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31 January 2001

Thanks for the notes of sympathy. They're appreciated.

Feedback on the new design is welcome. Particularly if it isn't looking good in your browser (it should, though -- I only break the HTML 4.01 Transitional rules once in this template, intentionally).

New York Quarter The New York quarter is out:

The other designs for 2001 are available for perusal now too:

Here's another possible tax relief tactic the US could try instead of a complex tax cut with unpredictable results:

  • Why Not A Tax Rebate? by David Broder [Washington Post]
    ...two former Republican congressional staffers, Steve Hofman and Ed Kutler ... suggest that instead of cutting taxes now, and just hoping that the effect on the budget will not jeopardize the other goals, a portion of each year's actual budget surplus be promptly returned to taxpayers as a rebate.

    Allocating one-fourth of the surplus to tax reductions is in line with Bush's own proposal -- but his plan relies on those shaky projections.

    Taxpayers would be grouped into four quadrants, depending on the size of their previous year's tax bills. Those in the middle quadrants would get a dollar amount that is slightly more or slightly less than the average rebate. Payments to the top quadrant would be highest, but would be capped at double the average amount. People in the bottom quadrant would get least, but would be guaranteed at least half the average payout.

    That would give more dollars to those most heavily taxed, but the highest percentage reduction to those at the bottom of the income ladder, and would ensure that most of the money went to middle-class taxpayers.

Very interesting, and relatively straightforward. I kinda like it. It's probably doomed.

This week Salon had an incisive two-part series about advertising and women. First, talking about an anti-domestic-violence campaign in New York:

  • Gimme a V-I-C-T-I-M! by Jennifer Block [Salon, 4 pages]
    High school portraits, one after the other, ran down the subway car, beaming that look of the enlightened yet innocent, hopeful yet tentative, empowered yet girly. // Below each picture, in italics, were yearbook-style superlatives ... "Most Likely to Be Stalked," "Most Likely to Be Forced Into Sex," "Most Stitches Found on Forehead," "Most Bruises," "Most Ashamed of Her Abuse," "Most Excuses for a Black Eye," "Most 911 Calls."

    The simple abundance of young women labeled by their dismal futures ("Most Likely to Be Killed by Her Boyfriend") gives domestic violence an air of predictability and inevitability. ... This will always happen; boys will be boys, so let's give the girls a phone number and help them help themselves. ... Isn't it the abusers' responsibility to stop? And don't they ride the subway too? ... We ask the victim of domestic violence, "Why don't you leave?" but we rarely ask, "Why won't he stop?"

    If we're going to burden people, let's burden the perpetrators of the crime. Did the mayor's commission ever think of putting pictures of boys up there as well? How about punks, nerds and jocks with the credits "Most Likely to Push Girlfriend Down Stairs," "Most Violations of a Restraining Order" and "Most Likely to Rape His Prom Date"? Garrett and McCagg say they thought of that, but the commission was explicit about keeping the focus on the girls.

    Not everyone has fallen down on the job. For its hot line, Metropolitan Family Services of Chicago created billboards depicting bruised faces of young women, but the tag lines were directed toward the abusers: "It's bogus to hit your girl"; "Is this true love?"

Part 2 is about woman-targeted advertising in particular, with some additional thoughts about the increasing pervasiveness of advertising in general (one of my pet peeves):

  • You're soaking in it, an interview with Jean Kilbourne by Jennifer L. Pozner [Salon, 5 pages]
    In the funniest scene in [What Women Want], when Mel Gibson finds out how much it hurts to wax his legs, he wonders, "Why would anyone do this more than once?" That's a very good question. But, of course, the film doesn't go there. The real solutions -- to stop waxing or to challenge unnatural beauty standards or to demand that men grow up -- are never offered. Instead, the message is that we must continue with these painful and humiliating rituals, but at least we can escape for a while by lacing on our expensive sneakers and going out for a run.

    The truth is, most men gain insight into women not through quick fixes but by having close relationships with them over time, sometimes painfully. In the world of advertising, relationships are instant and the best ones aren't necessarily with people.

    Straight women, and these are pretty much the women in ads, are told that it's normal not to expect very much or get very much from the men in their lives. This normalizes really abnormal behavior -- with male violence at the extreme and male callousness in general -- by reinforcing men's unwillingness to express their feelings. This harms men, of course, as well as women.

    Girls are told not to speak up too much, not to be too loud, not to have a hearty appetite for food or sex or anything else. Girls are literally shown being silenced in ads, often with their hands over their mouth or, as in one ad, with a turtleneck sweater pulled up over their mouth. ... "Let your fingers do the talking" (an ad for nail polish), "Watch your mouth, young lady" (for lipstick), "Make a statement without saying a word" (for perfume), "Score high on non-verbal skills" (for a clothing store).

Some of the things she said reminded me of Doc Searls' piece from a while back, worth pointing to again:

  • There is no demand for messages. [Strom]
    ...there are only two kinds of advertising demanded by their consumers: yellow pages and classifieds. It's not coincidental that they're both ugly. Beauty isn't a value when the only purpose is to answer the simple demand for useful information.

    Let me see a show of hands: who here wants a message? Right: none. And who wants to shield themselves from messages they don't want? Exactly: everybody.

    TV advertising has negative demand. It subtracts value.

    ...print ads are tolerable and sometimes even welcome, because the reader has some choice about them. Junk mail is 98% waste, by its own admission. And banner ads on the web are in the same range. Most of them are low-impact spam: rarely useful and never welcome. Already some advertisers are only paying for click-throughs. Add a little more accountability, and they might not even pay for that.

I'm getting back up to speed. Back tomorrow, hopefully.

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