an imitation of the classic London backstreet, the mews – will be little two- and three-storey homes, all with direct access to the street.

The 1,200 homes and apartments, 40 per cent of them large enough for families (making it a much more child-filled place than most post-industrial developments), will be priced to appeal to a range of incomes, the Swedes promise. A few seven- to 11-storey condominium towers will pepper the area, and offices for high-tech firms and a hotel will fill the busier edges. Secreted beneath the whole structure is an underground parking garage, to keep cars off the interior streets. Bus lanes and pedestrian walkways will cut across it, squares and public areas abound. The whole thing is designed to create the sense of felicity and discovery you get when wandering a historic European neighbourhood – or, for that matter, an Ikea store.
It is a far more appealing design than most of the centrally-planned urban neighbourhoods that have blighted British cities for the last 60 years, and it promises the sort of pleasant population density – on a piece of wasteland that had once been considered uninhabitable – that could help Britain's dire housing shortages.

As the Ikea people repeatedly tell anyone who will listen, this place will not be an Ikea. There will not be Poäng armchairs adorning the living rooms and Billy bookcases covering the walls. The houses will not require Allen keys to assemble. Meatballs in lingonberry sauce will not be served at the restaurants. And there will not, the company insists, be an Ikea store anywhere in or near the neighbourhood.

But what might make it seem alien to Brits and North Americans is Ikea's very active role in the neighbourhood's life – in large part because the houses will be fully owned by Ikea. In a model that is the norm in Sweden and other parts of continental Europe, but alien to English-speaking countries, this will be an all-rental private neighbourhood, run and overseen by a private company.

"We're about human scale, we're about building things to a high design and a good quality, because we are long-term investors," explains Andrew Cobden, the project's manager. "We don't like to sell income-generating assets."

What does it mean to live in a mixed-income urban neighbourhood in which none of your neighbours are owners? Ikea prefers to emphasize the upside: It will be less likely that people will buy, wait for the value to increase, then move to the suburbs and become absentee landlords (a problem in East London). But there are risks: without an equity stake in their neighbourhood, residents aren't likely to rebuild it, transform it and shift housing, retail and light-industry spaces into one another to suit the community's needs. It will be static, governed not by its own internal organic development but by a mega-landlord with a penchant for neat design and social order.

And here is where living in an Ikea neighbourhood might come to resemble a long day in an Ikea store: The company wants you to be in a neat, clean, pleasant environment. And it very much wants you to have fun. Those things that normally just happen in life will be carefully managed from above.

"We'd have a very good understanding of rubbish collection, of cleanliness, of landscape management," Mr. Cobden says. "We would have a fairly firm line on undesirable activity, whatever that may be. But we also feel we can say, okay, because we've kept control of the management of the commercial facilities, we have a fairly strong hand in what is said in terms of the activities that are held on site."

That, he says, means setting up and promoting things like farmers' markets, antique shops and outdoor flower stalls. Presumably, it also means keeping out cheque-cashing shops, Internet cafes, bookmakers and the other detritus of the British shopping street, as well as the sort of down-at-the heels characters who make urban life colourful but challenging.

"And that," Mr. Cobden says, "will give the residents an events calendar that arrives on their doorstep of things that are happening – and that kind of creates a sense of place. ... We'll shape it rather than force it on people – but we'll be trying to knit the community together."

Ikea's builders say they're not interested in a Disney-style kind of an animatronic spectacle. Rather, they're seeding Strand East with evocations of spontaneous urban life in hopes that it will become spontaneous urban life; they say they'd be happy to see it shift and evolve to suit market conditions. It's not clear, though, how this desire will coexist with Ikea's desire to keep the place under its control.

The answer, Mr. Müller says, is that the Swedes have a long-term interest in success – much like a municipal council does, and, in fact, Ikea will be acting very much like a municipal government....
Posted by John Weidner at 8:40 PM

April 10, 2012

Old and moldy...

By Michael Barone, RealClearPolitics - Can Romney Show Voters That Obama Is Out of Date?:

...There is a huge tension between the personalize-your-own-world ethos of the iPod/Facebook generation and the command-and-control, mid-20th-century welfare state programs of the Obama Democrats.

The young are stuck with disproportionate insurance premiums by Obamacare and with student loan debt that can't be discharged in bankruptcy. Some hope. Some change.

Romney needs to make the case that current policy -- what Obama has fallen back on -- is leading to a crash in which government will fail to keep its promises.

He needs to argue that his "opportunity society" means vibrant economic growth that can provide, in ways that can't be precisely predicted, opportunities in which young people can find work that draws on their special talents and interests.

