There, I fixed my Klout Score

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Klout messed up my score, so instead of complaining about it like everyone else on the twitter, a little bit of duct tape, a black Sharpie and I just fixed it myself!

Problem solved.

fixed klout score e1319755801957 There, I fixed my Klout Score

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PS I just took your picture

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camera devin PS I just took your picture

Today’s post is a guest post by the novelist and essayist, Jane Devin. We’re delighted she stopped by to bark and walk in our back yard and welcome her any time she wants to wander in. If you haven’t already, buy her book, Elephant Girl. It is nothing short of amazing.

I have social media friends who would be appalled if someone reposted one of their tweets and didn’t give them credit as the original author—even if the tweet was mindless and casual. They’d be outraged if another blogger lifted a picture from their site and republished it without permission—even if it was a picture that required no particular skill or time to take.

Yet when it comes to taking stealth pictures of other people’s faces or bodies for the purpose of putting them online, these same bloggers rigorously defend the practice. It’s not theft, they claim, but art. Their subjects tacitly agreed to the invasion by being in public.

People in public shouldn’t expect any level of privacy.
If people want privacy they should stay home.
It’s not illegal.
I have the right.
But photographers have been getting crowd shots for years.
It doesn’t harm anyone.
Asking permission before the fact would be embarrassing.
If I ask permission after the fact they might tell me no.
I might not get the candid shot I want.
The government and businesses videotape us. What about that?
It’s art.
It’s fun.
It’s funny.
Everyone’s doing it.

I’ve disagreed, sometimes hotly, with my blogging friends about the phenomena of covertly taken cell phone pictures being posted online. I’m not likely to change my mind and neither are they, but for those sitting on the fence about the issue I’d like to offer up a few thoughts on the subject.

The essential question is: To whom does a person’s face and body belong? The logical answer would seem to be that these things belong to the individual who possesses them—and if we believe that, then we should also believe that people have some rights as to when and how their own image is used.

Being out in public shouldn’t negate all reasonable expectations of personal space and privacy. As a matter of social decorum, most of us don’t purposely brush up against strangers or stand too close to them in a line or an elevator. We consider it rude to purposely eavesdrop. Very few of us would think that it was okay to record and podcast the intimate dinner conversations of others without their consent. Most of us would agree that an up-skirt shot would be less likely to identify a woman than a picture of her face, but as a matter of social propriety (and in some states the law) it’s considered the aberrant act of a Peeping Tom.

So why do some cell phone users believe it’s okay to secretly photograph strangers and post their pictures online?

The argument that there’s no expectation of personal privacy in public comes from the same faulty reasoning of the underwear snappers: The shot was available and they took it. People in public shouldn’t expect others to respect their bodies, particularly if they’re dressed in a way or engaged in an activity that piques a photographer’s interest. If the photo-snapper asked permission, they would probably be told no. If some states don’t have a specific law against cell phone owners using other people’s faces and bodies for their amusement, then it’s legal and therefore a right.

There are a host of unpleasant things people could legally do in public, but that we don’t do as a matter of courtesy and respect for others. Most people don’t step outside their door in the morning wondering how they can make the world a more uncomfortable and invasive place for others, yet for many a cell phone camera seems to be a license to do just that.

It doesn’t matter if the picture is bitter, sweet, repulsive or beautiful. The pretty woman dining with her lover probably may not feel any better about her picture being posted online than the unattractive young woman with the pockmarked face who’s dining alone. The well-dressed elderly man taking his dog for a walk may feel as uncomfortable about a stranger taking his picture as the toothless old man who’s asleep on a park bench. The point is, without asking permission, the photographer doesn’t know. Without asking permission, the integrity of the photographer is already questionable. Whether they post a picture for people to laugh at (look at this overweight woman in Lycra shorts!), cry at (see how thin and frail this homeless man looks), or ooh and ahh over (isn’t this young couple cute?), the fact is that they’ve invaded someone else’s life in order to get their shot. They’ve unapologetically stolen someone else’s image for their own purposes. They’ve put their own impulsive wants above any consideration and respect they might have for other human beings.

There’s a world of difference between accidentally capturing the faces of strangers while snapping photos of your kids at Disneyland and purposely whipping your cell phone out to take a picture of the 400 pound man in a scooter so you can post it online and rouse the disgust of your friends and readers. There’s a difference between historical event photography, like taking crowd shots of the #OWS movement, and sneaking a picture of someone who’s quietly shedding tears as she talks with a friend inside of a Starbucks.

As for those who insist that what they’re doing with cell phone cameras is no different than what photographers of bygone eras did when they captured scenes from their generation, I’d remind them that in those days cameras were a lot more noticeable. Photographers couldn’t pretend they were doing something else while snapping pictures. In those days, cameras didn’t fit into the palm of one hand — journalists and artists alike would have found it hard to take stealth photos while carrying around a tripod and twenty pounds of photo gear. The Internet also didn’t exist then. Photographers were lucky if their photos made it to the pages of a local newspaper. Today, anyone can post photos online, where they can be seen worldwide, by a potential audience of millions after being blogged, commented on, reposted, shared, catalogued in Google images, Facebooked, Tumbld and re-tweeted.

