Monthly Archives: April 2009

Photo-oops…

Let’s examine publicity for just a moment. The dictionary describes it as, “extensive mention in the news media or by word of mouth or other means of communication.” Good publicity, therefore, is essentially people being cognizant and chattering about something for all of the right reasons. Bad publicity then must be a negative press and public perception.

Now, to conjure these perceptions, people are paid millions of dollars and brag about how learned they are in the fields of PR and mental manipulation. It’s a system being carried by a swarm pitch men, constantly trying to break through the clutter of propaganda with even more junk.

To build hype for "Air Force One," advertisers considered hijacking the real thing, to encourage President Clinton to perform the same daring deeds as his fictional counterpart.

To build hype for "Air Force One," advertisers considered hijacking the real thing, to encourage President Clinton to perform the same daring deeds as his fictional counterpart.

The reason Air Force One, replete with its military escort of two F-16s, flew close to the New York City skyline, rattling windows, sending people scrambling out of their offices and homes and invoking horrid flashbacks of 9/11 was for the most idiotic, bone-headed, incompetent reason one could think of. It was to please the ad-men, who wanted a new photo-shoot for Air Force One.

Just who thought this was a good idea? If the Obama administration is about substance and not style, why was this whole scheme approved, let alone the knuckleheads who conjured it hired in the first place? Sure, there’s an “investigation” going on about it (and it’s $328,835 price tag,) but who actually thinks that will go anywhere?

Phew, that’s a lot of questions. The issue at the heart of the fury, that isn’t really being touched upon, is this whole idea that image is, in fact, everything. There’s little need for new pictures of Air Force One, it’s not like it’s undergone a radical redesign, or been equipped with giant mechanical siphons to suck cash out of the pockets of the Wall Street elite (that’s still in R&D).

But, and I’m sure this is what the ad-men were arguing, it’s a new administration! There must be pictures of Air Force One close to the economic center of the country, to show that Obama flies close to the heart of America’s pocketbooks and portfolios! All we have to do is fly a little bit close to the skyline, no one will notice, and then we’ll just fly off again.

Everyone knows what Air Force One is. We all know it’s a big, fancy plane with all sorts of expensive amenities and perhaps comes equipped with Harrison Ford. Who cares what the American people think about it? It’s a necessary mode of transportation. It’s like making a big to-do about Obama changing his brand of pen. Who in their right mind gives a darn if he’s switching to Bic or not.

To boil it down a bit, these sort of photo-ops and PR/marketing efforts are Giant Cheetos. They’re the product of a bunch of folks is suits, sitting around a table, brainstorming with a bit of the firm’s interests in mind, but mostly it’s their own jobs at stake. They have to come up with new ideas, otherwise their previous success negates their future job security. And so at Frito-Lay, some idiot though that the best thing to do with this Cheetos brand would be to make the individual Cheeto awkwardly gigantic, solving the long-standing problem of customers being able to chew the snacks.
In the same manner, someone in the Obama administration thought throwing caution and good taste into the wind to snap a few new pictures of Air Force One would be a brilliant idea. Just like someone thought the “Mission Accomplished” banner would work out nicely, or that Dukakis would look rugged peeking out of a tank. There comes a point where people have to realize that the role for smoke and mirrors is over, that airbrushing an image for the millionth time won’t get anything done. Sometimes, politicians and brands have to be able to speak for themselves, without a shallow supporting cast.
That's right. I compared an Obama fiasco to Cheetos.

That's right. I compared an Obama fiasco to Cheetos.

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Filed under Government, Hollywood, Media, Morgan, Obama

One flu over the cuckoo’s nest

For years the media has gone from one health scare to another, with each summer bringing with it a new viral terror that will result in a pandemic. There was swine flu, the west Nile virus and avian flu just to name a few. But it looked like they were all false alarms, nothing really came out of any of them, each outbreak was quickly contained and resulted in only a handful of deaths at the most.

It's happened before...

It's happened before...


