Friday, September 30, 2016

We're Being Invaded by a Horror Of Clowns

Halloween is coming, and I'm not looking forward to it. It's the second biggest holiday, bumping up against Christmas for the "Most Obnoxious" awards.

It's also the time of year when costume stores stock unveil their two most popular costume styles: Zombie and Slutty.

No longer satisfied with someone just being a nurse, a firefighter, or a circus ringmaster, they offer instead Slutty Nurse, Zombie Firefighter, or Slutty Zombie Ringmaster.

Haunted houses are over the top as well. When I was a kid, haunted houses were usually just mazes made in our grade school gym, where teachers dressed like the Wicked Witch of the West and the Werewolf to jump out to scare us.

Now, haunted houses have monsters with such disgusting special effects that even the Walking Dead makeup artists are grossed out.

It's not just enough to have a werewolf with a leg bone clutched in its hairy paw. Or a zombie with gray skin and wild hair. Now, we've got demon-possessed killer pirate zombies with eyes hanging out of their sockets, skipping rope with their previous victim's small intestine.

I miss Halloweens of my youth, when our biggest frights were urban legends of pins in candy and razor blades in apples (neither of which ever actually happened). Now, we're being invaded by the monsters Wes Cravens would spawn if he were the queen of a monster bee hive.

And that's still not enough. This year, we're facing new monsters. Reports are coming in from all over the country of scary clowns, like Pennywise from Stephen King's horror novel, "It." Most of them are seen around wooded areas, often trying to entice children to come into the woods.

The media has reported sightings in Wisconsin, Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, and Florida.

It's also against the law in Florida to wear a mask and intimidate someone, so there's a good chance the clowns will have to pay a hefty fine, right after they've been arrested for being serial murderers.

Plus, Florida has the stand your ground law, which someone's going to remember the next time they spot one of these creatures.

Other states may not have a stand your ground law, but that's not stopping people from taking matters into their own hands. One North Carolina clown decided retreat was the better part of valor, after he was chased into the woods by a bystander with a machete.

And if the bystander was Danny Trejo of the movie, "Machete," I'm guessing he didn't get very far. Most of him, anyway.

Another scary clown in Kentucky was arrested for wearing a mask in public and disorderly conduct. And seven clowns have been arrested in Alabama, two adults and five juveniles. They face felony charges of making a terrorist threat.

There was even recently a sighting of two clowns together in Brevard County, Florida. Kelly Reynolds of Palm City told MyNews 13 that her dog ". . . stopped and started growling. They were standing right back there" — she pointed at a nearby fence — "two of them, staring at me."

The fact that two of them have been sighted together means they're beginning to gather in packs, or what experts call a "horror" of clowns. It's only a matter of time before they're brave enough to try to bring down a summer camp or school field trip.

"They are deranged," said Reynolds.

She may have said it, but we were all thinking it. A 2008 study at the University of Sheffield in England found that most children didn't actually like clowns. Dr. Penny Curtis told the BBC back in 2008, "We found that clowns are universally disliked by children. Some found them quite frightening and unknowable."

This was Stephen King's thinking back in 1986 when he wrote "It." And now look at what he's unleashed.

Meanwhile, professional clowns who like to ruin children's birthday parties are already upset with the scary clowns. They say they're giving regular clowns a bad name.

Randy Christensen told ABC News, "People dressed as horror clowns are not 'real' clowns. They are taking something innocent and wholesome and perverting it to create fear in their audience." He's the president-elect of the World Clown Association (official motto: "Giving you nightmares for the next 60 years").

Another professional clown said he didn't appreciate what these clowns are doing, because he has worked hard to be the kind of clown that children can "respect and look up to." I think not being a professional clown would be a start.

Given the time of year, we're going to see more and more of these scary clowns, skulking around wooded areas, trying to frighten people, and giving normal clowns a bad name. I've even been seeing this orange, pumpkin-headed clown on TV for the last several months.

That one scares me most of all.

Photo credit: Graeme McClean (Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons 2.0)

You can find my books Branding Yourself (affiliate link), No Bullshit Social Media, and The Owned Media Doctrine on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Is a Hot Dog a Sandwich?

