Monday, September 15, 2014

A Double Standard in Advertising

People have began criticizing television commercials and print advertising for electronic cigarettes that appear to try to glamorize vaping. The use of celebrities like Jenny McCarthy by Blu, an electronic cigarette manufacturer as well as advertisements and commercials by Blu and Fin showing people using electronic cigarettes in glamours settings are the grounds for this accusation. An example of such an ad, this one from e-cig manufacturer Fin is below:

There is a further accusation that there is a push to market electronic cigarettes to children. The claims that e-cig manufacturers are marketing to children stems from only two things. A recent study by Research Triangle Institute International   found that e-cig commercials are shown at times children and young adiuts are watching TV. The second claim that e-cig manufacturers are marketing to children comes from some of the nicotine juice flavors. That claim is that flavors like bubble gum, cherry, and root beer are being made to get children to try vaping since these flavors appeal to children's tastes.

While there is little denying that e-cig manufacturers are trying to glamorize vaping they are not the only industry to try to glamorize their products. Alcohol manufacturers have long marketed their products by showing attractive people drinking their products. For beer manufacturers this has largely been showing average looking men in bars attracting beautiful women as they swill down a Busch or Milwaukee's Best. For Scotch and Bourbon manufacturers this goes further to show folks in expensive suits and evening gowns in such glamorous settings as a mansion. Below is an example of a commercial featuring the "most interesting man in the world" for Dos Equis, a brand of beer:

As for the accusation e-cig manufacturers market to children, what the study by Research Triangle Institute International does not address is whether the commercials targeted children or young adults. Viagra and beer commercials are shown at times children and young adults can see them too. Yet no one has accused or Pfizer or  Anheuser-Busch of marketing to children. And I have yet to see a e-cig commercial showing teenagers vaping. As for the flavors nicotine manufacturers use, nicotine juice manufacturers have pointed out adults like these flavors too. And if there is such a concern over nicotine juice having flavors like apple, why is it no one has complained about Nicorette Gum having flavors like White Ice Mint or Fruit Chill? Nicorette gum can get a teenager addicted to nicotine just as easily as an e-cig can. In fact the use of nicotine gum by teenagers might go unnoticed while it would be more difficult to hide the fact one is using an e-cig.

The fact of the matter is there is a double standard going on when it comes to the advertising of electronic cigarettes and other dangerous products. The effects of vaping are largely unknown with some studies showing little danger while others show there may be some risks. What all studies agree on is that vaping is healthier than smoking. And if one is talking health risks, drinking alcohol is one of the leading preventable causes of death in the country, not just for the one drinking it, but those around them. In 2012 according to MADD there were 10,322 deaths due to accidents caused by drunk drivers (by comparison the CDC estimates about 7,333 people die of lung cancer from second-hand smoke and all agree vaping is safer than smoking). As far as I know no one has taken many drags on an e-cig jumped in a car and killed a family of four due to impairment caused by the use of the e-cig. One in ten people die from alcohol use according to the CDC. If an e-cig user is responsible and uses his or her device away from others, the only person's death they may be bringing on faster is his or her own. So why then are alcohol manufacturers not criticized for glamorizing their products, but e-cig manufacturers are?

And while no alcohol manufacturer shows ten year olds swilling down their products they do use very young actors and actresses in their commercials. How many times have you looked at an attractive young lady in a beer commercial and wondered if she was even old enough to get in a bar? And taverns and bars in college towns encourage young adults to drink by having game nights, having live bands, and having various contests. Some even serve alcohol to underage drinkers not caring whether they are old enough to drink or not.

It is therefore somewhat perplexing as to why there is this double standard. You have this product many are using to quit smoking which while its effects are not totally understood it is agreed it is healthier than the alternative. And then you have this industry that produces a product known to kill people, that glamorizes the use of its products, and actively markets to young adults that goes on uncriticized  except by groups such as MADD and law enforcement. MADD's aims are mainly to stop drunk driving and prevent underage drinking, not to stop the alcohol industry from glamorizing drinking. Law enforcement does not address the health risks of drinking. Law enforcement only addresses the violation of the drinking laws such as those concerning drinking and driving and underage drinking.