In general, the video cameras at the mall or on city streets don’t publicize the pictures they take unless there is a genuine public interest at stake, such as catching a suspected child abductor. To suggest that because some city police departments and businesses use video cameras without the explicit consent of each person filmed somehow makes it ethically “okay” for citizens to do the same is the worst kind of slippery slope excuse. Taking pictures of strangers slurping their spaghetti, kissing their partners, or wearing hideous shoes has nothing in common with protecting the public or a store from criminals.

There are times when cell phone pictures do serve the public interest. Citizens have caught police brutality and even murder on film. Citizens with cell phone cameras have filmed historical events, like the tragedy of 9-11 and the capture of Gaddafi, and have opened up a cross-cultural exchange of images that might never make it to the network news, such as the early protests in Egypt or the treatment of women in Afghanistan by the Taliban. Images like these aren’t taken for amusement, though, nor are they being posted without regard for their subjects under the guise of “art”. There’s an inherent value to pictures that relate to news and events that is not shared by sites like PeopleofWalmart.com or, unfortunately, most of the stealth pictures being posted online today.

What are your thoughts? Do you feel that being out in public suspends your right to privacy? Have cell phone cameras and the Internet made everyone a public figure? Would you be surprised to find a candid photo of yourself online? Do you think common courtesy should prevail or do we actually need laws that cover new technology?

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Water pressure

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shower Water pressure

I spent a huge chunk of my 20s and 30s traveling around the country for my corporate employer who no longer graces the list of the Fortune 500. I have stayed in thousands of hotel rooms and all of them had one thing in common; terrible, miserable, horrible water pressure.

But that might be a tad unfair of me. Let me back up a bit.

The previous owners of my current house in Dayton, Ohio had built a bathroom with a shower on the other side of the laundry/utility room, right off the family room. The family room is on the third level of a quad-level so it is a bit cooler than the rest of the house. And when we moved in twenty-plus years ago, it was not altogether the most “finished” room in the house. Since the bathroom had that permanent feel of a farmhouse between the woods and frozen lake on a snowy evening, nobody else saw much value in it. But it was the furthest room from the bedrooms, so I took to using it to get ready for the 5:30am flights so as not to wake anyone else.

It quickly became my bathroom. All mine.

And it had the best water pressure ever! The pipes (as I was to discover later as I was frantically looking for a shut-off valve and not finding one) were 3/4″ direct from the water line and the water heater. Apparently, the previous owner did not know to step down the pipes to 1/2″ for standard fixtures. When I flipped that handle, a million gallons a second rushed out of that shower head with the force of a sandblaster, flushing away the fog of Seattle, the chill of Minneapolis, the grit of Brooklyn (ok, Queens) and the sweaty grime of Atlanta. Water pummeled onto my head, massaging every follicle into preforming double duty to ensure I would have a full head of hair well into my sixties.

That water pressure spoiled me for every stay at any hotel anywhere, luxury or not. I wept at the prospect of visiting with relatives and counted down the days until I could use my own shower with my insane water pressure that blasted the dirt, sweat and fatigue from my travel-weary body.

A few years back, I finally remodeled the bathroom and family room, knowing I would probably have to give up my obscene water pressure. While the new stuff is much more pleasant to look at, it does not have quite the exhilaration of the old shower. But I’m learning to cope. I’ve run two separate 1/2″ lines from the 3/4″ pipes. It’s not quite the same, but it is pretty close. Still beats hotel showers!

Home is where the heart is? Yeah, right. Water pressure is where the real love is at.

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This blog post is part of a blog-off series with a group of bloggers from different professions and world views, each exploring a theme from his/her world view. This was about exploring the theme, What is home? To explore how others handled the theme, check them out below. I will add links as they publish.

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Crowdsourcing bridges

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obamaposter e1319387809971 Crowdsourcing bridges

In the past week, I’ve stumbled onto two major brands that launched crowdsourcing design projects they probably should not have. The first is the Barack Obama Reelection Campaign (MY poster submission is posted to the right) and the other is Moleskine. For obvious conflicting reasons, Obama should be giving young designers paying gigs instead of trying to steal ideas from the most vulnerably unemployable during this recession, but more unforgivable is Moleskine for poking their core audience in the eye with a disrespectful rusty finger. (You figure out the euphemism.. you’re all smart people)

Below is the response Moleskine posted on its Facebook page to the backlash they received. The tone not withstanding, it looks like they perhaps should have hired an English major to compose the status update. (Really, I copy/pasted this unedited.)

As far as the Moleskinerie logo contest is concerned, we would like to clarify that since the nature of Moleskinerie has always been participative, made up of passionate contributions and voluntary submissions, we decided to let the community participate again in creating the new logo of the blog.

We decided to collaborate with Designboom to do so, a leading online design magazine, which is well aware of how to run a contest of this kind.
If you had spent some time on the “Competitions” area of Designboom website, you certainly have seen that other Brands are running and previously decided to run similar contests, with the same regulation of our with great participation as well as amazing results.

That said, being a contest, there’s a final price for the winner, but all the submissions are free, as well you are free not to taking part to it.

Thanks to anyone who has decided, and will decide to take part to it.

