What-Me Worry About MAD’s Demise

trumpputincoverI’m quite sure none of you gave this any serious thought, but doesn’t it seem a bit suspicious that Mad Magazine announced it’s all but shutting down shortly after its “face,” Alfred E. Neuman was referenced by Pres. Donald Trump? You may recall Trump derided the chances of South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg’s chances of succeeding him in the White House, telling Politico, “Alfred E. Neuman cannot become President of the United States.”  Fact is, Neuman did give it a shot in back in the ’60’s, running under his fairly over confident slogan “What-Me-Worry?” whatmeworry

For Buttigieg’s part, he tweeted that he had to look up who Neuman is because he claimed he wasn’t familiar with the reference. To that, I say, anyone who doesn’t know who Alfred E. Neuman is cannot be President, since the gap-toothed ginger represents just what made me what I am today–a semi-retired aging Baby Boomer who spends much of his day writing things in his basement office partially adorned with water color courtroom paintings of Pete Rose on the wall. I covered the case. Our artist kicked over the water for his paints in the jury box and it still makes me laugh. edpete

Now, two months later, Mad announces it’s shutting down. Coincidence, I think not. Once a chump like Trump co-opts the magazine’s mascot, you know only bad things can happen to a publication that took great joy in lambasting him and most of his predecessors over the past 60 some-odd years. That means my whole life.

But I will not be denied. My brother and I were devoted readers as we refused to mature  into adolescence and adulthood, regularly coughing up a quarter, and later 35 cents (cheap!) for issues of Mad and deep in a box in my awesome basement I came up with these three beauties from the 60’s. The pages are brittle, but then again, so was the humor.

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In what other publication could a kid learn to be a cynical shit though tough love satire like this classic showing the big bad wolf blowing down the Berlin Wall.

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I still crack up about the warning about making sure we pay close attention to the asterisk in ads. 1964 Plymic “luxury car with the economy price” for $2,164. Asterisk-all the stuff you need like power brakes, seats, a roof….are extra.

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There was the famous inside back cover fold in. Here’s one asking “Who wants to be President more than anything? with caricatures of former Vice President Nelson Rockefeller and failed 1964 candidate Barry Goldwater. Fold it in…and it reveals the real answer….Richard Nixon!  

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Think things are much different today than they were in Mad’s heyday in the 1960’s. You would be wrong. Take a look at Chapter 1 in The Mad Primer of Bigots, Extremists and Other Loose Ends, which concludes, “Now you know what a Super Patriot is. He’s someone who loves his country while hating 93% of the people who live in it.”

chapter1Mad held nothing sacred, taking aim at even the most sacred chestnuts such as the soundtrack from “Sound of Music” as part of its feature titled, “Fakeout Record Jackets.”

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Of course Mad’s classic subversive Spy vs. Spy strip basically lampooned how idiotic creating international conflicts is with every perceived “victory” being pyrrhic in the end. spyspy

Right up until the end, Mad shoved it up butts that deserved thorough stuffing, including recently departed Press Secretary Sarah Sanders …trumpsanders

and the arrogant Facebook posse.

facebooklibraBut the bottom line is we need Mad’s kind of satire to keep us laughing when so much seems so hard to take. Oh sure, a lot of what “the usual gang of idiots” published was technically “fake,” but like all good comedy, based on truth…and that’s what helps us keep it real.

RIP MAD. Neuman in 2020! Sorry, Pete. 

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The “Problems” With Your Vehicle May Just Be Problems With You

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Several years ago when I was an auto writer for The Detroit News and attending a media ride and drive program in Arizona, I was joined for 60-70 miles by a high ranking executive. I would drive, so I could learn about, and evaluate the new vehicle, while running a voice recorder so I could capture my interview with the executive. First thing, the executive says, “Ed, please turn off your recorder for a moment. I have something to say, that, if you associate it with my name, we’re through..forever.” Sure. I stop the recording and the guy asks me for a favor. “Could you please write a story with a simple angle but leave me out of it? That angle would be, ‘IQS is pure bullshit!” He then went on to elaborate complaining about the criteria for a “problem” and how automakers are screwed when operator error or failure to properly research a vehicle before purchasing may really be the culprits. Seeing I had only limited time with the guy I made no promises and quickly moved on to areas where he would go on the record so I could come away from my time with him with a story we could publish.

If you’re not familiar with it, IQS is the annual J.D. Power Initial Quality Study. Each year the J.D. Power sends surveys out to several thousand folks who are asked to cite what they would consider problems with their new vehicles after 90 days of ownership.

Based on the responses, the analytics company publishes a study ranking each brand by how many problems are reported per 100 vehicles as well as enumerating specific problems reported by consumers.The most recent study results were released a few weeks ago.

Sounds good, right?

