December 26, 2011

History often emerges only in retrospect.

TIME did an excellent job of encompassing the crazy, eventful, tumultuous year 2011 has been in its "Person of the Year" issue. The person: the protester. Great infographics in the front of book that feature some of the year's most viral images, buzzwords (i.e. "occupy" and "planking"), best tweets, things of the year (i.e. percentage 99% and the 7th billion person born), how forces of nature have affected the world, and so on. It seriously blows my mind when I think of all that has happened. The cover story of protesters around the world features powerful portraits and words from some of the people who fought this year for their freedoms and beliefs. Also includes short profiles of Admiral William McRaven (led the Osama bin Laden raid), Chinese activist Ai Weiwei, Paul Ryan, and Kate Middleton. Finally, a farewell to some prominent people who died this year (Steve Jobs, Elizabeth Taylor, Gil Scott-Heron, Betty Ford, Joe Frazier, etc). Concludes with a Joel Stein piece about Ryan Gosling (<3!).

"History often emerges only in retrospect. Events become significant only when looked back on. No one could have known that when a Tunisian fruit vendor set himself on fire in a public square in a town barely on a map, he would spark protests that would bring down dictators in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya and rattle regimes in Syria, Yemen and Bahrain. Or that that spirit of dissent would spur Mexicans to rise up against the terror of drug cartels, Greeks to march against unaccountable leaders, Americans to occupy public spaces to protest income inequality, and Russians to marshal themselves against a corrupt autocracy. Protests have now occurred in countries whose populations total at least 3 billion people, and the word protest has appeared in newspapers and online exponentially more this past year than at any other time in history.

Is there a global tipping point for frustration? Everywhere, it seems, people said they'd had enough. They dissented; they demanded; they did not despair, even when the answers came back in a cloud of tear gas or a hail of bullets. They literally embodied the idea that individual action can bring collective, colossal change. And although it was understood differently in different places, the idea of democracy was present in every gathering. The root of the word democracy is demos, "the people," and the meaning of democracy is "the people rule." And they did, if not at the ballot box, then in the streets. America is a nation conceived in protest, and protest is in some ways the source code for democracy — and evidence of the lack of it.

The protests have marked the rise of a new generation. In Egypt 60% of the population is under the age of 25. Technology mattered, but this was not a technological revolution. Social networks did not cause these movements, but they kept them alive and connected. Technology allowed us to watch, and it spread the virus of protest, but this was not a wired revolution; it was a human one, of hearts and minds, the oldest technology of all.

Everywhere this year, people have complained about the failure of traditional leadership and the fecklessness of institutions. Politicians cannot look beyond the next election, and they refuse to make hard choices. That's one reason we did not select an individual this year. But leadership has come from the bottom of the pyramid, not the top. For capturing and highlighting a global sense of restless promise, for upending governments and conventional wisdom, for combining the oldest of techniques with the newest of technologies to shine a light on human dignity and, finally, for steering the planet on a more democratic though sometimes more dangerous path for the 21st century, the Protester is TIME's 2011 Person of the Year. -- Rick Stengel"

December 04, 2011

"I don't want to blow shit up. I want to get stuff done."

2012=1968? by John Heilemann

"In such an environment, formal claims to leadership are invariably and forcefully rejected, leaving the processes for accomplishing anything in a state of near chaos, while at the same time opening the door to (indeed compelling) ad hoc reins-taking by those with the force of personality to gain ratification for their deas about how to proceed. "In reality," says Yotam Marom, one of the key OWS organizers, "movements like this are most conducive to being led by people already most conditioned to lead.""

