Rep. Joe Sestak, D-Pa., along with his daughter, Alex, and his wife, Susan, speaks at a primary night watch event at the Valley Forge Military Academy & College in Wayne, Pa., Tuesday, 18 May 2010. (AP Photo/Michael Perez)

Arlen Specter, longtime 6-term Republican who switched to the Democratic Party is out. He lost his bid for re-election in yesterday’s primary. The emerging pattern is that the people aren’t interested in politics as usual and that incumbency may be a heavy liability in the November midterms.

Usually, incumbency offers advantages and even in the bloodletting midterm elections of 1994 and 2006, incumbents were re-elected at a relatively high rate—just not as high as usual. My thinking is that some incumbents will have a harder time than others with the key driver being how ties they are to the establishment.

Sestak was behind the 8-ball in early polls, but I agree with the analysis that ideology didn’t drive the turnaround. It was a desire for a fresh face. Here’s the ad {“The Switch”} by Joe Sestak that started Arlen Specter’s decline in the Pennsylvania Democratic Senate primary::

The ad linked Specter to the establishment.

It will be interesting how the races in California play out. There are two Republican ex-Silicon Valley CEO political outsiders vying for the statehouse and Barbara Boxer’s Senate seat. Millionaire Carly Fiorina running for Governor and billionaire Meg Whitman setting her sights on the U.S. Senate, if they get through the primaries, are hoping to give marquee-name Democrats {Boxer and Jerry Brown, respectively} a run for their money. I don’t think their messages will get much traction in California this year, but never underestimate the power of a substantial warchest. I’m sure Jerry Brown’s sister, Kathleen, still remembers what happens when you run out of money in a campaign, as she did in 1994.

Song:: Green Day-‘American Idiot’

Twitterversion:: [blog] Specter loses Senate bid—PA primary. Will incumbents face a “throw the bums out” mandate this fall? #ThickCulture  @Prof_K

image:: The Beautiful Kind, Riverfront Times, by Emily Good

Originally posted on rhizomicon
A Twitter glitch caused the anonymous St. Louis sex blogger behind The Beautiful Kind to get outed when her boss found her after instructed to start Googling employees’ names. This Riverfront Times blog details the issues and the legal implications of the firing. The ex-boss sent a letter implying that the company feels justified in holding employees’ lives outside of work to be a occupational qualification. Here’s an excerpt of that lettert::

“We simply cannot risk any possible link between our mission and the sort of photos and material that you openly share with the online public. While I know you are a good worker and an intelligent person, I hope you try to understand that our employees are held to a different standard. When it comes to private matters, such as one’s sexual explorations and preferences, our employees must keep their affairs private.”

The blogger was on the job for about a month and was conscientious about presenting a demure image at work. So, it sounds like the 37-year-old single mom was more akin to Kelly McGillis in Witness than a tatted-up wild child with a libido hanging out for all to see::

“I was really Clark Kent about it…I dressed like a freaking Mormon when I went in. I was really overcautious and did an extra-good job. Because I always thought that if they ever did find out about it, I would have proved myself so much that they would weigh the pros and cons and decide to proceed a certain way that, you know, wouldn’t fire me. But I wasn’t there long enough to do that, and I don’t think it would have made a difference anyway, with the way they reacted. It’s like — I went from good employee to monster.”

Just going off of the general details of the case, an ACLU lawyer offered::

“One of the unfortunate things is that a lot of people are uncomfortable about unconventional sexuality, especially when a woman’s involved…That is not an employer’s job — to police the sexual lives of its employees — and when an employer discriminates on that basis it is sex discrimination and it’s against the law.”

One can’t help but wonder if the same result would have happened with a male employee. This blog post on aagblog details how the firing went down and the emotional aftermath.

I once had a boss who made the illegal statement, “we like families,” right when I started working there. I thought it was a strange thing to say and was wondering, “who do I look like, Angelina Jolie?”, but with 20/20 hindsight, it made perfect sense. That workplace was not only highly conventional but also none too savvy about the law in its bumpkinness. I thought my workplace had no business in my personal life or the fact that I didn’t live in the same zip code, which I found out later was taboo.

