Friday, November 24, 2023

Happy Friday

My idea of Black Friday is to remember the times when the Friday after Thanksgiving meant Allen and I were getting on a plane to fly down to a warmer climate than northern Michigan — such as Montserrat — and spend ten days storing up Vitamin D for the coming winter.

If you go out shopping, patronize your local vendors, don’t spend too much, and try to remember where you parked.

Sunday, February 19, 2023

Sunday Reading

Please hold Jimmy Carter in the Light.

Former President Jimmy Carter, who at 98 years old is the longest-lived American president, has entered home hospice care in Plains, Georgia, a statement from The Carter Center confirmed Saturday.

After a series of short hospital stays, the statement said, Carter “decided to spend his remaining time at home with his family and receive hospice care instead of additional medical intervention.”

The statement said the 39th president has the full support of his medical team and family, which “asks for privacy at this time and is grateful for the concern shown by his many admirers.”

Jingle Fever — Luke Winkie in Slate on the jingle that has conquered America and won the Super Bowl.

If you were one of the 16.7 million Americans who, on average, tuned in to the NFL every week in 2022, you likely became familiar with a few narratives over the course of the season. There was Jalen Hurts’ heroic MVP campaign, the resurrection of Jared Goff, Rihanna’s pregnancy announcement, and the meathead ballad of the Kelce brothers, Travis and Jason, who lined up against each other at the Super Bowl. But for my money, as all of this recedes into memory and the Kansas City Chiefs celebrate their championship, it is clear that one star shone brighter and longer than anyone on the field. I’m speaking, of course, about the Whopper jingle.

The commercial is dazzlingly simple. We see a sizzle reel of Burger King accoutrements: porcelain mayonnaise, crispy bacon, and thick ketchup, all piled on top of plump, juicy Whopper patties. A man with a strange, slightly atonal voice sings an offbeat nursery rhyme about his favorite hamburger, the lyrics of which will never leave my skull: “Whopper, Whopper, Whopper, Whopper, Junior Double Triple Whopper, flame-grilled taste with perfect toppers, I rule this day.” Toward the end of the 30-second spot, he brings it all back home: “At BK, have it your way.”

As television figures out advertising in the streaming era, it often feels like, when you’re watching content that does feature commercial breaks, there are maybe only three ads in rotation at any given moment. That means this Burger King jingle, which coated the choppy broadcasts of football games throughout the winter, was pounded into the noggins of the American population over and over and over again. My Sunday afternoons were suffused with images of flame-grilled taste with perfect toppers. The Giants punted to the Commanders; we’ll return to the field after a brief Whopper interstitial. The Falcons intercepted the Panthers; it’s Whopper time, baby! Touchdown Bengals! Does that put you in the mood for a junior, double, or perhaps triple Whopper?

Before long, the jingle made the subtle shift from cultural ephemera to certified meme, emerging as a sort of ironic mantra that could express how monotonous it can feel to watch the NFL. Twitter user @mocliffff looked at an image of a crestfallen Josh Allen whispering something into the ear of Joe Burrow, who had just defeated him in a playoff game, and imagined that he was simply saying, “Whopper, Whopper, Whopper, Whopper.” Someone on TIkTok captured the somber scenes of players and personnel reacting to a serious injury at the end of the Cowboys/Buccaneers playoff game. The telecast cuts to commercial break. You guessed it: “Whopper, Whopper, Whopper, Whopper.”

The commercial was devised by a Chicago advertising agency called OKRP. I jumped on a Zoom call with the four principle creatives behind the spot, who were each clad in ball caps and T-shirts and looked nothing like the stuffy boardroom creatures of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce. Ben Pfutzenreuter, creative director, said that the semantics of the Whopper jingle have shifted since the team first wrote it. Initially, they just wanted to come up with an earworm that people might find themselves humming along to, in the subconscious tradition of the jingles for Cellino & Barnes or “Folgers in your cup.” Now, though, they believe that the memes have morphed their silly little burger song into a meta-commentary on the absurdity of sports fandom. The NFL season ends in a disappointing loss for 31 of the 32 teams every year. The Whopper jingle reminds us, mercifully, that nothing matters.