Obama's policies, in contrast, treat individuals as just one cog in a very large machine, designed by supposed experts who don't seem to know what they're doing (see Obamacare, Solyndra). Their supposedly cutting-edge technology (electric cars, passenger rail) is more than a century old.

Romney, potentially strong with the affluent, needs to figure out how to get through to the young. ...

The whole idea of "design by experts" is SO Industrial Age. As is having government acting as the ringmaster of the circus. Did you ever see the movie Dumbo? Remember the Ringmaster cracking his whip while the parade of elephants marches along in a stately line? That's what the Industrial Age was like.

For our time, try to imagine the Ringmaster trying to discipline 10,000 cats...

Posted by John Weidner at 12:20 PM | Comments (10)

April 8, 2012

Wildest thing I've ever built...

Since today is Easter, it is an appropriate moment to post about this recently installed project. It is a reliquary, holding a tiny fragment of the True Cross. (And to forestall the obvious question, I don't know if it is a true relic. But I don't see any historical reason to think such a thing implausible. I've posted some historical thoughts below the fold.) The actual fragment is too small to see here—it's a minute splinter at the center of the crystal cross you see.

Reliquary with True Cross

The design specifications were like nothing I'd ever even considered. I wanted piece of traditional-looking woodwork, that would also be secure from thieves, yet accessible so the relic could be removed for veneration on Good Friday. And lighted.

The projecting part you see below hides two steel cages (thanks to one of my sons, who can weld a bit). Sandwiched between them are windows of polycarbonate plastic (Lexan). The steel is sheathed in two layers of oak. An ugly tough layer with lots of steel screws holding it all in shape. And that layer was then covered in some thin veneers of very handsome White Oak. And all this was just invented as I want along. There are no how-to books to consult!

Detail of the Oak used to sheath the reliquary

White Oak is prized by people like me for its "ray flakes." Those are those pale lines that stripe the wood. (If you have heard the term "quarter-sawn oak," that is the sawing angle that shows the flakes best.) The flakes on the shield-shaped back of the piece are typical—fairly big and irregular. NOW, look at the oak wood in the projecting part of the reliquary. See the ranks of slender close-drawn flakes, which are an appropriate size for such slim components. Almost thread-like. You are seeing something rare. I've only seen them like that once. I starting building a piece of oak furniture for Charlene at least 15 years ago. But the project stalled, and I put some parts away to maybe maybe work on later. They cluttered my shop for years. And dozens of times I considered turning them into fire-wood. And each time I said, "Naw. Too pretty. Just can't do it!"

So, there they were, when their moment came!

Here's a bit of the construction process. I'm gluing and clamping strips of veneer onto the rough oak. Lordy, what contortions I went through. I often wished I'd chosen a different job.

Reliquary, glueing and clamping the veneers onto the substrate

Historical note... I'm a history buff, and have been thinking a bit about relics of the Cross. Here's something I wrote...

People in our culture tend to scoff at the very idea, but actually there's nothing historically implausible about fragments of the Cross surviving into our time.

The Empress Helena, the mother of Constantine, is said to have obtained the Cross and brought it to Constantinople. That she or some other worthy might have obtained the actual cross is not far-fetched. The Romans were exceedingly organized and meticulous in everything they did. It is likely that they had their crosses made to high standards under government contract, and then took very good care of them. I'd guess they painted numbers on them, and had inventory lists. Probably the Roman soldiers had to sign them out of a warehouse, and some fussbudget bureaucrat told them that any damage would be deducted from their pay!

And the Christians of the first couple of centuries would have been angling all the time to get their hands on that cross, and hide it. There were wealthy and influential people among them, and they were highly motivated. Bribery could accomplish a lot. If Joseph of Arimathea could obtain the body of Jesus, if Nicodemus could buy a hundred pounds of spices to bury him with... it would be more surprising if they didn't get the Cross!

Erasmus of Rotterdam famously stated that if all the pieces of the True Cross were gathered together, it would take a ship to carry them. But that was hyperbole used for literary effect in trying to combat supposed superstition. He didn't study the matter. Charles Rohault de Fleury published a study in 1870, analyzing all known Cross fragments. They added up to much less than any reasonable estimate for a cross.
Posted by John Weidner at 9:14 PM

April 7, 2012

Chesterton on Good Friday...

