Best And Worst Jobs of 2010

As if you didn’t already know where your job stacks up against, say, that dream you always had of ditching the suit and tie and becoming a lumberjack, a ranking of the 200 best and worst jobs of 2010 was just compiled and released by CareerCast.com.

The rankings reflect the stress, employment outlook, working conditions, and salaries of each position, among other things. Actuaries fared the best, followed closely by software engineers and computer systems analysts. So, apparently, it’s relatively safe and lucrative to sit all day staring at computer screens, although my physical therapist and ophthalmologist would probably disagree. Physically demanding jobs often performed under less-than-optimal conditions came out worst, like welders, dairy farmers, ironworkers, and, sorry to say, lumberjacks. But ranking #200 were roustabouts (typically someone who does all the stuff no one else wants to do, like hang off of oil rigs or put up circus tents.)

Actors came in at #164, although if CareerCast.com spent more time in Hollywood, they might want to add these jobs in their best and worst categories:

BEST:

1. Anyone on Charlie Sheen’s payroll is having a good year, although some jobs are less savory than others. I imagine it’s easier to be his dealer than his public relations agent. Or his housekeeper.

2. “Butcher” might not have rated very highly with CareerCast.com (#190), but one particular butcher did well…Lady Gaga’s designer, Franc Fernandez, bought twenty-five pounds of flank steak from his own butcher to make this juicy little number. And, like any good red-carpet design, the knockoffs are already flying off the menu.

3. Lindsay Lohan’s sober coach. According to Lindsay’s dad, Michael, strongly in the running to keep his daughter away from the influence of “those Hollywood types” is Iris Martin, who was once Bill Clinton’s therapist. Because that worked out so well…

WORST:

1. Hands down, 2010 was one horrific year for TV star Heidi Montag’s plastic surgeon, Dr. Frank Ryan. After performing ten procedures on the celebutante in one month (November 2009), Montag publicly expressed her deep regret and her scars. In her interview with Life & Style on December 2, she said, “People have fewer scars from car accidents than I have on my body.” In one of those horrible Hollywood twists of fate, Dr. Ryan died in a car accident while texting back in Auguts. He was sending a Twitter message about his dog.

2. Having anything to do with Mel Gibson rates lowest on the list. Seriously, not even Jodie Foster will talk to him anymore.

3. It’s apparently also a bad year to be Kanye West’s media trainer.

I hope 2010 was a great year for you. Have a safe, healthy, paparazzi-free and prosperous 2011!

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Irritating Ad Campaigns 2010

Having worked in advertising, I understand the pressures on creative departments to produce winning campaigns under sometimes-ridiculous time constraints. I’ve been part of teams that have collectively caved as the deadline loomed, and went with an idea that was not necessarily the best, but one most people agreed didn’t suck. Or one they thought the client would approve. So I can forgive a campaign that comes in “half a bubble off plumb.” But a few lately have been truly irritating, inane, insulting and have left me scratching my head, wishing I could have been in those creative meetings to strike down those stupid ideas and maybe given someone a well-needed withering stare. Here are some of my favorite awful ads of 2010. As always, your actual experience may vary.

1. “Enjoy the go.”

Excuse me? Did I hear that right, or did Charmin bath tissue just invite me to enjoy the experience that precedes the use of their product? Sometimes I wonder if Procter & Gamble is completely off their nut or absolutely brilliant for running with this campaign. If you have to sell toilet paper, you might as well make it entertaining. So…bring on a family of animated bears! (‘Cause that’s what bears do in the woods, get it?) They’re cute and cuddly and nobody’s going to get grossed out when Mama Bear frets about little bits of toilet paper sticking to baby’s butt. Now P&G’s family of spokesmammals wants you to get in on the fun. According to their web site, “Charmin wants to create a movement where the entire nation can enjoy a better bathroom experience.” Uh…thanks. But you’re making me miss the Geico cavemen.

2. “Who has time to slim slowly?”

Slim-Fast says you don’t. Apparently, they haven’t been following the tsunami of scientific evidence pointing to a slow, steady weight reduction as the healthiest way to lose unwanted pounds and keep them off. They’ve chosen instead to taunt our reptilian brains, which want what they want when they want it. This sells product (and repeat product, as those who’ve not taken the time to slim slowly gain back all the weight they’ve lost plus some), but is underhanded and even dangerous. I’ve called out this campaign less for its stupidity and more for its deviousness. Bad, bad Slim-Fast. And they’ve even printed a teeny tiny disclaimer at the bottom of the commercial that a weight loss of more than two pounds of week is “not recommended.”

