Risk Rap

Rapping About a World at Risk

Poor Sarah’s Almanac

I was one of the 5 million viewers that caught Sarah Palin’s Alaska Reality TV show last night.  As one would expect,  Alaska  effectively mixed a number of conservative informed Sarahisms with a scripted version of her common man family life.   If you consider common having airplanes pull up to your dock to fly you off to Denali for a day, or a luxury RV trucking you around the Alaskan Outback or having a TV studio room in your home so husband Todd can video you for this afternoons Fox News segment, Sarah is pretty much like the rest of us.

As America’s foremost conservative political celebrity,  Alaska keeps the myth of Sarah alive and well.  America’s impish sweetheart, Sarah is the adoring girl next door who might become president.  Alaska will showcase Sarah in a most positive light to reinforce her connection with the millions of hockey moms and Joe the wannabe plumbers who can’t get enough of the Momma Grizzly in Chief.   The segment I watched followed Sarah and family through a typical week of quality family time and the demanding work political celebrity requires.  Last nights segment showed Sarah and Todd scaling Denali, navigating cravasse laden glaciers, baking cookies, RVing around with the extended family (while  ignoring each other as they texted on Blackberries) fishing for sockeye and watching momma grizzles (brown bears actually) defend their young.  Alaska combines image interlaced with conservative messaging that is produced to give Sarah’s countrymen reason to pause to consider what her role will be in America’s most compelling tale of  political theater.

I’m will attempt to record some of Sarah’s comments from the show that capture the spirit and thoughts of this great political thespian.

The following Sarahisms were spoken last night:

On a journalist who rented a house next door to write an unflattering book about Sarah.

“He spies on us.  So Todd built this fence to block his view.  See how easy it is to keep the undesirables out.” If only Sarah were governor of Arizona, Texas, New Mexico and California.  Maybe we can make her Viceroy of Southern Territories, Prefect for The Gadsden Purchase.

Returning from a day of flying over Denali with family, disembarking plane and going into the house.

Said Sarah to her youngest daughter, “See the nosy journalist neighbor trying to get a good look at us.  He was stuck in his house all day while we were out having fun.” Girls just wanna have fun.

On a gate that blocks access to upstairs rooms for baby Tripp.

“See this gate, it keeps boys out of upstairs bedrooms.” Kinda like closing the barn door after the horse got out?

On watching a mother brown bear chase off another brown bear getting too close to her young cubs.

See how the momma grizzly protects the future of the species.” If only the oil companies would be so concerned.

On Todd landing a sockeye during their fishing expedition.

“Thats the way it should be.  A man brings home the bacon to his family.” Whats TLC,  Fox and Sarah’s PAC get paid with, chopped liver?

On Todd when he was video taping Sarah for a Fox News segment.

“Todd don’t speak much.  He’s a man of few words but when he speaks he really got something to say.  His  words carry  real weight. Still waters run deep.” So the First Iron Doggin Dude can actually speak!  No Comment.

When Sarah was rock climbing, her progress was momentarily halted.

“I got to keep going.  Nobody is going to rescue me.” At least she was attached to a safety rope.  Thats more protection offered the millions of people falling through the cracks of America everyday.

Can’t wait till next week.

You Tube Music Video: Northern Exposure Theme

Risk: political theater

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November 16, 2010 Posted by | media, politics | , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Forth Estate Crosses Over

There is this program that runs on the WE Cable Network.  It’s called Crossing Over with Jonathan Edwards.   Jonathan Edwards is a psychic medium.  He stands in front of a live gathering of 75 people and tunes into psychic vibes emanating through the audience.  The vibes are messages from deceased loved ones who have crossed over the Acheron.  The dead are keen to communicate warnings, good wishes and assurances to assist living  loved ones on how to navigate the tricky vicissitudes of life.   During the show, Jonathan walks about the room picking up on celestial chatter and begins to relay and interpret a soliloquy of the dead like a macabre game of supernatural telephone. Jonathan Edwards asks his audience to suspend all disbelief as he bestrides the nexus of the metaphysical spirit world and the pedestrian reality that most earthlings inhabit.

The most common messages the dead channel through Jonathan seek to absolve the anxiety and guilt of the tormented living.  Crossing Over is popular because it offers its audience an  absolution, confirms personal cosmology and rationalizes the pursuit of desires by affirming the consequences of decisions as a self fulfilling prophecy.  It safely places its audience in a self validating cosmic echo chamber.  Its an ongoing morality tale with only happy endings and unfortunately only a tenuous connection to authenticity and objective truth.

The state of the news media industry is very much like Crossing Over.  The Forth Estate once thought of as an objective arbiter, information dispersant and truth seeking medium it is now chosen and consumed as a branded version of reality.

The devastating earthquake that buried Haitians in heaps of rubble unleashed global battalions of news teams to cover the event.  Many of the news crews from large established networks beat first responders to the scene.  In some cases the arrival of news teams actually held up the arrival of rescue teams and supplies because the airfield and crowed airspace could not accommodate all the traffic.  The news teams were forced to hole up at the airport because blocked roads prohibited them from going anywhere.  I recall Robin Roberts and the GMA News team dodging fork lifts and supply trucks left with nothing more to do then to urgently interview themselves.  Correspondents were reduced to ghoulishly opining about the tragedy while eagerly mugging for the cameras with contorted faces to portray the human tragedy unfolding beyond the range of their cameras.

