Try it. Who knows, you may even like it.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

An emerging TV personality in Buffalo

By Dick Hirsch
Occasionally I will tell you something you already know. I apologize for that, but it is an unavoidable aspect of the business.
Today I am going to stress a bit of television commentary beginning with the obvious fact that there are ever more channels to watch and ever fewer programs worth watching. As my former physics teacher might have tried to explain, the number of good programs is inversely proportional to the number of channels. I had a hard time with physics, but I think I have expressed that properly.
It is often suggested that we waste time watching too much TV. Everyone denies that charge, don’t they? Nobody watches too much TV, do they? We all watch some, sure, but less than most, right?
I warned you that I might be explaining what has already been explained. But the foregoing was necessary as background to the main disclosure. Now I can reveal that I have discovered a bright spot on local TV, an informative and entertaining spot in an otherwise lackluster video culture, and that is no small accomplishment. This man deserves a regular program, and who knows, perhaps negotiations are already underway to produce a regular show. He has other commitments, so a weekly show of, say 30 minutes, would be appropriate.
The remarkable thing about his situation is that he has achieved a degree of stardom without a program, just through sound bites on newscasts. But he is regularly seen on at least three network local channels. His material is engaging, his commentary profound, and his delivery brisk, direct and emphatic. This man has a future in television.
His name is Frank J. Clark, and, in addition to his broadcasting work, he has been the district attorney of Erie County since 1997. In that role, he has recently become a regular interview guest discussing various investigations that may or may not be underway and certain criminal cases that may or may not eventually be prosecuted by his office. In the event of indictments or convictions, Clark has become a reliable, succinct and sometimes pungent interview subject.
He can also be heard on radio newscasts, but I prefer his TV gigs. I’ve heard some defense attorneys claim that Clark has a face made for radio, but I strongly disagree with that characterization. For me, seeing and hearing Clark respond to inquiries about shootings, drug busts, political malfeasance, or other iniquities, is like having a tutor explain the finer points of the criminal justice system. His topics may be grave, but his style is embracing. I’ve never met Clark, so I have no way of knowing whether his on-camera demeanor is the real Clark persona. But I did find a lawyer with whom he worked early in his career who also enjoys his TV appearances. “That’s him,“ he said.
Among TV prosecutors, we’ve had an opportunity over the years to become familiar with the faces of men like Arthur Branch, the monosyllabic grump played by Fred Thompson on the program “Law & Order.” That role catapulted Thompson onto the list of Republican presidential hopefuls. The other memorable TV DA was Hamilton Burger, the poor schnook who kept losing every week for years to Perry Mason.
Among local prosecutors, Clark seems to be the most media friendly. He clearly is available and ready when the lights go on and a microphone is thrust in front of his face. Some of his predecessors, old hands like Edward Cosgrove, George Blair, and even the Dillons---Michael and Kevin---seemed to view the media as pot-stirring adversaries. Given the opportunity, they avoided TV cameras whenever practical, except, of course, when running for another term.
Clark, on the other hand, has cultivated the opportunity to explain newsworthy matters and the news producers have pursued him as a semi-regular feature. I enjoy his enlightening commentary, even though I may not always agree with him. He is good at what he does; good eye-contact with the camera, clear enunciation, with just a trace of what sounds a little like a downstate twang.
This guy deserves much more than just sound bites. I can see a regular show...this week, what’s new among pedophile week, an update on indicted gang leaders and current grand jury investigations. This is a rare opportunity and I’m sure there would be a number of potential sponsors. No early mornings or weekends; he should insist on prime time. I don’t think he’ll require the assistance of an agent.