"Capitalizing on this support is the central issue facing OWS, and its ability to do so will depend on myriad factors, including the behavior of plutocrats, politicians, and police. (In terms of presenting shocking and morally clarifying imagery, the recent pepper-spraying incident at the University of California, Davis, struck many as reminiscent of Bull Connor's goons dousing civil-rights protesters with fire hoses in 1963). But it will also depend on which of two broad strains within OWS turns out to be dominant: the radical reformism of social democrats such as Berger, who want to see a more humane and egalitarian form of capitalism and a government less corrupted by money, or the radical utopianism of the movement's anarchists and Marxists, who seek to replace our current economic and political arrangements with ... who knows what? "My fear is that we become the worst of the New Left," Berger says. "I don't want to live in a fucking commune. I don't want to blow shit up. I want to get stuff done.""

"Teichberg is a 39-year-old Russian immigrant with stooped shoulders and a mop of brown hair who grew up in Rego Park and is so jacked in to the electronic grid that he comes across like a character out of Neuromancer. But what makes him so interesting is that you could just as easily imagine him making a cameo in The Big Short. A math prodigy who was a Westinghouse Science Talent Search finalist before matriculating at Princeton, he left college (temporarily) after his sophomore year and went to work for Bankers Trust, the first in a string of Wall Street gigs at firms including Deutsche Bank, Swiss Reinsurance Corp., and HSBC. And what did he do in those places? He created, modeled, and traded derivatives, including some of the first synthetic CDOs. And he told the London Times, he was "one of the people [who] built that bomb that blew up the whole economy.""

"Like Teichberg's, their criticisms of that system are more sophisticated and precise than those of many of their comrades. But their politics, also like Teichberg's, are the opposite: earnest and idealistic, for sure, but also vague and half-formed."

I could never quite align myself with the Occupy Wall Street movement, and I can't quite articulate why; I don't know why. One might think I might be a little more sympathetic (I have less than $1,000 to my name, about $25,000 in debt, no job, living with a single mother who got laid off a few months ago...). At the same time though, I'm really confident in my potential to succeed in the career I've chosen, I have an awesome internship, I'm optimistic that my mom will find a job soon, I'm lucky enough to be able to live at home in NYC. I don't quite feel screwed over by the system just yet. I don't know. I also met a lot of the protesters; interns headed down there in September to help with polling, and I don't know, I just wasn't impressed. I didn't get the idea many of them knew what they were talking about. Anyway, I liked that John Heilemann evaluated how this movement can and whether it will, influence politics next year. And especially loved that he spoke to some of the more intelligent leaders (though the movement claims to be leaderless) who have identified some of the problems I've had with the movement and their ideas on how to improve it and make it effective. And it's not that I don't think there aren't fundamental things that need to change. I just never thought camping out in a park and yelling was the best way to address the problem. I think they (we?) have to be smarter about our approaches if we want to make any real differences ... meh, that's all I have to say about it for now.

The efforts all share the upscale New York brand identity.

Really interesting feature (and package) that covers New York City's booming tourism industry. Fifty million tourists will have visited by the end of this year, breaking a record. Apparently the milestone has been reached because of Michael Bloomberg's and NYC & Company's (a marketing type agency) initiatives, connections, outreach, etc. Read and you'll see. Anyway, thought the way their niche-marketing/advertising/PR strategies for potential tourists from the U.S. and abroad was interesting. And how they've been able to convince hotels, airlines, and other members of the industry to join them in their efforts.