Now it seems the real deal has arrived. The swine flu that has emerged from Mexico has, over the course of a few days, gone from a bizarre outbreak south of our border to an international crisis, with infections now reported not just in the U.S. and Mexico, but New Zealand, Spain and Canada all have confirmed cases, while Israel is concerned that it may have some infections as well. The Center for Disease Control and the feds have taken this all very seriously, announcing a state of emergency, with the CDC sending out constant warnings that the strain found in the U.S. is mild in comparison to its southern counterpart, and that contingencies need to be drawn up for the cancellations of schools and measures similar to those already taken in Mexico City, which has been nearly shut down for fear of further infections.

Like the last global flu pandemic, which took place in 1918, this new swine flu comes at an incredibly inconvenient time. Just as the world is trying to regain its economic footing, and while third world countries are at their weakest, the effects of even a minor pandemic could be disastrous. Cities in the first world could shut down, with economic activity brought to a crawl as employees stay home, due either to fear or illness. Global trade, already at a perilously low rate, would be crippled as nations tighten their borders.

Export-reliant countries, many of which are in the third world, would suffer incredibly from this. Not only would their revenues be cut from the drop in trade, but if the flu reaches their territory, their production would grind to a halt. The resources of global and domestic health services are already stretched too far, a pandemic would leave untold numbers of people without the means to care for themselves or loved ones, leaving governments the morbid decision of who to try and save with limited resources.

The terrible thing about a global health crisis of this nature is the fact that there isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution. There’s no way to throw money at a flu, no military action can be taken and even the most deft of diplomats can’t reason with a petri dish of viruses. Vaccinations will be implemented in the countries that can afford them, and the media will run tons of tips and tricks to ward off infection. But in the long run, if this flu mutates further, it could very well leap across the globe despite our best intentions, and there’s only so much modern medicine can do against a virulent, far-flung infection.

This isn’t the media grasping for ratings with footage of trucks spraying brush to kill mosquitoes or stock footage of chickens puttering about in their coops. This is the real thing, and there’s little the average person can do save for stay mindful and hope for the best.

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Applying King Solomon’s wisdom to taxation

If a contingent of Americans reacted to President Obama’s tax plans with tea parties and protests, will the recently announced, significantly more draconian tax measures proposed by Alistair Darling, Britain”s Chancellor of the Exchequer (aka “Head economic honcho”) result in a English alternative, perhaps sailing over to the New World and trying to tax our paper products? (As if the newspaper industry didn’t already have enough problems…)

The budget lined out by Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s administration features a top tier of taxation of 50 percent. Anyone making more than £150,000, the equivalent of $218,649 at the time this was published, will now see half of their earnings eaten up by the government. It’s something that seems so outlandish, so extreme that it’s hard to believe. By the way, the top tax tier in the U.S. 35 percent, and with that $218,649 in earnings, you’ll currently pay $57,297, or 26.2 percent of your income. Fun stuff, right?

You know ... because King Solomon wanted to cut the baby in half to solve everyone's problem. And the Brits want to cut earnings in half ...

You know ... because King Solomon wanted to cut the baby in half to solve everyone's problem. And the Brits want to cut earnings in half ...


This is, after all, under the watch of Brown, who helped steer the financial ship into the untraveled, unguarded waters of lawless speculative investments, under whose watch London became a haven for the financial industry. Just look at Canary Wharf, once a thriving hub of banking in east London, where the number of skyscrapers seemed to match the number of clouds in the sky. There’s an underground mall running down part of it, for Pete’s sake! London’s recent resurgence was thanks in large part to its newfound status as once of the nexuses of the finance revolution that’s now dragging everyone to the bottom of the sea.

There are a few schools of thought with this new tax. The school that Britain’s Darling (no, not Susan Boyle, the white-haired guy) belongs to rationalizes the tax as a punitive, preventitive and revenue-raising measure. Given the massive amount of debt the British are currently racking up, and the not-so-carefully veiled references to massive cutbacks in public spending in the years to come, the British government, the government needs a quick source of revenue. What better way to grab that cash than punish those filthy rich cons who beguiled the populace into going along with their reckless schemes? The country would be better off if a grand portion of their excessive earnings went to the common good, right?