So basically, because other companies are cheating designers and writers out of their talents and skills, it’s ok for Moleskine to do it as well. Is that the rationale? Do we now understand why it is so hard to get anyone to take the liberal arts or design seriously? Or why we have an entire generation who thinks it is ok to copy and paste images they don’t own from others without paying for them? Incidentally, I find it ironic that all this devaluing of design happening in the same period of time most are praising the design genius of Steve Jobs, who never crowdsourced anything.

On the one hand, I love to see big, stupid brands fall for this kind of rationalization. I have been on the judging end of far too many crowdsourced contests to know that what ultimately ends up in the pike is cookie-cutter, technically incoherent student crap that ain’t worth a damn. I know very few (if any) designers and artists who do crowd-sourced work; they are too busy with real clients who pay them. The only brands who think that crowdsourcing is a reliable way to develop a logo or poster are those who have been hoodwinked into it by companies like Designboom who get paid regardless of the quality of the end product. (BTW, hop on over to their web site. Icky-ca-ca-poo-poo)

On the other hand, I think young designers see crowdsourcing as the “fast-track” to work for larger brands and getting quick exposure. They are wrong, but it is hard to counsel a generation who sees reality TV as the road to success for doing pretty much what amounts to crowdsourcing. In the generation of the YouTube star, fame is perceived as only one upload away. The brands know this about young designers. Young designers need to quit believing this myth about themselves. A respected career in design does not work this way.

When you are willing to give away your skills and talents for free, nobody takes you seriously. And nobody will pay you for what you have demonstrated you will do for free. Even if you are the lucky “winner” of a crowdsourced design, you will not be able to parlay that into a job or contract. The company will only become more emboldened to crowdsource the next job, and the next, and the next. Your design career will eventually mirror that of an ingénue who gave herself too readily and cheaply in her youth for promises of fame and spends her skilled years in the gutter, begging for work in exchange for a twenty-dollar rock.

But I could be persuaded. I could be wrong.

The day I see the US Army Corps of Engineers crowdsource the latest levy, bridge or lake dredging project is the day I concede it is ok for Moleskine and others to crowdsource design and creative. Until that day comes, however, I’m going to steer clear of any brand that trusts “the crowd” for any of its products, logos, posters or construction — as a customer and a vendor. I’m also never going to hire any designer — as an employee or contractor — who has done any crowdsourced work.

And shame on you, Barack Obama for allowing your campaign to steal skills from the creative community. Is it not enough we have to endure the non-mention of skills like writing, reading, arts, music, etc. in your State of the Union and education speeches in favor of STEM? Now we are being hit by the other fist loaded with your crowdsourcing crap.

I still love ya, man, but right now — today — I wish I had another choice for President; someone who values the creatives as well as the scientists in our community we call The United States of America. This country did not get to the moon on the left half of the brain alone. It first took the imagination of the right side to dream up the mission.

Don’t you think it’s about time you started giving the right* side credit as well?

—-
*Yes, that is a political joke, made up by the right half of my brain. My left half is still piecing it together, but at some point my whole brain will be laughing its STEM off. See, the puns just keep rolling…

The crowdsoucing contest is probably the best advertising Field Notes never had to buy. Buy from them instead of Moleskine if you want your contempt for crowdsourcing creative to be heard.

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You were carried

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sacajawea You were carried

A popular legend about Sacagawea was that she carried a baby throughout her stint with Lewis and Clark as they mapped the Western regions of the United States. That baby grew up, thinking he had discovered America. In truth, he was carried the whole way.

I’m pretty sure this is a stretch, but the point is not lost.

Walmart did not get big because Sam Walton was a retailing genius. Walmart got big because the Interstate highway system enabled him to move massive amounts of freight cheaply within a just-in-time system. While Walmart pays road taxes, those taxes are minuscule compared to the investment the previous generations put into the road system. Sam Walton took advantage of the Interstate system in ways it was never intended.

Walmart was carried.

The 53percent here think they have achieved everything through their own hard work. They did not. They were able to serve in an Army because a previous generation created it. They were able to attend college because previous generations thought it important enough to create, foster and preserve education. They were able to save enough money to buy a house because a previous generation fought for fair wages and working conditions.

The 53percent are being carried.

One of the oddest things I’ve seen recently is Herman Cain talk about his successes as if they were commonplace in a country that does not divide itself by race. In truth, he was able to have those successes only by the sacrifices and courage of those who came before him.

Herman Cain was carried.

You were carried. We were all carried. And as we grow into adulthood, part of our obligation as a member of the human race is to carry the next generation.

Yes it is.

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Looking for that crack nobody else saw

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nat hawthorne Looking for that crack nobody else saw

I have a love/hate relationship with literature.

I graduated (or more correctly, was stamped and processed out) with a bachelor’s degree in English from the University of Minnesota. In short, that meant — in America — I was unemployable and bound to be a pain in the butt for anyone whose grammar was not up to snuff. Having an English degree is like being a priest in bar except people don’t watch what they say, but how they say it. This usually ends up in an embarrassing exchange resulting in the misuse of the word “whom.”*

The love/hate thing is a personal struggle that always comes back to the question, “Why is literature important?” I’ve accepted that it is, but five decades into existence and I still don’t know why. I’ve met people — mostly college professors — for whom the answer is obvious: It feeds our soul. It nourishes those parts of the human animal that makes us uniquely human.

