Dixiecrats

Democratic Party: Come back, Dixiecrats. We need you.

What can we do to make it all right?

ICYMI, the Democratic Party has been doing some navel-gazing and just released its collection of belly-button lint for public inspection. After their embarrassing losses in the 2014 mid-terms, they finally realized they must be doing something wrong. One task force and an embarrassingly thin seven pages (9! Count the covers!) later, we discover this finding, for example:

“It is strongly believed that the Democratic Party is loosely understood as a long list of policy statements and not as people with a common set of core values (fairness, equality, opportunity). This lack of cohesive narrative impedes the party’s ability to develop and maintain a lifelong dialogue and partnership with voters.”

See, this is part of their problem, right here. Continue reading

Dear Scratch Burrito: WTF is with your sweetener policy?

There’s this thing I have begun encountering in a certain sort of restaurant. It’s not a good thing. I first ran across this policy at a place I used to eat in Bend, OR, and it happened again tonight at Scratch Burrito here in Denver.

I went in, ordered a burrito bowl and an iced tea. Paid, found a table, went to the drink station and got my tea. Looked around and couldn’t find any sweetener. So I go back to the counter. Would you like regular sugar or agave, the guy asks. No, no, I need artificial, I reply – Sweet-n-Low, if you have it? Sorry sir, we only have natural sweeteners. Continue reading

Internet and Social Media

Facebook’s worst nightmare: what if social media is just that – social?

New research suggests that social media is a bubble – how long before it bursts?

Facebook - UnshareThese are heady days for social media interests. Facebook and Twitter run rampant, Pinterest, LinkedIn, YouTube, Vine and Instagram are booming, Ello is all kinds of interesting, and somehow or another Google+ and StumbleUpon are still hanging in there. While there isn’t literally a new social net rolling out every 15 minutes, it sometimes feels that way.

The money in social is just insane. Take the leader of the pack, for instance. Facebook’s market cap is just north of $200B and NASDAQ’s analysis is all kinds of bullish. Why not? Have a look at their revenue projections. Continue reading

ArtSunday: LIterature

Horace II: more rambling, this time about the Satires…

Horace uses satire in a gently amused (and bemused) way to point out the foibles of human nature. He’s not so much wanting to tear people a new one for being the way they are as he is interested in a thoughtful, even academic way in why we do the foolish things we do to ourselves.

Horace, by an unknown Roman sculptor (image courtesy crystallinks.com)

This second essay on the Works of Horace in the Christopher Smart prose translation looks at the great poet’s satires. Horace wrote two books of satires, a total of 18 poems. These satires were his first great successes as a poet and signaled that Horace was one of the great poets of the Augustan Age. on His influence on this genre of literature was so great that his style of handling the genre is known in literary/scholarly circles as Horatian satire.

Before we dig into the works themselves, however, it might be good to make clear what’s meant by “Horatian.” Horace’s greatest rival as a satirist is a Roman poet named Juvenal who lived roughly 100 years after Horace. Where Horace is gentle and good natured in his criticisms of the foibles of his fellow Romans, Juvenal is biting, even bitter in his attacks on human frailties. Where Horace hopes to see better from people, Juvenal demands that people should behave more acceptably. Continue reading

CATEGORY: ScienceTechnology2

Microsoft’s HoloLens corporate communications are the reason the world is a better place today

I was shaking and weeping by the end of the advert for Microsoft’s new HoloLens technology.

Maybe you don’t like Microsoft? Or galloping consumerism? Or corporatism, or the wealth of the elite, or whatever. You’re a jaded cynic and such things serve to feed your rage.

I understand.

Put that aside for two minutes and twelve seconds and remember what it was like being five years old, when the world was new, and watch this:

Continue reading

The Arts

Art and Tech, part 4: All about the Benjamins…

In a culture whose value system is thoroughly infused with the spirit of capitalist-democratic-republicanism of one permutation or another, art, tech – let’s face it – every form of human endeavor – is measured only by its ability to generate revenue…

(For earlier essays in this series look herehere and here.)

