Archive for the ‘politics’ Category

Last week Jerry Seinfeld performed a killer rant on Jimmy Fallon about the ritual of the Post Master General coming hat-in-hand to congress to close the latest loophole in the postal service budget. The critique of the post office as the public face of government dysfunction is especially spot-on after a week of having my mail service suspended because my mail carrier refuses to get out of his truck when the pile-up of mid-winter snow prevents him from providing drive-through service.

Seinfeld connects antisocial smart phone etiquette with the temptation to treat the listening-back side of conflict resolution as an antiquated nicety that’s been marginalized by the self-selecting way we choose not to engage directly in disagreements — especially when those disagreements may cost lenders and issuers money as well as attention to customers without risk management operations of their own.

The I-could-have-called-you-and-I chose-not-to option is how VISA apparently resolves its one-sided dialoging of credit card disputes these days. Only they don’t email or text either. The U.S. postal service is the vehicle of choice for phantom, unilateral negotiations already rigged in favor of the risk management services wing of America’s prospering financial services sector — the same industry that hemorrhages our identities and personal fiscal affects at checkout registers from coast-to-coast.

They rely on the US postal service — the same  channel both clogged and sustained by retailer offers for their plastic. Then the too-big-to-fail folks carve out a tiny window to respond to this post resolution second round of paperwork. I heard a muted apology over the phone last week that this window lasts for ten  days. That’s almost the duration I’ve been without mail service during our recent winter storm surge.

Actually, ‘tiny’ may be too large an opening for what they provide when the consumer doesn’t even know that window has been opened, or reopened in this case. That’s because in the interest of fairness I asked for one-half of the dispute to be re-credited to my account. After attempting to contact the merchant and filling the necessary paperwork my card issuer, TD Bank did exactly that. Only they put the charges back. An unannounced debit to my account surfaced 10 days ago: the amount of days to resolve a dispute by VISA’s watch and four months after I filed my original dispute with the merchant.

In the letter I filed last fall with TD Card Services I documented my communications with ABV Kayak and Excursions on the Riviere Rouge in the town of Grenville, about 50 miles northwest of Montreal near Parc du national Mont Tremblant. The business consists of a website, Facebook page, a school bus, van, some kayaks, crash helmets, paddles, rubber suits, contractor-instructors, and a bucket of suds that the guests use to wash the bodily fluids from the prior wet suit occupants.  If you believe the marketing this shadow operation has escorted 150,000 auteur kayakers down river from their rented rec hall in the splendors of the Laurentians since 1981.

When I first contacted the marketing arm, the sales associate informed me that a full day trip would be broken into two parts, with lunch in between. I told her we weren’t sure that we wanted to do a full day of rafting. She assured me that the variety of currents, peak season scenery, and topography would make the full day trip well worth it.

However, when we got there, ABV informed us that the afternoon part would merely duplicate the morning run, and pass the exact same portion of the exact same river as in the morning run. We did not want to do the same trip twice and were mislead by the merchant’s misrepresentation that the full day excursion had different morning and afternoon parts.

We took only the morning part of the trip. ABV’s representative asked us to call the office the following Monday, and inform the office staff. He said that ABV Kayak Excursions would refund the unused afternoon portion of our trip, which is $244.23. I did try to reach the ABV office upon return. No one responded, We were mislead into booking a full day excursion, did not in fact take a full day excursion, and do not believe we should have to pay for a full day excursion.

It would appear that TD Bank agreed as well. These were the details that prompted the partial refund. As for putting them back on my card I’ll say this: I would answer for the counterclaims that ABV made on its own behalf except that TD Services now refuses to share them with me.

It must be something about the foregone closure of those tiny windows where dispute resolutions tend to dissipate in the bank’s favor. I suppose if Seinfeld was mocking the kangaroo court of hearing out its customers, he might say that our credit institutions and banks had come to an executive decision before this dispute ever arose:

“I decided I only want to hear my half of the conversation. This is what I have to say…

I think we’re done here.”

15 year-old David Oats speaks to the GE Time Capsule's lowering into the former landfill that bore not one but two World's Fairs. (October 16, 1965)

15 year-old David Oats speaks as the Westinghouse Time Capsule is lowered into the former ash heap that bore two World’s Fairs.

Jerry, my soon to be 21-year-old son recently found his inner blogging voice. He’s come to channel his love of myth and legend into literal interpretations from comic books to the episodic depictions of super and sub-heroic versions of Hollywood films.

The strictest of his guidelines is that the antagonist should cause pain, suffering, and hold no redemptive qualities (other than serving as the vanquished prey of the superhero). To Jerry, if they’re not 100% certifiably devil-made, it’s not just the good guys who are threatened:

    • It toys with the plausibility of the characters.
    • It messes with the plot twists.
    • How can good triumph over evil when we have to continually reassess who has which power and in what supply?

Remembering the Good
That same purity restriction is rarely lifted for the non-fiction twists of the life narratives we eulogize for absent family and friends. Their departure is enough of a presence to strike even the suggestion of disrespect from any eulogy. It’s etiquette the living rarely need to remind us to practice. It’s a simple grace. It’s a lowering of the guard in the intimidating face of the eternal. Death strips the adornments we carry as standard-bearers and role models. That naked soul we praise at the memorial service will favor the way our loved ones wanted to be remembered — even when we have no memory of their instructions. But the best remembrances leave open the unfiltered sincerities of the people they were, not the stations they rose to, not the positions they held.

