Archive | August 2016

Demise of the News

During the so-called economic recovery, Gawker was one of the few media outlets that covered stories of people that weren’t finding jobs. They could be scurrilous, and reveled in snark, but I forgave them a lot because of, Hello From the Underclass.

Gawker’s final story was of its own demise, at the hidden hand of a wealthy man who didn’t like being in the news:

As our experience has shown, that freedom was illusory. The system is still there. It pushed back. The power structure remains. There are just some new people at the apex, prime among them the techlords flush with monopoly profits. They are as sensitive to criticism as any other ruling class, but with the confidence that they can transform and disrupt anything, from government to the press.

One of Gawker’s most cherished tags was “How Things Work,” a rubric that applied to posts revealing the sausage-making, the secret ways that power manifests itself. The phrase has a children’s book feel to it, bringing to mind colorful illustrations of animals in human work clothes building houses or delivering mail. Of course it also carries the morbid sense of innocence lost, and the distance between the stories we tell ourselves about the world and the way it actually works. Collapsing that distance is, in many ways, what Gawker has always been about.

And so Gawker’s demise turns out to be the ultimate Gawker story. It shows how things work.

But though Gawker is technically out of business, I just read a stat claiming that someone at Harvard estimates that only one of ten persons between the ages of 20 to 34 believes what they read, hear or see on the news. That should not be a surprise.

Earlier this year, the media gorged itself on jocular stories of Donald Trump’s run for President of the United States. Very few people gave him much chance of securing the nomination, but at the same time they were ignoring Martin O’Malley and Bernie Sanders, virtually all the media gave him millions of dollars worth of free advertising in the form of guest appearances on talk shows and news broadcasts, and little or no serious criticism.

Since Trump actually secured the nomination, though, the media has become a juggernaut of anti-Trump scare stories. I believe Trump is a weak candidate, but – as they did with Sanders – the media are A: taking any story and twisting it for maximum anti-Trump effect while at the same time B: declaring the election to be already over.

For example, Trump visited flooded parts of Louisiana, bringing a truck with diapers, baby formula, cleaning supplies, blankets, socks, school supplies and toys for the victims. The first media story I saw made sport of him for giving them Play-Doh, as if that was all he had brought.

So instead of evaluating Trump’s (and Clinton’s) real weaknesses, media are proving just how beholden to the establishment they have become. Any criticism of Clinton is deflected, and any discussion against Trump is magnified.

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Alaskan Rappers Escorted from State Fair

I like to browse LiveLeak, but I have found that the comments section immediately descends to the worst sexism, racism and/or jingoism no matter what the topic. As an example, there was a video – from somewhere in Asia – of a young man on a scooter wiping out trying to avoid a woman who hadn’t pulled her scooter far enough off the road. Commenters immediately called for her to be raped. That’s just the way it is on Liveleak.

With that caveat about reading the comments, this morning I ran across a LiveLeak video, Alaska rappers stopped while performing at Fairbanks fair claim to be victims of racism by fair management.

While sending video to Facebook, Michael Cofey, whose stage name is Starbuks, very politely asked the fair’s general manager, Joyce Whitehorn, why she had cut their act short, but got no clear answer other than that it was her decision to make. Cofey claimed he and Julian Lillie (Bishop Slice) had sanitized their lyrics to be family-friendly, but some woman claimed they were rapping about, “slashing faces.” Cofey initially denied that, but Whitehorn got tired of being put on the spot and ordered that the performers be escorted out of the fairgrounds. Cofey remained calm and collected, though obviously dissatisfied at how he was being treated.

KTVA 11 News ran the video in, Fairbanks rappers kicked out of Tanana Valley State Fair during scheduled performance.

After Cofey’s video was posted to Facebook, the community of Fairbanks rallied around the performers, Lillie says.

“We’ve been getting nothing but support,” he said. “It’s crazy. It’s people I don’t even know. It’s kinda cool that, you know, Fairbanks would come together and defend us and stand up for what’s right.”

Cofey says he sees Thursday’s incident as insight into a bigger problem.

“It’s really not about rap music,” said Cofey. “It’s about how she treated us. And it’s about how … we gotta wake up. We gotta wake up as a community, we gotta wake up as a country. This is happening every day, everywhere. Period.”

Alaska Dispatch noted the reaction, Online outrage pours in, other acts cancel after Fairbanks rappers ejected from Tanana Valley fair:

As the controversy over the ejection spread, other musical acts have canceled their scheduled performances at the fair, said entertainment manager Isaac Paris.

“There were 17 performances scheduled today and four of them canceled,” he said in an interview Sunday. “I had five cancel yesterday.”

Paris said he was “embarrassed and frustrated” by what had happened and didn’t understand why the performers were ejected.

I’m not an expert about rap, but I used to watch Yo MTV Raps – to the annoyance of an old girlfriend – and appreciated that rap was another mode of expression. I found a few of Bishop Slice’s videos on youtube, and like them. I’ve heard a lot edgier and angrier stuff but you can make up your own mind:

Bishop Slice x Starbuks “I’m From Fairbanks” (Directed By Ife)

Bishop Slice x Starbuks “The North” (Directed By Ife)

Bishop Slice & Ca$his – “Sick Of The Penn.” Featuring Apostle Gabriel Cross

Update 20160822: According to the NY Daily News, the rappers got some appy polly loggies:

Alaskan rap duo Bishop Slice and Starbuks were given an apology after a viral video showed them confronting the general manager of a festival who kicked them off stage during a show.
The board of directors of the fair issued an apology on Tuesday, stating that it “understands the issues involved and the sensitivities expressed by all parties” and promised to pay the group for their full show.

