The Hess Report


Wednesday, April 27, 2005

You're Not the Boss of Me 

I heard an interview with Bruce Springsteen just the other day. I've never liked the guy or his music. It sounds sweaty to me, and I've never a big fan of the sweaty sound. I've also always gotten a giant "phony" vibe from him. As for his political activism, well, shut up and sing.

Anyway, in his interview, he said something that was just so stupidly navel-gazingly artsy-fartsy self-indulgent that even I was astounded. He was discussing song-writing, and where your inspiration comes from. If I ever utter this phrase, hunt me down and shoot me:

"Sometimes your voice merges with other lives."

If that statement doesn't epitomize undergrad Lit major garbledygook (and trust me, I've been in the thick of it), then I don't know what does. In fact, it takes me back to my wonderful days at Penn, where I started saying the most buzzword-laden ridiculously desconstructive things in class that I could think of to see if anyone could tell the difference between their "real" analysis and my making fun of them. No one called me on it. Not once. The professors would nod their heads sagely, and classmates would say "I can speak to that..." and proceed on some silly digression about the meaning of the word "cockswain" and how it was used within the confines the author's implied rubric. Jackasses, every single one.

As Daniel Hoffman, former Poet Laureate and one of my only English professors I had any respect for, said in class when confronted with a student who was trying to claim that Sam Clemens had intended Huck Finn to be an exploration of Huck and Jim's homosexuality: "That's just bullshit."

But, the Boss said it, and he's like, a genius or something, so I guess his narrative voice has some kind of vampiric properties that mine lacks.

He then went on to talk about the authenticity of his songs' characters. He actually used the word "characters", and continued by saying that he puts on a work shirt when he performs, and it could just as easily have been a sequined jacket or something else. He's been a singer all his life, no decades wasted in the mines or on the assembly line, and the working-man persona was the one he chose through which to portray the characters' voices that had merged with other lives. So, it seems I was right all along! Bruce doesn't understand the common man. He's just a big old phony. Well, at least he admits it.

Of course, that doesn't stop a lot of people from thinking that the Boss somehow "understands" them, when nothing could be further from the truth. He, like a lot of liberals I know, is just playing with symbols, and often seems to confuse actual practical reality with the symbolic world he has set up in his mind.

It is a tribute to his skill as a manipulator of symbols that he still has such a following. I am forced to wonder, though, how "authentic" that following is. Do his fans really come from the blue-collar world of which he sings, which I would view as a validation of his ability to generate authentic characters, or do they instead come from the limousine liberal set who listen because they feel like they're getting an authentic lower-class experience? It's an interesting question, but I don't care enough to even bother checking. Maybe you can, if it that's your bag, baby.

I am reminded, though, of Stephen Crane, author of The Red Badge of Courage, which is another book about which Dr. Hoffman had some great things to say. Crane wasn't even old enough to have fought in the Civil War, and yet his book, which was serialized in a newpaper at the time (I think), produced letter after letter from Civil War vets who said "Surely this man was in my regiment!" and "I had forgotten what it was like. Thank God for Mr. Crane who remembered well enough to write it all down." In fact, Crane had based the combat portions of the book on his experiences in playing schoolyard football. Apparently, Crane had achieved an authentic conversion of the symbols at play in the practical world. He was also a damned good writer.

The point? This was a long way around just to say that Bruce Springsteen is a pompous idiot, but that's it. Daniel Hoffman and Stephen Crane: Good. Bruce Springsteen: Bad.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Harley-Davidson-Stewart 

It's always amazed me when people voluntarily paid more for an often-lesser-quality product simply because it had a certain it had a certain logo or name attached to it. The processes behind it are pretty simple and obvious, but being a hardcore pragmatist, it's still foreign to me on a gut level.

On the radio this morning I was listening to guy who was ripping on the price of Harley-Davidson motorcycles, claiming that it was out of control American labor unions that has the price of Harleys at almost double that of similar competing foreign bikes.