“There’s something about the experience of watching a football game, and the craziest thing happens—like watching the Vikings throw a checkdown pass on fourth down to end the season, and then cutting away to ‘Whopper, Whopper, Whopper, Whopper’ … You can’t deny it,” said Pfutzenreuter. “It lives in your head rent-free.”

OKRP pitched Burger King the commercial directly. The idea was to update the brand’s classic McDonald’s-taunting tagline of the 1970s, “Have It Your Way,” which guaranteed customers the freedom to adjust the toppings of their Whopper. (Yes, once upon a time, it was impossible to hold the pickles on a Big Mac.) Burger King was modifying that slogan to the more millennial “You Rule,” which, as Pfutzenreuter explains, is centered around the idea that “no matter what happens to you in life, you can at least come to Burger King and get a hamburger made the way you want.” The team experimented with a ton of different music genres, lyrical flourishes, and instrumentation before landing on the off-kilter nursery-rhyme cadence that made the final cut. By the time they gave their pitch to the Burger King higher-ups, they had already churned through 50 permutations of their humble Whopper song.

“We walked into that meeting and just started singing,” said Chris Powell, another OKRP creative director. “We took everyone by surprise.”

OKRP collaborated with a Los Angeles music production outfit called Beacon Street Studios, who performed the final cut of the jingle (after another 100 or so takes). The version we hear on television is unfortunately not recorded by a bunch of advertising executives, though someday OKRP should absolutely leak the demos. The melody doesn’t demand much vocal range—the singer is not exactly Mariah Carey—which Matt McNulty, who leads OKRP’s art division, says is by design. “It was important to us for this to feel approachable and everyman … like it had high fidelity, but it wasn’t pretentious, and was easy to sing to, or laugh with, or make a parody of. It felt very human,” he explains.

The Whopper commercial started airing during football games in October, and by December it had fully taken on a life of its own. I have watched the jingle tone-corrected to fit perfectly over an oppressive remix of Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance.” (Same with “Harder Better Faster Stronger.”) On the Bill Simmons podcast, Jimmy Kimmel Live writer Sal Iacono mentioned that his teenage son is currently using the song as his walk-up music for his Little League at-bats. A 10-hour extended cut exists on YouTube, uploaded by user NCW-10H, so that the spirit of the 2022 football season will never truly leave us. Burger King has recently leaned into the memes. During the Super Bowl, the company opted not to pay the $6 million price tag for a 30-second spot on the broadcast, and instead formally uploaded a karaoke rendition of the jingle to TikTok, inviting users to modify as they liked. Burger King made this announcement by running an ad reusing the melody, but with all mentions of the word “Whopper” replaced with words “Big Game.” (“Y’all really do it better than we do/ So we took the night off to give the song to you.”)

The NFL season wrapped up on Sunday, when the Chiefs consecrated a burgeoning dynasty with a gutty win over the Philadelphia Eagles. Professional football is returning to its dormant state through summer and spring, and it is likely the Whopper jingle will accompany it—at least for a time. Soon enough, though, as the leaves bloom and then brown, our teams will once again be doing something horrifically, incomprehensibly dumb on our television screens. Turnovers, botched trick plays, missed field goals, busted coverages—the enfeebling injustices that come with being a fan. At last, we finally have the language to define our anguish: Whopper, Whopper, Whopper, Whopper.

You want fries with that?

Doonesbury —  He’s everywhere, and to the rescue!

Friday, November 25, 2022

Black Friday

My idea of Black Friday is to remember the times when the Friday after Thanksgiving meant Allen and I were getting on a plane to fly down to a warmer climate than northern Michigan — such as Montserrat — and spend ten days storing up Vitamin D for the coming winter.

