Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Another reason to love Scandinavia in general and Sweden in particular

They're my number two source of traffic.

Obviously my number one source is the US, and no big surprise why: my blog is hosted by an American company, written in American English and mostly talks about American subjects.

Except when it doesn't.  I think I've already mentioned the American Swedish Institute in St. Paul MN, and my irrational love for Volvos and Saabs.  I have a copy of a popular American Swedish cookbook on my shelf right behind me (turns to check), yes, there it is.

And I am also Swedish.  I think I should learn some languages: I already do pretty well speaking and writing in English and can fumble my way in French, probably considerably better than a typical American would.  I was downright startled one day on vacation, many years ago, when I heard my Dad and one of his brothers singing a Finnish lullaby.  That was bizarre.  I hadn't ever heard Dad speak a word of anything other than English in my life up to that point.

I have found many videos on YouTube that will show you some of the baser rudiments of assorted languages, including Finnish.  The Finnish one is especially interesting because the woman doing the demonstration is, frankly, gorgeous.  But I digress.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

How to Tell Whether Snowden is a Traitor

See if he keeps running.

If he really, truly believed what he did was right and proper, he would come back and face the government and pull out their dirty laundry for the people to see.  Until he does that, you can say with some certainty that he is not 100% convinced of the rightness of his own actions.

Other evidence: he was hiding in China, now he's hiding in Russia.  Both of these entities have been less than friendly to the US in the past and are, at best, coolly cordial even now.  It cannot do his image any favors by taking refuge in either country.

The way I look at it, Snowden's actions may have some merit.  Some.  Not a lot.  But even if it were a good idea to do, I still don't think this was the way to do it.  And his persistence in taking refuge in countries that have a vested interest in gaining as much insight into the US' intelligence gathering processes as they possibly can, cannot cast his rationale into a better light.  No, that makes him look like he was doing it for someone, and has now managed to get back to his bosses' home bases.

So, Snowden, if you're reading this - and I doubt if you are, but here's hoping - face the music.  You're a little too public to be summarily executed so you have a good chance at living through quite a few more birthdays.  But if you really are quite certain of the legitimacy of how you've revealed things, or even more so certain of the illegitimacy of the NSA's intelligence gathering, step up to the mike.  Step out into the light.  If there's something that needs to be brought to light, bring it.  Be up front, quit skulking.

Or admit you're just another opportunistic weasel, making a quick buck and running while you can.  And if that's the case, well, choke on the paycheck.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Why I Don't Care About the NSA Revelations, But Hate Edward Snowden

I never actually owned the cell phone system.  That's why.

I own the cell phone, the little transmitter-receiver the company sold to me when I signed up for service.  If I walk away from the contract now, I keep the little two-way radio.  No problem there.  Sweetie and Sons #1 and #2 get to keep theirs.  But the cell phone system, that's another matter.

The way I understand it, most of what is going on is that the NSA is monitoring who is calling whom.  That's nothing to get excited over.  Ever since communication between individuals advanced beyond the level of one person speaking directly to another, there has been the existence of a middle man, and the security of your message was entrusted to that middle man.

Now let's consider this: "entrusted."  There are levels of trust.  We presume, for good reason, that our messages will not be read by someone other than the parties for whom they are intended.  Again I have to rely on my limited understanding here, but it appears to me that the NSA is not actually listening in on conversations.  Just peeking at what call came from where, to go where else.  That's it.  Establishing an understanding of relationships.  This is significant knowledge, but nothing to get really excited about.

Before there were telephones, there was the Postal Service, and you were totally okay with writing the address on the envelope.  You also were totally okay with having a return address on it, which meant all manner of middle men could see that there was some kind of communication going on between these two individuals: look, see - it's written right there on the envelope.

Even now with electronic communications, you have to give up a lot of privacy with your phone calls.  There are computer records of there having been a call completed from this number to that number, and nobody has been upset about it.  Even knowing that such records are retained and could be brought forth as evidence in a court of law, nobody ever raised a fuss.

But now that one possible traitor, whoops, make that potential hero, no that isn't right either, let's try dubious character has pointed out how certain government intelligence gathering entities have relatively unfettered access to a large portion of communication records, we're upset?  Why?

If you're not doing anything wrong, what do you care?  Shoot, even if you're carrying on a vigorous affair with the underage babysitter, you don't raise above the level of noise for these guys.  That's not on their radar.

My take: Snowden is a thief.  He was trusted with confidences and betrayed them.  Come back to the US and face the music, you crook.  I wasn't concerned about the NSA before and am still not concerned now, but it galls me that a US citizen would take a job with the National Security Agency, and then betray the trust that agency put in him.  Clearly he never deserved that trust, but there's never any way to determine in advance what some people will do.  That's how we wind up with things like airliners flying into buildings and prison guards forcing the prisoners to do humiliating things.  There's plenty of shame to go around, and Snowden just earned his.

Not a hero.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Now Fighting for Racial Equality: Cheerios. Yes, Cheerios.

A recent commercial shows a cute little moppet, a round face surrounded by a cloud of fluffy curly hair, bringing a box of Cheerios to her mom.  Mom looks up from her notebook.

"Are Cheerios 'heart-healthy?"

It being a Cheerios commercial, you know Mom is going to say "yes."  She does.  Daughter brightens, picks the box up again and scampers away.

Cut to the living room where Dad is napping.  He slowly opens his eyes and begins to stir from the couch.  A mountain of Cheerios, poured carefully onto his chest, spills to the floor.  Dad looks around, befuddled.