And so we come to the last in this series of essays examining how the evolution of technology (and remember, I refer to technology in a broad sense) has affected art and artists. This last piece will examine two pieces of technology – one is an economic system (capitalism) and the other is really a myriad of technologies coming together to produce – an effect? a composite technology? (the world wide web) and their effects on art and artists over the last 20 or so years.

Adam Smith, philosopher of political economy (image courtesy Wikimedia)

The history of the uneasy relationship between the political system most commonly referred to as democracy (rarely practiced in a pure form, as, let’s assume, we all understand) and the economic system known as capitalism (also rarely practiced in a pure form, same understanding as above) has been played out nowhere perhaps as openly – and at the same time subtly – as in our America – the good old USA. Our country is one who has tried, with often wildly varying results, to reconcile the basic premises of these two important systems of thought.

The guy who catches the most heat in critiques of capitalism is the one pictured at right whose most important work, The Wealth of Nations, seems to argue for self-interest as a public good even as it warns against the human tendency to collude and engage in ugly practices such as price fixing which he sees as self-interest used against the public good. The most important – and misunderstood by the limited understanding of the average American – idea in Smith’s treatise, however, is his assertion (not that people are naturally unequal, though that certainly is very important because it conflicts with our notions of democracy) that wealth matters more than peopleContinue reading

CATEGORY: World

Too many people + unbridled consumption = trauma for billions

Does disaster loom, brought on by population increases and a governing economic system predicated on ever more growth?

Scratch a problem involving homo sapiens. Smog choking cities. Carbon dioxide and methane warming atmosphere or ocean. Forests rapaciously slashed. No fish where fish used to be. Nuclear waste with no safe home (ever). Pollution everywhere. Children without education. Billions of poor without hope or safe drinking water or adequate food. Disease and death induced by the absence of health care.

And wars. Plenty of wars.

In such examples of human trauma amid conflicts over life-sustaining resources, there’s a centrality rarely discussed.

Too. Many. People.

When I was born, in 1946, America housed just over 141 million people. Today, the 50 states approach 320 million people. Despite a declining birth rate, America gains a person every 16 seconds, thanks largely to the admission of about 1.5 million legal foreign workers each year.

When I was born, the Earth had about 2.5 billion people. The Census Bureau anticipates 9.3 billion people globally in 2050. That would be almost a four-fold increase in the people Earth would seek but likely fail to adequately support.
Continue reading

Giving-USA-2014-chart

Humbug: the US has too much philanthropy

We currently have an epidemic of philanthropy in the U.S., and that’s a very bad thing.

Giving-USA-2014-chartPhilanthropy is everywhere. Good luck finding a 5K race or golf tournament or box of cookies that doesn’t have an affiliation with a not for profit. Companies have replaced annual executive golf outings with days of painting walls and digging ditches at inner city neighborhood centers. And there has emerged an entirely new industry, what professional aid workers disdainfully call “poverty tourism,” where wealthy Americans spend a week or two each year somewhere in the Third World “giving back.” Philanthropy has exploded, and now exceeds $300 billion dollars each year.

Here’s why it’s a bad thing. Continue reading

ArtSunday: LIterature

Defoe’s Moll Flanders: The Economies of Life

What Daniel Defoe depicts in Moll Flanders is the story of a person who lives purely for pursuit of “the main chance”: accruing wealth at the cost of family, friends, self-respect…in the hope that once one has “a stock” there will be time for reflection, repentance, reclamation….

Moll Flanders by Daniel Defoe (image courtesy Goodreads)

I went off the 2014 reading (updated) list(s) for this last “non-holiday” themed book as a result of some comments on the first of my “art and tech” series of essays. An argument advanced by a commenter whose opinions I value and whose friendship I treasure suggested that the only reliable arbiter of human achievement is the marketplace – and argued, at least indirectly,  that economic success = validation of one’s efforts. I freely admit that I find such arguments about how life and life’s work should be valued, and they are numerous in these times, troubling. I find them most troubling because, given the amorphous nature of human culture and its values, this may very well be the view that most people choose to adopt.

When I feel troubled by issues of this sort, I turn, as I have for many years, to literature. When I go to literature I am seeking, not answers of the smug and certain sort constantly promulgated by news outlets both left and right. Instead, what literature gives me is perspective – the perspective of fellow artists as well as in most cases (since my penchant is for classics of the canon), historical perspective. Continue reading

Religion

A strange moment in a New Age bookstore

Never mind religion. Know your customer, right?

