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Tuesday, February 3, A.D. 2009
Super Bowl Advertisements

I hope that you enjoyed Sunday’s Super Bowl. Though not a football fan myself, it was quite a game. I am sure that my Steelers hating sister is not pleased with the result, but she must have at least enjoyed the commercials.

I actually enjoy commercials—if they are enjoyable. I realize that advertising is manipulation, but it is supposed to be. I find it slimy when (non-advertisement) cartoons sell a product, but I acknowledge my gratitude for any aesthetic or comedic pleasure received while watching commercials. For they are supervenient gifts. Besides, they allow creative people to exercise their talents. As I wrote in “Disney the Corrupter of Youth?,” one should not reduce a commercial product to its money making end.

Dr. Roy Eappen’s Tory Dr. Roy blog features some of his favorite forty-third Super Bowl ads, and I am copying his idea. However, I must first present my favorite Super Bowl ad of all time—E.D.S.‘s “Herding Cats” commercial from A.D. 2000:

For this year’s crop, YouTube has a Super Bowl channel, AdBlitz 2009, where you can watch all of the commercials online. Here are my recommended ads, with the year’s best at the end.

Budweiser more than any other company owns the Super Bowl ad legacy. The company’s annual commercials often allude to its past ads, which is brilliant marketing. Most viewers are already familiar with the previous ads, and these folks are pleased when they encounter something that they already know—for men are a lot like dogs, as Socrates long ago noted. In addition to the familiarity, nostalgia trip, and traditional annual ritual—all of which complement well Budweiser’s marketed image—these ads that span years have the further advantage of bringing the imagery and force of the previous ads to the attention of the viewers of this year’s ad for the same price of one time slot.

I do not accept Hume’s epistemology, but he is certainly correct when he notes that the mind more readily remembers things vividly when such things are strengthened and reinforced by other impressions that the mind relates to them. This explains one of the advantages of specialization. Your mind remembers things better when it always attends to them and to things that your mind relates to them. Constant employment makes sets of memories fresh. So, when we watch the following horse and Dalmatian ad, we think of the past horse and Dalmatian ads in our memory and add to them. The more related memories, the more vivacity such memories will have—and the more influence.

Besides the clever ad legacy, the horse and dog ads feature horses and dogs! Throw in some lovely countryside, ideal weather, and an honest hard-working representative of “real America” (you know, the America with Sarah Palin’s small town values), and I’m won over. This year’s horse and dog legacy ad is “Stick.” Budweiser made a few other horse and dog ads this year, but “Generations” and “Circus” are not in the same genre as the standard horse and dog legacy commercials from the last decade.

In my opinion, the funniest ad this year belongs to CareerBuilder. It is artful, irreverent, a little witty, and wonderfully foolish. The “loads of money” exception is golden. Humor is born from the unexpected.

The lowbrow part of my soul finds the GoDaddy “Enhancements” ad with Danica Patrick amusing. It is stupid and trashy, but I laugh when the slattern at the end stands up. Comedy that is moderately dumb annoys me, but I have a soft spot for the utterly ridiculous.

I also like Cheetos’ “Spoiled Girl.” Perhaps misogyny has something to do with my taste for this one (and the previous), but it is quite fun to see bimbohood simultaneously exploited and mocked.


I suppose that Super Bowl ads in general do not treat women very, um, augustly. Perhaps, this is men’s pay back for having to be ridiculed constantly for the rest of the year. For all those longsuffering husbands, I offer Bridgestone’s “Taters”:

Patriotism, beer, chauvinism, and random acts of violence against men are all Super Bowl regulars—along with trucks. I have never understood the truck fetish, and I laugh at truck ads’ embarrassing attempts at masculinization. Nonetheless, the following commercial is pretty neat because it is real. The part of the hillbilly soul that monster truck shows entice responds with a hearty “Woah!” to this:

I think that I really dislike General Electric’s “Scarecrow” ad, but it intrigues me, nonetheless. Lover of sights and sounds that I am, the imagery captures my fancy, but the ad just does not make sense. Indeed, it does violence to The Wizard of Oz. There is no meaningful connection between the referrer and the referent.

I also feel ambivalent about Frosted Flakes’ “Plant a Seed” ad. It is both a visual treat and an annoyingly schmaltzy example of charitable posing. What is up with the creepy shadow of Tony the Tiger? Does the gradual introduction of Kellogg’s cat hint of Tony’ transcendence, the immediate epiphany of which would jar the viewers? For the love of Snap, Crackle, and Pop!

