Monday, March 18, 2019

Irrational Brand Dislikes

Sometimes we are rational, sometimes not.

One of my irrationalities has to do with product brands.   For some reason there are brands that turn me off no matter if their products are measurably superior to those of other brands.

Let me give you some examples. Some of these might be brands that you are extremely fond of -- for whatever reasons you have.

I can't explain why, but one brand I don't care for is Nike.  I do own a Nike baseball cap with University of Washington colors and symbolism.  I bought it because I needed a show-my-loyalty garment for when I (rarely) attend Husky football games, and the Nike cap happened to be better looking than the alternatives.  (To show my dual-loyalty, I also usually wear a Penn sweatshirt to the game.)

Another brand I don't care for is The North Face.  That's because I don't like their logotype, rationally designed though it might be.  I suppose I might be missing out on some fine products.  But there are plenty of equally fine competing products, so I'm probably not losing if I never consider North Face.

Yet another garment brand is Under Armour.  I think there's something about the name that seems icky, though I can't explain to myself just why it seems icky.

As for automobiles, perhaps my most irrational avoidance target is Subaru.  But at least I do know why I have this "thing" about Subarus.  It's because of the 360 cc Subarus than Malcolm Bricklin first imported to the USA in the late 1960s.  Those cars were tiny, looking like motorized Dutch wooden shoes.  I thought they were ridiculous, and never got over the feeling even though full-size Subarus have interesting engineering features.

In contrast, there are some brands for which I have irrational positive preferences.  But that might be a topic for another post.

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Ocean Cruise Strategies

I didn't go on cruise ships until eight or so years ago.  That's if you don't count crossing the Pacific Ocean twice when I was in the army deployed to Korea.  Since then, I've been on five and will take my sixth soon.

My take is that there are three main types of cruise ship passenger motivations.  Some people are there mostly for the onboard experience.  That might include dining, pass-time activities, entertainment, and visiting with fellow passengers.  A sub-group might be folks with mobility issues, where those are minimized by being onboard while taking a break from being at home.  The purest way to do this is to book passage on repositioning cruise (to or from Europe or Asia, depending on the time of year): very few stops en route.

Then there are those who cruise with the goal of visiting specific destinations, and are indifferent to shipboard activities.

Finally, there are those who like the whole package: shipboard things and ports-of-call.

I fall into the destination-oriented category, selecting cruises on the basis of how many ports-of-call are both interesting and new to me.  Given that my main interest is Europe, it doesn't take many cruises to exhaust its potential.

However, my upcoming cruise is in the Far East.  That's because Hong Kong and Shanghai have always interested me.  It also stops in northern China and southern Japan, so at least those areas will be new to me.

But once that's done, I'll probably mostly do bus tours.  That's because they pack much more viewing items per day than any cruise ship offers.

Your results probably vary.

Monday, February 18, 2019

Over-Examining the Past Through Present Eyes

The most recent Review section of the Wall Street Journal's weekend edition has a piece titled "An American Icon the Almost Wasn't" -- dealing with the Lincoln Memorial and its famous statue.

I found much of it interesting, while other parts bothered me.  Its writer, Harold Holzer, who works at New York City's Hunter College, spent far too much space regarding the lack of reference to Blacks and slavery in the quotations chiseled on the structure's walls.  Had he mentioned it once and let it go at that, it would have been fine in my opinion: his point would have been made.

These days the political left -- including most of non-science academia such as Holzer -- strikes me as being obsessed with race.  I suspect the overly-done virtue signaling Holzer did might have a means of self-protection from potential wrath from his peer group.  That is, Holzer was doing his best to demonstrate that he wasn't a racist to the detriment of what otherwise was a nice article.

Shifter to a broader perspective, it's probably nearly impossible to view the past free of current experience and points of view.  I think it's perfectly fine when a writer's stated goal is to compare and contrast, say, daily life in early Imperial Rome with daily life in today's San Francisco.  Also fine is placing a past case in the perspective of its history and its future.

What increasingly bothers me is when writers fail to try to place themselves in the context of their subject's times.  Which is not to say that Vlad the Impaler's or Those Jefferson's contexts justified all that they did.  But some care should be taken to explain those contexts that, just like present contexts, greatly influenced their attitudes and deeds.

After all, those in the future might well consider academic and political belief systems in present-day America as being being ridiculous or perhaps even ghastly.

Thursday, January 31, 2019

Great Men

I'm sure its more complicated than that, but I have a dim memory of a Sophomore year English class teacher who said that Leo Tolstoy thought that the tide of history and other external factors were far more important than the deeds of people such as Napoleon.  This was in reference to Tolstoy's book War and Peace that we somehow had to read during the ten-week academic quarter.

I see little reason to deny that people are influenced by their times.  On the other hand, there are some people who are far more capable than most others in altering the direction of history significantly.  Culture, technology, all the rest of the package they might use or resist on their road to greatness because they can, while the rest of us cannot or do not.