I think it sets a dangerous precedent for employers to have the ability to make hiring/firing decisions based upon non-performance criteria. The idea of an employees’ “reputation” being in the control of an employer because it may affect the employers’ reputation is in my opinion a stretch. I looked at the entries from The Beautiful Kind. Maybe I’m just a child of the West coast with urban sensibilities, but I fail to see what the big deal is, particularly when the employee wasn’t flaunting her lifestyle by linking her real name to her blog. The only reason this became an issue was the glitch.

While there will be many a finger-wagger clucking about what people should and should not post on the Internet, perhaps the real issue, given how the Internet makes everyday life more transparent and privacy is deader than dead, is that organizations and institutions need to relax the scrutiny and ease up on controlling people’s lives. The alternative is a morality driven not by church or community but by the employee handbook.

Song:: The Gleaming Spires-‘Are You Ready for the Sex Girls?’
Twitterversion:: [blog] blogger fired due to #Twitter glitch, after boss Googled names.Will morality now come fr. employee handbk? @Prof_K

Montréal comic, Samir Khullar AKA "Sugar Sammy",

Notes from north of 49ºN

“Sugar Sammy” is an Indo-Canadian comic with a cultural studies degree from McGill who wants to portray the visible minority experience in Québec. While getting some acclaim in the anglophone realm and even had had a HBO special, the multilingual Sammy {who speaks Hindi, Punjabi, English, and French}, was up for an Olivier award for Québec humour.

A few weeks ago, I blogged about a Wind Mobile ad airing here in Canada that uses cultural stereotypes of south Asians as a part of its humour.  In that post, I brought up the Apu “problem”, where a Simpson’s character also uses cultural stereotypes to get laughs and to shill for 7-11 with a promotional tie-in in 2007. In this stand-up clip, Sammy goes after Apu and how it’s voiced by a non-South Asian {Hank Azaria} and how media portrayals of South Asians tend towards the weird {go to 3:05}::

While using race as fodder for comedy is nothing new, there’s arguably more room for alternative cultural narratives, particularly with the proliferation of social media. Sammy’s experience of being Indian in a francophone region of a predominantly anglophone country is a story of confluences of culture, politics, and power. In Québec, Bill 101/Loi 101 is the law of the land, where the primary language of instruction in the province is French, as part of attempts to make French language the norm in the province.

Mr. Khullar delivers his routines in flawless French, the result of being streamed into French school along with all the immigrant children in his multicultural neighbourhood of Côte-des-Neiges in Montréal. At the time, the lack of choice wasn’t a big hit in the Khullar household.

But today, the thirtysomething comic acknowledges it’s given him his chance at succeeding on home turf.

‘I’m a child of Bill 101,” he says. “I’m happy I went to French school, because my French wouldn’t have been this good. The more languages I speak, the more people I reach.'”

Sammy’s jokes hit themes where many anglophones would fear to tread—at least in front of an audience at a comedy show. He touches on the cultural stereotypes of the Québécois, but he can do so in perfect French::

video [French]:: “Les Québécois” skit, nominee for Olivier Award

While it may seem like a double-standard that Sammy can poke fun of cultural stereotypes of the Québécois and it seems offsides that the dominant culture poke fun of the South Asian stereotypes, one could say it’s a matter of the dynamics of cultural power and which group has it. Arguably, Sammy gets away with his comedic critiques with respect to Québec audiences because {1} he’s not anglo—i.e., he’s not a member of the dominant anglophone Canadian culture that many in Québec see as hegemonic and {2} he speaks perfect French.

Sammy didn’t win the Olivier award, but you’d be hard-pressed to know that if you just followed the anglophone press. I had to dig deep and use my rudimentary French to find the winners on the Radio-Canada {French CBC} site.