For anthropological reasons, no commercial this year is more interesting than Coca-Cola’s “Avatar” ad. What does it say about our culture, and what does our culture’s interpretation of what it says say about our culture?

As you can see in the “Avatar” ad, the production value of Coke’s ads is outstanding. It’s the Super Bowl, and people deserve to be wowed. Accordingly, I do not think that there is a real contest for the best Super Bowl ad this year. Coca-Cola’s “Heist” is really, totally, amazingly cool:

Buy, buy, buy . . .

Posted by Joseph on Tuesday, February 3, Anno Domini 2009
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Thursday, January 8, A.D. 2009
Man Candy

If you were expecting a display of Adonises in all their glowing Olympian masculine pulchritude, you will find none here; on principle, this web site posts no photographs of its webmaster. For man candy is candy for man, not man as a sweet, delectable goody for the ravenous out there—with an exception made for the forthcoming treatment of the gingerbread man.

Rather, I wish to honor the contents of my Christmas stocking this year. For the first time in years, my mother—eh, I mean, Santa—wholly succeeded in filling my stocking with delicious candy instead of those horrible chocolate Santa Clauses that make stocking stuffing a sacrilege. Mind you, the offense is, in Anti-Dentite Seinfeldesque fashion, not to good Saint Nicholas but to chocolate. I do not understand how confectioners could screw up the precious gift of the gods so—both at Christmas and at Pascha with those horrid sugary but tasteless hollow Easter Bunnies. Only wicked Peeps have managed to destroy holiday celebrations in a more sinister fashion.

No, this year, my mother chose wisely. In addition to the necessary nods to tradition with apples, oranges, and tree nuts, she actually stuffed according to my tastes. It is funny how parents can manage to ignore your food preferences for decades (“I didn’t know that you hated canned asparagus”) and then surprise you with treats that you actually like.

First honors in my stocking go to my favorite non-chocolate, non-fruity candy—Ferrara Pan’s Boston Baked Beans.

I have enjoyed these tooth-destroying lovelies since I first had them at the YMCA concession stand when I was around six years old. They have a distinctive taste unlike any other peanut candy.

Next, my mother could not go wrong with Reese’s. The other contender for my favorite candy is Reese’s Pieces. E.T. may have started my love affair with the peanut buttery goodness of a candy, but I have kept the flame burning long after that alien left Elliot to collect more plants throughout the galaxy. Though I prefer the pieces, I settled for the cups in my stocking. Harry Burnett Reese’s mixture of chocolate and peanut butter made the world a better place—and it gave his pal Milton Snavely Hershey’s company a better line of products after Reese went to see the Great Candy Maker in the sky.

My mom also struck gold by taking the cinematic angle. I never eat during movies, but I do like “movie food.” So, I appreciate the Raisinets and Goobers, though I have tried to boycott Nestlé‘s hungry evil empire for years. Besides their shameless exploitation of Third World miserables, why must the Swiss company swallow up all the small confectioneries around the world? I am no supporter of the Peoples’ Global Action, but neither am I a cheerleader of global capitalism. Willy Wonka’s Candy Company should be American as Quaker Oats, and Crosse & Blackwell should have remained British all along. How I love their Branston Pickle Relish! Yet, I suppose that corporations owned by investors who care only for their profits will freely and enthusiastically toss their traditions and legacies to the winds of multinational capital. Stocks have done much good for the world, but I wonder if private companies are inherently better. Their owners tend to be more concerned about the good of the company, its workers, its customers, and its products than random investors who could care less what they own as long as the dividends continue to enrich them.

Furthermore, my mother gave me delicious Andes Mints, now owned by Tootsie Roll. At least, they remain a Midwestern company.

Lastly, I received a tin-boxed gingerbread man from New Hampshire’s Original Gourmet Food Company. The tin was cute as was the man inside; so, the presentation was appealing. However, the happy guy tasted more like a sugar cookie than gingerbread. I am a gingerbread fanatic, and packaged weak-spiced gingerbread cannot compete with the fresh gingery taste of traditional Christmas gingerbread men. Local bakeries, such as Cincinnati’s Servatii’s, offer decent cookies, but the best treats are homemade. My brother Adam and his girlfriend made a wonderful gingerbread land this year, complete with village, castle, trees, and ginger denizens—that is real gingerbread.

