American Newspeak

By Wayne Grytting

Hoarded at
Celebrating cutting edge advances in the Doublethink of the 90's

"Would the last publisher ...."

After publishing giant Random House was bought up by Bertelsmann A.G., the NY Times was kind enough to open its op-ed pages to a former representative of the German firm, investment banker Porter Bibb, who does not share the worries about monopoly control of our knowledge industry. In fact, he writes, "The publishing industry has been undergoing radical changes that could transform the business from the last great cottage industry into a model of efficiency and profitability." Can't you just see steel executives lined up to admire authors in their assembly lines. But it gets better when you ask, what about the small publishers and worthy but not best-selling books? Well it turns out that "Consolidation can even benefit the small publisher," according to Mr Bibb, by creating niches where they may have symbiotic relations with the giants (like a mosquito with an elephant). At least those who aren't consolidated can... (NYT 3/31)

A Dog's Best Friend

San Francisco is home to one of our nation's state of the art animal shelters, providing "home style" quarters for dogs and cats with Persian rugs, skylights, couches, tables and, of course, TV sets. It was only a matter of time before someone noticed the facilities were superior to those offered homeless humans. That individual was the local president of the S.P.C.A., Richard Avanzino, who brought forth a plan to provide lodging for the homeless right alongside the dogs. His rationale: "It would give our dogs a chance to know what it would be like to have an overnight roommate..." Not only could humans provide this valuable service, but they would get off the streets and gain a "dog buddy who will be their best friend overnight" (the 90's version of the one night stand). And yet another benefit, the shelter also provides toilet and obedience training... (NYT 3/22)

Name That Tune

In the 1950's it was called "payola" and it created a major scandal. But in the 1990's, making payments to record stations to play a song has earned a new name. This has evolved into the production of "infomercials" and its all quite legal as long as the station announces the song has been sponsored. For example, Flip/Interscope will be paying KUFO-FM $5,000 to play the song "Counterfeit" by Limp Bizkit over 150 times to its listeners. And Jacor Communications, owners of a chain of 194 stations, has announced it is considering similar "collaborations,"(a term borrowed, I believe, from the French Resistance of WW II). Radio consultant Tom Barnes is quoted as saying such payments act "as lubrication to get more artistically advanced music on the air." Thank goodness that's all they are used for. (NYT 3/31)

Designer Marxism

A new edition of the "Communist Manifesto" is out, described by Verso publisher Colin Robinson as "elegant enough to grace a coffee table." Marx and Engels have earned their place next to Sunset Magazine and Gentleman's Quarterly because of this years trend towards "revolutionary chic." Thanks also to its red tinged pages and stylish red ribbon, both Border's and Barnes and Noble are featuring the book. Meanwhile, Barney's department store in New York was reportedly planning to feature the book, along with a selection of red lipsticks, in its windows as "conceptual art." Barney's creative director Simon Doonan says "Its OK to look at the book as camp." In this light he suggests the book could, if given an attached handle, "make a snazzy accessory to a designer dress." (AP 3/22)

Getting Your Priorities Straight

Officials in the state of Oregon have been planning for some time what to do in case of The Big One. Should the earthquake hit, Oregon has plans in place for putting the state's most important function back on-line. While many employees are busy with rescue work, others will have as their duty restoring video poker and the state lottery. "Keeping the games going after a natural disaster such as an earthquake or flood is important because video poker and other games generate $1 million a day in profits for the state," said David Hooper, a Lottery spokesman. "We're a sales organization," he said. "We make money for the state by selling our product. That's why it's important for the state that we are able to get back on our feet quickly." And that's why the Oregon State Lottery awarded $124,000 to Netplex, a private company, to design a plan to make sure gamblers do not miss a beat during any disaster. (AP 3/19)

The Postmodernist Dept.

Are you tired of seeing people mired in conventional thinking? Well, so is the Wall Street Journal, as expressed in a feature article on Peter Drussman, a German businessman's who's built a small empire on the backs of low paid cleaning personnel. Herr Drussman has been arguing that Germany needs to lower wages to create more job opportunities, a decidedly minority view in Europe. But says the Journal, "To American ears, this sounds like the facts of life, even if regrettable." (Those of you who missed this sound may want to check your green cards.) Then, raising there patronizing tone one decibel, the Journal informs us, "The conventional thinking here (in Germany) is that every job should pay enough to cover a worker's basic needs." So much for stodgy conformity. (WSJ 3/3)

Ending Pollution

The state of Washington has found a way to stem the tide of dairy manures going into its rivers. Under Senate Bill 6161, the phrase "dairy manure" is to be deleted in state laws and replaced with the more positive "dairy nutrients." The Dairy Nutrient Management Bill defines "dairy nutrient" as "any organic waste produced by dairy cows or a dairy farm operation." Sheryl Hutchinson, a spokeswoman for the state's Department of Ecology says, "What they're trying to do is change dairymen's attitudes to view this dairy waste as a commodity." What Ms. Hutchinson did not explain was for whom chicken manure would suddenly become a nutrient. Despite the name change, I have no plans as of now to add it to my cereal. A footnote; the bill passed the state House by a vote of 97 to 1, with the lone dissenting vote coming from a former septic tank installer. (Seattle Times 3/9)

Precision Bombing

Do you have a baby on the way? Are you about to buy a house? While big government may know nothing about it, but companies like Metromail do. Metromail is your "one-stop data provider," selling data on 103 million American citizens. They offer corporations information on credit ratings, buying preferences and legal entanglements, to name just a few categories. This all helps advertisers target their marketing campaigns, according to Brono Rost, a spokesperson for a data company called Exparian. More importantly, it helps consumers, says Rost, by "providing them with information they need." Expect to see more consumers lining up at their mailboxes to get all this sorely needed information. (WSJ 3/30)

Little Brothers

Citizens of Maryland may have woken up to a creative way their state Motor Vehicle Department has been raising funds. The MVD has been selling their computerized database of personal information to anyone with the money to access it. Now with only a computer and the aid of an "information broker" like CDB Infotek of Santa Ana, California, anyone can peruse any Maryland resident's age, weight, driving record, unlisted phone numbers, property deeds, court cases and medical conditions. Information brokers can give you access to public data from 48 states, although most are not as complete as the Tarheel state provides. Is this Big Brother at work? No says Robert Mayer, chief information officer for the state of Maine. With electronic databases, "public records have become truly public." Just democracy in action. (WP 3/3)

The Pepsi Challenge

A cultural milestone of some sort was passed when 19 year old Mike Cameron was suspended for wearing a Pepsi shirt on "Coke Day" at his high school in Evans, Georgia. This heinous crime was described by principal Gloria Hamilton as being disrespectful towards visiting Coke executives and as "being disruptive and trying to destroy the school picture." The school picture in question consisted of the loyal student body lined up dressed in Coke's red and white colors to spell the word "Coke." (At least they spelled it right.) This long-standing tradition of having school pictures in the form of product names has come about as companies like Coke and Pepsi have been buying up exclusive rights to whole school districts. But rather than calling this "commercialization," Coke prefers, in the words of spokesman named Ms. Howe, to describe the practice more creatively as "developing a partnership with the schools." NYT 3/10, 3/16)

Special thanks this issue to the eagle eyes of Maarten Ultee, James Baldwin and John Gear. Bribes and requests to get on the mailing list can be sent to