The alternative school sees this new tax rate as a potentially crippling measure. The rates won’t come into effect until next April, giving plenty of time for both businesses and executives to leave for more favorably taxed waters. And once they’re gone, that 50 percent will vanish to a garish zero. In fact, there’s the possibility that the tax rate will discourage not only businesses from moving to the UK, but put a hold on personal accomplishment as well. Why take a raise that bumps you up into that crazy new tax bracket if it means a great deal more responsibility and minimal net revenue?

I doubt anyone in the Obama administration would ever seriously consider such a tax plan (and if so, they must not be seriously concerned about the likes of Texas seceding). Just watch out for next year, when the Brits announce the rejuvenation of the East India Company to provide much-needed employment.

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Somalia caught in the riptide

Columnist Neel Arora put together a piece this week about the ongoing glut of piracy off of the coast of Somalia, and argued that the pirates are brutal criminals free of honor, who must be dealt with quickly using coordinated military measures. While there is a heavy argument that such measures could be counterintuitive, and serve to embolden said pirates and give them the sort of PR that would serve to allow them to portray themselves as bold Robin Hoods, the Obama administration has made its stance clear via a few snipers and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s more recent comments regarding the detainment of pirates.

Though the motivations of these pirates at first seem to be self-explanatory, ransoms and hostages are typically the tactics of criminals who wish to rush in, grab as much cash as possible and make a speedy escape. Certainly the excessive poverty and lawlessness that permeates Somalia can only serve to exacerbate matters further.

But Januna Ali Jama, a spokesman for a contingent of pirates in the Putland region (one must wonder whether he needed a degree or at least a look at a PR textbook to obtain such a position), said that the hijackings are their way of “reacting to the toxic waste that has been continually dumped on the shores of our country for nearly 20 years.” Of course, this news comes from Al Jazeera, it appears that western media has strayed from covering such statements.

While successful piracy can lead to great personal wealth, could it be that at least some of these men are are fighting not purely out of vanity and personal gain, but for revenge against a system of trade that they think has irreversibly altered their homeland and its people?

The first reports of the dumping of toxic waste came in the late 80’s, but they hit a peak in 1997 and 1998 when Famiglia Cristiana, an Italian newspaper, produced evidence of major Italian firms participating in signing agreements with what amounted to Somalia’s “government’ at the time so that they could dump their waste off the coast for about $8 per ton, a drastic reduction from the $1,000 per ton rate that was common across Europe at the time for waste disposal.

Then in the wake of 2004’s tsunami disaster, the toxic waste that accumulated for years at the bottom of the ocean washed ashore, providing garish evidence of the sheer disregard displayed by countless international firms.

“Initial reports indicate that the tsunami waves broke open containers full of toxic waste and scattered the contents. We are talking about everything from medical waste to chemical waste products,” Nick Nuttal, a representative from the United Nations Environment Program told The Times in 2005.

The U.N. also reported that citizens living in areas close to the northeastern coastline of Somalia suffered from a greater-normal number of respiratory infections, ulcers, hemorrhages and additional maladies.

Al Jazeera checked with Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, Somalia’s envoy to the U.N., and he reported that the U.N. does have information that proves that European and Asian firms are dumping not only commercial and industrial waste off of Somalia’s coast, but nuclear waste as well.

“The intentions of these pirates are not concerned with protecting their environment,” Ould-Abdallah later said, contradicting the claims made by Ali Jama.

It comes down to a matter of belief, and just how much faith one can put in statements made by the talking head of a organization based upon piracy. Regardless of whether or not Somali pirates are actually jumping into their boats, replete with weaponry, with environmental vengeance in mind (my best guess is that Ould-Abdallah is completely correct on this, and Ali Jama’s claims are either the representation of a small minority of the pirating population’s stance, or a call for populist support.) the issue of the toxic waste still remains.

It’s easy to put the blame entirely upon the pirates for their desperate leap to hijacking international freighters, but it’s essential to remember that such decisions don’t exist in a vacuum. Somalia is a lawless state without any way to provide anything for its people, with feuding “leaders” unable to pass up making a measly sum off of compromising the health of its people and the integrity of its waters. When backed into a corner, people will do anything to better their lives, as so long as Somalia is an unstable mess, pirates will cruise out into the ocean from its coast, regardless of heads full of noble causes or hearts laden with greed.