If anyone in my life is up for challenging my son’s purified formulations, that person is David Oats (1950-2008). A recent Internet search casually slipped in a series of his obituaries. That buffer of time provides a rare opportunity to remember David as an extreme example of heart-melting communion and shadowy behavior. I remember David as being better and worse than the most of us.

I knew him for a short, intense period nearly 30 years ago when I was transitioning from the Neverland of a self-designed college curriculum to the externally imposed demands of adulthood. The turbulence of that transition was spiced by his capacity for open-ended generosity and stone-faced obstruction. The fact that I stumbled into his passing obliges me to put his influence into perspective without confusing wholesale rewrites for an undignified burial.

Political and Guileless

David’s irrepressible charm was his most glaring foible. He was willing to tell you not only what you wanted to hear. He had an uncanny knack of convincing you he’d held the same wish — even the same belief system. For a 22 year-old college grad this was shear intoxication: not just the chance for a pay check, or even meaningful work, but a dream job of working for David. Simple naiveté can’t explain away that wide a gap between a life imagined and the one being lived. But when you and David shared a core belief, that was no self-delusion. That was a plan of action!

Image

Hillary Clinton and David Oats at a press reception in the early 2000s.

One of those plans vice-gripped my imagination for the better half of the two formative years between when I started my Div. III (a.k.a. senior thesis) and when I moved out of David’s apartment. The theme of my academic studies (the history of the New York World’s Fairs) was the proverbial message in the bottle. In those days the bottle was addressed to the President of the 1989 New York World’s Fair to be.

Camera Ready

My final project with Andrew Morris-Friedman was a video documentary starring David Oats as the community-organizer, consensus-building answer to the impervious kingpin, power-brokering Robert Moses who ordained the ’39 and ’64 Fairs as a means to secure his park legacy.

David’s legacy consisted of trespassing through a construction site fence. And like some page out of Mayberry RFD the apprehended junior citizen punk was brought before Emperor Moses himself. After making some gruff noises about neighborhood safety, Moses assures young Oats that his park will be returned to his community with amenities ‘o plenty once the fair ended. The fact this account of their unlikely meeting ran in David’s New York Times obit says more about the journalism instincts of a future and failed promoter than the actual guest list for calendaring in a visit to meet that day with Bob “Fair Chairman” Moses.

To Andy and me, the exploratory nature of staging a third New York Fair wasn’t a tribute to David’s powers of self-invention. It was the generational realization that ginormous spectacles spoiling for sponsorships found their way to Flushing Meadows. We were just lucky enough to hitch a ride on the next repeating cycle.

And Forgive Us My Trespasses

On a more grounded note, I had no job lined up, or plan B, or even a post Hampshire place to crash. The notion of “home” was a waning option. I couldn’t go home for as many reasons as there were no home feelings lost in that acknowledgement. After a prolonged viewing session of David’s political video catalog I asked what the prospects were to continue in both video consuming and producing roles while figuring out how to land on my untested feet. My wish was granted.

In retrospect that’s where I should have stopped taking wishes come true for granted. This is an arrangement that exceeded the imaginings, let alone the realities of the move-onto-anyplace-but-where-I-came from post liberal arts degree crowd. I should have seen this simple kindness for what it was — a temporary respite from the workplace pressures to come.

But the trance-induced allure of the future-leaning ’89 Fair is where I dwelled. That fixation held my unwavering focus through the tentative first steps into a dead-end internship at a media journal and onto a wedding / Bar Mitzvah video gopher at the Film Center on 9th and 45th — shouting distance from the sound stage run by Liz Dubelman, my first fiancé.

The Uncollected Rent

My daily presence in David’s inventive and unpublished life came with its own set of constraints and expectations. My guesswork is based on what he must have anticipated on the day I moved in. Over those summer weekends Liz would drive in from Jersey on the weekends. Just the simple arranging of it prompted a reshuffling in his shadowy preferences for floating out of range and below the radar. For instance, delivering dial-tone to his Kissena Boulevard kitchen only occurred after Liz voiced her concern that phone service was not an opt-outable preference in pre-cellphone society. David’s penchant for cash-only transactions suggested a level of privacy that regarded the mundane transactions of the market as outside and unwelcome intrusions. His unwillingness to give references or open his networking doors for Andy and me meant three things to Liz:

      • The 1989 New York World’s Fair was a no-go
      • David would never admit so much, and
      • His intransigence hinted at a fundamental truth about a President of an Enterprise that was not to be: he was a fake — not a con artist per se, but a serial bluffer nonetheless.

I’m not sure history would be as reproachful as a future spouse crashing a cloistered bachelor pad, glass-enclosed floor models of former fair pavilions, and VHS-enabled broadcast archive. One need not peer too closely into David’s fantasy construct1989logoions to find only facades behind the blueprints and fabrications acting as placeholders for actual ground-breakings.

The real history lesson here is not that the sunny disposition David carried was concealing a diabolical nature. It’s that his personal nature of “taking me in” was a selfless act, not some kind of an investment or quid pro quo. My being “taken in” was a reflection of my inexperience and compromised living situation. What made this so difficult to accept was the stiff exit price he exacted when Liz and I moved to our first Manhattan studio the following spring. That move precluded my own smaller scale alternative universe — one that I’d cultivated, leveraged, cataloged, and squirreled away since the age of 5. Unlike most lost childhood collections, this one was repossessed by a rent-free landlord.

