5 things I seriously wish someone would invent

URC MX-880 Remote

URC MX-880 Remote (Photo credit: Gramophone Maryland)

1. A truly universal remote control. Not only could I freeze-frame those who annoy me, I could power them off. Or make it rain when and where I wanted. Rain wads of Franklins. Rotate the planet backwards, back before the Mega Millions drawing, only this time I’d have the winning numbers.

2. Hypoallergenic pollen. C’mon, this must be possible by now, but the makers of Zyrtec and Kleenex are blocking production.

3. Maintenance-free cars. And when I say free, I mean gratis, buy none, get one free. (Oh and WHY do we have to pay someone to rotate our tires again? Don’t they do that themselves?)

4. Cameras built in to our eyes. Could you imagine? There’d be zoom, flash, unlimited storage, unlike the brain that needs defragging. Never again miss the perfect picture. Proof that everything happened! Try not to blink, though.

5. Some way for me to remember how much a first-class stamp currently costs. Oh, never mind. There is an entire website dedicated to this: priceofastamp.com. Ah, sweet wish fulfillment.

The irony: I needed a website to effectively snail-mail a letter. And it was that first-class post that morphed into this world-class post.

Fashioning AP style: You read it here first

AP Stylebook editor Darrell Christian outlines this year’s edition’s additions.

I feel like Steve Martin in The Jerk: “The new phone books are here!” Except for me it’s the new Associated Press Stylebook, aka “the journalist’s bible” — note the lowercase “b” — soon to be hot off the presses (targeted for May 21). Today, I got a sneak peek.

The 2012 edition contains 270 updates and new entries, covering such gems as “underwater” in reference to drowning mortgage holders; “hydraulic fracturing,” the scientific form of the offensive “fracking”; “illegitimate” in reference to offspring, distantly related to the newly inserted “OB-GYN,” as well as STDs vs. VD; plus expanded guidelines for treatment (not in the medical sense) of age and race.

While attending a conference for copy editors this week in New Orleans, I considered the style-guru Q&A a highlight. Would we challenge them about the sexism inherent in not endorsing usage of the singular “they”? Would crash carts be needed after we dissected their decisions?

Hundreds of fellow style mavens and masters — some Ph.D.’s, perhaps, but no “Drs.” – yelped and tweeted when two of AP’s editing triumvirate – David Minthorn and Darrell Christian – announced it had caved to a hopeful appeal from The Baltimore Sun’s John McIntyre to anoint the modern usage of “hopefully.”

McIntyre reacts to the news. Hopefully, he’s happy.

Long a bugaboo of linguists who subscribe only to its relevance as an adverb, “hopefully” is now acceptable to mean “we hope” or “it is hoped.” As in: “Hopefully, this session will break in time for me to get some étouffée.”

Other news:

  • In keeping with the times, the social media compendium has grown from seven to 28 pages.
  •  The new robo-style-cop plug-in StyleGuard does not herald the hemorrhaging of copy editors’ jobs because we remain highly valued for our “human judgment” and those irreplaceable, inimitable fine-tuning-combing skills. Could we get that in writing?
  • An entire section is devoted to fashion, and David Minthorn finally gets what “A-line” means.
  •  Guidelines are included on Olympic sports and broadcast journalism.
  • Minthorn is the one answering your “Ask the Editor” queries.
  • “U.S.S.R.,” which used to be an entry, simply disappeared, unbeknownst to the top editors, “to make new room for new trees, I mean, ‘entries,’ ” Christian teases.
  •  These fellas are not appointed for life like Supreme Court justices, and there is always room for change and new blood at the some-might-say-stodgy AP.

And I’m just playin’ with all those hyphens. Christian, who told me point-blank he is not anywhere near retirement age but does enjoy his golf, said: “If you can avoid a hyphen, I’d advise it.” Not such a thorn in Minthorn’s side. “Common sense” is his guide on hyphenation, and he likely never would hyphenate class action lawsuit.

Too bad the AP female voice was not represented, as Sally Jacobsen could not attend.

