Train Blogging: Why Organic Materials Have the Best Marketing Campaigns

I’m sure you’ve all passed by a Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, Wild Oats, or any other grocery store specializing in organic foods. Even if you haven’t seen one chances are your local grocery store is selling products that can be found at organic grocery stores. Please correct me if I’m wrong, but even as recent as 10 years ago I don’t remember a whole foods existing let alone having two of them in a five mile radius of my house.

What gives?

If you look at the ingredient listings on much of their food you’ll find that it’s not going to magically help you shed twenty pounds.  Eating a box of Trader Joe’s delicious cookies “Jo Jo’s” is not that much different than eating a box of Oreo’s. 

However, there’s mantra surrounding organic food that it will make you feel better and more natural. That’s the catch.  In one of the most successful marketing campaigns since Jared’s advocacy of the Subway diet, Whole Foods and other organic grocery stores have seen huge amounts of growth. I’d like to think that these establiahments are examples of good old American capitalism.

I can’t help but think though that in some ways these companies had outside help along the way.  Conspiracy theorists look away because that’s not what this article is about. Instead, let’s take a loom at one of the most powerful forms of media, the documentary film.

Documentaries always are more impactful than feature length films partly because they touch on tangible issues through a personalized lens.  Watching a doumentary is somewhat akin to watching a professor act out a lecture. They’re both incredibly informing and entertaining.

With notably documentaries like, “Supersize Me,” and “Food Inc.” gathering much praise in the past decade, it should come as no surprise then that Whole Foods and friends saw a huge spike in business since the beginning of the millenium. Focusing on the abnormalities and inconsistencies within the food industry, these types of documentaries leave viewers wanting their food to be free of anything that is not natural. Or in other words, organic

That’s the buzz word my friends.  Trader Joe’s and Co. were able to take the image of organic natural food and run with it.  By slightly raising your prices over other grocery stores and branding your products as natural and healthy, you’re able to leave the consumer with the impression that they are making the smarter decision.

Whether organic grocery stores intended to develop this image is one thing, but it is hard to deny that their success didn’t benefit from outside sources.


Train Blogging: Political Propaganda of the Past

The Block Museum of Art at Northwestern University just finished up a three and a half month exhibit called, “Views and Re-Views: Soviet Political Posters and Cartoons.”  Although I did not get a chance to view the gallery myself, I have seen a plethora of advertisements for it and likely a good chunk of the exhibit. The posters and cartoons themselves are all in Russian so I can’t understand a single word they are saying. By viewing the pictures though, you can infer pretty well the message the poster is trying to send.

To a Westerner, more specifically a generation x’er and older, it paints a familiar picture of the old Communist state of the Soviet Union.  As an individual born at the tail end of the Cold War, I find the posters and cartoons to be quite funny. Every time I look at them I imagine funny caption bubbles.

Not growing up during the Cold War and being immersed in the paranoia of Communism works as an advantage and disadvantage to me. There’s an all too common notion amongst us that with the benefit of hindsight, we would all act in a different manner.  It is safe to say that this is the case when it comes to Western views of the USSR. That entire situation stemmed more from a military stand point than a political one.  I think the US saw the expansion of Soviet Russia and their ever increasing military presence around the globe as more dangerous than the idea that Communism was going to politically enslave people.

With the recent death of Kim Jong Il, the question of how Communism is viewed in the modern day seems to have answered itself. People do not seem to feel threatened by it anymore. Outside of North Korea, Kim Jong Il was viewed as a heinous dictator brutally abusing his authority. At the same time though, there was little fanfare surrounding his death in comparison to other villains like Bin Laden or Saddam Hussein.

Communism simply does not have the same fear attached to it that it did even as recently as 20 years ago. Imagine what the public reaction would have been like had the United States successfully assassinated Fidel Castro in the 1960’s.  I reckon it would have put the Osama celebrations to shame.

What used to arouse feelings of fear and danger have now been replaces by curiosity. What exactly was it about Soviet political posters and cartoons that instilled a curious sensation instead of an apprehensive one?  I believe it is an understanding of the institution of Communism that allows us to remove the fear of it and actually study it and even view its propaganda from an artistic point of view.  It makes me wonder whether we will see a similar exhibit 20 years from now surrounding the portrayal of Islam as a political entity.