That remittance transpired without threats, confessions, or basic forms of cooperation. From one obfuscation to the next busted plan, my lost collection represented the same control fantasy that filled David’s postwar garden apartment stocked with television histories, one-of-a-kind recordings, and Fair memorabilia. The aftertaste of his deception took as long for me to cycle through as a whole drumbeat of shoulda coulda woulda charades: the fate of the ’89 Fair, the run of an ’88 Cuomo for President campaign, the vagabond fairground buildings fallen into decay, and all those lost NYC Olympic bids to come.

It sounds juvenile, I know. But it runs a course deeper (than I imagine) when your mom’s the culprit for tossing your cards out (along with your comic books and matchbox cars). I wouldn’t know. I never collected matchboxes or comics.

Robert Moses and David Oats outside the Chairman's office in the Administration Building (now the Queens Museum).

Robert Moses and David Oats outside the Chairman’s office in the Administration Building (now the Queens Museum).

Post Scripts

About six months after my cards were banished to memory, I got in touch with his former partner at the Queens Tribune and local Congressman (until this year) Gary Ackerman. After I shared some of my gratitude and misgivings I asked for some insight about David — a perspective I couldn’t possibly gain from such a shielded and specific view of his old friend — distorted by the short, intense time we had shared together.

With hints of frustration, admiration, and humility, Ackerman said a curious thing: “It’s a good thing David wasn’t born a girl, because he’d never stop being pregnant.”

I should have realized that this observation from a well-regarded politician was about as sincere a rationale I was likely to receive for closing the books on David as my adopted and short-term older brother figure.

I suppose in the movie version, David Oats would be the hero and villain. He would be played by the same character. Which side of him wins out, I cannot say. But if the movie were true to the person the audience would forgive him for putting the world he wanted to believe in ahead of the one we live in. Maybe if we understand that about David, we can free up our own narratives where our real world superpowers can do the most good.

Syria nerve gasBefore last Friday an Imperial-leaning President was expected to take Syrian President Bashar al-Assad out to the woodshed. He was to brandish the whip of American missile bruising with the reluctant enforcer’s decree that this corporal spanking was going to hurt him more than it hurts Assad. And before Labor Day he would have been right. But now we know better.

Obama needed Congress like a hole in the head. Then the British Parliament silenced the alarm clock before Prime Minister Cameron could set it. No point in going it alone when the constitution provided ample cover in the form of a full up or down vote. Regardless of how the votes line up, it is a remarkable thing. The public has so little appetite for war now that it’s no longer relevant whether the investigations prove that the evidence was cooked or credible unlike the run up to those elective American wars when it was theories in heads and not facts on grounds that justified the propping up of dictators, dominos, or pipelines.

But the queasy factor hastens another more welcome removal from Congressional deliberations and that’s the middle-man who brokers the retail side of a political system that sends anyone who can’t afford a lobbyist to the black market for political favors. That’s the up-and-up about having the straight up-and-down. There will be no horse trading. We’re filibuster free. It is as close to a politically neutral political act that we’re likely to see on this side of any foreseeable cycles to come. That’s what happens when support for bombing Syria is running neck and neck with Congressional approval ratings. You get one rep, one vote. You get the House leaders voting with their conscience, not with blocs, or caucuses, or factions, or any groups that would threaten not to have them as a member. That’s not a character assassination, a smear campaign, or the guy further to the extreme in the next primary. That’s the clout our leaders have when casting a vote for or against this evolving role of American leadership.

President Obama has decided to externalize the arguments in his head, making us all raging argumentarians. Buffering the time-span between the atrocity, the debate, and the pending response could drag on all the way through the upcoming debt threshold season. We may have to DVR those episodes while we stay glued to this wider and more unscripted stage. And here are the fall previews as channeled through a South Park chorus of militant-leaning Sims family combat scenarios:

  • Are we only implicated when the shooter takes out our loved ones?
  • Does self-interest reside closer to the speculations of cavorting diplomats?
  • Are these future gassings are any more predictable if we do the unpredictable and stand down?
  • We can’t nurse our veterans or feed our hungry. Can we really afford this? (Queue debt ceiling…)

The President is drawing this out for a reason. He’s dragging the entire cast across that red line which marks all borders, colors, and demarcations. He drew that red line in response to having no response for the first hundred thousand or so Syrians being taken at the hand of their fellow Syrians. He drew it on the calculation that he wouldn’t need to honor it. It was an election year placeholder. Perhaps a posturing he didn’t expect to hold? After all, why would a despot invoke sarin pellets on oxygen-consuming civilians?

Certainly the Iranians who knew the open air gas chambers unleashed by Saddam Hussein in 1980 have a closer affinity to the Auschwitz death camps than any rationale for the one visited on the Damascus suburbs last week. Perhaps these are remnants of the same caches that were used on the holocaust-denying Iranians? In both cases the U.S, turned a blind eye to these weapons of gas destruction. Red lines tend to be made on shifting red sands it seems.   

But argumentation is cheap and Obama spends lavishly, knowing that a week buys him a maelstrom of speculation from decampments of munitions deployed within Syrian population centers to a Republican party united in blame only. If there is to be blood the new calculations on circumscribed warfare is not over munitions, territories, natural resources, or even casualties, but on whose hands their blood will be stained.

During the summer recess Obama was going to be impeached for implementing Obamacare. Now he’s melting our soft civil war for the harder one waging on in a fractured, displaced, and stressed out corner of a global neighborhood the “right side of history” was never supposed to enter.

The terms of that entrance will be diluted by the party line progressives (formerly “pinkos”) once, if ever, such a resolution passes the house. And Obama will be publicly circumspect and privately delighted by those constraints. It may sound devious to foes and shrewd to benefactors. But it’s certainly a lot less abstract than gassing one’s “own people.” And it’s a lot more achievable than any notions of victory in Syria — for anyone.