3. “Love Your Vagina.”

As in the Charmin example above (you’re still thinking about bears in the woods, aren’t you?), it’s hard to sell personal (and in this case, very personal) hygiene products. This is the opening UK salvo for the Mooncup, an “alternative type of sanitary protection.” After giving the page a read, it invites you to submit whatever name you call your “lady garden.” Adorable. For more fun, go here to learn what lots of forthcoming British ladies call theirs.

4. “Don’t talk to me until I’ve had my coffee.”

You might have seen this. A dude sleepwalks to McDonalds, blowing off anyone who tries to exchange a word with him because he’s uncaffeinated. Dude, if you’re that much of a jerk in the morning, buy a coffeemaker and snort some joe before you leave the house. You don’t want to be this guy, either.

5. “Wow, that’s a low price!”

Oh, wow, Staples, why? I seriously, seriously, seriously want to smack this jackwagon. And then medicate him. That was easy.

6. “10:10 No pressure.”

This series of public service ads is hideous, and the worst part is that I can imagine an apocalyptic version of the future in which this could happen. The group behind the videos showing English schoolchildren being blown to bloody bits has since apologized and pulled the spots. They could have learned from Audi. If you’re trying to coerce people into obeying the green laws, why not do it in a funnier way, and sell hybrids at the same time? At least nobody blows up.

Which ads from this year made you cringe?

Best Political Gaffes of 2010

Vice-President Joe Biden turned his untimely f-bomb into a fundraising opportunity.

I am fortunate to be in a profession in which errors don’t normally result in the loss of human life. Typos and grammatical mistakes may cause a little embarrassment, and could, if printed, cost the client some money and a smidgen of credibility; at worst, a missed marketing opportunity, but no one is dying on the table. No one bleeds out from a misplaced comma. (A colon, maybe.) No one will perish in a plane crash because my subject and verb do not agree.

These are extreme examples, I realize, but mistakes in other professions can also have lasting repercussions. Ask Mark McGwire. Or BP.

If you’re a politician, however, beware the open mike or the flippant tweet, because the media, and your opposition, have long memories. Whether Sarah Palin meant to write “refudiate” in her now-famous Twitter post or simply chose the wrong word, the results are now engraved in pop culture history: “refudiate” made the top three in several “best words of 2010” lists.

Here are more of my favorite political gaffes of 2010:

1. “I am not a witch.” Copping a famous line from Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Christine O’Donnell, in a scripted, intentional, but misguided political ad, tried to assure potential voters in Delaware she no longer “dabbled in witchcraft” and would not turn them into newts. Instead, Delaware turned her into an unemployed marketing consultant.

2. “Our North Korean allies…” Oops. Sarah Palin, probably tired from counting the advance she made on her second book deal, misspoke and made the Huffington Post orgasmic for a while at her seeming lack of current events and geographical knowledge. I think they were too hard on her, since she obviously meant to say, “our Al-Qaeda allies.”

3. “This is a big f***ing deal.” Joe Biden is always good for a laugh. This expletive, about the passage of the healthcare reform bill, came when he leaned into President Obama’s ear near a microphone he didn’t know was open. This slip of the lip has legs, though. And a limited edition, fund-raising t-shirt, courtesy of the same brilliant organization behind Obama’s presidential campaign.

4. Carl Paladino. Take your pick from any of his greatest (baseball bat) hits. Every time he opened his mouth it was anybody’s guess what would come out.

5. “Some of you look a little more Asian to me.” Sharron Angle, responding to a group of Latino students about one in her series of racially offensive ads, tried to prove her color-blindness, and failed miserably. And lost the race to another of our favorite gaffe-makers, Harry Reid.

6. What’s with Barbara Boxer’s hair? Has the Feminist Movement taught us nothing? Carly Fiorina, while waiting to be interviewed during her race against incumbent senator Barbara Boxer, “forgot” her mike was on and said, “Saw Barbara Boxer briefly on television this morning and said what everyone says, God what is that hair?” Dear, oh, dear. Haven’t we learned our lessons from folks who’ve dumped on Hilary’s pantsuits? And why do women do this to each other? You’d think as a CEO Fiorina would be a tad more savvy.

7. “This is Reagan country, and perhaps it was destiny that the man who went to California’s Eureka College would become so woven within and interlinked to the Golden State.” So sayeth Sarah Palin. Except Eureka’s in Illinois, and Reagan didn’t move to California until five years after he graduated. Oops.

