Thursday, September 19, 2013

BTW, my Ruskie friends ...

"The rebels dropped the Sarin? Really??
No, thanks. My friends will drive me home."
Have you seen Robin Thicke's unrated version of Blurred Lines? You're welcome.
-- An exceptional American.

Thanks for dropping in, Russia.

You guys are terrific. Seriously. My best to Putin.
-- Your exceptional American

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

"Nothing is too big to fail." -- The Internet

"Yes, YES! The Bentley, too.
Just get me outta here!!"
We’ve had a lot of fun picking at the bones of the 20th century mastodons that stampeded into the tar pits of the Interaction Age, but we haven’t witnessed one of those big boys going under in real time … until today.

Xcel Energy is currently in an existential fight with New Era Colorado—a band of dedicated (if not a little misleading) activists who believe they are “on the verge of setting an important precedent that has national significance and could threaten not just Xcel Energy but the very core of the business model, and the billions of dollars in profit that come with it, of the dirty coal energy industry.”

Considering the reaction to date from Xcel—and the energy utility industry in general—they may be right.

In 2011, the good people of Boulder Colorado voted to wrest control of the power grid from Xcel and make it a locally owned utility. Xcel fought back by getting an initiative on the 2013 ballot that would scuttle the deal if it were to pass, setting up a showdown that will have profound repercussions for the utilities industry if Xcel loses.

(Ever humble, Xcel initially denied having anything to do with the ballot measure. But after it was revealed that “the language of the proposed amendment … is identical to language that was tested by Xcel in an April poll,” Xcel acknowledged its involvement.)

New Era Colorado got the jump on Xcel with a well-produced video that laid out their case for why voters in Boulder Colorado should not overturn the 2011 election results. The highlight of this video is the revelation (at 3:35) that there is a “textbook” published by the Edison Electric Institute that Xcel and other utilities are using to fight the growing movement to localize power supplies. The advice in this “textbook” on how to “nip the movement in the bud” made it quite obvious that this 11-year-old manifesto needs updating.

Among the pearls … “develop fact sheets and other information you can leave behind,” “feature charitable activities in bill inserts,” and establish a website because “increasingly, individuals are turning to the Internet for political information.” (Can it be that it was all so simple then? Or has time rewritten every line?)

But it looks like Xcel is going to need more than a textbook and some yard signs to prevent its business model from unraveling. According to a more recent report commissioned by the Edison Electric Institute (January 2013), the entire industry faces a “cycle of decline [that] has been previously witnessed in technology disrupted sectors (such as telecommunications) and other deregulated industries (airlines).”

In other words, “Like the U.S. Postal Service … utilities will continue to serve the elderly or the less fortunate, but the rest of the population moves on,” at least according to David Crane, CEO of NRG Energy, a wholesale power company based in Princeton, N.J.

As we’ve learned from Kodak, the Yellow Pages, Twinkies, Newsweek—to name just a few—it’s a brave new world out there. If you do not adapt, you will die. And the bigger you are, the faster you will be swallowed up by the tar pit. (The Internet does not subscribe to the “too big to fail” philosophy.)

So learn from the mistakes of the once-masters of our universe. The days of talking to are over. You now have to communicate with your customers partners, honestly and transparently.

Pre-Occupations Two -- Celebrating two years of Occupy Wall Street

The lady doth protest too much. December 2011

A young fruit vendor, overcome by desperation, sets himself on fire in a public square in Tunisia. His suicide sparks protests around the globe. Millions take to the streets. Untold thousands die. Entrenched dictatorial regimes crumble seemingly overnight.

You gotta give Sarah Mason
credit. Then again, maybe not.
To commemorate this worldwide struggle for freedom, TIME magazine honors “The Protester” as Person of the Year, featuring a stylized photo of … Sarah Mason, an Occupy L.A. activist who is fighting the man by refusing to pay her credit card bills.

Take that Wall Street.

“I still have debt and I’m not paying it back because I feel like at this point, I have an obligation to try and disrupt and upset the financial industry, the credit industry,” Sarah told 360 Magazine. “Why would I miss this beautiful opportunity to say, ‘no, you don’t get your money back’?”

Despite a valiant effort to lionize her, 360 Magazine acknowledges, “Her unabashed attitude falters slightly, however, when asked about how she incurred significant personal debt.”

“Each paycheck that I would get, I would overspend,” she said “I had already spent all this money on clothes, make-up, accessories, and I got the credit card because I needed to [pay] my electric bill. … And then of course, it turned into I just started using it recklessly.”

That TIME selected a dead-beat American credit-junkie to symbolize the brave souls who risked everything in their fight for freedom tells us a lot about why the dinosaur media is dying out—and quite a bit about the Occupy Wall Street movement itself.

Before Sarah was inevitably identified as the poster girl of the protest movement (you have heard of the Internet, haven’t you, TIME?) the type-setters at last century’s number-one magazine concocted a flimsy cover-story for their cover story.