GMA’s presence added nothing and in fact inhibited rescue efforts.  I thought of all the drinkable water these crews consumed could have been used to quench the thirst of Haitians dying from dehydration. Thankfully the GMA News team soon left after spending a self indulgent weekend at the airport. Their moral outrage registered and attempt at ratings grab accomplished.  Their contribution to shedding light on the scope of this tragedy and placing it in a larger context of its meaning to the global community of nations was lost in deference to the tragedy’s emotional impact on GMA reporters.  For GMA the subjective condition of the emotional distress of their media stars had become the story.   Their viewers must have figured that if GMA’s News celebrities were hurting this story must be big.

CNN’s Dr. Sanjay Gupta was an example of how a newsman became part of the story in a positive way.  I recall with great admiration watching a camera crew following Dr. Gupta as he walked amidst the rubble of Port-Au-Prince.  He learned of the location of a hospital and went to investigate how it was delivering services to the injured.  Upon his arrival Dr. Gupta discovered the make shift hospital was little more then injured people being placed in the hallway of a building.  The dead were being stacked outside by a wall surrounding the compound.  The hospital had no doctors, nurses, beds or supplies.  The facility lacked water to clean wounds or salve thirst.  What the hospital did have was a constant stream of wounded arriving in greater numbers desperate for any type of care.  The scale of the quake, the massive amounts of injured victims and the overwhelmed capacity of  the hospitals ability to respond was reported in stark clarity.

Dr. Gupta was overwhelmed by parents cradling their broken children.  Dr. Gupta a licensed medical doctor took off his correspondent hat and put on his stethoscope.  He honored his Hippocratic Oath and started treating babies and the wounded with whatever he could cobble together.  Dr. Gupta was no longer a journalist but was now a doctor.  He asked that the cameras stop rolling so he could perform his duties as a doctor.  I’ll never forget the look on Dr. Gupta’s face.  It spoke volumes about the desperate conditions he was confronting and the firm resolve that he would perform his duties as a trained physician under trying almost impossible circumstances.

We could understand Dr. Gupta’s crossover from journalist to doctor.  It was proper and correct response as a human being but as a journalist all objectivity had been lost and in many respects Dr. Gupta had become the story in a constellation of a million stories emanating from the epicenter of one of the great human tragedies of the past century.  This is a departure from the norm of real time documentary reportage.  I can’t tell you how many documentaries I came away from cursing the producers and cameramen for doing nothing to prevent the baby wildebeest from being  consumed by the lion pack or for failing to offer a family of refugees in Darfur a bottle of water or a ride on their jeep to escape the marauding  Janjaweed.

News Corps, network media division Fox News belies the myth of the monolithic liberal mainstream media and its claim of balance in its marketing handle.   Fox News may offer a fair presentment of the news to its conservative viewership but its claim of balance that suggests the inclusion of a liberal perspective in their news product is specious.

Fox News really came of age following 9/11 and the growing conservative drift of the nation. Its useless to posit weather Fox News created the conservative drift or developed programming to market to this political demographic; but the political inclinations of Roger Ailes and Rupert Murdoch have always been decidedly conservative.  At its founding in 1996, Fox News started differentiating itself from the liberal mainstream media by supporting the Republican impeachment drive of President Clinton, effectively  setting the stage for its partisan approach to reporting the news.  In many respects its unabashed partisanship was a game changer in how news and information was being packaged, positioned and delivered in the emerging narrow casting market paradigm.   Its sentiment not very different from the golden days of yellow journalism practiced by William Randolph Hearst.

Liberals and progressives have criticized News Corp for its lack of objectivity and  balance.  Many believe it to be the official party organ of the Republican Party and its compromised coverage is more akin to propaganda then news.  I believe this to be true as well.  Fox News has countered that it provides both news and opinion.  Fox News employs many of the leading conservative voices.  Karl Rove, Sarah Palin, Mike Huckabee are senior GOP members on the payroll of Fox News.  They regularly appear on shows hosted by Bill O’Reilly, Glenn Beck and Sean Hannity who are conservative celebrities in their own right.  The trick is discerning what is news and what constitutes opinion and editorial content.  The line that demarcates them is increasingly a fine one.  Even the innocuous news blurbs scrolling along the bottom of the TV screen seep in partisanship.  Some may report objective facts like the closing level of the Dow or the latest sports score. These little factoids appear alongside pieces that consistently reinforce the conservative credo of the network.  Its also a practice for commentators like Karl Rove to opine on stories covered on news segments.  The pundits impassioned analysis of the story leaves the listener little room to doubt the interpretation as a validation of the viewers conservative  political sentiments and ideological disposition.  The ability to distinguish fact from opinion becomes increasingly lost in these clouds of obfuscation.

As the model of creating, packaging and marketing partisan news the advent of Glenn Beck as a political entertainer is symptomatic of the maturation of the industry.  Glenn Beck’s show is more of a political reeducation camp that tries to provide low information voters and political neophytes with a more robust framework to understand the history and philosophy of conservatism.  Beck extends the Fox News portfolio of infotainment products.

Beck’s role in encouraging the formation of the Tea Party expands the footprint of News Corp.  Some may consider this crosses the line into political activism but I believe it to be a highly developed form of call and response direct marketing.  Beck’s incessant rants about the imminent collapse of  American democracy, the downfall of free market capitalism and the advocacy of the purchase of gold to hedge against these terrible prospects has attracted  the sponsorship of gold marketers and other fear merchants living large and minting major coin in the time of terror.

