The Long View 2004-11-04: Voting with their Flyer Miles; Integrity; Marketing

The continuing saga of John Reilly versus the HotLlama DVD player is pretty funny. This player doesn't seem to be commercially available anymore, but all of the Google search hits are for people complaining about it.

Voting with their Flyer Miles; Integrity; Marketing

Not only celebrities are threatening to leave the United States because they find it ideologically uncongenial. Ordinary upper-middle-class people are more or less advanced in their plans for comfortable exile.

"I can no longer in good conscience support a nation that believes it is OK to lie to start wars," she said. "I will not live in a country where dumb and dumber are my two choices for president. I'm taking my assets out of the country and moving to Central America, where ironically, I will have more freedom to live my life without interference from a corrupt government. My husband and I will leave within four months."

Unless this woman is moving to Costa Rica, her expectations for a corruption-free future are likely to be rudely disappointed. And if she is moving to Costa Rica, she is likely to find an expatriot American community that moved there in the 1990s to escape what they perceived as creeping socialism.

Still, things could be worse. The last time emigrant fever broke out in the United States was during the early years of the Depression, when hundreds of Americans accepted offers to lend their expertise to help build socialism in the Soviet Union. For the most part, these people disappeared during the Purges.

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And if you do flee the stultifying confines of the Great Republic, you may find that its politics is not as idiosyncratic as you have been led to believe:

CANBERRA, Australia, Nov. 8 (UPI) -- The issue of abortion is becoming an increasingly hot topic in Australia, with the federal treasurer claiming it is a regional, and not a federal matter...The issue arose recently when the federal health minister, deputy prime minister and other senior coalition members of parliament called for a reduction in the number of abortions, particularly late terminations.

I don't know enough about Australian federalism to say what the principled pro-life position should be there. If a matter has usually been handled locally, people will often react badly if the matter is arbitrarily preempted by the national government. Certainly the pro-abortion faction in the US never made a bigger mistake than when they federalized the issue.

In this regard, we should note that the one really objectionable thing about John Ashcroft's Justice Department has been its studied refusal to allow its pro-life litigation to be affected in any way by considerations of mere constitutional principle:

Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski is criticizing outgoing Attorney General John Ashcroft for appealing a federal appeals court's decision preventing the federal government from declaring that federally-controlled drugs can't be used in assisted suicides because they don't constitute a medical purpose.

On this narrow question, the governor is right: the federal government cannot control the practice of medicine in this fashion. Why did Ashcroft continually bring cases like this?

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On November 9, The PBS affiliate WNET aired The Persuaders, another expose' by Douglas Rushkoff of marketers and their wicked ways. The program emphasized that the problem of "clutter" is becoming critical: there is so much advertising that ordinary ads are becoming invisible. That is why advertisers are increasingly turning to "product placement," the strategy in which products are incorporated into entertainment. The program also had the first acknowledgment I have seen in a long while that the real target of marketers is their clients. Marketers are creative types who are more interested in exercising their talents than in selling goods and services; the real challenge lies in coaxing the client to pay the marketer to amuse himself. The expression "he who pays the piper calls the tune" is a marketing slogan devised by pipers.

Critiques of this sort have been with us for 50 years, and they still have some validity. Still, I wonder whether they are becoming anachronistic, at least with regard to some topics. "The Persuaders" addressed the question of political advertising, but without once addressing the fact that this was the year when the "broadcast" model of politics began to break down. No doubt it is shabby, as the program pointed out, that Republican strategists managed to replace the term "Estate Tax" with "Death Tax" during their campaign to repeal the tax on transfers of wealth at the time of death. But is that really more important than the successful revolt in the blogosphere against Dan Rather's Texas Air National Guard hoax?

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Speaking of marketing issues, I would like to take back some of the harsh things I said about the Hotllama software company in my blog entry of October 25, in which I basically said that their DVD player was the sort of software you would have expected Lovecraft's monsters to write. The Hotllama customer service department found that entry, and emailed me a friendly note of explanation. Glitches happen, and it is too much to expect every application to work seamlessly with my increasingly archaic software. Still, I would like to highlight one point that Hotllama made in its note, in response to my complaint about the amount of personal information the DVD player asked for during installation:

But as with any software, installation is necessary, but you could have opted out of adding your email address, etc. but we did require your ZIP Code. We assure you that we treat any information we received as purely and totally anonymous, always have, and always will.

Is it possible that marketers do not know that no sane person responds to this sort of prompt accurately? Or do they really think that 25% of their customers are 100-year-old women who live in Alaska?

Copyright © 2004 by John J. Reilly

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