Thursday, October 29, 2009

Capitalism: A Love Story:: Is the Plutonomy Killing Capitalism?

Crossposted on ThickCulture

So, I'm in Westchester County, NY and it's a drizzly autumn evening on the Tappan Zee. A perfect night to brave the elements to see Michael Moore's Capitalism: A Love Story out at the Jacob Burns Film Center over in Pleasantville, which is a great screening facility.

I find Moore to be a colourful character and I "get" his shtick. That said, no matter how you feel about his politics or this documentary, he brings up some interesting food for thought. In the documentary, there is a reference to an internal Citibank {a "zombie" bank these days} report on the "plutonomy." While the idea of a power elite is nothing new in sociology -or- to anyone familiar with institutions and the macro-structural, I don't think everyone is on the same page with respect to this being a bad thing or not. Well, let's not get too far ahead. What is this plutonomy business anyway? According to the Citibank report::
"Our thesis is that the rich are the dominant drivers of demand in many economies around the world (the US, UK, Canada and Australia). These economies have seen the rich take an increasing share of income and wealth over the last 20 years, to the extent that the rich now dominate income, wealth and spending in these countries. Asset booms, a rising profit share and favorable treatment by market-friendly governments have allowed the rich to prosper and become a greater share of the economy in the plutonomy countries. Also, new media dissemination technologies like internet downloading, cable and satellite TV, have disproportionately increased the audiences, and hence gains to “superstars” – think golf, soccer, and baseball players, music/TV and movie icons, fashion models, designers, celebrity chefs etc. These “content” providers, the tech whizzes who own the pipes and distribution, the lawyers and bankers who intermediate globalization and productivity, the CEOs who lead the charge in converting globalization and technology to increase the profit share of the economy at the expense of labor, all contribute to plutonomy. Indeed, David Gordon and Ian Dew-Becker of the NBER demonstrate that the top 10%, particularly the top 1% of the US – the plutonomists in our parlance – have benefited disproportionately from the recent productivity surge in the US.
So, this is good if you're in the top 1%, right? Let's move on to the "risks"::
"Furthermore, the rising wealth gap between the rich and poor will probably at some point lead to a political backlash.Whilst the rich are getting a greater share of the wealth, and the poor a lesser share, political enfrachisement remains as was – one person, one vote (in the plutonomies). At some point it is likely that labor will fight back against the rising profit share of the rich and there will be a political backlash against the rising wealth of the rich. This could be felt through higher taxation (on the rich or indirectly though higher corporate taxes/regulation) or through trying to protect indigenous laborers, in a push-back on globalization – either anti-immigration, or protectionism.We don’t see this happening yet, though there are signs of rising political tensions. However we are keeping a close eye on developments."
One of the themes in Moore's film is that there is collusion between government and business. Moreover, this is NOT a Republican vs. Democrat issue, as deregulation and the repeal of Glass-Steagall was signed under Bill Clinton's watch.

Have we gotten to a point where within the context of "democracy," we are now seeing an unholy alignment of interests of an unfettered private sector that seeks to influence the "rules" of the market and a public sector willing to bargain? I would argue that we are so far removed from the idealized capitalism of the flavour of Adam Smith's waxings, as the market has been replaces in many instances by "the visible hand" of managerial puppetry in the private and public spheres.

The checks-and-balances in "idealized" capitalism are that competition and the profit motive driven by shareholders will allow for smoothly functioning and efficient markets. In financial markets, undermining faith in the institution of the market through insider trading carries stiff penalties. The plutonomy sees fit to alter the rules for the political and economic elite. Some may argue that the plutonomy is fine. The alignment of interests is a way to channel wealth and capital towards successful ventures. The sociological "Matthew effect" in action, where the rich get richer and success breeds more success.

I'm not convinced. Historically, Microsoft has a marginal track record at managing and commercializing innovations and the well-heeled US pharmaceutical industry knows that newly patented drugs with incremental benefits are far more profitable than truly innovative drugs with an unknown track record. The entertainment industry strives to find or replicate a "formula," rather than try to push the envelope with creativity. Success breeds plutonomy...and Spiderman 4.

The thing is that the plutonomy doesn't care about companies or shareholders, let alone workers or pension plans. It's all about the power elites, who control, enable, and reap the rewards of wealth creation. I'm not sure Moore has the answers here, but Scorsese might. The plutonomy is all about feeding the top of the pyramid. The motto..."f*ck you, pay me."