Fox is not alone in this sin.  CNBC profited from the pre-crash market run-up and had a vested interest in fueling market speculation and excess.  The business channel owned and operated by NBC  took some heat on this issue in the wake of the market meltdown.  During the market run-ups and the creation of the numerous market bubbles CNBC was taken to task for its roll as a biased shill in creating a risk averse mania that fed into the speculative orgy.  The encouragement of reckless behavior would cost investors and Main Street citizens a good portion of their retirement savings.  Jon Stewart took on CNBC celebrity Jim Cramer for his role in stoking unhealthy speculation. The claim of caveat emptor is not a sufficient disclaimer to absolve CNBC of this perceived wrong doing.  Information and data is the fuel that powers the capital market engine and viewers perceived CNBC to be a critical channel for this type of decision support data and analysis.  As animated red bulls flashed across the TV screen screaming “buy buy buy” the speculative urge feeding the demon greed of Cramer’s viewers jumped at the prospect to secure easy profits and pushed the execute button to route a flood of orders to E-Trade.

Media outlets were not alone in profiting from the conflict of interest in their business model.  The rating agencies Moody’s, Standard and Poors and other issuers of financial health assessments were roundly criticized for a business model that accepted fees from companies  to determine their investment ratings investors use to judge safety and soundness of the companies securities.  Investment banking institutions like Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley ran into trouble for trading securities that they advised their clients to hold in investment portfolios.  Large commercial banks have also been called on the carpet for the inherent conflict of interest in their mortgage lending business that integrated mortgage underwriters, originators, servicers, securitizers and investors under a single roof.

Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission has given corporations a megaphone to direct enormous amounts of capital and influence on Americas political culture.  The exponential growth of the political industrial complex places media companies on the cusp of an emerging market.  News Corp occupies a well defined franchise in the vortex of this growth industry.  News Corp will be the predominant media channel attracting politically sponsored advertising from 527 corporations to advocate issues central to the conservative agenda.  The market for political theater is strong and growing and News Corp has one of the hottest theatrical properties in celebrities like Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck.

If Fox News bends and packages information with selected editing in support of political narrative; Andrew “NAACP” Breitbart and James “ACORN” O’Keefe edits news to create a false narrative to affirm ideology.  The omnipresent  multi-channel digital world and the need for consistent real time affirmation justifies entrapment and libel as fair game in the political narrative. The specious political ethics of radical entitlement, means justify ends, medium is the message and relativistic ethics is the next step of  an ideologically mature ,technologically enabled infotainment industry.  The self affirming echo chamber that verifies fact and swears to any truth is blessed with selective amnesia and a self correcting mechanism of  a highly refined subjective fact checker informed by extreme prejudice.

Jon Stewart  use of satire and exaggeration to make a lager point of clarified and reified truth is old school stuff.  In the Age of the Avatar,  the real, the imagined, the intended and the manifested get confused in the digital clouds of form, delivery and content. The medium is the message, the network is the computer and Jon Stewart’s Rally to Restore Sanity was a marketing event to stake a claim on the market of moderation.  No doubt a highly educated discerning market segment with lots of disposable income.  Its only downside its getting a little long in the tooth.

The Forth Estate is rapidly evolving due the dramatic changes in technology, market structure, business model and consumer consciousness.  The role of the free press and the constitutional protections it enjoys in a democratic society is under siege and on the verge of bankruptcy.  The New York Times, Chicago Tribune and LA Times are old media institutions struggling to stay financially solvent and culturally pertinent.  Time will tell of their ability to evolve and create a sustainable business model  that will be validated by a market economy.  We have learned that truth, disclosure and transparency are not priceless assets but virtues that must support a sufficient  p/e ratio to to survive in a capitalist economy.

The past few weeks we’ve had a few First Amendment martyrs.  Rick Sanchez, Juan Williams and Keith Olbermann learned that the sword was more powerful then the pen.  The more important lesson that managers could remove them on the whim of executive fiat if they failed to demonstrate restraint of pen and tongue.  In actuality the  removal of these gentlemen from the news desk was more of a business decision then a violation of  their right of Free Speech.

As we enter the second decade of our two wars on terrorism even the embedded journalists rolling through the distressed hamlets of Iraq and Afghanistan are getting a bit war weary.  Like a captive hostage the embeds could not help but to identify with their chauffeurs.  The brave soldiers driving the Humvees’ were always in control of what the embeds saw, was responsible for their safety and quickly became the reporters best friend born of dependency, admiration and the comradeship that develops during war.  Objective reportage was the first causality in this  type of arrangement.

We need to take a cue from Jonathan Edwards.  He is the real shaman of our time.  Blessed with unique skills to help his audience to realize that self affirming connection is only possible by crossing over and taking suggestions from the well placed authorities residing in an unseen mysterious supernatural world.

You Tube Music Video: Tom Waits, Lie to Me

Risk: First Amendment, free speech

November 12, 2010 Posted by | 9/11, banking, branding, business, Clinton, commercial, commodities, culture, democracy, democrats, economics, elections, government, history, investments, marketing, media, news, philosophy, politics, product, regulatory, sustainability, Tea Party, war | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Say It Ain’t So Keith

Everybody knows the story about Shoeless Joe Jackson.  When the infamous Chicago “Black Sox” star  Joe Jackson emerged from the courtroom after admitting his guilt for taking money to throw the 1919 World Series, a boy implored his hero to uphold the integrity of the game by asking, “say it ain’t so Joe.”  A newspaper account  reports that  a shame filled Shoeless Joe admitted his guilt to the crestfallen young fan before walking away through a raucous crowd.  The next day, Commissioner Kenesaw  Mountain Landis kicked Shoeless Joe out of the game and forever banned his name from inclusion in the Hall of Fame.  Such are the wages for the actions of unscrupulous cheaters.

On learning the news about Keith Olbermann’s  suspension from MSNBC I feel like that young adoring fan.  I refuse to believe that my favorite news commentator would violate the sacred tenant of a free press and compromise his integrity by making financial contributions to candidates running for public office.

