Tuesday, March 31, 2009

'08, '09, and '010 (!?)

Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner was on "This Week With George Stephanopoulos" on Sunday.

He was appropriately circumspect about the market's most recent reactions to his proclamations, having been humbled by seeing the Dow tumble some 400 points while he was speaking.

As is his way, Mr. Stephanopoulos was trying to put words into Mr. Geithner's mouth about when things would get better, how much they'd get better, how much it would cost, and so on.

Mr. Geithner succesfully redirected. That's what the PR types call it when you dodge a direct question and segue into a way to reinforce your message. Those dodges often start with things like "That's not what the American people want to know, George...what this administration is trying to do is..." and so on. We think most people do want to know the answer to precisely what was being asked, and can spot a redirect a mile away. You can tell when a politician is doing that. His or her lips are moving.

That's not our point.

During the conversation, Mr. Geithner referred to this year as "oh-nine" as so many of us do.

Brace yourselves, please.

He then made a bit of speculation about the following year. "Oh-ten" he called it.

To be sure, we've had nine consecutive years of single digit years, so one might be inclined to forgive such as slip.

We're not, though, since (1) we hear it so frequently that it's like nails on our chalkboard calendar and (2) this is a man of numbers -- we're more than a little disappointed that his oral comments suggest he doesn't understand the number of digits in the base of our counting system.

Gives you confidence that the growth, revenue, spending, and (gulp) deficit projections are right, though, doesn't it?

We suspect, given the way things are moving, that "oh-ten" will be just as good a year for the current administration as "oh-six" and "oh-eight" were for the last one.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Crybabies, Petards, and Chilly Revenge

Jake DeSantis's public resignation letter from AIG is old news by now. Even so, it merits some comment, both on its petulance and its elegance.

The content of Mr. DeSantis's letter is spot on.

He's right that Edward Liddy sold his colleagues and him out. He's right that only a few of the people at AIG caused the problems, and that the public outrage at the ones who were left shouldn't have prevented them from getting paid. He's right to have chosen to give the money away (if not back) as an honorable move -- we have offered our comments on the team nature of corporations already.

He's right that the likes of Barney Frank and Christopher Dodd are flaming hypocrites (at least in one case), even though he didn't mention them by name.

Whose interests were truly served, though, by Mr. DeSantis airing his grievances in the "paper of record" (or Daily Worker, depending upon how you consider the shamelessly left-leaning grey lady)? The letter made AIG look bad and made the government look bad.

We don't mind either of those, their having done good jobs of it themselves.

Our beef is that Mr. DeSantis, by going public, looks like the whining-millionaire-who-is-sufficiently-rich-that-he-can-publicly-turn-down-a-cool-million-less-taxes that he apparently is.

He had lousy PR counsel in this regard. He's made a fool of himself nationally even if he's made a folk hero of himself at the local too-expensive-for-the-rest-of-us country club. We think the trade off is a poor one, and toss an idiot flag in his direction for this form of crybaby publicity.

We do admire one thing he did, though. He noted, correctly, in his criticism of the chief legal thugs of the states of New York and Connecticut, that the correct plural form of "attorney general" is "attorneys general," not "attorney generals" as we so frequently see written by the lunkheads who often pass for reporters these days.

On the topic of attorneys general, Messrs. Cumo and Blumenthal, who have both rattled their legal sabers at the unrepentant bonus recipients at AIG, are wise to consider the way in which other attorneys general (and former attorneys general) have been hoisted on their own petards (viz. Messrs. Dann (OH) and Spitzer (NY); we have the "privilege" of sharing alma maters with both of them). Sanctimony is a dangerous business, and one is ill advised to make rich enemies.

But back to our first point, Mr. DeSantis might consider the old French proverb: "La vengeance est un plat qui se mange froid."

Or, as The Godfather offered it up in 1969: "Revenge is a dish best served cold."

Friday, March 27, 2009

A rule we like, like

One of our former colleagues and friends shared a story over Thai food yesterday that merits the attention of our younger readers.

