Feb 13

Paul Harvey, FFA, Dodge win the Super Bowl

Maybe I’m aging out of the demographic. Maybe a lot of sponsors should demand their money back. Either way it seemed that with costs ranging from $3.8 to $4 million per 30-second spot, the value seemed to be lacking.

Unless you look at all of them as regressions, then even some of the average spots might get some Monday replays. For once the game was compelling, and you could actually leave the room during the breaks. In hours of programming, only spot one stood out.

Blake Harris wrote “So the only time all night the room has been totally silent has been during the Paul Harvey commercial. Everyone was glued to tv.”

You could write an essay why. Some obvious points — Paul Harvey, a way of life, a lack of shrill Madison Avenue attitude and agriculture — jump out.

Paul Harvey was the consensus best broadcaster in the business for generations. There’s not much argument on this, nor should there be. The industry won’t allow anyone like him again, let alone better than him. A statement like that owes a lot to his longevity and his staff, but the man had a voice and an intriguing pace. He had a touch with a microphone and everyone attached to his programming had a deft feel for a central element of society.

And maybe those times have changed. Demographies are always changing, improving and evolving. Maybe the people that could identify with Harvey are just living quietly and being drowned out by the morass of mass media. Maybe there’s a lifestyle of quiet humility and moral rectitude that is just beneath the surface. Maybe the spot appeals to a generational nostalgia for which we long. Maybe that’s gone forever. None of these are particularly true over another. All of those things — celebrated in a spot like that, by a man like that — still exist. They’re just a little harder to see because of all the other noise.

You’ve watched commercials, seen ads, felt the highs and lows of every medium. You’ve seen the Super Bowl spots. Reduce any of these things to their own elements. Make them stand alone, apart, from their advertising counterparts. They can be absurd, necessary of course, but absurd. Take your financial advice from a talking baby. Choose your insurance because an actor is pretending to be snow on a roof. Consider every ad produced since “Sex sells” became the first rule of the creative industry. There’s not much else to say about Madison Avenue after that. Perhaps an ad not designed to shock or titillate is actually a winner

Not to talk about that ad frame for frame, but that long, wide, bleak shot of that Angus at the beginning said so much about what you were about to experience. Paul Harvey was talking to the 1978 National FFA Convention in Kansas City in that speech, extolling the virtues of a way of life that, as a society, we’ve almost forgotten because most of us have never known it personally. Because of economic turns and technology and the postal system and education and all manner of things the farm has typically become a big corporate organization. There are less people doing the hard work to keep us fed, even as the production is increasing.

When Paul Harvey made that speech in 1978 the national numbers were:

Total population: 227,020,000
Farm population: 6,051,000
Farmers 3.4% of labor force
Number of farms: 2,439,510

Things were changing awfully fast. Still are, in many respects. These days only 1.96 million people in the U.S. are farmers or working directly in the agricultural industry whereas the nation is filled with an estimated 315,268,206 people as of this writing.

When I was in the FFA — I had the pleasure of attending five national conventions and served as a state officer in the Alabama FFA Association — the stat in use was that two percent of Americans were farmers. That percentage continues to decline, making a narrow part of the hourglass ever more slender.

There’s a movement afoot, the locavore movement, people that aspire to eat local produce, which would naturally promote a simpler example of farm economics. It must be serious because we’ve mangled words to create a new title for them within the language. Maybe a quiet shift is coming. Maybe there’s just a longing for a more romanticized time. Maybe it is just a great spot, filled with both nostalgia and truth.

Ultimately you take two iconic pieces of Americana, Paul Harvey and the men and women on the farm. (Yes, the spot needed migrant workers.) Put them in a quiet presentation that belies every other spot running against it with a tone that didn’t need to be crafted by a skyscraper executive* and you’ll beat a GoDaddy commercial every time. A Wall Street Journal blog has already called it “The Great American Super Bowl Commercial.”

Put together components that bespeak of a certain quite nobility, and you’ll get that.

Ram is raising $1 million for the National FFA Organization. Here’s how you can contribute. You can support them directly, too.