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Remember last night?

Phoenix 14 got what they wanted in regard to the previous post (which you’ll notice has disappeared), so the issue is a moot point. But, if you’re actually interested as to why and how the post was constructed, do click below. Continue reading

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Pay it backward

When anyone, rich or poor, pays for something, they expect their money’s worth. Plop down $5 for a sandwich, and the presumption is that that sandwich will be better than a sandwich that costs $1. Except there seem to be exceptions to this rule, many of which fall under the domain of entertainment. Movies all cost the same upon their release into theatres, it doesn’t matter if they’re Oscar bait or souless eye candy. On iTunes, everything, provided there isn’t a particular promotion going on, typically costs the same. The vast majority of video games cost between $50 and $60 upon their debut.

Sports, a form of entertainment wrapped in the guise of Herculean competition, or I should say baseball in particular, have come under fire for their budgets and ticket prices. While many teams are trying to make things easier for their fans (over half of the MLB is either cutting or freezing their tickets prices this year) it seems as though the Yankees, ever the target of criticism, have found themselves riddled with arrows once again.

Meanwhile, the Marlins, and their 11-1 record, continue in silence.

Meanwhile, the Marlins, and their 11-1 record, continue in silence.

Whenever anyone opens a $1.5 billion stadium, questions are going to rise as to whether or not any sort of expendeture for athletics is sensical in such an economic environment. But it’s the Yankees, they have an incredibly storied history, a loyal fanbase and one could argue their story is interwoven with that of America’s 20th century. To celebrate the stadium’s grand opening, there was the typical fanfare, the commemerative activities and the media swarm, but the real celebration occured during the off-season, with the multi-hundred million dollar aquisitions of free agents C.C. Sabathia, A.J Burnett and Mark Texiera. With that, and a bit of restructuring, the Yankees presented themselves to their fans as a brand-new, revigorated team that wouldn’t stumble its way out of the postseason like it did last year, and would end the lengthy World Series drought.

So far, the Yankees are 7-6 … not a bad record for the begining of the season, but nothing compared to the expectations put upon them, both from a diehard fan’s standpoint and from a ticket-holder’s point of view. The top seats at the new Yankee Stadium are now going for $375 dollars, with the lower top-tiers fluctuating in the $200’s, depending on whether or not the tickets are purchsed ahead of time.

While there are still nosebleed seats that can be obtained for less than $50, the fact remains that the Yankees are viewing themselves as a premium product, one laden with customer loyalty and the talent to support their lengthy history. But so far, the Yankees have been a mix of close calls (as evidenced by Posada’s “maybe it is, maybe it isn’t” game-clinching home run tonight) and abolute blowouts (a certain 22-4 affair comes to mind, and the opening series against the Orioles was at times equally ugly.)

There is an inherent joy in watching a baseball team you’re loyal to, and it many cases it doesn’t matter if they win or lose, just seeming them in action pays for itself. But there’s defintely more joy in watching a team win (as any loyal fan of losers as regular as the Orioles knows), and when a team plays ugly, gangly baseball while advertising itself as a piece of American brilliance, the high price of admission comes into question.

The Yanks are, at the moment, a Porsche without nice wheels, padding on the seats, a few dents here and there and a trunk filled with unsightly materials, going for a greater price as some less-illustrious, higher-quality models. Sure, there are going to be people who will buy the Porsche, warts and all, for the name. And they’ll be perfectly happy. But there will be plenty of others who will stray from putting down a large investment, or maybe they’ll just rent it for a day or two, never to return.

If the season is halfway through, and the Yankees are still toiling in mediocrity, plagued by a underachieving pitching staff, an implosive bullpen and streaky offense, will they still be able to justify the ridiculous price of a great many of their seats? It’s not just a problem for the Yankees, the Mets have the same concerns, though on a smaller scale. When the nation is tightening its belt, will customers be willing to put down massive amounts of cash for a 50/50 chance of seeing the home team win, and the outside chance that they’ll be blown out and embarassed, or will they just go home and for the same price, sign up for MLBTV and gain access to every single game of the season?

