Sunday, February 17, 2008

Seduced by language

Watching television last night and the bearded guy who is a spokesman for so many products (actually, he's more of a shoutperson since all he does is yell at me while he's on screen. I guess he doesn't really believe in the power of microphones and wants to make sure I can hear him) was on for some cleaner that was, he proudly (and loudly) exclaimed 'new and improved.'

That caught my ear. I can understand one OR the other, but both? How can something, someone, some idea that is "new" also, at the same time, be "improved"?
In order to make something better, don't you have to have used it for awhile? What kind of a factory, in this case, a cleaning compound factory, has an assembly line that makes stuff, and, just as we're going to put it into the boxes and load it into the trucks and ship it to the stores, BAM!, another assembly line grabs the newly-manufactured product and improves it. What is keeping a third assembly line from grabbing the now new AND improved product and doing one or the other to it again?

It's possible this factory actually never ships anything anywhere as its processes are trapped in an unending 'do loop' that is really a 'do-over loop'.The folks working there don't really care-they get paid and that they keep making the same product that goes nowhere is of little consequence to them. The management like it as well because there's no actual place on the reports to the corporate HQ and stockholders' groups to describe who is buying the product, just how many units of it are getting made. And once Skippy, down in accounting, came up with that new spreadsheet that allows them to count new AND improved as two separate products, output has actually increased. Stockholders love this whole concept since they are getting true value for their money. When they came on board and purchased the IPO, the factory was only making "Y" amount of the product and now, it's up to "Y + Z and 2/3 of A". Not too shabby on an original investment of three dollars a share.

Sound far-fetched? It shouldn't. We do it everyday of our lives and many of us rely on this process to feed our families. When, in the depths of the Vietnam War, forty years ago, we invented a 'Great Society" it came with an initiative known as the War on Poverty. We didn't actually shoot people with no money, though I suspect there's always been a sentiment of support for that notion, but rather we created elaborate and far-reaching programs and processes to do .....
Well, that was part of the dilemma, we never actually figured out what they were supposed to do in terms of reducing poverty, but we set about to do something with gusto. Forty years on we may have proven the road to a very warm place is paved with good intentions.

I would not hazard a guess as to the trillions (unless there is a word to describe the money BIGGER than trillions) we've spent to eliminate poverty, and yet, those pesky not-too-well-off people are still around. We have offices, buildings, and divisions of local and state government not to mention federal agencies dedicated to eliminating poverty, which have been at it for decades, and yet we haven't been able to do it.

Same for the War on Drugs. Untold amounts of money have been invested in education and interdiction and practically the same amount of money is expended every year by people to purchase and use illegal drugs. Sort of a wash, isn't it?
Do we have to talk about the Department of Defense and the Department of State's mutually exclusive and simultaneously complementary objectives in relation to this Brave New World? Just me, or did we do better when we used old school names, like the 'Department of War'? No doubts then, were there?

Having spent 8 years on active duty in the USAF I get confused by this entity known as the Department of Homeland Security (fearing it's about as successful as enforcing its name as those agencies handling the battles against poverty and narcotics are) since I can remember taking an oath to 'defend and protect the Constitution of the United States from all enemies, foreign and domestic' which would seem to obviate the need for a Department of Homeland Security.

Unless, of course, that bearded TV guy is around to explain that my oath for foreign AND domestic wasn't new OR improved.-bill kenny

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