Yeah, so what. I can’t pay my power bill with an essay or feed my family with shredded tweets that comprise the best of my crafted witticisms. I’ve tried. Folks don’t think it’s very funny.** And yet, food for the soul should be valued, but in our ROI-obsessed culture where the only worth of a dog is how much money he hauls in, it isn’t. Not really.

I was struggling with this question during the latter phases of my matriculation. I think every Liberal Arts major gets to that, “What the hell am I doing? How am I ever going to make a living doing this?” point right before the panic spins out of control. The economy was tanking and the State of Minnesota was re-engineering education, pushing my dream of being a high school English teacher out of reach. (My world was a lot like many graduates find themselves today, so with the gift of hindsight and memory of raw fear, I’m confident in saying most of you will be just fine even though you may not believe that.)

I was taking an intense class on Nathaniel Hawthorne when the height of the panic gripped my brain. I was halfway through and facing down the deadline of a 20+ page paper. I had no clue what to write about as everything about Nat. Hawthorne was already written by somebody else. There seemed to be no point except that the exercise of writing was itself the point. And that seemed pointless to me.

I shared my angst with someone a lot smarter than me who immediately said, “Your job is to turn over a work of literature and look for that one crack nobody else saw.”

I did that. And I got a D+ on the paper because it was unconventional, even though it was well researched.*** Apparently there are sacred cows and fences even in fields where they encourage you to explore outside yourself.

For me, the LetsBlogOff is an exercise that forces me to keep turning over stuff and looking for cracks that nobody has noticed. It is my quest to discover meaning in everyday stuff. It is a brain exercise to look for the unexpected and unconventional in something when the rest of the world has already agreed on its meaning.

The more conventional the theme, the more aggressively I look for cracks.

*Whom is used an in indirect object. If it sounds natural to say “to or for whom” than use it. Otherwise, say “who” Ok? We cool?

**I’ve also sent in a photo of myself with a note saying “I’m getting by on my looks this month.” Don’t try that. Well, maybe the better-looking mutts can.

***That crack for me was centered around Hawthorne’s use of color in The Scarlet Letter. It started with the question; “What color were Chillingworth’s eyes?” To this day, I can’t find one academic who asked that question, much less attempted to answer it. Maybe that will be my doctorate thesis.

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This blog post is part of a blog-off series with a group of bloggers from different professions and world views, each exploring a theme from his/her world view. This was about exploring the theme, What is a Blog Off? To explore how others handled the theme, check them out below. I will add links as they publish.

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The vast chasm between the haves and the have-nots

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urban street The vast chasm between the haves and the have nots

Back several year ago (actually a lot of years ago) I found myself in Philadelphia for the first time ever, in a rental car, in the middle of January, very lost. I just needed to get on the freeway pointing to the airport.

Me and my travel companion got out at a gas station and asked someone how to get to the freeway. The man did not know. After several minutes, I realized this man was not being intentionally unhelpful, he just simply didn’t know. He had never driven a car in his life and had no reason to ever use the freeway. He probably never ventured outside his neighborhood his whole life.

The American Dream that John Boehner recalls and gets all teary-eyed over doesn’t exist in many minds. For many in this country, there are no tree-lined streets, double driveways and dogs ready to greet you when you come home from work.

That one man has been my metaphor for the next couple decades in understanding the vast chasm between the haves and the have-nots.

And it ain’t all that vast.

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You ain’t no Steve Jobs

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steve jobs You aint no Steve Jobs

One of the things I keep hearing from media and some of my friends is how Steve Jobs thought different, did things differently and failed a lot.

College dropout

Got fired

Unsuccessful businessman

LSD user

“Look, dad! Steve Jobs was a failure and look what he did. I’m dropping out of college and going to change the world.”

*deep sigh*

I’m going to be a contrarian here. It is a bit scary that we have created an entire generation that has been rewarded for every mistake, every failure, every effort as an accomplishment. We gave trophies for just showing up. And the only thing we have produced is a bunch of folks who feel lost without getting an affirmation that their pooping is good.

I am getting very tired of having to acknowledge effort with the same weight as accomplishment. I don’t want to clap at your guitar tuning; I want to save that for your performance. Of course every success is lined with failure, but quit redefining the failures as successes. Yes, I know that makes me an intolerant geezer, but it really is for your own good.

Suck it up, become an adult and move on. Adults know when a failure is a failure or the next step to becoming a success. That is what makes us adults. And adults do not need constant affirmations that they done good by going poop.

Steve Jobs knew the rules of his craft and knew what he needed to break. He took an insane amount of crap for his vision. He probably suffered a lot in silence whereas you blog every angst. He did not camp out in his parents’ basement. He got off his butt and persevered. And nobody — except maybe Woz — ever, ever told him he was on the right track.

You remind me of students who aspire to be writers, justifying their lack of discipline to the craft by saying “e.e. cummings didn’t capitalize things.”

Like I tell these students, “You ain’t no e.e. cummings.”

And you ain’t no Steve Jobs, but you can prove me wrong.

When you do, come by, kick me in the ribs and say “I told you so.”