Over the years, IQS has been criticized and questioned to the point where J.D. Power actually made wholesale changes to the survey some years ago.

hummergasArguably, one of the breaking points was when owners of gas hog Hummers complained they weren’t getting very good fuel economy from the beasts. Ya think? Was that a problem with the vehicle or a problem with customers not doing some basic research before buying?

Oh, over the years respondents would whine that the ride in a Jeep Wrangler was rough. Yes. That’s correct. The Jeep Wrangler is not a family land yacht, minivan or cushy crossover. It’s a vehicle designed to go off-road, climb rocks, take you places that have no roads. All one has to do is take a few minutes to research the Wrangler AND….take a sufficient test drive over less than perfect pavement. It’s not the Wrangler’s fault! A lot of people buy Wranglers just because they look cool and find out what they’re really all about later…then complain about the vehicle doing what it was designed to do. I owned one for 6 years and loved it because I kayak and the Wrangler had no problem navigating some of the iffy dirt and rocky two-tracks that led to the water. I only got rid of it when the transmission smoked up and died. It had a lot of miles on it and I figured I’d take advantage of its high trade-in value.


navSystemUpdateIt all further hit home when I covered this year’s IQS and we were told many people complained about several automakers’ infotainment systems. Oh..they cried about them being too complicated or whatever. So during the question and answer period I asked whether there’s really a problem with these systems or are owners just being too freakin’ lazy to read the manual to learn how to use the systems.

Here’s the answer I got: “People won’t read the manual. They just won’t. The true solution is to fix it upstream and get it right the first time.”

But what’s actually wrong? OK..yes..some systems are unduly complicated, but generally modern infotainment and connectivity systems are not necessarily so intuitive you can just sit down and operate them as you could in the old days when the most complicated electronics was an AM/FM radio with an 8-track, cassette or CD player. There is a learning curve. But you have to take the time to learn. Personally, I spent a couple of hours with the owner’s manual of my Subaru Ascent learning how its electronics work and what all the buttons and lights mean. Now I’m happy. It was easy. No complaints.

Some dealerships, like my Subaru store, offer what’s known as “second deliveries” where, after owning the vehicle for a week or so, you come back and there’s someone to answer any question you have and demonstrate how things work. If the instructions in the manual weren’t clear enough, the person conducting the second delivery is likely to help you figure it out. I know, I know…who wants to schlep back to the dealership? Well..my dealer dangled a 25 buck gas card as an added incentive, on top of, you know, learning how to use the cool stuff I paid for.

To be fair, IQS offers some valuable insight, especially when it comes to fit, finish and ergonomic issues a customer might not detect during a quick test drive, or do not become apparent until you’ve lived with the vehicle for a bit. If it’s really a quality issue, then the automaker deserves to take the heat. But if the issue is a failure by the customer to adequately research the vehicle and simply buys it because of appearance or brand cache’ or is simply too lazy to breeze through the owner’s manual..then it’s too damned bad. You don’t have to read the manual cover to cover…target the sections that pertain to items you’re not familiar with and return to it as needed. There are also plenty of instructional videos and customer support sites on the web. Jeez…make the effort!

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But every year when I’m covering IQS I’ll think back to that long ago conversation with the auto executive and his invective aimed at the closely followed study. When I break it down I really have to believe what he really meant was don’t report something as a problem with the vehicle, when often, the real issue is with the person driving it. 

Some Rules to Keep Those Crowded Democratic Debates Moving

debatefullBeen thinking a bit about the challenge of 10 candidates at a time trying to make their best pitches during the two-night Democratic version of “Survivor.”

The combination of binge-watching “Veep” and lack of REM sleep conspired to create this imaginary scenario of how it might go.

NBC Moderator: Welcome to the first Democratic presidential debates for the 2020 election cycle. Since we have so many unknowns, er, candidates on the stage mixed in with a few old guys, er, elder statesman, we’ll have to set down a few rules to make this work.

First, to save time, we’re boiling your names down to one or two quick syllables. For examples, you, from South Bend, you’ll be addressed as Butt, while long, tall, spastic hand-waving guy from Texas will be Butt-O. See the difference? Makes sense, right? There won’t be a doubt whom we’re addressing. The former Veep will be identified as Bye and the other old guy from Vermont will be Burn. The senators from California and Massachusetts will be recognized as Harry and Tonto respectively. Sorry if we seem disrespectful at times, but this is television and we don’t care.

As for the others whose polls barely show a pulse, we’re just going to address all of you as Who? Just jump in if you have a thought, but be prepared to do so only when we’re in commercial. That’s simply to keep things moving and because, again, we don’t care.

Some of you won’t like the names we’re assigned you but let’s face it, for at least half of you, it doesn’t matter because most Americans don’t know who you are anyway, so go with it and enjoy your 15 seconds of face time in between ramblings by the front runners, aka, those sucking up all the donations, airtime and are prominent enough to earn an obnoxious nickname from President Trump.