Twitterversion:: #MichaelMoore's Capitalism: A♥Story brings up food 4 thought re:plutonomy. In the end, is it just Scorsese's #Goodfellas. @Prof_K

Song:: The Birth of the True - Aztec Camera

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

newmusicmonday #14:: Jupiter One

So, I made it out to Westchester County taking in a perfect autumn week.  On Sunday, I made it out to the Grounds for Sculpture, out in Hamilton, NJ {nr. Trenton}.  I strongly recommend it.  I strongly recommend not going to the restaurant, Rats.

Newmusicmonday has drifted into newmucictuesday, but I wanted to feature a band from the area.  This week's offering, Jupiter One {MySpace, YouTube}, is thanks to WFUV.  Jupiter One has a new album, Sunshower, and is currently on tour with Regina Spektor.  Hailing from Brooklyn, Jupiter One offers up catchy synthpop and gamers may recognize their music from several EA titles.  I'm a big fan of Volcano::

"Flaming Arrow" is another great track with an interesting anime-esque video::

I predict this band is going places and may become ubiquitous in popculture  like Phoenix {in the sense of being used on TV shows and in commercials}, another synth-friendly band playing homage to 80s "new wave," but with strong guitar work.  I'd put Malajube from Montréal, Québec in this musical genre, as well.  Countdown {below} is another great track, but from their eponymous 2008 release.  See discography.

Twitterversion::  @jupiterone is this week's #newmusicmonday. #brooklynindie synthpop band-new album w/strong tracks evoking #80s newwave.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009


The fact that Nevada and Utah are neighbours shows that the universe has a sense of humour.  I'm in chaste Utah, while a block away is the gaudy, second-tier glitz of a borderline casino zone.  Speaking of humour, before I left Berkeley, I saw commercials for The Battle for Milkquarious, a rock opera about milk {see press release}.  I don't think this is being advertised outside of California, as it's sponsored by the California Milk Processor Board.  Goodby, Silverstein, & Partners are behind it, the same agency that did the "Got Milk" campaign.  The scary thing is I actually have dreams like this...{click to go to site in new window}

This takes me back to watching bad scifi like Space: 1999 and Logan's Run.  Well, not to mention good dystopian stuff like Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange.  Ah, the Korova Milk Bar::

I'm going to be in Westchester County next week, so I might have to go here in White Plains, NY.  Milkdonkulous!

OK, so back to Milkquarious, I found it campy and hilarious, with characters like White Gold, Jug Life, and the unipegacow, Bovina::

Oh, if Strawberry Summers {top right} looks familiar, she was in the IBM "Go Green" ads I blogged about last year::

Twitterversion::  Rock opera The Battle for Milkquarious rocks the Interwebs thanks to the Calif. Milk Processor Board & #GoodbySilverstein. @Prof_K

Song:: In the Aeroplane Over the Sea - Neutral Milk Hotel

Monday, October 19, 2009

iDon't:: music & the attack-ad

This ad has been making the rounds during the MLB playoffs.  Someone said it's iPhone meets District 9, starting with the catchiness of indie pop well-known at Chiat-Day juxtaposed with the stark & dark futuristic imagery of Droid.  It's an interesting attack ad execution for Verizon, highlighting iPhone's faults, but I wonder if it's too "high concept" for a launch.  It caught my eye and ear, getting me to find out more info. online, but will others follow suit or be primed for the launch in November?  I think the Motorola offering really needs to dazzle in order to make a dent.

Twitterversion::  Verizon pokes fun at ChiatDay #Apple ads with #iDont campaign.  #Music&theAd starts out indiepop & disses iPhone, but turns dark. Effective?

newmusicmonday #13:: Dominant Legs

I feel a bit bad that during my recent stint out in Eastbay I really haven't given any shoutouts to SF area bands on new music Mondays.  I just found about Ryan Lynch's Dominant Legs {MySpace Music site w/ demo tracks; Hype Machine}.  Ryan {vocals, guitars [acoustic/electric], synth., & drum machines} does quirky pop and while Stereogum makes a comparison to Belle & Sebastian, which I can hear, there's a decidedly 80s referent here I just can't seem to recall right now.  BTW:: I love the "dissing" comments on Stereogum, which reminds me why I hate hipsters.  The Fader user the term "quivering" and and makes reference to Archie Bell, which are both apt.  Oh, maybe Lynch's music can start a new variant on the Fishstick meme.