(Are you paying attention? Did you catch us in our deliberately ambiguous modifier? He is still our friend in case you’re concerned.)

Turns out that when a certain local office of a certain bullish-on-America brokerage house hires interns for the summer, the hiring executives offer them many useful tips for how to adapt to the real world: things like "dress like an adult," "accept responsibility for your mistakes," "be on time" and other bits of advice that are likely needed for kids these days. We can only hope they are heeded.

The bigwigs admonish the interns to use the word “like” only in one of two ways: either a direct comparison (i.e., this bond is like that bond) or as a description of preference (i.e., I like this stock). Other more common, colloquial, and annoying usage (i.e., my Bloomberg is, like, totally not working; the ladies room is like, totally disgusting) result in a modest monetary fine.

We say, like, bravo.

Monday, March 23, 2009

AIG, AIU, IOU, and Taking One for the Team

It appears we're supposed to look the other way while AIG, the insurance behemoth that's generating that giant sucking sound within the government, changes its name to AIU (n.b., a memo we received today would have used "it's" there...something we'll address when we have time to be outraged about grammatical idiocy once again).

P.T. Barnum may have suggested that nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American people (many think it was Baltimore's H.L. Mencken who said it). Whomever said it was apparently wrong. AIG won't get a free pass simply by changing its name.

People remain honked, and while it has turned into a witch hunt, we don't blame them.

We're not holding a grudge about those AIG employees who had contracts to receive bonuses, although we question whether a contractual bonus is, in fact, a bonus for performance rather than a clever way of structuring compensation.

No, in fact, we agree with the United States Constitution's "contracts clause:"

No State shall enter into any Treaty, Alliance, or Confederation; grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal; coin Money; emit Bills of Credit; make any Thing but gold and silver Coin a Tender in Payment of Debts; pass any Bill of Attainder, ex post facto Law, or Law impairing the Obligation of Contracts, or grant any Title of Nobility.
We do, though, applaud those AIG executives -- including at least one with whom we went to college -- who did the honorable thing and gave their bonuses back.
This is called taking one for the team.
Corporations are teams. They succeed or fail together. The notion that one didn't play a part in the credit blowup at AIG, so one is entitled to one's bonus is patently absurd. A baseball player can hit home runs, but if his team doesn't win the World Series, he is not a champion. Same for goes any sport.
The corporate collective is typically aligned through the granting of stock options. We would not have objected had the team at AIG, AIU, IOU, or whatever they're called agreed to forgo bonuses and, instead, earned a portion of the value they created for stockholders (including the unlucky suckers who pay taxes and now own a majority of the company). That would reward those who fixed the mess, irrespective of whether they caused it.
We applaud those proud few who volunteered to say no. Bravo. Now go get the rest of the team.
Back to the Constitution...might they re-think the part on titles of nobility?

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Emanuel vs. Immanuel

Another of our readers correctly criticizes us for misspelling the Chief of Staff's last name. We have since corrected the mistake.

For the record, his name is spelled "Emanuel," not "Immanuel," although one could scarcely fault us for mistaking him for a Kant.

IdiotFlags regrets the error.

No Problem and Emanuel's Middle Finger

It was a simple enough request.

We were out at our traditional Sunday morning breakfast (and in this case, "we" as in three of us rather than the "royal we" for which we are sometimes criticized). "May we have some more napkins?" we asked (the royal we). It seems our sons had spilled chocolate milk, as they are apt to do.

"Sure," the server responded. That he didn't offer a simple "yes" or "yes, sir" is only the beginning of the problem.

When he delivered the napkins, the three of us all said "thank you." Even the four-year-old. We thank his mother for such excellent training.

This is where the real problem begins, and dear readers, it's sufficiently widespread as to qualify as an epidemic.

"No problem," responded the server.

We did not think that a simple request for napkins could even be construed as a problem. We did not think that such a trivial act as delivering napkins -- a clear part of the server's profession -- could possibly be an imposition...nor could the delivery of hot sauce, syrup, more decaf, or even the check. We would expect that the server would perform these parts of his job with great pride.