Hey, Karl, here's a deep philosophical question for you: is a hot dog a sandwich?

"What? What the hell kind of question is that?" Karl turned and faced me. "That may be one of the dumbest things you've ever asked me."

Oh yeah? Then answer the question.

We were sitting in Victory Field on a Thursday evening, watching a minor league baseball game. The Indianapolis Indians were taking on the Louisville Bats, and I had just returned to our seats with our obligatory hot dogs and ballpark beer.

"Of course it's not," he said, taking his hot dog. "I mean, look at it. Does this even look like a sandwich?"

What is it then?

"It's. . . well, it's just a hot dog! It's a thing unto itself."

Like a hamburger, I said.

"Exactly. Like a hamburger."

A hamburger's a sandwich though.

"A hamburger's a hamburger. It's not a hamburger sandwich."

The hamburger was created either by a guy in Connecticut or a guy in Wisconsin who stuck a Hamburg steak between two pieces of bread. And they called it a Hamburger sandwich.

"So how is it a sandwich?"

A sandwich is any combination of meat, cheese, and vegetables — or peanut butter and jelly, if you prefer — between two pieces of bread, right? And a hamburger is meat and veggies between two pieces of bread in bun form.

"So, it's not a sandwich, because it's eaten on a bun. And a bun isn't regular bread."

It is bread though. It's made from flour, water, and yeast. So it's bread.

"Well, it's a bread product. But it's not sliced sandwich bread."

I had to slice the bun to open it.

"That's true, I guess."

If I slice a hot dog lengthwise and put it between two slices of bread, is it a sandwich?

"I guess you could call that a hot dog sandwich."

And what if I don't slice it, and just fold it between a single slice of bread?

"That's not a sandwich. The sandwich needs two pieces of bread."

So just cut the one slice in half.

"Okay, whatever. I don't like this discussion, Kid. It's kind of weird."

Look, you were the one who lectured me — lectured me! — for two hours on the Back to the Future timeline and how Marty McFly was actually part of his parents' original lives in the 1950s the first time around.

"So? It's an important philosophical point, and one that I think Robert Zemeckis missed."

I missed the game that night!

"And so you're punishing me with this stupid question?"

Pretty much.

"Fine. Where were we?"

If a hot dog can be a sandwich when it's inside a piece of bread, why can't a bun be a piece of bread?

"A hot dog bun is a long roll with a split in the middle," said Karl, showing me his hot dog bun. "It's not meant to be sliced, so that makes it different."

But what if you cut the hot dog bun all the way through? Does that make it a sandwich?
"Not necessarily," he said, mouth full of hot dog. "It depends how you hold it. See? The split and the hot dog are pointed up, like a taco."

Would you agree that a sub sandwich is actually a sandwich?

"You mean a hoagie? Yes, that's a sandwich."

Even though the hoagie roll isn't cut all the way through?

Karl thought for a minute, while we watched the Indians turn a double play to end the inning.

"Sure, that's the exception."

But what if I rotate the hoagie 90 degrees so the slice is facing up. Is it still a sandwich?


So if I rotate the hot dog 90 degrees so the slice is horizontal, does it become a sandwich? Is a sandwich only a sandwich because of the way I hold it?

Karl coughed. "Uhh. . . yes?"

What, are you choking?

"No, I'm fine."

No, I meant on my logic.

"Oh, bite me, Kid! You haven't won anything."

Let's recap. A sandwich is a sandwich because it's meat inside some bread, whether it's two slices or one folded one. The bread can be in any form, whether it's sliced, a bun, or a roll. And it doesn't matter which direction you turn the sandwich, because it doesn't matter whether the slice runs horizontally or vertically.


So a hot dog fits that description. It's meat and toppings. I put them inside some bread, regardless of the kind I use. And I can hold it so the slice is horizontal or vertical. Ergo, no matter which way you slice it, turn it, or hold it, a hot dog is a sandwich.

"Fine, dammit! Fine! A hot dog is a sandwich! You win. Are you happy now?"

Deliriously. Hey, it's your turn for a food run. Get me a burger.

