The power of effective communication


Turns out not every long mass e-mail is a bore. delta_gamma

If nothing else, one has to applaud the author’s clarity of communication, her adroit delineation of her sorority chapter’s norms of behavior and the gusto with which she heads off any possibility of misinterpretation.

UPDATED: The website Funny or Die has this dramatic reading of the aforementioned e-mail. Like most things on that site, it’s kind of funny, though hardly side-splitting.

Humor, Ann Coulter and America

Heard any good jokes lately?

I have, and from an unlikely source: the shrill, conservative provocateuse Ann Coulter.

I’m not especially a fan of Ms. Coulter’s oeuvre, her public comments or herann coulter.demonic close-to-continual appearances on the Fox News Channel I watch with little frequency. But, like the proverbial blind squirrel, she occasionally stumbles across, if not comedy gold, at least comedy bronze.

And, predictably, as with her more execrable comments, she catches hell for it.

If you’re not aware of the latest kerfuffle, Coulter wrote in a recent column:

“Obama has been draping himself in families of the children murdered in Newtown.

“MSNBC’s Martin Bashir suggested that Republican senators need to have a member of their families killed for them to support the Democrats’ gun proposals. (Let’s start with Meghan McCain!)”

Coulter is tough to root for, as she’s exhibited plenty of callousness and all-around jackassery (some of it outlined in a friend’s excellent blog), but her joke is obvious and funny: Meghan McCain, the high-profile “child” of one of the country’s most high-profile Republicans, hasn’t been particularly helpful in advancing the conservative agenda, so of course right-wingers like Coulter would “target” her. (At least she didn’t call her fat, unlike fellow shrill, conservative provocateuse Laura Ingraham.)

The joke is certainly not nice, but it’s hardly calling for Ms. McCain’s murder, as many media outlets are reporting. True, there are plenty of dangerous numskulls out there with too-easy access to guns, but Coulter is no more marshaling them to action than Jodie Foster somehow urged John Hinckley Jr. to shoot President Reagan.

That said, Coulter did lose me when she expressed (or feigned) outrage over Bashir’s ealier comment about Republicans needing to lose a family member to gun violence. His point, while piquant, perfectly plays off the “road to Damascus” moments recently experienced by Republican lawmakers regarding same-sex marriage. That is, many finally see the merits of marriage equality only after their own sons and daughters come out as gay.

Coulter’s criticism of Bashir’s comment is every bit as disingenuous as the criticisms of her recent jest. (I’m not including the Twitter responses by Meghan McCain — the target of the joke, who certainly has every right to hit back — and Cindy McCain, who was just being a good mom.)

This whole hullabaloo hasn’t changed my opinion of Ann Coulter. It has, however, reinforced my opinion that Americans need to get a grip.

Rather than getting worked up over a joke (and the rare Coulter one that actually hits the target), we should focus on the larger problem of whether our government has even a modicum of concern over the desires and welfare of the citizens.

Into your hands I commend my jeu d’esprit

The exclamation point is unjustly maligned these days (though I concede they quickly become tiresome from overuse), but it does serve at least one important function:

It transforms solemn Christian holidays into statements of surprise.

Holy Thursday! Good Friday!

And speaking of exclamations, if you’re looking to cuss up a storm old-school, check out this piece a friend hipped me to.

I think the Rex Iudaeorum would approve of a little Holy Week levity. At least I’m counting on Him having a healthy sense of humor.

Happy Easter!

High art

While catching up on a stack of long-neglected New Yorkers (I truly am my father’s son in that regard), I finally encountered this splendid simile:

“… the Hearst Tower, not long after sunrise on a Saturday morning, the offices had been as empty and lifeless as an inexpertly kept aquarium.”

While not quite as pert as the example of metaphor my sister would use with her science fiction students at Rutgers (“My car is a piece of shit.”), I was nevertheless entranced by its appearance in a protracted — but not too long at all — profile of Manhattan skyscraper window washers. On one hand, a slacker kills his fish by neglecting their artificial habitat. On the other, middle-aged men (almost always men) risk their lives to shine up the windows of some of the world’s most impressive buildings.