Not so, I think. Harley-Davidson is able to charge an almost 100% premium for their bikes because they have been able to Martha Stewart a huge number of people. We've all (probably) known Harley people: they only wear official HD clothing, their kids wear HD shirts, they have HD decals on their trucks, HD coffee mugs, etc. Basically, if there is a mundane product that is available in HD form, they will proudly pay more for the HD form. And of course, they ride Harley-Davidson motorcycles. Which, I've been told by a mechanic who owns one, are mechanically inferior to similar bikes of Asian manufacture. You have to do a lot of work to maintain them, relative to other brands. They are not really in acceptable riding condition out of the factory. But you see, the geniuses at HD corporate have convinced these HD fanatics that that is all part of the charm.

Now, I'm not saying this to badmouth HD corporate. Not in the slightest. They've brilliantly carved themselves a sizable niche based solely on the strength of their marketing. Faced with a strictly pragmatic decision, divorced completely from marketing and brand name, no one would buy a Harley-Davidson motorcycle at twice the price of the competition. It would be crazy. And yet, they do it.

So here's an idea for HD corporate: Given that you have identified a section of the population who will blindly look to you for purchasing and style advice, and given that you have not yet covered certain horizontal sections of the merchandising market with the HD brand, you need to partner with someone who uses the same tactics and who can broaden your coverage. Enter: Martha Stewart. Where the Harley brand merchandising leaves off, her products will pick up. Home decor - toiletries - cooking - event planning - and can fragrances be far behind? The millions of Harley owners will now have a brand guide for the other half of their lives that was not already ruled by HD!

The new company, Harley-Davidson-Stewart will be positioned as the premier lifestyle brand: tough when it counts, yet refined when the rubber is not upon the road. Linen sheets with the HDS shield tastefully embroidered in the corner. A Roadster in Sage with Off-White enameled pipes. HDS picnics featuring pate rings instead of buckets of fried chicken.

And maybe the current Martha crowd can be brought into the HD family, as well. It will open up a whole new market for the bike manufacturer! Middle-aged women with way too much time on their hands will now have something new to save their cash for. And maybe they'll start watching Orange County Choppers, or, in it's new incarnation Orange County Choppers Living, in which the mechanics give lifestyle and fashion tips as they customize someone's ride.

All I know is that as soon as HDS stock is available, I'm buying.

Monday, April 18, 2005

schoolmarm!Joy has consistently pointed out my lack of editing when it comes to The Hess Report. Typos, transposed words, etc. As I've never wanted this to turn into an exercise in annoyance, I've never bothered with those sorts of things. My philosophy has been: If I didn't see it on my quick read-through before posting, then it must not have been that important.

I do hear about it from time to time, though. To that end, I've invited grammar!Joy to be an editor on The Hess Report. She now has full administrative, editing and posting priveleges. I suggested that she could write her own posts, but she poo-pooed that idea quickly.

So, if you notice that my text is cleaned up, it will be thanks to her. I was going to make some kind of joke about wiping my digital butt, but that would have been too gross.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

All Purpose Comeback/Blowoff 

Sometimes people ask you a question that you don't want to answer, or make a statement to which you'd rather not respond in any tangible way. Sometimes people even have a self-righteous fit, flinging accusations and unjustified interrogation hither and yon. As a kid on a playground, it's easy to come back to stuff like that: "I know you are, but what am I?" You have to put that snerky sing-song inflection into it for it to work. It usually accomplished its job of making the other kid want to punch you, which often shut them up, and at least distracted them from the merits of whatever eight-year-old point they were trying to make.

We're all grown up now (I think), and that won't work anymore. Or will it? If you tweak the language a bit and update the attitude, you get my new all-purpose comeback/dodge/piss-off-the-self-righteous. Here's how it works:

You put on a concerned, thoughtful face. Then, in a mildly condescending, knowing tone, you say "I think that says more about you than it does about me." And since we're adults now, you can improvise a bit and adapt it to the specific situation for maximum effect.

This will work for almost any scenario.

Co-Worker: "Where's my lunch? Who took my damn lunch? You! Did you take my lunch?"
You: "You think I took your lunch?" Shakes head slightly. "I think that says more about you than it does about me."
Score!

Pencil-Pushing Bureaucrat at Work: "You didn't fill out the forms you were supposed to. We can't process the reports without that form."
You, smirking: "I think that says more about you than it does about me."
Bingo!

Beefy Guy At Bar: "What the eff were you looking at? Were you looking at my ass? I'm gonna break you in half."
You, drawing your concealed weapon: "I think that says more about you than it does about me, beautiful." Blow kiss.
Right between the goalposts!