If you go out shopping, patronize your local vendors, don’t spend too much, and try to remember where you parked.

Friday, October 29, 2021


Facebook will now call itself “Meta” in order, as Mark Zuckerberg explains,

[t]o reflect who we are and what we hope to build,” he added. He said the name Facebook doesn’t fully encompass everything the company does now, and is still closely linked to one product. “But over time, I hope we are seen as a metaverse company.”

Yip yah.

I suppose now the Wall Street Journal can rebrand itself as “Der Völkischer Beobachter” in order to encompass everything they embrace on their editorial and letters pages.

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Power Failure, Part II

Not only are people freezing in the dark in Texas and Oklahoma, it was all avoidable.

When it gets really cold, it can be hard to produce electricity, as customers in Texas and neighboring states are finding out. But it’s not impossible. Operators in Alaska, Canada, Maine, Norway and Siberia do it all the time.

What has sent Texas reeling is not an engineering problem, nor is it the frozen wind turbines blamed by prominent Republicans. It is a financial structure for power generation that offers no incentives to power plant operators to prepare for winter. In the name of deregulation and free markets, critics say, Texas has created an electric grid that puts an emphasis on cheap prices over reliable service.

It’s a “Wild West market design based only on short-run prices,” said Matt Breidert, a portfolio manager at a firm called TortoiseEcofin.

And yet the temporary train wreck of that market Monday and Tuesday has seen the wholesale price of electricity in Houston go from $22 a megawatt-hour to about $9,000. Meanwhile, 4 million Texas households have been without power.

As I said before, I’ve lived in places where below-zero temperatures in winter are the norm, and the utility companies were ready for it. I’ve also lived in places where they get hurricanes, and to some degree the utilities were ready for it was well, acknowledging the fact that when the storm hits, power is going to be disrupted.

Of course there was an attempt by the nutsery to blame it all on wind turbines — not only do they kill all the birds and cause cancer, they don’t work in the cold. That’s news to Denmark, where they work just fine, and Copenhagen isn’t exactly a beach town in February.

But wind accounts for just 10 percent of the power in Texas generated during the winter. And the loss of power to the grid caused by shutdowns of thermal power plants, primarily those relying on natural gas, dwarfed the dent caused by frozen wind turbines, by a factor of five or six.

I suspect that there are more than a few politicians and government office holders in Texas who either directly or indirectly have a hand or got a hand-out from the energy companies, working to deregulate and let the free market ring. But it’s really rather cold — pun intended — to give customers cheap energy but do it on the cheap.

Friday, November 27, 2020

Happy Black Friday

This is not what you’re going to see this year.

Photo by Cris Faga/REX/Shutterstock

Although there are predictions that this will be a banner year for sales — they say that every year — I’m pretty sure most of them will be done the way I do it: sitting at home in front of the computer or iPhone and waiting for the Amazon Prime truck to roll up.

But if you do venture out, be safe, be masked, and keep your eye on your wallet and credit rating. Shopping locally is good for your friends and neighbors.

Monday, December 16, 2019

Good For You, Hallmark

The card — oh, and so much more! — company reversed itself and reinstated advertising from Zola, a wedding planning company, that showed two women kissing.

The wedding planning company’s ads had been airing for more than a week when the Hallmark Channel said there was a problem.

The TV network known for its annual lineup of holiday movies was pulling four of six commercials depicting couples who wish they’d turned to Zola’s services for their big day. The rationale given in a Thursday email to Zola representatives was vague: “We are not allowed to accept creatives that are deemed controversial,” the note, which was shared with The Washington Post, explained.

It seemed that Hallmark had rejected only the ads that showed a lesbian couple.

The move was a victory for a conservative group that petitioned against the commercials, which called them a blow to Hallmark’s “family friendly” reputation and gathered nearly 30,000 signatures. But the decision astonished LGBTQ advocates, who viewed it as a step backward from an iconic brand amid growing representation of different sexual orientations in media. Zola announced it would stop advertising with the channel.

