Branded Brand

I’m in Washington, D.C. for meetings, staying in the old part of town between the Capitol and the White House.  Last night I had dinner with a colleague.

When my friend reached out to me last week to make arrangements for meeting for dinner, he carefully raised two issues:  first, did I like steak, and second, if I did like steak, would I mind going to the steakhouse in the Trump International Hotel, which is located in the Old Post Office building that is very close to my hotel?

I chuckled a bit at the cautious way in which my colleague approached even the  possibility of eating dinner at a restaurant in a Trump property.  Clearly, he was wary that even though the venue was very convenient and the restaurant had a good reputation, just making such a suggestion might bring an explosion and denunciation in response to the very thought of passing under the Trump name.  And his careful approach was entirely justified, because there is no doubt that a significant segment of the American population has sworn off ever doing anything that involves setting foot on the premises of a Trump property or that might be viewed as acceptance or support of the Trump brand.  Me?  I like steak and especially like being able to walk to a convenient dining venue, so I agreed to have dinner at the Trump International steakhouse — which was very good, by the way.

Still, I found the incident pretty remarkable.  I’m not familiar with the value of the Trump brand prior to his run for the presidency, but it seems pretty clear that it has been affected, and not in a good way, by Trump’s behavior on the campaign trail and as President — to the point where even mentioning the possibility of visiting a Trump property for dinner is a subject to be approached with delicacy and trepidation lest sensibilities be bruised and personal relationships be shattered.

That’s not exactly a good attribute for a brand.

Living In Spytown

An interesting lawsuit is proceeding in Coral Gables, Florida.  Coral Gables has installed “license plate readers” at traffic intersections, and one of its citizens, Raul Mas Canosa is suing about the amount of data that the city has accumulated about him — and every other car owner in town.

Coral Gables has more than 30 license plate readers positioned at major intersections in the city.  The readers take a photo of the back of each vehicle and record the license plate number and the associated time, date and location.  Thanks to the license plate readers, the Coral Gables Police Department has captured tens of millions of data points representing individual vehicle movements around the city — more than any of the other 26 South Florida cities that use a similar system.  Privacy advocates say that the license plate readers are intrusive and the accumulated data effectively allows the city to track the daily movements of ordinary citizens who are not suspected of any crime.  The city argues that the system can be used to quickly find vehicles that may be involved in criminal activity and could be used to help solve cold cases, too.

The pending lawsuit argues that the license plate readers violate the Fourth Amendment and rights to privacy under Florida law.  Recently the judge presiding over the case denied Coral Gables’ motion to dismiss the lawsuit, which means the case will proceed into the discovery phase.  The discovery will likely focus on how the city uses the system, its usefulness in helping to solve crimes and apprehend criminals. and whether there is reasonable justification for keeping the data for years.

Should cities routinely track the movements of people going about their daily affairs through the use of cameras at traffic intersections?  After all, traffic intersections are public places where anyone can see who is driving by, and in most major cities there are likely to be security cameras that record movements past particular buildings.  For many of us, being on camera has become a part of our daily lives.  But the problem here is that the city keeps the data for years and presumably can combine it with other information it maintains — like whose car bears the license plate, and where they live — to get a pretty good picture of what people are doing and where they are going from day to day.  That seems pretty intrusive to me.

Police officials are always going to want more data and information that they can sift through in trying to solve crimes.  The question is one of line-drawing, and balancing effective crime fighting with the privacy rights of normal people.  The Coral Gables case is one that will help to start sketching out the boundaries and setting the balance.

Freedom To Brawl

It’s Black Friday.  Those who are in the grip of Black Friday mania have already been out at the stores for hours, tussling over the electronic gadgets and big screen TVs and kids’ toys that are the staples of Black Friday sales.  If you don’t already have somebody’s grandmother in a headlock in your efforts to get one of the last sale items at Walmart, you’re probably not going to be venturing to the stores today.  And, you’re probably feeling embarrassed about how the whole Black Friday spectacle reflects poorly on those of us who live in the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave.

artworks-000452007756-44zv8j-t500x500But, should you be embarrassed, really?  Or, should you, upon careful reflection, realize that Black Friday riots are instead a quintessential expression of American freedoms that, while not specifically enumerated in the Bill of Rights, are nevertheless core parts of the American experience?

