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Saturday, October 1, 2016

"Bad Ads"

bad ads

This was a year, obviously, of terrible hostility in the political world, and one feels that it certainly might have spilled over to the several very ugly ads that I note below. If nothing else, this was not a nice community, even for those formerly friendly figures such as “Mr. Peanut” and “Flo” of the Geico world. Insurance companies and cable providers were particularly unpleasant in their relationships to their would-be customers.

time-warner cable

Two unattractive males stand over a kitchen counter while their wives in the background are involved at the kitchen table in deep and a rather animated conversation. The two men, clearly uncomfortable with male communication or even male comradeship, look to the phone and begin a brief discussion about the wonders of each of their phone services, sparring with one other about the marvel of their telephonic reaches until they finally realize they both have the same server: Time Warner Cable. Having come to that marvelous realization—the only thing have been able to find that they have in common—the guest asks of their wives: “Are they wrapping it up?” “Nope,” the other replies, the two clueless males being left without anything to further talk about. The End.


A delighted suburban couple enthuse over the fact that despite the intolerable heat of their terraces, with the installation of the SunSetter retractable cover, priced at only $700 dollars, but now available for a much lower price, has saved their lives. They can sit out in the hot sun with temperatures much lower than previously (we are never told in what climates they live or how high the outside temperatures remain), barbecue and even entertain under the roll-down and up umbrella of protection. Obviously, there is not a tree in sight of their neighborhood, but life is simply now much better—and much less expensive than anyone might imagine! Yet, given their testimonies, we can only imagine how hot the temperatures around them might still remain, and we look carefully to their brows to see if they are truly enjoying their small tent-like domains. And, we can only wonder, what happens to the barbecue flames lit up under the seemingly quite flammable cover. “Stay cooler” they shout out, as if to counter any notion of global warming!


Despite childhood attacks of their parent’s car with arrows, bicycle falls, chemical spills, wet dog entries and exits, along with the other wear and tear that any family car may suffer, Suburu, we are most told by a most friendly voice, has the highest resell value—an ad that seemingly ignores not only all the dings and bats the car might have received, but its smells and the daily ignominies of everyday living. Even if it sells, why would I ever want such a worn-out vehicle, particularly if they are selling it at a higher price than others?

time-warner cable

A man on a stage shouts out, again and again, in a kind of inspirational message that people can change, particularly since Time-Warner Cable has made a change in telling people precisely when they will appear to fix and change their cable networks. The man shouts as if he were a born-again preacher, the audience blindly following him like he were revealing something important to them that might actually effect their future lives, reminding me a bit of Trump’s supposedly “spell-binding” message.

liberty auto insurance

A black couple who have a perfect driving record discuss how when they have a sudden accident—whether they have or have not had such an accident yet is indeterminable—that they have no benefits for their “prefect record,” indeed they are charged far more for having such a record. If they had “liberty” insurance, evidently, they might be allowed a one-time exception. Their conversation seems to center around the words “perfect” “anything” and “nothing.”

time-warner cable

A couple attempting to sell their house return home to discover their neighbors comfortably sitting in their living room, enjoying all the privileges of their Time-Warner Wi-Fi coverage. The poor real-estate agent is beside herself with the frustration of the selfish neighbors who are delightfully taking advantage of their neighbor’s wonderful reception. One wonders, as they wander in and out of the kitchen, preparing themselves snacks, whether they might ever again leave. Presumably the couple might even be convinced to remain in their well-connected domain.

time-warner cable

A clearly angry airport worker, tossing her customer’s bags upon the cart which will take them to the belly of the airplane, throws them about, even allowing some of them to open and spill their contents onto the tarmac. But suddenly when she hears of Time-Warner’s change (it’s hard to know where she hears this news—maybe in her earphone) in their scheduling procedures, she suddenly comes awake, determining, like the cable company, to change her behavior. She takes a single suitcase and lovingly places it upon the cart, evidently leaving all the others to be destroyed by other, unknowing workers—or perhaps not even loaded.

affordable energy

More abundant energy needs more affordable energy. I’m Rick and I support affordable energy—presumably the energy that helps to create global warming and all the other things that destroy our atmosphere. Good for you Rick! I admire your cover up of what you’re truly saying!