By Sunday night, the owner of the Hallmark Channel had backtracked and apologized for the “hurt and disappointment it has unintentionally caused.” The company said it would reinstate the commercials, work to re-partner with Zola and enlist a nonprofit’s help to improve its representation of the LGBTQ community.

“Across our brand, we will continue to look for ways to be more inclusive and celebrate our differences,” said Mike Perry, president and chief executive of Hallmark Cards, which controls Crown Media Networks, the parent company of Hallmark Channel.

This is a very nice kick in the samosas to One Million Moms, the group that petitioned against the commercials. OMM is a bunch of blue-nosed panty-sniffers who are on the prowl for anyone who they deem to be different than the bunch that gathers around someone’s kitchen table in some cul-de-sac and taking offense at everything.

Among the group’s other initiatives: urging a TV network to drop an “anti-Christian” show and encouraging Chick-fil-A to resume donations to organizations that oppose same-sex marriage.

And they’re very vocal supporters of Trump, who they seem to think is a paragon of virtue.

I’d like to think that Hallmark changed their mind because they are honestly open-minded enough to not only sell products geared to the LGBTQ community, which they do, but advertise to them as well because they believe in equality.  I suspect that’s part of it; twenty years ago I was recruited by Hallmark to write for them, and I know for a fact that they were unconcerned about me being openly if not laconically gay; the people doing the recruiting were, too.  But as with any large global corporation, what matters is the bottom line, and for every One Million Mom, there are a million LGBTQ folk out there buying their products, watching their channel, and caring enough to send the very best message back to Kansas City, where the corporate headquarters are located.  In short, money talks and OMM walks.

Friday, November 29, 2019

Black Friday

I’m all in favor of capitalism and patronizing local businesses, so if spending money for Christmas is what you want to do, go forth, drive carefully, bundle up if it’s cold, and remember where you parked.

Photo by Cris Faga/REX/Shutterstock

Me, I’m staying home, doing some writing and reflection, and enjoying a four-day weekend.

Monday, May 14, 2018

Sunday, May 6, 2018

Sunday Reading

A Real Hang Up — Tara Siegel Bernard in the New York Times on the plague of robocalls.

Art by Jacob Reeves for the NY Times.

It’s not just you.

Those pesky robocalls — at best annoying disturbances and at worst costly financial scams — are getting worse.

In an age when cellphones have become extensions of our bodies, robocallers now follow people wherever they go, disrupting business meetings, church services and bedtime stories with their children.

Though automated calls have long plagued consumers, the volume has skyrocketed in recent years, reaching an estimated 3.4 billion in April, according to YouMail, which collects and analyzes calls through its robocall blocking service. That’s an increase of almost 900 million a month compared with a year ago.

Federal lawmakers have noticed the surge. Both the House and Senate held hearings on the issue within the last two weeks, and each chamber has either passed or introducedlegislation aimed at curbing abuses. Federal regulators have also noticed, issuing new rules in November that give phone companies the authority to block certain robocalls.

Law enforcement authorities have noticed, too. Just the other week, the New York State attorney general, Eric T. Schneiderman, warned consumers about a scheme targeting people with Chinese last names, in which the caller purports to be from the Chinese Consulate and demands money. Since December, the New York Police Department said, 21 Chinese immigrants had lost a total of $2.5 million.

Despite these efforts, robocalls are a thorny problem to solve. Calls can travel through various carriers and a maze of networks, making it hard to pinpoint their origins, enabling the callers to evade rules. Regulators are working with the telecommunications industry to find ways to authenticate calls, which would help unmask the callers.

In the meantime, the deceptive measures have become more sophisticated. In one tactic, known as “neighborhood spoofing,” robocallers use local numbers in the hope that recipients will be more likely to pick up.