 

In this latest Presidential race we can be sure about three things:

1) We’re about to elect a Harvard-educated and aloof technocrat more comfortable with crunching the numbers than pressing the flesh.

2) He will claim a mandate to represent all Americans in order to implement an unspecified agenda (even though he’s not on speaking terms with roughly half the country).

3) Privately neither candidate is too optimistic or delusional to believe they can reconcile their campaign rhetoric with the business of governing over a house divided on every major issue except one: let someone else (besides our soldiers) take the hit for a growing government supported by a dwindling tax base.

Pity our next President-elect. They need to suppress their better angels and the notion of a shared sacrifice, lest they’re booted from the beltway by the same people that hoisted them to victory.

Pity our citizen-voters. They missed out on the boom-boom Bush years and the hush-hush Obama-Bush sequel. There are scores to settle that make the middle class squeezes of the past feel like a hot compress in business class.

But there is a way to restore credibility to the electoral process.

There is a way to give political candidates the breathing room they’ll need in order to fix stuff, i.e. raise taxes and lower services, without being impeached by the alienated opposition.

There is a way to impose certainty on the tentative nature of change as in: “I’m certain I’ll be paying more for less and won’t insist our politicians pretend it away.” The return of animal spirits awaits the bravado of certainty in the bag. Without our reliable strut, we’re in the same rut.

Most pointedly, how do our deplorable political parties fight their way back to respectability? How do they wear their vested interests proudly? How do they dismiss bipartisanship with the straight face of tomorrow and not the smirk of today?

The check’s in the early balloting mail

They can rally support, not with platitudes and empty promises, but with cash paid out to the non-party members who matter: people who can’t decide who to vote for.

Surely this is illegal, right? Well, the 24th Amendment bans poll taxes but says nothing about direct marketing to electorates or the setting of voting prices. To liberals this may sound like another cynical ploy to kick self-interest up another discouraging notch. The death knell for the commonweal and the greater good.

But let’s think this through. The act is genuine. It’s an investment by political parties and their donors. Here’s how we speak directly to a polarized and cynical people. We channel cash to those unregistered Americans who decide elections through their indecision.

Why steal an election?

Why steal an election when you can buy one fair and square?

Paying for votes can mean a lot of stops on the low road to dysfunctional government. Is this what George W. Bush called “fuzzy math” without taking exception to the numbers in his opponent’s budget plan? Is this a basic deduction one can make around the political meme-seekers trying to rationalize the downhill momentum of Citizens v. United, voter fraud, or those impending fiscal cliffs? Is this the new normal depicted last month in Bill Clinton’s convention speech as basic arithmetic?

Paying for votes could put to rest all this talk about voter fraud and all the latest court challenges to voter ID. There won’t be any checks drawn on the accounts of the deceased once all those on-shore voters cash in on the action. Direct payments to voters will have the same impact on public apathy as robotic cars will have on the speeding ticket industry. It will obliterate negative campaigning for good. In the meantime, all those moochers, freeloaders, and deadbeats can do something constructive while biding their time for the next great wave of American prosperity to kick in.

What is the color of your skin in the game?

Whether you count yourself as a 99 percenter or a jet-setter, or the 47% on autopilot for an entitled silver spoon feeding, there’s one group that we can all set our growth beams on — that’s the unwashed and unvanquished object of those Super Pac spoils: the undecided voter. But would those undecideds be a vanishing breed if the Coche brothers and the George Soroses, and the casino kingpins could cash out directly? That’s right. They could pay directly for those votes instead of roulette-wheeling their dealings to local broadcasters in swing states.

Direct is a form of both payment and marketing. Why not a form of government? After all, our elected officials spend a good 70% of their time fetching for dollars when their only real conviction is to be re-elected. Who has the time for convictions when they may need to replace them in the interest of unexpected events or languishing sound bytes caught on tape? What’s the difference between an elected official on the take and the “takers” who vote them up or down from office? The difference is that representatives get rewarded for keeping themselves in power while their constituents get the spoils of free speech piling up on their cable screens and in-boxes.

Payouts are the new rebates

But paying  for votes is not just limited to electorates. We pay our kids to attend school. We pay farmers not to grow food. We pay food companies to market diabetic-inducing groceries for the express lane. We subsidize oil exploration so Exxon Mobil can super-size our addiction to oil. Actually We pay that one out twice before pausing to fill our tanks. That second hit happens when our taxes confront the debt our Chinese suitors assumed to underwrite our military occupations. What occupy movement is this? Those countries with high concentrations of hostility that invade our embassies, dis Israel, or worse, threaten to choke our economy.

And therein lies the choke hold. Us decided voters hold as few surprises as we do cards for deciding elections. Show me a reliable party line voter and I’ll show you an oblivious politician. Exhibit A: the 41 states without battleground status. A counted vote is as worthless to the voter as it’s money in the bank for the candidate — a blank check for spending political capital on carving out electoral districts, complicating the tax code, or even settling personal scores.

The transparency of market-based democracy

The sincerity of a bribe might smell bad to some but it’s a lot more understandable than the slippery abstractions that pass for campaign promises: putting us back to work? Change we can believe in? How about payments we can deposit? Who needs to pander when we’ve got a budget that operates below the radar of campaign ads, let alone media scrutiny? Delivering votes by channeling campaign funds to voters means that capitalism is hard at work, even if our politics are too fractured to lift a tiny compromising finger.