When it comes to comedy in Canada, I think it’s safe to say there’s one safe target no matter who you are. Americans. Of course, this a topic for another blog.

Song:: Malajube-‘St. Fortunat’

Twitterversion:: [blog] Multilingual Indo-Canadian comic Sugar Sammy negotiates cult. boundaries in post-Bill/Loi 101 Quebec #ThickCulture @Prof_K

This blog was originally posted on rhizomicon

Money/CNN has a feature on 25 green myths debunked. I tend to take issue with features like this, no matter what the focal issue is, since it tries to reduce often complex matters to a simple pithy paragraph or two. More often than not, the answer to the “myth” like with many things is that “it depends”. I dislike “it depends” as an answer. I had a boss who thought that was an answer he often looked for, but he tended to be a wishy-washy sort who was more talk than walk.
Many of the 25 aren’t controversial in the least, such as debunking of the myth that “bottled water is safer than tap”. The main problem I have is that by calling something a “myth” and providing equivocal evidence, i.e., “it depends” answers, frames an environmental issue in a way that could turn people away from something that may have potential in the future to be green or actually is green in certain contexts. I wish these articles would go into greater depth on the issues behind what makes them “myths” and get people to think about how their choices fit in with their values.
The paper versus plastic bag issue can get pretty complicated if you factor in all the variables, but the Money/CNN snippet was right in saying that no matter which you choose, at least re-use or recycle the bag or better yet, use a canvas bag. The problem I have is that the article focuses on the energy used to create a plastic versus paper bag. Well, not all energy is created equal. If there’s a pulpmill or recycling plant in an area that uses hydroelectric {e.g., British Columbia or the US Pacific Northwest}, that’s likely to beat a plastic bag factory using coal, despite a 4:1 energy use ratio that favours paper. So, the issues should be::
  • relative weight {transportation energy}
  • energy to produce and transport the bags and lifecycle carbon footprint
  • biodegradability {although landfills emphasize stability, not biodegradation}
  • harm to wildlife in the natural environment
  • use of a renewable versus non-renewable resource
  • use, durability, and cost of compostable plastics vs. regular plastic bags and paper bags
This article has more complexity, yet comes to the same conclusions as the CNN/Money article. Nevertheless, how does one make tradeoffs between energy used to produce a bag and the fact that it’s made from a renewable or non-renewable resource. Sometimes these things will come down to personal values.
I think many people want to do the right thing, to the extent of their values system. I understand that all of these articles are trying to give consumers decision short-cuts {heuristics} on these green issues, but in many of the issues are framed in a way that obfuscates how personal values can factor in.
I still get “crap” for using all sorts of plastic bags for used kitty litter that goes into the Toronto wet waste bin. Somehow, I get a great deal of satisfaction “creating” whole wheat pitas and Mini-wheats from catbox beach, but that’s another story.
Song:: Björk-‘Nattúra’
Twitterversion:: 25 green myths debunked, although care should be taken in taking some of the recommendations. #ThickCulture @Prof_K

Nick Clegg, Leader of the UK Liberal Democrats

I wish I could take credit for the headline, but credit must go to Anne Perkins of The Guardian-UK. Earlier today, Labour leader Gordon Brown tendered his resignation to the Queen after it looks like the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives are close to striking a deal. This would hand the Prime Minister spot to Tory leader, David Cameron, in a coalition that will have a majority of the seats in Parliament. Six months ago, Clegg had not many good things to say about the Tories::

“If progressives are to avoid being marginalised by an ideologically-barren Conservative party, bereft of any discernible convictions other than a sense of entitlement that is now their turn to govern, then the progressive forces in British politics must regroup under a new banner.”

I’m curious what this coalition will look like, given how a Lib-Con coalition will make for some strange bedfellows. Indeed, Anne is right, as the Conservatives won’t just be holding hands with the Lib Dems, but sharing power and cabinet seats.