It’s a trick that Dr. Gary Pess, a hand surgeon in Eatontown, N.J., knows all too well. He receives so many calls that mimic his area code and the first three digits of his phone number that he no longer answers them. But having to sort robocalls from emergency calls has cost him precious minutes.

Dr. Pess recounted an incident in which he didn’t recognize a number and figured it was a robocall. He later learned it was an emergency room doctor calling about a person who had severed a thumb that he wanted Dr. Pess to reattach. “It delayed the treatment of a patient,” he said.

Consumer advocates say they worry the flood of calls could get even worse. A federal court ruling recently struck down a Barack Obama-era definition of an auto-dialer, leaving it to the Federal Communications Commission to come up with new guidance. Advocates fear that it will open up the field to even more robocallers, leaving consumers with little recourse.

Business groups, including the Consumer Bankers Association, counter that defining auto-dialers too broadly would hurt legitimate businesses trying to reach their customers.

Robocallers see the current F.C.C. leadership “as friendly to industry,” said Margot Saunders, senior counsel at the National Consumer Law Center, “and they are anticipating F.C.C. rulings that will enable more calling and forgive past mistakes — or violations of the current law.”

A spokesman for the F.C.C. said the commission would seek public comment on how auto-dialers should be defined, and then “take action based on the record it compiles.”

Automated calls are increasing because they are cheap and easy to make. Robocallers can easily dial millions of consumers daily, experts say, at little cost.

That’s essentially what one accused robocaller recently told legislators at a Senate hearing last month: Adrian Abramovich, a Miami man who regulators say made nearly 100 million “spoofed” robocalls, was peddling vacation packages that were advertised as coming from well-known companies like Marriott. But when consumers pressed to hear more, they were transferred to foreign call centers often trying to sell time shares, according to the F.C.C., which is seeking a $120 million fine. Mr. Abramovich has denied the charges and asked the regulator to reduce the penalty.

The calls are increasing despite stepped-up enforcement and other efforts to stamp them out, which some have likened to a game of Whac-a-Mole; robocallers find new phone numbers to hide behind once their numbers are ignored or blocked.

The federal Do Not Call List, which is supposed to help consumers avoid robocalls, instead resembles a tennis net trying to stop a flood. The list may prevent some (but not all) legitimate companies from calling people on the list, but it does little to deter fraudsters and marketers, some of them overseas, who are willing to take their chances and flout the law.

Complaints to federal regulators are also increasing sharply. The Federal Trade Commission, which oversees the Do Not Call Registry, said there were 4.5 million complaints about robocalls in 2017, more than double the 2.18 million complaints logged in 2013.

“Everywhere I go, it is what people talk about,” said Denise Grimsley, a Republican member of the Florida Senate, who said a woman named Elizabeth leaves her prerecorded messages several times daily selling a vacation package.

“But it’s not just annoying,” she added. “They are coming after your personal information.”

How Robocallers Try to Defraud You

Estimated volumes of top phone scams in March 2018.

Category Type Volume
Interest rates “0% interest rates” 122.9m
Credit cards “Problem with your credit card” 82.5m
Student loans “Forgive/lower student debt” 71.0m
Business loans “Preapproved for business loan” 53.4m
I.R.S. “Owe money to the I.R.S.” 43.4m
Search listings “Listing has a problem” 31.0m
Travel “Free/discount trip” 27.0m
Preapproved loans “Ready to wire – just need info” 26.2m
Home security “Free service/installation” 26.1m
Utilities “Save money – need your info” 19.2m

Florida passed a bill in March giving phone companies the authority to block certain robocalls.

Other efforts are underway. The Federal Trade Commission has held contests to encourage app developers to create innovative ways to block calls. And some phone companies offer blocking services, though “many people don’t have access to free, effective robo-blocking tools,” said Maureen Mahoney, a policy analyst at Consumers Union.