The whole article is worth a look, but that “aquarium” simile stuck with me, both because of its novelty and its being a deft, subtle rendering of irony: a couple things I’m trying to shoot for in my writing.

Seen any great similes or metaphors lately? Lay ’em on me in the comments section below, if you’re so inclined.


Cut the s#!t, already!

Hey, “Daily Show with Jon Stewart,” help me out with something: When is it OK to cuss on TV?

I’ve been on the radio a couple times recently as part of my work for my bigfoot client, and I wouldn’t be surprised if a television appearance — even if only on public access — is in the offing. So how should I handle things when I feel the need to let a four-letter word fly? (And, believe me, that’s a need I feel with some frequency.)

This morning I was watching your show’s Sept. 19 broadcast on my Xfinity DVR (If you watch TV on anything but Comcast, yer goin’ to hell!) and noticed that your first segment was called “Chaos on Bullshit Mountain.” At least that’s what you said, but the graphic read, “Chaos on Bulls#%t Mountain.” I guess you can say shit, but can only write s#%t.

OK, I think I’m with you so far. But then you crossed me up with a curveball.

In lampooning the typical Fox News dissembling, you say, “I’d expect this from residents of Asshole Cove, but not Bullshit Mountain.” Fine, I get it. “Asshole” is kosher on cable TV. Hell, even the networks were OK with it years ago on “NYPD Blue.” Yet, the night before, in your interview with author Salman Rushdie, “asshole” was bleeped out at least twice, which kind of belies the opinions/assholes chestnut. In your chat with “The Satanic Verses” scribe, opinions were plentiful, “assholes” were scarce.

However, I might have taped the Sept. 18 show (the one with Rushdie) during its 11 p.m. airing (Sorry, but your broadcast conflicts with my mandatory live viewing of “TMZ.”) and I definitely recorded the 12:30 a.m. airing of the Sept. 19 show, which featured the pop/soul singer Pink (or “P!nk). That wee-hours wrinkle might explain things a little.

That might, were it not for the aforementioned pop/soul singer’s performance of her new single “Blow Me (One Last Kiss).” During the first verse, she dropped the “S-bomb” (unbleeped) about a half-dozen times. But in the second verse, that shit was bleeped throughout.

I figured, for sure, Comedy Central allows only so many shits per episode, even during post-midnight airings, and the magic number had been realized.

Nope. As the song wound up, Pink’s “shit” apparently didn’t stink (it went unbleeped), but her background singers’ “shits” in response were censored. And after the commercial break, you, Pink and her guitarist chatted a bit and proceeded to “shit” all over the stage anew.

I’m not offended by the language, per se, but I’m a bit perturbed, or at least perplexed, by the lack of consistency governing vulgarity on the air.

Mostly, though, I don’t really give a shit. Or a s#!t.


My dog, Bill Belichick and me

I knew something was wrong when I found myself scolding my dog for her lack of “situational awareness.”

Holly, the lovely impediment to my ambulatory progress

Actually, at least two things were wrong. First, it was clear I’d watched one too many Bill Belichick press conferences. Second, I had grossly overreacted to my dog’s tendency to pause whenever she crosses a threshold or otherwise stand in front of wherever I happen to want to go.

“Situational awareness!” I shouted as I nudged Holly with my knee, perturbed because it was taking an extra second to move into the kitchen. Then I started laughing at the absurdity of my actions. Later, though, on our walk with her brother, Buddy, I thought about what could be winding me up so tightly. (Still haven’t quite put my finger on it.)

I also thought about Belichick, his lexicon and his adroit verbal aikido during the press conferences the New England Patriots head coach clearly doesn’t enjoy.

“It is what it is,” has become a ubiquitous, impossible-to-refute mantra applied to any situation around these parts. Though Belichick certainly didn’t invent the phrase, he has popularized it. (See also “Football players play football.”)

In fact, I’ve contemplated fashioning a nifty bingo card from his nonresponses to reporters’ questions after each game. Just trying to compete … what’s best for the football team … all three phases of the game? Bingo!