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A middle-aged, middle America impression of OccupyWallStreet

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distressed farmhouse A middle aged, middle America impression of OccupyWallStreet

I’m a middle-aged mutt in this wasteland between the two coasts commonly known as Middle America. Most of the United States lives here, but we rarely — ok never — get asked about important things like politics and the economy. We are the gun-toting, Bible-banging, slack-jawed, under-educated, corn-fed, polyester-wearing yahoos that the liberal media like to make fun of and Wall Street dismisses.

That is a little harsh. Ok, fair enough. I’ve seen my neighbors in their natural habitat (Kroger during wine and cheese hour) so I get where you’re all coming from. But just because we are out here in your idea of Wastelands doesn’t mean we are any less important and informed as you are.

Try to keep up.

What I know by getting to middle-age
There never was a Middle Class in America. We only ever had two classes; the Rich and Those Who Expected to be Rich (ETBR). It is the American Carrot, that thing that gets dangled in front of us to keep all of us reaching for more. The Middle Class was always a nebulous scale of the lower Rich and the upper ETBR which ebbed and flowed depending on the economy at the time. The indicator of where you were was how much wealth you had relative to what others had.

Equity (or wealth if you want) is a very cold, harsh ledger. There are only two ways you can grow it; invest Liquidity or Time.

For example, if you buy a house, you can add equity only one of two ways: put more cash into the place to quickly reduce the amount of mortgage debt OR accept more mortgage debt and increase equity over time, holding your breath the entire time, hoping the equity will eventually exceed the amount of money you have put in. When the equity teeter-tots over to the asset column, you now have wealth. (Unless others around you get foreclosed on, but we’ll get to that.)

The same thing with those who financed a college degree. They expected that even though the degree cost more than most peoples’ houses, they would get a job and over time, not only pay off the loans but make more than the average salary. (They should have bought a calculator first)

It’s just not that complicated. Most people in the ETBR class have a whole lot more time than liquidity. They trade their time all day long for liquidity with wages, mortgages, three easy monthly payments, etc. The Rich class can choose liquidity or time, depending on the rate of return. A slow rate of return means they can use time. A fast rate of return, they use liquidity. The ETBR class does not really have that choice (or more accurately, the degree of choice is scaled depending on the ratio of liquidity to time one has.)

The lack of choice is mostly what pisses the ETBR off most. This generation thought they had time. They were wrong.

This “law of economics” is about as rock solid as the law of gravity. You can ignore it or deny it, but it is still going to affect you.

People without liquidity tried to accelerate time. People with some liquidity but — not enough — tried to expand the value of each liquid unit too fast. Eventually, the ETBR ran out out time before they had a firm grasp on equity and lost it all. When you are clinging to a rock face on a mountain by your fingertips, when you fall, you don’t just slip; you fall all the way down. It does not matter if you are ten feet up the mountain or ten feet from the summit. (Did you catch that? I equated laws of economics to gravity. Genius. I should be ruling the world by now. Roll your eyes if you got ‘em.)

How this all ties into #OccupyWallStreet
I do not support Anonymous or Adbusters. I am not a big fan of the fist-pumping, kill Wall Street bankers rhetoric and other hippy crap like stuffing dollar bills in your mouth and marching like zombies. Sanctimonious hipsters with no life experience annoy me, too. It is unsettling to us out here that the OccupyWallStreet “non-leadership” has connections with these groups if only that they decide unilaterallty who is good and who is bad. I like steak, but the fifth “fact” in their Declaration gives me pause that reads, “PeTA is invited to join us.” All of a sudden, now my support for OccupyWallStreet means I support PeTA? Hell no!

Just because I lean to what this country defines as “left” does not mean I hang with the crazy-left. For the record, people claiming the right of human dignity is not a left-leaning principle. Groups that use terror tactics for good scare the hell out of me just as much as those who use them for evil. In the end game, “there is no good or evil; there is only power.

And she is very, very seductive.

To the middle-class middle America, if a group like Anonymous can target a big bad corporation, what is stopping them from concluding — unilaterally — a mom-and-pop business is supporting a big bad corporation (like Visa) for taking credit cards as payment? I understand how the affiliation is feeding Visa, but the rain nourishes the grass and weeds alike. It is incumbent upon groups like Anonymous to make sure the rain falls on the grass and not the weeds if they choose to pee all over my garden without my consent.

I believe the 1% are and have been exploiting their advantage of liquidity to enhance their fortunes. I also believe the 99% have been exploiting their victimization caused by their unwillingness to learn and adapt to the law of economics stated above.

Money finds the path of least resistance. It is what keeps corporations from innovating, what keeps individuals from having to make changes and politicians from reforming their cheating ways. As we used to say when I worked for The Man; cash hides a lot of sins. The only people entirely unaffected are those who are so rich they could not run out of money if they tried and those so poor they don’t have a hope of becoming a member of the ETBR ever in their lives. The rest are gaming the system in almost every way they know how.

I didn’t buy more house than I could afford nor did I refinance on the house equity I had to finance a non-asset like a college education or vacation. I did not take out or encourage my kids to take out huge student loans so they could attend a swanky out-of-state university. The social contract I had with you, the 99%, was that you would not purchase more than you could afford so that your house would not be foreclosed on or your kids would not be recklessly in debt. We were supposed to be in this together. Without your participation, colleges would not have been able to raise the tuition rates. Banks would not be offering 0% loans if nobody took them.

