Like the world needs another blog. Nonetheless, I’ve taken the plunge, starting my blog with the new year. Blogs, I know, smack of ego trip even more than newspaper columns, but after 23 years of writing columns, believe me, ego is no long the primary motivation.

I’m blogging mostly to get my feet wet in this brave, new world of online publishing. We’re heading that way like all media seems to be, so why resist? Anyway, here are my first two entries – with many, many, many more to come.

Jan. 3: Just wondering
Here’s an oddity … and a convergence: There’s a hair salon (spa? styling emporium? cuttery? I’m no good at jargon) just up the street (up being north, down being south – I’m pretty good on directions) from our offices here on Oak Park Avenue (aka “The Avenue”) called Pagani. At some point in the last several months, they installed a large, flat-screen TV in their front window which runs an endless infomercial loop about “the science” of hairology or stylology or some such pretension. I’ve never looked at the images (my small protest against intrusive advertising), but I can’t escape the audio in my brief passes-by during the day. A man whose accent sometimes sounds English, sometimes German, or perhaps a German who learned English in England, regales anyone interested in the fine points of hair “science.”

I am, of course, offended by many things. Most columnists are. Way up there on my list of peeves is the intrusiveness of advertising. In order to be effective, advertising must intrude, penetrate, find a way past our defenses, into our consciousness. If advertising were respectful and passive, it wouldn’t offend me. The advertising in our newspaper is respectful. It doesn’t take over the page (as it does with the large daily papers where 7/8ths of many full-page spreads are devoted to ads, leaving room only for one, small quarter-page wire service article. Granted, that’s one of the reasons why the Sun-Times and Trib make a lot more money than we do, but it’s still offensive).

Animated, digital billboards look to be the wave of the future. I can’t wait. Can High Definition billboards be far behind?

I’m also offended by the omnipresence of television – bars, restaurants, waiting rooms – justified on the basis that “some” people watch them. Well, “some” people would also read if doctors, dentists, barbers, etc. would update their magazine collections once in awhile. They might also “think” a little more if the room weren’t filled with the cacophony of laugh tracks. Thinking is something that seems in short supply, judging by behavior.

But you’ve probably heard all this before.

The convergence is the interesting part. Pagani’s infomercial, broadcast loudly to the surrounding sidewalk, happens to be located by the bus stop, just south of the Green Line tracks (also an Oak Park Shuttle stop). So people wait there. Just a guess, but most of them probably aren’t Pagani hair design customers. The people I’ve seen waiting there look to be of modest means, whereas Pagani looks pricey to me. This is all speculation, but I wonder how someone waiting in the bitter cold for 20 minutes (or more) feels about being regaled by the hair concerns of people with (perhaps) much more disposable income.

Or maybe they don’t mind at all and enjoy the diversion. Maybe they’re learning a thing or two about the science of “hair design.”

Will this be the next great development in our cultural devolution – TVs at sheltered bus stops to help those waiting pass the time?

If so, maybe they could incorporate a heating unit.

Jan. 4: Step one taken, and now we have reason for hope
Obama’s victory in Iowa, and to a certain extent Huckabee’s as well, is a victory for “out of the mold” candidates. They are the only two candidates in the entire field who come across as authentic human beings. That doesn’t mean they’re perfect. It doesn’t mean they’re not politicians. Let’s not go overboard. But in a field of status-quo pols who came up through the “old” system, they stand out as genuine.

Now the rest of the field (those who aren’t dropping out) are scrambling and scratching their heads and asking, bewildered, “How do I become authentic in the next week?” Look for lots of calculated, contrived authenticity to come. The problem is, people can tell the difference. Iowa voters just proved that. Let’s hope New Hampshire voters can do the same.

And what about the rest of us? We have a love/hate relationship with Hope. Can we allow ourselves, those of us who recognize that Obama is the only option, to get excited? Or will he end up another Bobby Kennedy casualty? Will we end up disillusioned as the media dredges up anything and everything it can to show “he’s not as good as he seems”?

The point isn’t that he’s only worth voting for if he’s perfect. He’s not. The point is he’s the only one with the unique set of qualities that will allow him to begin to make a difference – and only if the American people get behind him in large enough numbers to throw the fear of God (and people power) into the old-style politicos.

The fact is, we have no alternative but to get our hopes up – even knowing they could be dashed. It’s the only way change can happen. Clinton can’t/won’t do it. Huckabee can’t/won’t do it. Edwards can’t/won’t do it. We have one shot at this, a historic opportunity. Do we have enough courage to get our hopes up?

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