I’m not against coalitions or parties changing their stances on issues, as I’ve blogged about earlier today on rhizomicon. Where things get dicey is keeping the coalition together and making sure the voters in the MP’s constituencies are on-board. Also, Perkins points out that such coalitions are rare and usually occur under dire circumstances::

“In Westminster history, coalition has always been about demonstrating unity in crisis, leading by example in a response to war or national disaster. Times are hard; the economic situation is bleak. But we are not living in a time of national catastrophe. At least not yet.”

On the web, pundits, journalists, and commentors on news sites are shouting “sellout” on the part of Nick Clegg and David Cameron. While the specifics aren’t out, the rumour mill is that the Lib Dems made concessions on::

  1. Immigration amnesty
  2. Defence policy & Trident
  3. Closer ties to Europe

Will these be dealbreakers to Lib-Dem MPs, who still need to ratify the deal, and those who supported them? The Lib-Dems were a platform of change and while a coalition implies concessions on both sides, will a Lib-Con coalition leave a bad taste in the mouths of many?

David Cameron doesn’t need the support of his party, but I question how hard-line conservatives will perceive this power sharing arrangement.

Song:: Selecter-‘Selling Out Your Future’

Twitterversion:: UK Lib-Con coalition imminent, but as Ann Perkins says “not a marriage of convenience but actual sex” #ThickCulture @Prof_K

Kay Burley of SkyNews-UK, from NowMagazine UK

Crossposted on rhizomicon

More kerfuffle from the UK that’s spreading like wildfire on social media. The current top UK trending topic is “sack Kay Burley”, stemming from viewers wanting the Sky News journalist fired after a hostile interview with a protester. Here’s a video of the interview {apologies for the sound quality, the volume does goes up}::

Burley’s tactics make her appear bullying and clearly not impartial. She also has very flawed logic, but the facts and being knowledgeable aren’t her strong suit as she mistook Joe Biden’s Ash Wednesday ashes on his forehead for a bruise. She later apologized. So, Kay appears to be opinionated, a loudmouth, and not too bright—I think she’s angling for a career in American cable infotainment.

Burley is being obtuse on purpose in order to make her point. The protests are about the “first-past-the-post” or winner-take-all method of tabulating seats in Parliament, which has resulted in the current hung Parliament. Kay doesn’t see any point in that as it a fait accompli and that the current party negotiations are democracy in action. She asserts that the people chose a hung Parliament, while the protesters are complaining that the hung Parliament is a product of a “broken” system.

Given social media, the news of this spread virally and the video footage of her exchange was put on YouTube {above}. Adding fuel to the fire, hecklers are interrupting her interviews with chants of “sack Kay Burley, watch the BBC” and this is now making the rounds on YouTube, as part of the “sack Kay Burley” meme.

Ah, a facepalm moment, UK-style.

Song:: Elvis Costello and the Attractions-‘Lipstick Vogue’

Twitterversion:: “Sack Kay Burley” meme goes viral.@skynews journalist hostile towards protester, gets social media backlash.#ThickCulture @Prof_K

This is video circulating that might turn into a meme, but it’s not that exciting. It involves a right-wing candidate for Parliament in the UK getting into an altercation with local South Asian youths. The British National Party candidate, Bob Bailey, made a reference to the youths as “robbers” that caused them to come over. After some words, one of them spat at Bailey and a scuffle ensued. It looks like nobody was hurt and just some egos got bruised.

I’m not sure if the youths even knew who Bailey was, but his views might explain his interest in engaging them. Last June, Bailey went on the record stating his concerns about Islam, how the “British” birth rate is below the Islamic birth rate in the UK, and his looking out for the white indigenous population of Britain {go to 1:33 to see Bailey in an interview-via Iranian PRESS TV}::

Bailey lost the election and finished in 4th. place. The Conservatives won the outer east London constituency of Romford.