I’m Rebecca and I’m Andy, goes another ad. Join us to support affordable energy. Meaning coal, fracking, oil-wells, and smokestacks I presume. They don’t bother to make that clear.

hartford insurance company

Perhaps the nastiest series of TV adds this season was from Hartford Insurance Company, which suggested that a certain warehouse could easily send harmful productions, if ordered, to small businesses. One suggested that with a simple order one might request a device to increase the local pizza-warm up to such a high degree that it would cause a major fire, the over-weight abuser of that system obviously being found guilty of causing major destruction to his company.
      Another, while pretending to celebrate the appointment of a new “associate” partner of an architectural firm, made sure that the champagne cork would explode in such a way that it caused a unsupported bookcase to collapse on the new company member, while the elders looked at her in passive dismay.
      The final, nasty Hartford add, suggested that this strange warehouse needed to ship a painting to a law firm. The painting, evidently had the eyes removed, so that some poor litigant was terrified by seeing “real” eyes—presumably those of the head lawyer—move behind the portrait, sending him, quite illogically, into shock and an entire physical breakdown, which the secretary simply mocks.
      What, one has to ask, was the purposes of these really unlikeable adds, and what were they saying about Hartford’s ability to insure one against the accidents they might face? And was Hartford, after all, responsible for these “accidents?”

I might certainly never seek Hartford insurance to protect me, since they, themselves, were evidently, the criminals in these three advertised events!

mister peanut

The formerly loveable Mr. Peanut is seen, as a motivational speaker, lecturing a college class of young slackers, arguing that he, unlike their own colleagues, will never let them down, helping them to function better every day, even while they sleep, while they, in stupid agreement, shake their heads in mindless confirmation. If these new millennials are the spokespeople for Mr. Peanut, forget it! The witty bon vivant has become simply a bad university lecturer, and I want nothing to do with his salty assertions.

mister peanut

In yet another transformation of the character of “Mister Peanut” the lovely “nut” turned quite nasty in his hostile reaction again the apparently hostile “Nutcracker,” who, at the last year’s event, evidently tried to take a bite out of him. This year, at what one gathers is an annual celebration, the formerly loveable monocled dandy, turns on his nemesis, demanding his ouster from the event. No peanuts in my New Year’s platters, I assure you. They bite!

gieco insurance

The incredible successful and chipper pitchwoman Flo, has now evidently been asked to turn down her “emotional excitement,” and pretends to be a kind of “goth” figure, without presenting any of her normal irrepressible personality. She, quite boringly attempts to do so, only becoming momentarily excited by one of the company’s claims before moving back into her bland non-commitment. What are we supposed to believe? That she cares or no longer is committed to her product? Should we take this insurance company seriously or simply dismiss them as not committing to their own previous statements?

Los Angeles, February 4, 2017

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

"Trump Church" (on Donald Trump's personal brand of religiosity)

trump church

By now most of us have been reminded that the presidential presumptive Republican nominee, Donald Trump, does not just put his name on tall buildings, hotels, casinos, and golf courses, but on wine, steaks, water, ties, and even a “university.” While he falsely claims he is the “king” of several things, he surely is a prince of branding. Now, if we can believe scholar Peter Manseau’s Los Angeles Times op-ed, Trump can claim a new religion.*
      Manseau convincingly argues that what Trump is offering many of his supporters is “a belief that will bring about our national salvation.” Despite knowing very little about the family Bible he often clutches to his chest, and the fact that he has openly admitted that he has never asked God for forgiveness—a fact that suggests is has a very loose relationship with his professed savior—Trump is so popular with his mostly Christian, working-class supporters because he offers them a new kind of religion. As Manseau writers:

                   The religiosity of Trumpism…is not dependent on his
                   level of religious literacy. The Church of Trump draws 
                   from a deeper well—specifically from what the sociolo-
                   gist Emile Durkheim called the “elementary forms of
                   a religious life.”
                        A century ago, Durkheim proposed in a book by that

                   title that religion might be defined as a system of beliefs
                   and practices that unites a community through the
                   experience of “collective effervescence.” The euphoria
                   of losing oneself in a crowd is projected onto a sacred
                   object as if it is its source, when in reality the collective
                   feeling and the sense of sacredness feed off each other,
                   distancing both from all that is considered profane.