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Everything you need to know until tomorrow…

I’m actually not sure why I’m blogging right now, the weather’s brilliant, obligations have freed up a bit and that sensation of stepping into the vast unknown of an unstructured summer break is keeping me on my toes. Nonetheless, the rest of the world is moving on, and Elon’s doing its best to keep up.

  • An issue near and dear to Elon’s heart is the matter of Dr. Ocek Eke being denied tenure, a matter that has from the very get-go struck me as incredibly suspicious. By not speaking out about it, the University has allowed rumors and accusations to fly about the campus, with a great deal of the student body genuinely comfused as to why such a high-quality professor is being let go. Yes, he’s highly political, but his advocacy doesn’t just serve a bully pulpit, but he works tirelessly to improve the world around him. There’s something to be said for those who don’t just pencil push and wallow in academia, but instead try to demonstrate the power of the individual in the political landscape. For more info, click here for some Pendulum coverage.
  • Stop the presses. President Obama has shaken hands with Hugo Chavez, further cementing his reputation as a horrible communist. As we all know, the proper way to deal with a foreign leader we don’t agree with is to leer at them from across the table, and pretend not to when they look in your direction.
  • Of course, the major issue everyone on campus is buzzing about is Pirate Bay’s founders being found guilty, and sentenced to millions of dollars in payments they can’t possibly afford as well as up to a year in jail. We can pitter and patter about whether or not the court made the right decision, but like it or not, the decision is most likely going to stay. The implications that arise from this are far-reaching and could signal the end of the pirating culture that has become the norm in the Internet. To be sure, there will always be Internet piracy, but it has reached a point now where it seems to be the norm, not the exception to download media illegally. By indicating that those who provide the means to pirate can be just as accountable as those who engage in the acts of privacy, the suppliers, the big guns are now being aimed at. Speaking of guns, by this similar logic, can’t gun makers be accountable for providing folks with the means to murder? Can drug companies be held responsibile if their products can be addictive? Can film companies be held responsible for emotional damages if a movie is terrible?

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Filed under Business, Crime, Elon, Government, International, Media, Obama, Pendulum

Sticking it to the man

automotivator

We beat ’em! Time Warner Cable has eliminated its tiered pricing structure for Internet in its three accounced markets, one of which was Greensboro, a pricing structure that The Pendulum, along with several other media outlets, spoke out against rather strongly. It’s nice to see a corporation bowing  beneath the will of its customers, though much of the vehement hatred of Time Warner Cable is a bit unfounded, the new prices were just tests after all, as ill-advised as they may have been. Beneath the cut is the piece that ran in The Pendulum this week, in case you haven’t already given it a look.

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Google gets Carson, advertising wrong

“Johnny Carson smoked, and for 30 years he was never pictured smoking a cigarette,” Google C.E.O Eric Schmidt said in an interview with Maureen Dowd, featured in today’s New York Times. “Today that would be nearly impossible.”

By the way, here's a picture of Carson with a cigarette that I found on Google. Eat it Schmidt.

By the way, here's a picture of Carson with a cigarette. I found it on Google, so eat it, Schmidt.

This quote, aside from hinting at Carson’s possession of huge quantities of invisible cigarettes, pertains to the ubiquity of personal information on the Internet, and Google’s assertion that they don’t have to give newspapers money in exchange for their reporting, that instead the news industry should alter its advertising model so that ads are personal and precise.

So what does this Carson quote seem to imply for the rest of us? Let’s say we’re not as famous as Carson is, and don’t have a multitude of pictures taken of us that would lead to a startling (and untrue) assertion that he was never depicted doing something he always did. Let’s say we have a Facebook account and there are several pictures of us at a baseball game. If the Google model is applied, somebody should be keeping tabs on those pictures and send an alert over to baseball-related firms to bludgeon

This sort of evolutionary, adaptive marketing has been all the rage across the Internet, and that’s fine provided that it ‘s stuck to the articles we look at on Digg or CNN, or tailored to the interests we put into our Facebook status. Those are inputs that we voluntary toss to marketers, knowing full well that they’ll result in directed ads.

