Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Still Alive, Sometimes Even Kicking

I managed to hack back into this blog today despite not having used it since Google merged Blogger with Google Accounts. Whew.

I'm here (after a year and a half) for three reasons:
  1. To say hello! to anyone who hasn't culled Tsuredzuregusa out of your blogrolls or feedreaders.
  2. To post an article on the trickle down effect of the Lehman Brothers bankruptcy (since I've always used this site as an archive for my political writing)
  3. To let you know where we are.
The husband and I are now full-time travelers: we gave away most of our stuff, threw a few boxes in storage, and since July 1 (2008) we've been traveling the continent in our Mini Cooper.

We are writing up the trip on our new site, Your Mileage May Vary, and I would certainly be delighted to welcome old writing friends to the site.

I never intended to be out of touch for so long. I would love to hear how you are, what you're up to, and what you're writing these days.

I hope you'll drop by. We've put out the welcome mat.

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Lehman Bankruptcy Trickle Down

The news about the demise of Lehman Brothers reminds me of watching the telecom meltdown of 2001, from my ring-side seat as a recruiter in the Dallas Telecom Corridor.

On Monday, shocked Lehman Brothers staff were told to "move on":

The mantra of Lehman Brothers was to pay its staff in stock – some 30 per cent of the bank’s equity was held by employees and many bonuses were paid in shares. Now those holdings are all but worthless.

Some staff were also told not to expect a paycheck at the end of the month and that they might even be liable for expenses on their corporate credit cards.

No one ever sees this kind of financial decimation coming. Almost no one is prepared for it.

They expected the money to last forever, not unrealistically, in the same way we all generally expect our paychecks to be there next month, and the month after that.

They have made major financial commitments on the basis of their "stable" jobs.

They have kids in college, multiple cars, mortgages on homes, and balances on their credit cards.

Their money wasn't income. Like too many fellow Americans, it was throughput.

What happens on October 1 when the mortgage payments, credit card bills, accounts, and household expenses all come due, based on a 6-figure salary lifestyle, and there's nothing in the bank at all? Except those Lehman Brothers stocks they got for their Christmas bonus and socked away for a rainy day that aren't worth a dime.

How many people do you know who would be "just fine" if their paychecks didn't come through at the end of the month?

Think this isn't a women's issue? As Christy Hardin Smith puts it in Women and the Economy : "What do you fry up in the pan when you have no money for the bacon?"

In 2001, I was dealing as a recruiter with telecomm middle managers who were shell shocked. They didn't know how to "look" for a job; they'd been at Nortel or Baby Bells for decades. They didn't know how to do anything else. They didn't know how to cope.

Like the former employees of Lehman Brothers, these were people without real world skills. What were they going to do, get a job at McDonalds? I did't know where they are supposed to go--and neither did they.

They had never tightened their belts or cut corners. They had never reduced, reused, and recycled. They've never clipped coupons or shopped from the clearance rack.

They never dreamed that one day they'd have to apply for unemployment benefits, let alone welfare, or that they might have to rely on food banks and soup kitchens to feed their children.

They had followed the rules all their lives, lived the American dream, and now they were totally screwed.

And the women? The women that had been told that if they just managed elder care, child care, and full time household management on top of their telecom careers, if they just worked longer and harder to prove they were just as good, maybe they'd get a shot at the corner office, too. So much for the corner office, ladies.

Quite often the job candidates I spoke with were from households with two full-time working adults, where one spouse's income wouldn't support the family alone, but there were no local job prospects for the partner who had just lot a job. Catch 22: can't afford to stay, can't afford to go.

Reading about Lehman bankruptcy gives me a terrible feeling of déjà vu.

When the same kind of sudden, massive job losses happened in the telecom sector in 2001, people were losing their homes and their cars, fast. Plano, Texas (the affluent Dallas suburb that housed a lot of the major telecomm earners) had the country's highest home foreclosure rate.

I now expect that honour to pass to whichever neighbourhoods house the workers of Wall Street.

Oops. There goes the property values.

This conflagration is going to hammer New York.

Let be be clear: I am not suggesting a hierarchy of victims here. I'm not saying: "Oh those poor rich people can't cope with adversity, that makes them so much more important."

What I am saying is it that while it is easy to indulge in schadenfreude and enjoy the misery of the poster boys of the entitlement class, these are human beings who are shocked and suffering right now.

And they are the canaries in the coal mine: their shock and suffering is about to trickle down to everbody.

And we all know that when the bad stuff comes rolling down the slope, women are on the front lines of economy adversity.

