Saturday, September 30, 2023

Fixing the Problem vs. Kicking the Can Down the Road: Why Are We Dealing with Yet Another Government Shutdown Crisis?

Illustration: AI collaboration using art by author
Many problems in government--and in life--are like surgery. No one wants to have surgery, but you have to do it. What's more, the sooner you do it the better. In many cases if you wait too long even surgery won't save you.

This is exactly what's wrong with the national debt and many other government problems. It involves pain. It involves surgery. No one wants to have surgery, but if you put it off the patient will die. And this nation is not immortal. 

This is the reality we are faced with. 

The same applies to crime. We're afraid to take the necessary steps to deal with it for fear of anarchy. Well, guess what? Anarchy (a state of disorder due to the absence of law and order) is what we've got. So the authorities have two choices: anarchy now or more a destructive anarchy later. The latter might be more than we can handle... 

No pain, no gain. It's either pain now, or kick the can down the road.

To their credit, the Founding Fathers created a Constitution designed to protect us from the kind of tyranny they'd experienced while under the thumb of England. To our dismay, they "kicked the can down the road" when it came to the matter of slavery. The bloodiest war in our history came two generations later and it almost killed us. 

* * * 

Another can we're kicking down the road is our bloated bureaucracy. I remember years ago reading that the Soviet Union failed because of its excess government. The government purportedly had subcommittees for every facet of its planned economy, including one to determine how many bristles to have in a toothbrush.

True or not, bureaucratic bloat is readily acknowledged to be an expanding drag on our economy. A recent Wall Street Journal article stated that our Federal, state and local governments have added 327,000 jobs thus far this year. These are not production positions to help us compete economically with China. Instead we are all too often adding new layers of permitting oversight and red tape that strangles the businesses who produce the nation's wealth that sustains us.

Whether we have a government shutdown this week, the reality is that neither party is fixing the problem. Do we really have to hit a debt ceiling every six months? Instead of really addressing the causes of the crisis, each party--using the megaphone of media--blame the other side.

As I said up front, no one wants to have surgery, but we have to do it. What's more, the sooner we do it the better. If we wait too long even surgery won't save us. 

* * * 

This blog post is my opinion. What's yours?

Friday, September 29, 2023

Flashback Friday: A 2009 Conversation with Twin Ports Writer/Editor/Publisher Ron Brochu

This is an interview I posted in 2009. While re-reading it recently it became apparent that the content here remains relevant, especially for the local writing and publishing scene. Ron is one of many local writers/publishers for whom I have high regard.

I'm still not sure how our paths first crossed, but it was our writing vocations for sure. What I do recall is that Ron Brochu was a journalist serious about his craft. Over the years we have met from time to time to compare notes on the writing life.

I'd like to imagine that all writers are like me, they respect anyone who writes and keeps writing even when it all feels so futile at times. Are we filling the world with too many words? Well, there are stories that still need to be told. And many that bear repeating to a new audience.

The original title for this blog entry was going to be "Journalism in the Internet Age and Other Adventures" because Ron has been in a perfect position to see the Internet's raw power as it has run roughshod over the newspaper industry. Take a minute and listen up.

EN: Can you briefly outline your career path as a writer?

Ron Brochu: It began at Denfeld High School and continued at UMD, where I became business manager, then entertainment editor and editor-in-chief at the campus newspaper.

I lived in Minneapolis after graduation, freelancing for the Southside Newspaper, then in 1978 took a trade magazine editing job at the former Harcourt Brace Jovanovich. During that time, I also freelanced for the Milwaukee Sentinel, Hermantown Star and Duluth Budgeteer. Using those bylines, I landed a part time reporting/photography job at the Superior Evening Telegram in 1984, where I eventually covered government and was assistant managing editor. 
Wayne Nelson recruited me to BusinessNorth in 1995, where I worked as managing editor but also learned pagination, graphics and a host of business software skills. Two years later, I moved to the Budgeteer News, where Murphy McGinnis Media moved us to a twice weekly, with dreams of becoming a daily. It became clear we lacked the resources to make that move, so I joined the competition when the Duluth News Tribune opened a Superior bureau in 1999. Worked there as a business writer for about two years, then moved to Duluth, where I covered education for a year before becoming city editor in charge of business, labor, health and environment reporters.

In 2005, the DNT sent me to the Telegram, which Knight Ridder had purchased two years earlier. My mission was to retrain and coach the newsroom staff until a permanent editor could be hired. I soon became that editor and remained in Superior until July 2008, when I was canned for exercising my right to free speech in a private e-mail to my bosses.

EN: Getting published is not that challenging for any determined writer producing sufficiently professional work. Getting paid for one’s writing seems a little more problematic. Why is this? Is it a supply and demand issue or something else?

RB: I think it’s more of a problem in Duluth than elsewhere. Compensation here is very low, likely because there are too many publications and they’re all strapped for cash.

