"a fish, a barrel, and a smoking gun"
for 27 July 1998. Updated every WEEKDAY.
Mind Games


[bishop's good morning kisses]

Helped along by a 2-year-old

piece of federal legislation,

wheat and corn prices have

declined sharply. Another piece

of government handiwork, an old

handful of longstanding economic

embargoes, is limiting the

marketplace. And a severe run of

hot, dry weather is making those

other conditions less relevant,

shrinking and killing crops well

before issues of price and

market demand can begin to come

into play. Last week, experts

taught the Associated Press a

bitter truth about the failing

farms of southwest Nebraska:

Turns out that economic

desperation, physical

deprivation, and chronic

overwork can make you feel,

well, kind of blue. "Farmers

right now are working around the

clock," one expert told the AP.

"They don't get to take

vacations in the summertime or

really get to rest. It's

dangerous, mentally."


But the folks in Lincoln have a

plan, a New Age Deal for '90s

agriculture that cries out for

the creation of a Farm

Inner-Security Administration.

Starting immediately, the state

government is providing

threatened farmers with, yes,

unlimited free emotional

counseling. Well, not quite. The

phone counseling is unlimited,

but only three face-to-face

sessions will be provided free

of charge. But since farmers get

so few chances to take a break -

especially before the bank shuts

them down and takes their

property - they can just call on

their cell phones, right from

the fields, without having to

shut down the tractor. And the

counselors hired to conduct the

sessions do expect the phone to

ring quite a bit. "We're going

to see a lot of clients later in

the year when the banks have to

foreclose on some farmers, and

the situation hits home even

harder," counselor Joyce Boyd

told a reporter. "It is going to

be bad."


"Uh, yeah, I can't feed my



"OK, it's good that you're

talking through this. How do you



[mom's homemade cookies]

The dry corner of Nebraska isn't

the only place where a careful

sensitivity to mental well-being

seems to be missing the point.

Burger King restaurants in

western Oregon, for example,

turn out to be a bastion of

peace in a tense and brutal

world. In one of those

burger-'n'-toys promotions

familiar to people with an

unhealthy interest in Beanie

Babies, the fast-food chain is

currently offering dolls from

the movie Small Soldiers with

the purchase of special meal

packages. But one of the dolls

isn't leaving the box. Kip

Killigan, a toy with a body

formed partly in the shape of a

gun, was pulled from

distribution after 15-year-old

Kip Kinkel took the lives of his

parents and two classmates in a

killing spree back in May.

Burger King officials worried

that distributing the Killigan

toy would be insensitive because

of the similar name, reminding

customers of the murders and

making them feel bad.


That is, an anthropomorphized

gun - with a last name crafted

to sound precisely like a

reference to the repeated

destruction of human life - was

taken out of distribution after

an unforeseen event caused it to

take on an unintended connection

to the idea of violence. It

seems not to have occurred to

anyone at Burger King that the

kill-again gun-doll might have

suggested the wrong idea before

Kip Kinkel loaded three pistols

and headed off to school. But at

least they caught it in time to

keep from upsetting anyone. Note

to toy manufacturers: Feeding

children on the representation

of violence is cool and

everything, as long as it's

sufficiently abstracted. So,

keep it light, and, for crying

out loud, change the name of

those dolls that come with the

Sharon Tate Fun House.


[junior brown]

Of course, if Burger King had

failed to act in time and

accidentally upset people with

an unfortunate toy, the company

could have soothed a few frayed

nerves with free dessert. Well,

at least for the gals - you know

how they are. Seeking to boost

sales of its sagging SnackWell's

line, newish Nabisco CEO James

Kilts has approved a new

advertising approach (in

addition to a higher fat

content) for the brand. Old

SnackWell's ads suggested that

cookies and crackers were a nice

replacement for sex; in one, a

woman necking with a man on the

beach was distracted by a

daydream about cookies, while

another ad showed a woman

turning a good-looking suitor

into a toad after he tried to

take one of her Devil Food

Cookie Cakes.


In the new campaign, though, the

better-than-sex angle is out.

The Wall Street Journal recently

reported that instead, Nabisco is

planning to offer the

notion that SnackWell's make a

positive contribution to a,

women's mental health:


One new spot opens with a shot
of a beaming mom putting her
arm around her pigtailed
daughter, who holds a box of
SnackWell's Zesty Cheese
Crackers. As a gust of wind
whirls the blades of grass
where they stand, a woman's
voice chimes: "At SnackWell's,
we like to think that snacking
shouldn't be just about
feeding yourself, but, in some
way, about feeding your

A few seconds
later, there is a close-up of
a middle-aged woman with her
teenage daughter and
white-haired mother, all
nuzzling together. The
message: Snacking is not about
"filling yourself," but
"fulfilling yourself."


Coming soon: Budweiser ads

target veterans who lost friends

in combat with the tag line,

"Isn't it about time to heal?"


Amusingly enough, the Journal is

all over the

loving-thy-inner-self beat these

days. Another recent story among

all those gray pieces of

cash-and-carry news documented

the rise of the "spiritual

director" profession, sort of a

counselor-lite who helps clients

get square with a generic and

healing higher power. "The

metaphor I use," one counselor

told the newspaper, "is a radio

station. My station - the way I

listen to God - is different

than yours. My goal is to help

you hear your station more

clearly." Hmm.... There may be a

government job for you in

Nebraska is what we're thinking.


[the 6 notes to sleater-kinney's 'good things']

Note that the effort to implant

sensitivity into innocent minds

- and not-so-innocent minds -

sometimes succeeds in genuinely

unfortunate ways. Henry

Gonzalez, a juvenile-hall

teacher in San Bernardino,

California, worked diligently to

communicate the value of poetry

to his incarcerated students.

And it worked. After a car

accident that killed two of his

children and left him in the

hospital, Gonzalez received an

outpouring of consolation from

kiddie prison in the very form

he had labored so hard to teach.

Sample poem: "now sleep and

rest/ for god did this for the

best/ and it's OK to cry and

weap/ but it's better for your

children to sleep/ there in

heven, looking down at pretty

thing/ and while you sleep god

will give you nice dreams."


No, he won't. Loss, it keeps

turning out, won't be

trivialized. For farmers in

Nebraska and teachers in

California alike, cookies and

poetry don't and shouldn't, make

it all better. And a plastic

doll with an unfortunate name

almost certainly isn't going to

make it worse, stacked against

the comparative pain of violent



It is - for the sake of our

mental health, not to mention

the all-important concept of

self-esteem - time for this sort

of healing to stop.

courtesy of Ambrose Beers