Friday, October 31, 2008

Trick'n it to the Treat

A Halloween Freak (12 hours early)

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Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The Fear Narrative

At a gathering shortly after my oldest child was born, a very well meaning lady handed me a newspaper article.

The headline was right to the point:

Top 10 Early Childhood Choking Hazards

Things a healthy house can do without

The Top 10 List is one of the staples of publicity, so I had to respect the execution. Still, the whole fear thing always rubs me the wrong way.

But, I was a new parent and was particularly susceptible to the whole DANGER-DANGER-DANGER narrative. In this case, though, there was something that tingled my spidey cynical contrarian consultant sense when I got to the list.

I cannot remember all of the items and tips on the list, but a few are burned into my memory:

* Assorted brands of building toys with small parts.
* Grapes (always cut them in half)
* Hot dogs (always cut them in half lengthwise)

You get the idea.

As families line up this week to have their Halloween candy x-rayed, keep in mind that there always will be a Top 10. If you can get in on the danger narrative to advance your client’s cause this Halloween, have at.

That’s what we do.

Just don’t get all freaked out by it.

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Friday, October 10, 2008

Crisis Planning

Economic reports are loaded with worst-case scenarios. For a little weekend fun, what's your ultimate fall-back position?

In a quick email exchange on 401(k) values today, I stumbled on my own. Feel free to share yours in the comments.

Figure I can always grow potatoes in the backyard. My people lived that for 200 years.

And they didn’t know how to make vodka. Neither do I, mind you, but I have Wikipedia.

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Strange Bedfellows

Really strange.

Yeah, this is pretty much your average Friday night at the Lally compound.

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The Arch Narrative of Random Violence

A couple of days ago I promised to get back to the dominant narrative of random violence. There’s an important point here: The Dominant Narrative doesn’t have to be factual to affect the way people think and act. It only has to be true – that is, some significant group of people has to believe it.

Random violence is a very rare fact of life in any society in any time.

Read that sentence again.

At least two members of my own family have been victims of such crimes over the last two generations and all the statistical analysis in the world will not ease their (or my) suffering for it.

Still, that doesn’t make it a common occurrence, just one that gets reported: through the news media, anecdotes told at neighborhood gatherings, emails forwarded to “EVERYBODY YOU KNOW!”

Yet, we all believe it. I say “we” because I include myself in that statement. It’s part of who we are. That’s an arch dominant narrative.

Recently a friend who works in the justice system confirmed my suspicions regarding so-called home invasions. “Twenty years,” she said, “never seen one where they didn’t know each other.”

So why do these myths of random violence persist? Part of it has to do with legal restrictions. When a guy gets shot on his front porch or is found dead in a parking lot outside a night club, the cops may know he was a drug dealer, but it’s a bit awkward to say that about a recently deceased 19-year-old.

Or 15-year-old.

They’re coming for your women

Several weeks ago I received an email from a friend – insisting that I pass it along to my wife for her own safety – about a new gang initiation rite. It seems that “gang members” were being ordered to break into cars and minivans – at random – in the parking lots of local discount stores and then lay in wait to rape white women. Recipients were advised to avoid certain parking lots, park in well lighted areas, and check the back seats and cargo areas of their vehicles.

Good advice. Bad narrative.

Who were these gangs that want to harm white women? If they specifically target Caucasians, they must be something … other. Who are you afraid of?

Who is THEM?

What other arch narrative are we following?

Rule: Check Snopes before you believe anything.

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Monday, October 6, 2008

Places Have Dominant Narratives

“Aren’t you afraid you’ll get, ya know, shot or something?”

One of my neighbors asked me that after learning that I drive (forgive me Ed Begley Jr.!) 26 miles every day to the central business district. In my particular case, that’s downtown Cincinnati.

Cincinnati has had a rough couple of years. Just as the city began to reclaim the close-in community of Over-the-Rhine, a – ahem – misunderstanding between some neighborhood residents and the local constabulary kicked off a series of shootings that pretty much solidified my neighbor’s perception of the inner city.

“No,” I said. “Wanna know why? ‘Cause I’m not gonna rip off my dealer.”

More on the Dominant Narrative of random crime later.

People who love OTR are trying hard to take it back. They’re taking a big step in that direction with the return of the Saengerfest to Memorial Hall this Sunday. This tradition, brought over from the old country by the German immigrants who built Over-the-Rhine (and, obviously, named it) brings an entire community together to sing traditional and patriotic songs. And, of course, eat reallyreally well.

If you’re near the Queen City this Sunday, hope to see you there. It’s sponsored by the Memorial Hall Foundation in honor of the Centennial of Memorial Hall. (see picture) The hall was commissioned by the Grand Army of the Republic to celebrate the sacrifices of veterans from the American Civil War and the Spanish-American (-Cuban-Filipino) War. This is from their release – and no, I am not being paid for this announcement, though I wish I'd thought of it.

Through the World Wars and Korean Conflict, it remained an important part of home-front activities and veterans gatherings. Since a significant refurbishment in the late 1980s, the hall has been used for music and theater performances as well as for large-scale meetings and rallies.

Activities begin at 11:00 a.m. and include:
• Musical presentations in the Washington Park Gazebo
• Civil War Re-enactors in Washington Park
• Informational presentations in the Memorial Hall Theater and lobby
• Saengerfest and Rededication presented by Queen City Concert Band at 4:00 p.m.
• 1940s-era USO Dance presented by Green Hills American Legion Band 5:30-7:30 p.m.

All activities are free and open to the public except a $10 “cover charge” for the USO-style dance. Souvenir programs also will be available for $5.
Memorial Hall is Hamilton County’s monument to the service and sacrifice of its war veterans. The hall, at 1225 Elm Street just south of Music Hall, is a building of national significance for its architecture and its cultural heritage. Designed by Samuel Hannaford & Sons, the military statues below the pediment were created by Clement Barnhorn. The spectacular mural in the auditorium was executed by Francis Pedretti.

Learn more about Memorial Hall at

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Thursday, October 2, 2008

Vacuum Part the Second

The below is a warning that you -- your brand, your client &c. -- allow a vacuum to remain at your peril.

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Narrative in a Vacuum

The Super Bowl is 60 minutes long including huddles and whatnot. The game itself lasts about four hours.

The pregame show lasts five hours. That’s just on the network broadcasting the game. ESPN starts its coverage on – like – Thursday.

That is a whole lot of narrative about something when nothing is happening.

Principle: In a vacuum, people will create their own narratives.

Observation: News media are run by people.

Think about that as you watch the pundicrats manage (and create) expectations leading up to the debates.

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