Song:: The Specials-‘Simmer Down’

Twitterversion:: British National Party candidate taunts S.Asian youths, gets spat on, & a scuffle ensues—a perfect YouTube moment. @Prof_K

Screencap/Vidcap of BBC Website

The BBC just announced a hung Parliament, as the Conservatives with a plurality of seats are mathematically eliminated from obtaining a majority with 35 seats to declare. The last time this occurred was 1974. Let the party negotiations begin. Lib-Lab coalition likely to be negotiated and will Clegg’s Lib Dems push for parliamentary reform to do away with first-past-the-post {winner take all in a constituency}. While some say a “coalition of losers” won’t have legitimacy in the eyes of the electorate, Labour deputy leader Harriet Harman says the current Prime Minister Gordon Brown is constitutionally obligated to try to form a government.

Live coverage from BBC News is available here.

Song:: Killing Joke-‘Democracy’

Twitterversion:: BBC calls a hung Parliament, as Tories w/ an expected plurality of seats will be short of majority of 326. #ThickCulture @Prof_K

Crossposed on rhizomicon.

The Hitler “rant” meme has been around for a few years, but recently it has been targeted on YouTube for copyright violations thanks to a new YouTube tool, Content ID. The original content is from The Downfall/Der Untergang {2004}, a German language film about the last days of Hitler.  The above video is an example of the meme and takes a few good jabs at the recent spate of copyright takedowns. Knowyourmeme has posted a video on how to resist these copyright “trollings”.

Exceptions to copyright infringement often hinge upon arguments to allow critique and creativity. While a Hitler parody may not be “high art” and many would scoff at its creativity, where should the lines be drawn? Old media rules of intellectual property are all about the property and gaining revenue streams from property right. Like it or not, those days are over and deep pockets for lawyers notwithstanding, taking that approach is in the long run futile. The music industry is slowly learning that the music is the loss leader. The real money is in touring, merch., licensing, and capitalizing on the relationship with the fanbase. Filesharing can feed the new model by providing an avenue to cut through the clutter.

So, how to deal with all of this “new” media stuff {which isn’t all that new nowadays} and social media when you’re trying to make a buck. Well, I’ve actually seen The Downfall. It’s pretty good, but not for everyone. If I were Constantin Film or advising them this is what I would tell them to do::

  1. Get the film on a site like The Auteurs, which allows Internet pay-per-view
  2. Use the parody videos to market the film on Internet PPV & DVD and capitalize on the ongoing buzz
  3. Use inline ads on YouTube to get users to view/purchase

Everybody wins. Creative mashups live on. Low-cost marketing can drive additional revenues, albeit in dribs and drabs, but why leave those dollars on the table? What kind of capitalists are you?

While some in entertainment might balk at the idea of work being repurposed and parodies may do violence to the “brand”, don’t we live in an era of the death of the author.

Song:: Beastie Boys-‘Cookie Puss’

Twitterversion:: “Hitler rant” meme takedowns in force, but why not leverage the buzz, remarket, & allow creative expression?#ThickCulture @Prof_K

iphone drawing, BBC
My blog on Rhizomicon details the issues behind the antitrust probe of Apple, although there is some degree of overlap. If you’re interested, feel free to read that blog post first.

Currently, the US Department of Justice {DOJ} and the Federal Trade Commission {FTC} are determining if Apple should be investigated for antitrust activities. The issues are::
  1. Apple announced it will not allow Adobe’s Flash middleware on its iPhone platform
  2. Apple’s current software development kit for the iPhone limits the use of third-party technologies
  3. Steve Jobs wrote a blog explaining why Flash was an inferior technology
  4. The DOJ & FTC are reported to be looking into antitrust actions by Apple
  5. Some economists and strategists are claiming that antitrust is unwinnable because of Apple’s relatively small share in iPhone handsets

In the US, antitrust law and the Sherman Antitrust Act are focused on fostering competition and the competitive landscape, not protecting competitors. A monopolist is one seller and many buyers and their profit comes from a lack of competition and a manipulation of supply. Regulating monopolies and enforcing antitrust often {ideally} considers the “welfare” of the consumer, particularly in terms of pricing. Generally speaking, antitrust cases involve the following, often within the context of fairness::