8. “The Hottest Member.” During a fundraiser hosted by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Senator Harry Reid referred to New York’s junior senator, Kirsten Gillibrand, as “our hottest member.” She was sitting only a few feet away at the time. One of Reid’s spokes-bots later clarified, “What can I say, she made The Hill’s ‘Most Beautiful’ list. Of course he also went on to praise her skill and tenacity and described her as an effective member of the New York delegation as well.” Of course.

9. Don’t mess with Red Sox Nation. Remember Martha Coakley? She ran against Scott Brown for Ted Kennedy’s seat? She dissed former Sox pitching phenom Curt Schilling by calling him a Yankees fan and the home crowd by sneering at the horrific idea that she should have human contact with the electorate, “..standing outside Fenway Park? In the cold? Shaking hands?” Nah, we don’t remember her either.

Anyone I’ve forgotten? What were your favorite hot mike and brain freeze moments from the past year?

More Words We Love To Hate

According to a recent Marist College poll of over a thousand American adults, “whatever” was chosen as the most annoying word or phrase for the second year in a row. “Like” came in right behind it. Other irksome terms included “you know what I mean,” “to tell you the truth,” and “actually.”

Actually, to tell you the truth, I’m in complete agreement. Word One and Word Two are simply irritating space holders; our current versions of “uh” and “um.” “Actually” says nothing. “To tell you the truth” makes me think the speaker or writer normally doesn’t tell the truth, but is choosing to do so now.

Oh, now they’ve done it. They’ve fired up this grammar geek’s engine of irritation. Now I’ll have to add my personal language pet peeves that flab up your work and generally make what could be lean, mean writing a fluffy, obtuse mess.

1. In order to

Tell me, why is this flitter of words necessary? Consider this sentence:  “In order to get the cat into her carrier, we had to tranquilize her first.”

Why not: “To get the cat into her carrier, we had to tranquilize her first.” You get double the bang for your grammar buck; lose a couple words and make a clearer sentence. Or simply rewrite the whole sucker: “We had to tranquilize the cat to get her into her carrier.” Done.

2. It is what it is

This was cute for a while, but is now way past its expiration date. It’s back there with the green goo that used to be ricotta cheese. Its current use as a kind of verbal shrug has ruined what was once a brilliantly simple tenet of Zen philosophy. Thanks a heap.

3. Rain event

Have you noticed this creeping into our weather forecasts? As in, “We’re expecting a rain event to slowly move into the Northeast.” Why can’t it just rain? Or is that not technical-sounding enough to justify all those whiz-bang graphics?

4. At the end of the day

What, “when all is said and done” isn’t good enough for you? (Seriously, that sucks, too.) This tired phrase needs to be retired. What if we tailor this throwaway phrase into something more specific, depending on the situation? In politics, one could say, “When we finish digging through the mess the previous administration left behind.” Or, in the case of any PR nightmare, “When we figure out who’s to blame.”

5. On a daily basis

Another useless chunks of words. Comedy writers seem to like this one. As in, “While I appreciate the occasional romp through a dumpster, it’s not something I enjoy on a daily basis.” The rhythm is kind of nice, but the tune’s been played.

6. Often

Did I miss the announcement that we are now supposed to pronounce the “t”? Maybe I was, like, somewhere else at the time. Maybe I was researching the history of the word and its storied pronunciation past. Before the 17th century, according to Random House, the “t” was pronounced. Then it was gradually dropped by well-educated English speakers, American and British, and is now considered the preferred pronunciation. Sometimes contemporary speakers have added the “t” in a misguided attempt to sound erudite, which, at least in my opinion, makes you sound like you’re trying too hard. After all, we don’t pronounce the “t” in soften, fasten, listen, or glisten. But as more of us say “AWF-tin” and become accustomed to hearing it, it may sneak its way back into favor. Please stop. Friends don’t let friends sound stupid.

7. Ad experience

I saw this recently on Hulu.com.At a commercial break, I was shown three alternative images and asked, “Which ad experience would you prefer?” Unfortunately, there was no option for “None, thank you.” But… “Ad experience”? If I’m seeing an ad, aren’t I already experiencing it?

8. Completely destroyed

This is one of my favorite phrases to hate, and one still used by many otherwise literate journalists. “Destroyed” is… destroyed. Done. Finito. No more. The building is a pile of rubble; call in the backhoes. “Completely” is redundant. And there is no “partially destroyed” just as there is no “partially pregnant.”

What are your favorite irksome phrases and groan-worthy words? And how do you pronounce “often”?