What brings this to mind are two fairly recent biographies written by Andrew Roberts.  One is about Napoleon, the other deals with Churchill.

Note that I didn't write "Napoleon Bonaparte" and "Winston Churchill" in the previous sentence.  That's because I assume most readers know exactly who I'm referring to.  That's because they were great men.  One doesn't need to approve of what they did to agree that in several respects they were superior to most of their contemporaries.

Napoleon is generally acknowledged as being a military genius, though he eventually began making military mistakes.  He had the sense to understand the political situation in France as the Revolution faded and was able to seize power while still a young man.  He also was an intellectual, widely read and interested in a variety of fields.  He didn't have to bring scholars along when he invaded Egypt, but did so.  One result of that was the discovery of the Rosetta Stone and the recognition of its importance.  Then there is the Code Napoleon, the basis for law in many parts of Europe.

Churchill's accomplishments were less wide-ranging than Napoleon's.  His greatest deed was altering the course of World War 2 by not seeking peace with Hitler after France fell, while shoring up the morale of the British public.  Otherwise, he was a prolific writer, a fearless soldier who killed men in battle, an adventurer newspaper correspondent, and a politician who held many of the most important British government positions at one time or another.

How many of us have anything near Napoleon's and Churchill's skill-sets?

Monday, January 21, 2019

Media Prepping for Mortality: Ginsburg and MacArthur

As I write this, I have absolutely no knowledge of the state of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg's health.

Unfortunately, someone at Fox News goofed, airing a notice that she had died.  As noted here, the network apologized.  I haven't followed this matter other than being aware that it happened.  But I don't doubt that there were folks out there accusing the network of wishing she actually was dead.

Aside from the slip-up, the people at Fox were simply doing what larger journalistic organizations do: preparing for certain future events.  A newspaper such as The New York Times has probably hundreds of canned obituaries ready for use when needed.  When a famous person dies, they simply add a few sentences citing the date of death and perhaps some surrounding circumstances.

And if the person is well known such as Justice Ginsburg, headlines are prepared.  I know this from past experience.

In March of 1964 I was in Tokyo for a week's temporary duty at Stars & Stripes, the armed forces overseas daily newspaper.  At that time General Douglas MacArthur was in failing health, and a S&S staffer was walking across the newsroom with a dummy front page with two-plus inch type announcing "MACARTHUR DIES."

As it happened, he hung on for nearly another month, but that headline or something similar was eventually used.

Friday, January 18, 2019

A Modernism Hypothesis and Thoughts on Social Class

I recently came across this item on the Internet having to do with the idea that Modernism was a snobbish reaction to increasingly literate lower classes becoming aware of and appreciating the then-current art scene.  That is, the upper-class elite needed to protect its status by downgrading art that was becoming too popular and promoting new forms of art that were more difficult to understand in terms of everyday visual experience.

It's a cute hypothesis.  But not the whole explanation for the rise of Modernism, and probably a lesser factor than the reasons usually set forth in art history books and articles.

Nevertheless, there is truth that upper classes tend to defend their status in various ways, one of which is by contrasting their lifestyle with those of supposedly lesser groups.  Taste in art could be one such item in the contrast package, though hardly the dominant one.

As for the concept of "class," for a long time I've had difficulty with the term.  On the one hand, it's an easy word to capture normal societal differences in wealth, education, occupation, consumption patterns and so forth.  On the other hand, historically in Europe there were hereditary titles that elevated some families from the rest of the population.  This was not a rigid system such as Hindu castes.  Men could become ennobled by a king for various reasons including military performance, so the system was permeable.

A problem I have is that here in America where social class is of the permeable variety, some intellectuals and politicians use the word "class" to imply that American society is more socially rigid than it is.  Worse, those same intellectuals and politicians tend to promote conditions that lead to increased rigidity here.  An example of this?  The seemingly reasonable requirement for an educational attainment level for being considered for a job.  When too strictly applied, some people having considerable merit are denied the opportunity to demonstrate how they can perform.

Friday, January 11, 2019

Malta, Then and Now

Malta is interesting, even though it is a small place.  That's probably because of its strategic location in the Mediterranean Sea.  A fleet based there can dominate sea traffic passing between Gibraltar and Suez, not to mention many other routes crossing the gap between the Italian toe and Tunisia.

The islands have been inhabited since prehistoric times, conquered now and then (the local language is Arabic-based), and besieged when the Knights of St. John and when the British ruled.  Depending which aspects of Malta's history appeal to one's sense of history, it makes for a fine short-stay tourist destination.

I happen to be a military history buff, and many photos in my reference library's books show Royal Navy warships in Valletta's magnificent harbor.  So naturally that and old-town Valletta were the places in Malta I wanted to visit.

The day I was there in the Fall of 2017 it rained heavily.  I didn't even take my camera from its pouch.  A year later I returned and the weather was good and I took dozens of photos.  Alas, the Royal Navy is gone, but below is a then-and-now pairing looking towards the harbor entrance from Valletta.  The "then" photo might have been taken 1860-1880.