Fisher Saller added her fresh, active voice to the discussion.

Instead, chipper Carol Fisher Saller of CMOS (pronounced “seamoss”) – the unwieldy Chicago Manual of Style – rounded out the panel.

I found the most commonality in her common sense summary: “No reason to cleave to a set style. You can tailor your project to your needs” because, in writing, “flexibility is the byword.”

Hopefully, that sticks.

Super PAC-hyderms: Advertising’s political heavyweights

The eye of an asian elephant at Elephant Natur...

The eye of an Asian elephant at Elephant Nature Park, Thailand (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Something’s been weighing on me, like the elephant in the room. The one on my flat-screen TV.

More elephants seem exploited in commercials lately, and I’m concerned not only for the welfare of the animal “actors” but whether there’s a hidden political message here.

The gentle giants are used to being saddled with political freight. Not only is the elephant the symbol of a political party in the US of A, in northern India in January 2012, all the elephant statues in Uttar Pradesh state were covered in pink and yellow tarps.  It wasn’t a new Christo installation; the national election commission ruled that those elephants, a symbol of a local political party, might unfairly sway voters in the March 3 election.

Well, there’s an election going on here as well, and I’m thinking this trunkload of ads may constitute free political air time so… where are all the donkey ad divas? Showing Juan Valdez picking coffee beans and leading his sad burro around would hardly be politically correct in this global climate of  turn-up-the-heat-against-illegal immigration.

First, a history lesson. Why the donkey and the elephant, again?

The Donkey— Bloody, bloody Andrew Jackson was the first Democrat associated with the donkey symbol. His 1828 presidential rivals tried to label him a “jackass” for his populist beliefs. Jackson was only amused and ran with it on his campaign posters. “Nasty” cartoonist Thomas Nast, also the creator of the American-style Santa Claus and Uncle Sam,  is credited with hitching the donkey to the Democratic Party. He used it to represent an anti-Civil War faction in a cartoon in Harper’s Weekly in 1870. Unsure why he couldn’t have come up with a dove-hawk concept, but no sense rewriting history.

The first political elephant, as depicted by Thomas Nast in Harper’s Weekly in 1874.

The Elephant— Again, credit Nast. In a 1874 Harper’s Weekly cartoon, he drew a donkey clothed in lion’s skin, trying to shoo away zoo animals. An elephant in the panel, labeled “The Republican Vote,” sealed the deal. Unsure why he wouldn’t have used an albatross, but there you go.

Back to marketing. As someone perennially trying to lose weight, I take offense that the poor elephant is always the butt of big-butt jokes. In today’s ads, this king of the land mammals is cast as burdensome or hard to accommodate.

There’s the recurring weight-of-the-world, near-death allusion for Spiriva inhalers, targeted at sufferers of COPD:

Then the Residence Inn’s resident elephant, Opal, who finally has room to breathe in her spacious suite. What they should really do is build theater and airplane seats to accommodate her — more in line with national concerns. A behind-the-scenes look:

And the ads:

The Marriott-owned chain has variations on this theme using giraffes and penguins, but not as unforgettable.

There’s also the elephant selling the Samsung Galaxy tablet, refreshingly smart and real:

(A funny comment from viewer livkivi: “Great advertisement! Yep, you convinced me, im gonna buy an elephant!”)

I’ve done my marketing research, and there’s nothing new in the elephant toolbox. Tonka played its own elephant joke in the 1970s, complete with circus trick and music:

Rolo’s rollicking take:

Kleenex’s tear-jerker:

Pier I’s Kamba series:

Can’t forget MasterCard’s priceless vignette:

You’ll want to forget this banned Viera plasma TV ad, and forget I shared it:

Elephants even test well overseas:

Besides the Republican Party, tons of businesses and organizations have used the elephant as part of its branding — from the Animal Planet channel to Elephant Malt Liquor.

What does it all MEAN, besides that I can recognize taxonomy and know how to Google and embed video on my blog?

Give it a break already. Unburden these beasts from their heavy-handed symbolism.