What if we put our votes on the auction block? The true undecideds and even us softer core fence-sitters? How would this all work then? And what would that do to the Australian ballot? That’s our right to vote without personalizing the transaction. Why would the major parties want to invest in the American voter when we’re protected against needing to account for our ballot choices? Here’s how that could play out:

1) Voter puts opening bid up on their social media page

2) Voter bundles bid with other undecideds in their districts

3) Voting brokers increase buying power of these undecided blocs (and takes a cut of the buy-off)

4) Parties examine registration history and make their pitch to the aggregator (READ: Google, FaceBook, Twitter, etal.)

5) Bloc members vote to accept winning bid from said party and sign contract binding them legally to (a) vote; and (b) reflect the endorsed party positions and candidates

What’s a little pressure among peers?

Does that mean we still vote by secret ballot? Absolutely.

Want to spell the difference between the uncertainty of polling data and the final vote count? It’s the sound of that pay-for-vote check being cashed at the corner ATM. That’s when the party can enforce the voters’ contractual obligations. It’s the line crossed once the volume of accepted bids eclipses the margin of error from the last election cycle.

Baring an onslaught of legalized immigrants, the entrenched turnouts of both parties will shine in glaring relief the tendencies of those bankrolled voters to stick or stray. If the backed party candidate loses, is it because the opposition lured in more voters? Doesn’t matter.

My brilliant strategist buddy Canuck surmises that future payments will freeze up should this doubt persist. Someone on the losing side didn’t pull his lever weight. They ruined it. For everybody.

Jeez, talk about disenfranchisement.

When I was working for a political consulting – slash – polling boutique in the late eighties a pre-maturing graybeard named Ed Reilly took me out to dinner. The gesture was a sign of thanks for ceding my personal life to the firm and forbearance for the blank checks yet to underwrite battles yet to be waged. (A personal life would claim me before I spent away a career in politics). The son of a Boston firefighter Reilly managed to straddle the line between a rip-snorting unionist and a pedigree kingmaker, spoiling for both fights and the spoils from winning them. Like so many pre-Aaron Sorkin era politicos, Reilly would ride the painstaking obscurity of his polling outfit to fabulous wealth through the Gucci-laced corridors of K Street.

As I remember the dinner was not about feasting on the vanity and self-importance of trade associations but about the eternal flame that draws all young operatives to the heart of the Beltway, world capital of the influence industry. By then Reilly had little appetite for progressive platforms or blue sky agendas. Most of his client-candidates were moderate or split-the-middle Democrats who appealed more to independents than liberals.

It was late ’88 and Ed was still smarting over the Lee Atwater-architected trouncing of sensible Michael Dukakis by pumped-up Poppy Bush 41. “Our party just doesn’t get it,” fumed Riley. “We invite the press into the backs of our campaign planes and buses because we care what they think and say. Then they go hunting for stories that don’t exist.” The Republicans care about one thing and that’s controlling the message: “They don’t give a rat’s ass what the media thinks — no invites, no complications.”

I’m reliving Reilly’s frustration at the insinuation by Newt of the “Grandiose Old Party” that the non-Fox news media are apologists for Obama’s failings. The fact the charge packs as much punch now says what?

* That our discourse has barely evolved — even backslid over the last generation of elections
* That Gingrich is hot, callous, and ravenous — three helpings that land far and wide of Obama’s plate
* That the messengers are shot down before they can squeeze off their debating points

I’ll be wondering about the messenger piece as Obama enters through the Congressional Chamber doors for his State of the Union speech on Tuesday. He will be staring openly into the very real perception of playing the co-star on the national political stage. However, in terms of his efforts to yank the spotlight most of those energies will be channeled on his path to the podium. It may seem like the sideshow lies in the fist-bumps, flesh-presses, and cordial waves ‘n winks as Obama makes his way to the center of the hall. But actually, most of his energies will be channeled towards that tightrope walk through the superficial entanglements of the pageantry. The fact he’ll arrive nearly depleted once he reaches the podium is not the story here.

The address itself will be a slam-dunk. He’ll nail the talk down. No flaps in these gusty political headwinds. Even the melody of his speech will be encoded automatically. Energy-wise Obama will give this address in his sleep and even his fiercest adversaries will know he’s in prescient control: the commander in speech. In fact he won’t just float over the hall — he’ll have his batteries recharging at the same time. But will that electrify his base anywhere as much as his tentative hold on power unifies the opposition? Obama may be a conciliator-pragmatist-moderate. But in his heart of hearts there is a fierce and uncritical belief that his detractors will do the right thing for the country in spite of their hostilities. That unyielding and romantic calculation has cost the country more than the benefit of a second Obama term.

Raising the Debt Ceiling on Inner Drive

In the book The Obamas we confirm the credible assertion that Barack lives in the same town as Michelle and the girls. And even though he can’t take the dog for walks he can share the same dinner table at least 5 out of every 7 evenings (baring crises and mid-terms). But the aspiration of family man is one with the sincerity of Barack the soloist:

* The guy whose much more comfortable debating the merits of Constitutional Law than the glad-hander

* The guy more tuned to schools of thought than to the schools that his adversaries’ kids just got into

* The guy oblivious to whose dates on what calendar were coming up when the time’s ripe to cash in on minting his next round of political capital

We were told by author Jodi Kantor of former Super Bowl parties where guests were invited to crunch pretzels and brewskies. We were told that Barack sat in his assigned chair for the game and never let the affairs of his super bowl party state interfere with the play-by-play or the halftime updates. The President of the United States was on the periphery of a room that he did not work and the evidence is this:

People who would otherwise stab him in the back are now entering through the front. There is no echoing chamber. Even in his own conflict averse party there are no minions, lieutenants, or defenders of the faith. Want to get Joe Biden to shuddup? Make him your veep and you shan’t hear a peep. We’ve gone from the Priceline-like bid-ups on the Lincoln bedroom during the Clinton occupancy to the mothballing of the mattresses and couches. Such is where strange bedfellows come to make exceptions to their unyielding public stances.