In this story of Good Friday it is the best things in the world that are at their worst. That is what really shows us the world at its worst. It was, for instance, the priests of a true monotheism and the soldiers of an international civilisation. Rome, the legend, founded upon fallen Troy and triumphant over fallen Carthage, had stood for a heroism which was the nearest that any pagan ever came to chivalry. Rome had defended the household gods and the human decencies against the ogres of Africa and the hermaphrodite monstrosities of Greece. But in the lightning flash of this incident, we see great Rome, the imperial republic, going downward under her Lucretian doom. Scepticism has eaten away even the confident sanity of the conquerors of the world. He who is enthroned to say what is justice can only ask: 'What is truth?' So in that drama which decided the whole fate of antiquity, one of the central figures is fixed in what seems the reverse of his true role. Rome was almost another name for responsibility. Yet he stands for ever as a sort of rocking statue of the irresponsible. Man could do no more. Even the practical had become the impracticable. Standing between the pillars of his own judgement-seat, a Roman had washed his hands of the world.

There too were the priests of that pure and original truth that was behind all the mythologies like the sky behind the clouds. It was the most important truth in the world; and even that could not save the world. Perhaps there is something overpowering in pure personal theism; like seeing the sun and moon and sky come together to form one staring face. Perhaps the truth is too tremendous when not broken by some intermediaries divine or human; perhaps it is merely too pure and far away. Anyhow it could not save the world; it could not even conquer the world. There were philosophers who held it in its highest and noblest form; but they not only could not convert the world, but they never tried. You could no more fight the jungle of popular mythology with a private opinion than you could clear away a forest with a pocket-knife.
The Jewish priests had guarded it jealously in the good and the bad sense. They had kept it as a gigantic secret. As savage heroes might have kept the sun in a box, they kept the Everlasting in the tabernacle. They were proud that they alone could look upon the blinding sun of a single deity; and they did not know that they had themselves gone blind. Since that day their representatives have been like blind men in broad daylight, striking to right and left with their staffs, and cursing the darkness. But there has been that in their monumental monotheism that it has at least remained like a monument, the last thing of its kind, and in a sense motionless in the more restless world which it cannot satisfy. For it is certain that for some reason it cannot satisfy. Since that day it has never been quite enough to say that God is in his heaven and all is right with the world, since the rumour that God had left his heavens to set it right. And as it was with these powers that were good, or at least had once been good, so it was with the element which was perhaps the best, or which Christ himself seems certainly to have felt as the best. The poor to whom he preached the good news, the common people who heard him gladly, the populace that had made so many popular heroes and demigods in the old pagan world, showed also the weaknesses that were dissolving the world. They suffered the evils often seen in the mob of the city, and especially the mob of the capital, during the decline of a society. The same thing that makes the rural population live on tradition makes the urban population live on rumour. Just as its myths at the best had been irrational, so its likes and dislikes are easily changed by baseless assertion that is arbitrary without being authoritative. Some brigand or other was artificially turned into a picturesque and popular figure and run as a kind of candidate against Christ. In all this we recognise the urban population that we know, with its newspaper scares and scoops.

But there was present in this ancient population an evil more peculiar to the ancient world. We have noted it already as the neglect of the individual, even of the individual voting the condemnation and still more of the individual condemned. It was the soul of the hive; a heathen thing. The cry of this spirit also was heard in that hour, 'It is well that one man die for the people.' Yet this spirit in antiquity of devotion to the city and to the state had also been in itself and in its time a noble spirit. It had its poets and its martyrs; men still to be honoured for ever. It was failing through its weakness in not seeing the separate soul of a man, the shrine of all mysticism; but it was only failing as everything else was failing. The mob went along with the Sadducees and the Pharisees, the philosophers and the moralists. It went along with the imperial magistrates and the sacred priests, the scribes and the soldiers, that the one universal human spirit might suffer a universal condemnation; that there might be one deep, unanimous chorus of approval and harmony when Man was rejected of men.

There were solitudes beyond where none shall follow. There were secrets in the inmost and invisible part of that drama that have no symbol in speech; or in any severance of a man from men. Nor is it easy for any words less stark and single-minded than those of the naked narrative even to hint at the horror of exaltation that lifted itself above the hill. Endless expositions have not come to the end of it, or even to the beginning. And if there be any sound that can produce a silence, we may surely be silent about the end and the extremity; when a cry was driven out of that darkness in words dreadfully distinct and dreadfully unintelligible, which man shall never understand in all the eternity they have purchased for him; and for one annihilating instant an abyss that is not for our thoughts had opened even in the unity of the absolute; and God had been forsaken of God.