All in all, my stocking was a resounding success. Thanks, Santa. You must be an Anti-Dentite.

Posted by Joseph on Thursday, January 8, Anno Domini 2009
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Monday, December 1, A.D. 2008
Disney the Corrupter of Youth?

Black Friday has passed and, even in our recession, my fellow Americans have worked themselves into a consumerist frenzy as part of their holiday season tradition. Materialism is alive and well in the West, even as we live well beyond our means and burn the candle at both ends.

I am psychologically (and perhaps genetically) pre-disposed to agree with condemnations of conspicuous consumption. For all its defects, America’s puritanical WASP ancestry, from Plymouth to Coolidge, knew the value of work, savings, and living within one’s means. How is it that such a society as ours could sink so quickly into irresponsible self-indulgence? History is full of wise fathers and foolish sons, though, as Socrates remarked about Pericles. With these melancholy thoughts, I offer some articles for you to read.

First, I cannot recommend the City Journal enough. The publication always has thoughtful, well written commentary on public matters. One of their frequent contributors is Anthony Daniels, who writes under the name Theodore Dalrymple. He is a retired British physician and psychiatrist with a lifetime of experience in studying man and his problems, often among the United Kingdom’s less refined populations. I had the pleasure to meet him once, and I found him remarkably warm and, to use the colloquial term, real. My father has become a fan of his writing, and I encourage everyone to read his books and essays. His recent article in City Journal“The Quivering Upper Lip”—concerns Britain’s radical cultural transformation in the last few generations. According to Daniels, America is in much safer waters than her mother across the pond. It is both hard and flattering for a nay-saying cultural critic to hear praise of one’s society from such a fellow. How terrible Albion has become if England is worse than we are. It contradicts our nearly universal but unstated belief in English superiority—America’s form of false consciousness, I assume.

Second, and contra Daniels, one can always depend on Pat Buchanan to dispirit one’s hope in cultural renewal. His current article “Socialist Republic” depicts what loose living and fiscal insanity portend for us down the road.

However, what I really wish to address in this post is an article in The Daily Telegraph about an English abbot’s denunciation of America’s very own secular cultural guidepost, “Disney accused by Catholic cleric of corrupting children’s minds,” by Jonathan Wynne-Jones:

Christopher Jamison, the Abbot of Worth in West Sussex, has accused the corporation of “exploiting spirituality” to sell its products and of turning Disneyland into a modern day pilgrimage site.

He argues that it pretends to provide stories with a moral message, but has actually helped to create a more materialistic culture. . . .

While he acknowledges that Disney stories carry messages showing good triumphing over evil, he argues this is part of a ploy to persuade people that they should buy Disney products in order to be “a good and happy family”. . . .

“The message behind every movie and book, behind every theme park and T-shirt is that our children’s world needs Disney,” he says. . . .

He continues: “This is the new pilgrimage that children desire, a rite of passage into the meaning of life according to Disney.

“Where once morality and meaning were available as part of our free cultural inheritance, now corporations sell them to us as products.”

Fr Jamison, who is one of Britain’s most prominent Catholic clerics, claims that brands such as Disney market themselves to be about more than mere materialism to create an addiction to consumption.

“This is basically the commercial exploitation of spirituality,” he says, adding that as a result Disney and other corporations “inhabit our imagination”.

“Once planted there they can make us endlessly greedy. And that is exactly what they are doing.”

Before commenting on main point of the article, I wish to point out how utterly horrifying it must be for the aforementioned Anthony Daniels that Britain has a “Happiness Tsar”: “In 2006, Lord Layard, the Government’s ‘happiness Tsar’, urged for a rethink of economic and social policy after concluding that the pursuit of financial success has led to a rise in depression and emotional impoverishment.” The very sound of it exudes the stench of social disease. Andrew and other freakish devotees of Doctor Who will undoubtedly think of “The Happiness Patrol.” Such a promising idea for social criticism, such incompetent and artless execution . . . Anyway, the Brits surely have lost their wits if they think that mindless democratically supported bureaucracy can address human happiness when it cannot even maintain civil order on the streets.