Yet, after we asked for each of these, after each was delivered, and we thanked the server, we received the same response.

"No problem."

That the response isn't "you're welcome" or as the high standard of service Ritz-Carlton staff is trained to respond, "it's my pleasure" is, in fact, the problem.

We're not advocating unnecessary formality. Just a little bit of etiquette. Thank you for using it. And you're welcome for having us point it out to add one more little thing to your "things that annoy me even though I hadn't noticed before" list.

On an entirely unrelated topic, we read in a recent issue of The New Yorker (as we noted before, just because we disagree with Hendrick Hertzberg doesn't mean we don't read him, although we note with open-minded horror that some of our friends who tilt left refuse to read those with whom they might disagree -- who's closed-minded now?) that Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel lost part of his middle finger in a childhood accident. President Obama noted in a roast of Emanuel that the accident "rendered Emanuel nearly mute."

We are still trying to get the coffee out of our sinuses from the laugh we had over that one.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

An Antidote about an Ad Hock Solution...(groan)

Dorothy Parker once said of Oscar Levant, "If he did not exist, you could not imagine him."

We have a similar sentiment about two real life examples of business malapropisms that were reported in the past twenty four hours.

The first -- from a meeting at a large consumer packaged goods company -- suggests that "brand decisions are made at retail in an ad hock (sic) fashion."

First off, the primary definition of "ad hoc" (we reserve the "k" to describe what the Chicago Cubs will be doing at most of their at-bats in the upcoming season) suggests something that was created to solve a specific problem or address a particular task, e.g., an ad hoc committee.

One can also use "ad hoc" to mean improvised, as in an ad hoc solution or, yes, ad hoc decision.

The phrase's roots are, of course, in Latkin...er, Latin.

No "k" please.

The second leaves us speechless as we hear it with frequency. "We have no hard data," reports an executive, "but we do have antitodal evidence."

Once we have picked ourselves off the floor, we note that, unless the evidence in question is a cure for a recent snakebite or for the Ebola virus, it's likely that the speaker meant "anecdotal," evidence that comes from an anecdote, which is a twenty-five-cent word for story.


Finally, a question to our gentle readers: do we really need to go into the abuses of "irregardless," or can we stipulate that it's not a word, that it's an illiterate, messy mash-up of "irrespective" and "regardless," and that its use is an act of grammatical war?

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

To, too, two fast to post

We humbly apologize to our readers, especially the one who was kind enough to point out that in my compliment to Anonymous and his ten-year-old daughter, we used the wrong form of "too."

We shall redouble our proofreading efforts, and shall be carving our own letters into our own chests this evening.

We are horrified.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Pride, shame, and AIG

Pride, in the Augustinian definition, is defined as "the love of one's own excellence." Some find pride egotistical, even sinful. We think it's a requirement if one is to do anything worth doing.

Something about having to have one's reputation depend upon one's work -- or even to put one's signature it -- likely compelled the Beethovens, Monets, DaVincis, et al to find a way to do things right. To take pride in their work. And to feel a little shame when they didn't do as well as they could.

So we find ourselves today reading about the numbskulls at AIG.

We're no financial genius -- or else we'd be collecting the kinds of bonuses that the aforementioned numbskulls have apparently collected -- but we figure that any group of financiers who screwed up so profoundly that the government was required to put $180 billion of their -- hold that...our money into their firm to stave off the collapse of the financial system might think twice about collecting bonuses, regardless of whether they're contractually entitled to them.

Let us consider now the concepts of guilt and shame, both of which might appear to be lacking among certain of the crew at the insurance behemoth cum badly-run-hedge-fund.

On this topic, our friends at Wikipedia tell us:

According to cultural anthropologist Ruth Benedict, shame is a violation of cultural or social values while guilt feelings arise from violations of one's internal values. Thus, it is possible to feel ashamed of thought or behavior that no one knows about and to feel guilty about actions that gain the approval of others.