They took the body down from the cross and one of the few rich men among the first Christians obtained permission to bury it in a rock tomb in his garden; the Romans setting a military guard lest there should be some riot and attempt to recover the body. There was once more a natural symbolism in these natural proceedings; it was well that the tomb should be sealed with all the secrecy of ancient eastern sepulture and guarded by the authority of the Caesars. For in that second cavern the whole of that great and glorious humanity which we call antiquity was gathered up and covered over; and in that place it was buried. It was the end of a very great thing called human history; the history that was merely human. The mythologies and the philosophies were buried there, the gods and the heroes and the sages. In the great Roman phrase, they had lived. But as they could only live, so they could only die; and they were dead.

From The Everlasting Man, by GK Chesterton

Posted by John Weidner at 7:16 AM | Comments (0)

April 3, 2012

I bet I could do a better job myself...

From Daniel Jalkut, of Red Sweater Software. (I'm writing this post on his excellent blogging client, MarsEdit.) Red Sweater Blog – The End Of Advertising:

...In the history of the world so far, there has been considerable opportunity for advertisers to misguide customers, and to lure their money toward products or services that can be framed as perfect for them, even when they are not. That’s the art and the holy grail of advertising. [I don't agree that advertising is aimed at misleading. That's reflexive lefty malarky. But it is usually poorly designed, truth-wise.] But going forward, technology will offer customers and companies the tools to connect effortlessly, optimizing for compatibility without the help of the bogus, outdated advertising system.

Most of us base purchasing decisions on vague hunches derived from a mix of advertising influences, word-of-mouth, and the relative trendiness of a product. But more and more as customers we are cutting out the advertising middle-man, in favor of systems based on education and trust. Amazon is a good example of this. With the notable exception of their Kindle line of products, they have little concern about which products their customers buy. It only matters that they buy things, and that they buy things often. They provide detailed product information, and allow honest, often scathing reviews. The goal is for customers to make self-serving decisions. In this case, defying the advertisers’ best interests is in Amazon’s best interest as well.

Extrapolate the technology-assisted consumption process out over the next 10, 50, 100 years, and I have a hard time imagining a meaningful role for conventional advertising. If I search Google for “lawnmower,” it’s not interesting that some tractor company has paid Google for the privilege of putting their brand’s information at the top of the list. At some point in the future, customers will assume that companies who choose to advertise conventionally are afraid of the outcome when consulting various self-empowering resources. Where am I more likely to search for “lawnmower?” If I want to know what a lawnmower is, Google. If I want to know which lawnmower to buy? Amazon, or another site that strives to empower customers, not advertisers.

I do worry about what happens to some of our beloved, advertising-driven services. We’ve all grown accustomed to the subsidization of news reporting and analysis. In recent decades, advertising has crept further into our lives, even subsidizing municipal infrastructures such as public transit. What impact will the end of advertising have on these important services?

In the old world, technology for connecting customers directly to companies did not exist, so companies were satisfied in buying advertising. It is tool that serves to expose customers to the concept of a product, and to crudely attempt to educate them about the suitability of the product for their purposes.

In the new world, mass-exposure will be replaced by social networking, and education will be not only replaced by, but massively bolstered by trusted systems such as Amazon’s review database, Consumer Reports, and other much better stuff that is presumably coming in the future. Presumably? It has to be coming, and it has to be better, because everything’s riding on it....

Me, I don't think advertising is dying. Or, rather, I think it doesn't have to die. It needs to be re-invented. This is a subject that bugs me a lot, because I'm frequently frustrated by advertising that doesn't give me what I need to know. I have often been in the position of having a need, and having money to spend to satisfy the need...... and not being able to find the information I need to make a purchase.

Problem is, most products are usually advertised as being, as Mary Poppins put it, "practically perfect in every way." Of course that's absurd. Most products are good within some particular niche. My chain saw gets used once or twice a year. So I don't want a super chainsaw. I bought the inexpensive consumer-grade saw that merely does an adequate job, and would die if used daily.

But no ad will tell you that. It's taboo. Maybe I'm crazy, but I think I'd react very positively to an ad that said that "Product X will do A, B and, in a pinch, C. But it's NOT designed to do E, F, or G. We think X is a good compromise between affordability and number of features."

If you find a good review of an intended purchase, you are delighted. Right? The reviewer gives you pluses and minuses. He tells you what the product feels like. It's charms and its warts. SO, tell me, brothers and sisters, why can't ads be written in the same way???

I've been asking that question for a long time, and I never get an answer. (And yes, of course there are products that need to be sold by the sizzle, not the quality of the steak. You don't sell perfume or soda pop or wedding dresses with plusses and minuses. But still, there are tons of things where what I want is just some simple information. Some straight talk.

