Wednesday, March 29, 2006

And Oh Louise!

Finished The Verse by the Side of the Road , a short history of the Burma Shave signs that dotted highways across the country for 37 years. It was not an unbiased history; its sources were exclusively the Odell family executives of the Burma-Vita Company. And the entire tone was skewed towards a nostalgic fondness for the cross-country icons. There were also unexplored tangential issues, like trends in state legislation restricting roadsigns, which I found fascinating.

But overall, it was a good general summary of an ad campaign that lasted from 1926 to 1963.

Though the budget for Burma Shave ads remained in the millions even throughout the Depression, the advertising tactics, as well as the tracking and maintenance of the signs, seemed remarkably small-scale. The company leased all of the posts for the Burma Shave signs from farmers or local landowners. There were crews that travelled the country to repair or replace the signs almost annually. Burma-Vita offered contests for folks from around the country to write their own ad slogans.

The analysis of the ads' popularity was a bit cursory; again, the author was more concerned with nostalgia. Like ads for many products, the Burma Shave ads subtly hinted at the sex appeal of their customers, based solely on product use. Many Burma Shave signs also cautioned drivers to slow down or not drive under the influence --doubling as quasi-PSAs.

But the book wasn't meant to be an examination of marketing techniques and psychology. Nor was it intended to scrutinize the role of advertising to consumers on an expanding highway system.

My favorite, I think, is this one from 1935:

His face was smooth
And cool as ice
And oh Louise
He smelled
So nice
Burma Shave

And by "favorite," I don't mean I think it's the wittiest. As a marketing ploy, it's just purely brilliant. It places a product for men in an imaginary intimate dialogue between girlfriends, and the ultimate consumer could be male or female (though statistically it was more likely to be female...) Also, with a '30s audience the "smooth" reference conjured memories of the still-surviving bristly shaving brushes, and presented Burma Shave as the convenient, modern, sexy option. The more you analyze it, the more fucked up it is, but the sheer intricacy of it is still brilliant.

I should shut up now before I blather on too long. I spent my entire senior year of college writing a 120-page paper on advertisements from the early part of the last century. (Well, okay, not the entire year....)

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Shades of Gray

Watched Guess Who last night. Normally I'm not a fan of Ashton Kutcher. But I liked him in this movie!

Last year's remake of the Spencer Tracy/Katharine Hepburn/Sidney Poitier classic, the movie switched the races of the characters involved. Interestingly, it also did not add both sets of parents to the plot, like the original. So it was kind of like Meet the Parents but with a vaguely interracial dynamic. I say vague, because there are times when the scriptwriters tried to address the fact that racism still exists in our post-Civil Rights movement society: Theresa mentions the stares they get, and Simon's state of employment. But these are incidental to the larger comic plot. I appreciated Guess Who's curveballs regarding NASCAR, single mothers, metrosexuals, and ... size. The song sequences in the car were funny. Overall, a funny movie in and of itself. But not necessarily a good remake.

The original film came out the same year as Loving v. Virginia, so naturally it was not a comedy. Tracy and Hepburn hashed it out about hypocrisy and faux-liberal values. The two fathers commiserate about racial segregation and idealism and reality. It was groundbreaking and brutally honest. I think Guess Who was a little tainted by political correctness and so couldn't be.

And speaking of loving... finally got around to reading this month's Atlantic, which had this huge spread on online dating sites. Apparently there's this trend to try and quantify or make "scientific" the way they match people. The creators of competing match-up database systems (which are all patented, btw) explain the differences between their product and other sites. It was a fascinating article -- but from the description, the databases weren't really "scientific." Reading the methodology, it's all based on psychology profiles and qualitative research like interviews. A few of the sites devised questions based on hormone research. But though it was all fascinating, I found myself the Doubting Thomasina as usual -- how can you quantify emotions?

Monday, March 27, 2006

Time Warp

In high school, on either the King County Library System or the Seattle Public Library computers or both, you could check your hold/request history. I distinctly remember this feature (just not which library system), because I would frequently forget to pick up items I'd requested, and would have to re-order them. It was easy; I'd just click on my hold history and renew it. (Depending on my library fines, though, I had to rotate library systems. I think that's why I can't remember which one provided that service.)

Lately I've been borrowing CDs from the library and ripping them. But during this legislative session sometimes I didn't make it to my local branch before the library closed, and I was just gone for a week. A few items I requested arrived, but I didn't pick them up, and so they were returned. When I got back about a week ago (and session ended, so now I get out of the office at a decent time), I tried to access my hold history to renew the CDs I missed. I logged onto my library accounts online, but there were no hold histories. FOR THE PAST WEEK AND A HALF, I've been wondering why the hell the library (or libraries) got rid of that really cool, useful service. Because now I don't remember what I ordered.