Psychoanalyst Helen B. Lewis argued that "The experience of shame is directly about the self, which is the focus of evaluation. In guilt, the self is not the central object of negative evaluation, but rather the thing done is the focus." Similarly, Fossum and Mason say in their book Facing Shame that "While guilt is a painful feeling of regret and responsibility for one's actions, shame is a painful feeling about oneself as a person."

So what we're saying is, at the very least the AIG management -- contracts notwithstanding -- ought to feel guilty about taking the money while the country is shouting about it. Moreover, we hope that they feel shame during the dark nights of the soul that we hope they're not having at our expense in the Virgin Islands.

We note that they could give it back, but that would be honorable, and the old adage about honor and thieves comes handily to mind.

We note the irony that the auto unions, whom we loathe as anacrhonisms left over from the days of Upton Sinclair, were sufficiently guilty and ashamed to offer some concessions to keep the US automakers afloat, albeit on our nickel once again.

We can only hope that the AIG-ers are modern day Arthur Dimmesdales, carving Fs into their chests even though the world may not see them.

(There's disagreement among the cognoscenti about whether "Fs" or "F's" is the right way to describe the plural of the letter; we prefer no apostrophe, as we believe that bit of punctuation is reserved for the possessive or the contraction).

Bonuses are pay-for-performance. Failure to perform should result in failure to earn a bonus. Anyone with any sense of pride, or shame, would reject the money. We're confident that they won't, though, and that despite the financial ruin that they've wrought, that they'll take the money and run, with no chest carving.

As for the Scarlet F, you may find yourself wondering for what it is an abbreviation. We leave it to the reader to complete the obvious word, which is a nominalization of the obvious word (nominalization being the turning of a verb into a noun).

Shame on them. Shame on AIG.

PS -- We congratulate Anonymous whose 10-year-old daughter uses ultimate, penultimate, and antepenultimate correctly, and trust that she is far too fine a young woman to finish the puzzle above.

Friday, March 13, 2009

The Willis Tower, Macy's, US Cellular Park, and the dangers of hubris

Recently, the insurance brokerage Willis announced that it was becoming the lead tenant in the building soon to be formerly known as the Sears Tower (BSTBFKATST).

Let's reserve judgment on the branding and civic pride implications of this even in light of :

  • The boycotts of Macy's by loyal Marshall Field customers (we have it from a good source that the Macy's knuckleheads were implored not to change the name, at least of the State Street store, lest exactly this happen),
  • The failed attempt to get Sox fans to call their shrine US Cellular Park instead of Comiskey (or Cominskey as the local deese and dose guys call it).
  • The enduring resentment that Chicagoans have about talking about First Chicago as Chase (we note that the insular New Yorkers let the flyover bumpkins here keep their Chicago skyline checks and ATM cards, at least throwing us a bone).

Actually, let's not. The BSTFKATST will always be the Sears Tower. The Willis name will never stick.

What really gets us, though, is not the branding or civic pride issue. It's the short memories that the insurance brokerage leadership seems to have about the history of putting their offices in tall buildings to show the world that their dicks are bigger than their competitors'.

Years ago, Marsh, then the world's biggest insurance brokerage, moved into the top floors of the North Tower of the World Trade Center. Aon, then the second biggest, moved into the top floors of the South Towers quickly thereafter.

On September 11, 2001, 295 Marsh employees and 60 Marsh contractors were killed. 175 Aon employees lost their lives.

We had the privilege of working with Aon's then Chairman Pat Ryan, and paying close attention to the actions of Marsh Chairman Jeff Greenberg during that time. Both were exemplary men who demonstrated genuine pain and compassion. We are not taking them to task for their choice of office space. Nobody expected an airplane to drive in the window.

Now that we know it's a risk, though, we question the wisdom of Willis's choice -- putting their employees in what is now the tallest building in the US. It doesn't make Willis bigger or better.

It just makes them a target.

And this from a firm that's ostensibly in the risk management industry?