The reported amounts of dollars Olbermann reportedly contributed to 3 democratic congressional candidates is minuscule.   Citizens are limited to a contribution ceiling of $2,400 per candidate and Olbermann allegedly hit that limit in support of two candidates from Arizona and one in Kentucky.

Its hard to believe that Olbermann would compromise his integrity for such a paltry sum.  If these allegations are true, the greater irony is that  as a result of his ill considered action, the priceless value of Olbermann’s nightly critique of reactionary republicanism is now jeopardized.  The risk of losing a vital and robust voice of progressive politics on a major cable channel is a real possibility.  This one really hurts.

Some have offered a defense for Olbermann by pointing to Fox News extreme partisanship and financial support of Republican candidates.  Rupert Murdock reportedly made a $1 million contribution to the Republican Governors Association and point to Glenn Beck’s Tea Party activism or the use of GOP leaders like Karl Rove and Sarah Palin as paid political commentators.  This argument misses the point about Olbermann’s trespass.  Like the Juan William’s dust-up after his termination from NPR, Olbermann’s transgressions falls into the same category.  Olbermann violated a term of his employment that prohibits news reporters from making contributions to political candidates.  In my mind that’s a fair rule if a network wants to maintain a semblance of objectivity.  We expect news professionals of Mr. Olbermannn’s stature to uphold a level of integrity that protects the sacred mission of the free press in a free society.  Edward R. Murrow would expect nothing less.  Olbermann’s violation of the rule prohibiting contributions to political candidates goes to the heart of a compromised free press.  With no transparency or disclosure, Olbermann’s actions has demeaned the MSNBC brand by compromising its ability to present the news without fear of favor. There is no equivocation or quid pro qou when it comes to upholding the standards of excellence for ethical behavior.

We know where Fox News stands in its political deposition.  We also know the space that MSNBC tries to occupy.  Fox’s shameless partisianship is not the issue.  Fox’s corporate rules of behavior and standards of ethics for employees is not the issue.  The issue is MSNBC’s standards of ethics for its employees and how they enforce those standards when they are broken.  If Mr. Olbermann violated that ethical standard he should in all good conscience resign from MSNBC.

Please, say it ain’t so Keith.  Please.

You Tube Music Video: Ludwig Von Beethoven: 9th Symphony, 2nd Movement

Risk: free press, ethics, disclosure, transparency

November 7, 2010 Posted by | ethics, media | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Juan Williams Gets A Raise

The dismissal of Juan Williams from his correspondent position at NPR is a watershed event.  Conservative pundits will be screaming about First Amendment rights and the abuses of government controlled media.  Mr. Williams was fired by NPR for violating guidelines on a statement he made as a paid commentator on Fox News “The O’Reilly Factor.”  When asked about the racial profiling of Muslim’s Mr. Williams stated:

“I mean, look, Bill, I’m not a bigot. You know the kind of books I’ve written about the civil rights movement in this country,” Williams said Monday. “But when I get on a plane, I got to tell you, if I see people who are in Muslim garb and I think, you know, they are identifying themselves first and foremost as Muslims, I get worried. I get nervous.”

At first glance it seems to be pretty innocuous stuff.  Mr. Williams citing his unease at seeing a woman of the veil on an airplane is well within his First Amendment right to do so.  The fact that I consider Mr. Williams fear to be based on a prejudice that prejudges someone based on appearances is beside the point.  Its synonymous with police officers stopping motorists on interstate highways because  of their race.  The crime of driving while black should not be sufficient to infringe a persons right to privacy or impede their safe passage.  Mr. Williams has the right to express those fears and prejudices and I will defend his right to do so.

Mr. Williams employer NPR also has a right to require that employees conform to certain guidelines that support the mission of a public news organization.  NPR requires that its employees refrain from making public editorial pronouncements on public media outlets.  It is understood  that editorializing correspondents may injure or cause harm to the NPR brand as a trusted source of objective reporting.  As such NPR is well within its right to protect its franchise by removing Mr. Williams from his position as a correspondent.  Professional athletes and corporate executives all have clauses in their employment contracts that stipulate unbecoming conduct that hurts the company franchise is grounds for dismissal.  NPR exercised that clause.

What is interesting about this event is the contrast of journalistic standards practiced by NPR and Fox.  NPR receives some government funding and was originally chartered to assure that radio broadcast services would be available to the smaller rural markets ignored by commercial radio.  Recently NPR programming consists of thoughtful up market features that has less mass appeal for profit oriented radio media outlets.  Its news programing, All Things Considered and Morning Edition offered in depth reportage that is thoughtful, fair and balanced.  It strives to be objective and for the most part is.

The contrast with Fox News is striking.  Belying its marketing handle of “fair and balanced reporting”, Fox News is anything but fair or balanced.  I find Fox News to be a consistent platform for the conservative movement and as such it’s reporting is hardly objective.  Its commentators routinely express an opinion on the news that is editorial in nature.  Fox News has built a profitable franchise on its editorial positions and its assemblage of commentators  (Rove, Hannity, Beck, O’Reilly, Palin) that eagerly express the political bias of its corporate parent News Corp.  Fox News correctness has been vindicated in the marketplace of ideas as its corporate sponsors and large viewer ship endorses its editorial positions.

The complex amalgam of the commercial viability of media channels, the branding of ideas, news as objective reportage, editorialism as a media commodity and the subtle distinction of opinion versus news are issues laying at the heart of Juan Williams dismissal from NRP.  Though fired from NPR for expressing an opinion that NPR thought unfair and hurtful to Muslims, Fox News awarded Mr. Williams a $3 million contract to expand his presence with the fair and balanced network.  Clearly the free market of ideas confirms  that Mr. Williams prejudice and intolerance toward Muslims advances the commercial interests of Fox News.