Today I went through my WORK emails, and read this article from last week.

It's not 1996. My libraries now delete all patron records.

TODAY. This dawned on me TODAY.

Sunday, March 26, 2006


Latest music ripped from the library: Kanye West's Late Registration. The most recognizable song, of course, is "Gold Digger," which is really catchy and danceable, if rather misogynistic. However, it's the worst song on the album!

After I scanned the title lists, my eyes naturally fell on "Diamonds From Sierra Leone," which I suspected might have fist-raising lyrics, and sure enough, turns out it's about conflict diamonds. "Heard 'Em Say," "My Way Home," and "Roses" all also surprised me with their political content. And "Hey Mama" is just really sweet. I guess I wasn't expecting any of that from an album that did so well in the mainstream.

So now those are all interspersed with the Blue Scholars in my 'hood playlist.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Smoking guns

Wish this had happened 6 years ago. Wouldn't have had to wash my hair every night after going out!

I don't care if it's practically the new Prohibition, I love the fact that we have a ban in WA, too.

... And speaking of bangle earrings

(Since the J-Lo image is out there ...)

It took me two freakin' hours to get the studs out of my ears on Wednesday! I was watching Shark Tale at the same time, so maybe I was distracted. (It also took almost 15 minutes Friday morning to figure out how to not give myself another piercing with the fairly dangly earrings.) At any rate, it turns out studs are not twist-offs, no matter how hard you try to twist them off. They snap on.


From the Block

I might as well come out of the closet now... I listen to J-Lo, and I LIKE her music! Plus a lot of her clothing fits me, too. Not a fan of the transition to blonde-osity, though. But I've added most of her songs to my Riding Down Delridge playlist, and have been grooving, corporate ghetto-style, around Capitol Hill for the past couple of days.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006


The company, not the school. The toothpaste I've been using for six years got bought out.

Blood Money

Went to a free advance screening of Inside Man today. Once again, I had a vague idea that it was about a bank robbery, and that was it.

(They were doing bag searches at the theatre, and my sister and I, with our Chief Sealth selves, thought it was slightly offensive to do a weapons search at a film screening. And then when someone I knew had to dump her cell phone in her car because it had sound recording capabilities, we realized they were looking for recording devices, not guns. Damn, Delridge is in our blood!)

Predictably, I liked the movie. (Lately, I don't seem to dislike many movies.) For a while, I approached it from this standpoint where the bank represented America post-9/11 and everyone was a suspect. And then I thought it might be a visual treatise on the nature of capitalism. Not that those two interpretations are mutually exclusive....

Monday, March 20, 2006

Not a Susan Grafton novel

Lately I've been going to see movies that I only have a vague idea of, plot-wise. Sometimes that's not necessarily good (ie, with Match Point) .
But I did the same thing with V for Vendetta last week. At the time, I was unaware that the story the film is based on is a graphic novel, and that the author pulled his name from anything related to the movie. And I liked it!

Because, of course, it was blatantly political. It reminded me of both 1984 and Fatherland, although I guess the only similarity is the fictitious totalitarian government in Britain. Those other books don't have a masked, mysterious, revolution-inciting hero.

Aforementioned masked bandit hacks into the state-controlled TV station and challenges his countrymen to meet him in one year to blow up the symbol of the government that is oppressing them. The questions throughout most of the movie are -- will people show up? Will they actually blow up Parliament? Before those answers come, the audience learns more about the social and political conditions that led to the evil, controlling party coming to power.

My inner history dork loved the November 5th references-- symbolism in and of itself, of course. My inner cultural studies dork wins out, though. The larger issue of myth and symbol and national identity is the more fascinating, unexplored subtext.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

The Third Bush Twin

From a former member of the Neo-Futurists (I'm a fan of TMLMTBGB): Flora Bush.

There Goes the New Colossus ...

Catching up on emails from last week, and read this article on planned protests by Minutemen outside of places suspected of employing undocumented immigrants.

I'm guessing those "illegals" all "look" the same ... and I'm guessing if I donned appropriate clothing and decided to pick apples in central Washington for day --or walk around the Tacoma shipyards or a White Center clothing factory-- I'd probably have my picture snapped and posted on their website as a "suspected illegal." Instant fame! Woohoo, maybe I should go undercover...

Which reminds me, I need to put "A Day Without a Mexican" in my Netflix queue...


The state tourism industry has unrolled this really dorky new campaign.

Our goal is to have everyone in the country shouting 'SayWA' for Washington!"

That's kind of like promoting Worcester, MA as "The Big Woo."

Monday, March 13, 2006

Not Like Jellyfish

A couple weeks after my college graduation, I got an email from the college president, addressed to alumni. It described how the College supported the decision of one of its professors to undergo a sex change. I thought it was a prank, especially in light of all the endless diversity discussions and frustrations senior year. I was positive that someone had hacked into the carefully-guarded email list and fabricated this story to make some sort of political point.