Friday, October 19, 2007

"Gaming," the euphemism of the gambling industry

By Dick Hirsch
Hasn’t anybody told you? It isn’t gaming. It’s gambling.
Gaming is a euphemism, yet we see the word used consistently in connection with casinos in newspapers where editors should know better and hear it spoken on newscasts whenever there is any gambling news. Gaming?
It isn’t gaming. It’s gambling.
If you were paying attention during freshman English, you probably remember that, according to linguists, semanticists and most other kinds of -ists, euphemisms are to be avoided and deplored.
The New York Times, in its Manual of Style and Usage, observes: “Euphemisms are devices to conceal harsh or unattractive truths. They rarely belong in the newspaper. In news copy (other than direct quotations or text) people die, they do not expire or pass on.” On the more specific topic, the manual adds: “Gaming is a euphemism. Ordinarily use gambling instead, except in official names and direct quotations.”
I find the use of the word gaming to be irritating. I even hear the word in conversations. If they are discussing slot machines and the odds that favor the house, they use the proper and precise term, gambling. But if they are predicting how construction of a casino could bring new prosperity to a beleaguered city, Mayor Byron Brown and the other linguistically-uncertain public officials invariably seem to talk about the benefits of “gaming.” They are trying to wrap a noxious substance in an elegant package in order to conceal its toxicity, deodorize it and tell us what a benefit it will be.
All those efforts are a testimonial to the public relations prowess of the gambling industry. They have dusted off and polished up their enterprise, and somehow convinced many reporters, columnists and editors that it is more descriptive to use the term that they have chosen, gaming, a nondescript and inclusive word that could easily be associated with checkers, Scrabble or tiddledywinks. It really has been a notable achievement, the creation and acceptance by the media and the public of sanitized terms like “The Gaming Industry,” or “Gaming executives.” The gambling tycoons have shown some admirable skill as they strive to legitimize their products.
Oh, this isn’t the first time that euphemisms have been appropriated to create a more acceptable image of a product or service. There are hundreds of examples. Let’s see if I can cite a couple that are particularly relevant.
How about the valiant but failed attempt to transition toilet paper into bathroom tissue? Nothing could be more specific and accurate than the original term, toilet paper, yet those in the paper industry became uncomfortable with it. I wish I could report approximately when this reinvention took place, but I can testify that it hasn’t worked. The package may say bathroom tissue, but we all know what is inside; it’s toilet paper, and when the shopping list is compiled, that is exactly what is listed.
Another relevant example is landfill. It strives for a positive connotation, but it is still a dump, right? In a village in the country where I occasionally visit, there are no curbside garbage pickups, so residents make regular trips to the municipal landfill, an errand which often prompts a question like this:
“Where are you going?” Charley.
“To the dump.”
Whatever they may try to call it, a dump is still a dump, and if I ever heard anyone saying he was taking his detritus to the landfill, I’d surely mark it down for historical purposes. I’d list it alongside the entry showing when layoffs went out of style in favor of downsizing or an emerging version from the same euphemistic family, rightsizing.
For several years at one point during my career, my business card bore a very familiar job title which continues to be a leading euphemism. I was an Account Executive. That remains a popular title for a salesman. I always knew I was a salesman and I didn’t think there was anything wrong with being a salesman, so that I said “salesman” whenever asked to describe myself. Never would I have said “Account Executive.”
In those days I was driving an elegant used car, the most defining characteristic of which was a hyphen. Then one day I read that it wasn't used, it was previously owned, and it still makes me laugh. It isn’t previously owned. It’s used. It isn’t gaming. It’s gambling. Hasn’t anybody told you? This has been a euphemism alert. (end)

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Still a desktop essential, and a new use for the paper clip

By Dick Hirsch
I have a pretty good memory when it comes to recalling significant expenditures, and according to my best recollection the last time I bought a box of paper clips was in 1991. Then the other day I discovered my clip supply was precariously low. I didn’t have a single one in the drawer space usually reserved for them, so I had to go into the file cabinet, find one that was in use, and appropriate it for a new assignment.
That’s never a good idea. It is a transition and it requires a decision on whether to toss the papers that were previously clipped. If it seems untimely to discard them, it means I have to search further for an itinerant clip or else find another sheaf of clipped papers and see whether they can be trashed and the clip put to a new use.
These days are complicated enough without additional pressure such as that, so at the first opportunity I stopped at the nearby office superstore to buy a box of paper clips.
It’s embarrassing to walk into a huge store like that to make such a small purchase, but I did it anyway. As I began prowling around the aisles, looking for clips, I suddenly began to wonder how come my supply lasted so long, 16 years by my calculation. Then I decided that one reason is obvious: I must not be clipping as many papers as I formerly clipped. I know there has been a lot of talk over the last 15 or 20 years about the approach of the paperless office. I even know some people who claim to have a such an office and who have desks that appear barren and unused.
I am not one of them. I am still generating as much stuff as ever, and when somebody e-mails me something, a message that is of even modest importance, I have a tendency to print that document. I suppose it is a bad habit, but I do it. A few of those items are lengthy enough to require clipping.
I should explain that I have a lifetime supply of staples. I use staples, but only in select situations. I enjoy the decisive sound of a stapler stapling, but staples have a negative side: being semi-permanent, they are difficult and messy to remove. Of course, paper clips have a downside, too. They can either become disengaged and slide off or else inadvertently attach themselves to nearby papers that are totally unrelated. On occasions when that happens, the office becomes even more confusing than usual.
The other reason my 1991 clip supply lasted so long is probably because circulation is down. In the old days, clips endlessly circulated. I sent some around, and others did the same. Hardly a day went by that some papers didn’t land on my desk with a clip. I read the papers and saved the clip for future re-use.
This won’t surprise you, but finding a box of paper clips in a superstore is only slightly simpler than finding a needle in a haystack. I had to ask for directions.
“Aisle thirteen,” she said.
There they were, just down the row from the pens, the pencils and the staples. A box of 100 of the #1 clips, the regular size, was 69 cents. I read the box: “All of our products undergo third-party independent testing and are guaranteed to be free of defects...,” it said, causing me to wonder what defects could be found in a paper clip. I bought that box and also a box of 100 jumbo clips for $1.29. I bought the jumbo clips not because I am anticipating any big deals, but because I would have been uncomfortable in the checkout line with just a 69 cent item.
The world was a different place when I last bought paper clips, but the clips haven’t changed much. They are still among the most versatile appliances a person can own. People have written testimonials to paper clips, citing all their various useful applications, from cleaning fingernails to replacing the busted pull tab on a zipper.
The high-tech age has produced a new use for such a low-tech item. You’ve seen those teeny holes on the back of some gadget or gizmo, the hole that says “reset?” Whatever resetting is needed, a straightened paper clip does the job. So whether you are clipping or resetting, check your paper clip supply today. You’ll be glad you did.