Several Cali tour dates are coming up and a 7" is expected in 2010::
11/21 - San Francisco, CA @ Bottom Of The Hill
12/04 - San Diego, CA @ Loft
12/05 - Los Angeles, CA @ Troubadour
12/06 - San Barbara, CA @ Muddy Water

Twitterversion::  #newmusicmonday nº13 feature is #SanFrancisco's #DominantLegs {#RyanLynch}. Quirky quivery pop evoking Murdoch's B&S.  @Prof_K

Image::  from MySpace.

Letters of Note...

A shout out to a blog I just found out about via Tumblr:: Letters of Note.  I loved this recent entry {see link for context & debate on what this is referring to in the Stones' discography}::

Twitterversion:: Shout out for Shaun Usher's @LettersOfNote, dedicated to "correspondence deserving a wider audience." #MickJagger to #AndyWarhol. @Prof_K

Song:: Wild Horses - The Sundays

Monday, October 12, 2009

newmusicmonday #13:: You Say Party! We Say Die!

Happy Thanksgiving to my Canadian readers.

I'm on deadline, so this will have to be quick.  CBC Radio 3 redesigned their website, but while it looks fantastic and has a better player interface, I'm still learning how to navigate around it.  Sort of interesting, as I'm working on a social media job right now.  

This week's find is You Say Party! We Say Die!  {Twitter} I've played "Laura Palmer's Prom" several times now, which is perfect since the band hails from Abbotsford, BC, Canada, a spot where Trans-Can dips towards the Washington border.  In May, I crossed at Abbotsford/Sumas en route to Vancouver, as I have fond memories of driving around Whatcom County and the Fraser River Valley in the early 1990s.  One of these days will stop at a roadside stand to get some Chillawack sweet corn.  Oh, to find a variant of "One Eyed Jack's" in the Abbotsford area.

The band has a new album out XXXX, released on 29 September, and evokes 80s new wave in a good way. Some of the tracks {CBC R3} make me think of older New Order at their best, which, to me, means less of an overproduced sound.  I like Chart Attack's comparison of Becky Ninkovic's vocals to Blondie, but she has her own style particularly on the slower tempo songs.

I'm going to see if Amoeba in Berkeley has this on CD and I'll try to call Soundscapes on College before they close to see if they carry it.  The MP3 version of the XXXX album is available on Amazon for $8.99 and $9.90 CAN on the Canadian iTunes store.  I've already bought "Laura Palmer's Prom," which is quite an endorsement.

They are just about to start a Canada-wide tour.  Dates include 7 November in Montréal and 20 November at the Phoenix in Toronto.  I'll finally be back there by then, so I hope I can make that show.

Twitterversion:: #newmusicmonday @yspwsd You Say Party! We Say Die! captures what was gr8 about new wave/dance punk. "Laura Palmer's Prom"  @Prof_K

Image::  from Website.

Song::  Laura Palmer's Prom on

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Waiter Fired for Tweeting:: Quelle Surprise About Barney Greengrass PR Fail

Recessionary Tales

I'll be posting a more "sociological" version of this on ThickCulture later in the week, but I wanted to post this sooner rather than later.  This is the first post of an occassional series called recessionary tales.   saw this story of a waiter, Jon-Barret Ingles being fired from a Beverly Hills restaurant for Tweeting about their clientele.  The flashpoint seems to have been an incident where Jane Adams couldn't pay a $13.44 bill, but her agent did so the two days later sans gratuity.  He blogged about the incident::
"They paid the bill, $13.75, no tip. Not a big deal to me financially but the principle of the thing was ridiculous. I put my neck on the line by letting her leave without paying and end up getting screwed. And she couldn't have even screwed me herself she had her agent screw me. Granted the screwing was painless and undetectable."
and his tweeting::