You might be wondering, what happened to that "boutique telecom search firm" I was working at in Dallas in 2001? We didn't work "in telecom" but in the tidepools of the industry. We got sucked down, too.

A month after I joined the company, 2/3 of the staff were laid off, in an incredibly stressful group meeting, which concluded with the president announcing we could take home the meeting bagels if we wanted. When I read about the Lehman employees using up their non-refundable, pre-paid cash cards to buy non-perishable items from the staff cafeteria, I was reminded of those bagels. Not exactly the severance package everyone was expecting.

I watched my colleagues disintegrate: one lost her home, one's marriage broke up under the strain. I watched a colleague move in with a very new boyfriend because she couldn't pay her rent, and I hope it isn't a choice that either regret. I watched friends move across the country because the draconian non-compete clause in our contracts wouldn't let them stay in Dallas and work in the same field.

Those of us that were still left limped along for a few months. Then the owner told us she wouldn't pay the company contribution to our medical insurance anymore: we could cough it all up ourselves or go off the plan. Then she just stopped paying us altogether. When I objected, I was told that as an immigrant she would allow me the pleasure of working for free or else she'd cancel my work visa--and I would have to leave the country. I still objected: I received a letter by registered mail acknowledging my "verbal resignation" the next day.

I didn't work "inside telecom," but we still got sucked down by the currents caused by the collapse of bigger companies anyway.

My husband and I tightened our belts and cut corners. We moved into a cheaper apartment, we rationed gas for the motorcycle my husband used to get to work, we lived on rice and beans. We were already paying off a debt at the time, so there weren't a lot of corners left to cut. We pulled through it, and our marriage survived, too. On the other hand, the stress exacerbated long-running health problems that I struggle with to this day.

Today, my husband works in the tech support department of a financial services company. (I'm an unemployable convaslescent dependent on his income.) We're not high fliers, we live within our means. But we could still be next. Again.

We read the financial news with terror.

If you work in a service industry in New York that relies on a six-figure income clientele: housekeepers, restaurant workers, dry cleaners, child carers--you could be next, too. A lot of those workers are women and a large proportion are women of colour.

You know: the workers who don't get stock options. The people who don't make headlines.

But they will be invisible casualties of the Lehman Brothers bankruptcy nonetheless.

Put aside your schadenfreude at the thought of all those paper-rich brokers being brought low, and think about what the Lehman bankruptcy means for those people, their families, and all the families around them.

Here's some trickle down economics for you: the panic and terror from the Lehman bankruptcy is going to trickle down into increased rates of violence against women: more alcoholism/drug abuse, domestic violence, and child abuse.

The Republican Party: putting the "trick" into "trickle down" since the election of Ronald Reagan.

And it's just going to keep trickling down.

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Wednesday, December 20, 2006

A Christmas Invite for Richmond Bloggers

I'm copying below the email I just received from The Green Lemon, a delightful tea shop that is one of our favourite places in Richmond.

Our standard Saturday treat is to drop by, visit with the staff, and sip one of their tea selections while we savour a lavender scone with either lavender icing, rose jelly, or devonshire cream. The Japanese Garden Tea that they developed especially for Maymont is my favourite of their teas, as well. And the owners Laura and Roy and their staff are an absolute joy.

It's a late night CHRISTMAS SHOPPING SPREE with 20% off on almost every item in the store after 8 pm!!
We'll be serving wine and having a jolly old time . Please spread the word!!

The Green Lemon is at 10442 Ridgefield Pkwy near Pump Road but people can get directions @ www.TheGreenLemon.com

The Green Lemon is one of Richmond's best-kept secrets: if you love tea, or you still have Christmas shopping to do, I hope you'll swing by on Friday night. We'll be there, and it would be lovely to meet some of the Richmond bloggers in person.

[I have NO financial or business relationship with The Green Lemon at all. I just adore the owners, love the products, and have a huge respect for independent merchants who put in the work to keep mom-and-pop businesses afloat.]


Friday, December 01, 2006

Vancouver faces winter crisis

Day 2 - Vancouver Blizzard 2006 - Revenge of the Commuters
Vancouver (Reuters)

Chilled Vancouver commuters faced their second day of winter hell today, as an additional ¼ centimetre of the peculiar white stuff fell, bringing the lower mainland to its knees and causing millions of dollars worth of damage to the marijuana crops. Scientists suspect that the substance is some form of frozen water particles and experts from Saskatchewan are being flown in. With temperatures dipping to the almost but not quite near zero mark, Vancouverites were warned to double insulate their lattes before venturing out.