      The author points to Trump’s own categorizing of the world in terms of “winners” or “losers,” a kind of shorthand for believers and sinners; and by offering his congregants the sacred “winning” side, he offers them also a protection from all outsiders, including Muslins, Mexicans, and “low-energy losers.” Even his argument to build a wall, calls up an attempt to strengthen the borders between believers and all others, what Durkheim described of as the “the limit of the collective personality.”
     For both Trump and his believers his message is clearly a messianic one: not only will the members of Trump Church be “winners,” but, as he has proclaimed time and again, “we’ll have so much winning, you’ll get bored.” A tweet expressed his message much better: “If I win all of the bad things happening in the U.S. will be rapidly reversed.” And his followers are motivated, as Manseau notes, “by a kind of faith: They believe in the man, and in his promise that all their losing will come to end.”
      Perhaps that explains why, when a Trump supporter in Burlington, Vermont responded to a CNN reporter’s question, “What do you think of Donald Trump?” he answered: “I don’t need to think; he’s my man.” Religious zealots and gurus generally absolve their believers from thinking and encourage them to rely simply on faith.
      While nearly all religions have based much of their scriptures and canons on obvious myths, exaggerations, and outright falsehoods, however, the Trump Church is an almost entirely based on a series of lies. That the country is in absolute decline and laughed at by most the world’s great nations, that he will suddenly be able to transform a failing economy with the exodus of millions of Mexicans, that he will be able to protect us from fear and physical harm by refusing entry to the people of any country who has had supported radical Anti-American viewpoints or itself seen radical Islamic uprisings, that he might even be able to build a wall and have the Mexican government pay for it, that his seemingly isolationist positions will help make America great again, all outright nonsense—as anyone with even a little bit of knowledge about these issues can tell you. But, as with most religions, such “truths” matter little to the church-goers.
      In fact, Trump’s brand of demagoguery is grounded, very assuredly, in a previous time, in the horrible period of the modern American witchcraft trials of Joseph McCarthy through Trump’s own personal mentor, Roy Cohn. Cohn, as McCarthy’s legal counsel was deeply involved in the senator’s attacks on gays and American Communist members, and personally worked to see Julius and Ethel Rosenberg tried and executed for espionage. 
     Trump, as The New York Times and other papers have recently revealed, friended Cohn early in his career, and Cohn remained his advisor and associate until that man’s death by AIDS in 1986. Trump was one of the few people whom Cohn confided to that he was gay, and called him to discuss his AIDS diagnosis. Trump carried a photograph of Cohn in the top drawer of his desk, presumably to intimidate individuals with whom he was negotiating. And you can hear Cohn and McCarthy’s highly exaggerated claims and finger-pointing in almost every one of Trump’s speeches. (The very moment I wrote this sentence, Trump proclaimed on television: “Hilary Clinton may be the most corrupt person ever to seek the presidency of the United States.”; and earlier in the same speech he claimed that Secretary of State Clinton had been personally responsible for the loss of thousands of lives: if the first is a ridiculous opinion, the second is a just a lie.)
      The fear of going back to that time of mad “spiritual” fervor—to a time when anyone who others claimed “is not one of us” were hounded and his or her life destroyed—daily terrifies me.

*The account is based, in part, on the op-ed piece, “The Church of Trump” by Peter Manseau, Los Angeles Times, June 21, 2016.

Los Angeles, June 22, 2016

Sunday, April 17, 2016

"Talking About Death"

talking about death

Soon after reading and writing about Philip Zuckerman’s Living the Secular Life wherein he discusses how death can still be faced by a non-religious individual, my husband Howard Fox coincidentally wrote a letter to our friend, Rosemary DeRosa, who had recently called us about a scare with her husband Brian’s health. 
     Howard wrote her:

