Let’s Go Slow On Bowe

Private First Class Bowe Bergdahl, who had been held captive in Afghanistan for five years, was released from captivity by the Taliban over the weekend, in exchange for the release of five prisoners from the U.S. base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

The story of the circumstances of Bergdahl’s captivity is unclear, but what is being reported is both  curious and interesting.  Already, there are questions being raised about precisely how he was captured and whether he was responsible in some fashion for his own situation.  A former soldier in Bergdahl’s battalion has contended that he left his post voluntarily and that other American soldiers were killed while trying to find and rescue him. The Washington Post reports that some of his fellow soldiers consider Bergdahl to be a deserter who had become disillusioned with the war in Afghanistan and should be held accountable for his actions.

If there are questions about what Bergdahl did and didn’t do — and the stories being reported certainly suggest that there are — they should be investigated.  The determination of whether a soldier is a deserter is one reserved to the military, under the Uniform Code of Military Justice.  I think we should leave that question to those authorities, and in the meantime refrain from rushing to judgment, one way or the other, about Bergdahl.  We can all, at least, be happy for his parents that their son has been freed from captivity.

It’s also reasonable for Congress to examine the circumstances of the swap of Bergdahl for the Taliban prisoners.  What assurances did the Administration give, and what did they receive?  Was this situation one that was treated as an effort to free a POW, or was it more like negotiating to free a hostage?  Did the Administration’s approach signal a change in American policy, or not?  These are not empty, political questions; they are important, practical inquiries that are worth careful examination in a real world that unfortunately is full of terrorism and potential dangers.  Here, too, however, it is important not to leap to conclusions.  In a world of throwaway sound bites, this is an issue that cries out for careful, dispassionate consideration after all of the facts have been marshaled.

Against Anthropomorphic Cutification

On Friday, as we were walking past an office supply company delivery truck in downtown New Orleans, I noticed that the company had adopted as its mascot a happy, grinning pencil, with wide eyes and a white-gloved hand.  I cringed.

IMG_2176I’m tired of all of the overwhelming cuteness that seems to be an inescapable part of modern advertising.  The anthropomorphic effect is everywhere you look.  Whether it’s a pencil, an animal, a piece of fruit, or some other inanimate object, in modern advertising everything gets converted into faux human appearance with huge, bright eyes and a dazzling white-toothed smile.  It’s as if the ad execs think we all have the cuteness tolerance of 13-year-old Japanese girls.

I’m not quite sure when this happened, but I’m blaming Walt Disney.  If he didn’t start the anthropomorphic onslaught, he certainly popularized it.  When you can turn a cricket into a lovable cartoon character, you can turn just about anything into a lovable cartoon character.  Just give them big eyes, a big smile, and the obligatory white-gloved hand.

If you want to bemoan the dumbing down of our everyday culture, consider the humble advertisement.  In the past, advertisements often were about products, their qualities, and their value.  Which toothpaste was recommended by the American Dental Association?  Which floor wax was best suited to preventing dreaded black heel marks?  Which brand of coffee was most likely to produce a request for a refill?  Now, advertisements are more often about the insufferably cute mascot than the product itself.

Can this really be working?  Could there possibly be business people who buy their office supplies from one company instead of another because of an anthropomorphic pencil, rather than price or service?  If so, it’s no wonder so many companies are failing.