Vancouver police recommended that people stay inside except for emergencies, such as running out of espresso or biscotti to see them through Vancouver's most terrible storm to date. The local Canadian Tire reported that they had completely sold out of fur-lined sandals.

Drivers were cautioned to put their convertible tops up, and several have been shocked to learn that their SUV's actually have four wheel drive, although most have no idea how to use it.

Weary commuters faced soggy sushi, and the threat of frozen breast implants. Although Dr. John Blatherwick, of the Coastal Health Authority reassured everyone that most breast implants were perfectly safe to 25 below, down-filled bras are flying off the shelves at Mountain EquipmentCo-op.

"The government has to do something," snarled an angry Trevor Warburton. "I didn't pay $540,000 for my one bedroom condo so I could sit around and be treated like someone from Toronto."

I received this by email -- if anyone knows actual attribution, please let me know.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Senator-Elect Jim Webb (D-VA) Recount

The Republicans stole Florida in 2000 by packing courthouses, city halls, and the Secretary of State's office (and all surrounding areas) with tens of thousands of volunteers. We cannot let them steal Virginia using the same tactics. Senator-Elect Jim Webb beat George Allen, and that will not change, as long as we roll up our sleeves and make a difference.

What can you do?

1. Keep the money coming!
Send your recount contribution right now to Senator-Elect Jim Webb

2. Volunteer
Senator-Elect Jim Webb's office needs volunteers for this important post-Election period! Please call their headquarters, tell them you want to help, and give them your information: 703-778-4080

3. Legal Help Needed for Webb VA Recount
Attorneys needed throughout the Commonwealth of Virginia, especially Northern Virginia, in connection to the planned recount in Senator-Elect Jim Webb's defeat of George Allen.

ANY Attorney, law student, paralegal, etc., regardless of bar status, should send an e-mail that includes your name, phone number and e-mail address to: ritacaguilar[at]yahoo[dot]com

Want to know more? Click here for Chapter and Verse on VA Election Recount Laws

How do Recounts Work in Virginia?

1. There's a strong likelihood Virginia's Webb v Allen senate race will qualify for a recount.
2. VA has no automatic recounts.

  • Only losing candidate can ask for a recount, and only if margin is 1% or less of votes cast for those two candidates.
  • If margin is .5% or less, OR, and/or if candidate who requests recount wins, the counties and cities involved in the recount pay the costs.
  • Otherwise, the candidate who requested the recount has to pay the costs

As I write this, there are only 20 precincts outstanding (plus absentee ballots), and the margin is currently .08%.

Recounts are expensive -- and the less obvious costs include maintaining a campaign's legal/admin/communication/volunteer-coordination teams for weeks after election day.

What can you do?

  1. Go make a donation to the Webb campaign to help them keep fighting.
  2. We'll keep our ears to the ground (and I'll put out some calls in the morning) about recount-related volunteer opportunities here in Virginia, and we'll keep you posted.

Want to know more?

Virginia State Board of Elections

VA SBE's primer on how recounts work in Virginia (word doc)

Code of Virginia, Chapter 8 - Recounts and Contested Elections

Virginia Recount Standards (Revised Effective Nov 28, 2005) (pdf)


Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Tank-up Tuesday

After the gradual descent in gas prices in recent (i.e., pre-election) weeks, what are the chances are that prices will escalate on Wednesday?

We save money every election year by making sure our gas tank is full before the polls close.

Let's have a show of hands: who else is tanking up today?

Friday, November 03, 2006

How to make robocalls go away

In response to my article on why robocalls are a necessary evil, several readers made the comment that, campaign realities be damned, they hate robocalls and they’ll withhold their votes to make a point about it.* Even Seth Godin weighed in against robocalls this week

[*I hope to find time to write about the consequences of, and alternatives to, making a protest non-vote (short version: you’re voting for BushCo when you do).]

You're right. Robocalls are damn annoying. But that's not the point:

Complaining about robocalls isn’t going to change how campaigns work. Neither is telling campaigns “just be better” or “just work harder.” (If you’ve never been in a campaign office on GOTV weekend, you imagination can not fathom the crazy work campaign staffers are putting in right now.)

Democracy is a particpatory sport. If you’re prepared to put your money where your mouth is, you CAN make robocalls go away.

More on what you can do to stop annoying robocalls below the fold

To recap why robocalls are here to stay, there are two key reasons:
1. Resource limitations (not enough people, not enough time) affect the choice of tools to contact voters; and
2. Conflict of interest: political consultants currently make more money on spam techniques than on permission-based political marketing, so they recommend tactics to campaigns that are less effective for the campaigns, but more profitable for the consultants.