The implications of Schmidt’s quote about Carson lies with the distinction of personal information and public information. Despite what marketers will try to say (or those increasingly mischievous, mustache-twirling, profit-seeking ‘do-gooders’ Google folks, for that matter) there is a divide. Those pictures taken at a baseball field? Those are private, they’re merely documentation of an event we attended, archived for posterity. If we’re awesome, and have the Baltimore Orioles listed in our interests section of Facebook, that’s something that’s easily searchable, there’s no intrusion.

But Schmidt’s insinuation that things as personal as pictures, as small decisions made on a private scale, should be used by newspapers to try and hold up the corpses of their business models, is rather scary. Google’s not supposed to evil, right? So why would they advocate marketers gaining access to our pictures and looking through all of them, trying to peel at what our preferences and predispositions as a consumer are? These are the same folks who would love to have our medical records. Should medical records be tossed to pharmaceutical companies so that they can tailor their ads to each individual customer? Will hemorrhoid sufferers eventually be bombarded with dancing Preparation H banners every time they log onto their emails?

I could be alone here, but I’d like to consider my life like a private residence. Sure, there are elements that are exposed to the outside world, you can drive by and take a peek at my car sitting in the driveway, see an Orioles banner maybe, maybe notice that there’s a grill on the back porch. But I don’t need the likes of Google, or the news outlets they’re trying to push around, peeking through my windows and sifting through my garbage.

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Filed under Media, Morgan

Head away from the hills!

Swap the camo for a Che shirt, sprinkle in some liberalism in place of the conservative ideologies, and you'll have a guy who's just as dangerous if peeved.

Swap the camo for a Che shirt, sprinkle in some liberalism in place of the conservative ideologies, and you'll have a guy who's just as dangerous if peeved. I just wonder what weapons the other letters pair up with..

The Department of Homeland Security declassified a document sent out to law enforcement agencies across the country detailing the supposedly rising threat to national security posed by right-wing extremist groups. These groups, faced with growing governmental power, a black man in the White House, disgusted with the rise in immigrants and the like, are reportedly starting to ruffle some feathers. The document even warns of their recuruiters seeking out returning veterans to utilize their combat skills for future conflicts. Couple this with yesterday’s blustering about the 10th Amendment in Texas, and you have yourself with the dangerous possibility that this country could fall into a violent culture war the likes of which it’s never seen.

But wait, wasn’t the Bush administration equally concerned about left-wing radicals? Didn’t the right-wingers erect pens to hold protesters in during the Republican National Convention? Wasn’t the far-left left simmering with pent-up resentment and fury during the eight years of Republican dominance? There were talks of impeaching the President, effigies were burnt and I’m sure there were a fair share of documents floating around Washington about the dangers of environmentalists raising hell or opponents of Bush trying to pull something.

The right wing is currently up in arms over this document, but they undoubtedly had the same attitude toward liberal groups. The role of the Department of Homeland Security is to analyze any and all threats to the country, domestic and abroad, and you know what? A bunch of radical Republicans, completely dissatisfied with Washington, armed with guns and thinking about using them is a threat, just as a bunch of radical Democrats sipping espresso while brandishing clubs wrapped in Proust, or whatever it is the intellectual elite fight with, is. Why isn’t the government worried about liberals? Because they’re happy, they have no reason to do much of anything in protest.

It also doesn’t hurt that the liberals don’t have guns, something which increases the intimidation factor of the far-right, since they readily avow their right to bear arms for the purpose of … not using them?

Let’s face it, most folks get much more antsy when they think of the threat from some well-armed Michigan militia than the threat from a bunch of psuedo-inellectual university types. But it doesn’t mean that either is going to be singled out as some sort of terribly dangerous group, the feds are merely putting the far-right on the radar. When the Republicans eventually take back D.C., roles will be reversed and the uproar will come from the opposite direction.

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