As you said, “time marches on…and on….and on…until it stops!”
At least for each and every creature alive. I’ve always thought about
death—in an unseemly way according to Douglas and to my parents,
when they were still alive; maybe it’s because I had a sister who died
when she was only seven and I was only three.  I have only two mem-
ories of her—one, probably my very earliest memory, is quite pleasant:
she was trying to comfort me by tickling me under my chin as I went
into a bawling fit because my father was leaving the house to go to work.
The other memory, much less clear, was visiting her in the hospital,
when she was dying of leukemia. I have zero memory of her funeral,
and I’m quite certain my parents didn’t take me to it, but I do remember
asking my mother, probably a day or two later, where Bunny went.
She told me she died, that it was like going to sleep forever. But mommy
where is she now? They put her in a wooden box and made a hole in the
ground and put the box in the hole and put the dirt back on top of her.
The image I had then, standing in the laundry room of our house in
the residential end of Atlantic City, was, quite specifically, that the box
was an orange crate and that Bunny could see them putting the dirt back
on top of her. It was a disturbing image to me then, as it is now.
     But I no longer fear for the dead nor pity them, nor myself for
being among them one day. The change was gradual but inevitable as I grew
up. However, the real realization came when I had that neurosurgery on my
left elbow at Cedars Sinai, I think about eight years ago, when I started to
lose sensation and dexterity on the left side of my left hand. The condition
called cubital tunnel syndrome—something like well-known carpel syndrome,
but it occurs to a compressed nerve in the elbow rather than the wrist.
     There I was, prepped and laying on the surgical table in the operating room and
staring at the operating lamp above me, with its intense facets and
multiple lenses focused on my left arm. As I was looking at it, I felt some-
thing with the intravenous connection on my right arm, and I asked if they
were ready to start. The assistant surgeon declared, “No, Howard, we’re
done. You’ve been out for about 90 minutes.” I was amazed—flabbergasted.
I had absolutely no sense that I’d virtually ceased to exist as a sentient
being for an hour and a half. And my, Rosamarina, my immediate, first
waking thought was that I had no need to fear being dead. For myself or
for anyone else. I recall quite vividly being wheeled into the recovery
area with that idea firmly—and happily!—in my mind. It was a life-
changing—and I guess you could say a death-changing—experience for
me….The most salient content of the whole experience was that welcome
realization about non-existence.
      Of course there’s a major difference between being dead and dying.
We can only hope for the best when it comes to dealing with the “endgame.”
But the subtext of your letter is about engaging, or least beginning to
acknowledge that, perhaps, it’s earliest incidentals have begun. …I’ve had
one or two scares; and Douglas has had prostate cancer, has had a knee
replacement, and repeatedly had a procedure, under anesthesia, to burn
away precancerous esophageal cells. It’s no fun, and it brings anxiety.
But neither are we afraid of the inevitable outcome.
     …So maybe I’m no wiser than Pangloss or Polonius. But then again,
sometimes simple truths are the most important thing of all. I’m not a
believer, you know that. God forbid, were I! But I recently reheard a re-
cording of Leonard Bernstein’s Mass, which he was commissioned to
write for the opening of the Kennedy Center. The one line that I remember
most from the time we saw it at the Kennedy Center to the time I heard
it last week as I drove on surface streets to Pasadena, is “God is the simplest
thing of all.”
      I also remember reading an article about the Big Bang theory of the
creation of the universe, in which a physicist was quoted as saying “No
God is God enough for me.” When you think about it, that’s a rather
profound statement, maybe not about religious devotion, but about the
wonderment of it all.

     Howard’s recounting of his story about his sister, led me, in turn, to recall the very first time I had encountered death. The event was the death of my step-grandfather, Forrest Jones, the only grandfather I had known on my father’s side of the family, my birth grandfather having died before I was born. Forrest, a small town businessman, who wore old fashioned suits in the 1950s that were obviously tailored for the 1940s, was a gentle and loving man, who reminded me always of the actor Ray Collins, particularly in his role in The Magnificent Ambersons, and later as Lieutenant Tragg in television’s “Perry Mason” series.
     I don’t recall the year in which he died, but I was quite young at the time, maybe 5 or 6, aware of the world around me but not quite yet able to comprehend death. My parents took me, without my brother or sister, to the funeral, and I recall being very serious—like the adults around me—as the service began. I was a serious young man, giving sermonic lectures from the post of my grandmother’s staircase as I performed being a missionary preacher. 
     All was fine until, in the midst of the ceremony, Forrest’s daughter by his first marriage—a woman who was institutionalized in a state mental facility—began to scream out. I have no memory of what she said, but it was certainly a profane statement of outrage that family members quickly tried to hush. I have no idea why it so affected me. Perhaps she had said what all the others had feared to; or perhaps she simply made obvious to my childhood consciousness what truly had happened—that I would never see my grandfather again and that we all had lost something in his death. Perhaps it was my witnessing of an adult who could longer control herself that utterly frightened me. In any event, I begin to cry, quickly, as children often do, becoming inconsolable. Neither my mother nor my father could quiet me, and finally it was my aunt Mary, a high school student still living at home with my grandmother, who hugged me into quietude. 
     Mary, as I write elsewhere in these volumes, was the kind of aunt everyone should have: a young girl who herself was not far removed from childhood, yet was old enough to dote on the firstborn nephew. She and her girlfriends took me to movies, and I recall sleeping with her on the roof outside her bedroom on a hot summer night, the stars raining down upon the small idyllic town of Manchester. It was her father (step-father though he was) who had died; still, even as a young girl, only she could comfort me. Suddenly, I knew what death was: the absence of presence.          

Los Angeles, April 15, 2016