  • Market definition, in order to determine if a firm has market power
  • Market power, i.e., the ability of a firm to charge a very high price, relative to {marginal} cost
  • Barriers-to-entry, i.e., the ability of an incumbent firm to limit competition or secure resources or advantages that others cannot
Examining the Apple decision to dump Flash may appear to be a non-sequitur when it comes to antitrust. Many have analyzed the situation in the following fashion:
  • Apple operates in defined market of smartphones
  • Apple’s market share in smartphones is relatively small, hence has little market power
  • Apple is fostering more competition by embracing open technologies, rather than the middleware of Flash {middleware allows a program to operate across platforms}

The problem here is the narrow definition of what Apple does. The focus here is on the single market of the hardware, i.e., handsets. In reality, Apple not only sells handsets, but has created a platform that incorporates both hardware and software {apps}, which are interrelated. The more apps, the more attractive the platform. The more attractive the platform, the more incentive there is to develop apps.

In order to address the analysis of platforms in antitrust, multi-sided markets, which are characteristic of platforms with more than one distinct set of clients/consumers, offers useful insights. Apple’s set of interrelated multi-sided markets are::

  1. iPhone hardware {smartphone}/iPad hardware {tablet} sold to consumers
  2. Apps and digital content sold to consumers on the web/mobile web
  3. Platform for smartphone/tablet apps for developers
These intertwined sides of Apple’s market help to properly define it. Examining Apple’s “market power” in terms of smartphone market share is woefully misguided. Let’s assess Apple’s market power in the above three areas::
  1. 15% of the smartphone market, 33% of touchscreen smartphone market [1]; tablet share-??? developing {Apple has relatively low market power in hardware}
  2. 99.4% of mobile apps {$4.2B market-2009} [2]; 25% of all music, 69% of digital [3] {other content types ???} {Apple has moderate to strong market power in software}
  3. See #2 {Apple is a monopolist in apps, but the dynamics of the market are very fluid}
The unknowns {???} are evolving stories or issues I haven’t researched yet. In light of Flash, the most damning market share figure is not the sales of hardware, but the share of apps that’s over 99%, which includes free apps. Apple dominates in this rapidly growing category and by thwarting the middleware of Flash, its market power forces developers to prioritize Apple and obliterates the possibility of a single build that can be used across platforms and devices.
I believe that the platform needs to be examined in its entirety, not just the market share of hardware, and that care should be taken to determine the effects of Apple’s conduct.While Adobe may be worse off due to the fact that developers are likely to channel development towards the dominant iPhone platform that doesn’t use Flash, the acid test will be if developers are worse off. The following table does a rough assessment of Apple’s market sides in smartphones::
Market Sides\Antitrust Dimensions Market Definition Market Power Barriers-to-Entry
Hardware Smartphone handsets & tablets for consumers Low Low
Apps Software for iPhone-based hardware Very high Very High
Platform for Apps Marketplace to sell apps to consumers Very high Very High

In terms of hardware, Apple is profiting from its relationship with AT&T, which is subsidizing the price of the iPhone. Teardowns of the iPad show that margins are relatively slim, but the strategy is to increase the number of users to attract developers. In terms of software, Apple controls the app game.

How I see it is that by forcing Flash off of the iPhone platform, it’s giving developers fewer degrees of freedom for technologies that use Flash. Rather than develop one build for an app that uses Flash middleware, developers will have to create several builds using HTML5. Given the dominance of Apple’s App Store, there are strong incentives to develop for that platform crowding out resources to develop for others, such as Android. Apple’s justification is that it needs to preserve the quality of the user experience, but will that be good enough for the DOJ or the FTC under the Obama administration? Technology is full of uncertainty and fortunes can change overnight. Scrutiny of Apple should consider multi-sided markets and address the health of the competitive environment.

Song:: Feist-‘We Can Work It Out’

Twitterversion:: Development of an #Apple  antitrust analysis framework. How competitive is ecosystem on iPhone platform #ThickCulture @Prof_K