Because it can be measured. Because the person paying for the ads can be presented with numbers that look big - doesn't quite matter what the numbers are, mind you, just that they're numbers. And they're big.
But certainly, for promoting brand awareness, for increasing offline sales, for "converting" clicks to credit card charges (unless you're in the identity theft business, which is a whole other story), online advertising is not very effective at all . . . .
Jeff Trexler: February 2008 Archives
Less than a week after the New York Times celebrated Texasâ€™ dominant position in wind power, a cool, still day dawned. The cold weather drove residents to crank up the heat, but the lack of wind to turn turbines pushed the stateâ€™s electric grid into emergency mode. On Tuesday night, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas cut off power for 90 minutes to those customers who had agreed to accept power interruptions. And it was a full three hours before everything was back to normal.
Jezebel opines on the good, the bad & the ugly of this animal-free collection.
"Social enterprise is charityâ€™s web 2.0â€”a would-be revolution as open to interpretation as a Rorschach blot. If commentators agree on anything in regard to social entrepreneurship, itâ€™s the lack of a consensus as to what the concept means."
That's the opening of a section from Is Social Enterprise Sustainable?, an article that I'm scheduled to present at the upcoming First International Conference on Social Entrepreneurship and Complexity. It's a subject I've been studying for years and am now scribbling out my conclusions in various forms. I'll link to the articles when I upload them in their entirety; in the meanwhile, every so often I'll post excerpts addressing key issues.
Such as the issue of defining social enterprise. Since taking my current gig as a professor of social entrepreneurship I've been "What is social enterprise?" about every other day, and truth to tell, it's a question I've had myself ever since I first heard the term. My approach to finding an answer has been more that of a historian than evangelist--confusing the two is a sure-fire way to get a result that pleases the partisans but overlooks key flaws.
Here is a summary of my conclusion--well, part of my conclusion anyway, as I explain at length in the rest of the piece. But that will be a matter for another day. For now, here's the sliced-and-diced initial section on defining social enterprise from an early draft; I'll serve up the rest, including references, in a couple or so weeks.
This ad has received steady airplay here over the past few weeks. From the Victrola DJ to the JibJabbish animation to the catchy jingle, it makes me laugh every time it's on. If I were buying a car, I'd drop by if for no other reason than to get NYLIHonda.com to hire the same production studio again.
Ah, for the good old days, when "the crying scandal of the day" was "the brewing of beer and the sale of the same by the Catholic monks of the famous Abbey of St. Vincent." To see how the monks tried to avoid becoming a mainstay in the TMZ Kinetoscopes of 1895, read the New York Times' archival classic Monkish Beer Defended, which is just one of the delightful subjects featured in Joanna Sugden's survey of religious beer.
Speaking of which, law types will no doubt remember a famous case involving monkish alcohol--1961's De La Salle Institute vs. U.S., in which a court held that the Christian Brothers Winery--back then, the largest domestic producer of brandy in the U.S.--did not qualify as a church for purposes of exemption from the unrelated business income tax (in prehistoric times, churches were exempt from UBIT). For key quotes from the case, click the link below:
If you spend a lot of time, um, doing research on the web, you've probably seen the mock video battle between celebrity SOs' Sarah Silverman & Jimmy Kimmel. What you might not have thought about is its significance for social innovation. From today's New York Times:
In a telephone interview on Tuesday, Mr. Kimmel said that the most difficult part of the project was arranging the schedules of the stars featured in his video â€” they included, in addition to Mr. Affleck, Brad Pitt, Harrison Ford, Cameron Diaz, Don Cheadle, Robin Williams, Josh Groban and Huey Lewis.
â€œEvery once in a while Hollywood rallies itself for a worthy cause,â€ Mr. Kimmel said. â€œWe saw that with the â€˜We Are the Worldâ€™ video, with â€˜USA for Africaâ€™ and after 9/11. This is just the next natural step in that progression.â€
The gaggle of celebrities was wrangled by Jill Leiderman, an executive producer of â€œJimmy Kimmel Live,â€ who also performed the not-insignificant task of explaining the premise of the enterprise to the various stars â€” who, while certainly regular viewers of Mr. Kimmelâ€™s show, might have been at a Hollywood premiere or volunteering at a soup kitchen on the night Ms. Silvermanâ€™s video was first broadcast.
A couple weeks ago I wrote about the social benefit of African American cartoonists.
Here's a much more thorough overview: Dart Adams' invaluable two-part survey, Black Like Me: The History of Black Comic Book Heroes Through The Ages, 1900-2008. Above, a sample of 1937's landmark Torchy Brown, highlighting the link between fashion and identity:
Jackie Ormes became the first Black female cartoonist to have a syndicated strip when her creation â€œTorchy Brownâ€ was published throughout Black newspapers by way of the Afro American Continental Features Syndicate via the Pittsburgh Courier. Torchy was a bright, independent Black woman in a world of Black professionals that looked like human beings and spoke like them as well (about damn time!).
And don't forget one of the web's earliest efforts to bring this history to light: Tim Jackson's Pioneering Cartoonists of Color.
"We must curb international flows of capital," from the Financial Times. Think of the entrepreneurial rhetoric of the past decade, then read this:
If the risk-taking behaviour of financial intermediaries cannot be regulated perfectly, we need to find ways of reducing the volume of transactions. Otherwise we commit the same fallacy as gun control opponents who argue that â€œguns do not kill people, people doâ€. As we are unable to regulate fully the behaviour of gun owners, we have no choice but to restrict the circulation of guns more directly.
What this means is that financial capital should be flowing across borders in smaller quantities, so that finance is â€œprimarily nationalâ€, as John Maynard Keynes advised. If downhill and uphill flows are both problematic, capital flows should be more level.
What does this mean for the future of social enterprise? I'll be talking about it at this weekend's StartingBloc Institute.
The speaker: Sadaffe Abid, CEO of Pakistan's Kashf Foundation. Ms. Abid knows her stuff & represents the organization well, not just praising its work--a requisite part of making the rounds--but offering a refreshingly forthright analysis of the challenges ahead. That's a strategy that is far more effective in building trust among potential supporters than empty spin, especially when you're working in an environment widely known to be unstable.
For more about Kashf's noteworthy accomplishments, check out its website. Here, since they are issues that arise more globally, are a few of the challenges discussed in the meeting. Note that this is me, Jeff, writing what's below, not Ms. Abid; please blame me for anything you might not like about what follows, especially since much of it is going to be my personal assessment.
- Intractable systemic poverty. In a short but significant aside, Sadaffe noted that while Kashf was able to help a number of women develop their own ventures, the microfinance model was not a panacea; some families are so poor that giving them financial assistance as a gift, not an investment, was more appropriate. This is something that some true believers won't ever concede, but acknowledging it actually strengthens trust in the speaker's assertions about social enterprise.
- The turmoil in banking worldwide, which apparently is leading some banks to dampen their support for microfinance. As I've noted here before, charity is a luxury good--as the economy collapses, we can expect the contours of support to shift, not to mention the contours of organizational rhetoric.
- The political turmoil in Pakistan. Here Sadaffe went into detail concerning the effect of the Karachi riots on Kashf's work, providing concrete evidence of the network's capacity to adapt to violent disruption. Of particular interest to me was the Foundation's decision to suspend repayments in the region for ten days to help loan recipients rebuild. Once again, the Foundation was flexible, not rigorous in applying the entrepreneurial model--a good strategy for maintaining a strong reputation as a truly charitable endeavor.
- Secular legal issues. The Kashf Foundation is organized as an NGO, not a commercial business, which in Pakistan as in the U.S. places some practical limits on what it can do. Kashf looks to be developing a hybrid organizational network, and fortunately it has an established relationship with experienced lawyers.
- Religious law. The prohibition against usury; an imam opining that the organization's support to women violated the principles of Imam--Sadiffe described the issues and how Kashf responds. As anyone who has worked in Islamic regions knows, these are complex issues well worth a breakfast talk of their own.
- And last but not least, men. Women earning more than their husbands is a sensitive issue in the U.S.; it is equally if not more so a potential issue in Pakistan.
Such religious communities typically have a rich metaphorical infrastructure that one can engage to reinforce social enterprise, but it's not a language in which most secular groups are fluent. Difficult ethical quandaries can also arise; one could argue that practices a group like Kashf would not accept--the dowry system, arranged marriage of young girls--are cultural practices to be leveraged in an evolutionary strategy for stable long-term reform, but there's undeniably something about such an approach that punches us square in the gut.
As tends to be the case on this site, there are more challenges here than easy solutions, but judging from Sadaffe's presentation Kashf has been doing an admirable job in providing help to those it serves.
A tried and true tactic of junk mail solicitations is to make the envelope look like it contains a bill.
Above: a fundraising solicitation I've received at work and at home, in which NYC's Museum of Modern Art adopts the same tactic. Sealing the deal: the use of a nonprofit stamp.
My first reaction was, shall we say, rather negative, as stuff like this serves to reinforce the perception of big charity in reductionistic financial terms, a trend that usually ends up with lawmakers imposing new restrictions on more savvily designed nonprofit business.