The point is, I’m sick of animals doing double duty as pitchmen for corporations and politics (same thing). And I’m not only sick of the two-party system, I’m sick of the symbols for the two parties.

Let’s start over. Why let some 19th-century loony bigoted artist define today’s political rivalry? Let’s send the modern Mad Men back to the drawing board to come up with something better that truly defines and differentiates these parties for us. At least give the Democrats a dolphin or something on par with the elephant’s dominance, training, aesthetics and smarts  (see Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy). Or a mouse to better serve as a contrast (again, see Hitchhiker’s). Maybe let the parties figure it out, decide what and who they truly represent.

Better symbol for the Republican Party? You vote.

The Democrats could have the northern spotted owl as the true “conservative” (read “conservation”) party. Or an ant/bee, representing workers. Republicans could have a squirrel, hoarding up those nuts for a rainy day, stashing  (not sharing) the wealth. Or is it that Republicans like being represented as a trampling elephant? Maybe a bull, for bull market?  I dunno, work with me here. If it’s about throwing weight around, a bull sea lion may combine it all.

Sadly, the dove-hawk distinction no longer applies.

A proliferating concept NOT conceived by Thomas Nast.

Oh! Mustn’t forget Libertarians. They should get an animal, too.  What animal lives with fierce abandon?

A bunny rabbit!

Speaking of skewed symbolism: Happy Easter, peeps. Yet another excuse to add girth to our jelly bellies — and better resemble elephants.

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Adult Education: A remedial course

Had no idea "Adult Education" classes could make me feel young again.

April 1st, and I’m no fool about what that means: tax season. Oh, I know it’s last-minute — always been a late bloomer.

No other time of year do I feel less like an adult than when it’s time to mimic the adult-like responsibilities of itemizing receipts I didn’t save; indexing capital I didn’t gain; going loopy over my dearth of loopholes.

Luckily, in the mail, just in time to distract me, comes a catalog of “Adult Education” classes offered by the county. On the off-chance I can up my game for next year, I browse the listings.

  • “Shirley’s Tool Party”

Wait, what sort of catalog IS this? Frederick’s of Hollywood? Looks like a good time, except the “user” fee is steeper than tuition. Already I feel used. Moving on … here’s a “brand-new” offering:

  • “Twitter – Tweet Your Talk!”

For serious? A class on using Twitter?! wtf ppl. 😦 The description, 311 characters long, I might add, reads, in part: “Set up an account [2 seconds], determine who [whom] to follow, attract others, and find out what others are saying about your product or service. Harness the power of Twitter — one of the easiest and most powerful social media tools available!” [sic on the exclamation point] If it’s so easy, why have a class on it? I’m guessing the instructor needs more followers. As a prereq or co-req, I req the “Great Grammar” course a few pages back. Or maybe glaring grammatical errors are the hallmark of social media. I GET IT.

  • “Drawing Even if You Can’t Draw a Straight Line”

Always wanted to take an “adult” art class late in life, but I can imagine only drooling imbeciles among my fellow classmates here, sorry. Maybe a cooking class …

  • “Knife Know-How for Beginners”

On second thought, might not feel safe in a “beginner” knifing class.

  • “Where Are My Keys?”

Now THAT’S what I’m talking about. Perfect class for adults. This almost-rhetorical question of the ages veritably defines “adult.” I wonder whether there’s field work, where we journey, in pairs, to look for our keys, mumbling aloud any random thought that enters and quickly vacates our heads. Better yet, an exploration of: What are all my keys for? I have some on here that fit lord-knows-where and you’d think, given I jangle like a locksmith everywhere I go, I’d never misplace my keys.

  • “Life Strategies”

Ah, finally. This is what I expected when I opened this book, something I can use to get it all together. Though, honestly, what I expected was more like “basket weaving.” …  OK, the description says: “Achieve passion and purpose by putting the many threads of your life together with guidance from a certified life coach using a process called Life Weaving.” … wait, what’s this? It IS basket weaving!