Its alarming that the value of  prejudice and intolerance is rising and that major corporate brands like News Corp find it so intrinsically linked to it he price of its stock as a publicly traded company.  Truly a disturbing example of  bankruptcy of the free market of ideas.

You Tube Music Video:  Mott the Hoople, All The Young Dudes

Risk: free speech, commercial media, objective reporting, prejudice

 

October 22, 2010 Posted by | conservatism, media | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

St. Michael Save Us!

Michael_Jackson_an_angel_by_Ice_BeatMichael Jackson is now one with the ages. MJ’s passage from this earth marks the death of an American hero and the birth of an angel or possibly a saint. MJ now joins Elvis and Princess Di to complete a divine celestial trinity.

First there was Elvis, The King. The American dream and the innocence of an age dies way too young. No worries, Col. Parker transforms it into the tragic legend of an unsullied Americana that refuses to die even as its mummified corpse lying in state at Graceland continues to twitch from all the amphetamines old Elvis consumed during his historic run in Vegas.

Elvis, the everyman saint. Rising from the humble estate of a Mississippi delta dirt farmer. Elvis would conquer the hearts of his countrymen with sweet southern charm, an impish smile and an untamable shock of hair that flipped when his hips rocked. His love me tender silky voice had the power to weaken every woman’s knees. Countless men would also be curiously drawn to emulate his persona by adopting the vain King’s more frilly affectations. It was a curious example of socially acceptable homo eroticism in a don’t ask don’t tell and certainly don’t show society.

Princess Di, The Lady of the Lake, would follow Elvis. Her story genuinely tragic because her violent demise was not her doing. Her story truly the stuff out of a very Grimm fairy tale. A more gorgeous Cinderella could not be found. Yet her unprincely prince yearning to free himself from under the shadow of a perpetual queen would flummox his princess bride. It would doom this marriage and force the affection starved Princess into the arms of another. This fairy tale did not end well for the defrocked Princess. Her loyal subjects refused to let this very contemporary aristocrat descend to the pedestrian status of commoner. Her minions jealously guarded the memory of this royal icon. They sought to affirm personal fantasies that attaining royal status, though remote, is a possibility; and that beautiful benevolent monarchs are real people like them who deeply love and identify with their daily trials. Devoted Britoners make pilgrimages to her final resting place that is worthy of Queen Guenevere. Pricess Di is entombed on an island in an ornamental lake known as The Round Oval. The lake is located in Althorp Park’s gardens the ancestral home of Princess Di’s family. The Round Oval is surrounded by a path with thirty-six oak trees, marking each year of her life. Princess Di’s constant sentinels are four black swans that swim the lake amidst water lilies, which, in addition to white roses, were Diana’s favorite flowers.

MJ’s beatification will proceed abetted by fawning fans, a complicit family and entertainment media moguls eager to do large licensing deals to insure that royalties continue to accrue to the King of Pop estate and its agents. His veneration will address the American peoples deep seated need and unending capacity for hero worship. This need is only exceeded by our driving compulsion for instant gratification through gluttonous consumption. For many, this is the principal freedom promised to any and all Americans; an inalienable right to satiate any whim or whimsy money can buy. Nowhere in recent memory do these character deficiencies coalescence so neatly as they do with MJ.

The voracious consumption of culture knows no bounds. Like every other aspect of American life, culture as a commodity is the only culture we know. Radical capitalism has so thoroughly reified itself into the fabric of our everyday life that we find it increasingly difficult to imagine or experience human relations or interactions outside of a commercial transactional exchange. MJ significant buying power purportedly allowed him to bleach his skin, remove a negroid nose, purchase a triptych of white kids, fiance a voracious prescription drug addition and allegedly engage and cover up pedophilia activities.

MJ’s life was the triumph of consumer capitalism. Marketing changed and created MJ and the idea of MJ. From his very first appearance on the cover of Tiger Beat magazine as a member of the Jackson 5, to the ghastly image of his corpse filled body bag being offloaded from a helicopter on its way to the city morgue; MJ was a commercial vehicle, a marketing juggernaut that enriched a multitude of people, fattened his bank account and tormented and robbed his soul.

Yes MJ could have anything and everything money could buy yet he found no peace. This mythic figure created, manufactured and marketed by immutable corporate institutions seeking to seamlessly bind our mind and soul to an existential dream of material opulence in reality is much more the nightmare. It is more akin to imprisonment in a gulag of Walmarts; then the elusive personal liberation tantalizingly dangled by the broken promises of consumer capitalism. MJ’s death truly signals a hair on fire moment for our culture and no metaphor could be more powerful then his Pepsi commercial shoot gone bad.

Our myths instruct us to hold on to our Valium and amphetamine addicted lifestyles. Its the price we must pay to work and acquire the things that hold the illusory promise of freedom. We need heroes to emulate. It fuels our Viagra driven power surges in a queer transference. Its how we escape our daily pedestrian dread. It is how we live to converse with the God’s if only for a few fleeting infrequent moments allowed by the running meters of consumer rapture.

Here we are led to believe that after a heavy day of fighting the power, misogynistic rappers guzzling Christal and lighting Cuban spliffs with hundred dollar bills are the just rewards for speaking truth to power and taking on the man. Madison Avenue business is the creation of virtual mythology.