You broke that social contract by always needing more. I kept my end of the bargain.

I expect the 1% will work tirelessly to extract wealth from me until my last breath. But this much I know also about the 99%: They will not be there to help me guard the gate from the Barbarians. They will be busy guarding their own gates.

What I want
What I want most is my own space that is warm and free from the prying grasp of government tax departments, the whims of landlords, the perils of curable illness and disease or the selfish and short-sighted lust of those in power. Owning my own home is none of these things. Even if I were to get to pay the last payment of my mortgage to the bank, I could still lose my home if I could no longer pay the property tax the county continues to demand. Or lose my freedom due to the ever-increasing criminalization of poverty. Or suffer health problems that deplete the wealth I used a life-time of time to build.

The Barbarians will always be at the gate. This season’s Barbarians are the Wall Street bankers and politicians on the take. Next season, it could be drought and famine. The next could be the City of Englewood deciding that my house sits on a patch of land they want to turn into a park. Or Anthem Blue Cross/Blue Shield increasing my premiums 38% or denying a treatment they pre-approved. The list of Barbarians are endless.

As I move through middle-age and into old-age, I know that my ability and desire to fend off the Barbarians will become less and less while my desire and need for security and warmth will become more and more. I can already feel the fear and rage creep into my bones when some punk-kid behind me in traffic does that dodge-and-weave thing, trying to pass me as I am not speeding fast enough for him. I feel it in the deep sighs of a younger generation who mistake patience for inaction. I know it in my heart when young women no longer look at me with anything less than pity.

What fears me the most, though, is knowing I will not have enough time to build the wealth needed to construct a gate strong enough to keep the Barbarians at bay. I fear they will destroy me before it is my time to go.

*I don’t think the percentages are split 1%-99% but that is a heck of an effective way to market the movement. My use of the numbers are just a short-hand convenience; no more, no less.

You may find this interesting.
And this.
And this from @Karoli who started me thinking down this path, culminating in this here blog post. Blame her icon smile A middle aged, middle America impression of OccupyWallStreet

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Cheese curds at Kroger

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We want Kroger to carry cheese curds. We think you do too. Every cheese counter has a Customer Feedback thingie. My cheeseologists at the Englewood, OH store says the manager looks at these.

So, could you all request cheese curds the next time you stop in at a Kroger? I’ll bet by the time the Packers are in the 2012 Super Bowl, we’ll see cheese curds at Kroger. And the rest of the year, all our Canadian friends can make poutine.

cheese curds Cheese curds at Kroger

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Taxes and a disturbing trend

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irs logo Taxes and a disturbing trend

I have never filed a late tax return.

Ever.

It is not uncommon for state, local and federal tax departments to send my corporation a letter, asking for some explanation or asserting that I had not filed correctly or filed and paid on time, etc. I run a very tight ship and these matters usually get cleared up with a prompt letter and excessive documentation proving the date of filing, the date the check cleared and whatever else is needed to satisfy the anomaly.

I hire very good people. They have never been wrong.

It used to be that we would get a random letter every other year or so. It happens. Tax departments are very complicated with a lot of gears and levers and people pushing and pulling those levers. But lately, I’ve noticed that we are receiving letters almost quarterly from every tax department; from Ohio Department of Taxation to Ohio’s Health and Human Services to The City of Vandalia to the Internal Revenue Service. As of today, we have five outstanding tax issues.

FIVE!!!

I have no doubt that all of these will be resolved, but I have to ask: What the hell is going on here? Are these tax departments understaffed? I’d like to think that is the problem because the other alternatives is they are either stupid or malicious. That is not a road I’m willing to go down.

I have noticed, though, that no matter the outcome, the tax department always insists on assessing a late filing fee, even though the return was not late. Yes, we fight that but it is one more step in the process.

Maybe public sector cuts are not the answer. Small government may just mean that critical services gets rushed and too many mistakes happen. Mistakes like this cost private business a lot of money in extra payroll, time away from development, paranoid documentation practices and just needless pain-in-the-ass. All of this is real money.

As a private business, you can’t just ignore a tax letter. Really, not wise. It doesn’t matter how small you are, it has to be attended to right away.

This isn’t a “I hate paying taxes” rant. I get why we pay taxes. Like everyone else (except Warren Buffet) I would like to pay less. But mostly, I would like to not be on the crap end of these letters that seem to come in without rhyme or reason. If that means we should be increasing taxes to hire a few more people to make sure these mistakes don’t happen, I’m for that.

But this random “wheel of fortune” game we seem to now be on ticks me off more than higher taxes. This makes me feel like a sitting duck.

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99% does not mean 99 things #OccupyWallStreet

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bull 99% does not mean 99 things #OccupyWallStreet

I read the #OccupyWallStreet story in the New York Times this morning and kinda just shook my head slowly. They reported this as if it were a 2011 version of Woodstock, complete with hippy-chicks and guitar-slinging beatniks.

Yay. Or should I say “bully* for them.”

It’s not that the New York Times didn’t get it. I think they do. It may be because the protest is making itself hard to get.

Here is my advice to the #OccupyWallStreet folks. Do with it what you will.