There is no reason there should be this double standard. Either folks should criticize both the electronic cigarette and alcohol industries for glamorizing their products, or criticize neither. There is no reason for one dangerous past time to be the subject of being stigmatized while the other goes unchecked. Don't get me wrong, I drink on occasion, but this double standard really makes no sense to me. And the fact one nicotine product (e-cigs) is criticized for its flavors while another (nicotine gum) is not makes even less sense.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Ferguson and Racism as Large Scale Abuse

The shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri by white police officer David Wilson has brought the issue of race back to the forefront in America. Many Anglo-Americans perhaps have been in denial about these issues. Living in a small town in Missouri with several black friends, and seeing how they are treated by my family has left me woefully ignorant of the realities of being an African American. The sad truth is there is still much social injustice. I became very aware of this after reading the article "Mike Brown’s shooting and Jim Crow lynchings have too much in common. It’s time for America to own up"  by Isabel Wilkerson. Even if Wilson was justified in shooting Brown that still does not explain the countless other shootings of African Americans by police officers in a number much higher than that of Caucasions shot by police officers. I fear the only answer is that African-American lives are seen as having less value than that of other races.

This brought an interesting question though, interesting at least to me. Perhaps it is not only whites that devalue African-Americans, but fellow blacks as well? Despite the statistics of white police officers killing unarmed blacks, a black male is more likely to be killed by one of their own race. Between 1976 and 2011 94% of African-Americans were killed by other African-Americans (Black On Black Crime: A Critique ). Now there are probably many factors that feed into this. There is of course poverty and due to poverty lower chances of getting a high school education much less beyond that. Unemployment is perhaps another factor as is living in inter-cities. It could well be that poor whites have a similar percentage of each other killing each other. I somehow doubt that is the case. Which brought me to the question, do blacks devalue blacks? I can think of no other reason. If was simply a case of being poor, poorly educated, and out of work I think the statistics would reflect more the racial makeup of the country. That is I think were it a case of being poor, unemployed, uneducated, and living in a city you would see the number of whites being killed by blacks being reflective of the population as a whole. Whites make up 77.7% of the nation's population while blacks make up 13.2% according to the 2010 Census. I would therefore expect that close to 77% of those killed by blacks to be white with only close to 13% being black. That is not the case however. I therefore have to wonder whether it is a case of some African-Americans devaluing their own race?

I have no answer to this. Being a white male I have no idea of what goes on in a young black man's mind. However, consider this. For over 200 years African-Americans have been told they are inferior and that the white race is superior. Until 1865 in the South at least blacks had that idea beat into them. They were taught to be obident, to do their work, and remain silent about it. If they deviated from that, they could be whipped. After 1865 African-Americans gained some freedom. Yet, were an African-American to look at a white woman the wrong way, speak to a white man the wrong way, or commit a minor criminal offense like shop lifting an African-American could be beaten, worse hung, or worse yet burned alive. African-Americans were told they could not use the same facilities as whites, and while those facilities a black could use were supposed to be equal they rarely were. In other words, African-Americans were being taught they were inferior.

A phenomena amongst those that have been abused is to begin to believe what they are told while being beaten. That is some victims of domestic violence will start to believe they deserve to be beaten, that they are worthless, and not deserving of respect. Now imagine this on a large scale where an entire group of people are told they are worthless. I am beginning to realize that perhaps many young African-Americans suffer low self esteem due to years of being told they are not equal to men of other races. Perhaps they do not even believe they are the equal of their white counterparts. As a result not only do they see themselves as not being worthy, but see their peers of their race as unworthy as well. It therefore is easier for them to shoot and kill a fellow young black man than it is a white man of the same age. After all, they have been told members of their race do not have the same value as others. Simply put they may not see their black peers as being worthy enough to live.