Now I'm trying to convince myself that it's just a pop ironic commentary on postal spam.
It doesn't look good for our heroes:
Giving to charity has tax benefits. But some chief executives may be unfairly trying to increase the tax advantages in gifts to their family foundations.
That's the implication of research by David Yermack, a finance professor at New York University whose seminal research in 1997 helped unearth the option-backdating scandal nearly a decade later.
In a new study, Yermack finds that chief executives and chairmen of public companies have an uncanny ability to time large stock gifts to their own family foundations directly prior to big declines in share prices. For example, he found that four out of five stock gifts in the week before an earnings announcement were made right before a decline in the price of the stock.
Such gifts, which are exempt from insider-trading rules, typically come right after a run-up in a company's stock price and right before an abnormal 3 percent drop within the following 20 trading days. In comparison, other types of large charitable stock giftsâ€”while also well-timedâ€”come before a smaller 1 percent average drop in share prices.
Of course, the big question is how are these executives able to time their gifts so well?
Insider knowledge is one possibility. If executives know the company is about to release some bad news, they may legally gift stock at higher prices and in turn earn a higher tax benefit while still holding on to the voting power of the shares. That's because most family foundations are run by the executives themselves or close family members.
Evidence supporting this view is that 15 out of 18 donations made following earnings announcements came after the news was good.
Another explanation is that since stock gifts don't have to be reported for long periods after they have been made, executives may be backdating the donations.
This would require collusion on the part of both the foundation and the company. While there is no evidence that this has happened, it is also not difficult to imagine, given what emerged in the investigations into backdating.
A personal tax return claiming a charitable deduction based on backdated gifts "would likely represent tax fraud," says Yermack.
Whites' images of the African-American community all too often mirror our perception of Africa itself--poor, helpless, needing us to intervene.
Nothing could be farther from the truth.
Throughout the nation's history, a rich array of ventures blending business with social benefit emerged from African American networks, both slave and free. Today Kottke calls attention to one whose influence we still hear everyday:
According to Wikipedia, a rent party is:
a social occasion where tenants hire a musician or band to play and pass the hat to raise money to pay their rent. The rent party played a major role in the development of jazz and blues music.
Further reading suggests that rent parties started in Harlem in the 1910s as a way to offset rising rents.
Harlemites soon discovered that meeting these doubled, and sometimes tripled, rents was not so easy. They began to think of someway to meet their ever increasing deficits. Someone evidently got the idea of having a few friends in as paying party guests a few days before the landlord's scheduled monthly visit. It was a happy; timely thought. The guests had a good time and entered wholeheartedly into the spirit of the party. Besides, it cost each individual very little, probably much less than he would have spent in some public amusement place. Besides, it was a cheap way to help a friend in need. It was such a good, easy way out of one's difficulties that others decided to make use of it. Thus was the Harlem rent-party born....
Either the type spacing in this PSA is poorly designed or the Ad Council wants me to combat cybersquatting.
Last night was tough. Not the Oscars--didn't see the movies, had no personal connection. What really got me was seeing the end of Cafe La Fortuna, a place that, for me at least, has long been synonymous with New York.
How long have I been going there? Here's a clue: it was a cherished haunt back when I was writing my Ph.D. dissertation. So many years, so many changes, with Fortuna wending through them like Theseus' thread.
Places like this are one reason why I bristle at attempts to draw a moral distinction between social enterprise and for-profit business. The opera music playing in the background, the magical garden out back, the decades of historic Met memorabilia decorating the walls--Cafe La Fortuna was a social benefit, a transformative space that brought people together in a refuge from the rush of the now.
But if you look at the obituaries, you'll also see why this community had begun to dissipate before Fortuna's all too sudden closure. That John Lennon was a regular was always quietly in the background, with the occasional John & Yoko photo mixed in with the Carusos. In recent years, though, new owners decided to shift the cafe's identity in an apparent attempt to attract more tourists. After the renovation Lennon souvenirs popped up everywhere--music, displays, wall hangings, even a big screen TV looping his videos & bio.
Even after the shift to Planet Lennon Cafe La Fortuna remained a special space; you just screened out what ownership felt it had to do to bring in a few extra bucks. Nonetheless, as has been noted by others, the number of customers was declining, with the regulars themselves conspicuously drifting away. Now that Fortuna is gone, what we'll miss is not the John tchotchkes or the Yoko wall, but that inestimable feeling of a place apart.
Whenever I hear about the revolutionary innovation of social entrepreneurship, one of the first things that always comes to mind is the Oscars. Jump over to Guidestar sometime and you'll see why. The Academy is a nonprofit trade association exempt from taxation under 501(c)(6), and, as is common, it has a related 501(c)(3). Each year the Academy makes 50 mil+ tax free from licensing the broadcast rights to Oscars, more than enough to fund the Academy's promotion of the movie industry and the charity's own work.
Which isn't to say that social enterprise isn't significant--just that folks haven't figured out why.
Marshall McLuhan used to say that behind every joke is a grievance. Sometimes it takes the form of a popular female evangelical Christian who riffs on housework and husbands . . .
It was easier for me to submit myself to him when I was younger and thinner. . . . But then I got older and gained weight, and itâ€™s harder for me to submit to him. Because basically I think I can take him.
. . . others, the not-quite-happenstance association of a wild-eyed love of laundry detergent with a giant cleaver "made for home use."
The 1970s didn't just produce the creative commerce of musicians such as Devo; it also gave rise to trenchant critiques of mindless consumerism. One of the most iconic: the zombie mall muzak scene in Dawn of the Dead.
One of the things that strikes me about the rising generation is the obliteration of the line between integrity and selling out. The two are harmonized now, with selling out an extension--not a betrayal--of authenticity.
I don't see this as a problem. It's actually consistent with the trend toward total integration that's been unfolding for years.
Here's an illustration of how the current sensibility came to be, from a recent interview with the founder of Devo, Mark Mothersbaugh:
Q: Do you feel that this sort of consumer-based art conflicts at all with the critique of consumer culture that you were doing with Devo?
MM: Not at all. In fact, we used to get criticized back in the early days of Devo because, to us, what we were about, back before it was very cool to be into merchandise, we thought of our album cover as a place where we could do the inner-liner sleeves... as a matter of fact, if you look at any of the old Devo records, our inner-liner sleeves were always a merchandise page. We thought of it like the back page of a comic book where you'd see all the things you could order. Smith-Johnson novelties, stink bombs, baking powder-propelled rockets and X-Ray specks and all that kind of stuff. I loved that page of a comic book every time and I always looked at that stuff and sometimes would order it, and the Devo albums, we wanted them to be like a Cracker Jack box where you'd have a prize in there. I remember in 1978 when we put out our first album, and somehow our manager also managed Neil Young, and I remember Neil Young going, "You guys, I don't know what you're doing bringing merchandise into rock â€˜n rollâ€”that's so uncool!" "Of course now, all these years later, he sells a ton of t-shirts and DVDs and things. But at the time he thought it was kind of sacrilegious, and we're like, "You don't understand! This is all fun! Rock â€˜n Roll is better than that!" It's like, everything that turned you on when you were a kid, you should still be able to be part of it. So for us, we thought the merchandise just had to be smart instead of stupid. So we tried to do smart merchandise, and I'm still trying to do smart merchandise.
This reprint from a 1943 magazine has prompted the usual gee-aren't-we-enlightened-now responses. But it also sparked this interesting exchange:
- "What idiot came up with the idea of discarding half of the species as mentally unfit to function in civil society?"
- "Psssh... Civil society? Any place that forces people to toil endlessly simply to eat and stay warm is no more civil than any slave or surf wielding society."
And so we learn the origin of Middle Earth's Ents, as Toyota's new environmental sustainability initiative hybridizes humans with trees. Which is just what everyone wants in a carmaker: a vegan Dr. Moreau.
Another topic of discussion in my entrepreneurship class: politicians as social entrepreneurs, with Barack Obama as exhibit #1. Marketers and scholars alike will be studying his methods for years--they're an innovative fusion of contemporary media and old-school Chicago-style micro-organization. And in scenes like those shown here, the effect can be a marvel to behold.
That's the message of this so-bad-it's-good PSA parody of March of the Penguins, which substitutes naked people for the birds. The message the UK's Environmental Agency wants you to get out of it: do the green thing by turning down the thermostat and relying on body heat instead.
Folks in the U.S. should watch this ad with particular interest, because trust me--you'll never see the like from the Department of Energy.
Richard Taylor alerts us to a blog post by an American physics student in England last year at http://fliptomato.wordpress.com about a 1994 paper by M. M. Tai entitled: "A mathematical model for the determination of total area under glucose tolerance and other metabolic curves" (Diabetes Care, vol 17, p 152).
Just what is it about Tai's finding that has made it worth a mention after all this time? As Flip Tomato suggests, let's substitute a variable in the title: "A mathematical model for the determination of total area under x curves". Now, anyone who persisted with mathematics into their late teens may recognise that Tai has reinvented integration. That would be the mathematics of finding areas under curves, as originally devised by Isaac Newton and/or Gottfried Leibnitz - in the 1670s.