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

An empirical nation? Margarine fit for a king!

We listened to the podcast of HBO's "Real Time with Bill Maher." Episode 143. We think it's important to understand both sides of every argument, and Mr. Maher certainly provides one side. With great enthusiasm.

His guests included George Stephanopoulos, whom we gather is now shaving (we actually like his ABC show, but mostly for George Will); Gavin Newsom, the exceptionally bright, entertaining, and circumspect mayor of San Francisco, actor Alan Cumming, and political satirist and journalist P.J. O'Rourke (it appears that now that Bush has been defeated Maher is comfortable having at least one dissenting voice at the table -- O'Rourke is a notorious conservative).

We can't seem to find any signs that Alan Cumming is anyone about whom we should care -- he apparently has a distinguished curriculum vitae including roles in Garfield and Flintstones Viva Rock Vegas -- who is this guy? But we digress.

Cumming (whom we congratulate for becoming a naturalized citizen recently) noted that the U.S.'s foreign policy suggests that it really is trying to build an empire, and he went on to conclude that the U.S. is "an empirical nation."

But wait, we say. A nation guided by experience and measurement? From a Bill Maher guest? We think not, and we're confident that's not what he meant. So once again, we toss our flag.

Mr. Cumming meant to say that the US, in its empire building, is an "imperial" nation -- of or pertaining to an empire (according to Dictionary.com). You know, imperial, like the United Kingdom once was. How ironic is it that Mr. Cumming is Scottish by birth?

The other irony is too crude for us to discuss.

So remember: if it's empirical it's something "gained by means of observation, experience, or experiment" (says Wikipedia.com, and so say we). If it's imperial, it relates to an empire.

Or some margarine so fine that it's fit for a king. Do click the link and watch the commercial...how we long for simple advertising like that...

Note to David: the accusative is the object of the verb. " I (nominative) failed Latin class (accusative)" for example.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The ultimate ruling on penultimate

Wallace Shawn's character in The Princess Bride continually used the word “inconceivable.” Mandy Patinkin's character noted, “you keep using that word; I don’t think it means what you think it means.”

Let’s have the ultimate ruling on another word that’s often used in ways that the user doesn’t mean… “penultimate.”

“Sole Mio (one of our favorite Chicago restaurants, long since closed, the victim of rent increases we suppose) has the penultimate tiramisu” we were once told by a friend.

“She is the penultimate ride” one of our male friends once said about a car (or a woman, we can’t remember which).

We cast our idiot flag upon those usages.

Unless they meant that the tiramisu or ride/babe in question was the one just before the last one, they were making one of the ultimate vocabulary faux pas.

As an aside, isn’t it interesting that “faux pas” is the plural of “faux pas?” But we digress…

Penultimate: second from the last. November is the penultimate month of the year. Ultimate: final or best. The run is the ultimate leg of most triathlons. BMW is the ultimate driving machine.
N.B. if you really want to show off, “antepenultimate” is the one before the penultimate.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

He, himself, got nailed...

Another reader writes:

Can the accusative (which I'm guessing means all the forms of -self) also be used for emphasis, e.g. "Can you believe that Spitzer, Mr. Altar Boy himself, got nailed on a prostitution charge?"

Excellent question. First off, we'll presume that the reader means the reflexive and not the accusative as the pronoun form that ends in -self. In the case that the reader describes above, "himself" is itself a reflexive pronoun whose antecedent is "Spitzer," and is the object of the implied verb "is."

To some extent, one could argue that "himself" is entirely redundant, but it's a nice way of adding emphasis, as Dr. Suess did in How the Grinch Stole Christmas:

He brought everything back, all the food for the feast.
And then he, he himself, the Grinch carved the roast beast.

At least that's what I think.

While we're on the topic, as relates to former Governor Spitzer, while he was nailed on the charge, some believe that, at least at the Mayflower Hotel, it was the lovely and talented Ms. Dupre who was getting nailed.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Tiny bubbles; dirty rotten scoundrels

Another of our readers (we apparently have more than two now...) offered less-than-gentle criticism for our use of the verb form of "effervescent."