If that is the case, it is time for our society to change. If young blacks suffer low self esttem due to years of racism, and thus kill others of their race as a result it is nothing but society's fault. You cannot blame it on drugs, on running with the wrong crowd, poverty, or a poor education. You can only blame it on racism. Now, perhaps I do not know what I am talking about. I am a white, middle aged man. I have benefitted from white privilege. Perhaps, there are reasons I do not see that blacks kill blacks in large numbers. But studies show that people that have been abused devalue themselves, and what is racism if it is not simply a form of abuse on a large scale?

Small Town Newspapers: A Thing of the Past?

On July 30, 2014 the Macon Chronicle-Herald of Macon, Missouri printed its last issue. It had been in print since at least 1926 as the Chronicle-Herald. Its owner GateHouse Media decided there was no longer a need for the paper. This ended a long history of newspapers in Macon, and the small town is now without a newspaper, although it will still be served by the The Home Press which is headquartered in nearby La Plata, Missouri. Once upon a time many small towns had more than one newspaper. It was not unusual in the Victorian Era for a town of 12,000 or even as small as 5,000 to have two or three daily or weekly newspapers. Even small hamlets of only a few hundred people had weekly newspapers. As time passed these papers would either go out of business or merge until a small town had only one newspaper. Many of these small dailies are still in business.

A local newspaper was the lifeline of a small town. They could report local news in more depth than radio, and reported on a wide variety of things. In the pages of a local newspaper one could find in addition to major news stories, news on the local government, businesses, birth announcements, announcements of engagements, wedding announcements, death notices, society news, local entertainment, local sports, and more. Local persons were often interviewed about such topics as local history, or the opening of a new business. A wide variety of information was available daily. During much of the 20th century small town newspapers served much the same purpose as the internet does today. One needs only browse such sites as or newspaperarchive,com to see the amount of local news a small town newspaper covered. Beginning in the 1960s and earlier major corporations began buying local papers. Unable to keep up with the cost of printing and distribution many small presses found the need to sell, and were quickly snatched up by large news syndicates. This spelled the beginning of the end for local newspapers.

Many small town weeklies ceased publication after being purchased by news syndicates as they were merged with local daily papers. An example of this was the Randolph County Times-Herald which was purchased by the news syndicate owning the Moberly Monitor-Index. The two papers were merged with the Times-Herald becoming a page in the Monitor-Index. After several years of being published this way, the Times-Herald simply disappeared. Many small town newspapers disappeared this way having been purchased by a large company and then merged with a larger paper in a nearby town. This was actually an extension of a process that had been going on for many years. The newspapers of many small hamlets had already been swallowed up by the newspapers of nearby towns. For example, the Times-Herald had been created by the merger of several Huntsville, Missouri papers over the years.  The Times-Herald in turn purchased the village newspaper of Clifton Hill, the Clifton Hill Rustler. The Times-Herald then was bought up and merged with the Monitor-Index, and so the process continued.

Ownership of small town newspapers by news syndicates has had disastrous side effects. As the news syndicates cut the staff of local papers, less local news could be covered. The local papers therefore had to run more news from the national and international news wires. This arrangement worked fine until the late 1990s when the world wide web came about. Suddenly, folks were no longer reliant on the local small town newspaper to get national and international news in depth. Instead they could simply go to sites like Yahoo News, or one of the major city newspapers' websites. Since much of the news printed by many small town papers was no longer local news people no longer felt a need to subscribe to local papers and circulations dropped. As circulation  of a paper dropped, advertisers sought out other outlets for their ads such as radio and television, not to mention the internet. As ad revenue dropped, the large news syndicates no longer saw the local papers profitable. And this brings us to the Macon Chronicle-Herald. It has met the fate of many small town newspapers across the nation. When a small town newspaper ceases to be profitable in the eyes of a news syndicate it risks being closed. One has to wonder if there will be a time when there is no longer such a thing as the small town newspaper.