To be fair to Diabetes Care's readers, some of those commenting on the article noted this. Even so, Flip Tomato found 75 papers citing what Tai calls "the Tai method", and when Feedback looked there appeared be up to 90 that reference it.
That so many still cite a paper that "discovers" something mathematicians have known for three centuries makes the case, as Flip Tomato notes, for "the importance of interdisciplinary communication".
With that in mind I decided to check out Rickles' recent memoir for further confirmation. And Rickles Book didn't disappoint. Not only does he meet everyone you've ever heard of from 20th century entertainment, he provides a number of anecdotes that illustrate the dynamics of human social systems.
The story I'll probably end up using in class someday comes from the chapter "The Great Summit," in which he explains how he became part of the Sinatra inner circle--the pivotal moment in his life.
Thanks to being a talk show obsessive as a boy I was familiar with Rickles' legendary greeting the first time Sinatra caught his act--"Make yourself comfortable, Frank, hit somebody!"--but what I hadn't known was why Frank went there in the first place.
Turns out that while Rickles was performing in Miami Beach his mom Etta was there too. But she wasn't just soaking up rays; she had her ear to the ground. Here's how Rickles describes what happened:
"Unbeknownst to me, the unstoppable Etta Rickles had discovered that Dolly Sinatra, Frank's mother, was staying at the Fontainebleau. Don't ask me how, but Mom made it her business to meet Dolly.
"My mother was the easiest person in the world to talk to, and Dolly enjoyed her company. After two or three weeks of these get-togethers, Mom learned that Sinatra was about to play the Fontainebleau.
"Two days before Frank's arrival, the Great Etta-Dolly Summit took place. The conference was brief:
"'How long will Frank be here?' Etta asked Dolly.
"'A couple of weeks,' said Dolly.
"'Wonderful,' said Etta. 'It would be great if you could get Frank to go see Don.'
"Not skipping a beat, Dolly said, 'Don't worry, Etta. I'll make sure Frank shows up.'"
And he did. Rickles adds that Sinatra himself confirmed the connection:
"It became the starting point of our long friendship. . . . In later years, he always told me, 'Don, your mom and Dolly were friends. That meant a lot to me. It really did.'"
It's Friday, which means it's the morning after my almost three hour (ack!) Thursday night class. As usual, it was a lot of fun--for me at least--in no small measure because I changed the format from lecture (the official designation, and blah in a florescent-lit room with no windows) to info-gathering-and-discussion. Also didn't hurt that I've been functioning on precious little sleep the past week, which for some odd reason seems to translate not only into -2 intelligence but +4 charisma. Go figure.
One of the things we talked about was the deceptive lure of online ads as the path to profitability, as well the need to adapt to hard reality. Here's one startup's striking experience on that score, via GigaOm:
Peanut Labs, a company that couldnâ€™t find a business as an also-ran social network, took a different route and now conducts market research on social networks using virtual goods to reward survey takers. The San Francisco-based startup said today it has raised $3.2 million from Leapfrog Ventures and BV Capital (which had funded its original and now side project, the social network Xuqa). The Series A-1 round brings the companyâ€™s total funding to $4.5 million. Of Xuqa, Peanut Labs CEO Murtaza Hussein said today:
â€œThe CPMs are so low itâ€™s really hard to build a real business unless you have several billion page views and your own sales team. Social networks get 5 to 10 cent CPMs, and less outside the U.S. At one point we were averaging 3 cent CPMs. We figured out if we all got up and worked at Starbucks instead we would make more money as a company than selling 300 million impressions a month of ad space.â€
To reiterate what I said earlier, there's a lesson here for web-based social enterprise. Defaulting to Google ads as your source of sustainable revenue is usually not going to suffice.
Her music may be sublime, but I don't think the dress will scale:
The sleek, striking strapless gown was fashioned of brownish-white material decorated with a matrix of triangle shapes. Several long trains in the back and on the sides looked a little stiff and made a crinkly sound as Ms. Lee settled onto the bench with some difficulty, offering self-effacing apologies to her audience.
For a big-picture look at how high-profile carbon footprint reduction efforts can be morally satisfying but not likely to have a substantial impact on the environment itself, check out Michael Specter's Big Foot in the current issue of the New Yorker.
A new book documents the history of Quebec social movements through their posters. I'm not sure that dropping trees on people is the best way to get them to respect the environment, but apparently it worked in Montreal.
OK, that's probably not what the poster says, but I can't read hippy.
An interesting assessment via boingboing:
Paul Jones of iBiblio tipped me off to some recent M&A activity by Microsoft, this time involving the Library of Congress.
Commenters respond that perhaps this anti-corporate mindset has gone too far:
oh noes! They've donated equipment to a library!
In my entrepreneurship class I cite stockings as one example of evolving innovation. This ad from 1953 provides a telling illustration how stockings are an extension of the human impulse to rise above nature.
Transparent as air; the dress billowing in the wind; the soaring jet, the arc to infinity; looking to the future with a smile--this isn't just a nylon ad. It's consumer propaganda for the soul.
Religious publisher Thomas Nelson has announced that it will adopt "environmentally conscious Bible bindings and practices." Practically, this means going from covers made of synthetic materials to leather.
A Los Angeles high school confiscates the latest issue of its high school paper because it contains an anatomically correct diagram of a vagina.
Which approach is more socially responsible?
EXTRA: PURITANICAL MORALITY KILLS FAMOUS PREACHER!
Jonathan Edwards--y'know, "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God," a leading example of American religious rhetoric--may have been the most influential theologian of the 18th century Great Awakening, but that didn't stop his church from kicking him out when he publicly condemned boys in his congregation for looking at diagrams of female anatomy in an obstetrics textbook. He went into exile as a missionary to the Indians, got a bad inoculation against smallpox and died.
If I were the principal who reacted against the vagina diagram, I'd think about skipping the school's next flu shot.
From a New York Times blog post on "Manhattan Noon," a new exhibit of street photography:
In our media-saturated culture, everyone is a picture-taker and image-maker, adding a new wrinkle to the work of those who practice the time-honored tradition of street photography.
â€œItâ€™s harder and harder to take a picture without somebody in the picture whoâ€™s also taking a picture,â€ the Brooklyn-based photographer Gus Powell said on Tuesday evening, explaining that the mere act of taking a photo hardly makes him stand out in a crowd. â€œWe all take pictures â€” thatâ€™s what we do. Itâ€™s more that your camera doesnâ€™t look like a phone â€” thatâ€™s the bigger issue.â€
It's, what, 3:45 a.m., and I just put to bed--beddddddd--a preliminary draft of an article I'm writing. Still got a few pages to punch up and references to plug in, but the core is thereï¿¼. And after that--another one, and another one, and so on and so on and so on . . .
The quote--who else?
A Soviet poster--"Here's our profit!"--conflates currency with social benefit: schools, communal living, the production of goods to meet society's needs.
Here's an example of altruistic action you won't find in your average celebration of charitable virtue: sharing dirty jokes to cheer up someone's dying grandmother. One for the road:
My grandmother loved naughty stories. She told me this when I was in junior high.
A man with a pet duck goes into a bar and orders a drink, but the bartender says, "No pets allowed." So the guy goes outside, stuffs the duck in his pants and returns for a beer or two. Next he's sleepy and decides to have a nap in the theater next door....
A couple comes in and sits next to the snoozing drunk, who has unzipped his pants to give the duck some air. The woman, who is sitting next to him says, "Frank! the man next to me is exposing himself!" Frank says, "Just don't look, don't make a fuss, you'll only encourage him." "Well OK," she says, "but it's eating my popcorn."
Requiescat in pace.
The answer to this question depends on a number of variables, not least of which is personal perspective.
It's not hard in the nonprofit & progressive worlds to find folks who'd say the picture is spot on. For-profiteers are sharks; their do-gooding is a thin veneer, endangering their nonprofit partners.
For others, the answer to this question is a clear no--as I like to say, corporations are people too, and many within business see corporate ethics & philanthropy as an extension of themselves.
NPR's Bryant Park Project is running a discussion thread prompted by its feature story on Book22.com, a Christian online shop of "Intimacy Products for Married Couples." Among the various interesting comments this one in particular caught my eye:
Now I've heard everything. You need to go on to the website listed and see what this is really all about: as usual, making money. What about those moneychangers in the temple?
From a church in Valladolid, Mexico. A commenter on the original upload points to another example here.. Note that both are in the form of children, whom we are encoded to nurture and protect.
Below: the most memorable excerpt from this adventure, when the Doctor says goodbye to his granddaughter, who is staying on earth with her new beau:
Tactical Philanthropy points to a poll indicating that Americans believe charities spend too much on overhead. Not surprising, since capital and charity tend to fall in different conceptual domains. The amount that people sense should be spent on infrastructure typically will reflect a number that they associate with "relatively small" rather than a number that has any practical relation to the amount needed to maintain an effective charity.