It's guaranteed effective, although it helps if you don't mind wearing body armor under your everyday clothes. And some kind of facial protection.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

I've Always Wanted To Say Something Like That 

The DVR (yay!) died last week (boo! hiss!). The particular model we have apparently has some bad units floating around. As having the DVR has completely changed the way we deal with televised entertainment, this came as a great shock.

Oh well. The fun part is that when asked by the kids what we would do to record a certain upcoming show, I got to reply:

"We'll do it the old fashioned way. Back before the turn of the century, we used tapes. I think it'll still work."

Of course, substitute "horses" or "gas-lights" or "leeches" for "tapes" and it sounds much better, but I actually got to say that. I felt like such an old fart. It was great.

Monday, April 11, 2005

Like I Don't Have Enough To Do Already 

Things are crusing along here in Hessland. My web-based service business I'm working on is still moving ahead. I've finished the main technology engine for about 50% of the market. I still have to expand it, with an eye on another 20% of the overall blogging traffic. I'm currently working on the login system and user management issues. Once that's done, I'll do an alpha test (letting people create and download .pdfs of the blog for free). When I get the kinks from that ironed out, it'll be live beta and I'll maybe start making some $ and producing some pretty cool product. So that's using up almost all of my spare time.

BlenderPeople is still waiting for the Blender developers to update the character animation tools, which will probably happen by the end of summer. If that's the case, it'll be done, and people will start asking me when I'll be working on BlenderPeople about the time that my web service might be nearing completion.

Of course, there's still my Audition animation that I really want to finish. And now, I have a new project to put on the back-back-back-back burner. literature!Joy checks out a pile of books from the library for the girls every week or so. This week's best one to me: The War Between the Vowels and the Consonants by Priscilla Turner (ill. by Whitney Turner). It's about the elitest Vowels who look down on the rabble of Consonants, and the rough-and-tumble Consonants who see all Vowels as effete pansies. Insult turns to violence, and an uneasy truce is broken. Full scale war breaks out - cannon - masses of letter troops whose lines snake off into the distance - wounded letters receiving turn-of-the-century medical care - literary carnage. Eventually, they are brought together by a common enemy that destroys every single letter it encounters: the scribble of Chaos. It's a great book. And, with the help of some kind of, oh, I don't know, crowd simulation and combat animation software, would make a rocking animation short. Argh. I would just love to animate it. It would always be an incredible showcase for BlenderPeople when it's done.

By the way, if you're reading this and your name is Joy, you can stop shaking your head now.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

What Do You Do With A Stupid Sailor? 

I find myself in a delicate balance of attitude and practicality at work these days. I've been here long enough that I've seen the exact same problems happen two dozen times, with the exact same fixes, and the people making those mistakes fail quite spectacularly to learn from them. As I have no authority to fire their asses or otherwise even influence their decision making behaviors or reward structure, I have no say in whether or not they keep making the same stupid mistakes over and over again. It is my responsibility, however, to fix the problems that their mistakes create.

So I'm faced with a conundrum. Participating in this pointless exercise on a regular basis makes me frustrated with and resentful of these people. The first two or three times aren't a problem for me. After that, thought, they really should know better. They are making my job harder by lacking some of the basic skills to do their own job. However, I have to work with these people and get along with them. If I let the resentment grow and continue on this path, I know for a fact that it will affect the way I deal with them. I'm pretty bad at hiding resentment/lack of respect, and it'll start showing. I don't want that to happen.

The other side of the conundrum is this: my only way of really dealing with this sort of incompetence without it turning into resentment is to lower my expectations of these people. I find that if I remind myself "they just can't remember these simple things - they're not capable" I can deal with the constant screw-ups a lot more patiently and positively. It works in the short term. In the long term, though, I fear that the condescension inherent in that particular attitude will likewise come out. Also, that notion just doesn't sit well with me. They can do and remember this stuff. Why they do not is beyond me.

So what do I do? Being in the labor force for more than ten years now, and from talking to pretty much anyone else who has worked for a living, I have concluded that simply not working with incompetent people is not an option. If these people were complete dicks it wouldn't be a problem. But some of them are very nice, good people even, and I don't want to end up treating them badly. Argh.