Something … odd … happened today. As I have noted here before, I am not a Christian. I’m either atheist or pagan, depending on your perspective, and this afternoon I was in full-on pagan mode, for reasons that will be elaborated on in the next couple of days.

So I head to a local New Age bookstore to pick up some things I need for a ceremony. I quickly locate what I’m after and go to check out. The nice young woman behind the counter rings me up. I pay and as I turn to leave she says “Merry Christmas!”

I thank her and leave and wait, what? The woman at the counter at the New Age bookstore just wished me a Merry Christmas? Continue reading

The Arts

Art and Tech Pt. 1: Known Knowns and Known Unknowns…

We live these days in a weird era where art and tech are linked in ways which I don’t believe we understand very well and don’t think about enough. Maybe we are in some transition to a culture in which tech is believed to be art and art is believed to be -I don’t know – tech…? Whatever the artist says it is…? Obsolete…?

This started out, as sometimes things do, with a conversation:

Claude Monet, technology freak (image courtesy Wikimedia)

Lea, my wife, and I were coming home from one of her art exhibition openings last night and somehow we got on the subject of Claude Monet.  The art opening was part of a series of events in which artists, writers, and craftsmen and women had simultaneously occurring book fest, art exhibition opening, and crafts fair.  This is the sort of event that arts groups hold more and more often in these same days of this our life. Artists hoped that book lovers would stop by the art exhibition, writers that art lovers would stop by the book fest, crafts people – well, people still buy crafts, kinda sorta (more than they buy fine art and books, at least), so the crafts people were likely simply being helpful.

I don’t know how well the whole series of events went off (I didn’t even go to the crafts fair because I – I don’t know – well yes I do: at least half the tables at the “book fest” were selling – crafts – yeah, I know). I hope that the artist and writer friends I ran into at the two events I attended made some sales. But at one point last evening Lea looked at me and noted, “I think everyone at this exhibit is an artist.”

Yeah. I know. This is all too common these days.

And yes, I’m rambling, but I’ll get to something in a minute. Bear with me.  Continue reading

Business

Bob Garfield takes Jane Seymour and Kay Jewelers to the woodshed

I rarely post recommendations encouraging you to go check out a business writer. And by rarely I mean never. Today I’m making an exception, though, because it turns out that one of my favorites, MediaPost’s Bob Garfield, hates those motherfucking Jane Seymour Kay Jewelers ads as bad as I do.

Awww. Every kitsch begins with Kay.

But wait. Open your heart? No, unless by “heart” they mean “wallet.” Ladies and gentlemen, I give you open-heart sorcery: the black art of combining celebrity, cheap sentimentality, self-delusion, greed and borderline consumer fraud.

The practice exploits consumers’ emotions and invites them to delude themselves into thinking a product purchase is an act of charity. But it is not charity. Continue reading

Energy

Open letter to America: the endless war for oil

What if I told you that all wars were waged over resources, that at the moment the most important resource in the world is oil, and that the war in the middle east and the trade war over the Alberta tar sands, seemingly different conflicts involving different parties, are actually the same war, waged by the same economic force and subject to the same economic necessities, one of which is within your control? Continue reading

Wheel of Fortune

What President Obama didn’t mention in his immigration address

There’s a sequence of 6 letters that appears nowhere in the transcript

President Obama finally addressed the nation today regarding the executive actions he’s taking in regard to our broken immigration system. If you’re looking for a strident pro or con piece, this isn’t it. If you’re looking for a call to see him impeached, yeah, good luck with that. If you’re acting like this is the first time a sitting president has ever had the temerity to go it alone on the issue, maybe you might want to bone up on the administrations of Ronnie “Golf? I NAP!” Reagan and creepy ex-chief of the secret police George “I Threw Up on Helmut Kohl and All I Got Was this Lousy T-Shirt” Bush, the Elder. Even so, I’m here to throw our friends on the right a bone. Continue reading

Ethics

Rev. Al Sharpton, his fans, and Boolean operators

Apparently it’s not okay to take on one of our own

This was originally going to be a comment at Democratic Underground. The more I typed, the more I thought I should just go ahead and stir the pot far more broadly, but I’ll still do my left-leaning compatriots there the courtesy of linking back to this for their consideration.

