Call me Scrooge, Grinch, Mr. Heat Miser or whatever other holiday-related term of derision you like, but I long ago had my fill of such amorphous concepts as “paying it forward,” “giving back” and the always-inane “random acts of kindness.”

The above actions celebrate that which was once recognized as simple decency.

But in today’s world, where the navel-gazer is king, it’s not enough to be good to one another: Lack of recognition would almost appear to invalidate civility in the eyes of many.

First, the terms “pay it forward” and “give back,” logically speaking, make little sense.

You can’t pay something forward.  You can do something nice for someone without them knowing it – but, of course, if you crow about it, you’re really just serving your own purposes.

And “giving back” implies that you took something in the first place. Athletes, entertainers and corporate bigwigs like to throw around the term “giving back,” particularly when visiting their old stomping grounds.

Unless they had their athletic, entertainment or business talents conferred upon them, like royalty bequeathing a title on a noble, they probably had to work very hard over many years to reach their level of accomplishment.

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santa logo2Brand Books are often used by corporations and other large entities to highlight inside details, goals and marketing techniques.

Created to help bring consistency to the way a brand is communicated, the goal, to paraphrase one Brand Book, is to provide the necessary tools to present the brand correctly and consistently in any and all forms of communication.

They feature a collection of the brand elements and a detailed description of “the brand.”

Brand Books influence every marketing campaign, communication and product. By covering every aspect of the brand from mission statement and logos to color palettes and typography guidelines, it serves as a strategic guideline.

Brand Books are often, but not always, created by advertising firms, and, not surprisingly, tend to be riddled with ad jargon.

To that end, United Kingdom communication consultants The Quiet Room has spoofed its own profession by creating a Brand Book for Santa Claus, defining Father Christmas’s “entire being as if he were dreamt up by a team of obsessive brand ‘experts,’’ according to PSFK.com.

“The result is the *Santa* Brand Book, which spoofs branding strategies used by companies all around the globe. Some prime examples you can find within the book include a meaningless mission statement, acronyms, excessive jargon, obligatory diagrams, and official style guides for the Santa ‘brand,’” adds the PSFK site.

As the *Santa* Brand Book’s cover states: “*Santa* is a Concept, not an idea,” adding, “It begins with the Hiss of Power and ends with the Ah of Surprise.”

You can view the entire *Santa* “Brand Book” here. It’s not only good for a few laughs, but offers an interesting and instructive insight into how major advertising agencies operate.

(Above: Page taken from *Santa* Brand Book, a spoof created by The Quiet Room, a UK advertising agency. Click to embiggen.)

vma awards 2013

Newsflash for the half-dozen of you who happened to stumble across this blog today: Pop culture ain’t my thing, and it ain’t been my thing for a long, long time.

An example of my indifference to pop culture: I don’t think I’ve ever watched an awards show of any stripe. Not the Oscars, nor the Grammys, certainly not the ESPYs, and especially not anything put on by MTV.

I’ve got no problem with those that enjoy that sort of thing, it’s just not for me.

That said, the most recent hullaballoo over a young strumpet making a fool of herself in public, this time at something called the VMAs, is hardly surprising.

If anything, it’s utterly predictable. Given the seemingly endless parade of puffery and self-promotion that is at the core of today’s awards shows, an “artist” has to work harder and harder to generate publicity.

And you know what – it pays off every time.

The more outlandish the artist, the more notoriety they generate.

Miley Cyrus earned herself millions of dollars of free publicity Sunday evening because Western media no longer wishes to differentiate between news and nonsense.

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Pity the poor Maryland woman who was hit with a $55,000 medical bill after being treated for a venomous snake bite.

Pity her not for being bitten – she was treated at a Bethesda, Md., hospital and is now doing fine – but for her apparent lack of common sense or, more likely, lack of gratitude.

Jules Weiss, according to a story aired on WRC-TV in Washington, DC, had stopped to take a photo at an overlook along the George Washington Parkway. On the way back to her car, she felt something bite her.

Turns out it was a Copperhead, although the story makes it sound as though Weiss wasn’t aware of being bitten by a venomous snake. (How she didn’t happen to see the snake after it bit her isn’t addressed in the story.)

“It felt just like a bee sting,” she told the station. “There were two fang marks with liquid coming out.”

So what did the former emergency medical technician do? Nothing, apparently. It was only an hour later that she noticed her foot had turned “grayish” and started to swell.

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statue of Niyazov

For all former Turkmenistan dictator Saparmurat Niyazov’s flaws, and they were truly legion, he was never boring.

Ruling the former Soviet republic with a steel fist from 1985 until 2006, Niyazov created a cult of personality that bordered on the absurd:

  • Niyazov, who called himself “the Father of all Turkmen,” renamed the months of the year and days of the week, often for members of his family;
  • He closed down all hospitals outside the capital of Ashgabat, reasoning that the sick should come in from the countryside for treatment. (This was problematic as Ashgabat is in the south-central part of the country, on the border with Iran. Balkanabat, by comparison, the capital of the country’s Balkan province, is 250 miles from Ashgabat.);
  • Niyazov ordered all libraries outside of the capital to be closed, as he believed that the only books that most of his citizenry needed to read were the Koran and a rather dubious tome he authored called the Ruhnama. The latter was required reading for anyone taking a driving test;
  • He banned dogs from the capital because of their “unappealing odor”;
  • He banned news reporters and anchors from wearing make-up on television because he said he found it difficult to distinguish male anchors from female anchors; and
  • Gold teeth were discouraged in the country after Niyazov suggested that the populace chew on bones to strengthen their teeth and lessen the rate at which they fall out. In his words: “I watched young dogs when I was young. They were given bones to gnaw to strengthen their teeth. Those of you whose teeth have fallen out did not chew on bones. This is my advice …”

Because Turkmenistan possesses major energy reserves, Niyazov, who died in 2006, always had plenty of money to indulge his flights of fancy. Read the rest of this entry »

Green buildings scam

For more than a decade companies have been highlighting the “environmentally friendly” nature of their new buildings, and for more than a decade the press has been lapping it up, generously doling out coverage that is all but impossible for businesses to secure through the execution of their actual work.