Diehard field hacks like me rail against this all the time -- but we also have the smallest budgets, the lowest compensation, and we're in the basement of the political totem pole.

If voters don't like robocalls, the best way to make them stop at an individual level is to get involved and volunteer for local campaigns (as early as August, and right up to election day), and help run a field program that makes robocalls unnecessary. If your campaigns have already identified enough supporters through the efforts of free volunteers on phone banks and door-to-door canvasses, trust me: they aren’t going to spend unnecessary money on paid phones.

On other words, if campaigns have enough volunteers, they don't need robocalls. So if you're not volunteering...you really don't have grounds to complain. Instead, roll up your sleeves and do something about it.

However, at a higher level, the only way I can see to solve the political spam problem is:

  • open the doors and let everyday people into political campaigns (despite the much vaunted talk of "big tents," too many political organizations operate as closed-door, in-group shops);
  • shift campaign culture away from air wars (big dollar advertising buys) to ground wars (field operations);
  • educate candidates about their campaign advisors' conflict of interest, and groom and support consultants who help campaigns win rather than profiting off them.

And that, mes amis, is a very big can of worms indeed, and a cause dear to my own heart.

If you have any thought on how we can affect a cultural shift within Democratic campaigns, I am eager to hear your suggestions. Because what we're really talking about isn't robocalls: it is the difference between losing and winning.

Also in the robocall series
Doing Robocalls the Right Way
Why Robocalls Are Here To Stay

Friday, October 06, 2006

Maverick Prescription for Political Success

Bill Taylor, co-founder of Fast Company, and Fast Company senior editor Polly LaBarre just published a ChangeThis article that describes the changing state of business leadership and asserts that the only companies and leaders that matter are those with the guts to be distinctive and disruptive.

Their advice applies just as equally to politics -- and presents a strong prescription for the Democratic Party, as well as for individual Democratic candidates.

Their main message is: you can't do big things (in any field) if you're content with doing things a little better than your rivals (or in the case of Democrats, a little worse).

The 10 questions that Taylor and Labaree present to put that message to work form an excellent springboard for developing political strategy (and coincidentally overlap with some of the most chronic policy and political weaknesses of Democrats):

1. Is there a distinctive and disruptive sense of purpose that sets you apart from the competition?

2. Can you be provocative without provoking a backlash?

3. If your (organization) went out of business tomorrow, who would miss you and why?

4. Are you the kind of person that other smart people want to work with?

5. Can you make innovation fun?

6. Do you treat different (stakeholders) differently?

7. Why should great people join your organization?

8. Do you know a great person when you see one?

9. Does your organization work as distinctively as it competes?

10. Are you learning as fast as the world is chaning?

I should point out, sadly, that very few Democratic political candidates, campaigns or organizations that I've worked with could provide a satisfactory answer to even one of those questions. (In contrast, one of the reasons that former Democratic Virginia Governor Mark Warner is so highly regarded in informed political circles, is that his marks by these measures are off the charts.)

Who can use this list?

1. Candidates -- as a self-assement and strategy tool for yourself and your team.

2. Political organizations, from local to national -- both as a self-assement and strategy tool for yourself, the candidates and organizations under your umbrella, as well as a tool for assessing potential recruits for yoru ticket.

3. Primary and General election voters -- one set of criteria (among the many needed) to evaluate candidates.

The article is worth reading in its entirety. Click here for Taylor and LaBarre's full article, "A Manifesto for Mavericks".


Friday, September 29, 2006

Yo, Richmond and Virginia bloggers

How many of you are aware that we have two regional blog carnivals here in Virginia?

The Virginia Blog Carnival is non-partisan blog carnival open to any Virginia Blogger. Kat, who runs the show, is looking for submission for this week's carnival, and, hosts for upcoming editions.

Jason Kenny also organizes the RVA blog carnival for bloggers in Richmond, Virginia.

Kat and Jason are providing a great service to their fellow bloggers -- show them some support by sending in your articles and spreading the word.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Formula for Torture

The Stanford Prison Experiment
+ The Milgram Experiment
= Abu Ghraib etc.

The Stanford Prison Experiment: a landmark 1971 psychological study of the human response to captivity, in particular, to the real world circumstances of prison life, conducted by a team of researchers led by Philip Zimbardo of Stanford University. Volunteers played the roles of guard and prisoner, and lived in a mock prison. However, the experiment quickly got out of hand, and was ended after only 6 days.