To compare the amounts spent on infrastructure will not provide an accurate measure of relative efficiency. The key issue is not actual expenditures but attention management--do people see the charity in reductive terms or as something beyond the mundane. An organization adept at transformative design can direct 100% of its assets & revenue to infrastructure & still be perceived as the quintessence of charity. Any number of local churches do this quite well. In contrast, focusing on infrastructure as the salient metric is likely to undermine public trust, not to mention group cohesion & morale.
"Pakistani Taliban commander Baitullah Mehsud paid out more than $7,000, including money to purchase suicide jackets, for the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, the chief Pakistani investigator said Sunday."
From an ROI perspective, it would seem to have been an effective expenditure. Still, I can see why CNN led with the cost. $7000 for a few jackets does seem to be a bit much . . .
White people spend a lot of time of worrying about poor people. It takes up a pretty significant portion of their day.
They feel guilty and sad that poor people shop at Wal*Mart instead of Whole Foods, that they vote Republican instead of Democratic, that they go to Community College/get a job instead of studying art at a University. . . .
A great way to make white people feel good is to tell them about situations where poor people changed how they were doing things because they were given the â€˜whiterâ€™ option. â€œBack in my old town, people used to shop at Wal*Mart and then this non-profit organization came in and set up a special farmers co-op so that we could buy more local produce, and within two weeks the Wal*Mart shut down and we elected our first Democratic representative in 40 years.â€ White people will first ask which non-profit and are they hiring? After that, they will be filled with euphoria and will invite you to more parties to tell this story to their friends, so that they can feel great.
But it is ESSENTIAL that you reassert that poor people do not make decisions based on free will. That news could crush white people and their hope for the future.
Here's a map that says a lot. There's an inverse relation between the value of the map and the privacy of the individuals whose movement has been plotted. Extrapolate:
A visual summary of my son, daughter and cat's movements over a period of an hour - Christmas '06. I used a marked-out grid and filmed them moving on video across the grid for an hour. I then reviewed the video and plotted their movements onto a 'room map' with corresponsing grid.
Kate Andrews highlights an instructive quote on design education. It applies to philanthropic design as well.
The International Cocoa Initiative (ICI) is a chocolate-industry funded NGO. The ICI has one staff member in all of Cote D'Ivoire and does not directly give money to communities that produce cocoa. They do fund an NGO that has a shelter . . . that houses street children in Abidjan.
One of my pet peeves is the sleazing up of nonprofit ads. This WD40 ad is an example of how you can use sex to sell your product without selling your soul. It's funny, clever and doesn't objectify--which is quite a feat in an ad featuring robots!
Heightened languageâ€”one possible or partial definition of poetryâ€”isnâ€™t the first thing one associates with comics. Yet comic book artists take into account the way words appear on the page to a degree poets will find familiar. How many lines should accompany each image? How high should the dialogue balloon float? The ratio of printed words to blank space plays a role in whether a poem or strip succeeds.
Today I've trekked below the surface to a cavern with hidden knowledge of things beyond. In other words, I'm at SIBL--the Science, Industry & Business Library of the NYC public library system. It's a pretty good place to find bizlit, free databases and--most importantly--free wireless & abundant outlets.
I've usually work in my office on weekends, but occasionally this is a tad better, basically because it's not devoid of people; there's something about being in an empty highrise for a couple days that can feel a bit too I Am Legend for my taste. Then there's also the little matter of the place saving money by cutting off lights and heating . . . .
The one thing I dislike about libraries: they're too %#$@! quiet. So on my earphones now, as all week: a repeating loop of Reefer Madness, a film that, like South Park, nails the dark side of using crowd psychology to promote civic virtue.
We now all know that Obama is running a Membership campaign versus Clintonâ€™s Consumer compaign. His is a movement for social change that people belong to. Hers is an coalition of interest groups that are promised delivery of specific goods.
What Color Is the Empire State Building provides a graphic display & explanation of the latest light display.
[W]e have spent nearly three years developing a very safe, high quality condom especially for discerning and lovely customers. They are people who will be even happier to know that their lovemaking will benefit workers on rubber plantations, as a royalty on each pack goes to help ensure their wages are fair and healthcare and pensions are provided.
The music on the French Letter website is pretty cool too.
Richer taxpayers should pay a surcharge of 10 per cent on earnings or investment income above Â£150,000 a year if they do not give the same sum to charity, Frank Field, Labour's former welfare reform minister, said yesterday.
The aim was "to encourage richer taxpayers to embrace the responsibilities of wealth" in a new philanthropy reminiscent of the Edwardian era.
Of course, one thing about the Edwardian era is that the government wasn't funding public health, poverty relief and pension programs at anything near the level or scope of what we see today.
The evolution of charitable rhetoric on this score deserves a whole book of its own--the government justified created its own social support networks because individual charities were ostensibly unable to engage in widescale systemic relief, but now that the government has been doing this for a while the dramatically higher tax rates needed to fund these programs are no longer associated with the charitable semantic domain. Instead, government funded has shifted into the domain of necessity, and so a person's tax payments no longer count as a sufficient contribution to the common good. Yet a mandatory payment to a non-governmental charity remains charitable, a value set that itself includes personal freedom.
While I respect the sentiment, I'm pretty sure that if I started treating love like an open system I'd be dead by nightfall!
The other day I took a moment to read an absolutely stunning book-- Without Sanctuary: Lynching Photography in America. Words fail. Usually a photo book is a much faster read than the equivalent pages in text, but not this time. Each page drew me into the abyss. Most compelling: reproductions of lynching postcards, the sale of which were eventually banned by certain states.
Pictured above: a commemorative marker for a lynching tree in Globe, Arizona, which includes an extensive narrative apparently designed to position the act within the bounds of civil society. The crime, the fair hearing, the saloons closed, the formal nonprofit business associations and the informal but equally nonprofit group of vigilantes are said to have conducted"an orderly lynching."
Via io9, an homage to In the Shadow of the Moon:
Today we're not impressed unless our science fiction involves explosions, boobs, mutants, or all three, but back in the 60s when science fiction became science fact, it seemed like the country could unite to do anything. I caught this film last year at Sundance sandwiched between melancholy indie art films that make you pray that you might choke on your own tongue, and I was blown away. It's a great testament to the entire space program, and what might be one of the last memorable looks at the surviving men who have walked on the moon.
I have zero time to follow up on it now, but this post by Mark Federman makes a key point. Read and extrapolate:
Because it can be measured. Because the person paying for the ads can be presented with numbers that look big - doesn't quite matter what the numbers are, mind you, just that they're numbers. And they're big.
I'm spending the day typing as fast as I can about the nature of social enterprise in relation to transcendent value. In the background right now, chosen specially for today's work: Doctor Who and my favorite among his enemies, the Cybermen.
- "The presidential race dominates conversation. Will productivity suffer?"
Uhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh, I plead the Fifth.
- This Valentine's Day, "a family in New Jersey expands the meaning of love" to include the au pair
And here I thought that sort of thing only happened on the Upper East Side. Though it appears that polyamory is now tax deductible . . .
Newspapers are featuring ads for flowers and articles on various Muslims worldwide with their panties in a bunch about any holiday not explicitly mentioned in Sahih Bukhari. But in all the conspicuous consumption and harrumphing, the ones that Muslims should really be focused on get lost in the shuffle as usual. Many of the trappings of Valentineâ€™s Day have ugly and sometimes bloody pasts that no amount of red satin can hide. The items we exchange as gifts are often produced by workers who are paid little or nothing, live in wretched conditions, and face cruelty and danger in their work. Yet in the denouncing of this holiday, even the holier than thou forgot the poor and the oppressed.
I know I'm supposed to be an evangelist for the dataflood, but as someone who actually studies how people process information I often find myself in the position of designated skeptic. Luckily that's not so bad a position to be in, because the way some folks wax rhapsodic over junk data makes pickin' 'em off rather easy.
Anyway, here's a nifty piece of research via Guy Kawasaki, a University of Iowa study indicating that "people who have only a little information about a product are happier with that product than people who have more information."
The press release focuses on blissful ignorance in consumer choice, which sounds a bit flim flammery. But it also has important ramifications for the reputation of nonprofit organizations.
Remember a point I've made here, and if you've talked to me recently, ad nauseum in private conversation: the net effect of the accountability movement will be to undermine trust in NGOs. I know it sounds counterintuitive, but by framing nonprofit identity in terms of untrustworthiness we've actually made nonprofits seem more untrustworthy. The more we focus on the need to get more data from nonprofits, the more people will assume that nonprofits are ineffective at their missions and have something to hide.
It's good news from nonprofit lawyers, accountants and consultants, I guess, 'cuz folks will need us more than ever to keep the wolves at bay. But for nonprofits themselves, it's expensive in more ways than cash. What Kawasaki aptly describes as "romantic" information design can be much more effective--and it's exactly what our so-called experts are telling us to strip away.
Back to the Iowa study. The heart of what it's about is connection, the nonprofit stock in trade. And the lesson couldn't be more simple: the more detail you throw at folks, the less they'll will want what you're selling.