In theory it seems backwards that we fear something and then try to understand it without bias. At the same time though it makes perfect sense. When an issue or idea seems threatening to us, our initial reaction is not to try and understand it. Most of the time we raise our guards and create defense mechanisms against it.  Out of this grows misconceptions of what the threat actually is and often times ideas are confused with actualities. 

It isn’t until we look back at the situation until we can truly assess why it progressed the way it did. With Communism it wasn’t so much that the system itself led to a severe denial of human rights and poor living conditions. It is more that the system lends itself to authoritarian type figures who will establish methods to ensure a long interrupted reign of power.

Does this mean humans are inherently prone to oppression? Maybe, it does mean though that we have a tendency to be defensive against the unknown as opposed to studying it and understanding it. Usually it takes a long period of time before we can truly look at an issue through a non-biased point of view.

Unfortunately this leaves society stuck between a rock and a hard place.

Blackhawks Update 12/11/2011

Seeing the lack of Blackhawks game previews for the past few games I have decided it would be more worthwhile to write a weekly to bi-weekly analysis on the team. This is coupled with my schedule that does not leave much time for writing cohesive previews as well as the tendency of the Hawks to lose whenever I predict them to win.

Over the past 7 games the Blackhawks have a record of 5-1-1. It has probably been the quietest, most ridiculed 5-1-1 streak a team has ever gone through. By the way fans and other writers have looked at it, you would figure the Hawks to be in a free-fall. While this team does have several holes to fill and is showing a lot of concerning signs that plagued the team last year, the fact that they are second in the Western Conference and have been winning games albeit in an ugly manner, is a sign for optimism.

Take a look at the problems that plagued the 2010-2011 Hawks. Not playing a complete game, frequently on the losing end of be goal games, and the inability to comeback from behind. The lack of playing a complete 60 minutes has hurt this years Hawks team, however, they have found a way to not only win the tight games, but also win them when trailing from behind. A perfect example of this is the recent 4-3 shoot out loss against Phoenix. After trailing 3-0 early in the second, Jonathan Toews led an inspired comeback that took the Coyotes to the shoot out. If it wasn’t for Keith Yandle’s great bailout of goalie Mike Smith on a Marian Hossa open net shot, the Hawks would have come out as winners and everyone would be praising this teams comeback abilities.

Still, for Hawks fans it has to be encouraging that the team didn’t quit after being down early. I think the main problem for the Hawks so far is still their motivation. As we saw even with the great Stanley Cup team of 2009-2010 the Hawks are frequently guilty of mailing in some games. If you remember the first games of the Nashville and Vancouver series’, the Hawks treated those games more as an exhibition than a Stanley Cup playoff matchup.

This tendency to not show up for games is not new for the Hawks. It has been an issue with the team for the past couple of seasons. However, they have shown time and time again that when they show up, they are one of the toughest teams in the league to beat. This year is no different. Come April the Blackhawks will be fine. When the game is on the line, the Hawks show up to play. Their core has the championship mentality that will not quit and it carries over to the rest of the team. This was only reinforced after the Hawks took the Canucks to game 7 overtime after being down in the series 3-0.

Which brings me back to the current situation the Hawks are in. For all the struggles and fears fans have about Crawford not being reliable, Duncan Keith being inconsistent, the team being to soft and unfocused, the Hawks have still managed to get 11 points out of a possible 14 in the past seven games. I’ll take that stretch anytime of the year no matter how they attain it. The issues this team has will get resolved. It’s better that they are going through this funk now earlier in the year. It’s even better that they are still able to win games while not playing at the level they could be at.

The key difference this year is that the newcomers to the Hawks for the most part are all veterans with playoff experience. Looking up and down the roster, there is no player on it that hasn’t appeared in a playoff game. Last year you had Viktor Stalberg, Michael Frolik, Nick Leddy, Ben Smith, Marcus Kruger making their playoff debuts while having deadweights like Fernando Pisani, Jake Dowell, and John Scott in the lineup.

Stan Bowman has received criticism for his moves this past offseason because they all haven’t panned out the way Hawks fans hope they have. Bowman has to receive credit though for picking up players that have experienced the grind of the Stanley Cup playoffs and know what it takes to be successful in the post season. This is the biggest advantage the Hawks have moving forward. Unlike last year the Hawks will not have to worry about making the playoffs barring an epic collapse. Rocky Wirtz had a quote recently discussing the state of the team basically saying that he has full faith in the players because they know when to turn it on and to take their game to the next level.