As for Disney, I have long had mixed feelings. As a child, I loved Disney’s cartoons, from the old “princess classics” to my favorite, The Sword in the Stone. Then, as a teenager, I read about Tolkien’s condemnation of Disney’s marring of traditional mythoi. Like my medieval ancestors, I was torn between the values of my culture and the words of an auctor.

I think that Tolkien’s criticism holds up, but Disney is still a treasure of artistic and cultural goods. Could we reasonably expect a liberal commercial people to embrace completely the values of the old regime? We are lucky to have chivalry depicted in our popular culture at all, even if it is mixed with a fair bit of bourgeois sentimentality and, more recently, contemporary feminist and multicultural onanism.

As for the good abbot’s criticism of Disney as evangelist for consumerism, I am not so sure. Certainly, consumerism is rampant and ugly, but I do not know why this aspect of modern people with too much money and too confused priorities should completely define Disney. Of course, the company capitalizes on merchandise—nations of shopkeepers always find ways to exploit situations for money. Yet, to dismiss Disney because of this has the faint smell of Marx’s critique of religion as the opium of the masses. Similar illogic plays in both attacks.

I watched a fascinating but revolting documentary a year or so ago about marketing to children, but I cannot remember the name. The program argued that companies manipulate children to determine their parents’ spending behavior. I believe that the documentary even stated that some cartoons were produced with the intention of selling merchandise. Obviously, the coin counters at Disney have mastered that game. Nonetheless, we cannot reduce the artistic product to the merchandising, even if, in one sense, the chief reason for the product’s existence is the merchandise. For there were writers and animators who crafted a piece of art. Their efforts may have been commissioned, facilitated, and perhaps even directed by the coin counters, but their actions as producers of art are not identical to their actions as money-makers for the company.

The abbot’s criticism could be applied to any human undertaking that coexists with paid work. We who find the coin counters merely pallid shades of real manhood hope that artists create art for the love of such creation and that teachers disseminate their learning for the love of knowledge. Yet, for most artists and teachers, their work has some component of wage-earning, as well. Unless one is rich, one has to pay for shelter and victuals. A person has to feed his children. Consider the history of art, and you will quickly see how most of the revered masters worked for commission. I think that it is clear that their work far transcends simply the desire to pay the bills, but practical matters matter in our human life of scarcity.

Perhaps, the abbot has a point about Disney the company—the commodification of culture in the age of mass production is disgusting. However, fine works can come from sordid circumstances. The nineteenth century amply supplies examples. Moreover, we should ponder the difficulties that underlie this issue. What is the end of production? Is it simply money-making, or are there other proper ends for human endeavors that may earn a living?

Posted by Joseph on Monday, December 1, Anno Domini 2008
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Thursday, October 16, A.D. 2008
Ancestry.com

What are your family’s origins?

Over the summer, Andrew got hooked on Ancestry.com, and he became an apostle for genealogical research. I finally relented and signed up for the service myself. It is rather expensive, but you instantly have access to genealogical databases throughout the world, with more information added each day. It has become much easier to explore your roots.

If you are interested in trying Ancestry.com, the service offers a fourteen day free trial. Thereafter, you can pay by the month, by the quarter, or by the year. The price lessens with each step, of course. As such, I signed up for the World Deluxe annual package for a hefty sum of $299.40. You can also buy the cheaper U.S. Deluxe package, but then you will not have access to overseas data. If you simply want to use the online family tree maker and sharer, you can sign up for a free membership.

I have been very pleased with the deal. You have access not just to the information but to scans of the actual historical documents on file. You can look at the census records and learn peculiar facts about your ancestors, their whole household, and their neighbors. You can look at the ship registries for the voyages on which they came to America. Ancestry.com also allows you to mark any documents so that they become part of your library. You can download and save everything onto a drive, but you do not have to do so.

The general layout, search engine, and tree making tools are easy to learn and to use. When I was considering a membership, I read reviews of the service online, and the only complaint that everyone has is with regard to the tree navigation. To jump generations while you are surveying the tree requires several links and consequent page uploads. It seems that some script or code could make this aspect of the site more user friendly. Evidently, there is family tree making software, both for purchase and freeware available online, to which you can download your Ancestry.com information. I have read that these software packages are easy to manage, but I have not bothered with them, yet. In the future, I’ll likely format my family tree with software into something presentable for the family. Should you do the same, you’ll become a minor celebrity at family gatherings. Have you ever considered being your clan’s memory, archivist, story teller, and keeper of names?