Not Thriving

Back in the 1990s, my employer, a now-bankrupt architectural firm, put on an in-house seminar featuring a very animated fellow from the Tom Peters Group. Peters and Robert Waterman, Jr co-authored In Search of Excellence (1982), a hugely popular business book. I had heard more about Tom Peters solo 1987 book, Thriving on Chaos, which I started to read, and still have in my basement.

The message was fairly simple: Know who your clients are, and make them happy … deliriously happy. Provide legendary service. He noted that your clients may be within your own company. Our irascible handyman and blueprint guy asked, “What if you have too many clients?” and everyone laughed. “What a problem to have!” was the reply.

At one point in the seminar he pointed out that our project managers, as our closest connection to our clients, should have been the second most influential group in the firm, right below the partners. Instead, the department heads of Design, Production, Field Supervision, and Office Services were much more influential than the PMs.

What I have taken away from what the guy from Peters told us was that we had to get good customers and satisfy them because there was no way to keep the sort of customer that only cares about low price. You can, he said, save a fortune on marketing and advertising by keeping those customers that value good service. But if you fail them, they will leave and will probably never tell you why.

I dimly remember a tv commercial where some guy on a podium tells a convention crowd, “the buzzword this year … is quality.” And everyone started dutifully chanting, “quality, quality, quality …” We instituted “round table” discussions to improve communication between departments, but ultimately very little changed. The firm I’m with now doesn’t have departments.

Anyway, Cenk Uygur interviewed Nick Hanauer on The Young Turks on Tuesday, and it is now on youtube:

Besides being a successful entrepreneur and businessman, Hanauer is known for his article, The Pitchforks are Coming … for Us Plutocrats, in Politico in 2014.

Seeing where things are headed is the essence of entrepreneurship. And what do I see in our future now?

I see pitchforks.

If we don’t do something to fix the glaring inequities in this economy, the pitchforks are going to come for us. No society can sustain this kind of rising inequality. In fact, there is no example in human history where wealth accumulated like this and the pitchforks didn’t eventually come out. You show me a highly unequal society, and I will show you a police state. Or an uprising. There are no counterexamples. None. It’s not if, it’s when.

Hanuaer told Uygur that many in his peer group were initially angry and defensive about his article, but claims that most of the rich folk he knows now acknowledge the problems of income equality, but don’t know what to do about it. Human nature is to try and spend or pay as little as possible, and the tenets of trickle-down economics have provided a comforting refuge for employers to do just that.

So it seems that employers have gone in big for low prices, and have gotten something like the situation that Tom Peters predicted. While they pay low wages (and even no wages to interns) corporations and businesses still advertise like crazy – fighting over the shrinking share of customers with disposable incomes. Customers with little or no money can’t afford loyalty to any brand, and our economy enters the death spiral that Hanauer discusses.

This is a part of the false reality that Andrew Bacevich mentioned (see my previous post). America has been a booming growth economy for so long, that entrepreneurs still believe that the sucker born every minute will have enough money for their snake oil.

Voting Third Party

I couldn’t watch the Sunday morning talk shows. Abetted by major media, both campaigns are doing their best to make sure we all vote based on emotion rather than reason. The leading stories are mostly about how crazy is Trump today? … and the underlying message is how lucky we are that Clinton has this election sewn up …. as long as no one is foolish enough to vote for Trump, stay home or Horrors!  vote third party.

Though Gary Johnson’s Libertarian ticket is polling about 8%, the media is concentrating on attacks against Jill Stein’s Green Party which is only polling about 4%. Why? Probably because Johnson will likely attract antiTrump Republicans while Stein is actively seeking to latch on to disappointed Sanders supporters.

So many folk cite Ralph Nader as the reason that Al Gore lost to George Bush, conveniently forgetting that the media roasted Gore relentlessly, that Gore ran a lackluster campaign, that Gore lost his home state, and that the Florida Supreme Court gave Florida to Bush. Some polls claim that Nader took more votes away from Bush than Gore, but just as the media wanted everyone to believe that Al Gore claimed to invent the internet, they want us to believe that he only lost because some people voted for Nader.

On TomDispatch and Informed Comment, former Army Colonel and conservative historian Andrew Bacevich takes time away from criticizing American geopolitical blunders to long for serious candidates to make those blunders. In, The Decay of American Politics – An Ode to Ike and Adlai, Bacevich observes:

So while a Trump presidency holds the prospect of the United States driving off a cliff, a Clinton presidency promises to be the equivalent of banging one’s head against a brick wall without evident effect, wondering all the while why it hurts so much.

Bacevich identifies money, identity politics, and belief in a pseudo-reality as the reasons behind our current pseudo-election. But despite a litany of complaints against Clinton, he defers to the establishment playbook wherein Trump is a fate too horrible to be imagined.

And Bacevich doesn’t mention Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP). Though Clinton and Kaine half-heartedly oppose aspects of the sweeping trade agreement, Obama still hopes to push through and sign the TPP after the election, and needs only 51 votes in the Senate. Many pundits think a Trump victory would probably kill the TPP, (as would a Stein or Johnson victory). A Clinton victory is no guarantee of anything.