Gridlock We Can Count On

If the firework could be choreographed on the percentages then we’d have some positive correlation between unemployment numbers and favorability ratings. Then we’d have an Obama-Romney crash test that the operatives can rationalize. Gingrich is not waiting in the wings. He is fanning the flames of a sunburst as clarifying as a biker weekend tailgating down on a Federal Reserve meeting. See what the 99% elites think of that! What the right-skewing public seeks is the bloodbath that vanquishes the calculation and cleanses the resentments of a white America whose time is past — except perhaps when it comes to settling American elections.

Obama’s been called as many names as he’s learned to ignore since the bully-bigots of Indonesia threw rocks at him on his way to school. But the one name he can’t ignore is the scorched path between entrance and podium that gets gussied up as Big Gov versus Big Biz. Little Guy versus Small Biz. Taxes on the rich versus sacrifice for all. So long as Obama answers to the name of introvert we’re stuck in false choices. It’s sealing a deal he never signed up for and is no more prepared to make now than as a school boy in the streets of Jakarta.

So in the end how does Obama justify his second term? America can’t forgive temptation neutral technocrats. He could reprise his dress-down of Chief Justice Roberts over Citizen v. United in 2010: The single biggest reason for the side-show status of this season’s State of the Union. But as any populist-turned aristocrat like Reilly will tell you: We voters warm even less to knew-all-alongs than know-it-alls.

If the status quo was in friendlier territory, Obama could defend healthcare as a right with the same zeal that Bush 41 got elected attacking abortion and flag-burning. So why does one approach sound like a hail Mary with no time on the clock while the other runs the same clock out by sitting on the same ball? Picking a fight with George Stephanopoulas might keep the drive going. But the best way in is to beat the messenger to the punch of a quiz show called “medical bill in the mail.” The answer for us in Massachusetts is that we can pay them off without the help of venture capitalists or loan sharks.

From the front of the envelope to the back of the plane: Thank you, Governor Romney and Chairman Riley.

It’s hard to fathom an hour clad and out of bed better spent than last Thursday’s OnPoint from WBUR. A spirited forum led host, guests, and callers to philosophize between pragmatism and our perfect worlds.

I’ll take my inspirations from internal quandaries over debating public policies and handicapping horse races any day. Inside, looking out, and taking in a crisp and resonating distance. The broader business of our daily practices and how they present in our public American discourse is much more interesting than arriving at these meanings through the mundane abstractions of our fetishistic tax laws, per capita pollution levels, “good” cholesterol counts, and aggregations buried in the algorithms of Google and Facebook. That’s what OnPoint listeners witnessed in a zeitgeist-popping and enigmatic question of Too much self-reliance?

For the panel, host Tom Ashbrook snagged literary critic Benjamin Anastas. Ashbrook was justifiably smitten with Anastas’s New York Time Magazine essay, The Foul Reign of Emerson’s ‘Self-Reliance’, which raked Ralph Waldo over the “looking-out-for-#1″ coals in the December 4th issue.

To Emerson’s defenders, self-reliance was never a vehicle for piety or privilege but a reaction to conformity. Professor Alex Zakaris of the University of Vermont described Emerson’s rejection of his fellow New Englanders and their casual materialism as a loophole into “moral thoughtlessness.” He cited the travesty of obeying the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 by returning these inventory turnovers to their receipt-bearing masters.

Emerson did not write blank checks to the future from unquestioning urge “to speak what you think now in hard words.” His approach was to purge the unreflective gratifications, clear the head. His humility divined this critical self-scrutiny to be arduous work without deadlines to meet: Specifically, the act of learning how to detect our own thoughts free of social conditioning. that’s nearly has hard to fathom for some of us as human inventories. We’re more anxious being offline than subjected to the zealotry of our now permanent campaigns.

Back to Emerson now — the pay-off of self-reflection was quite the windfall:

* Dividends of inner peace

* Triumphal, universalist connection of cosmic-like romance: “every heart vibrates to a reservoir of divinely ordained goodwill.”

* Did we mention self-reliance as a throw-in?

This is the note he sounds of a consciousness that regulates what comes into our hearts.

But hearts being what they are can clench themselves into thick, over-sized muscles. In the naval-gazing myopic absorptions of our day, we recoil at the stiff price on believing in ourselves at all costs:

* The little CPA in my soul tells me that the one percent are hoarders whose craven capitalism arranged for the decapitation of the middle class.

* The Paul Revere replica in my driveway is revving to defy any law that expands the rolls to make health care a civil right (and a social responsibility).

* I will deny the existence of global warming sooner than I’ll acknowledge the disappearance of the North Pole.

Can our swollen egos, bruised by the bumps of social conditioning, fit snugly inside these principles? That we can stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the self and its final say on these earthly arguments?

The compromises that manifest in partisanship happens on the group level. You know the groupings. You mean you weren’t invited to the shotgun wedding where the bride was given away for the unholy price of a Faustian bargain? We can’t pass a normal news cycle without the co-opting of the public interest by parties beholden to interest, or rather the self-interest of groups. Would Emerson say that corporations are people too? What is a more sincere expression of democracy than that?