The Milgram Experiment: a famous scientific experiment of social psychology, conducted circa 1963 by Stanley Milgram, a psychologist at Yale University, to measure the willingness of a participant to obey an authority who instructs the participant to do something that may conflict with the participant's personal conscience. 65% of participants demonstrated sadistic behaviour, a percentage that remains remarkably constant when the experiment has been replicated by other researchers.

[Herr van der Rohe was correct that God is in the details. If you are not familiar with the studies, I encourage you to follow the links to learn more.]

I originally posted this article under the title Conspicous Omissions at BOP News almost 2 years ago, on October 26, 2004.

My question then was, "Why isn't everyone talking about both of these studies, everywhere, all the time, in reference to Abu Ghraib?"

Since then, references to the Milgram and Stanford Prison experiments have popped up more frequently...but the MEANING still hasn't got through. And the "official" public discourse is as absurd and morally repugnant as a dyspeptic nightmare stewed up by George Orwell collaborating with Sinclair Lewis and Philip K. Dyck.

If you aren't familiar with the studies, please click through to read up on them: so you understand how torture happens, what inflicting torture does to "our troops," and what torture is doing to America.


Friday, September 22, 2006

The Business of Cheating

The Toronto Star reports that MBA students are likelier to cheat.

According to the study “Academic Dishonesty in Graduate Business Programs: The Prevalence, Causes, and Proposed Actions:”

"56 per cent of graduate business students admitted to cheating in the last year, compared with 47 per cent of non-business students."

The study, which included 5,000 MBA students from 11 graduate business schools in Canada and 21 schools in the U.S., was conducted by management professors at Rutgers, Washington State and Pennsylvania State universities, and due to appear in the next issue of the Academy of Management Learning & Education journal. Researcher Donald McCabe also noted "Those numbers are probably under-reported."

This study points towards a trend of "business-as-usual" lying, cheating and corruption where Enron (and Watergate) are the norm and not the exception. In our increasingly post-modern, post-reality, straussian-influenced culture, is it any surprised if our children emulate the attitudes and strategies we explicitly and implicitly teach them that society rewards?

Lying, cheating and corruption may be "propensities" that MBA programs arguably reward, but we can hardly lay the whole blame for a culture of corruption on business schools. In a 2005 study by analysts at Wetfeet, over 800 students interested in pursuing a career in Management Consulting were asked: "Please select up to 3 factors that make your top ranked company appealing to you." Only 2 people said that "Ethics" was one of their top 3 factors for choosing a consulting firm. (Even the category "Other" was rated more highly than "Ethics.")

You can insert all the cynical fall-of-an-imperial-power malaise comments that you want, but my heartfelt questions for you are: where and how do we intervene to correct the social trend towards accepting and condoning pathological behaviour? How do we move towards a culture of honesty, ethics and accountability? What can we do as individuals, families, communities and a society to make a difference? And finally, who do you know of who is already working to to turn the trend?

Hat tip to Steve Shu, David Maister, and Guerilla Consulting for the links.


Monday, September 11, 2006

Lies, Damned Lies, and the Mess in Iraq

America defeated itself in Iraq by believing its own spin. Telling the truth is the only way back out.

Exceed yourself

Today, as I post for the third time a list of "three things to do today" I originally wrote on September 11, 2004, I have finally understood what the article is about: exceeding yourself.

So much advice about "appropriate" observances for today boil down to: be small. close ranks. disconnect from larger things. never forget -- to fear and hate. be the least that you can be.

Instead, I'd like to suggest that we mark the day by exceeding ourselves, surpassing the boundaries of our fear and small thinking and tribalism.

My original list follows below, without edits. The shorter version might read:
  1. Think for yourself.
  2. Reach out and connect with your community.
  3. Reach beyond your own community to those who may have cause to be more fearful than you are.
  4. Challenge your assumptions.
I appreciate any suggestions or additions to (either version of) the list.
Three Things to Do Today

1. Turn off your tv. And your radio.
Treat yourself to a régime de jingoisme for one day. Today is a really good day for it.

2. Go to your public library...
...and find out if your local branch is part of the September Project, an international campaign to bring people into public libraries on September 11 to share and discuss about democracy, citizenship, and patriotism through public talks, roundtables, and performances--and register to vote. (And if your library isn't participating this year, you have a whole year to persuade them in time for 2005.)

Progressives often yearn for a way to raise the level of public discourse. Now's our chance.