As one might expect, most of the current documentation is Anglo-American. You will have a harder time tracking down ancestors the less British your origins happen to be. With every new membership and new day, though, more records from around the world are added. Am I preaching Ancestry.com now? Perhaps, I should look up Amways, but then they are even more cultic than Scientologists and Saturn owners . . . well, maybe not more than Saturn owners.

You need to be able to trace your ancestry back around three or four generations to get the genealogical ball rolling. Ancestry.com only provides census records until 1930 out of privacy concerns for the living, and other contemporary documentation is hard to get without first knowing a lot about the person whom you wish to find. To get past this hurdle, consult the oldest living family members, family bibles and records, and talk to your family’s current unofficial memory keepers. By adding this information, you may help other relatives in the future trace their backgrounds. Likewise, you can upload family photographs and information that you have. I found a photograph of my great, great, great grandparents that someone else had uploaded. Many people have added cemetery pictures, too.

Beware of bad information. There are two ways of tracing lineage: (1) by working backward through each generation via documentation, and (2) by considering other people’s family trees. The first method is tedious but assured, while the second is a matter of trust. You have to use a combination of the two to get back far, but with Ancestry.com’s data and with the internet in general, you can test the reliability of others’ family trees.

For example, I worked my way back to a Virginian, James Sears, who was born in A.D. 1720 in Gloucester County. On many family trees that I found, James’ parents were listed as William and Sarah, also of Virginia. Yet, I found that the exact identification of William was controversial, and I do not know which William he was. However, some family trees listed the Virginian William as the son of the Massachusetts Sears, which led the pedigree enthusiasts back to early Puritan settlers and to the Mayflower. None of these connections were validated by independent research online. So, as far as I know, I have no Plymouth ancestors. It’s a pity; Thanksgiving could have been more interesting this year . . .

I did find, however, that I am of Jamestown stock. I find this a relief, as I have always had a distaste for the Puritans and the whole cold Calvinist New England scene, while I am fond of colonial Virginia. The Virginians just seem to have known how to live more reasonably than the Massachusetts fanatics. One of my ancestors was Richard Henry Lee, who came over from England, was married in Jamestown, and is the ancestor of the famous Lees of American history, including a later Richard Henry Lee, Light Horse Harry Lee, and Robert E. Lee—all distant cousins of mine. The immigrant Lee and the subsequent Lee family in America claimed descent from the Lees of Shropshire, England, but there are scholars who dispute Lee’s claim, thinking that he was further removed from the titled Lees by a couple of generations. Coton Hall of Shropshire was the home of the Lees since at least the 1300’s, but sadly it was sold in 2003. If the traditional lineage is accepted, I am a descendant of the first three Earls of Arundel and of Queen Adeliza of Leuven, wife of Henry I of England, with whom she had no children. She afterward married William d’Aubigny, the first Earl of Arundel. Everyone must have both peasants and kings in his ancestry if he goes back far enough.

Other than that minor complaint about the family tree’s linking navigation, I am happy with Ancestry.com and I would recommend it to anyone interested in learning his ancestral background.

Posted by Joseph on Thursday, October 16, Anno Domini 2008
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Monday, October 6, A.D. 2008
Business Is Good

In this realm, I’ll review products and services from the commercial sector. The links or “blogroll” on the left are to various companies from around the world.

I am very fond of small business, and I frequently spend my money at “mom and pop” establishments. However, I also admire success stories and tremendous displays of commercial power. So, even as Walmart makes every American small town another nest to lay its spiderlings, the part of my soul that enjoys the scene of a mighty army conquering everything in its path smiles a bit at its display of raw capitalist power. Moreover, excellence in commerce means many things, including making available the demanded goods to a given market in as an efficient manner as possible. “The Walmart” achieves this remarkably in making available inexpensive products to the American masses at the lowest cost. Read defenses of Walmart by Jay Nordlinger and Rich Lowry.

The companies linked on the left and others to be reviewed later make my list by their similarly admirable commercial success. Their place here is due to one or more of the following: commercial success, great products and services, iconic status in American or global commerce, uniqueness, and responsible commercial practices (a deserved toss to the Lefties). I also emphasize the superb companies from Cincinnati.

Posted by Joseph on Monday, October 6, Anno Domini 2008
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