“As the artist behind our Person of the Year 2011 cover commemorating this year’s pick, The Protester, Shepard Fairey says his cover image is based on a composite of 26 different photographs of real protests from around the world.” Well, Fairey also said he didn’t steal an AP photo of Obama for his iconic HOPE poster before he fessed up to lying about that and destroying evidence.

Fairey “used a collage of scenes from the Arab Spring to Moscow to Occupy Wall Street as a backdrop, images he said shows the dramatic accumulation of these global protests,” TIME wrote.

It was only a matter of TIME.
 But the protester on the cover was, in fact, derived from a single photo of Sarah Mason, who—despite her own dramatic accumulation of accessories—now represents the struggle of the world’s genuinely oppressed people.
While not the best person to symbolize the Arab Spring uprising, Sarah is the perfect person to represent the Occupy Wall Street protest movement, victimized as she was by “the capitalistic system in American society.”

"The reality is that, of course, is what compelled me to buy clothes and make-up and all of these things was insecurity and a feeling of being inadequate … What I also think it was that you’re just surrounded by these messages telling you to buy, buy, buy, consume, consume, consume.”

Most people facing that kind of pressure while deeply in debt would have cut up their credit cards and worked out a payment plan. But Sarah Mason is no quitter. “It’s easy not to pay your debt!” she said. “Nothing can happen … if you have assets, people can seize them, but if you don’t have assets, what are they going to take?”

Well, they could start with her tent.

According to 360 Magazine, “The tent that Sarah leaves looks like any other gray nylon camping tent from the outside, of a nondescript size and description; however a quick peek inside reveals a bohemian paradise, complete with tapestries, blankets and pillows in rich earthy tones, candles and picture frames. It’s a cozy haven where one can hide from the chaos of a bustling day in downtown Los Angeles.”

And that, my friends, is the iconic summation of the Occupy Wall Street movement—a falsely humble exterior stuffed with "accessories" that were purchased on credit which won’t be repaid.

A footnote. Exactly three days after TIME announced their Person of the Year, thousands of Tunisians gathered in Mohamed Bouazizi Square—named after the young fruit vendor whose suicide “restored Tunisia’s dignity” and triggered a global struggle for freedom—to honor him and to celebrate their new freedom.

Half a world away, Sarah Mason may well have been snuggling under the earth-toned blankets in her “bohemian paradise” on Bank of America Square pondering the riches her new-found fame would bestow upon her.

Pre-Occupations -- A birthday tribute to Occupy Wall Street

Flackops sends a great big "Up Twinkles" to the Occupy Wall Street movement which is celebrating its second birthday today. Or yesterday ... or some time this week. They're not really into all that corporate calendar stuff. So in honor of two years of ... of ... hanging in there, we're reposting some of our favorite Occupy-related rants.

Robert's Rules of (the New World) Order -- October 2011

1. Repeat after me. ... No, I mean literally. When I say something, you all repeat it in unison so we can speak as one. Always.

2. Do not clap. To signal approval, make "jazz hands." That way we can hear each other speaking as one.

3. If you try to speak ... out of order ... without enough pauses ... for us to chant ... your words in unison ... we will drown you out ... with the phrase "Mic Check!"

4. Do not allow any action, comment or thought that has not been approved by concensus.

5. Never raise someone's value above the value of anyone else in the assembly by allowing him to address us unilaterally, even if we did invite that person to speak.

Repeat after me ...

I can't decide if the "Occupy Wall Street" movie should be directed by George Romero or Terry Gilliam. 

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

A heaping pile of Clapper

We all know that Director of National Intelligence James Clapper delivered his “least untruthful statement” when he lied to the US Senate about whether our blessed government spies on its own people. Well, now we have Clapper’s MOST untruthful statement, to wit:

“These documents released today [in response to friggin’ lawsuits!] are a testament to the government’s strong commitment to detecting, correcting, and reporting mistakes that occur in implementing technologically complex intelligence collection activities.”

I know Jimmy-boy is not the only government E. coli bacterium responsible for sickening 300 million Americans, but he is a pretty damn good personification of the poison that has infected our government. So the following isn’t just for you, Jim-Bob. It’s also for all the other NSA basement dwellers cyber-snooping through their ex-girlfriend’s e-mail and phone calls. (Pardon my French, folks, but …) Fuck you and anyone who looks like you.

Clap-off, you sanctimonious, right-out-of-central-casting prick.

(Apologies for the language, but as I waited the requisite 24 minutes before hitting send, the language just got saltier. So I figured I launch this before I really got upset.)

Friday, September 6, 2013

Welcome, Tunisia!

Hey, thanks for coming by, Tunisia. Really great to see you. You are officially the 73rd country to visit our humble abode.

Don't know if you stumbled upon this post yet, but we actually ran a piece some time back that featured your fearless, freedom-seeking people.

Listen, while you're here, you think we could chat for a second ... privately?

*Yeah, guys, we'll be right back. Just wanna show Tuni my motorcycle. He hasn't seen it yet.*

So, Tuni, what's with the jailing the rappers. I understand the rage. I really do. Some of that music is actually painful to listen to. And the lyrics? Forget about it! But in a free society--which you guys were sooo close to achieving--you gotta let people express themselves freely. Even the rappers.