" decided to Tweet about the incident. I know nothing about Twitter. I follow 21 people and 22 follow me. Mostly hot young girls that want me to look at their webcams. I had only posted five Tweets prior. I would talk about whatever celebrity came in that day. I figured the 40 people following me might find it slightly amusing. There wasn't much else in my life that felt Tweetable. I Tweeted about the actress and the leaving and the agent not tipping. Got it off my chest. Interesting litle anecdote. I went back to watching her show and enjoying her career choices."
She came back, in person, to give him a $3 tip.  She seemed annoyed::
"I chased after her. 'Thank you again for coming back to give me this.'  She stopped and turned her head with disgust and said, 'My friend read about it on Twitter!' She turned and walked off."
I actually think these observations of his are telling of "celebrity culture" and how status and perceptions are manufactured::
"I started thinking about her and how removed she was from this whole situation, which was her fault, until she was forced to participate by her own vanity. I wasn't a peer to her, I wasn't a fan, I wasn't even a person. I was a nuisance to her routine. I was her fly circling her head. She had no apology. She had no remorse. She couldn't see the humor in the whole thing. She made a big deal about fishing out $3 from her massive cable TV pay check in order to hopefully make herself look good. "
 I chuckled at this, as it seems like Jane shares quite a bit with the characters she plays, such as "Carrie" in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind {2004}::

Well, despite him not naming the restaurant on his blog or in his tweets, Barney's corporate office urged his manager to fire him after 5 years of service.

The logic of this is that the restaurant wants a safe place for celebrities, ostensibly where what they order and how they behave can be sheltered from the prying eyes of...those who catapult them to fame and make them going concerns.

First off, I think Barney's squandered an opportunity here to turn this into positive PR.  Now, they look like heavies quashing the "little guy," i.e., everyone who "doesn't matter" in the Hollywood machine.  They could have turned this into an interesting social media experiment that could have been plugged into the Barney Greengrass experience.  This could have been done multiple ways, either focusing on the clientele or fans of celebrity culture, if they took the time to see the potential.  Nope.  Fire the guy.  It's a bad exposure.

My other point has to do with celebrity culture in general.  As I've alluded to above, it's a dual-edged sword.  Playing the public perception game and living the Hollywood lifestyle feeds the machine that makes celebrities a going concern.  Yet, at times, they want to have their privacy and have safe havens where their every move isn't scrutinized.  Until, of course, nobody cares and then privacy goes out the window and it might be time to even think about "leaking" scandalous video.  Social media can skewer privacy, so celebrities should think long and hard about their level of involvement in the "life."  Some choose not to play the fame game.  Maybe not everyone in the entertainment industry feels they have that luxury, but, in the end it's a choice.

I really hope Jon-Barret lands on his feet {perhaps as a writer} and I'm sure, just like with the "Cisco Fatty" incident, there are plenty of finger-waggers out there calling him a cautionary tale.  Please.  As maintaining privacy becomes more and more difficult, I think one day we'll look upon these incidents wondering what the big deal was.  As private and public blur for everyone, will it make sense for society to accept what is tantamount to a "corporate decorum"?  Is the moral of the story:: "You have free speech, but you better not use it if you want to keep you job, particularly in a downturn"?

Oh, and as for Jane Adams.  A Twitter search on early Tuesday morning shows she has more PR fallout from this that's sure to be a nuisance to her routine.

Twitterversion::  Actor, @PapaBarrett, fired by #Barney Greengrass for ostensibly miffing #janeadams. Corporate #fail & sociology of celeb culture.  @Prof_K
Song:: Section 19 (When The Fool Becomes A King) - The Polyphonic Spree

Monday, October 05, 2009

newmusicmonday #12:: Ania Ziemirska

I love the voice of Toronto-based folksy singer-songwriter Ania Ziemirska {MyS}, described in her bio. on CBC Radio3 as "whiskey and honey," which is quite apt.

There are 4 teaser tracks on her MySpace Music page for a 6-song EP, "I Was the Girl."  The player on ReverbNation also has an extra track, "Satisfied." She performs regularly in Parkdale at Café Taste.

Upcoming tour dates::

oct 10 2009
liberty bistro
toronto (liberty village)
oct 16 2009
ocff - crowne plaza hotel 1716
ottawa, ontario
oct 28 2009
cafe taste
toronto, ontario
oct 30 2009
rockie raccoons - hallowe’en show! boooo!
toronto, ontario
jan 24 2010
cadillac lounge - songwriters expo
toronto, ontario
feb 6 2010
cameron house - girls girls girls
toronto, ontario

Twitterversion::  #newmusicmonday features #Toronto-based whiskey&honey-voiced @aniazmusic {Ania Ziemirska}. #TorontoIndie  @Prof_K

Loma Prieta+20

It's been a long while since I've been in a big earthquake.  I barely recall the 1971 Sylmar quake {magnitude 6.6} and next largest quake I was in was the 1987 Whitter Narrows quake {5.9}.  I've managed to miss the Loma Prieta {1989, 6.9} and the Northridge {1994, 6.7} quakes.