I can think of one. That’s the passions harbored in the festering disaffections of tea parties and occupiers. We’re all on the authentic side of the majorities in our distrustful minds. The hypocrisies of autonomous libertarians queue on the receiving end of our reliable beltway punching bags and petty tyrannies: Big Government? Out of my tiny entitlements.

And you can have the FEMA trailer back, honest.

But it’s not about the money either. There’s another corruption summoned from the death of God — specifically the departure of the sacred from public life and the language of a higher calling that is not merely mutual but universal. Our essayist Mr. Anastas pushes back, brandishing Sarah Palin’s brew of “mavericky charisma.” The irony here is that these women and men of God use their direct channels into gated kingdoms, emerging with an endorsement, a charter franchise of “the chosen,” and new priorities and roles: now, Gods of women and men.

So many of these internal compasses point vehemently towards righteousness and away from “volumes of evidence” and “stubborn facts.” Is that Emerson talking, or the political discourse growling in the belly of our appetites for cable news?

Heart news is fair and balanced!

In guts we trust, and, gut the basis for trusting others.

When does rugged, two-fisted self-reliance decay into a defrauding of the Treasury? The pulpits of the heart are certainly authentic. But is that the stuff of the integrity envisioned by Emerson? If not, the bedrock of the American spirit may just be begging for a quake-induced fracking. What spills into our streets and leeches into our water tables would change us from the outside in.

That’s when climate change may arrive at our better selves. And we’ll take credit for a hotter sun coming up in the mornings of tomorrow.

Copyright All rights reserved by JennaU

I recently caught up with a winter hibernation guide to imbibing in the stylized aura of shimmering Mad Men cocktails. It reminded me of the lingerings of respectable grown-ups drinking with impunity. They maintain their own obliviousness when the tumbler is shaken by the vaunted fictions of the camera. And what of their children? Are we still smarting from their own pungent tipsiness?

What characters sense and taste in memories and cinema is the ultimate stirring. It is an enterprise bursting to infect the communications pathways of entire marketing planets. Ladies and gents: from our gaping doors to your devouring eyes we bring you the Museum of Food.

That’s the taste we smell through our sights — the entrees and spirits captured in the evocative restaurants of film and the eat-in kitchens of classic sitcoms. The Food Network, the literal version of eye candy, has spawned a foodie offspring on most of its rivaling channels. The contents of those 2D sauce pans and table settings jettison chefs into a select crowd of scientific entertainers. Imagine when you swap out the kitchen help for the celebrated dining scenes, staffed by fully established franchises of fame. Who needs to reheat yesterday’s leftovers when you’re rolling out the specials on today’s menu?

Knowing one’s audience is to understand its taste for celebrity appetites. The campaign is zipless in its execution. No introductions are necessary. The script writes itself. The credit goes to that recipe — the one insisted on by the audience. Which audience? Do you need to ask, dear? We’re all on a first name basis here.

The familiar ingredients free us to portion control our connections to food events (formerly known as meals). They situate us in places (formerly known as physical locations). These seasonings could only be conjured up by our shared emotional histories with the actors we park under our cultural limelights.

So what does this have to do with more posts about museums and food?

A food museum would be the showcase for the re-enactment of celebrity meal scenes. From a tourism angle the concept is eminently franchisable. Each licensed property answers to the expectation of aromatic exhibitionism. The gift shop is the cafeteria. The advertising and the photo gallery are one in the same. Each chapter would festoon their cultural watersheds, local flavors, and neighborhoods of community food rituals. In effect, the first food chain set to endless variation. That’s the pull of culinary sensuality in the food court of public opinion.

How could this play out theme-by-theme among the planet’s food enthusiasts in the great dining halls of any Cosmo city of our vast global village?

  • Science wing: Food as medicine, nutritional supplements (friend or faux), organics v. industrial farming …
  • Sports arena: Ticketed bake-offs between master chefs, gaming concessions since the Romans …
  • Spiritual chapel: Biblical scenes and customary rituals …
  • Fashion runway: Dinner jackets, cocktail dresses, bulking up of American XXL …
  • Design pavilion: Interiors of watering holes from neighborhood taverns to western saloons, and Irish pubs …
  • Philanthropy: A percent of the proceeds go to local food pantries …

Apart from the charitable donations I haven’t landed a single loaded insinuation on the inflammatory minefields of food policy. Sure I’m letting obesity suit up as its own fashion statement. But do you hear me leafleting here for animal rights? How about the subsidizing of empty, cheap, diabetic-inducing calories? We’re going to have to take that fight outside our 501c3 status, food museum goers!

We’re going to have to stock those future flame wars in the freezer section and score brownie points on what we know. That would not be hunger but appetites — especially the gurgling bellies of stars from stage, screen, tables and bar stools. Hey bub — I can still see their mugs on the wall while I’m waiting for my own table to clear.

Since online discussion threads appeared like those from the offline wakeup call there are signs of a signal shift — both in terms of local station policies and their infrastructures. While I don’t believe in once-in-a-hundred-years prophesies or the “perfection” of storms, I do believe a change is in the air and may well land “on” the air before the next perfect storm appears.  Here’s a response from Helen Barrington of local NPR affiliate WFCR that Marcia Yudkin shared through the Hidden.tech list:

++++++++++++++++++++

We, at New England Public Radio, sadly, have learned much from this storm and are actively updating and revising our approach to be ready for the next event. This was the “perfect storm,” and has challenged every service from the media to utility companies.