Talk about having things bass-ackwards. Turns out the noun "effervescence" and adjective "effervescent" are derived from the verb.

"Effervesce" comes from the Latin "efferescere." The link on dictionary.com is here...as the old saying goes "you could look it up." We've taken the trouble to copy it for the click challenged, though:

1695–1705; < class="ital-inline">effervēscere, equiv. to ef- ef- + ferv- hot (see fervent ) + -ēscere -esce

So there. Another handy tip. Forgive us for being smug in our correctness.

In entirely other news, one of our college friends -- who, but for his need for us as a reference for his FBI background check might deny any association with us -- recently spoke at, get this, a "corruption workshop" for elected officials. As if our political class needs lessons.

According to the Palm Beach Post:

Former federal prosecutor and now private defense lawyer Bruce Reinhart had the best approach to teaching public officials how to stay out of legal trouble. He spoke to them as if they were children.

Taking his lead from a popular book, he told Palm Beach County's elected elite "Everything you ever need to know about how to stay away from honest services fraud you learned in kindergarten." Here's Mr. Reinhart's list; the comments are mine (note: "mine" refers to Joel Engelhardt, the Palm Beach Post editorial writer):

1. "You don't lie to people." That includes voters.

2. "Don't take candy from strangers." Or free hotel rooms. Or $8 million parcels of land. Or cash-stuffed shaving kits.

3. "Stop, look and listen." If honesty is not your first inclination, perhaps it will be your second ... or third.

4. "You have to tattle." Newspaper reporters love that one. Call us and see.

5. "When in doubt, go ask a grown-up." Unless the grown-up is your co-conspirator. Likewise, "Never do anything you'd be embarrassed to tell your mother." Unless your mother is evil.

That last one shows what the whole kindergarten approach is missing. Some people just never learned right from wrong. In fact, some politicians view public office as a right to help them do wrong. They probably have been behaving that way since kindergarten.

We might suggest a final addition: "when you blew it, admit it" (with apologies for the obvious implied references to Ms. Lewinsky and former caught-red-handed President Clinton).

Recent examples from a CEO in India to a Finance Minister in Japan show the honor of stepping down when you're wrong instead of taking the OJ Simpson (and Rod Blagojevich, and so many others') defense of "deny, deny, deny."

Would that our children and politicians, would learn to do the former rather than the latter...

Me, myself, and I

So there it was, on an annual giving solicitation Flash presentation that our alma mater sent to us via email. An undergraduate at a prestigious university expressing his gratitude for the institution's "no loans" policy (the institution in question offers outright grants instead so that the undergrads can graduate debt free).

"I'm so grateful for what the university and its alumni have done for people like myself," he effervesced.

We're no Latin scholars, but we've learned along the way about the difference between the nominative case -- the subject of a verb -- and the accusative case -- the object of a verb.

He meant to say "I'm (nominative) so grateful for what the university and its alumni have done for people like me (accusative)." First person pronoun as subject = I. First person pronoun as object = me.

See how simple it is?

Sadly, somewhere along the way, users of our complex but beautiful-in-its-complexity language have either failed to learn the difference, gotten sloppy, or come to believe that polysyllabic words (e.g., myself) are more impressive than monosyllabic ones.

One can often see and hear such behavior among law enforcement officials noting that they "apprehended the alleged perpetrator" rather than saying "we got the guy dat we tink did dis" (N.B. the previous quote is in "Chicago-ese, a rich topic that we'll address in the future).

The correct use of "myself" is as a reflexive pronoun. Recall that reflexive verbs are things that you do to...yourself. "I hurt myself," for example. "I cut myself shaving."

Or "I hate myself for not knowing the difference between nominative and accusative and getting called out by some blogger for it."

Friday, March 6, 2009

Tax Breaks and Bar Stool Economics

One of our readers (who knew we had readers already?) anonymously posted this comment:

"You rich people have been getting tax breaks since the beginning of time. Why not others?"