We’ll start with opening statements. Due to the number of candidates and time constraints please limit your statements to a 20-second pre-written soundbite you hope will go viral. 

From there our panel, chosen from recent visitors to the Bronx Zoo, will fire off piercing questions. Each of you will be limited to either two-word responses or one hand gesture. Rebuttals are allowed, but, again, due to time restraints they will be limited to the following choices:  “Huh,” “Uh uh,” “Well, yeah, but,” or simply a moment of arched eyebrows or a tight grimace.

At the end, each candidate will be afforded a closing statement of 12 seconds or less. That pretty much kills the idea of parenthetical thoughts or tangents and gets us off the air on time because no one in this great country wants to miss even a second of the popular NBC series “Filthy Rich Cattle Drive.” which, you have to admit, is genius programming following this useless cattle call.

We realize not every candidate will have to time to fully flesh out his or her talking points but then again, that’s not why you’re watching, right? You’re here for the inevitable embarrassing screw-up or pantsing of one candidate by another frustrated when his or her arched eyebrow rebuttal was laughed off as an incomplete response.

So if everyone is ready, let’s to this thing! Time’s wasting!

In Defense of Us Older White Guys

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Ever since Joe Biden jumped into the POTUS race I’ve heard a lot of talk to the tune of “oh crap, just an older white guy.” So I got to thinking. I’m not as old as Amtrak Joe but I’m chugging along in my late 60’s which means I’m probably considered an older white guy too– among younger white guys and their ilk.

Politics aside, I’m here to defend us older white guys…and even older non-white guys, because, well, they may have a shade of white, on top of their heads or in their facial hair. So we’re all brothers in ageism, right?

I read that some younger workers are unhappy with us older guys because many of us are still working–gumming up the corporate ladder for the young pups who want a bigger office and bigger paychecks. I actually retired from full-time work three years ago, but I work a couple of freelance gigs because, in both cases, those businesses came to me seeking someone with, uh, seasoning, aka, actual skills and experience. Not one of them said, “even though you’re an older white guy, we’ll hire you anyway.” Or, “even though we probably have enough older white guys on staff who we wish would finally hang it up so we can have more lower-paid younger white guys on the payroll, we’ll make an exception for you.”

Nope, as I said. They reached out to me, which is extremely flattering and not bad for the self-confidence–especially when my birth certificate blares, “Hey Ed! You’re a freakin’ older white guy!”

I like to think they came to me because they appreciate what I’ve accomplished during my career in journalism and corporate communications, along with what skills I have that might be helpful to them. In both cases, that’s exactly what they told me, and that’s a pretty nice feeling. I wasn’t ready to be a full-time retiree anyway. I ran into another sort-of retired journalist yesterday I hadn’t seen in a long time and we compared notes about freelancing–not for the money, but because it keeps our gray matter, mattering, and because what we do is just so much fun. “It’s impossible to just hit that off switch,” he said. So true. You just don’t have to slam that switch all the way to 11, as we did during our full-time work days.

There’s a lot to be said about institutional knowledge and overall experience. Aside from the obvious, they can provide valuable context and judgment along with a few tricks that  could be helpful to developing younger workers early in their career journeys.

One thing I love about working with younger people is it works both ways. I learn a lot from them too and that keeps me sharp and current. They also know all the good coffee places that aren’t Starbucks and I act like I’m hip by putting on my best Billie Eilish voice, going around the office telling the Millenials and Gen Z’s “I’m a Bad Guy!” billiee

So don’t write off us older white guys. Sure, it’s great, and entirely necessary, to bring along younger talent, but we’re still in the game. Maybe not playing the field, but we have enough in us to at least be designated hitters who can still sock a homer once in awhile.

Now I’m not advocating for Joe. But I’m also not Biden my time. Just watch out. At age 67, I still play ice hockey with much younger hot shots every week. I’m by far the oldest guy in the game. I’m a bit slower than those “kids” in their 30’s, 40’s and 50’s, but I’m still a pain in the ass and even score once in awhile. Yeah, this older white guy is still in game, and don’t even try to send me to the bench…I can still yank your balls with my stick.

Tearing Down Re-Building

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The other day I got a ping on my phone from that it has now been 11 years since any Detroit major league sports team had won a championship. There are several reasons for a team’s inability to win the big prize: bad luck, better opponents and, ah, yes…they’re re-building.

What does that mean exactly? The prevailing definition is the team must suffer some fallow years while young, inexperienced players learn the ropes, gain some seasoning and maybe one day will develop into key elements of a championship team.