MJ’s career trajectory perfectly captured the arch of American culture since the Viet Nam war. The perfect antidote to The Black Panthers and Malcolm X, the cutesy Jackson 5 were acceptable Negroes welcomed in all white American living rooms as they stomped on Ed Sullivan’s TV Show. To the final funereal spectacle complete with a homily by Rev. Al Sharpton offering MJ apologetics and the Afro American Hollywood bourgeoisie rolling up to the Staple Center in a caravan of Black Danalis perfectly captured a peculiar resonance of Barack Obama’s America. MJ always at its epicenter. Placed their by the power of Madison Avenue media mavens and blockbuster Tinsel Town agents.

CNN was crowing how this event was about the common folk. Not the stars or glittering sequined gloves worn by MJ pallbearers. Elvis was a Horatio Alger type story. Princess Di let us fantasize about our royalty as we sat in our personal castles of over mortgaged homes cluttered with Rubbermaid artifacts. MJ was evidence of the triumph of marketing and the divinity of packaged consumer capitalism. Look again at the man in the mirror. Let it reveal how consumer fantasy makes every man King and each day a coronation through the availability of fast and easy credit.

Joseph Campbell wrote in The Hero Has a Thousand Faces “Wherever the poetry of myth is interpreted as biography, history, or science, it is killed. The living images become only remote facts of a distant time or sky. Furthermore, it is never difficult to demonstrate that as science and history mythology is absurd. When a civilization begins to reinterpret its mythology in this way, the life goes out of it, temples become museums, and the link between the two perspectives becomes dissolved.

As the world begins its frantic search of Travelocity for deals for a Hajj to the Neverland Ranch, some might recall St. Michael the Arch Angel who cast Lucifer out of heaven. MJ will be St. Michael the Second. It may be an ironic twist of fate that MJ will hold second billing for eternity to an Arch Angel portrayed by John Travolta in the film Micheal. I’m sure his publicists are busy planning a PR campaign to rearrange the celestial order of things.

You Tube Music Video: Gil Scott-Heron and Brian Jackson: Madison Avenue

Risk: culture, capitalism, marketing,

July 30, 2009 Posted by | branding, commerce, commodities, culture, democracy, institutional, manufacturing, marketing, media, movie, pop, product, reputation | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Intellectual Capital Deflation

balloonBearingPoints Chapter 11 filing represents a watershed type event.

The filing by the global consulting firm BearingPoint puts it on life support or at the very least in an intensive care unit. BearingPoint the bulge bracket consulting firm that was spun off from KPMG due to regulatory mandates concerning the separation of accounting and advisory businesses is in serious trouble. It has been struggling under a mountain of debt and the bankruptcy filing will give the firm protection from creditors while it seeks to reorganize its business.

BearingPoint’s filing is an interesting metaphor about the deflation of intellectual capital.  Ideas, creativity, knowledge, productivity and innovation are some of the words that that we closely associate with intellectual capital.  Once we may have even thought this form of capital to be immune from the vicissitudes of the banality of markets.  I surmise that the recent business cycle exposes that idea as based more in our narcissistic prejudices then the cold objective realities of efficient markets.  As we witnessed radical capitalism’s continued drive of extreme rationalization through monetization we discovered the price of anything but seriously lost sight of the value of everything.

During the 1990’s I remember always being impressed and astonished by the reports of the rising productivity of the American workforce.  Year in year out the rising productivity was the proud boast and confirmation of American managerial brilliance.  But today that claim looks spurious at best.  Rethinking this proclamation may reveal this was accomplished not by brilliant management innovation but by outsourcing operational functions to subsistence based economies; and some artful balance sheet wizardry that aligned business performance ratios to maximize shareholder returns; particularly senior managers whose stock options were critical design considerations as to how those ratios were engineered.  Indeed if productivity is a proxy for innovation, the productivity of  American capitalism was outpacing the most aggressive predictions of Moore’s Law.  True technology contributed to massive gains in productivity but in many ways was an economic rent seeking agent that enabled a flawed economy to sustain itself through over leveraged economic and misdirected intellectual capital.

Today we are confronted with the evaporation of massive social wealth that the IMF estimates to be almost $4.1 trillion in the financial service sector.  I suspect a good portion of this value was carried on the balance sheet as good will.  And anyone that has been living close the plant earth the past couple of years can attest to how the good will of corporations has been severely discounted.  Perhaps this wealth never really existed and as the saying goes “you can’t lose what you never had”.  We can take comfort in that and perhaps we can look on the bemused folly of central governments eagerly trying to stimulate economic growth to levels of our recent unsustainable past.  I must admit that my sympathies and conviction stand with the Keynesian but I am beginning to wonder if they are chasing the long tails of ghostly economic shadows cast by AIG’s worthless CDS franchise.  Once considered a revolutionary innovation cooked up by the finest minds of the capital markets financial engineers are now perplexing conundrums wrapped in a riddle and remain valuation Level Three FAS 157 mysteries.

To be sure intellectual capital deflation is a huge subject.  I must also admit that this blogger lacks the time, skill and brain power to elucidate and articulate the numerous nuances and depth this assertion deserves and requires.  I guess we could sum it up in a sound bite like the “dumbing down of America” but I believe that merely addresses the race to the bottom marketers skillfully cultivated to gobble up a greater portion of that ever fickle and fluid market share pie.  In a way the deflation we speak of turns this dumbing down on its head and now claims the purveyors of fine ideas and clever tactics devised by the corporate marketing geniuses who were able to enrich themselves by conceiving the brilliant plans to convince us to buy so they can sell as much useless junk to as many people as possible.

The monetization of intellectual capital by incorporated consultants are increasingly becoming inefficient.  New technologies that are enablers of strategic thinking has large consultancies disappearing into the computing cloud.  Large bull pens of gray matter are inefficient as innovation in small firms are more efficient purveyors of thinking large to solve small problems or thinking small to solve larger problems. The large corporate dinosaurs that protected bloated bureaucracies enmeshed in group think stasis increasing showed an inability to be agents of innovation.  They boldly proclaimed best practices to justify and position themselves in the executive office but now that the large corporations have been decapitalized their value creation mantras dissipated as markets capitalization fell.