Much of the problem, I think, is that an advertising agency is an Industrial Age organization. Much like a newspaper. The idea of a "reporter" was always flawed, because in most cases the guy can't know enough about whatever situation he's reporting on at the moment. We used to have to rely on reporters, but now, if, say, a legal issue is in the news I can read the blogs of a multitude of law professors. How many reporters can compete on that playing field? Most reporters just look like fools.

It's the same with advertising. Suppose you hire a advertising agency to sell a Vertical Panel Saw to me. That's crazy, because I, a cabinetmaker, know more about the subject than 99.9% of advertising people. They will just write up some puffery and pretty pictures—because they don't know enough.

If you hired me to write that ad, I would go to real shops that use those tools, and interview them. And then I'd write ads that are like mini-articles, where real people talk about the plusses—and yes, the minuses—of machines they work with every day. About the gritty reality of using them. I bet people would just eat that up.

Posted by John Weidner at 10:45 PM | Comments (5)

April 1, 2012

Traversing a minefield...

Spengler, What do Republicans Want?:

...We've already had an extensive discussion of the problem at this blog. With more Americans than ever dependent on the federal government (18% of all personal income now comes from transfer payments, and 50 million Americans are on food stamps, Republicans face a dilemma: If we state boldly that spending must be slashed, a lot of people will think that it means tightening their own belt. In the short run, they will be right, although in the long run, everyone will be poorer if we fail to do so. The danger is that the entitlements system will reduce too many Americans to feeling like state dependents.

It's not 1980, when the budget had been in balance (along with the foreign account), and the world hungered for more American debt, and Americans had built up a cushion of home equity due to the home price run-up of the 1970s. Inflation was terrible, but homeowners' equity was rising faster than inflation.

That may explain why Romney is restricting his economic discussion to generalities, and why people who are treading water with barely a nostril above the waterline don't seem convinced. Romney's saying the three magic words: Cut taxes across the board, roll back regulation, and keep America the world's unchallenged military power. There's nothing wrong with his message. But he has to traverse a minefield.

That's why all Republicans need to stop playing games and united behind Romney and get him elected in November. I love Rick Santorum, but he has to understand that he's not on a mission from God, and that no miracle will make him president. Santorum needs to use his rapport with the religious right (that includes people like me) to rally support for Romney and ensure a maximum turnout in November. If Santorum can accomplish this, all the effort and passion he invested into his campaign will accrue to the common good.
Posted by John Weidner at 6:02 PM

It's our work, not the Bishop's...

Father Z:

....Let's keep something clear.  My role as a priest, and the bishops' role as bishops, is to form and support the laity for their proper role in the public square.  It is the role of lay people to shape the world around them according to their vocations. I (or, even more, the bishops) will teach, give you the sacraments, and support you.  The work of the public square is really your work, lay people, not mine. Remember that when you think bishops aren't being strong enough in the public square.  We clerics know that you lay people often face in your daily lives challenges that would make many of us roll up in a ball and hide under the covers. On the other hand, the Enemy of your soul hates priests and bishops with surpassing malice. We live every day knowing that we go to our judgment with Holy Orders upon our souls and to those to whom God has given much, more will be expected. As Augustine said, "I am a bishop for you, but I am a Christian with you." Neither portion of God's poor little servants should fall into the trap of thinking that the other has anything easy in life.

If you are p.o.'d that a bishop isn't jumping around with his hair on fire in front of the White House, waving his arms, and telling you whom to vote for, then maybe you should be doing that according to what Holy Church has taught you and in keeping with your vocation. And if the priests and bishops in your life have not been stellar in their roles of teaching (read = they are human, they are sinners, they are ... x, y, z....), then put on your own big-boy underwear and get to work anyway.  Things will improve.  Priests and bishops will find their way to the spines they need, or in some cases abandoned. And they will do it faster if you are with them rather than against them. Believe me: carping at priests doesn't generally make them do things either faster or better. I know this by experiential knowledge and not merely by theoretical. Help them out by prayers and encouragement and example.

There is only so much the bishops can accomplish in the public square on their own: the rest is your job. Don't shirk your role even if you think bishops and priests are being lazy or craven. Stand up and get to work right now, even if you are disappointed that bishops aren't beaming lasers out of their eyes or issuing decrees of excommunication while they levitate to the strains of Verdi's Dies Irae...

Thus endeth my rant....
Posted by John Weidner at 7:30 AM