Get simple. Fast.
Know what you want. Demand something short and easy for the media to understand in under nine seconds and something that even Chuck Todd won’t misunderstand and mangle (though I’m not entirely sure how you can do that.) It is really hard to get what you want when you can’t define it in 140 characters or less. Human dignity? Universal health care? Free universal education? Free checking? A specific banking bill that a Congressman wrote? (e.g. SB-5 in Ohio got over a million signatures because we were able to point to a specific bill.) If you can’t answer the question: “What do you want?” quickly, you are just creating a mob, not a group of lawfully-assembing citizens who demand that their grievances be met. (Example powdered wigs worked for the Tea Party!)

Unite
The worst thing you need media to call you is hodge-podge, rag-tag, unorganized and that sort of thing. The easiest way to organize is to get a slogan and have everyone wear the same t-shirt. Green would be delicious irony. Print a big 99% on the front and silk-screen a large block of white on the back where each person can write his/her own story.

Kickstarter
Get a Kickstarter going and start raising money. You are gonna need a lot of it. A Kickstarter helps those of us in Dayton, Ohio who can’t be in NYC to participate. That would also force you to think specifically about how you will spend the funds which will lead you to define your goals.

Website, Social Media
You have a good start at occupywallst.org/, but there is way too much on your site. Photos of people, just like this. And quit with the fist-pumping anger. Us older people still remember the Black Panthers and you are scaring us.

This is not an event
Quit scheduling things. There is no “agenda.” Do-nothing corporations have an agenda for meetings that nobody likes but go to anyway because there is almost always free muffins. The 99% are not corporate offices. And keep celebrities out of your group. Susan Sarandon and Cornell West are not helping your image. They are even less of the 1% those in your group will never be. When they show up, the media focuses their cameras on them and away from the crowd. Who does that serve? The celebrity. Only.

Produce your own media
Have your own reporters and writers. Use studio media techniques to deliver your own stories. Issue media credentials to people at NBC, CBS, Times, etc. Make them come to you. (They won’t and the credentials will mean nothing, but it will send a message to corporate-owned media… who are part of Wall Street… which you knew, right?)

Shut up
Do not chant. Do not talk to the media. Say nothing. Ask everyone there to say nothing to media, the police, hecklers, etc. The medium of silence will be your message. You are the 99% who are not being heard.

Ultimately, I think this movement will die off simply because a mob of hobos and stray dogs is not a group you can negotiate anything with. Sure, there is general unrest and all the ingredients for an uprising and class riots exists in all parts of America, but unless there is something specific (like ending the Vietnam War) to rally around, it is just a mob. If you want this to take hold, you have to simplify.

Quickly. Winter is coming.

*Sorry for the pun. I know this is a serious topic and I knew better, but I couldn’t resist. Part of what I’m protesting is a general lack of humour, in good times and bad.

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Niggardly

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CatDog Niggardly

Yeah, that’s right. I said niggardly*. Did you gasp?

How about niggling**? Does that also make you squirm?

If you are not gasping, squirming and looking about you nervously, congratulations! Your education has paid off.

If you have no idea these words mean anything other than what they sound like, crack a book.

Recently, Pete Williams used the term Obamacare on air. He was not the first, but he is the first non-FOX News journalist who caught my attention doing it. After years of the right-wing of America hammering that term as a derogatory slam on the president, it is starting to take hold in mainstream media. Eventually they will all give up and start saying it.

The right-wing has warped good words into things that sound bad. Like “compromise.” They use the term compromise as in “we will not give in.”

No!

Any third-grader learns that a democracy only works when both sides compromise — as in working together with mutual respect. If the right really wants to compare government spending to a family budget, it is impossible to do so without compromising.

How about “entitlements” as in “he thinks he is sooooo entitled that he just jumps to the head of the line and takes.” Sounds like someone is getting something for nothing that he doesn’t deserve. The only problem with “entitlements” like Social Security, Medicare and Unemployment Insurance is that we have paid for them. We really are entitled to those benefits! The Left should maybe start calling them Citizen-Funded Benefits (CFBs)

What really makes me scratch my head is when groups redefine terms that are mutually exclusive, like “Obama is a Hitler-loving socialist.” That’s like calling me a cat-dog. Physically impossible, linguistically silly.

Some words lend a degree of specificity to language that allows us to communicate a feeling or connotation that their synonyms don’t. I mourn the loss of my ability to use words like niggardly in public simply because it communicates a deeper level of cheap than “cheap.” It has a more visceral feel. It causes me to say the word and clench my fists, further punctuating its meaning (I’m half French.. we talk with our paws.)

I suppose the most effective way to warp the meanings of common words is to keep the masses stupid. Maybe we can do that by vilifying teachers and cutting education budgets. Just a thought. I look forward to the comments I’ll most assuredly will be getting from members of the uneducated masses.

Now quit masticating your breakfast, get off your homo sapien butt and learn some new words. Don’t put off tomorrow what you can castrate today.

In the meantime, Oswald Bates for president, y’all. Or Rick Perry. Same thing.

*niggardly: cheap, mean, miserly, parsimonious, close-fisted, penny-pinching, cheeseparing, grasping, ungenerous, illiberal; informal stingy, tight, tightfisted.