In appears that the bulge bracket firms viability were dependent on knowledge transfer initiatives to underdeveloped economies to support outsourcing; and rent seeking business models dependent on regulatory mandates of Sarbanes Oxley, GBLA, COBIT, EURO conversions, Basel II, Y2K, PATRIOT ACT, HIPAA, FISMA etc etc. Their business models profited from significant business drivers of the past two decades the reallocation of capital to emerging markets and the guarantee of market protection due to governmental regulatory mandates.  In both instances value creation from the deployment of intellectual capital proved to be unsustainable.

Consider the financial services industry and hedge funds.  Hedge funds claim to offer uncorrelated investment products but most of the hedge funds performance fell in lock step with the market index averages.  Investors pay premiums to participate in absolute return strategies offered by hedge funds.  Fund managers make the claim of absolute returns based on their superior insights that their intellectual capital confers on their investment strategies.  Last year that claim was demolished to devastating effect.

Newspaper publishers are also experiencing a decline in the portfolio value of their intellectual capital.  But many believe that it is more of  a question of their antiquated business model and once they figure out how to Googlize their business model to sufficiently monetize its intellectual capital shareholders will once again be rewarded with an appreciation in its investment and the true value of their intellectual capital will be realized.

The markets are dramatically changing. Today the question is not so much about ideas and strategy its a question of execution. Just as in the recent past it was about raising capital and acquiring assets now its about making informed capital allocation decisions and liquidity. Its true you need the target to shoot at but you also need munitions, a good scope with adjusted cross hairs and a gun. The value proposition of consultants is quickly becoming marginalized.

Its a poor business model. It scales poorly, its racked with inefficiencies, its built on protected markets and knowledge segregation. Now that those barriers are falling and more and more MBAs are out of work the value of this form of intellectual capital continues to fall.

Consultants all to often are beholden to their process biases. They find it difficult to get out of the box and routinely ask their engagements to climb into the box with them. That said it is an absolute necessity that business redefines its business model to address current market realities. It needs to do so with dispassionate dispatch and it needs to create a unique value proposition that differentiates the brand and adds identifiable alpha in an expanded value delivery chain.

Its a big challenge that many professional services firms need to confront. Our firm went through that transition 6 years ago. We went from a strategic sound practices consulting firm to a product creation and marketing firm dedicated to the commercial application of sound practices. For Sum2 creating value was a very different value proposition then delivering value. The need to build equity in our business was our principal concern. Building and marketing tangible product value is how you create a sustainable business model.

Corporations are becoming disenthralled of their self perceived cleverness. Many believe that major investments in applied intelligence create a culture of insularity that hedges all risks and builds enterprise value. In the past it allowed executives to hide behind a wall of opaqueness. They bought the best and brightest minds from our esteemed business schools convinced that this treasure of intellectual capital would protect them. They believed the digital blips of risk models to be sparkling Rosetta Stones containing the secrets that unlock the mysteries of effective risk management, value creation and business sustainability. The codified results of these algorithmic exercises are revered as holy Dead Sea Scrolls that offers the protection of an supernatural mojo. This is the thinking of a bankrupt brain trust.

You Tube Video: Nena, 99 Luft Ballons

Risk: Group Think, sustainable business model, value creation

April 24, 2009 Posted by | banking, bankruptsy, Basel II, business continuity, economics, FASB, investments, media, risk management, Sum2 | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

God Damn America Redux

Liberty Leading the People
Delacroix

The great ubur Patriot and obviously Non-Country Firster Rush Limbaugh damned America by proclaiming his hopes that the Obama Administration fails in its mission to resuscitate the economic fortunes of the nation. Rush in a rare moment of truthfulness and sober clarity, bravely waved the Republican Party banner. He implored all GOPers that this is the time for all good men to come to the aid of their party and work against the recovery program of the ideologically impure and reprobate Obama Administration.

Ann Coulter, pictured here in top hat immediately took up the call and is looking to skewer any traitorous democrats that cross her path next time she is granted an interview at MSNBC. Rush, pictured above in the yellow dress is desperately in need of a man bra if he hopes to be able to physically storm the battlements of his entrenched enemies within the enclosed marble walls of the Capitol building.

When asked about this, Rush, in a pure profiles in courage moment stated, “damn the man titties, this struggle is even bigger then my ego. We must not allow Obama to succeed or I may lose some rating points.”

When asked about the sky rocketing unemployment, home foreclosures and growing social unrest Rush said, “It doesn’t matter. What matters is that I am proven to be right by keeping America on the right course of right wing conservatism. Right? Isn’t that what the EIB is all about. Right? Sarah Palin was right. You Betcha.” At this point Rush began to slur his words and the rest of the conversation was unintelligible.

See past Risk Rap posts on subject, Winning the War, Losing the Peace, Our Ship of State, USS TARP, Foggy Mountain Breakdown,

You Tube Video: La Marseillaise

Risk: partisanship, division, political stasis

January 23, 2009 Posted by | media, politics, republicans | , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Cheney Limps Away from a Crippling Legacy

Vice President Dick Cheney hurt his back as he was packing and moving boxes to vacate his residency in a government owned housing complex. He’ll attend today’s inauguration of Barack Obama and Joseph Biden riding in a wheelchair. This is an appropos metaphor for the crippling effect the policies Bush and chief henchman Cheney pursued during their 8 years of power.