The Onion knows the discipline of funny. The Ad Council--not so much.
The Ad Council has released a new civic engagement promotional campaign called Fight Mannequinism. They describe mannequinism as a new phenomenon caused by political and volunteer inactivity where "...sufferers experience a hardening of the skin and firmness of all joints until ultimately the body is transformed into a plastic hollow shell. It is a disease of the mind that ultimately affects the person's whole being and community." The disease is curable, however, by engaging oneself by volunteering for a nonprofit organization or local campaign office.Â
. . . with groceries. From Entertainment Weekly's homage to the fiftieth anniversary of romance comics:
What do romance comics have to do with social enterprise? A lot, mon frere and frerettes! For these books weren't just about tawdry lust; they were morality tales square in a tradition that went back through the Puritan era to medieval mystery plays and even sacred texts. Sure, the people making these comics were peddling kitsch and hustling for dollars, but they did so by creating stories, letter columns and Q&As that reinforced community values.
The genre was even a way in which commercial business worked to integrate African Americans into the economic & cultural mainstream. Below: the cover of Negro Romance #2, an early 1950s comic that was one of several of the genre I was fortunate to find when I collected comics as a kid:
For more on the early history of African American comics, check out this article by Tom Christopher, which includes the following ad announcing how one early entrepreneur planned to use his comic book publishing company to promote racial progress, historical awareness and social enlightenment. These are the unsung heroes of our time--the countless men and women who tried in small but significant ways to create a world others would not dare to imagine.
. . . and persuade it to add nonprofits to the mix? More on Skygrid, one of the hottest biz startups on the web, from GigaOm:
If youâ€™re like me, overwhelmed by the number of news sources you have to consume daily just to stay current (I confess to a love-hate relationship with my RSS reader), then Kevin Pomplun has a product for you: a news aggregator so clever, you donâ€™t even have to read headlines to keep your finger on the pulse. Pomplun is the 26-year-old founder of Sunnyvale, Calif.-based SkyGrid.
Founded in 2005, SkyGrid emerges from stealth mode this week with a search tool that sifts through hundreds of web and mainstream media to show you just one thing: whether the balance of the news on a public company is good or bad, and how the â€œmoodâ€ is changing. Naturally, hedge fund managers are eating it up.
Something like this could really be useful for nonprofit strategic design.
Here's one outraged reader's reaction to the latest Slate philanthropy roundup:
How does one make a decision to give to an art museum when there are homeless in every community?
It's actually not so heartless a decision as jenb5336 imagines. The existence of tax-funded social services; sensitivity to the drive for higher meaning; an awareness of the importance of memory to human identity; even a nod to the substantial economic benefits accruing from nonprofit institutions--these are just a few of the factors that lead people toward making the choice.
I remember when a similar argument led the U.S. to spike moon exploration in the 1970s, and if I recall correctly, poverty didn't disappear. Yet the nation lost not only a potent symbol of unity and achievement, but it also dismantled an infrastructure that would have been really useful now that we realize that the moon's abundant supply of helium 3 could end our reliance on fossil fuel.
That was my first thought upon seeing this public service ad from Canada, but that's actually not the message. The theme is the danger of distractions.
Time travel, dinosaur erotica and penile phylogeny--truly the Platonic ideal of a scientific blog post!
A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away I evangelized a project that involved comprehensive mapping of interactions among NGOs. This was pre-Facebook, even pre-Myspace. One objection I heard was that networks were a frivolous fad (I think of this when reading that individual's recent writing on, um, networks); another--and this was most common--was invasion of privacy.
Io9 relates news of an experiment that is similarly raising fears about the trade-off between comprehensive research and personal privacy:
"[A] pilot project involving dozens of volunteers in the University of Washington's computer science building provides the next step in social networking, wirelessly monitoring people and things in a closed environment. Beginning in March, volunteer students, engineers and staff will wear electronic tags on their clothing and belongings to sense their location every five seconds throughout much of the six-story building. The information will be saved to a database, published to Web pages and used in various custom tools. The project is one of the largest experiments looking at wireless tags in a social setting.
"The RFID Ecosystem project aims to create a world that many technology experts predict is just on the horizon, said project leader Magda Balazinska, a UW assistant professor of computer science and engineering. The project explores the use of radio-frequency identification, or RFID, tags in a social environment. The team has installed some 200 antennas in the Paul Allen Center for Computer Science and Engineering. Early next month researchers will begin recruiting 50 volunteers from about 400 people who regularly use the building. . . . "
I'm glad the group is studying the privacy implications of all this, because holy crap. Do you really want your colleagues to see when you've left the building or gone to the bathroom on your Google Calendar? Or for your Facebook friends to know exactly where you are at all times? I'm having a hard time understanding why an RFID Ecosystem future is one that I would want to embrace or plan for in any way other than lobbying to make it illegal.
I try to live perpendicular to my environment, not identifying with it but standing outside looking in. Today's Valley Zen riffs on the importance of vantage point to creative insight:
Like in Jazz, the unconventional perspective brings us closer to the true spirit of the process at hand. At unexpected angles, invaluable insights are revealed.
Way back amidst the Givewell controversy (oh, so long ago . . . ), Gifthub took a bit of heat for its use of bondage metaphors. As this news story indicates, though, wealth bondage is an all too real phenomenon here in Gotham.
Good news about the man who was found in respiratory distress while suspended from the ceiling at a Midtown S&M club on Friday. . . .
The retiree (named in the Post, but not in the News), was apparently a regular at the Nutcracker Suite, an S&M club on East 33rd Street. He had a choker around his neck, and the choker was suspended by a rope from the ceiling. He was also wearing a hood, nipple clamps and high heeled shoes. His dominatrix had been checking on him at regular intervals, but at one point, his hands seemed blue, so 911 was called. The Post reports that the man "began choking when one of his feet slipped out of the tall shoe." Police are looking into whether to press charges of negligence.
The president of a business in the same building, Janet Benshoof of the Global Business Center, summed up the clientele to the Daily News: "A steady stream of bankers, lawyers, doctors, going to the ninth floor. It was like Guantanamo for sexual deviants. It was Abu Ghraib in Manhattan, but for pleasure."
All this is pretty much old news to folks in the biz, but it's always charming to hear the reaction from someone for whom it's a whole new world:
And the man's wife told the News, "He comes down to visit once in a while," adding, "I thought New York was safe."
On my writing agenda today is a bit about social enterprise as a mimetic phenomenon--less a self-conscious movement than adaptive imitation. By a nifty coincidence, my breaktime reading brought this pertinent article in the New York Times on flirting.
Flirting? How in the world is that relevant?
Here are a few key paragraphs that reflect that scholarship I've been reading--
Most people are also strongly sensitive to rapport, to charm, to the social music in the person making the pitch. In recent years, researchers have begun to decode the unspoken, subtle elements that come into play when people click.
They have found that immediate social bonding between strangers is highly dependent on mimicry, a synchronized and usually unconscious give and take of words and gestures that creates a current of good will between two people.
By understanding exactly how this process works, researchers say, people can better catch themselves when falling for an artful pitch, and even sharpen their own social skills in ways they may not have tried before.
â€œReally good salespeople, and for that matter good con artists, have known about these skills and used them forever,â€ Jeremy Bailenson, a psychologist at Stanford, said. â€œAll weâ€™re doing now is measuring and describing more precisely what it is theyâ€™re doing, whether consciously or not.â€
And while we're at it, let's throw in a bit of this . . .
One reason subtle mimicry is so instantly beguiling may be that it draws on and, perhaps, activates brain circuits involved in feelings of empathy.
In several studies, Jean Decety, a neuroscientist at the University of Chicago, has shown that some of the same brain regions that are active when a person feels pain also flare up when that person imagines someone else like a loved one feeling the same sting or ache.
A similar process almost certainly occurs when a person takes pleasure in the good fortune of a friend or the apparent enjoyment of a conversation partner, Dr. Decety said.
â€œWhen youâ€™re being mimicked in a good way, it communicates a kind of pleasure, a social high youâ€™re getting from the other person, and I suspect it activates the areas of the brain involved in sensing reward,â€ he said.
And I think you see the connection. The nonprofit world--and the do-gooder world generally--curries favor by taking on the characteristics of its potential supporters.
Step outside the moment and look at our past few decades of history-- not like you're part of a social revolution but a collector wandering through a flea market (a major preoccupation of my childhood, actually. Pretty soon the patterns will emerge. Welfare state and market failure in the 1970s; democracy and free markets with the collapse the Soviet Union; venture philanthropy in the dot-com boom. Each new identity proclaimed itself the millennial summum bonum, and each one gave way to a newer identity in keeping with the latest trends.
Does this mean that social enterprise is just an echo chamber? No, not completely. But it does give us reason to pause. If the concept is going to have a sustained measurable impact (!), it has to go beyond parroting the latest lingo about capital markets and ROI.
Gerber was one of those writers who had a tremendous influence on me over the years but whom I never met. His last work, which he wrote literally on his deathbed, was the latest incarnation of Doctor Fate.