9 Things Chess Taught Me About Writing Fiction

In chess as well as fiction, make the right moves. But until you take your finger off the piece, or submit your manuscript, you can still take it back...

On my wall hangs a photo of my Russian great-grandfather and an eight-year-old me. Between us is a chessboard. I was letting him teach me the game, and letting him win. He didn’t know that I’d already been playing for four years. It wasn’t long before I was besting my brothers, my parents, and then, my competition as part of the high school team. While lettering in chess has its disadvantages in the social dodge-ball game of adolescence, it was a brilliant way to develop focus, strategy, and problem-solving skills, which I have extended to my fiction writing. For instance:

1. The ability to sit still with your own thoughts is a tremendous advantage. Even though a human being (usually) is sitting across from you during a competitive chess game, you are essentially isolated with your thoughts and reactions. Writing fiction, especially a novel, requires spending lots of time alone. I’ve known several writers who’ve gotten stuck or even packed it in because they got restless or felt isolated. Also, “sitting still” doesn’t always mean square on your sit-bones for hours on end. (That’s not so great for your spine, as I’ve found out.) Sitting still with an idea or a character (especially one that makes you uncomfortable or may be vilified by your readers) is also a challenge, but one that could make for a better novel.

2. Know the value and purpose of your material. One of the first lessons in chess is to learn the names of the pieces and how they move. The bishop moves diagonally. The knight moves in an “L” shape. In a material exchange (he takes yours, you take his), a bishop is equivalent to a knight. Writing has its own nuts-and-bolts, like point of view, choice of tenses, or choice of narrator. Your job is to know how these tools work, when to use them, and why. The Catcher In The Rye would be a totally different novel if told from Holden Caulfield’s mother’s point of view. Moby-Dick probably wouldn’t work as well if Ahab, not Ishmael, were narrating.

3. Keep your opponent on defense. A good offense can keep your opponent off balance and always guessing your next move. A similar strategy, and a little literary sleight-of-hand, will keep your reader guessing the plot points and twists of your novel. And turning pages to find out if he or she was right.

4. Think ahead a few moves. Here’s the typical patter in my head during a chess game: “So if he moves his bishop there, I’ll have to defend my rook, which means moving that pawn up, and that will expose my queen, so…” While you don’t have to know exactly where you’re going or how the story will end when you write a novel, it helps to have a rough idea of where you want to end up in the near future.

5. Maintain control of the center. Most chess masters (and wise amateurs) move their pieces toward the center of the board, from which they can have maximum maneuverability. In fiction writing, the middle of a story is often where writers can get mired. If you write yourself into a corner, you have fewer directions in which to move. If you’re stuck in the middle, try throwing a curveball at your protagonist to see how he or she handles it. Raise the stakes. This may open up story ideas that you might not have thought about before.

6. Have a strategy in mind, but be ready to wing it. Even the greatest of chess masters has to improvise at times when their initial strategy goes awry. Same with writing. If you’re halfway into your outline (if you outline) and your characters simply will not cooperate, try letting go a little. Are you pushing a character in a direction in which he or she would not organically go? Or does the plot need to change?

7. Have a good end game. If you don’t have a good strategy to end the game, you could end up foundering, frustrated, or caught in a trap. Checkmate! Whether the end of your novel is happy, sad, or a combination, your reader will feel more satisfied if there’s a resolution. If it “feels” like an ending. That means the conflict is resolved, the child is rescued, the bad guy is caught…and your loose ends are tied up.

8. Don’t get in your own way. Beginning players, if they’re not careful, can create bottlenecks for their own pieces, preventing movement. Beginning writers are likewise vulnerable to self-sabotage. Does this sound familiar? You’d hoped to do some writing this week, but then you volunteered to make cupcakes for a bake sale, or just had to organize your spice cabinet, your underwear drawer, or your CD collection. Guard your writing time from distractions. Don’t take phone calls or check your email. It’s YOUR time to let your creativity flow. Schedule it like any other appointment.

9. Pawns get promoted and Queens get sacked…it’s all part of the game. In chess, you often give up something to get something. Give up a bishop so you can double-fork two other, more valuable pieces. Sacrifice your queen to take your opponent’s, and leave yourself in a great position for your end game. In fiction writing, this can be a hard lesson to learn. You LOVE that character…but she has no real purpose. You LOVE that scene and worked on it for weeks, but it mires down the plot. Cut it out. And in return, you’ll have a better novel. Maybe that character you cut will star in your next project.