**niggling: a trifling complaint, dispute, or criticism.

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Privacy and autonomy

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betty don draper Privacy and autonomy
Before I delve into my post, I need to share the series of events that lead me to my thinking about privacy and its relationship to autonomy. Bear with me; it is a badly-paved and less travelled road*.

Watch that pothole….

A couple weeks ago, I read an article that appeared in the New York Times that said “privacy and autonomy… are central to male gender identity.” Later that evening as I was watching an episode of Mad Men (Season two, episode three, The Benefactor,) with the article still bouncing around inside my head, I saw this one itty-bitty little look in Don Draper’s face that I had missed the first time around. This one little scene gave me all the clarity I needed about the real issue of privacy. (You’ll have to watch episodes much later for the plot line. The look was also foreshadow.)

Betty and Don had just finished dinner with Bobby and Jimmy Barrett where Jimmy had to apologize to the Schillings for some bad behavior earlier. During the ride home, Betty gets all teary-eyed at the thought of her and Don “working” together as part of a team.

In the Betty and Don Draper relationship, this is when things started falling apart. When Betty decided that she was part of his team, she threatened his autonomy. She threatened a carefully-crafted and guarded identity that he alone owned and controlled. Don lived by the Hobo Code. The first rule of the code is to “decide your own life…” Betty being a part of the “Ad-Man Don Draper” meant he could no longer manage that life — that identity — with autonomy.

I’m a big fan of Mad Men, not so much the story but the cultural layers the series examines, uncovers and winks back at the viewer with that “I know you saw that, but it never happened” look. Privacy is a huge theme woven throughout the story.

When we talk abut privacy, I think we are really talking about autonomy. Ultimately it does not matter a whole lot what others know about us but it would be naïve to believe that what others know about us would not be used against us. We see this popping up with abandon all over in socially acceptable behavior.

It’s now ok to take embarrassing photos of your friends sleeping in an airport and share with everyone on Facebook.

It’s now ok to blab to the media about intimate details of a celebrity relationship gone bad.

It’s now ok for a publisher to offer a talented writer less than her work is worth because she writes on her blog about being impoverished.

It’s now ok to rescind a job offer because a candidate’s online friends are not conformists.

Privacy is not the thing we should be guarding; autonomy is. Privacy is the hard shell that guards the real plumb center of autonomy. Marketers and those who seek power at all levels know it. To get people to willingly share the details of their lives and how these details interconnect with those around them was pure genius. Evil, but still genius.

A loss of privacy ultimately leads to a loss of autonomy. The consequences of the loss of autonomy is what the Mark Zuckerbergs and his generation do not understand. While our leaders wring their hands over issues of privacy, marketers and power-seekers are already deftly filleting our autonomy.

Privacy is dead. It was necessary to kill it off so we could get at your autonomy.

How will you guard your autonomy now that the Sentry Privacy has been knocked off his post?

Maybe there’s a God above
But all I’ve ever learned from love
Was how to shoot at someone who outdrew you

— Leonard Cohen, Hallelujah

*I wonder if my blog would qualify for a road and bridge repair grant from the US Government under the Jobs Act. Hmmmmm…

This blog post is part of a blog-off series with a group of bloggers from different professions and world views, each exploring a theme from his/her world view. This was about exploring the theme, Privacy To explore how others handled the theme, check them out below. I will add links as they publish.

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Was it live or was it Facebook?

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isitlive Was it live or was it Facebook?

Yesterday, @damnredhead tweeted:

“Hey baby, did you show up in my ticker last night or was I just dreaming?”

I chuckled quickly and shook my head slowly from side to side like most of her readers probably did. I got the double entendre.

But then I got to thinking about it a little more deeply. Will the timeline really get us confused about where we are, what is real and what isn’t?

I found myself sitting in a Starbucks yesterday waiting for my daughter to finish class at the local college. Her car had broken down on the way home from school the day before and it was in the shop. I was her ride for the day. I had scooped up my MacBook and MiFi to get some work done while I waited. (I got nothing done, but that is an aside… I should not have told you that.)

As I was tapping away on the twitter and Google+, it occurred to me that even as I was sitting somewhere else, the view of my world did not change as long as I was staring into the laptop that I work on in my office. My world was the same 1900×1600 screen. Unless you’re the lead dog, the view never changes. I’m not usually one to make a metaphorical reference of Facebook to a dog’s butt, (ok, I am) but in this case it was the perfect metaphor.

I hope we don’t start losing touch with whether or not something happened in real life or on Facebook. Studies show that people recall the experience in nearly the same way, whether the experience was offline or online. (I heard it on NPR, but their site is so bad at curating that I couldn’t find it. If someone does, drop the link in the comments.)

That is what Facebook knows and hope you will never ask of yourself — Was that live or was that Facebook? (I stole that from the old Memorex tag line, “Is it live or is it Memorex?“) The timeline feeds us real-time information about what our friends are doing. Many of us will not be able to look away. Many of us will feel as engaged with the timeline as we would in person. Really.

In a generation or so, when media starts asking, “Where were you when…?” I wonder how many of us will be confused about whether we were there in real life or there virtually? I wonder what a memoir of the future will read like?

*As an aside, I don’t think I have ever written a blog post with so many parenthetical references or blatant commercial linking before…. or have I? And is this really an aside or germane to my theory?

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