3. Vote with your wallet...
...for respect, communication, and support. Go and patronize a locally-owned mom and pop business--run by people of middle eastern descent. There is still massive racial profiling against "arab looking" people (whatever that means), there is violence and discrimination against Muslims, and today is an extra scary day for too many people. Show your neighbors that not everyone is a fascist. I'm off for lunch to a Lebanese restaurant I just found on the edge of my neighborhood. It's just a small, compassionate way to say the whole country isn't built on hate.

And the bonus round, for the truly brave among us:

4. Take a book out of the library...
...on learning Arabic, or Middle Eastern history, or Islam. Does the thought send a chill down your spine? Because let's be honest: we know that all those books are likely flagged on the FBI's watchlists through the Patriot Act. In discussions on civil liberties and public surveillance, the common defence of the Patriot Act is "but I have nothing to hide...." If you believe that, then go to your library or book store and bring home a book that will put John Ashcroft's knickers in a knot, knowing that your name (and address, and if you buy the book, your credit card number) is winding up on an FBI list or in a file. And if the idea makes you uncomfortable, you may want to rethink your position on civil liberties...and at the same time, go back to that mom and pop business and spend a little extra money.

Princess Diana Moments

In this incredibly antagonistic and hostile interview on A Current Affair, Karl Stefanovic pillories Germaine Greer for her public sentiments about television personality and animal wrangler Steve Irwin's recent accidental death. The clip illustrates the costs of holding a position outside an "official" narrative -- particularly official hagiographies:

At the close of the interview, Greer asks, "Why are the English calling it 'Australia's Princess Diana moment'?"

In Unbelievable, the Granta issue decidated to the testimony of "those who felt differently", Granta Editor Ian Jack writes about those who felt beleaguered by the mobs and the mourning for the Princess of Wales. (I apologize that I don't have my hardcopy at hand, and I won't do Jack the disservice of attempting an extensive paraphrase from faulty memory. Do yourself a favour and read the essay if you have the chance to come across it.)

While the English may mean, with no sense of irony, the phrase "Princess Diana moment" as a tribute, Greer can take comfort in understanding it in the Ian Jack sense of disproportionate and mawkish publish mourning that brooks no absolutely no dialogue, dissention or debate.

In societies like the UK, Australia and the US that pride themselves on democracy and freedom, there is an alarming and growing spirit of bullying, of quashing dissent, of silencing debate; a sentiment of "there can be only one" -- one mode of mourning, one type of patriotism, one official narrative. At the same time, the mythology of "freedom of speech" and even "freedom of thought" dissonantly persists, unchallenged. But then, of course, it is part of a sacred official narrative.

Sacred narratives, particularly sacred narratives displaced from the sphere of religion, demand faith, compliance and submission in reponse to the challenges of scientific facts, rationality, and even just close examination (what was once termed "reality" before the ascension of the straussian "big lie" neoconservatives). For that very reason, I find "Princess Diana moments" in their most extreme manifestations to be reminiscent of the religious frenzies of the middle ages.

Blind faith, unquestioning compliance, and absolute submission may function as demands of a religion, a dictatorship, or any other form of personality cult, but not as the underpinnings of a healthy, functioning democracy.

Unsurprisingly, in the current long-play "Princess Diana moment" in which we find ourselves living in the US, speaking truth to power is considered at the very least gauche, much more probably un-patriotic and 'un-American,' and on the outside treasonous -- there is a high penalty for stepping outside the bounds of the carefully and strategically constructed neoconservative narrative of America. At the same time, neoconservatives are increasingly mainlining outright warmongering, partisan propaganda into mainstream culture, as part of the sacred official narrative they construct and control. In the midst of the national congnitive dissonace, the increasingly explicit message is: "Don't tell the truth today. Wait a while. Now's not the time. But if you want to lie to widows, orphans, and the nation's electorate: what's good for the GOP war machine is good for America."

I found the clip of Greer's interview, or more accurately her grilling, very uncomfortable to watch. If you want to speak truth to power, expect to be treated the same way. And then, please, steel yourself to the task in the full knowledge of the risks and costs and speak truth to power anyway.

Hat tip to Breakaway Content for the link -- and the courage to hold a breakaway viewpoint.


Friday, September 08, 2006

How are Republicans tastefully observing Sept 11?