Two years (ish) after buying the book, I finally read She's Not There. There's a chapter called "They're Not Like Jellyfish at All," and that's the chapter that has an email to the one sent by the ol' school prez himself almost five years ago. The memoir is extremely well-written; I couldn't put it down (hence the unprecedented 4 hours in a Starbucks in suburban Virginia).

What I liked about the book was the glimpses into the lives of all the people James (and then Jennifer) meets: relatives, roommates, colleagues, fellow travellers. I liked reading their bittersweet, overlapping stories. I like stories about travelling and stories about time, and Boylan's book crosses both locales and decades with skill and fluidity. What I didn't like was the undercurrent of a massive ego that ran throughout it.

I'm not entirely certain that Boylan adequately addressed the difference between wanting to be a girl and actually being one inside; at some level I think she took it for granted that the reader would get it. I won't pretend to understand that difference; that would trivialize the experience of the person caught up in it. But I did appreciate that the book didn't get too much into the nature-vs-nurture debate. It was simply one person's life: feelings, unique struggle, comradeship, identity, and voice. The larger social and scientific dialogues took a back burner to the micro-level, human aspect.

And that little endnote about all names being changed to protect the innocent isn't true at all! It makes for flashbacks, nostalgic and otherwise. The American Studies requirements mandated a lot of literature, and every lit class I took managed to weave in a discourse on Huck Finn, and Boylan's book made a ton of references to it. She also frequently mentioned short stories and authors favored by the Americanists in the English Department on Mayflower Hill. I found myself wondering often throughout the book, if I didn't go to the school where Boylan teaches and her colleagues hadn't drilled the symbolism into me semester after semester, would I get all those literary references? Would I even be reading the memoir?

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Walking on the "STOP" light

Vacation is great. I get to do all the things I normally don't in Seattle, like eating fast food, hanging out at a Starbucks, experiencing a real transportation system, reading books, and jaywalking.

And doing the regular museum/shopping/clubbing stuff too, of course. =)

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Evolution of a Tuesday evening

So there are some things that are really really fascinating, but you just don't have time to process, in between watching Jeopardy and packing for DC. Like this story about siblings who walk on all fours.

Something to ponder on the airplane, I suppose. Which reminds me, I need to practice batting my eyelashes for my pre-scripted TSA behavior. . . .

Monday, March 06, 2006

Countdown to the other Washington

2 DAYS!!!

Have to wake up at the ass crack of dawn on Wednesday morning, and skip Tuesday karaoke. (I roll out of bed around 9am on weekdays, so anything non-work related that's earlier than that is impressive. Everybody lied --lied!-- when they said my circadian rhythms would adjust after college.) But the flight is seriously cheap ($80 oneway!), and I need to get the hell out of Dodge for a while. I've been holed up in Washington and Oregon since May. I think that's a record for my wanderlust self, but I'm going stir crazy.

And there are 3 very cool people to visit in DC. =)

Friday, March 03, 2006

To thine own self...

Tuesday I was at the annual dinner/fundraiser for a local nonprofit, and during one of the many speeches I realized mid-chuckle that I was the only person at my table attempting to acknowledge the speaker's bad humor. I give pity laughs. I never realized that. But the funny thing is, the only reason I am reminded of this rather recent moment of "Crap, do I really do that?" is because thanks to Winnekat, I took yet another one of those personality-awareness tests. (The kind my sister the pychology major hated. This one was different, though, it had these cool little interactive charts. )

I came up as a Benevolent Creator, which sounds a bit like I'm some smiling goddess and should start my own religion. (Shout-out to M-N for the pic...)

At any rate, that was a little odd, because usually on those personality tests I come up as uber-Type A, dependable, stoic, and unemotional. (Four years ago I went through this training program to work with the oh-so-tragic at-risk youth. We had to do one of those personality tests, and out of about 20 mentors, there were only two others who were Analyzers. We were assigned different projects, and we always ended up being the most efficient, because the Feelers were busy making sure everyone was loved, the Dominants were follower-less, and the Introverts couldn't talk to each other. I tried to argue with the workshop leaders that most people are bits of each, depending on the situation, but they didn't listen.)

Anyway, I like Winnekat's test better. It wasn't as one-dimensional, as the interactive graphs illustrate. And there are pretty colors....

True dat.

Thursday, March 02, 2006


This cracked me up. And not just because of the Maine reference.

New Wool Blanket Tears Commune Apart

February 27, 2006 Issue 42•09

CARIBOU, ME—Residents of the recently disbanded intentional-living
community Harmony's Path said Monday that disputes concerning the shared use of a homemade wool blanket caused the utopian society's rapid undoing. ...