Below: God explains the mystery of life in the last issue of Gerber's 2002 Howard the Duck revival:
From Murketing's interview with the creators of (RE), a satirical response to Project Red designed to "offer non-corporate alternatives for engagement in causes â€” and to provoke some deeper thinking about conspicuous consumption, engagement, and solving the worldâ€™s problems"--
Cause marketing tends to talk about reaction in terms of numbers: i.e., how much money was raised, or how many consumers bought a particular product. Our initiatives donâ€™t ask for one straightforward way to respond, because there is a danger in over-simplifying the very issue(s) that youâ€™re trying to address. The most pleasing responses are when people engage us or each other in the issues. Sometimes it means they choose to cover their phone with red vinyl, buy a t-shirt, or donate an item for auction, and sometimes it means they walk away and do something they feel is more appropriate.
TechCrunch looks at the Wikimedia Foundation's audited financials & raises a question about the charity's possible entanglement with related for-profit Wikia. Founder Jimmy Wales answers:
Unless Community Foundations add more more value, and emphasize relationships, local presence, and ideals, they will find Fidelity and other financial intermediaries tough competition.
Bingo. The philanthropic landscape has evolved in ways that many community foundations--indeed, many charities--have yet to grasp. While charities are redefining themselves in commercial terms, the most successful businesses are highlighting their noncommercial values. The result is a market environment in which charity all too often appears ill-adapted on both fronts, with business-speak unmatched by business savvy and a nonprofit identity that seems compromised.
If a charity is to compete, its value-added lies in being both more effective and transcendent. A difficult and delicate task, to be sure, but one we ignore to our peril.
Citizen Kane was on TV the other day when it hit me. Charles Foster Kane wants power, so he buys a newspaper--how weird must that seem to a kid watching the movie today?
Now the above picture would be Kane standing on top of all the unsold copies bundled for recycling.
Tonight I decided to take a break from my research by clicking around the Unbridled Acts of Kindness campaign run by the Red Robin hamburger chain. I went into it with my usual perpendicular mindset, reflecting on how the company had leveraged altruism and community to build its own brand.
Then I read this email from a customer, and the PR stuff became painfully human:
Yesterday we had a little outing to go buy some new shoes for my daughter. We were at the store looking at shoes and my daughter seemed to be actually a little interested in something for once but not at the level she should've been. A young lady, wearing a Red Robin shirt, was in the aisle with us looking for shoes as her phone rang. As she was digging in her purse to answer it, a necklace and a bunch of pins fell out. My daughter bent down to pick them up for her, but just held on to them looking at all of the things on it. The lady put her phone away and asked her if she thought those were pretty cool. My daughter nodded yes. The young lady asked what happened to her arm. A pretty innocent question for the most part; with kids you just think they fell off their bike or something. I braced myself for my daughter to shut down and just shrug but she said, "My daddy got mad. And now we live in someone elseâ€™s house thatâ€™s why we're buying me shoes." While most people would've gotten embarrassed or changed the subject, the lady responded, "I'm sorry that had to happen to you. But you've still got your mom and thatâ€™s something to be happy about." Then my daughter looked at her and asked if she ever got sad. The girl said yes. There was a few seconds of silence and my daughter said "What do you do when you're sad?" The young lady told her that whenever she gets sad she thinks of something or looks at something that makes her happy. My daughter replied, "Like ice cream?" The lady laughed and said that if that made her happy then she sure could try it.
My daughter said she didn't have any special things to look at. So the young lady told my daughter to pick something of hers that she likes the best and that whenever she gets sad she can think of the happy time that she went to buy shoes with her mom. My daughter picked three pins and the girl handed them over to her. My daughter just held on to them and she smiled at me for the first time in weeks.
That moment changed something in my daughter. Maybe it was the right time, maybe it was the ladyâ€™s friendly smile, or maybe my daughter really did just need something physical to remind her to smile. Whatever happened, my daughter and I spent the best evening together and I put her to bed and she had those her pins pinned on the edge of her pillowcase. This woman has no idea what she did. I wish I hadn't been frozen watching this so I could've asked her name or pulled her aside and told her that was the most my daughter had spoken in two weeks. I wished this woman could know how she just made our life a little bit better during a really hard time.
Its target: us.
ABCâ€™s "The Goode Family" . . . centers on a do-gooder family that tries to do the right thing in all facets of life .
I can't wait!
"Those wide-eyed teens running around Greenwich Village sucking on lollipops in the shape of female sex organs are NYU students promoting a good cause. The suggestive candies are all part of the university's "Vagina Week" - seven days of programs 'promoting positive femininity and awareness of violence against women.'"
Back in the 1960s, Marshall McLuhan predicted that New York City would become an entertainment center, an urban Disneyland. This parody of NYC tourism ads, produced by a group of Upright Citizens' Brigade improv class alums, is a fun parody of what we've become:
Just outlined an article on tight deadline--hooray! And since there haven't been enough images today, here's a video from one of my all-time fave singers. Click through for a translation of the lyrics in the comments:
And while we're at it, probably my favorite of all her songs:
Beth notes that blogging presence can boost Google search rankings. Commercial PR firms have long known this, and their actions raise a key ethical question for nonprofits & social enterprise. When do we cross the line from prudent identity management to unscrupulous manipulation? Quoth Bruce Nussbaum:
I sat next to a a guy Iâ€™ve know for years from a major public relations/media relations firm at the World Economic Forum in Davos two weeks ago and he told me how his company manipulated search to improve the image of its clients. It was a harrowing conversation that Iâ€™m sharing here because it opens up a whole host of issues and problems concerning the truthfulness of search in general and the authenticity of Google search in particular.
This guys PR firmâ€”and all major PR firmsâ€”monitor Google and the blogosphere in general for any online negativity among blogs, websites, and media stories on their clients that pop up in search. The PR firm then spends money to create what I would call fake blogs, websites, and stories that are positive about their clients. The goal is to change the ratio of negative/positive mentions on the web in general and in Google search in particular.
And this PR firm is very successful at manipulating search, he said. All the PR firms are successful at creating "independent" blogs and sites that spin out positive news and images about clients.
So I ask, what are we getting when we search for something on Google or Yahoo or anywhere. The game is being rigged and we don't know by whom or how. Search isn't transparent and it isn't objective.
"I think that it's great to have fashion and philanthropy sort of intertwined, because people care about fashion. So when you combine the two, it makes it fun."
There is very little regulation in the charity game, and if someone like Roger Chapin, the â€œnonprofit entrepreneurâ€ who founded the Coalition to Salute Americaâ€™s Heroes and Help Hospitalized Veterans, wants to mismanage your money, he has great leeway in doing so.
The notion that charities are subject to "very little regulation" may be a laugher to folks in the, um, biz, but perception matters more than reality.
Here come the drums . . .
That's the issued raised by judges in the Ninth Circuit hearing the appeal in Sklar v. Commissioner:
A Jewish couple's bid to take a tax deduction they say the Internal Revenue Service reserves only for members of the Church of Scientology is getting a friendly reception from a federal appeals court, increasing the possibility of a ruling that could create a tax break for taxpayers of many religions who pay tuition to religious schools.
During arguments on the case this week, three judges who ride the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals expressed deep skepticism of the IRS's position that the way the agency treats Scientologists is irrelevant to the deductions the Orthodox Jews, Michael and Marla Sklar, took for part of their children's day school tuition and for after-school classes in Jewish law.
"The view of the IRS is it can unconstitutionally violate the Constitution by establishing religion, by treating one religion more favorably than other religions in terms of what is allowed as deductions, and there can never be any judicial review of that?" Judge Kim Wardlaw asked at the court session Monday in Pasadena, Calif.
"That is not at all what I said," a Justice Department lawyer representing the IRS, Ellen Delsole, said.
"That's the bottom line," Judge Wardlaw and a colleague on the panel, Harry Pregerson, both replied. "This does intrude into the Establishment Clause," Judge Wardlaw added.
For an explanation of how this mess came about, check out the whole article.
This New York Times article on an Upper West Side children's store illustrates the transformation of profit-making commerce into nonprofit identity.
The store, A Time for Children, on Amsterdam Avenue near 84th Street, is owned by a family foundation that Ms. Stern and her husband, Michael Stern, established two decades ago to help disadvantaged children.
She opened the store, she said, as an enhanced way for their foundation to support theChildrenâ€™s Aid Society in New York City. With the store, she said, the coupleâ€™s foundation, Big Wood, provides not only money for Childrenâ€™s Aid, but also a job-training site for its youth employment program.
All of the storeâ€™s after-tax revenue goes to Childrenâ€™s Aid, and all of its employees, except for two managers and a training assistant, are 16- to 20-year-olds referred for part-time work by the agency. They generally work four-month stints of 12 to 15 hours a week, earning $8 an hour, while attending high school in most cases, or college in a few.
Although I'm not sure that Tom Waits was referring to a donut hole.