Reserving judgment on whether the poster is entitled (see earlier post) to call us "rich" (it's in exceptionally bad taste to speculate publicly on another's income), we suggest that:
  1. The tax breaks available to "the rich" are available to "ordinary people" (as the President insists upon calling us) as well. They're available to everyone and anyone. Equal protection under the law and all...that pesky old Constitution keeps cropping up in these arguments.
  2. Equal protection notwithstanding, the old "bar stool economics" parable is an excellent reminder of what really happens when there's a progressive tax...and how those who pay a higher tax rate and a higher share of the overall tax bill find themselves mightily screwed.
"To each according to his needs and from each according to his abilities" was a philosophical takeaway from Marx's Communist Manifesto. Let's not leapfrog socialism too quickly...

Entitled to Title a Blog Entry

Lest we be thought of as perpetually grouchy, let us gently and helpfully point out a simple grammatical error that can be easily fixed by those paying attention.

Our email this morning contained an invitation to a conference call entitled (sic) “The Stimulus Plan and State and Local Government.”

It would be more correct to say “titled.”

Entitled speaks to one’s grounds for claiming something. For example, the IRS and Congress seem to think that they are entitled to a higher percentage of our earnings in the future.

Titled speaks to giving something a name. For example, Ann Coulter’s latest book is titled Guilty (with apologies to punctuation sticklers for italicizing both “titled” which we’re trying to stress and Guilty which, as a book title, should be italicized or underlined if italics aren’t available).

So there. A kind and productive suggestion. No vitriol. At least not yet for today.

One of our readers notes that he, too, is grouchy and has many more ideas. IdiotFlags welcomes your ideas for brief rants to help the rest of the world live a bit more correctly.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Last year's business and "only" $7.7 billion

We promised not to get too political, but did it escape anyone else's notice that the omnibus spending bill about to be rammed through includes nearly 9000 earmarks totaling $7.7 billion?

Are we the only ones who recall a certain Illinois Senator whose campaign included a commitment to eliminating earmarks, and who read that a certain former Illinois Congressman had earmarks aplenty for his former district? (They're now the President and Chief of Staff for those of you keeping score at home.)

Best of all, one of our dinner partners last night noted that earmarks were "only" 2% of the bill. Only $7.7 billion. Only.

An unexpected surprise

When we began writing, we were certain that the content of Idiot Flags would zero in on grammatical horrors more than behavioral ones.

Little did we know that so many could be disgusted by so much so quickly.

A friend from Baltimore wrote today with news that she disagreed with our point of view on chewing gum. Since she's an attorney, she tried lots of clever attorney tricks to lead us down a preposterous logic path to defend cud-chewing, even among educated professionals. We refused to fall victim to her little game.

She's a gum chewer, incidentally.

Then the kicker. She was sitting next to a man -- another attorney, no doubt -- who was clipping his nails during the meeting.

We can only wonder what he did with the clippings. Into his pocket? Scattered onto the floor? Gulp...chewing on them like gum?

Soon, we'll be able to address "sportscaster-ese," using the right form if "its" and "who/whom" and "farther/further" and the ubiquitous use of "myself" among those who didn't take the trouble to learn what subjects and objects are...but for now, another handy tip for those of you whose claws need a little work:

Please don't make us watch.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009


He seemed like a nice enough fellow, but he represented so much that is wrong. This morning I sat across from him at a marketing roundtable. A senior executive for Wrigley.

To quote an old colleague of mine, "once we're done with the tobacco companies, we go after the gum companies." Singapore seems to have the right idea on this. It's illegal there.

Note to young readers looking for jobs. LOSE THE GUM. Your mother was right. The smacking and cracking takes a full 20-30 points off of your IQ, to say nothing of labeling you as a classless schmo.