With some exceptions — like calls from schools on snow days — auto-dialed calls to mobile phones are typically illegal, unless a person has given prior consent. Advocates say courts have generally interpreted the law to say that when a consumer revokes that consent, the calls must stop — though they often don’t.

The same rules apply to creditors seeking to collect debts, which lawyers and advocates say can be some of the most ruthless dialers.

There are fewer restrictions on landlines, unless you’re on the Do Not Call list, but prerecorded telemarketing calls are always illegal without written consent, advocates say, and debt collectors must stop calling after consumers send a written request.

James Hunter, a Florida resident who is paralyzed below the waist and can no longer work, had his federal student loans forgiven. But Navient, the giant company that services and collects student debt, made more than 2,500 automated calls to him about his private loans over a period of about two years, sometimes calling nine times a day, according to Mr. Hunter’s lawyer, who filed a suit on his behalf claiming Navient acted illegally.

Navient did not immediately comment.

For now, consumers must do their best to find ways to control the wave of calls. Brett Hein, a sports editor at a newspaper in Ogden, Utah, said that for him it was a losing battle. His mobile phone has been inundated with calls in recent weeks, rousting him from bed and twice interrupting him while he was volunteering in his son’s kindergarten class.

“It’s disconcerting to have your phone go off all the time,” Mr. Hein said from a landline in his office, when his mobile phone began to ring.

It was another robocall. The fifth one that day.

I’ve already gotten robocalls on my new iPhone.  Hey, Siri, kill them all.

Doonesbury — Twitstorm.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Nice Little Airline You Have There…

…It’d be a shame if someone tried to blackmail you.

Days after Delta Air Lines announced it would strip discounted fares for National Rifle Association members, Georgia’s lieutenant governor has retaliated, vowing to kill legislation that would hand the airline a lucrative tax break.

Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, a Republican who leads the State Senate, demanded that Delta, one of Georgia’s largest employers, make a choice: Stop boycotting the NRA, or watch lawmakers strike down a $50 million sales tax exemption on jet fuel, of which Delta would be the primary beneficiary.

“Corporations cannot attack conservatives and expect us not to fight back,” said Cagle, who could weave the issue into his campaign in Georgia’s upcoming gubernatorial race.

I’m pretty sure Delta took this kind of reaction — backlash and threats of retaliation — into consideration when they ended the NRA discount, but they decided to do it anyway.  Some things are more important than just customers, and the NRA right now is like Ebola.

They also know they can play this game, too, and Georgia isn’t the only state where the airline has a large presence.

Monday, February 26, 2018

Distancing Themselves

A number of companies have deals with the NRA.  These businesses such as insurance companies, banks, and car rental agencies that offered discounts to NRA members.  Now they are re-evaluating that linkage.

The NRA is not happy.

In a statement Saturday night, the NRA called the corporations’ decisions “a shameful display of political and civic cowardice.” 

“Let it be absolutely clear,” the statement continued. “The loss of a discount with neither scare nor distract one single NRA member from our mission to stand and defend the individual freedoms that have always made America the greatest nation in the world.”

I’m pretty sure the individual freedoms we enjoy are not truly dependent on whether or not someone gets 5% off on renting a Toyota.

I don’t think it’s political or civic cowardice to look at a group and decide that the leadership, not necessarily the membership, is out of touch with the majority of the country and is not impressed with the vitriol that comes out of their mouths.  It’s just common sense.

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Monday, November 27, 2017

The Onslaught

Thank Dog that there’s TiVo, Netflix, and Microsoft Word or else I would have spent the entire Thanksgiving holiday convinced that the only way to find true happiness in life was to buy fancy chocolates, electric razors (and the hunky models that come with them) and luxury automobiles that plow through snow on the way to buy the perfect tree.  And what would the holidays be without a of bunch autotune variations on “The Carol of the Bells” and the return of the Hershey’s Kisses handbell chorus?

Newsflash: the war on Christmas is over.  It won.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Monday, January 23, 2017

Thursday, January 12, 2017