This team is fully capable of it. Yes they have had their struggles the past few weeks, but Hawks fans should be encouraged that despite all of these struggles, they have managed to win games. If they keep winning, I can deal with the weaknesses of the team. Two points is two points whether you win 10-1 or win 7-6.

Train Blogging: Riding Public Transit

I think it’s safe to say that living in a busy urban environment exposes you to people outside of your usual social circle. It really is quite the phenomenon and I’ve had the pleasure (or misfortune depending on how you view it) of being a frequent participant in the public transit system.

I’m not going to spend the time bashing the CTA, there are already plenty of blogs dedicated to that. Instead I want to highlight a few characteristics of public transit newbies that make them stick out like a sore thumb. Trust me, nothing is worse than the cynical sigh or eye roll that you’ll get from a public transit regular than being identified as the guy on the train that has no idea what the hell is going on.

Rule # 1: Know where you’re going.

I don’t care if the bus or train has a map on it, never look at it for more than a period of 5 seconds and definitely do not ask the person you’re riding with what stop you get off at. The snarl you’ll get from fellow passengers will be immediate and everyone will associate you as the dude that has no idea what’s going on.  Don’t even try and defend yourself, the hole is already too  deep.

Given the technology we have, you can figure out your route before hand. You can even pretend like you’re texting and look up directions to your destination.  For the love of God, do not look at the map though.

Rule # 2: Use your Inside Voice

This rule is amplified by 200% if you are riding public transit intoxicated. Nobody around you cares if your boyfriend got jealous that your ex-boyfriend asked you out to dinner.  I can’t believe how big of a dump you took either bro, my train ride just got that much more stimulating now that I know you had problems letting the chipotke burrito leave your system before hopping on the brown line (pun somewhat intended).

As your first grade teacher used to tell you, “when we are inside, we use our inside voices!” Such a marvel to see that in a cramped enclosed environment the concept of an “inside voice” is lost. 

The golden rule if you are drunk is for every funny thing you say, you say five things that should never have been said. Chances are people around you will understand why that brunette at the bar didn’t  come home with you tonight.

Rule # 3: Be Engaged

Nothing pisses me off more than people who aren’t aware of their surroundings. If you have your cool chrome bag and listening to vintage Thurston Moore on your iPod on the way to your  hip bike messaging job, do not be standing in the middle of the train when people are trying to exit. Same goes for listening to music.  Keep it in your headphones, that Young Jeezy track sounds a lot better through your iPod headphones.

Be aware of they people around you. For Christ’s sake if there is an old lady standing up on a crowded train let her have your seat. Same goes for your bag, it’s not a human, it doesn’t need a seat. If you packed something so precious that isn’t a baby or an elderly person, then it doesnt need a seat.

Public Transit can be a beautiful thing. Gaining the ire of your fellow  riders never works out for any party involved.  And for the record I’m writing this while on the purple line. Ironic? Hypocritical?  I’ll let you be the judge of that.

I Am the Voice of this Motherf@$#ing Generation

Damnit, damnit, damnit! Excuse the profanity but this time of year really grinds my gears. I’m talking about the announcement of the Grammy nominations (cue pretentious hipster references here I can take it). Don’t get your hopes up though I’m not going to ramble on about who got left out. I’ll leave that to all other blogs complaining that Kanye’s oh so precious and perfect album was missing from the list and that is the biggest slap in the face to someone that has completely changed and revolutionized the music industry and for that matter the discourse of human history. Skrillex, you’re next.

Even though it appears the Grammy’s have wronged me through some heinous act, they are only a source of irritance for me. Who gave the Grammy voters credentials to quantitatively determine the artistic merits of one album over another. Is there a secret that the public doesn’t know that tells us why Skrillex is a better “new” artist than Foster the People? Who is Bruno Mars? Why didn’t Insane Clown Posse receive a nomination?

I want answers! The last time the Grammy’s made a relevant decision was back in 2009 when Robert Plant and Allison Kraus won best album of the year. I just don’t like Arcade Fire so I’m not going to call that a “win” for the “indie community.” I don’t want the “indie community” to win a Grammy, that will set the recognition of great music back even further by catering to a trendy demographic. Furthermore the fact that Lady Gaga and Rhianna have the chance to join the likes of Robert Plant in being categorized as groundbreaking music bothers me.

Plus, do we really need to stroke Kanye West’s ego anymore than we already have? I guess if we want to avoid the apocalypse in 2012, then we must.

Kanye West, you’re our only hope.