Jack Siegel breaks down the latest warning shot to charitable social entrepreneurs: Solution Plus v. Commissioner, Tax Court Memorandum 2008-12. I'll skip the procedural folderol and get right to the point: in this case, the court upholds the IRS' decision to deny 501(c)(3) status to an educational credit counseling service. Here are a few highlights:
Petitioner's articles of incorporation do not limit its activities to those related to education because the articles empower petitioner to engage in activities that are not purely charitable or educational. For example, petitioner could operate an investment business and offer products and services with respect to a customer's individual needs. Those activities stand in stark contrast to educational purposes acceptable under section 501(c)(3) . . . .
The term "charitable" is used in section 501(c)(3) in its generally accepted sense and includes relief of the poor and distressed or of the underprivileged. However, primarily providing services for a fee ordinarily does not further charitable purposes.
Yes, I know that there are any number of social enterprises that have avoided the fate of Solution Plus--which I guess after this will dissolve (ba dum bump!)--but cases such as this are a vivid reminder that exemption is not guaranteed. The world of social enterprise is not the world of the tax code; if you want to survive you must adapt.
Barack Obama points to the link:
I asked him directly last year why a voter should back someone who has never run anything bigger than a legislative office. He responded by pointing to his nascent campaign. He observed out that he was up against the full Clinton establishment, all the chits she and her husband had acquired over the years, and the apparatus they had constructed within the party. He had to build a national campaign from scratch, raise money, staff an extremely complex electoral map, and make key decisions on spending and travel. He asked me to judge his executive skills by observing how he was managing a campaign.
BLUE STATE PICK-UP EXTRA:
In the NYC subway system, the L train is known as the "Love train"--a popular route for young professionals going to and from Brooklyn, it's a hub for twenty-something pick-ups. Other trains--not so much, as the commuter omerta dictates that riders keep to themselves.
But the other day on the 6 I saw a guy who'd hacked the system. Mid-twenty-something bearded white granola type, not exactly fit, yet women were approaching him, and he was workin' it.
His flawless technique: wearing an Obama button and conspicuously holding up a copy of Dreams from My Father.
The flow: earnest politics, name exchange, bonding over life deets, leaving the train together.
Poverty, the environment, education . . . and sex? If we were to conduct an honest survey of the social enterprise landscape, the latter would have to appear. One dimension of social venturing all too often ignored in the social venture mainstream is the [insert obligatory double entendre here] of university sex journalism. The issue is [ditto] to a [ditto] in the Ivy Leagues, as Yale hypes its upcoming Sex Week and Harvard, not to be ignored, touts its own answer to Maxim, which will feature photos of naked women students and topless guys (hardly seems fair, but there ya go).
Collegiate porn would seem to be guaranteed to succeed, but as it happens, co-ed naked sex pics can be as difficult to sell as charitable child care. As this article notes, previous high-profile ventures such as Harvard's H-Bomb have not exactly been self-sustaining financially, an experience that is actually on track with the general trend in the declining mainstream market for commercial porn.
If the genre is to survive, it may be able to do so only with the assistance of charitable grants. Whether such philanthropy is a social investment or a little blue pill I'll leave up to you.
What's the secret to successful innovation? A new study claims it's something not mentioned in your typical entrepreneurialism textbook:
Fetishism and sexual deviation are helping to change the way people use new technology, according to Dr [Trudy] Barber, and can even influence the invention of new technologies.
"People are inspired by their own sexual inclinations which results in some innovative uses of technology," she said. . . .
"The role of deviation as a key to innovation must not be overlooked as it will contribute to our understanding of new intimacy, culture and the future of developing information and communications technologies," she concluded.
Copyranter points out the obvious design flaw with the latest Kenneth Cole cause marketing ad.
It's a dirty little--well, it's not a secret, really, because it's generally known among corporate legal types that government efforts to maximize transparency in publicly traded corporations has actually made them less transparent. Like I used to teach in my law school classes, the issue is information design and in particular, attention management. Datafloods and shrewdly worded boilerplate can be technically accurate yet thoroughly misleading, not just to the average reader but to the well-trained specialist.
The American offers a concise and accessible summary of the problem. Its particular focus: how Sarbanes-Oxley has made the problem worse.
â€œIn an era where average citizens are being asked to take more responsibility for their financial futures, bulky documents and hard-to-use online formats are a barrier to their ability to succeed,â€ says Dominic Jones, an investor-relations consultant and founder of the IR Web Report. â€œIn my opinion, compliance is only one half of effective disclosure. Clear communication is the other half. But weâ€™re seeing less communication since Sarbanes-Oxley.â€
And this isnâ€™t just about annual reports being less user-friendly than in the past. Beyond that, Sarbanes-Oxley might be making America less investor-friendly. It would certainly be a shame if another unintended consequence of Sarbanes-Oxley was that individuals soured on investing just at the time when the stock market might be part of the solution for creating a post-Social Security retirement and savings system.
It's a valuable object lesson for the push for increased transparency for nonprofits and other do-gooders. We must be careful not to confuse the means with the end--our overall aim is to maintain trust, not to drown people in numbers.
From the photographer:
"Urban Rest Stop and the International District Community Health Center (ICHS) duckies protect my office supplies."
Commercial sports have two distinct yet organically related roles.
One is the generation of profit for the benefit of shareholders, an economic activity with an array of effects for the firm's employees and independent contractors.
The other, and perhaps the most conspicuous, is the cultivation of other forms of corporate identity, from a model of cooperation that can be applied across organizational contexts to such discrete identities as team, city and nation.
The guy with the sign is himself a sign of how commercial sports is more than commerce. He's Freddy Sez, a genuine New York icon. If you've ever been to a Yankees game you probably know who he is, even if you've never seen him--he's the guy responsible for the sound of someone banging on a pan that you hear throughout most games.
As the New York Times noted, Freddy himself has risen to quasi-mythic status as a symbol of the Yankees and the city--so much so, in fact, that the Yankees let him into games for free.
My photo really doesn't do this justice--for a minute or so, an unfurled roll of bathroom tissue swirled in front of my office window.
And that pretty much captures one odd line of thought that kept going through my head today.
Knowing that I'd see the parade from my window, I decided last night to check out Cloverfield, the monster movie that most truly echoes the original Godzilla in translating the iconography of a civilian wartime horror into science fiction. Among the all too familiar images: paper from destroyed buildings blowing through the streets.
The particular view you see above, with the dancing unfurled roll--the pit between buildings in the background is Ground Zero.
The connection was brought home during today's civic ritual--and one of the politicians on the dais used that very word--of honoring the team at City Hall. I believe it was the NY Assembly leader who noted that just six years ago, people were opining that this area would never recover from the attack--but now we were all gathered there to mark the Giants' triumph, which was a symbol of the City's own triumphant revival.
That's why I love things like this. On the one side there's the fractal emanation of group identities--today we had family (the Maras, co-owners), team, city, downtown, state, region, nation, fandom, multiple interpretations of the world and the inevitable recasting of most of these in terms of the family metaphor.
Then there's reams of toilet paper lodged on ledges, festooned in trees and piled on the street.
There are no more ticker tape machines on Wall Street, hence no ticker tape. What we have instead is -- you guessed it -- environmentally friendly recycled shredded paper, which isn't quite the same thing. The pieces are bigger, which means the snowfall effect I loved in pictures from the early-mid-twentieth century isn't here.
What is here, though, is a lot of interesting behavior in regard to crowd behavior. I've enjoyed watching the micro- and macro-patterns among the observers, and the paper swirling is great. In fact, in the building across from me someone is unrolling a rather spectacularly long roll of what I guess is bathroom tissue, which is now streaming across Broadway.
One thing I was glad about while walking the route this morning was that the U.S. is not an aggregate of rival city-states. Just now I can hear it again--the crowd chanting "Boston sucks!" If this were 2000 years ago, the "sucks" would no doubt be "delenda est"!
Earlier today I linked to a Copyranter post that, if you clicked on through, would have lead you to eco-vodka. Here's another one. Click through and you'll eventually find a place where the company says it will plant a tree in your name if you register with the site. Fail to register and it won't plant a tree.
Whatever. Trees are easy. Ya really want to impress me with your street (path? dirt?) cred, call me when you're planting hemp.
Today I've been listening to an old recording of the speeches of Lenin. It's an experience I'd recommend even if you don't know Russian; the voice can tell you as much about a person as naked words in translation.
When listening to a historic recording I try as best as I can to put myself in the place of the contemporary listener. Before the Cold War, before Stalin, before institutionalized ideology. And what you hear if you're in that position is rather interesting.
If I had to summarize, I'd say it's Robert Putnam meets John Edwards with guns. The word "soviet" is just the Russian word for a deliberative group, such as a committee or council--when Lenin talks about the power of the soviets against bourgeois capitalism, in normal talk he's saying that associative decision-making is superior to corporate wealth.
It's a rather familiar message if you live in NGO-land, actually. Of course, you might think the gun part is a tad out of place, but then again, just as Lenin saw a need to use force against the tsar today's humanitarians have been known to support the use of force against repression, from Slobodan Milosivich to the Janjaweed.