Fortunately, on the fifth aniversay of the 9/11 attacks, there's so much more to look forward to than just

South Carolina Republican candidate Karen Floyd wanted to do something more original, a little bolder, a whole lot tougher and ballsier than the Republican flag-wrapping, turd-gilding, war-mongering, reality-fabricating, history-rewriting, terror-porn, same-old same-old. Karen Floyd decided that the best way to observe the fifth anniversary of the terrorist attacks that claimed the lives of 2,973 American civilians on American soil was to kill innocent things in cold blood herself.

Republican candidate Floyd is spending the day hunting. For doves. In fact, it's a campaign event. And, if you want to go and fire rifles at the international symbol of peace with Floyd and her Republican friends on the anniversary of the World Trade Center attacks, it will only cost you $1000 for the priviledge.

Blood, gunpowder, grave-dancing and money-grubbing: Republican values in action.

Praise god and pass the ammunition.

[Yes, that's the actual invitation. Hat tip to BoingBoing for it. Go ahead and click on the image for a larger, easier-to-read version.]

PS Republicans are the folks who revile the memorial celebrations of the lives and accomplishments of Paul Wellstone and Coretta Scott King as "indecent". Just keep that in mind for perspective.

Update This article is cross-posted at The Agonist, where it has stirred up quite a discussion. You are welcome to join the conversation about Republican necrophiliac campaign tactics there, too.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Permission-based political marketing with Pheeder

Oliver at MobileCrunch has published a great write-up entitled One Call Reaches All with Pheeder -- a company that lets you run public, opt-in lists to receive broadcast phone messages (or alternatively, your own private lists).

The service is free.

My first reaction? -- drop your campaign robocall spam, and replace it with tailored, opt-in GOTV reminder calls through Pheeder.

(My second reaction? -- brilliant opt-in tool to broadcast campaign volunteer opportunity updates.)

I know, I know: campaign culture is so wedded to spam via its direct mail blood line that campaigns won't switch to opt-in models, yet--but at the very least Pheeder could provide a free *supplement* to a campaign's premium telephone broadcast tools.

Full disclosure: I have no bu$ine$$ relationship with Pheeder at all. I also haven't used the product directly myself -- I'm basing my reactions on MobileCrunch's excellent article. And, I'm always intrigued by ways that campaigns, particularly downballot campaigns, can make use of *cost-effective* technology tools to gain a competitive advantage through working more effeciently and effectively.


Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Pre-paid phone cards

A dear friend who going into hospital soon to deliver her second child (and trying for a VBAC -- keep your fingers crossed for her!) was asking me about pre-paid phone cards:
I am thinking I need to get [a pre-paid phone card] for when I am in the hospital and need to call people to tell them I had the baby. I can make local calls from there but not long distance ones. (...) You are not allowed to use cell phones in the hospital.
(You aren't allowed to use cell phones in a hospital? Is this a revenue racket for the hospitals, or is there any kind of legitimate reason for it?)

At any rate, I don't use phone cards so I promised to ask around.

I've heard that ATT's prepaid cards are expensive. Can anyone recommend a better option?

Monday, August 07, 2006

American Food Holidays

Apparently, today falls on National Raspberries in Cream Day, at the end of National Apple Week, during the National Month of Catfish, Peaches, and "Brownies at Brunch"...

...at least, according to this list of American Food Holidays.

Methinks that after all the food industry lobbyists and marketers got this long list of "food days" set up, they were hungry for a holiday themselves.

Today's combination certainly looks like a recipe for dyspepsia. You may want to celebrate today's events sequentially, rather than simultaneously.

Monday, July 31, 2006

Driving Bush

You've always suspected it, and now the Germans have confessed...

Also, don't miss the classic companion piece, which sets the Bush to music.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

sound and fury signifying what exactly

The Curse of Comic Sans , an article by Jessica Helfand this week in the fabulous Design Oberserver blog, decries the mass culture ubiquity of the typeface Comic Sans.

Now, I can't pretend to by a font snob, although I certainly work with people who are typeface professionals -- but the joy of the article lies in reading an expert writing with passion -- and snobbery!

Better yet, the article includes some fabulous comments, including the following contribution from Thomas Jockin:
If you're going to have to type up a report about how widget X has increased output by 2.2% over a period of 5 holiday sessions, setting that report in Comic Sans is in my opinion a kind of futile cry for meaning and worth in a otherwise lacking existence/ content.

Same thing applies to those lovely Myspace pages set in comic sans and cluttered with photos, music, videos, etc. etc. Ugly as hell but still falls within the rubric of "futile cry for meaning and worth in a otherwise lacking existence."
Ah, I do love to watch smart children at play. (That would be the banter of professional designers, not the Myspace creators, in this particular case.)

Which brings me to vanity license plates.