Of course, some smarty-pants types at Harvard have already done me one better, writing a computer program that can spit out Belichickian responses in a variety of situations.

Situational awareness. The aforementioned program has it, so why doesn’t my dog?

Why don’t I?

I, the Copywriter

Pitch meeting completed. Materials received. Price quoted. Now all that’s left is the slightly more-than-prospective client to OK the deal and I’ll be for me to start writing copy for an annual report for the latest client. It’s not quite booze and showgirls in Vegas, but it’s work.

Besides, this engagement could be fun and rewarding, since the contract involves an independent school (rooted in the Catholic tradition) for disadvantaged girls. This won’t be flogging one of many indistinguishable robust, seamlessly integrated, best-of-breed solutions (or whatever the high-tech argot is these days — it’s been a while). The work these folks do (and, by extension, the work my sister and I will be doing) is important stuff. But I’m already way off track.

What’s with the oddball title of the post, “I, the Copywriter?”

This morning while goofing off (my favorite vice, surpassing even whiskey, cigars and crap TV), I basked in the sun and leafed through the pages of the latest Cigars International catalog, a/k/a “cigar porn,” contemplating my next purchases I can scarcely afford. There, amid the Sumatran-, Oscuro- and Connecticut shade-wrapped stogies, I encountered some of the most crisp and pert copywriting around.

Churning out fresh and flowing text in the face of the hundreds of handmades to be touted in each month’s catalog must be a Herculean undertaking, but Cigar International’s copywriter tackles the task with gusto. It’s as if Mickey Spillane had chosen a career in grinding out catalog copy rather than hammering out bestselling crime novels."I, the Jury" by Mickey Spillane

The following could describe an impossible-to-resist gun moll, yet it’s applied to a Nicaraguan cigar:

“El Mejor is quite the package. Beauty, charm, substance, and flavor in spades. If this little beauty only did laundry and made a rockin’ meatloaf, I bet more than a handful of you fellas would be down on a knee in no time.”

Yeah, corny as hell. And entertaining as hell. (Of course, the pairing of a masculine noun with feminine characteristics is impossible to overlook, and the word “beauty” is repeated in one sentence. It ain’t Shakespeare but, then again, neither is “I, the Jury.”)

Elsewhere, cigars are seen “sporting a chunky 54-ring frame” or “draped in an oily, richly hued Ecuadoran Habano sun-grown wrapper.” And these wares sprouting from Central American soil aren’t just bargain-priced, they’re a “scorching-hot dealio.”

Someone had some fun writing the Cigars International copy, and I had fun reading it (then writing about it here). I’m hoping my own copywriting journey will be as diverting.

When ‘ballz’ become ‘ballss’

When I’m at the grocery I seldom put tonic in my carriage, but I’m raising an icy can of Moxie to this entertaining and informative article at about regional dialects.

We New Englanders take pride in our well-known, oft-ridiculed accent (as if there’s only one New England accent), but it appears the language of America is more and more becoming like the chatter uttered by “da Bearss” (rhymes with “scarce”) fans in the “Saturday Night Live” sketch “Bill Swerkski’s Super Fans.” While those in the Midwest might find that to be “the ballss” (rhymes with “false”), I believe most New Englanders would find it far from “the ballz” (rhymes with “falls”).

OK, enough of that. The article goes on to say that the “tensing” of vowel sounds (that is, turning short “O” sounds into “ahhs”) is the most prevalent example of the Northern Cities Shift of other regional dialects in the United States (at least the “lower 48”). And, the article adds, this applies pretty much only to white people; blacks and Hispanics appear immune to the Great Lakes virus, even those who live in that part of the country.

Not sure I’m buying the entire premise of the article, at least as it relates to the region I call home. Greater Bostonians and other New Englanders are hardly shy about letting a person know when something he or she says sounds a little queeah to the eahh. If your kid or best friend tried to say “cot” like “kaat,” you’d think it quite bizahh and would ridicule the benighted offender. At least that’s how things would go in my family and circle of friends.

Still, the article’s worth a look.