*Indeed, the Super Bowl spot was actually an updated version of this YouTube video that was uploaded in 2011:

Jan 13

A few photographs

Here is a panorama of the historic Auburn train station. Click to embiggen in another tab:

Train Station

Lot of history in that joint. Jefferson Davis reviewed the Auburn Guard there as he was on his way to his inauguration at Montgomery. That was, apparently, the first presidential review in the Confederacy. This is also the place where students sabotaged Georgia Tech’s football team in 1896:

The Wreck Tech parade, and the pajamas, date back to their first football meeting in 1896 where legend has it that the A.P.I. students snuck to the train station under cover of darkness and greased the tracks. The train couldn’t get stopped at the station and the Tech players had to walk some five miles back to Auburn to get their 45-0 beating.

The last train passenger was called aboard in 1970. Empty for almost a decade now, the last tenant was a real estate agency. The old building needs a lot of TLC.

Here’s a door handle at the train station:

Train Station

And by the rails, a self portrait at the first sign passengers would have seen getting off the train:

Train Station

A closer view of a font you’ll never see again:

Train Station

These shots were part of a brief ride today. I got other pictures today, so the marker series will return next week. That’s progress.

Nothing about the ride felt very good today, though. Nothing about me felt very confident of myself. Just a lousy ride. But I also found an incredible curve I had to slow down through, lest I wind up in the trees. And then I had to ride through a big neighborhood disagreement that involved at least five police officers, two of which I almost hit on my bike because they didn’t look both ways before crossing the street. One of those days.

Here’s a sunset over Agricultural Heritage Park, with the intramural field in the background to the right:

Train Station

Even “those days” are beautiful.

Jan 13

Clever title to come

Hey, did you notice? I updated all the photo galleries! I changed the font on the blog! And I added new banners to the top and bottom of this page! There are 36 headers and footers now. Refresh to see them all!

I also changed the site’s links to a server side include system. And I’ve tinkered with some other ideas too. These are productive times.

Rode a few miles on the bike. Not very many because I am still sore. Maybe someone will say differently, but there is a difference in suffering and hurting on a bicycle. I don’t mind the legs and the lungs and the feet and the seat. But my neck — which is connected to my collarbone and shoulder — that hurts. It is something about the necessary posture of cycling and whatever related muscular problems I’m enjoying.

Can’t even stay on the bike long enough yet to suffer, a point of honor when it comes to a bicycle, so I take it easy. Which is a good thing since my fitness is presently lousy.

So I did a little work on a paper, I cleaned out an inbox and made a lot of recruiting phone calls, talking to high school students who are looking for their college. I get the chance to talk up Samford, our journalism and broadcast and public relations programs, the student media, the new MBA program and more. Lots of good fun.

Had a long dinner at an Irish place with a friend, we talked sports and the rodeo and cannons, which just capped off a fine day.

Good thing, since tomorrow will be a lot like it.

Also, Justified, Justified, Justified:

Jan 13

Return to the saddle once more

Wake up!


Your time of slumber is over, Cateye and Felt. I have many, many miles to start adding back into my routine. And today is the day that slowly starts. Today is my first day on the road since the crash and the subsequent surgery.

Looking back on those helmet photographs in the crash post makes me queasy. Thinking about how that lousy ER wasn’t concerned at all about my head just makes me angry.

Time marches on and now I can pedal on. I have a new tire on my bike, a Gatorskin. Everything is tuned up. I put on a pair of bibs for the first time since June — I’ve been riding the stationary in normal lycra. The bib strap goes right over my collarbone, which I hadn’t even considered, and that was the first thing that came to mind when I pulled on the straps.

Put on a jersey, threw on my new cycling jacket — a lovely Christmas gift this year. Filled the water bottles, put on the bike shoes, noted I was missing a glove and searched that out. Filled the tires with air. Put on my new helmet, which was a gift from my mother not too long after I crashed. Matches my bike almost perfectly and was a great way to inspire. I’ve thought a lot about that new helmet while recovering.

