Archive for September, 2009

Mission Creeps

Friday, September 25th, 2009

I had lunch this week at Panda Express. While eating I noticed a plaque on the wall that proclaimed their mission statement. Their mission is to “Deliver exceptional Asian dining experiences by building an organization where people are inspired to better their lives.”

Leaving aside the notion of fortune cookies as a means to inspire people to better their lives. I got to talking to God about the whole concept of mission statements. Corporations have certainly taken to them in a big way, although I’m not convinced they do them for the right reasons. The idea of a mission statement is to provide a pithy guideline to everything the company does. When some executive is wondering whether they should pursue some new initiative, they can refer to the mission statement as a sort of first pass reality check. But based on the mission statements I’ve seen, and Panda Express is certainly no exception, they’re instead used as public relations propaganda.

It would be nice if we could force honesty and transparency into mission statements, but that sort of clarity is quite the pipe dream. God tells me that the biggest impediment is the nearly infinite capacity of humans for self-delusion. We all want to see ourselves in the best light and we all want to inspire ourselves to be even better than we are. For a reasonably suitable definition of “all” anyway. So mission statements tend to be a mix of what the company would like to see itself as, what it would like other people to see it as, what they’re willing to admit to and a touch of what they want to limit themselves to. All in all an interesting psychological experiment, but not as useful to anyone as it could be.

But it could be worse. We could be faced with things as bald-faced as what seems to be the mission statement of capitalism as a whole, “Whatever the market will bear.” It’s honest, but it’s certainly not inspirational.

No Puns Today

Friday, September 18th, 2009

I try to be funny. I suppose the funny thing is how often I’m merely trying. I’ve discussed before how most humor is based on distress or pain. I tried to demonstrate this to God today with this poor rendition of an old joke about the difference between tragedy and comedy. A manhole has been uncovered and the cover is sitting beside it. I’m walking down the street with a friend and stub my toe on the cover. That’s tragedy. My friend, however, walking next to me, falls down into the open manhole and breaks his neck. Now that’s comedy.

It’s long been my theory that the reason we groan at puns, is because they break this rule. They are not based on anyone’s pain, so in order to imbue them with humor, we create the pain and represent it with the groan. God pointed out to me another form of humor that is similar, the “not” joke. That’s where you tell someone something they want to hear, pause for a moment, and then add “not.” In that form of joke you’re deliberately hurting the person you’re telling the joke to, in order to make sure there’s pain, so that the joke will be funny. The problem here, is that it guarantees that one member of your audience doesn’t get to enjoy the joke, they just get to stub their toe.

Whoever thought up this gag, they were clever. All the people that use this gag? Not. What they are is like taggers. Taggers are graffiti “artists” who just put their name, or rather an alias, their “tag,” onto whatever they can reach. Adding the word “not” to something, as a joke, has all the originality and narcissism of spray painting your name onto the back of the nearest truck.

I’d rather have puns any day. After all, sticks and stones may break my bones, but puns will never hurt me.

Move Toward the Light

Friday, September 11th, 2009

The furor this week is all about healthcare. President Obama had the temerity to make his case before a joint session of congress which certainly served to fan the flames of a debate that was settling down to just embers. Of course, having no one better to talk this over with than God, I did just that.

Most of the objection to a national health care system seems to boil down to one of three roots. The first is that people don’t like taxes so they don’t want the government to do anything that requires them to be taxed. This is something that the rich white folks who run the Republican party have done a good job of pushing. Everybody wants more money than they have, with the possible exception of Warren Buffet, so it resonates with just about everyone. Now they manage to gloss over the part where the only ones they ever seem to get around to really lowering taxes for are the really, really, well off, but hey, who else really matters? I just keep in mind that the only thing that ever trickled down on me, economically speaking, had a distinct whiff of urine to it.

The second root, is the notion that government never does anything well. The Republicans have done a good job of making sure this resonates as well. Every time they get into power, they get right to work doing everything they can to sabotage the government, so it ends up looking pretty inept. God tells me that if we want government to work well, we should probably elect people that think it can work well, not people that are convinced it can’t. I mean think about it, if you put someone in charge of something that they think is a bad idea, how well are they likely to do?

The other argument I’ve heard is that the constitution doesn’t enumerate any power that legitimately gives them the right to legislate health care. They’re probably right, on a technical level, but since it says right in the preamble that one of the main reasons to have a government is “to promote the general welfare,” I can’t see as national health care really goes against the spirit of the document.

So what does God think? Did she tell me that if she wanted us to be healthy she would have given us immune systems? Did she say that the biggest form of waste in the whole health care system is the profits of insurance companies?

Actually she just told me that it was kind of sad how few people really get the notion of enlightened self-interest. When I asked what she meant by that, she just told me that it wasn’t her job to enlighten me.

Hats Okay

Friday, September 4th, 2009

I talked last December about how Disney, at Disneyland, had managed to carve out a space where people felt okay wearing silly hats. Sure the hats are almost universally ones sold there in the park, a kind of approved niche of silly that makes it okay, but still, it’s a start.

Well this is one where the American’s have got it over the French in the opinion of God and myself. When we went to Disneyland Paris, recently, there were plenty of the silly hats on sale, but there weren’t a lot of people wearing them and those that were, were still just kids. I don’t know if that can be generalized out to Americans are more willing to show their silly sides than the French, but I wouldn’t be surprised if that were true. I tried to get the information from God, but he just put me off. He told me that if I wanted to see silly hats, I wouldn’t have long to wait.

So I kept watch for them. We went in to Paris and I didn’t see them. I didn’t even see anybody wearing berets. We went to the other Disney park at their Paris resort, the Disney Studios, and still there was a notable lack of people wearing silly hats. Then we headed back to England and off to the Cambridge Folk Festival. At the festival there were plenty of hats. There were cowboy hats, there were caps, there were hats made of cloth and leather and felt and straw. There were vendors selling a wide assortment of hats many of them fairly silly. There was everything from simple caps with a tassel on top, to chullos with knitted ear flaps, to leather top hats, to high peaked felt wizard’s caps that would have done Gandalf proud.

And by the last day of the festival, you could look just about anywhere and see people of all ages wearing their silly chapeaus out in the sun.

So is it the British that are more willing to be silly than the French, and possibly even the Americans, or is it just music festival goers? I don’t know and I don’t care, I’m just glad that it’s still possible to find people willing to do it, and do it in public.