"Are you going to put mayonnaise on it?"

Of course.

"Gross, Kid! I don't even want to know you!"

Photo credit: Arnold Inuyaki (Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons 2.0)

You can find my books Branding Yourself (affiliate link), No Bullshit Social Media, and The Owned Media Doctrine on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Sloganeering Needs to be Left to Professionals

Sometimes marketing just needs to be left to the cool kids.

Too many advertising campaigns and marketing slogans sound like they were dreamed up by a committee of people who only rhyme words by accident, and then say "Hey, I was a poet and didn't know it!" The kind of committee a mayor would appoint from a bunch of people standing around the office.

A committee that spent their first three weeks creating a mission statement that included the phrases "dynamic synergy" and "core values."

I recently spotted a billboard that said "Better left unread than dead," which lacked the power punch of "Don't tempt fate. That text can wait." But I've seen it around a lot, so I figured it must be effective.

Turns out "Better left unread than dead" was made by an Anaheim, Calif. student who entered a contest to help curb texting and driving, and it's been placed on 1,000 billboards around the country. Still, it was approved by a committee, so my initial observation stands.

It's also very different from the writer's creed, "Better dead than unread," which would make an awesome tattoo.

What is it about catchy rhymes that make them widely used? We've all heard military rhymes, like "Kick the tires, light the fires," or sports slogans like "Teamwork makes the dream work."

They actually serve a function. Rhymes help us remember things more easily. For decades, researchers have studied how students learn better if they can turn their lessons into a song, rather than just rote memorization. There's something about the rhythm and poetry of the rhymes that makes them easier to remember.
This is why the anti drinking-and-driving slogan, "Stay alive. Don't drink and drive," was effective. And why the slogan, "Click it or ticket" sticks in our mind. With four simple words, we know what will happen if the police catch us without our seat belts fastened.

Of course, the rhyme makes the phrase powerful, but if the words are poorly chosen, the slogan will fail. Hard.

"Textin' and drivin' equals cryin' and dyin'" said one rather egregious slogan I found. Either that, or it was a terribly awkward country song.

Also, the power of the slogan doesn't always carry over into other languages.

In German, "Click it or ticket" becomes "Klicken der Sicherheitsgurt, oder bekommen einer Strafzettel," and it loses something.

Clearly, rhyming and word choice are both important to message retention. That's why we get slogans like "Let the message wait. Control your fate" and "Stop the texts, stop the wrecks."

It's not Emily Dickinson, but it's not complete crap either.

I especially like how the authors also completely eliminated pre-determination and given us back free will. This is something philosophers have struggled with for centuries, and a couple committees of middle-aged bureaucrats solved it in just twelve meetings and two mission statements. Who says bureaucracy is ineffective?

But I also think these committees try way too hard. Oftentimes, they're trying to jam a square peg into a round hole. How else do you explain "Ain't no survivin' textin' and drivin'" or the drunk driving slogan, "Get hammered, get slammered"?

I can picture it: it was late at night, the committee was tired, they wanted to go home. Pizza boxes sat empty on the conference room credenza, and tempers were running short. They were just about to shut down for the night and try again in the morning, when the assistant director of HR slapped her hand on the table and shouted, "Eureka! I've got it! 'Ain't no survivin' textin' and drivin'," she shouted. "It rhymes, it uses the catch phrase, and it drops the G's from the end of the words, like young people do!"

The committee applauded and "Ain't no survivin' textin' and drivin'" was slapped up on billboards around the county. Where it was promptly mocked and ignored.

But death isn't always the underlying message of these slogans. While researching this column, I happened to find "Texting isn't so cool if the crash makes you drool." I'm guessing this one was aimed at scaring people about the possibilities of life as a vegetable.

I can only imagine the self-congratulations at those particular committee meetings. I'll bet more than one person punched themselves on the arm, like Anthony Michael Hall at the end of "Breakfast Club."

But you don't always have to rhyme if you want to get people's attention. My favorite slogan is "Honk if you love Jesus. Text and drive if you want to meet him."

Because there's nothing like gallows humor to make someone think twice about texting.