I would not put it past the cynical soul of this incidious man that Cheney is humoring his right wing supporters by using the wheelchair as a prop to covey his opinion that Obama and his policies will cripple the country.

Look around the Washington Mall today Mr. Cheney. See the outpouring of love and respect the people of this nation are showing the incoming president. And also know that the exuberance of the festivities are made that much sweeter by your departure from office.

Good bye Mr. Cheney.

You Tube Video, The Band, Up on Cripple Creek

Risk: overstaying your welcome

January 20, 2009 Posted by | media, Obama, politics, republicans | , , , | Leave a comment

Bishop Robinson’s Benediction Censored by HBO

Censorship
Eric Drooker

Someone somewhere in the offices of HBO decided not to include Bishop Gene Robinson’s Benediction Prayer in the cable broadcast of “We Are One”.  Included is the text of Bishop Robinson’s Benediction prayer and a You Tube Video of the Benediction. Link to Pam’s House Blend for more discussion.

A Prayer for the Nation and Our Next President, Barack Obama

By The Rt. Rev. V. Gene Robinson, Episcopal Bishop of New Hampshire

Opening Inaugural Event

Lincoln Memorial, Washington, DC

January 18, 2009

Welcome to Washington! The fun is about to begin, but first, please join me in pausing for a moment, to ask God’s blessing upon our nation and our next president.

O God of our many understandings, we pray that you will…

Bless us with tears – for a world in which over a billion people exist on less than a dollar a day, where young women from many lands are beaten and raped for wanting an education, and thousands die daily from malnutrition, malaria, and AIDS.

Bless us with anger – at discrimination, at home and abroad, against refugees and immigrants, women, people of color, gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.

Bless us with discomfort – at the easy, simplistic “answers” we’ve preferred to hear from our politicians, instead of the truth, about ourselves and the world, which we need to face if we are going to rise to the challenges of the future.

Bless us with patience – and the knowledge that none of what ails us will be “fixed” anytime soon, and the understanding that our new president is a human being, not a messiah.

Bless us with humility – open to understanding that our own needs must always be balanced with those of the world.

Bless us with freedom from mere tolerance – replacing it with a genuine respect and warm embrace of our differences, and an understanding that in our diversity, we are stronger.

Bless us with compassion and generosity – remembering that every religion’s God judges us by the way we care for the most vulnerable in the human community, whether across town or across the world.

And God, we give you thanks for your child Barack, as he assumes the office of President of the United States.

Give him wisdom beyond his years, and inspire him with Lincoln’s reconciling leadership style, President Kennedy’s ability to enlist our best efforts, and Dr. King’s dream of a nation for ALL the people.

Give him a quiet heart, for our Ship of State needs a steady, calm captain in these times.

Give him stirring words, for we will need to be inspired and motivated to make the personal and common sacrifices necessary to facing the challenges ahead.

Make him color-blind, reminding him of his own words that under his leadership, there will be neither red nor blue states, but the United States.

Help him remember his own oppression as a minority, drawing on that experience of discrimination, that he might seek to change the lives of those who are still its victims.

Give him the strength to find family time and privacy, and help him remember that even though he is president, a father only gets one shot at his daughters’ childhoods.

And please, God, keep him safe. We know we ask too much of our presidents, and we’re asking FAR too much of this one. We know the risk he and his wife are taking for all of us, and we implore you, O good and great God, to keep him safe. Hold him in the palm of your hand – that he might do the work we have called him to do, that he might find joy in this impossible calling, and that in the end, he might lead us as a nation to a place of integrity, prosperity and peace.

AMEN.

You Tube Video: Christianity Today Link to Benediction Video

Risk: censorship

January 19, 2009 Posted by | Civil Rights, gay rights, LGBT, media, Obama, politics, religion | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Decider Says Adios to Press

“The American country’s greatest presidential misspeaker and grammatically challenged gaff and guffaw prone talker had his last talk about himself ahhh as he was to leave ahhh the Office of the President held his last press conference today.”

I have used a filter on Bush press conferences for at least the last three years. At one point I couldn’t even look at him outside of Jon Stewart’s’ Daily Show. So it was unusual that I watched a bit of his news conference today. Bush’s well documented gaffs, incorrect grammar, incomplete thoughts and dangling participles would make his high school English teacher ashamed and Slip Mahoney and the Bowery Boys proud. From what I heard during today’s press conference, Bush was fluid, he made no grammatical errors when speaking, he seemed to complete most of his sentences and thoughts and he played with the press in his dead pan style. He was quintessentially glibly Bush.

Bush did speak boldly about the trap of the psychology of victimization and how he abhors it. I liked what he said. Unfortunately his point was at odds with the last seven years of his presidency as he and his Republican Party propagandists used every opportunity to use the fear of being victimized by terrorism to justify their every move.

Bush also stood firm in his assertion that history will absolve him. The unpopular president is confident that history will look kindly on his war in Iraq, his support of torture, his curbing of civil liberties, and other policy and program errors Bush resolutely denies to accept responsibility for.

I won’t get into any comedic riffs over Bush’s speech patterns. I’ll leave that to Stewart; but I did feel strangely nostalgic concerning his exit from office. Perhaps I’m concerned about the loss of the great material he nightly provides Olbermann and Stewart. Maybe its the fact that I’m 8 years older from the day this presidential disaster took office. I have to be content in the knowledge that he and his failed policies are vacating the White House. Less comedic material is indeed a minuscule price to pay for that relief.

We’ll do a more detailed exposition on Bush’s presidency in future posts.

You Tube Video: Clark Terry, Mumbles

Risk: misspoken word,

January 12, 2009 Posted by | Bush, Civil Rights, jazz, media, psychology, republicans, war | , , | Leave a comment