There is perhaps a way to reverse this trend. First, in order to increase circulation and thus remain profitable small town newspapers need to go back to running local news no one else will run. They need to print news one will not find on the internet, and that may only get a passing mention on radio or television. Small town newspapers need to take advantage of the fact they can still cover news in depth. They are not hindered by time as are radio and television. Unlike radio or television they are not limited by the amount of time a news show can run a news segment. If a small town newspaper so desired they can dedicate an entire page to a local news story mentioning things that would have been edited out by the local radio or television stations due to time.In addition small town news papers can run news stories that no one else will run such as local society and business news. There is perhaps a way small town papers may be able to survive.

It may be too late for small town newspapers. It certainly was for the Chronicle-Herald. Many may have already reached the point they can never rebuild their circulations so that a news syndicate would not think of closing them. This is truly sad as newspapers have played such a big part in American history. Alas, new technology may have already spelled their doom. One can only hope local news outlets on the internet will rise to take their place. Otherwise, residents may wind up without a way to learn about what is going on in their towns. Television and radio simply do not have the means to cover local news in depth, and thus far for most small towns there has not arisen a substitute for the local small town paper. Only time will tell.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

The Randolph County Missouri Old Settlers Reunion and Fall Fair

The Randolph County Missouri Old Settlers Reunion and Fall Fair will take place September 11, 12, and 13 in historic downtown Huntsville, Missouri. This is the 126th anniversary of the fair. Those that have lived in Randolph County, Missouri for more than 60 years get a free dinner Thursday the 11th. Registration for this begins at 9 am at Trask Hall of the Baptist Church in Huntsville. The Old Settlers Meeting takes place at 11 am, and the dinner at Noon. There will be many other activities throughout the evening including a performance by the band Loaded Chamber, a parade, a street dance, royalty contests, a fun run, and a three on three basket ball tournament. This is a county wide event and those from Cario, Clark, Clifton Hill, Higbee, Huntsville, Moberly, and Renick Missouri and all places in between in the county are encouraged to take part. For more information go to:

Saturday, August 16, 2014

The Video Catchphrase: A Symptom of a Society that Cannot Think for Itself

A Video with a Catchphrase not Telling Someone What to Feel
I first noticed it last year. There were a bunch of videos on Facebook that were along the lines of, "Watch this dog greet its master, you won't believe what happens next!' You might watch the video and see nothing out of the ordinary. It is just a video of a dog greeting his master after the master has been away, and the dog does the usual doggie things. About the time folks started commenting how this catch phrase was melodramatic or at least an extreme exaggeration of what takes place in the videos the catchphrase disappeared. This catchphrase was replaced with videos being posted to Facebook with catchphrases like, "You will be in tears!" or "You will be rolling on the floor laughing!" These catchphrases perhaps because there is some variety have lasted longer.

From the start I hated any text that went with a video that said something like, "You won't believe what happens next" or "You will be in tears." How dare they tell me how I will react to the video! Maybe I think the idea of a kid throwing oatmeal on his dad's head is something to cry about, and not laugh at. Who are you folks to tell me what I find funny, what I find sorrowful, what I find stimulating? Who are you to tell me how to think? Yet videos with such catchphrases persist on Facebook, Twitter, and elsewhere.

Part of what irritates me is I was taught in college how to write headlines, and how to write copy for advertising. There are some things you do not do. One of them is you do not tell the person how to feel or what to think. You present what you feel the facts are, and let the reader or viewer decide for his or herself. Thus you may have a headline for a news story like, "War in Iraq. Thousands Killed," and not "War in Iraq, You will be Appalled at the Death Toll." With advertising you have a bit more leeway. You can get away with something like "Dawn Soap: We Think You Will Like the Results."  On rare occasions if you are feeling cocky you might even say, "Dawn Soap, You will Like the Results." For the most part though you do not tell someone how to feel, you present them with a catchy phrase about the product like :Kentucky Fried Chicken, finger licking good," and hope your suggestion leads them to eating chicken.