This week, the local news of a San Francisco station is airing retrospective segments on the 1989 Loma Prieta quake that had a epicenter near Santa Cruz.  I was in the LA area when the quake struck, although I was in San Francisco in August and Santa Cruz in September.  I dozed off, but I ordinarily would have been watching the World Series.  I must admit that I was sort of spent after the NLCS, which pitted the Cubs, hailing from where my parents grew up in northside Chicago, and the San Francisco Giants, the NL team of my favourite city at the time.  The Giants won the NLCS, 4-1.

I found out about the quake about 8PM.  I don't seem to recall 24/7 coverage in LA or on CNN, but the footage of the crumpled 50' section of the cantilevered portion of Bay Bridge {above} and the "pancaked" Nimitz Freeway {880} were being shown.

I was awestruck as I saw the destruction.  I followed the story in the ensuing weeks.  I remember the rains came soon after the quake making matters worse.

Some aspects of the city would change forever.  The quake sealed the demise of the Embarcadero Freeway I've blogged about in the summer.  I also recall how it seemed to take a long time for many of the roads and freeways to reopen, but I have no ideas of the complexities of these projects on the engineering side, let alone the political aspects.

Here's KGO coverage from 5:30 PM on 10 October 1989, where the story of the quake was evolving in real-time::

The station was knocked off the air when the quake hit at 5:04 PM and is operating on backup generators.  BART was shut down and the Bay Bridge was closed.  Here's video that surveys the damage of the Bay Bridge, Nimitz Freeway collapse, and fires in the Marina District::

The quake would kill 63.  Forty-two died on the Nimitz Freeway, 41 were instantly crushed when the quake hit.  The freeway would reopen in 1997 with a new route that no longer cuts through the neighbourhood of West Oakland.

Almost exactly two years later, a firestorm would hit the Oakland/Berkeley Hills, the topic of a future blog.  I find that the '89 quake and the '91 fire are often touchstone moments for Bay area residents.
Twitterversion::  #SanFrancisco TV stations are gearing up for #LomaPrieta retrospectives. Web2.0 wayback machine shows coverage from 1989.  @Prof_K

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Vook Off!

Over on Gizmodo, there's talk of Apple's ideas regarding new hybridized media needing to be better than the Vook {above}, a combination of book & video, with media staring at $7.  Apple is allegedly in talks with old media to put old wine in new bottles.  Sexy bottles that use mythical tablet Mac {my dream tablet} technology, given that people don't "read" anymore, so says Jobs.  His take on Amazon's Kindle::
"It doesn't matter how good or bad the product is, the fact is that people don't read anymore... The whole conception is flawed at the top because people don't read anymore."
Well, the Vook is a poor execution.  The ideas for thinking about multimedia should look towards video games, in terms of navigation and user experience.  I agree with the characterization that the look of the Vook is straight out of the mid-1990s.

Apple R&D apparently has been working on technology with two-handed navigation on touch screens {left}.  I think in terms of usability, new hybrid media needs to put prototypes in the hands of users, who, in my opinion, want the search, categorization, and multimedia features of digitized content along with the browsability of print and the tactile, real-life experience.

Last week, I was getting gifts for a friend's 40th. birthday.  I got him some books for reading.  The idea was to get him some stuff he'd be interested in, but didn't have, with a mix of visual picture books, quick reads, and longer works.  While I could have gotten stuff on Amazon, I must admit there was great satisfaction and efficiency in perusing the shelves at a local bookstore, Pendragon Books in Rockridge, where I got most of my assortment of bookly delights.

Similarly, there is something to the experience of thumbing through a magazine or the Sunday New York Times, as much as it drives me crazy.  If the technology can capture these experiences with 3D visualizations and intuitive navigation that gives us the best of the digital and real worlds.  While some may laugh at this dated bit of sci-fi fluff, Keanu Reeves in Johnny Mnemonic {1995}, to this day, I think there's something to this way of thinking about interfaces::

I still think the keyboard is something many people gain utility from.  Until voice recognition steps up to the plate.

Twitterversion::  The Vook is marginal tech. ostensibly merging book&video, but where should new hybridized media go? Video game like?  3D? @Prof_K

Song::  Imagine - Bell, Book & Candle