I’m talking about things like freedom to shop for hours.  Freedom to demonstrate unseemly personal greed.  Freedom to make a complete horse’s ass of yourself in a public setting.  Freedom to go deeply into debt on credit cards.  And freedom to spoil your kids rotten with the stuff that you ultimately purchase on Black Friday and then give to them on Christmas.

The Spectator has published a defense of Black Friday brawling.  It provides some interesting information about Black Friday — like how it was invented in Philadelphia and initially called Big Friday before it was rebranded with the same name as a great Steely Dan song, and how there are places where you can actually make wagers on how many people will be killed in Black Friday fracases versus how many people will die in shark attacks.  Hey, why not?  It turns out that, by some counts, you’re more likely to die in a Black Friday fistfight with some turkey and stuffing-stoked Mom in the aisle of an electronics store than in the jaws of a Great White.

This year, instead of shaking my head in disbelief at the antics of crazed shoppers on Black Friday, I’m going to celebrate the mania>  But my personal celebration won’t involve heading out to the stores.  Instead, I’ll revel in the footage of shoppers throwing haymakers as just another thing that makes America great.

When Ad Campaigns Go Wrong

There’s a significant and growing methamphetamine problem in South Dakota, and the state is trying to deal with the many issues — crime, death, health care, and others — that are all part of the problem.  As is typical these days, one element of the state’s response is an ad campaign, to raise awareness and let the citizens of South Dakota know that their state government is addressing the crisis.

1515148b-2d9a-4751-b912-b612a4defb48-meth._were_on_it._images_1So, what ad campaign did South Dakota come up with?  One that features the tag line:  “Meth.  We’re on it.”

I’m serious — that’s really the key line in the ad campaign.

Of course, once the campaign appeared, the inevitable jokes started flowing, and South Dakota has become a bit of a laughingstock.  Newspapers in South Dakota have been weighing in on the campaign and resulting public relations debacle, and you can read some of their editorial reactions here and here.  The prevailing view seems to be that while the campaign may have achieved the goal of raising awareness of South Dakota’s meth problem — after all, it’s undoubtedly received far more national publicity than your average, run-of-the-mill “click it or ticket”-type public safety ad campaign — the embarrassment the state is experiencing due to the campaign probably  isn’t worth it.  And there’s the obvious lingering question:  couldn’t somebody in state government have recognized that this kind of reaction to the campaign was bound to happen?

There’s another, deeper question, too — why South Dakota felt that an ad campaign was needed in the first place.  The production of the ads cost $449,000, and when all of the ad spots are purchased, the total cost of the campaign will be about $1.4 million.  That’s a lot of money, and it’s entirely fair to ask whether it should have been spent on an any ad campaign — even a competently created one that didn’t make South Dakota the butt of jokes.  Wouldn’t the money have been far better spent on state programs that are specifically dealing with the meth problem, rather than ads featuring flinty-eyed ranchers and other South Dakotans?

South Dakota’s disastrous ad campaign may have raised awareness of the meth problem in an unexpected way, but maybe it also will raise awareness of the stupidity and waste caused by governmental TV ad campaigns generally.  Maybe the next time an ad campaign is suggested by a state agency in South Dakota or elsewhere, some thoughtful person will remember the “Meth.  We’re on it” flop, nix the ad campaign, and see that the money is spent instead on actually directly addressing the problem in question.

Amazon Is Everywhere

The depth of Amazon’s penetration of American popular culture is pretty amazing.  Last week, for example, we needed some white cranberry juice to prepare a seasonal cocktail we were making for a gathering with friends.  Kish went to several grocery stores in Columbus and couldn’t find any.  We decided to give Amazon a try, and sure enough, it offered Ocean Spray white cranberry juice — which was delivered to our doorstep the next day, with no muss and no fuss.  Pretty convenient!