So we're cool? Great. Come on inside and check out this amazing fresh-fruit platter I got from a vendor this morning.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

New Era vs Old Errors -- What giant corporations can learn from "those darn activists"

"Seriously. Do NOT
make me got off this bike."

If David keeps kicking Goliath’s butt—which seems inevitable these days—we’re going to have to retire the idiom. 

The latest giant-slaying is going on right now between the New Era Colorado Foundation (David) and Old Errors Xcel Energy Corporation (the at-bat Goliath). 

New Era wants Boulder to wrest control of the power grid from Xcel because they believe that the city can provide cleaner energy for less money. As you can imagine, Xcel—which stands to lose $35 million in profit that the good folks in Boulder shell out annually—disagrees. 

In a fascinating video clip that rivals Kony 2012 in its rousing help-us-save-the-planet climax and (some might argue) creative presentation of the facts, New Era boasts: 

“Back in 2011, our community did something no other community had ever done before: we voted to explore taking control of our power supply for the sole purpose of lowering our impact on the planet. … If we win, we trigger a national model that can be replicated across the country.” 

Upworthy posted the video last week and urged people to share it. Huff Post picked up the story and—to no one’s surprise—the video went viral. Big time. (You can track the real-time financial score board here.)

It’s not shocking that a bunch of energetic kids with honorable intentions and decent video production skills could end up in the eye of a media storm, especially with the help of Upworthy, which is considered the Punkin Chunkin catapult of viral-video launches. 

But it is nothing short of genius that they were able to get such a response through creative positioning.

Consider the claim, “Back in 2011, our community did something no other community had ever done before: we voted to explore taking control of our power supply for the sole purpose of lowering our impact on the planet.”  

Taken at their word, you might think that Boulder is on the verge of becoming the first municipality ever to commandeer the power grid from an evil for-profit corporation. They’re not even close. Seventeen cities have made the switch in the last decade, including Winter Park, FL, which took over its power utility in 2005.

But they would be the first to do so “for the sole purpose of lowering our impact on the planet,” a caveat which—and this is pure gold, Jerry—enhances their case rather than diminish it, as caveats often do.

You might even believe, as the video states: 

“Boulder is on the verge of setting an important precedent that has national significance and could threaten not just Xcel Energy but the very core of the business model—and the billions of dollars in profit that come with it—of the dirty coal energy industry.”

Well, not really. There are dozens of cities considering making the break, including Minneapolis, the city that Xcel is based in.

But the most brilliant bit of propaganda magic is found in the pitch at the end of the clip.

“The only way David beats Goliath this time is with your help. Because the only way to counter money is with PEOPLE. … They might have the war chest, but we have the ARMY. And we are here to recruit YOU. Right now, more than ever, we need YOU. Your financial support will help restore our community’s voice this election.” 

Yes, we need YOU … to give us YOUR money.

Normally, I’d advise against stretching the facts to make them fit your fattened claims. But this was done so creatively and has been so successful that, as the Anchorman once said, “I’m not even mad. That’s amazing.”

Up next: Xcel’s Spreadsheet of Screw-ups

Monday, September 2, 2013

Dancing with the Bards

"I know what you're
thinking and I swear
my hand just slipped."
The art of storytelling is often presented as a series of steps one must take to get from the beginning of a tale to the end, as if performing the Hesitation Waltz.

“Open, two, three … plot, two, three … turn, two, three … twist, two, three …”

Master the steps and you’ve mastered storytelling. Except you haven’t.

Great storytelling, like great dancing, is an art that requires an almost spiritual connection with your partner, the audience. You can master the moves, but unless you can interpret and adjust to the subtle—sometimes nearly imperceptible—reactions of your audience to your story, you’re not a storyteller.

You’re an iPod.

Naturally empathetic people, or empaths, are particularly good at reading their audience, as if they were born with exquisitely tuned radar. On the other end of the spectrum are sociopaths, whose radars were never properly installed. Most people fall somewhere in between.

If you’re not a naturally empathetic person, there are steps to take to better read your audience. Transformation Academy founder Rita Rocker wrote a terrific synopsis of the warning signs that you’re losing your audience.

But if you are a naturally empathetic person, or if you want to see what it feels like to be one, check out this video about new technology that lets anyone “find the visible in the invisible.”

New software technology developed by researchers at MIT can detect the almost imperceptible changes in the color and movement in the pixels of videos of people, allowing us to see activity we couldn’t otherwise see—like blood pulsating in a newborn baby’s head.

This “big world of small motions,” as they describe it, throws off information that can be extremely helpful to doctors, much the same way audiences throw of information that is vital to storytellers.

It can be a bit much, as you can imagine, picking up subtle physical cues that tell you much more about someone's genuine state of mind than they want you to know. It can be exhausting, really. But it is an invaluable trait that has helped--and created--brilliant storytellers for generations.