The states in which I have lived in the US, Texas and Virginia, are ASWIM in vanity plates. I've seen nothing like this phenomenon in other countries or regions where I've lived.

I've long pondered the proliferation of these hooked-on-phonics, 733t, SMS-esque outpourings of...well, what exactly?

My guess has always, conincidentally, been something along the lines of a ""futile cry for meaning and worth in a otherwise lacking existence."

And yes, Jessica and Thomas, I assume the owners of the plates are very probably also fans of Comic Sans.

Has anyone else hypothesized a better explanation for the vanity plates? I would love to hear your theories.

(And yes, I realize that this blog is a crime against graphic design. But at least the current version is innocuous compared to the old template!)

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

The Future of Book Publishing, Part 3

Part 3 of my discussion with business guru David Maister about the future of book publishing, which orginally appeared as a comment on David's blog. Part 1 of may be found here and Part 2 here. And yes, I have written Part 3 all by myself.  [Full disclosure: David Maister is a client of my employer, stresslimitdesign.]

David Maister's post Writers and Peformers is right on the money—but I’m still disturbed by the cynical postmodern fatalism here.

The growing trend towards trained monkeys and dancing bears worries me (cf Kaavya Viswanathan, the plagiarizing Harvard undergraduate novelist and the Spice Girl-ification of the publishing industry), and I don’t want to go gently into that slick, infomercial-populated night. I don’t know if this generation would recognize a Shakespeare unless he got a hair piece, received a thorough Queer-Eye treatment, and was willing to shake his booty on Americon Idol. Surely the end results is we wind up with more pap culture (sic) idols, and less qualified content producers. Quel dommage. How many Shakespeares, Momma Casses, even Peter Druckers might we be losing in the current system? I’ll take talent and ability over photogenics any day.

Putting aside my high culture snobbery and conservative, meritocratic ideals to turn pragmatic again, I agree of course that most people who want to succeed today as professional content providers will have to promote themselves incredibly agressively (unless sheer dumb luck and good timing comes through for them – not wise to bank on). But I find we’re back at the Catch-22 David described in his recent Marketing Complexity. If you haven’t already made a name for yourself, how on earth do you break into the other marketing channels and capture a critical mass of attention?

At this point, one so-far undiscussed piece of the puzzle is The Long Tail idea that thanks to the power of Internet search tools, it is possible to deliver highly-specialized products to niche markets at a profit. Guy Kawasaki has an excellent post on the tactical items behind Long Tail success stories – which most people forget about. One of the critical factors he cites is “a sustainable population of low-cost producers” – meaning the Long Tail game is about making money as a distributor, or middle man, not as a producer. You aren’t going to make money as Jane or John Q. Author – but Amazon is going to make money off of you.

I may be wrong, but I perceive the loudest evangelists behind the promote-your-way-to-create-success school to be the gatekeepers or service providers behind the “collateral revenue” channels cited above—the A-listers of PR, publishing, blogging, etc—who are A-listers and gatekeepers in some cases because of merit, wisdom, and ability, but very often because of first-mover advantages or the power, money, and reach of the institutions behind them. The gatekeepers behind for-profit promotional channels are going to be the real commercial winners in the Long Tail, celebrity-creator game – the people who are really making money in all of those “collateral revenue streams” they recommend.

This means, of course, that the people who make money telling content-producers how to succeed…are in the business of making money promoting content-producers, but not necessarily in the business of making money for content producers. I don’t know about you, but I am generally wary of taking advice from someone whose financial interests conflict with my own.

Methinks there’s something rotten in the state of iDenmark.

The real corporate excitement around The Long Tail and consumer-generated-content (CGC) seems to be “look, we can get all of these patsy consumers to create content for us for free – the ultimate low-cost production – and then turn around and make a profit off other people’s work.” Referencing back to David's training article (“Why (Most) Training is Useless” ), I feel like we are creating a cultural system that highly rewards distributors but decreases incentives for content producers. How long will creators continue to contribute content for free or for little gain? And how does that system bode for the quality of the content we collectively produce? Somehow, this all strikes me as shades of the fall of the Roman Empire.

I would like to think in the midst of this cynical, postmodern mess there is still room for quality writing, specialized artists, and big, crunchy ideas that don’t always pitch to the groundlings or encapsulate in a CNN soundbyte, that there are alternate paths to success than solely being an entertainer.

Of course, that may make me a premature anachronism and perhaps I should throw it all in and get my hair bleached and my teeth capped.

The Complete Future of Book Publishing Series

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3