A friend and I were talking about the effectiveness of such catchphrases as "You will be in tears." His argument was they must be effective or else they would not use them. He pointed out that they collect all kinds of data on these click throughs such as what site the person came from, if on a social network, who are his or her friends, where they come from, what other things does he or she like, what kinds of videos get the most hits, and more. Further they experiment with catchphrases and the preview pictures of what works and what doesn't based on click throughs. I agreed he was right, but I said that since everyone of these videos uses same sort of catchphrase they do not even know if that method is or is not more effective than simply saying, "A dog greets its master after the master's long deployment." I further said that they may not know if perhaps it was the preview picture of the video that drew the viewer to click on it. Even with all this data I did not think they could figure out why someone clicked on a video link to view it. In essence my faith in humanity would not allow me to think folks would actually click on something that tells them how to feel.

After some more discussion I arrived at the conclusion that the American people may now have become accustomed to being told not just how to feel, but how to think. After all Fox News has been on the air since 1985 all the while telling its viewers how to think, and not just presenting them with the information. They are not the only network to do this though others may be more subtle. Commentators like Rush Limbaugh regularly tell folks what they should feel or think about some such or another. Even politicians tell folks how to think or feel. You do not hear many Americans speaking their own opinions, but repeating catchphrases or slogans from their favorite news channel or political commentator. If you enter a debate with them you are not likely to be presented with data or information to back their claims, but with simple quotes from some person who is not even an expert about the subject. Therefore, I concluded that being told, "This will put you in tears" or "This will have you on the floor laughing," may not offend them. Indeed, it may even reassure them that they do not have to think for themselves. They may take some comfort in the fact this video will make them laugh or cry. It saves them the trouble of making up their own minds.

It is a sad commentary on our society that people can no longer think for themselves, but have to be told such and such video will have them laughing their hearts out. Once upon a time folks were simply presented with information, and were allowed to decide for themselves how to feel or think. Sure, even then the media filtered what you were presented with. You might be told the marines have taken Iwo Jima, but not what the death toll was. But if you persisted you might be able to find the information. And never were you told, :"The Marines Took Iwo Jima Today, You Will Cry for the Fallen Japanese." In that day and age, advertisers might try to tell you how to feel, but that was advertising, and for the most part even advertisers avoided telling folks what to do. You would see things like, "Smart Shoppers Shop at Value Mart," and not "Shop at Value Mart, It will have you leaping for joy." The second example was not rare, but no one paid attention. It was advertising. My point is people have been taught they must be told how to feel and what to think. We have ceased being a society of freethinkers.

I think therefore it is time purveyors of such videos take a different route, one that will appeal to free thinkers, and encourage those that are not free thinkers to be. Perhaps  have a video with a description like, "Is this dog cute or what?! Decide for yourself!" Or perhaps, "Is this cat funny? What do you think?" Maybe it is time everyone stops telling other Americans how to think or feel. Maybe it is time we just present the information and let folks decide for themselves how they will react. After all what is wrong with describing a video simply as, "This cat apparently loves its companion, watch and see?"

Monday, August 11, 2014

Enhancing My Laptop's Audio: A Review

Last week I decided I wanted to improve the sound I get from my laptop so I went looking for audio enhancers. The first one I downloaded was DFX Audio Enhancer by FXSound. The free trial version was somewhat stripped down, but still usable. I found it preformed at the levels I wanted even given the limitations. The sound it delivered was good. Overall, I was pleased with its performance and would have continued using it save for some annoyances. It had this popup that would come up every 30 minutes or so asking me to order the full version. You could not minimize the software's window either. The ability to minimize it to the taksbar only came with the full version. Worse yet, I found I could not use my laptop's audio without it running. Even still I might have bought the full version, but at $39.99 it was a no go. There was no way I was going to pay that for something that did not behave like a full equalizer and only gave me five items I could adjust to customize my sound.

I had seen mentioned in a review of DFX Audio Enhancer a program called ProfoundSound Audio. While ripping DFX Audio Enhancer (which the reviewer was justified to do IMO) the reviewer praised ProfoundSound Audio. So after uninstalling DFX Audio Enhancer I decided to give it a go. There are two versions. There is ProfoundSound Lite which is a 5 band graphic equalizer that has presets for music, movies, and voice. It has outputs for headphones, internal speakers, and external speakers. Then there is ProfoundSound CSharp. It is a 10 band graphic equalizer with (and I am directly quoting from the website): "variable loudness, auto volume leveling, variable dynamic surround sound, variable dynamic virtual bass, variable high frequency restoration, a 20 band spectral analyzer, variable dynamic bass and dynamic voice, plus the ability to customize and save your settings" I went whole hog and downloaded the free trial of ProfoundSound CSharp.