Ponder that for moment: An accounting firm, for example, in a major city that employs 250 people – many in high-paying positions – and has grown slowly but steadily over the past 20 years, will find it difficult to get media coverage until the times comes when it announces it is a constructing a new office, one that is environmentally friendly.

Never mind that stories of these sorts have been in the news for, yes, a decade or more, making them not very “newsy” at all; the media never tires of writing about anything “eco-friendly.”

This is tiresome on several levels:

  • One, space and coverage, particularly of business news, have shrunk dramatically in recent years. To devote limited resources to writing about environmentally friendly construction while ignoring the actual accomplishments of the businesses in question, be they accounting firms, banks, advertising agencies, etc., is bad journalism.
  • Second, it’s no longer newsworthy when someone builds a structure that meets the standards of the U.S. Green Building Council. That entity was formed in 1993, and more than 7,000 green building projects have been built in the US alone since then.
  • Finally, and perhaps most importantly, it appears that the concept behind building environmentally friendly structures may be flawed – very flawed, in fact.

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golden lancehead

Thirty miles off the coast of Brazil and less than 100 miles from São Paulo, one of the world’s largest and most congested cities, lies a 110-acre subtropical island called Ilha de Queimada Grande. Sounds perfect for an idyllic retreat, right?

No, not in this case. Ilha de Queimada Grande has a population of exactly zero. That would be because the Brazilian Navy prohibits anyone from landing on the island.

Even fans of limited government would have to agree that the reason is a good one: Ilha de Queimada Grande is literally infested with one of most venomous species of snakes known to man, the golden lancehead.

How infested, you ask? To the tune of one golden lancehead per square meter. For those of you who struggle with the metric system, that’s roughly one bad snake every 3-1/2 feet.

Some researchers have estimated that as many as five golden lancehead per square meter can be found on Ilha de Queimada Grande, according to Atlas Obscura. (The island, also known colloquially in English as Snake Island, is covered with jungle, hence the high density as the vipers  inhabit trees and the island floor.)

The lancehead genus of snakes is responsible for 90 percent of Brazilian snakebite-related fatalities.

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stupid free newspapers

As large daily newspapers continue to gasp for life like oversized carp thrashing in ever-shrinking pools of muddy water, an interesting phenomenon has occurred:

Free weekly publications appear to be thriving across the US.

These “newspapers” are usually little more than a whole mess of advertising wrapped around a handful of inane drivel – often about the advertisers themselves – which is passed off as news.

Unfortunately, the modus operandi of these publications is to carpet bomb as many homes as possible with papers in order to boost circulation numbers.

The higher the circulation, the more publications can charge for advertising. As a result, the companies behind these papers tend to deliver to anything that looks even remotely like a home: run-down trailers, dog houses, tool sheds, etc.

Of course, what is undisclosed is how many or, more accurately, how few people actually read the publication. Also undisclosed is the anger that tends to build up when those that receive the unsolicited publications are unable to end delivery.

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 Galician SS-Volunteer Infantry Division

Inserted in the opening paragraph of Slate magazine’s story about a Nazi collaborator who was discovered last week to have been living in the US for the past 60-plus years were these two sentences, which would be slightly amusing if not representative of a grave injustice:

“Michael Karkoc now lives in Minnesota and when he entered the United States in 1949 told authorities he had not performed military service during World War II. That wasn’t really accurate.”

No, indeed it wasn’t. Karkoc was a founding member and an officer of the SS-led Ukrainian Self Defense Legion and later was an officer in the SS Galician Division.

There appears to be plenty of evidence that the company Karkoc commanded massacred civilians, including burning villages filled with women and children, and that he was at the scene of the atrocities, even if there’s no proof Karkoc himself didn’t actually participate.

The Associated Press broke the story about Karkoc on Friday and provided an exhaustive report on not just the fact he’s been living in the United States for decades, but included background between groups allied with the Nazis and how many individuals avoided being brought to justice under the guise of fighting communism.

It will be hard for Karkoc to plead mistaken identity; in 1995 he published a Ukrainian-language memoir that stated he helped found the Ukrainian Self Defense Legion in 1943 to fight on the side of Germany – and wrote that he served as a company commander in the unit, which received orders directly from the SS, through the end of the war.

The memoir is available at the US Library of Congress, according to The Associated Press.

(Above: A 1944 photo shows head of the SS Heinrich Himmler, center, reviewing troops  of the Galician SS-Volunteer Infantry Division, of which Michael Karkoc was a  member.)


This seems particularly appropriate today.

But then again, when isn’t the wit and wisdom of Homer Simpson appropriate?