Sunday, December 22, 2013

“The so-called ‘psychotically depressed’ person who tries to kill herself doesn’t do so out of quote ‘hopelessness’ or any abstract conviction that life’s assets and debits do not square. And surely not because death seems suddenly appealing. The person in whom this invisible agony reaches a certain unendurable level will kill herself the same way a trapped person will eventually jump from the window of a burning high-rise. Make no mistake about people who leap from burning windows. Their terror of falling from a great height is still just as great as it would be for you or me standing speculatively at the same window just checking out the view; i.e. the fear of falling remains a constant. The variable here is the other terror, the fire’s flames: when the flames get close enough, falling to death becomes the slightly less terrible of two terrors. It’s not desiring the fall; it’s terror of the flames. And yet nobody down on the sidewalk, looking up and yelling ‘Don’t!’ and ‘Hang on!’, can understand the jump. Not really. You’d have to have personally been trapped and felt flames to really understand a terror way beyond falling.”

David Foster Wallace

Monday, December 16, 2013

What Tech Hasn’t Learned From Urban Planning -

Today, that Starbucks is gone. So is the popular brewery that was next door to it. The sandwich shop across the plaza is closed, as is the salad bar. It’s not that any of these businesses were particularly distinctive or delicious, but they provided a valuable service — lunch — and also some social connection among the building’s tenants and people in the immediate neighborhood.

Gone also is any sign of life the plaza ever had. Google leased as much of the complex as it could get its hands on — and the correspondingly skyrocketing rents accelerated the closing of all the ground-floor businesses, even a short-lived outpost of The Melt (a franchise that serves uniformly grilled sandwiches made with a high-tech — and tech-industry-financed — piece of machinery). In place of Starbucks there is now something called the Mozilla Community Space — that isn’t open to the community. You need to be a registered “Mozillian” (whatever that is) to gain access.

Tech companies that remain in the suburbs are taking a similarly upside-down approach to urbanism. Facebook’s Menlo Park campus, set in a sea of parking, is a sort of movie-set version of a city, with cafe, dry cleaner, doctor, dentist and personal trainers all accessible only to employees. Informal public gathering places (like Starbucks, for example, or a barbershop) are essential to local democracy and community vitality. But by creating “third places” (home and work are the first and second) that aren’t actually open to the public, that benefit is severely compromised.

The Weekend Uber Tried To Rip Everyone Off:

That's down the the line a bit—for now, we're looking at the eradication of low-tech cabs. Uber doesn't hide its contempt for traditional taxi cab systems and dreams of their destruction. City cab companies are rife with problems of their own, yes, but subject to regulation—the kind of regulation we now know Uber badly needs to implement itself, or be forced into. Uber wants to expand to every city in the country, and supplant existing cab systems—the ones subject to laws and regulations. For instance: if a yellow cab driver says it's going to cost an extra $100 just because it's Friday, he'll lose his job. If Uber does it, it's the magical mitts of supply and demand pushing us around.

If more drivers leave traditional taxi companies for Uber—and I've talked to many who have—we step closer to cities where price gouging is the norm, where only the rich can get around, and where outrageous profiteering is the base fare. And if you don't like it, you can hit the road.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

The Financial and Artistic Disaster of The Guthrie's Dry White (Male) Season - Parabasis:

In other words, the Guthrie's new, huge complex and three separate spaces necessitated more conservative, less adventuresome work. This stood in stark contrast to the promises that Dowling made to the theatrical and funding community while he was actually campaigning for the new space, in which he regularly stated that the new space would allow the Guthrie room to more adventurous and diverse work. In fact, as Anne Bogart's "Conversations with Anne" reveals, major industry figures like Ben Cameron and Oskar Eustis specifically held up the Guthrie as an example of a company that was doing new building right, as a way of doing better, more interesting, more diverse work.

So given that box office was apparently such a major part of the Guthrie's considerations, it's worth looking at how the Dry White Male Season worked out for them. And it turns out it was basically a disaster. Over the course of 2012/2013 season, the Guthrie went from having a surplus to a close to half a million dollar deficit, and much of the blame can be laid directly at the unpopular, criticaly unloved trilogy of Christopher Hampton plays that Dowling went out on such a limb to produce, and which played at around 50% capacity for their runs.

If we drew the same lessons from this that theaters always draw from "underperforming" plays by Black playwrights, The Guthrie would never do a play by a British white male writer ever again. Call me crazy, but I doubt that's what's going to happen here.

Monday, December 02, 2013

Why Are We So Obsessed With Sales?:

Last week the Wall Street Journal published a story on the "Dirty Secret of Black Friday 'Discounts'," pointing out that although the number of deals offered by 31 major retailers increased by 63% between 2009 and 2012, their profit margins all stayed roughly the same.

The reason that holding so many sales hasn't bankrupted all these companies is because, as the Journal puts it, they're illusions. Retailers' margins have stayed the same because the average list price — the price the item is eventually discounted from — has skyrocketed.

It's almost all mental. Retailers are required to sell their products at the list price, but according to the Journal, those prices are quickly discounted. And very few people ever actually pay that list price — former JC Penney CEO Ron Johnson said in 2012 that the department store sold less than one in 500 items at full price.