So I'm going to try a few slogans of my own, and see if I can get my own billboards made.

Does anyone know a good rhyme for "debilitating spinal injury."

Photo credit: WhisperToMe (Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain)

You can find my books Branding Yourself (affiliate link), No Bullshit Social Media, and The Owned Media Doctrine on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook.

Friday, September 09, 2016

Southern IN Schools May Drop Valedictorians, Hand Out Participation Trophies

Imagine a competition where a winner is never crowned. Instead, the top 10 percent of all finishers are given a hearty pat on the back and warm congratulations.

Imagine an Olympics, where no one received a gold, silver, or bronze medal, but instead, all three were melted down and the top three finishers, no matter who "won," received one of the molten lumps.

Now, imagine a high school graduating class without a Valedictorian, the person who had the very best grades throughout all four years of high school.

That could happen down in southern Indiana, in the Greater Clark School district. They've proposed doing away with the titles of "highest achieving student" and "second highest achieving student" (Salutatorian), and instead giving special recognition to the top 10 percent of all students.

In other words, participation trophies for smart kids.

I'll admit, I was not academically minded when I was in high school. I graduated 93rd out of 272 students in my graduating class. I was in the top 34.19 percent of my class, not even the top third. I was the second highest in the second third of my class.

Even so, I understand what it's like for the honors students who are competing for that number one spot. They want to be The Val. They'll settle for the Sal, with moist eyes and a forced smile, but dear God in Heaven, they want to Be. The. Val.

Even former athletes know the burning desire to win. You'll do anything to beat everyone else. You'll train harder, run faster, and practice more just to be the best.

The brainy kids have that same competitive fire. They'll study harder, read faster, and learn more just so they can give the Valedictorian's speech on graduation day.

It's not easy either. These kids neglect their friends and social activities, skipping the Friday night football game to study instead. They don't go out on dates or have friends spend the night.

They take advanced placement (AP) classes for more credits because an A in an AP class is worth more than an A in gym. They're not cheating the system. The easy classes carry less value and don't help them reach the finish line.

And the pressure they put themelves under can turn coal to diamond. Imagine starting your taxes at 11:00 P.M. on April 14th, and worrying you don't have the right form. Now imagine feeling that way for four years.

Greater Clark Superintendent Andrew Melin told WHAS11 News in Louisville, "When students are competing for the Val and the Sal, they're trying to find ways to maneuver through the system to try and get the best grades they can possibly get, as opposed to taking the course work that's truly in their own best interest."

What classes could they be take that are in their own best interest? These kids are so driven, we should be more concerned that they're learning good stress management skills. These are not kids who will be happy being a regional manager of an office supply store, or owning a mobile dog grooming service.

They're going to become lawyers, doctors, and investment bankers. Why does it matter if they take an AP Shakespearean English class instead of biology or calculus? These are the smart kids, remember? They'll take calculus in college if they want to become an investment banker. They'll take biology if they want to become a doctor. It will cover the same exact material they covered or didn't cover in high school. And because they're so damn smart, they'll surpass everyone else before attendance is even called.

Most importantly, the Valedictory competitors are learning mad study skills. They're learning how to cram a 10 pound textbook into a five pound brain. They're learning how to deal with pressure, and to keep from pulling out their hair at two in the morning and screaming "I CAN'T DO THIS!"

And most importantly, they're learning that you, Greater Clark School district, don't really value achievement, success, or hard work. They're learning you focus on the effort, not the results. The journey, not the destination. They're learning that a pat on the head and "well, at least you did your best" is an acceptable level of achievement.

The Valedictorian competitors are learning skills that will get them through high pressure lives and successful careers. We want them to have these skills, not take an ancient history class a small-town superinendent thinks is in "their best interest."

Because 25 years later, when you're laying on the operating table, getting ready for open heart surgery, the last thing you want to see before you go under is your surgeon flashing you the thumbs up, and saying, "Hey, remember me? I graduated 93rd in my class. Thanks for the participation trophy. It really gave me the confidence to go to medical school in Barbados."

Photo credit: Prayitno (Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons 2.0)

You can find my books Branding Yourself (affiliate link), No Bullshit Social Media, and The Owned Media Doctrine on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook.