"Among travelers from the top foreign markets, Australians are the most adventurous. They are the most likely to attend a sporting event, go dancing, shop, buy tickets to a concert or a play--anything, really. The French are the likeliest to attend an art gallery or a museum. The British, Irish, and Arab Middle Easterners are the least interested in art. Brazilians are emphatically anti-guided tours. The Japanese are seriously into Harlem, crowding gospel brunches and church tours (it is an open secret among New York's jazz community that our jazz clubs are, at this point, all but subsidized by older Japanese men). The Norwegians, Danes, Finns, and the Dutch are the wealthiest, with 18 percent of the arrivals earning more than $200,000. Indians are the thriftiest, in a sense--because they often stay with friends or relatives and avoid hotels, they spend only $88 a person a day. But they also tend to stay longer than other groups, spending $1,000 per trip. The "Russian oligarch" stereotype, statistically speaking, is fiction. 
    Our visiting compatriots, meanwhile, have their own quirks. Their behavior patterns fall into two main categories: day-trippers who tend to come from relatively nearby and get in and out quickly for a specific purpose, and overnighters, who swarm in from farther away and stay longer. While just about every day-tripper who comes to New York shops here, guests from D.C. are almost twice as likely as the average tourist to name that as their main reason to visit. Among overnighters, Angelenos do the most shopping, Miamians are the most inclined to hit an art gallery, and Bostonians tend to favor our nightclubs. 
    To capitalize on those and other differences, NYC & Company has launched niche-marketing campaigns for different places. While the efforts all share the upscale New York brand identity, they are tailored in unique ways. Asian ads focus on our main icons to entice first-time visitors. European markets get bombarded with messages meant to encourage repeat visits and a "live like a local" experience. In Italy and Germany, NYC & Company has been selling the notion of the city's "energy" and "vibrancy," as opposed to any specific sites. It's less Broadway and more Bedford Avenue--a place where you go to be cool. In the domestic market, the sales pitch stays largely the same: The ads for New York that appear in Texas are the same as those running in Connecticut."

"As their economy grew like never before, middle-class Brazilians abandoned traditional vacation destinations like Argentina for New York. NYC & Company quickly influenced American Airlines to create discount fares. After observing the Brazilians' consumer behavior and realizing they are disproportionately taken with Broadway theater, NYC & Company sent five musicals to Sao Paulo. "Nobody's paying for anything--AA is flying them in," says Fertitta, practically giddy. Between 2009 and 2010 alone, the number of Brazilian tourists in the city increased by an incredible 77 percent. And the typical Brazilian drops $415 a day here, about double the international average."

*For a few weeks this year I worked in a watch/jewelry store in midtown Manhattan that largely attracts tourists and I definitely noticed that many more than the last time (I also worked there in 2009) stemmed from Brazil. 

Also, I loved Tourist Profiling and I thought Geotagging the Tourists was really cool. And I really, really want to have some oysters at Grand Central Oyster Bar one day soon!

December 01, 2011

The hothouse brand of American malice stalks our country still.

What Killed JFK, by Frank Rich

"What's also clear is that, despite the ardent attempts of the Kennedy cult to keep his romantic image alive, it is fading among those Americans who are too young to have witnessed it firsthand, in Technicolor. They tend to see JFK now as the property of their parents and grandparents--a short, transitional chapter in the American story, gradually reverting to black-and-white. Listen to Jackie Kennedy in her conversations with Schlesinger--with her feathery voice and piquant observations bespeaking a vanished time and class--and it's hard to imagine what any 21st-century American under 40 could possibly make of her patrician eccentricities. In retrospect, that exhilarating rally at American University in Washington, D.C., in January 2008--where Caroline Kennedy, her uncle Teddy, and her cousin Patrick, soon to end the family's 64-year run in national office, passed the torch to Obama--was the dynasty's last hurrah.

On the other hand, read Manchester or 11/22/63 or any other account of that time, and the vitriol that was aimed at Kennedy in life seems as immediate as today. It's as startling as that "You lie!" piercing the solemnity of a presidential address like a gunshot--or the actual gunshots fired at the White House last week by another wretched waif. In the end, that political backdrop is what our 44th and 35th presidents may have most in common. The tragedy of the Kennedy cult is that even as it fades, the hothouse brand of American malice that stalked its hero stalks our country still."

This issue is packed with good stuff. Just look to the cover. Especially "When Did the GOP Lose Touch With Reality?" by David Frum and "When Did Liberals Become So Unreasonable?" by Jonathan Chait. The piece about Bloomberg's personal conflict with Occupy Wall Street. The design story, too. The juice-bar spread (the photo is perfect). And can't forget "He Shops She Shops," particularly the part with the senior couple, Leo and Tillie! Fuck it, here is the table of contents.