It was unbelievable. Not only did it give better sound than DFX Audio Enhancer but it was also fully customizable allowing you to decided how you wanted something to sound. Yet at the same time there was a variety of presets for different genres of music, as well as movies, and voice if you did not want to fiddle with the sliders. You could also save your own presets so once you had something sounding as you liked it you did not have to go adjusting things again. A big plus was you could still use your computer's own audio when you shut ProfoundSound down. I was blown away by how useful this software was and by the sound it delivered through my headphones and speakers.  Further it is only $4.96 for CSharp. The stripped down Lite which would do for most music listeners and video viewers is only $1.99.

My advice for anyone wanting to enhance their computer's audio is avoid DFX Audio Enhancer like the plague and go straight to ProfoundSound. It is by far the better choice. A word of warning though, with both audio enhancing programs YouTube videos are jerky or out of sequence with the audio. There is nothing you can do about this with DFX Audio Enhancer that I could see. With ProfoundSound you just shut it down and use your computer's own native software do its job.

Friday, August 8, 2014

"All About That Bass," Beauty, and Kindness

Recently there has been some uproar over the song All About That Bass by Meghan Trainor. Some see it as an anthem of body acceptance. Others point out that it still states one body type is more beautiful than another. I read one blog post that criticized Trainor for not being fat, yet singing about body acceptance. I think both groups are missing the point. We are still basing self esteem on what our bodies and faces look like whether male or female, and not what is truly important. Even if we say "everyone is beautiful" we are basing our image of ourselves on physical beauty. After all you do not see statements such as "everyone is intelligent." Why? Because not everyone is intelligent.  Nor for that matter is everyone outgoing. Not everyone is tall. Not everyone one has facial hair. There are many criteria we could base the acceptance of someone on. Some deal with body image, others deal with intelligence, while others deal with how out going a person is. The fact is none of these criteria should really matter. To me we should base acceptance of a person on how kind a person is. I have friends of all shapes and sizes. Some are overweight. Some are tall and stocky. Others are short. Some are highly intelligent. Others admit they are not the brightest people in the world. Some are what we think of as traditionally handsome or beautiful. Some could even pass as models. They all have something in common. They are all kind. I have no time in my life for those that are cruel to others.

I am not saying everyone should be a missionary to Nigeria, or spend their nights handing out fruit baskets to the homeless. What I am saying is that they should treat those in their day to day lives with courtesy and kindness. My friends are the sort that help one in a time of need, and help celebrate one's successes as well. In essence they are there for me. If a stranger wants to impress me, do me an act of kindness. It will make that stranger potentially more attractive to me than Kate Upton. An example of this was a couple close to my age that asked if I needed help recently when I was filling my car with anti-freeze at a gas station. I did not need any help. I was just topping off the radiator as it is something I have to do every few months (I am bad about checking fluid levels in the car). However, the fact they asked if I needed help and seemed legitimately concerned made me feel grateful there are folks like that in the world. My image of them went from, "Oh those are people getting out of a car next to me," to "What an attractive couple." It did not matter really what they looked like, or how they were dressed. It was the fact they offered me help when they thought I might need it.

Kindness more than anything else is what should be important to this society. Not everyone can be beautiful. Not everyone can be intelligent. Not everyone can be tall. But everyone can be kind. It is a goal that is attainable by all. I do not believe in "genetic evil." I do not believe folks are born bad. I think everyone has the potential to be kind. We determine what we are, and that in turn can affect how folks that see real value see us. So all in all All About That Bass means little to me other than being a catchy tune. It is yet another song about body image in a society that places body image above all else. It is just a song among many that do the same only differently. What would catch my attention would be a song about kindness. Being kind is after all something we can all reach to be.