Since social enterprise is a field where folks equate analysis with advocacy, I have to note yet again that I don't mean to say I'm a Marxist. Quite the opposite, actually. What fascinates me about the Bolshevik Revolution is how damn familiar it all is once you strip off the political overlay. The West has a quite a history of spinning off its own virulent doppelgangers.
Karrie Jacobs offers a wry commentary on the iconic excess of the new passport design--and wishes she could rather have the picture offered for her checks.
"Eco-marketing may be the slimiest movement ever to come down the scummy promotional pike."
- Smuggling and tax fraud on the academic museum circuit.
- Pending "reform" would double colleges' reporting burden
- Alumni credit cards offer rewards to stem decline in use
As for the last one, you might be wondering why that matters. Besides the ethical question raised by encouraging alumni to incur credit card debt, there's an interesting legal issue. A few years ago universities warded off IRS attempts to tax university affinity cards as UBIT by successfully arguing that the revenue was passive royalty income. The universities weren't performing any services such as marketing the cards; they were merely licensing the university's trademarks. Now that the UBIT issue seems dead, looks like some universities have forgotten why they aren't paying taxes on their affinity card income.
Danger, Will Robinson, danger!
The price of working in an industry is that it can lose the sense of magic that drew you to the gig in the first place. You used to talk about the enchantment of cinema; then you become an actor and rattle off jobs that you've booked. Your friends gush over fashion while you're pushing inventory. In short, what they say about law and sausages applies to pretty much everything in life.
Take, for instance, social enterprise. Within the movement we paint this idealistic picture of the for-profit world as a sector that's created an elegant system of measuring efficiency. It's our panacea--all we need to do is adopt it and all of our problems will we solved.
Except if you've spent a substantial amount of time in the for-profit world you know that the so-called experts' image of capital markets is deceptively simplistic. Seventy-five years of government-enforced transparency haven't eliminated questionable practices. Earned income doesn't guarantee financial sustainability. And metrics . . .
Well, not even for-profiteers agree on what they mean.
Case in point: "Don't Over-emphasize ROI as Single Measure of Success," an article now appearing on Advertising Age:
[T]here is a fundamental problem with overemphasizing ROI as the single measure of marketing success: It is often impossible to accurately quantify the impact. Although the world of marketing has come a long way in terms of analytic capabilities, applying financial numbers to the marketing equation is not always possible or preferable. That's why using ROI to evaluate the overall effectiveness can be a problem. . . .
So what should managers do when asked to produce the ROI for a marketing initiative? Take a more open-minded approach to measurement, first focusing on a company's objectives and strategies and then identifying measures that can best work for them. Focusing solely on ROI is dangerous and naÃ¯ve.
Much more in the original article, which is well worth checking out.
Again, the usual caveat: by noting this I'm not saying that we should jettison the ROI metaphor. Rather, we need to understand it far better than we currently do, particularly in reference to the creation of charitable identity. Using concepts in a glib and superficial manner can be far worse than not using them at all.
The Super Bowl had its moments, but a lot of good stuff came afterwards. Opening the door and hearing the city erupt; watching parents bring their children out onto balconies to shout "hooray!", stepping outside now--almost 3 a.m.--and hearing excited yells still. Sports play a vital role in maintaining civic identity--even commercial sports, whatever nonprofit purists might say.
One other favorite moment of the evening came when reading the New York Times Fifth Down Blog, which liveblogged the game. An early commenter tackled the Times for devoting attention to such a frivolous issue amidst war, poverty and other crises. Discussion ensued, with others adding their voices to the critique. But then a reader from Norway (!) added a bit of perspective:
Sure, there are lots of more important issues. However, lets not forget that man *also* needs moments like this. Man needs music, art, sports - many things that wonâ€™t immediately make a physical impact on this world. And this - the drama and the almost miraculous comeback from the brink of loss - reminds us that miracles CAN happen, with a little luck, and a lot of commitment and skill.
Ad Age critic Bob Garfield offers a critical take on "cause marketing gone wrong" at this year's Super Bowl ads. His point about the rhetorical link between illegal drugs & caffeine-and-sugar-stim is spot on, echoing a point I've taken heat for any number of times: namely, you can't expect kids to take the anti-drug message seriously when we openly market caffeine for its energizing power.
There's a lot of good stuff in this video, even if some of it (i.e., the save-the-children-from-the-godfather-ad bit) goes a bit overboard. Garfield's take on the Dell Red ad is well worth noting: it turns AIDS into a "chick magnet." And be sure to watch long enough (around 4:30) for an essential critique of McDonald's senseless conflation of its "I'm Lovin' It" slogan with cancer. Garfield's core point: our "ROI culture" seems to have erased an earlier generation's understanding of the rhetoric of corporate charity and branding.
The most jarring moment in the blend of civic virtue and the Super Bowl was doubtless the NFL's pre-game role-playing homage to the Declaration of Independence, which is apparently something of a perennial.
Someday here I'll explain why we sing the national anthem before sporting events and what it implies for the future of social enterprise. But not tonight; the game was too good, and I'm exhausted.
Instead, for the nonce, here is an even more jarring moment: a headless Statue of Liberty from the Cloverfield premiere . . . left to be a center attraction at the opening of the Hannah Montana 3D Concert Movie.
EVERYTHING IS RELATIVE DEPARTMENT:
Over its initial two weeks, socially entrepreneurial U2 saw its 3D concert film gross a little over two million dollars in the U.S. The Hannah Montana 3D concert film, in its first weekend, grossed over twenty-nine million bucks.
For most people, the Super Bowl is fun. For me, poverino, it's work. From the Pepsi sign language ad to earth friendly SUVs, the game was chock full of socially responsible moments worth noting. And of course, a Giants player just credited God for giving them the victory, which I gather is just one more instance of New England's divine punishment for departing from the faith of its Puritan founders!
In Staten Island, a doctors' group learns that the rhetoric of exchange has serious consequences for one's reputation:
Picture it: You're not feeling well, so you go to your doctor's office, where you're told you're having a heart attack. And just as you're on an ambulance gurney, the receptionist asks your for a $5 co-pay! This is what happened to 76-year-old Staten Island resident Barbara Antonelli last month.
Antonelli described her trip to the Staten Island Physician Practice and told the Staten Island Advance, "Stupid me, I gave her the five dollars. This was an emergency ... and they asked for a lousy $5. They could have billed me. I never thought they would have the audacity to ask." This while the grandmother had an oxygen mask over her mouth!
She pondered to WCBS 2, "[Is] a lousy $5 more important than a human being?"
In 1993, American doctor Robert Gale wanted to raise money to help the relief effort for people affected by the Chernobyl nuclear reactor meltdown. His strategy: to take advantage of the new post-Soviet market economy by selling lottery tickets.
Here in the U.S., efforts were made to make sure this lottery was on the up-and-up. Peat Markwick was brought in to help administer it; a leading lottery firm printed the tickets; a licensing system was set up to distribute tickets in Russia.
Seemed like a good idea at the time.
The unintended consequence of this effort, however, was to help undermine confidence in Russia charity itself. Charitable lotteries sprung up like mushrooms, with no way of verifying that they were legit. Counterfeit tickets appeared. Even the Children of Chernobyl lottery itself seemed untrustworthy--after all, what ordinary Russian citizen could know for sure that there really was a top prize to be announced & distributed in Kentucky?
I banked the above video for tonight, and by an interesting coincidence just noticed Phil's post on social investing from earlier today. One aspect of so-called social investing that its proponents have not fully grasped is the extent to which it is a luxury good. There's a reason the social investing movement didn't take flight, say, during the Depression or the early 1970s. Like a diamond necklace or a Bentley, it's something we indulge in when we're flush; when money's tight, the price of virtue all too often seems too steep.
Again, this isn't so much an argument as an observation.
Another reason to return to my uncivil society writing project--tonight I came across a fantastic article on Scale Invariance in Global Terrorism.
I've read it, like, four times already.
Wow. Wow wow wow.
I'm not kidding; this research is a potent illustration of my core thesis.
What's that, you ask?
Stay tuned . . .
Mike Burrell, Trade Instructor from Woodford Correctional Centre, helped the five prisoners create the Dalek. "It took six months of occasional time when we were in between production. It was made mostly out of ply but there are a lot of technical difficulties. Ply's flat and most of the Dalek is round and lumpy so it was difficult. It was set up to help them with their skills and technical abilities."
It's now up for bid on eBay, with proceeds to benefit a children's hospital.
A fun story from Oregon. Goodwill actually handled this quite well, I think:
Cody Young parked his bike in the wrong place at the Goodwill store, where the rule is that anything on the floor goes. He didn't have a lock, but friends said they had parked inside the store before. On Sunday, though, the black BMX bike was sold.
But the 13-year-old is going to get his bike back, Goodwill officials said, after the buyer saw a newspaper story about the mix-up and called to make things right.
The buyer got the bike for just $6.99 but will get a $100 gift certificate from Goodwill for coming forth.
It's not the first such mix-up in Goodwill's busy stores, Goodwill spokesman Dale Emanuel said. A janitor once left a bucket and mop on a store's sales floor, and they were sold the next day.