End commercial.

I laughed out loud at this.  Art Linkletter, and later Bill Cosby, brought us such shows as "Kids Say the Darnedest Things," which was completely true and of course kids also do the darnedest things, and every once in a while they'll do something both completely off the wall and actually very logical.  The kid wants her daddy to be healthy: attagirl.  She misses the point and applies the Cheerios topically.  Well, she tried.  Better luck next time, sweetie.  Go get the broom, okay?

Here's the kicker: in the commercial, Mom is white.  Dad is black.  Kiddo is...what?  Cafe au lait?  Tan?  She ain't gray.

Let's try this: she's adorable.  That ought to suffice.

Cheerios is a brand produced by General Mills, a corporation that is close to my heart because I've had family that worked for one of their suppliers, and also because they're headquartered in my home state of Minnesota.  When I was more concerned about the global impact of my spending dollars, General Mills tended to score higher on the metrics that mattered to me than, for instance, Nabisco or General Foods.  So Cheerios is one of my favorite brands.  Also impressive: Cheerios is the best-selling cereal in the country by a long, long margin.  Kellogg's sells more cereal overall, but more people buy Cheerios than any other brand of cereal on the market, period.  No sugar, no marshmallows, not much in the way of gimmicks.  Just good food.

The commercial makes no issue of the interraciality of the family.  Nonetheless the commercial on Youtube has garnered an awful lot of hate, enough so that General Mills has disabled comments.  Thank God you don't have to let people comment on your video if you don't want to.

I had hoped that by now, the US would have moved past this stage.  It's the 21st century now, Martin Landau is supposed to have been careening through space on a wayward Moon for the last 14 years and Roy Scheider gone to Jupiter.  We should have robotic legs that make Lee Majors run at sixty miles per hour.  But what do we have?

People are still hung up over what color other people are.

Here's a thought, you racist dolts: worry about your own color.  You can't help what color you are, nobody has any control over what color they are.  People also don't have a lot of control over who they fall in love with - and if it isn't you, what do you care?  What skin do you have in the game?  What difference can it possibly make what color the skin is?

I like to think that somebody came up with the idea for the ad, auditioned some actors and chose the ones they liked best...and then somebody said, "Hey, wait...'Mom' and 'Dad' aren't the same color."

And off in the upper office somewhere, somebody in charge said, "So?"  And that would be the end of it.

That isn't the political climate in which we exist, however.  I reckon our biracial President, Barack Obama, has something to do with it.  If the US can elect a biracial president, maybe we can handle a biracial cereal consumer.  Marketing being what it is, you know this ad isn't a happy accident.  It's the result of careful consideration, and I love it for what it is, first and foremost: an accurate snapshot of breakfast time in any middle-class American household.  Kids do the darnedest things.

Anyway, I'm really proud of what General Mills has done.  I laughed out loud, very hard, at the visual punchline when Dad's mound of cereal fell to the floor.  His look of confused, about-to-dawn comprehension is perfect, hire that guy for some more commercials.  OH - great idea - remember that Taster's Choice serial romance, the attractive couple whose relationship we watched unfold over several commercials?  Let's make these actors stars: Mom, Dad and Moppet.  Let's show American bigots how wrong they can be.  General Mills produces lots of other brands, not just Cheerios.  We can use these same folks to produce commercials for cake mix, or watching a TV documentary featuring the exploration submersible Alvin. Let's show them how normal a family is, and how weird it is to pass arbitrary judgment on the family on the basis of something as trivial as skin color.

Well done, folks.  Keep it up.  I couldn't be more dismayed at some of the negative reactions, but I couldn't be prouder of the effort.  Eventually no one will care what the actors look like, but until then we just have to keep gently tapping the message home: what you eat is important and kids do funny things.  Everything else is minutiae.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Contextually Appropriate

Consider Esther Williams.

American pop culture has a long history of making stars of its athletes.  Usually the athlete is a star in his own right but Esther Williams was a competitive swimmer (intending to compete in the 1940 Olympics, she was compelled to give up that ambition by the advent of World War II) and later a performer in Billy Rose's Aquacade, a music/dancing/swimming revue.  An odd combination, but that's America pre-internet for you.  And from the Aquacade sprang an entire entertainment career.

Where the pin up era featured a great many pretty girls in lingerie or, more often, swimwear, very very few celebrities to be featured in swimwear actually belonged there.  Having pursued swimming as an athletic career and built a fair portion of her entertainment career around her swimming background, Williams in swimwear wasn't so much titillating as it was de rigeur.  Of course she's in a bathing suit, she's Esther Williams.  What else would she wear?  And in future years she would even lend her name to a swimwear fashion line - again, I say: who else's name could you put on swimsuits?

To date I've only seen a couple of Esther Williams' movies.  The first one I cannot recall, it must not have made much impression.  But I sat through most of Fiesta, and was quite surprised by what I found there:

1) Esther was an extremely attractive young lady, and she seemed to have real acting chops.  Certainly she didn't spend the entire movie swimming, there was quite a bit of character development.

2) Ricardo Montalban, the male lead of the film, was as captivating an actor in his youth as he later became as the cordially mysterious Mr. Roarke, or the gleefully megalomaniacal Khan Singh.

Esther died today at the ripe old age of 91, having lived a full life with, as nearly as I can tell, no significant scandals.  We need more celebrities like that.