Walked the bike outside. Felt a bit anxious about it. I told The Yankee, right about here:


I don’t normally get too worked up about things, but there are questions. Will I remember how to balance? Can I clip out of the pedals without embarrassing myself? Can I manage to stay upright? What happens the first time I really I have to lean into the handlebars? Will the shifting still make sense? What will I do when I see debris in the road?

That’s what caused the accident, after all.

Turns out, as she said when I clipped in, it is just like riding a bike. So I stood over the frame and smiled and pedaled off to the road behind our house, where I start to warm my legs.

There was a lot of energy in my legs today, but my lungs felt impressively shriveled. That’s OK though. This was just a refresher ride. I have to figure out how it all feels and what I can hold up to. I’m a long way from doing real miles, and that’s sad and —

Ow. My neck is stiff. I’ll blame forgetting the cycling posture. But I did a little warmup ride. I had to climb one little hill. I felt gassed, but not terribly embarrassed should anyone see me. I’ve got a great scar I can use as an excuse and this is just day one.

So a few weeks, I said, of just getting everything back under me. And then I can think about miles and fitness. But I’m riding again.

Riding again.

Dec 12

This plumbing has happened before, this plumbing will happen again

For the seventh time in our two-plus years in the house I undertook a plumbing chore this evening. The working mechanism in the tank of one of our toilets had forgotten how to turn off — a plastic tab having turned to dust or what have you — which threatened an overflow and so on.

The good news is that this is the third one of these I’ve replaced in the last 18 months. At least it is easy.

The big thing is keeping everything dry. You have to drain the tank, and then climb between the cabinet and the porcelain and work your way through two plastic bolts. These were made in China, of course, so they are the best plastic money can buy.

And then there’s the water dripping, because a little drip is better than a lot of sponge drying. After that the new device, which will surely find some way to crumble before 2014 arrives, goes in.

Seen another way this is really an exercise in defying the Mayans, who were big on plumbing:

A water feature found in the Maya city of Palenque, Mexico, is the earliest known example of engineered water pressure in the new world, according to a collaboration between two Penn State researchers, an archaeologist and a hydrologist. How the Maya used the pressurized water is, however, still unknown.

“Water pressure systems were previously thought to have entered the New World with the arrival of the Spanish,” the researchers said in a recent issue of the Journal of Archaeological Science. “Yet, archaeological data, seasonal climate conditions, geomorphic setting and simple hydraulic theory clearly show that the Maya of Palenque in Chiapas, Mexico, had empirical knowledge of closed channel water pressure predating the arrival of Europeans.”

I had no idea I’d find that story when I started the Mayan joke.

Anyway, after a few attempts, the washer was seated. The newest fine plastic from China was in place and tightened.

Also replaced some light bulbs in the other bathroom, because electricity with wet hands is fun for everyone! And because if you’re going to one of the home improvement stores you may as well combine your misery. The bulbs are on the primary aisle when you walk in and the cheap plumbing stuff isn’t far away. Naturally, since I knew exactly what I needed tonight, I ran into two staffers who offered to help.

“Yes. Can you just wait here? Soon enough something I don’t understand will inevitably break in my house.”

We did our Christmas cards tonight. I was responsible for the stamps and the return address. The cards look great, because my lovely bride picked them out. I think everyone most in our address book is getting one.

Everyone else is getting an email with a JPG attachment.

Then I made a Christmas card for Allie. I’ll put it here tomorrow.

Tonight I also added several new banners for the blog. Many of the new ones are a departure from the thin 900 by 200 pixel design. Tell me what you think. (And reload to see more. Or see them all in one place, here.) My next trick will be to organize them in something that resembles a seasonal classification.

Oh, hey, there are new things on the Samford journo blog:

Maps that tell stories

A few lessons from Newton media coverage

You saw the Newtown picture now read the story behind it

There’s also Twitter and Tumblr and this, the complete Star Trek trailer.

See you tomorrow. Remember: Allie’s Christmas card will be here.