Sunday, we lost power at the studios on the UMass campus. WFCR’s transmitter is on Mt. Lincoln in Pelham. When the power fails (which it did), it’s often because Route 202 is impassable (with trees down), as is the road to the transmitter site itself. We have not been able to purchase a generator due to concerns about fuel storage at the site and access to that remote area where the transmitter is, in bad weather. But, we’re working on those problems…quickly and actively.

Now that we own WNNZ, we hope to purchase a generator for it (which is also thousands of dollars, a major capital expense), to become our primary broadcast source when WFCR is off. It, too, was the victim until this Wednesday afternoon, of a commercial power failure in Westfield. We’re again trying to see if we can get some grants or do some quick fundraising to get generators for both stations (though, once obtained, the weather may impede installing them until spring, but we’ll see).

And on top of that, due to the constraints of our budget, we have a small staff trying to cover this immense region. If we could have gone live all day Sunday, we would have, and we will find a way to do this in the future. We will be prepared to go live locally for as long as is necessary, to get critical information out. We will provide better service in the next storm(s), as we know there will be one or many this fall/winter.

We were trying to reach everyone we could with the web and phone info, realizing that some people may not have been able to access either (I live in Belchertown and only had cell service restored Tuesday night, as well as no landline; I still have no power). The size of the region makes this piece very complex, figuring out the best way to get info to people. But we now know – more than ever before – that the radio is the thing just about everyone can access in such situations.

All of the above led to a great many frustrations and impeded our ability to adequately serve the public. We are working on solutions.

Thanks so much for your comment and for listening.

Helen Barrington
Executive Director for Programming and Content
New England Public Radio/nepr.net
Phone: 413-577-0541
Please note my new email address: hbarrington@nepr.net

All rights reserved by The Whistling Monkey

Last week I drove two-thirds of the way through Massachusetts and back in the middle of a work week. My mission was for my son and me to take a non-credit workshop offered by Greenfield Community College. The topic was about using Facebook as a genealogical  tool — certainly not what Facebook’s forebears had in mind. Apparently that oversight was shared by the rest of the Greenfield community. Not only were we the only ones to sign up but no one informed us that the class was cancelled until we got to campus. In tough economic times we cling to the bedrock of family and to our own frugal resources. What could be a better match than social media for ancestors?

The gap between this proposition and the follow-through reminds me all too well of my own marketing efforts to teach Internet research tools and techniques — something we all, few do well, and nearly all of us do alone. You know you’ve got a major rebranding effort on your hands when there’s a gaping hole between an information surplus and a knowledge deficit. I say rebranding because the chasm represents both a black hole and a golden opportunity. When that deficit has a clear direction the answer can be engineered into a customizable package. In fact any binary problem is reducible to an “applification-in-progress.”

The biggest riddle is not about the closest pizzeria for vegans or the cheapest flight out-of-town next weekend. It’s about the trappings — which data supplier dancing on whose interface and how to carve up the winnings at the close of each transaction. That’s the information supplier tail wagging the market demand dog. It is a short tail and the dog needn’t learn new tricks.

Wasn’t it Steve Jobs who said: “It’s not the consumers’ job to figure out what they want.”

That’s certainly true when it comes to designing and perfecting elegant gadgets. We’re no likelier to build the next killer smartphone than the market research rationale for keeping Apple one step ahead of a jittery market. We’re consumers. As such our participation is limited to parting with our assets or squirreling them away.  When will the future arrive and what will it look like?

1. Dunno.

2. I’ll know it when I see it.

Problem is … the market has only half-spoken.

Social Problems without Business Models

Now what happens when a question runs on more dimensions than zeroes and ones — an objectified and reproducible set of truths and falsehoods?The engineering math is less persuasive when responding to half-truths: What’s the consequence if it is true? The severity if it’s not? These are two-step problems that require a higher form of reasoning than shadowing a users’ intention in a search bar. These questions are no less pressing if they don’t map to the still-life webcams that play on beneath the skin of Facebook.

It requires that the user exists for more than click patterns and one-sided transactions involving word choice. But what if the model was reversed? What if those knowledge deficits were answered by an online republic of producers (who also happened to consume)? And they would use information — not simply be used by it in the quest to plant a suggestion or prompt a purchase.

There is no obvious business model for solving abstractions that can’t end up in actual inventories and find their way to literal doorsteps. Does the consumer still benefit from a passive acceptance of supplier-sided engineering?  Before the costs were driven out there was a direct line between higher consumer spending and a tighter labor market. There was originality to the questions forming before user curiosity was placated by Google Suggest. Nowadays shopping is feeling a lot less patriotic than in the wake of 9-11. There is no Peoria play here. The American middle-class has lost its credit line faster than you can see the swelling ranks of independent voters. Where is the next breadbasket of packaged fare? That’s a supply problem (and it’s a sack of rice).

The demand problem is that we need to teach folks how to looks after their own interests. That’s the only way to dial back the simmering resentments which spark disenfranchisees in search of a franchise and a bargaining chip called name-your-price. In the Arab Spring it was political freedom. In the Bank of America fall the tipping point is ATM fees. But whether it evolves to a substantive movement or a meandering bitch list, one demand side factor is unequivocal: the power is ceded to noisy minorities. There is increasingly scarce upside to continuing along in the role of unquestioning consumers. That’s the future nearly here where a once silent majority is on the receiving end of the predator drones released by Google | Facebook | Amazon | Apple: the four horsemen of the holy platform grail.

Can you guess the predators from the drones? Once you do I have a course I’d like to sell you. It’s called self-education and it’s being taught by the experience of doing your own homework. Otherwise I’m sure there’s a search engine that will sell you the answers — the ones which work for them.