Friday, September 02, 2016

Chinese Artist Captures British Ghost, Puts It On Display

Why is it ghosts can walk through walls, but they don't fall through the floor?

I grew up on stories of ghosts walking through walls, disappearing and reappearing at will. They make footsteps walking up a flight of stairs, or make boards creak as they walk down a hallway.

But they're apparently unable to fly through the floor. Why else would they need to walk up stairs, I guess?

Worse yet, they apparently don't have the ability to pass through anything other than walls of a house. They couldn't pass through, say, the sides of a metal canister. Unless that metal canister were made entirely from floorboards.

Chinese artist Lu Pingyuan claims to have captured a British ghost in just such a canister. He has it on display at the Centre for Chinese Contemporary Art in Manchester, England. And maybe I trapped an invisible fairy in a pickle jar.

At least we think he's in there. It could just be an empty cookie tin with "GHOST" written in magic marker.

"I wish him to exist and be treated as a real artwork and to present him around the globe, getting respect and tribute from people everywhere" Lu told the Bolton News.

According to the News, the ghost of James Stanley, Seventh Earl of Derby, has haunted Ye Olde Man and Scythe inn and pub in Bolton, England since his death in 1651. At least until Lu followed him into the pub toilet and bottled him up.

James Stanley lived in Derby, right up until the exact moment he was executed for treason.

It took place near the pub, which had already been around for 400 years. There's even a plaque commemorating his beheading for treason, and the inn has a chair inscribed "15th October 1651 In this chair James 7th Earl of Derby sat at the Olde Man and Scythe Inn, Churchgate, Bolton immediately prior to his execution."

Lu told the Bolton News he was so fascinated by Stanley's ghost that he traveled all the way from Shanghai to Manchester to steal it.

Once he cornered the ghost in the pub toilet, he performed an incantation to trap it into the sealed metal canister.

Of course, pub owner Richard Greenwood isn't happy about this. He wrote a letter to Lu.

"I would have liked to have been privy to your actions and indeed to the exhibition before the ghost of James Stanley was taken out of Bolton, his ties to the town and to Ye Olde Man and Scythe run very deeply. I feel very strongly that James Stanley's ghost should remain in Bolton and at Ye Olde Man and Scythe to preserve the natural order of things," wrote Greenwood.

This raises the question, how did Lu convince Stanley to climb into the canister? Wouldn't it be a little small? Is he comfortable? Is he bored? And does he think it's demeaning to be put on display for people to gawk at?

Not at all, says Lu. "I told his ghost about my proposal the second time I visited this place," Lu told the News, "and James Stanley agreed that I can put him into a jar in order to exhibit him in galleries and museums alike."

That's what my invisible fairy said too. She's very happy in her pickle jar, as long as she can see the TV.

But this isn't the end of Stanley's art career. Lu says he wants to exhibit the sealed metal canister in museums and galleries around the world. He is already planning the next one in 2017, although he hasn't said where that will be, or how long Stanley has to stay in there.

"(A)fter the world tour of exhibitions, I will discuss with him and ask him whether he would prefer to stay like this, as a piece of art, or go back to the Ye Olde Man and Scythe," said Lu.

Of course, we have no way of actually knowing whether he's in there. Who's to say Lu's not making it all up, and that Stanley isn't still safe at home? Will a Chinese incantation even work on an English ghost if he doesn't speak Mandarin?

But most importantly, everything I know about ghost trapping I learned from Ghostbusters. Which makes me wonder, is this just one more example of ancient Chinese methods achieving the same goals as Western science?

After all, why spend thousands of dollars on an electronic containment unit, when we only needed a quick rhyme and Grandma's flour canister?

Egon Spengler is not going to be happy about this.


Special only for my blog readers: This is a CCTV video inside Ye Olde Man and Scythe that supposedly shows the ghost of James Stanley. Before he was captured, of course.

Photo credit: Michael Ely and (Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons 2.0)

You can find my books Branding Yourself (affiliate link), No Bullshit Social Media, and The Owned Media Doctrine on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook.