Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Well, it's December Eve; tomorrow's the first day of the month of Christmas. Now, I know, it's politically incorrect to mention the word " Christmas. " Old Saint Nick has been added to the list of sex offenders lurking in the shadows cast by the McMansions in your neighborhood. But as Don Rumsfeld might say about Christmas, " It is what it is. "

And you go into the holidays with the dirty old men you have. Not the ones you wish you had.

I just started this blog a few days ago. A few days before Thanksgiving. So I can't really call this the annual Christmas entry. Strike that.

This is The First Annual Progress Notes Christmas Entry.

Dear President Bush:

I am eight years old. Some of my little friends say there is no good reason why we are at war in Iraq. Papa says, if you see it in The New York Times, it's so. Please tell me the truth, is there a reason why our troops are in Iraq?


Virginia, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepicism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except they see. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds. All minds, Virginia, whether they be liberals or Democrats, are little. In this great country of ours, some men and women are mere insects, ants, in their intellect compared with the boundless red states around them, as measured by the intelligence capable of grasping the whole truth and knowledge.

Yes, Virgina, there is a reason.

It exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist. Alas, how dreary would be the country if there were no reason for our troops to be in Iraq.

It would be as dreary as if there were no Virginias. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, like my favorite poet, Rod McKuen, wrote.

Not believe in a reason for the course we're on?

You might as well not believe in fairies. You might get your papa ( Or mine ) to have men to watch all the chimneys on Christmas Eve to catch Santa Claus, but even if you did not see Santa coming down, what would that prove? Nobody sees Santa Claus, but that is no sign that there is no Santa Claus. The most real things in my world are those that neither liberal nor Democreats can see.

Did you ever see fairies dancing on the White House lawn? Of course not. But that is no proof that they are not there.

Is it all real?

Ah, Virginia, in all this country, there is nothing else real and abiding.

The reason lives and lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay ten times 10,000 years from now, my reason will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.

Sincerely yours,

President George W. Bush
President Bush gave a major speech this morning, the subject of which was the war in Iraq. In front of the president was the corp of Midshipmen at the U.S. Naval Academy. Not a heckler in the house. Behind the president was a wallpapered backdrop plastered with logos under which the words, Plan For Victory appeared.

Plan For Victory.

You're going to be seeing and hearing that a lot in the next few months. As a former advertising copywriter, I'm always intrigued by the slogans, taglines, soundbites and various labels administration word wonks come up with. One of my favorites was the label the Reagan administration slapped onto the invasion of Panama.

Operation Just Cause.

That said it all. It answered all the key questions, questions like

What in the hell are we doing there?

When are the troops coming home?


The answer was always the same: Trust us; It's a just cause. Don't ask any more questions.

If I'd been the word wonk responsible for naming that one, I'd have thrown this one on the table for discussion:

Operation Just Because

That says it all, too. It's the perfect response to questions like, " Why in God's name are we invading Panama?? "

The answer:

Just because.

So. Plan for victory in Iraq. It's coming. Yes, there is a plan. And yes, there will be victory. In other words, one side's gonna win. Is it gonna be us?

Next question.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Breaking news as we write! A developing story; this just in! The state of Virginia's governor, Mark Warner has commuted the death sentence of Lyle Lovitt..

No. Uh, wait just a minute. Your reporter has to make one more call to confirm as he gathers the facts...

Okay. I'm back. It was Robin. R.O.B.I.N. Lovitt.

Where was I?

Lovitt would have been the 1,000th death row resident to die, a landmark event if there ever was one. A landmark Warner event if there ever was one. But there wasn't one. Not in Virginia anyway.

Scene shift.

California. Governor Arnold S. is now faced with the decision. There's a black man, the founder of the gang, The Crips. He's scheduled to die next week.

I don't know about you, but if I were on death row and there was a governor in Sacramento whose nickname is " The Terminator. "

I guess what I'm saying is. Don't get your hopes up, bro. Don't get your hopes up.
One of the nice things about writing a blog is the sense of community that can develop around it. I just heard from our old friend Terry. C, who lives in Florida. He's reading Progress Notes. I also heard from Cyril T., a filmmaker who lives in Paris. He's tres busy, but writes that he plans to check in every now and then. I met Cyril a few months ago when he was in the U.S. to visit his aunt, a student in the creative writing workshop I facilitate on Wednesday mornings.

I mentioned earlier that I had two blogs going last year. What inspired me to venture off in this direction again? I learned that a writer whose work I like a lot has started teaching the art of blogging at a college in Connecticut. His name is Colin McEnroe and his blog can be found at

Check it out.
There was a story in yesterday's New York Times about how pharmaceutical companies are hiring more and more former cheerleaders to market their pills. The headline above the story was:

" Give me an Rx! "

Not bad.

Hiring former cheerleaders to sell things that are hard to swallow isn't a new idea. Who am I talking about?

Give me a G! Give me an E! Give me an O! Give me an R! Give me a G!

You get the point.
I was listening to the car radio this morning as I drove to an early meeting. Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman was in the news. He just returned from a two day visit to Iraq and reports that we're " making progress " there. How does he know?

He saw more people using cell phones than on his last visit. And he spotted more satellite dishes on Iraqi houses.

That's progress?!

The pandemic use of cell phones here is a clear indication that the U.S.A. is going to hell in a hand-held basket. And if you think having a satellite dish in your yard is a sign that a region is making progress you should be forced to live in Appalachia for a year.

Getting back to cell phones. Have you noticed it's mostly men whom you see using the damn things in public? This is a very disturbing trend. Talking on the phone a lot is something teenage girls do. Yet there are all these guys, looking like characters in that scene from Bye Bye Birdie.

As you may have guessed, I tend not to spend much time on the phone. A typical conversation for me is not unlike a typical conversation I had with my best friend in high school.



Whatcha doin'?

Nothin' much.

Wanna go to the show?


Pick you up in an hour.

See ya.

That was about it. And that's about it, now. Whenever I see a guy with a cell phone stuck to his ear I ask myself: What he is talking about!?

Cell phone use by both sexes has gotten completely out of hand. My wife and I were out to eat the other night and people were eating and talking on the phone at the same time. This behavior sends a message to every other person at the table, and the message is:

I'd rather be anywhere but here, with anyone but y'all.

You pull out a cell phone as you're eating at my table and you're going to have to deal with me telling you to turn the damn thing off and put it away.

And if I were at a play and the guy next to me pulled out his phone during, say, " Don't cry for me, Argentina, " I'd tell him where to go.

And it wouldn't be Argentina.

That said, I don't believe local, state and federal governments should make laws prohibiting their use in restaurants, theaters and cars. Well, cars maybe.

You and I can tell people what do do with them. We can make that call.

Monday, November 28, 2005

The company that publishes the Mirriam-Webster Dictionary announced earlier this year that " Blog " was the most looked up word of 2004. Last year I was among those who had no idea what the word meant. I looked it up. The definition: Blog. Short for Web Log. A web site that contains an online personal journal with reflections and comments.

When I first learned what bloggers do I said to myself: Big deal. Anybody can do that. All you need is a computer, an on line connection and the arrogance that whispers in your ear, " People want to know what's on your mind. "

By 2004, I'd had scores of essays published in newspapers from The Wall Street Journal to The Hartford Courant, Litchfield County Times and the Providence Journal. My writing was published on the opinion pages.

I viewed the blog phenomenon from a high horse. Big freakin' deal you bloggers. So you got some folks to read your rants and your raves. Try getting your opinion past an editor's desk. Try going headline to headline with other people who write essays - send yours off to compete with the hundreds of other writers who want to be published in a major newspaper.

Anybody can get their words into cyberspace; try getting them into newspaper space!

It's been more than a year since I learned the meaning of the word Blog. And you want to know something?

I've changed my mind.

There has been much news recently about the influence of blogs. Watch CNN and MSNBC and you'll notice they've hired some people whose job it is to keep track of what the bloggers are writing.

How many people read the typical blog? Not that many. Statistics culled from HitWise, a firm that measures web influence, show that the most popular blogs rack up about 0.0050 percent of all internet visits a day.

According to the blog analysis company Technorati, the number of blogs doubles every six months. The research firm Pew Internet & American Life reports that a new blog is created every 5.8 seconds.

So much for my opinion of a year or so ago - that competition is something with which bloggers do not contend.

The writer William Safire, who knows a thing or two about words, says, " The public hunger for reliable information will grow. Blogs will compete with op-ed columns for views you can use. "

The New York Times and The Washington Post. Judy Miller and Jason Blair. Bob Woodward.

Who do you trust?
Every now and then I'll just toss something out there. Unfiltered. On Wednesday I'll let the creative writing workshop I've been facilitating for the past three years know that I've started a new blog. One of my jobs, in addition to persuading students not to leap across the table and strangle the critic who just reminded them of the difference between " infer " and " imply " is to spark their imaginations. Go with that first thought and see where it takes you. Say it. Write it. Let the chips fall where they may.

So. I had this thought...

I'm reading today's New York Times and there's this story about Google. The search engine. It reminded me of an actual news story I read recently. A young couple had a baby. They named it not Latoya, nor Brianna. She wasn't called Noxema.

They called her Yahoo. After the search engine the guy used to find the girl of his dreams, the woman he married.

As Dave Barry might say, I am not making this up.

All that's true. But it got me thinking. What if this kid was abducted, snatched from her room.

What if it made the news? What would the headline be?

Think about it.
Neil French is a former advertising executive who stirred up a hornet's nest last week when he said that women don't make it to the top in the ad business " Because they don't deserve to. "

Of the top 33 advertising agencies in the country, as rated by AdWeek, the industry's trade journal, only four have female creative directors.

French kissed the ad business goodbye shortly after he made his comments. He resigned his post under pressure. Women didn't like what he said.

I was creative director of an ad agency in Hartford, Connecticut. This was back in the 1980s. The ad business in Hartford at that time was definitely male dominated. The first agency I worked for had a male president, a male V.P., a male P.R director, a male art director. Both copywriters were male. I felt right at home there, having just quit my job as a newspaper reporter.

Newsrooms at that time were also dominated by males. At the paper where I worked the publisher was male, the managing editor was male as was the city editor, the news editor and the assistant news editor.

I served four years in the Air Force before landing a job as a reporter. I lived and worked only with men.

The first college I attended was an all male school.

In 1985 I was named creative director of a small ad agency. I won some awards for some print and radio campaigns I came up with. I remember not being all that excited about winning the awards. Advertising writing came easy for me. The deadlines were few and far between - it wasn't like the newspaper business where I had a deadline every day. I had some pretty good ideas but the ideas that ended up in newspapers and on the radio were pretty mediocre.

I rose to the top of the creative department of the small agency where I worked. Did I deserve to be promoted to the top creative position? If I had been a woman would I have got the nod?

Who knows? What I do know is that Neil French thinks creative director positions should be held by men, not women. Implicit in this opinion is that the ads that are out there, the most visible being the ones we all watch on TV, are great ads. Much better than they'd be if they were created by women.

Anyone who's been watching TV lately might be baffled by this. Most of the ads on TV are bloody awful. They're loud. They're derivative. They have no wit. No soul. They're mindless.

Take car ads. A few years ago Cadillac started using Led Zepplin music in their commercials. Now they're all doing that. Take beer commercials. I remember a time when a new Miller Light ad campaign was actually something to look forward to. More taste. Less filling. There were a lot of very creative ways that line was communicated.

Given the sorry state of advertising these days, it's hard to believe - but Mike Nichols and Elaine May used to do beer commercials! The dialog was well written and funny. And aimed at adults!!

Of all the spots I've seen on TV lately, there is only one I like. It's that Capitol One commercial in which a motley crew of barbarians tries, and fails miserably, to do the kind of work normal hard working people do every day of the week.

The barbarians are all men. Creative directing isn't one of the jobs they are shown trying to do.

But it should be.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

I picked up a copy of People magazine today. It was the latest issue, the " Sexiest Man Alive " issue. Now I want to say this right up front. I don't subscribe to People. I don't usually read People. I don't like People. My defense is Peter Townsendian; I was doing research. I was perusing People like a Russian spy, circa 1968, glanced every now and then at Aviation Week.

The writing of this blog, Progress Notes, is going to require me to have my finger on the pulse of pop culture. I need to know what Americans are reading. And it seems that they're reading People.

Okay. So maybe they're just looking at the pictures. See Hillary run. See spot run. See how much the spot costs Hillary to run. See some 23 year old copywriter writing the copy for the ad that runs.

Where was I?

This was some issue this " Sexiest Man Alive " issue. Not one picture of a woman in it as far as I could see. But don't trust my vision. I'm 58 years old.

Which, as it turns out, is one year younger than the oldest People magazine " Sexiest Man of the Year. "

The magazine had a whole page showing " The Sexiest Man " ages 20 through 59. The last sexiest man on the page was Bill Clinton, who was born in 1946, a year before I was born. Which means that I have one more year to make the list. One more year during which I may think of myself as being sexy. Not a pleasant thought, that.

Now, you may be wondering: Where in the hell is he going with this? It's a great question. What the hell was I doing wasting my time reading People? I was doing, dear reader, what my narrator in A Careful Diary was doing. I was gathering intelligence. Taking notes at meetings. Recognizing that the struggle of man against those in power is the struggle of memory against forgetting. That's what Milan Kundera wrote in The Book of Laughter and Forgetting.

Another thing I was perusing today was the New York Times best seller list. Among the books on the list of top ten non-fiction best sellers are Joan Didion's The Year of Magical Thinking and Maureen Dowd's Are Men Necessary.

Dowd's last book was called Bushworld. In it, Dowd wrote about Dubya like he was the first husband. Her first husband.

As far as I know Dowd has never been married. But, according to sources close to a source close to a man interviewed once by Judith Miller, she has had a few dates. Likes men. Powerful men. Ubersexuals. Dowd is drop dead gorgeous. I saw her recently being interviewed on Chris Matthew's show Hardball. I could hardly watch it. It was like eavesdropping on a conversation in the next booth at Plato's Retreat.

Anyway. It makes me wonder. I'm not saying Dowd and Dubya were an item at any point in time. But that book, a whole book, hundreds of pages of sarcasm and razor sharp wit with a 59 year old man as her target...

It scares the hell out of me. That there are women out there, my age. Beautiful women asking the question:

Are Men Necessary?

Thank God I'm married and know the answer to that one. Heh, heh. heh.

And then there's Joan Didion's book The Year of Magical Thinking. Didion's always been one of my favorite writers. I've read most of her books, including The White Album, which includes the opening line, " We tell ourselves stories in order to live. "

She tells one hell of a story in The Year of Magical Thinking. In this one she tells us about what it was like to have her husband, the writer John Gregory Dunn, drop dead as he sat across from her at the dinner table. This happened as her daughter lay dying in an L.A. hospital.

In her way, Didion answers the question Dowd asks:

Are men necessary?

Didion says yes and no. What else could she say?

Ah, too much talk of men and death. It's Sunday night and I'm tired. I worked eight hours yesterday and eight more today. This is overtime. I'm punching out.

See you tomorrow.
Someone once said of parades: " I don't go to them and I don't watch them; what's the point? You can't bet on them. "

Made sense to me. Some marching band from Akron takes the lead in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade and holds it throughout the long easy slog through the streets of Manhattan. It's a sure bet. If they changed the rules and allowed participants to compete, overtake the marching band in front of them, I'd watch.


On second thought, maybe not. As I caught a glimpse of Thursday's parade ( I was channel surfing ) I noted another reason why I haven't watched that parade in years. The Macy's Day Parade ( It's all about shopping, not about giving thanks ) combines two of my least favorite things:

Today Show hosts and Broadway show tunes.

The only thing worse would be Oprah and her best friend Gayle King commenting on a parade whose main entertainment was Mariah Carey, Whitney ( We've Got a Problem ) Houston and Michael Bolton.

That's it for now. Gotta go to work.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

This is a new blog for me. A year ago at this time I was writing a blog called A Careful Diary. The title was culled from a novel by the Czech writer Milan Kundera. Keeping a careful diary, according to Kundera, meant " taking notes at meetings. " It meant gathering intelligence and being careful how you share what you learn. And with whom you share it.

I stopped writing A Careful Diary and started writing a book whose title is Where Was I? I'm almost done with the book. And now I'm going back to blogging. So forgive me if I stutter and come across as too shy. I'm feeling my way.

When I was a kid growing up in Easthampton, Massachusetts, there was this theater, The Majestic. I went with my friends to Saturday matinees. Paid 35 cents to see two movies. From 1:30 to 4;30 pm, that's where you'd find us. At The Majestic. Part day care center, part cathedral. I learned a lot about life at The Majestic.

The gods I worshipped had agents and makeup artists.

The shows started when the sun was still high in the sky. I'd walk into the theater, pay my way, stop at the concession stand and buy me some ju jubes then mosey on in. If I was late, if the show had already started, my eyes would have to adjust. It would take a few minutes before I could find a seat.

That's what this is like. Finding another seat in the dark.