Saturday, October 06, 2007

Every man has a love affair he treasures

By Dick Hirsch
It has long been my contention that during his lifetime every man has an affair that stands out among all the others. I realize some will accuse me of reaching a sexist conclusion, but let me explain:
The relationship of which I speak is between a man and a certain automobile. There are always exceptions, of course, but I have never believed women had the kind of deep and meaningful fascination with a particular car that is common among men.
Women drive them. Men bond with certain cars. Both men and women eventually part with their cars and go on with their lives. But the men always seem to remember the cars and treasure the enduring memories of the time they spent together. As the years pass, they recall them on certain occasions, discussing them ever more fondly with friends, and recounting all their enchanting qualities.
The emergence of widespread car leasing has dampened the emotions of drivers. It is much more difficult, if not impossible, to develop a truly engaging feeling of understanding and sensitivity with a car that’s merely a part of a temporary use arrangement.
I have my own affair to remember, but before describing how the years we spent together raised my consciousness, let me first mention a few examples. One of the most telling is of the man who was infatuated with a Buick Reatta when they were first marketed in 1989. He desperately wanted one, but his wife pointed out that it had only two seats and it wouldn’t be the best vehicle for a family with three children, and he had to agree she was right. The car wasn’t much of a success and production stopped in 1991. His yearning for that car never ceased and 15 years later he finally bought a used Reatta, and his passion was thus satisfied. He has no plans to part with it.
There is also the saga of the man who drove two different Triumph TR-7 models, the first bought in 1982 and its replacement acquired in 1991. He rhapsodizes about those cars but never bought another because a chronic lower back problem made it uncomfortable for him to enter and leave the low-slung Triumph. He now drives a more sedate sedan, but he has never forgotten his early romance.
A ‘59 black Cadillac Coupe de Ville, the car with the fins and the “bullet” tail lights tops the list for a friend who has had many love affairs with different cars. At various times he owned four Cadillacs, all purchased used, but the ‘59 Caddie, bought in 1963 and driven for five years, was nearly 20 feet long and the enduring favorite. “It was like a living room on wheels, great for cruising down the Thruway.”
A 1950 Chevrolet convertible, yellow with a black roof, is still clear in the memory of one superannuated hotrodder. It had a stick shift, and he traded it after just six months to get one with an automatic transmission. Ownership of those cars, he said, instantly certified him as a popular guy at the beach.
For balance, I included two women in a limited survey, and, interestingly, they had similar responses, reporting memorable relationships with Volkswagen Beetles models of the late ‘60s and early ‘70s. Both recalled driving around with young children stuck in what was then known as “the way back,” the small space behind the rear seat. There were no seat belts or car seats so passenger safety wasn’t an issue of essential concern; it is now clear to them that the VW, though also appealing to the children, had its sinister side.
The most seductive car that I ever owned was a ‘58 Volvo, bought years before the brand emerged as a status symbol. I was captivated by the tantalizing silhouette. What a body! It was reminiscent of those Fords of the late 1940s, with a kind of hump back, and the steel...well, it was built like one of those legendary small brick buildings that are occasionally seen in rural settings. In addition to being alluring, it was speedy and maneuverable, capable of some bewitching moves. Being Swedish, it radiated warmth during winter weather. Oh, and I almost forgot to mention that it was fire engine red with red and white leather seats.
After six happy years, I sold that car. Why? There was no compelling reason. It still behaved beautifully and looked good enough to often draw admiring glances. I still can’t believe I sold it. The buyer gave me 300 bucks. We all make mistakes.