That last comment saddens me, as I have a more-than-passing-acquaintance from college whom I saw on television, on the podium at President Obama's inauguration. He appeared frequently on camera, as he was seated next to an important member of the President's family (I'm trying to be kind by not naming him or his relative). This successful, nationally known Ivy League graduate was...you guessed it...smacking away like Violet Beauregarde. What a way to ruin a great, proud moment. Does Desiree Rogers have to stand at the entrance to every Presidential event with her hand extended admonishing attendees to "spit ... it... out?"

Back to the promoters of this horrifying habit, the now Mars-owned Wrigley Company. It's not bad enough that they promise us exploding flavors and the hope of a threesome with twin women...now they're trying to convince us that being classless is also good for our health...that there are...and I quote..."benefits of chewing?"

Paul Fussell, noted expert on English literature, world wars, and social classes in the US, a Harvard Ph.D. and a professor at the University of Pennsylvania wrote a whole book about practices like this. He called it BAD, or The Dumbing of America. It's bad to put sawdust in the flour. It's BAD to try to convince your customers that by so doing you make it healthier.

The only health benefit that chewing gum carries it the healthy disdain for its users among those with taste.

Oral hygiene certainly has its place. It's in your bathroom. In public, spit... it... out.

Adspeak and bullshit

Comes now the Arnell Group, who in the past few days have been feted for their redesign of the Pepsi logo and their work on Gwynneth Paltrow's website, goop.com.

Listen to the pseudo-intellectual masturbation that they use to sell this stuff:

For Pepsi: According to "Breathtaking," the new Pepsi logo lies along a trajectory of human consciousness that includes in its arc the Vastu Shastra, a 3,000-year-old Hindu architectural guide; Pythagoras (the Golden Section); the Roman architect Vitruvius; the Fibonacci series; Descartes; and Corbusier.

Or, perhaps it's just a crappy redesign of a logo that once looked kind of like a red white and blue globe.

For Paltrow: Goop.com's tagline, "nourish the inner aspect" is self-indulgent and nonsensical, and apparently not written by Paltrow at all...but by Arnell's team. Better yet, the site's navigation is exponentially too cute (and consequently useless) -- a knife and fork represent "make," a bicycle "do," and our favorite is the butterfly that symbolizes "be." One can only wonder when the unicorn icon for "wish" will be added.

Note, too that much of the content -- here in March -- is holiday oriented. Gwynneth and the Arnell team are either very late or very early, and either makes us question their wisdom (as if we needed another excuse to question either's).

The best part: The Arnell Group actually finds ways to get people to pay them for this bullshit.

And we wonder why marketing people are trusted only marginally more than attorneys?

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Introduction to Idiot Flags

The hit Broadway show "Avenue Q" features a delightful song that uses highly literate language to convey a simple human need -- the need to chuckle at others' misfortunes and be glad that we are not they. The word is "schadenfreude," and a link to a cleverly animated video of the song that speaks to its definition and offers a variety of examples can be found here.

For the linguists among you, "Schadenfruede" (properly capitalized as are all German nouns) is a combination of "Schaden" (damage, harm) and "Freude" (joy) -- literally, to experience joy from harm to others.

Idiot Flags celebrates a specific type of schadenfruede -- that which comes from celebrating one's intellectual superiority over the unfortunate rubes who have misused the English language, put ice cubes in their Chateau Lafite, or committed any one of a variety of other crimes against intelligence that we see so regularly.

This is not a forum for political commentary per se -- for example, we would not take a President of the United States to task because we disagreed with his politics. We would, though, have something to say about him bonking his head, spitting on the ground in public, or using poor grammar. (Note to readers, if you follow the links you'll see that our disdain for idiotic behavior is bipartisan.)

The target is the act, not the actor...although so frequently one does reflect upon the other.

We'll also post, from time to time, things that really bug us regardless of whether we've seen them recently, along with the occasional personal rant.

It's our hope that Idiot Flags is at the very least amusing, that it can, perhaps, act as a cautionary guide for those who might just not know any better... and most of all, that it will allow you to join us in schadenfreude as others demonstrate to us what dopes they truly are.