But I had no idea of the stunning breadth of Amazon’s business activities until I got a surprise while walking the dog.

In our neighborhood, there are a few strategically placed containers where dog owners can get free poop bags.  It’s a good idea for the neighborhood, because it gives dog owners no excuse but to clean up after their pooches, and it’s a blessing for the dog owners who otherwise might be caught short in the crucial bag department.  The bags had been made by anonymous companies and featured cartoon drawings of happy (and apparently relieved) dogs — until now.  I stopped by one of the containers last week, pulled out two of the plastic baggies so I would have a ready supply, and saw to my surprise as I was putting them into my back pocket that they were from AmazonBasics and featured the familiar swish/smile logo.  So, Amazon has now made crucial inroads into the German Village canine poop bag market.

It’s hard to imagine that poop bags are a very lucrative, high-margin item for a supplier, but I guess if you’re aiming to dominate the supply of every product Americans might need, poop bags are just another item on the list.  And the poop bag itself makes it clear that Amazon isn’t just looking at America, either — the bags I took feature the suffocation hazard warning in English, French, German, Italian, Spanish, Chinese, and Japanese.

Achtung!  Amazon is everywhere!

 

Am I The Midwest?

Hello Emerson is a rising band from right here in Columbus, Ohio.  Kish and I have had the chance to see them perform several times, and they’re great.

They have a new song out called “Am I The Midwest?”  I’ve linked the YouTube video for the song above.  If you’re a born and bred Midwesterner — even if you’ve since moved away — I bet the song will strum some mystic chords of memory for you.  It’s a great song that really captures a living, breathing piece of this part of America that so many of us call home.

Hat tip to the GV Jogger and Dr. Science, whose son Jack plays keyboards for Hello Emerson.

Hostile Spaces And Homelessness

In many large cities, public spaces have been modified.  Metal bars and blocks and bolts and even spikes have been added to benches and ledges and other seating areas, to make it uncomfortable, or even impossible, to stretch out and lie down.  In other places, the public spaces have no seating areas of any kind.  The underlying purpose of the additions and modifications seems painfully clear — to keep homeless people from sleeping or otherwise camping out in the spaces.

ae22fd62-197a-42f7-9714-d9d2702dc70c-2060x1236A recent New York Times article addressed this phenomenon of “hostile architecture” in public places.  The article reported that such actions have “increasingly drawn a backlash from critics who say that such measures are unnecessary and disproportionately target vulnerable populations. They have assailed what they call “anti-homeless spikes” for targeting those who have nowhere else to go at a time when many cities are grappling with a homelessness crisis.”  The article quotes an NYU professor who says:  “We’re building barriers and walls around apartment buildings and public spaces to keep out the diversity of people and uses that comprise urban life.”  Supporters of the modifications argue, on the other hand, that this new approach to public spaces is necessary to help maintain public order and safety and security.

So, what’s a city to do?

Most cities are struggling to deal with homelessness.  In Columbus, which doesn’t seem to have homelessness issues to the same degree as, say, San Francisco or Los Angeles, it’s not unusual to see a homeless person stretched out on a bench or sidewalk from time to time.  No one wants that — including, presumably, the homeless person.  Is it wrong to try to discourage that behavior by adding internal armrests to benches that prevent someone from lying down on the bench, but that aren’t going to bother office workers who are sitting outside eating their lunch, rather than trying to sleep? Are we really to the point where taking steps to prevent sleeping and camping out in public spaces are criticized as contrary to “the diversity of people and uses that comprise urban life,” as if dealing with homelessness, aggressive panhandlers, and public sleeping were part of some rich tapestry of city living?  Or, put another way, by not taking those steps, are city planners enabling conduct that also interferes with the real, intended public use of public spaces — because most people aren’t going to want to hang out in a square filled with sleeping homeless people and their stuff?

Proponents of “broken windows” theory would argue that allowing public sleeping and camping out creates an atmosphere of disorder and lawlessness that encourages criminal activity and other improper conduct.  I strongly support trying to help the homeless, but I also think trying to maintain order and promote the personal security of the non-homeless is an important goal, too.