SPORTS-BBA-TIGERS-YANKEES-SUSPENSIONS-MSWhat does it really mean?  It means your team will suck for an extended period of time because the owners of the team offloaded talented, but high-priced players to avoid busting through the salary cap or simply to save some dough, leaving less expensive over-the-hill scrubs or not ready for the show minor leaguers filling out the roster. Then management crosses their fingers hoping a couple of those kids can quickly morph from newbie to MVP just long enough to win it all. Then it starts all over again. The kids become talented men who know how to play, want either want bigger contracts or test the free agent waters for even more money, so the owners dump ‘em and it’s time to, uh, re-build again.

All this time the tone-deaf owners expect us to pay inflated, major league prices to attend minor-league level games and then wonder why the stands are so empty the vendors can be seen huddling in corners mumbling to themselves, “what am I gonna do with all these goddam hot dogs?” Easy. Beg the owners to stage more “Bark in the Park” nights when hungry bowsers will gladly relieve them of their unsold sausages.

Bottom line is, they’re not doing it right. The whole idea of the minor league system is to constantly develop younger talent that is ready for the big time as the veterans begin to falter or retire. Other positions are filled in through savvy trades and sensible free agent signings. The whole process  should be a gradual and constant but that’s not what’s happening.

buttsolicitorsI often wondered what would happen if other businesses were run this way. Say..in a law firm. A successful firm is stacked with highly skilled, highly paid attorneys who are winning criminal cases and multi-million dollar judgements. The place is flush. The partners are rolling in it. All is good. But at some point the partners realize they could be keeping more money by off-loading their highest paid lawyers and replace them with green rookies straight out of law school. So they pull the trigger. All in the name of, uh, rebuilding! Uh oh. Now the firm is losing cases left and right and their biggest clients have abandoned them. The partners are forced to sell their summer and winter homes, yachts and Bentleys. Despite this precipitous drop in performance, the firm seeks new clients at the hourly rate previously charged when they were flush with experienced barristers…but there are few takers. The firm’s shingle is dangling by a thread. Now..if only they had brought along young, promising rainmakers all along who could gain experience and skill so they were ready when the older attorneys retired or moved on, they’d still be raking in the fees and no vacation homes or ridiculous luxury items would be sacrificed.

It seems like such a simple and logical way of doing things. If you keep the pipeline filled with a constant flow of developing talent, you’ll never have to re-build..because all along you’ve been building.

Peeling Back the Sheepskins

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Ah…it’s graduation season and the youth of America is chomping at the bit to snag that sheepskin and move on to the next chapter in life–whether it’s college, a career or rearranging the parents’ basement for long-term mooching in lieu of revenue-producing endeavors.

My favorite graduation was when I was sprung loose from high school. It was 1969 and not one of the 1,735 graduates at Martin Van Buren High School in Queens Village, NY could swear on a Bible they didn’t, at one time, stupidly say to someone, “heh heh..I’m in the Class of ’69.” Yeah..we were Beavis and Butthead years before the animated slackers manifested the description of the show in its disclaimer as “dumb, crude, ugly, thoughtless, sexist, self-destructive fools.” Yay MVB Class of ’69!

Anyway, with 1,735 graduates that’s a lot of bored teenagers to schlep on and off the stage as their names are called, but Mom Nature did us a solid. Our graduation was held outside in a park. Rain threatened and the thick, gray clouds overhead promised to make that threat real. With that in mind the principal and others wisely decided to can the roll call and stage/perp walk. They referenced the rainy forecast and gleefully announced, “in light of the expected storm…you’re all graduated! Move your tassel over and head for one of the picnic tables where your diploma is sitting in alphabetized piles. Find yours and run! Congratulations…and get going! It’s gonna pour!”

Graduation in 30 minutes flat. Four years of hard work ends in a 15 second sprint. Always wished I was tall enough to make the track team.

My next favorite graduation came many years later when I was working for CNN as Detroit Bureau Chief and correspondent. The great staff in my bureau discovered that in the small Upper Peninsula town of Calumet the local high school’s graduation would be feature not one, or even two, valedictorians….but 8! So we arranged to travel up there on a little puddle jumper that would get us part of the way up there to Houghton, Michigan, then drive the rest of the way. We hit the ground running once we arrived, shot profiles and interviews with each of the 8 honored students then covered the evening graduation, which took a long time because there were 8 valedictory speeches! It was late by the time we were done, but then we had to pull an all-nighter to get the piece written and edited in time to make the morning shows.

This, of course, meant the creative process being fueled by junk food and beer and our tired and cranky, and beer-infused shooter constantly harping on me to get the damn script done. “You done with the effin’ script yet? I’m tired and we’re running out of beer!” Yup…got it done, he shook off the buzz and got it done and fed to Atlanta in time to make air.  I think it turned out pretty well. I’ll let you be the judge of that.

I would have loved to see what would have happened, though, if they had held it outside that night. Looked like rain.