See, I don’t understand why some folks there are taking issue with a NYT article as though it were a hit piece. The article? As Sharpton Rose, So Did His Unpaid Tax Bills. Continue reading

plus-size

Retailers to plus-size women: fuck you – a disgusting insight from Big Data

Plus-size fashion? Sure, as long as you don’t care about color.

plus-sizeI had kind of a WTF? moment at work today, that turned into a moment that made me think, and finally into a full-blown depressing moment.

We’re working on a project for a retailer that sells a wide range of clothing to women. We were examining the strategic keyword analysis workbook looking for patterns and insights in the search data for an upcoming presentation, when we tripped across this disheartening realization.

In every category – Dresses, Blouses, Skirts, Prom, Formal, Homecoming, etc. – there’s a huge volume of search for color: [blue prom dress], [red skirt], [green top], etc. Every category except one, that is: Plus Size. When you look at the search data for plus size queries, there’s almost no volume for color. The only term that shows any life at all is [white]. Continue reading

CATEGORY: Funny

Breaking Bad toy fiasco

Irwin Mainway would be proud. Even he would have a hard time topping this headline: “Toys R Us pulls meth-toting ‘Breaking Bad’ action figures from shelves after Florida mom’s protest.”

The dolls, based on the recently concluded AMC series, featured characters based on White, a meth-cooking high school science teacher, and his sidekick, Jesse Pinkman. Along with the action figures, the toys came with fake bags of meth, sacks of cash and gas masks.

For those of you not old enough to remember, Irwin Mainway was a sleazy toy salesman who was perennially grilled about his dangerous toys (such as “Bag of Glass”) by Jane Curtin on the “Consumer Probe” skit. The toys were over-the-top ridiculous. Continue reading

Solar Home

Solar Home Inc engages in online sockpuppetry

In addition to its comment spam, domain speculation, and cybersquatting, Solar Home Inc also engages in sockpuppetry

Solar Home

Solar Home

Click here to see all the posts in this series.

Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary defines “sock puppet” as “a false online identity used for deceptive purposes.” Wikipedia’s entry describes a sock puppet as “an online identity used for purposes of deception” including but not limited to using the extra identity to talk to/about the original, praising/defending/supporting people or organizations, and bypassing site bans.

As part of my investigation into the online practices of Solar Home Inc, I have read dozens of comments on blog posts, news articles, online solar tech articles, and investor notices written by Solar Home’s founder and CEO, Ray Boggs, and a Solar Home employee named Ron Winton. In only two cases did I find either acknowledging that they work together. This makes Winton a Solar Home sockpuppet himself. In one case, a mistake by Winton in Motley Fool comments revealed that at least one of the three usernames affiliated with Solar Home was a sockpuppet. And I found several additional usernames that are also supporting Solar Home’s resale business, but no indication that any of them acknowledge their connection to Solar Home. Continue reading

Book-Review

The Song or the Singer? Trying to Understand the Success of Nicholas Sparks

In the case of a writer like Nicholas Sparks, perhaps it’s that he gives readers a familiar story arc time after time that explains his success…

A Walk to Remember by Nicholas Sparks (image courtesy Goodreads)

After reading a couple of superb pieces of literary fiction by J.F. Powers and Shelby Foote, I detoured from the 2014 reading list to take a look at the work of a writer whose success I’ve wondered about for some time.

Yep. That’s right. Literary fiction snob and crusty old professor Jim read him some Nicholas Sparks.

It happened accidentally. Lea and I were doing some book rearranging a few days ago and, as we shifted books from one bookcase to another, we came across a copy of Nicholas Sparks’s third novel, A Walk to Remember, a book Lea received from an aunt several years ago that had languished on our shelves. She moved to toss it into our donation box for the local library, but I stopped her. My words were something to the effect of “I’ve abused this guy’s work without having read it. I am going to read this novel and write about it.”

And so we proceed. Continue reading