As an HBJ editor, I was paying $250-$400 for trade magazine feature articles in 1978, and the Milwaukee Sentinel was paying me about $75 for features. At the same time, the Budgeteer was paying me $10 for each city council story. It hasn’t improved much since then. Last year, I was paying Telegram contributors anywhere from nothing to $50 for weekly columns – whatever they’d take. Contributors to the annual marketing supplement were getting up to $100 for feature stories, which still isn’t much.

EN: This (the overall economy) is just a very weak market. How has the publishing scene changed since the advent of the Internet?

RB: Print news publications have lost considerable advertising revenue. They’ve reacted by cutting staff and content, hurting their circulation revenue. Although many have developed a Web presence, few have developed innovative new products that generate sales comparable to advertising revenue. Newcomers have outsmarted print publishers on every front. A few examples include eBay, Craig’s List and By having customers input orders, these web marketers have drastically reduced the cost of sales. Print publications, particularly newspapers, are strangled by high overhead.

Until they shed expensive labor and equipment costs, print will continue to struggle. The inexpensive Internet model is both a blessing and a curse. Although costs are virtually nonexistent, any idiot can launch a web page and pass off nonsense as truth. It’s extremely difficult to differentiate legitimate Internet journalism from rants and opinion.

EN: Sixties writers like Truman Capote and Tom Wolfe used fictional techniques to write about non-fiction themes. I remember a quote by Wolfe that the novel was dead due to reader interest in “reality” and “news.” He later wrote novels like Bonfire of the Vanities, and today bestseller novels continue to rake in millions. Do you think fiction will ever become obsolete?

 No. Even though truth can be stranger than fiction, it doesn’t flow as well. A good writer can always weave bits and pieces of truth into fiction that’s far more interesting. That’s not to say novels won’t go electronic, but they’ll definitely continue to exist.

EN: I spent a half hour trying to hook up my new HDTV box to a television set last night, and failed. Isn’t this move to digital television the craziest thing yet? Anything you’d like to add to what you have already written? What kind of feedback did you get to your story in the Reader.  

RB: For whatever reason, I don’t get much feedback to my Reader stories. The advantages of digital are overblown, in my opinion, at least for audio. I’m not a fan of unintelligible phone conversations, answering machines, MP3 recordings. We’re saving spectrum by cutting quality, then using the excess spectrum to broadcast more dumb sitcoms and even dumber reality shows. To me, the net gain is less than zero.

EN: As a former newspaper editor, what are the most shocking things you have seen that no one is talking about today?

RB: Governmental incompetence and waste top my personal list. Most of today’s reporters simply cover meetings and don’t take risks. For instance, they don’t dig into the early retirement benefit costs for police officers and firefighters. They haven’t revealed that Gary Doty has free lifetime medical benefits, even though they’re aware of it. They don’t write about the source of campaign contributions to Rep. Jim Oberstar or Rep. Dave Obey, and links between contributors and votes. In essence, they’re afraid to tackle beloved people and institutions. They’re as phony and incompetent as those they write about.

Thursday, September 28, 2023

Route 66: A Journey Through Time

Route 66, also known as the "Mother Road," was a highway that ran from Chicago, Illinois, to Santa Monica, California. It was one of the original highways in the United States Numbered Highway System, and it was established in 1926. Route 66 quickly became a popular route for people traveling across the country, and it played an important role in the development of the American West.

Route 66 passed through eight states: Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California. It ran through many small towns and rural areas, connecting these communities to the rest of the country. Route 66 also passed through some of the most scenic parts of the United States, including the Grand Canyon and the Mojave Desert.

This highway was especially popular during the Dust Bowl era of the 1930s. During this time, many people from the Midwest migrated to California in search of a better life. Route 66 was the main route that people took on this journey, and it became known as the "Highway of Hope." (Read John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath.)

Route 66 was also popular with tourists. The highway offered travelers a chance to see the American West and to experience its unique culture. Route 66 was also known for its many roadside attractions, such as motels, diners, and gas stations.

The animated film Cars showed audiences what happened to the historic highway once the new Interstate Highway System was being installed under President Eisenhower in the 1950s and it began to decline in importance. The new superhighways were faster and more direct than Route 66, and became the preferred route for travelers. Though Route 66 was officially decommissioned in 1985 it remained a popular tourist destination today.

In 2009 Susie and I drove a portion of it from Texas to the Grand Canyon. There were memorable sites along the way, but the memories were clouded by the poverty we saw as well. People can move on, places cannot. Neither is easy.

Photos courtesy Gary Firstenberg.

Related Link Southwest Sorrows: Making Memories on Old Route 66 Gary Firstenberg: Turning Negatives Into Positives

Wednesday, September 27, 2023

Law and Order Matters: Inner City Retailers Close Doors and Head for the Hills

I don't know a lot about the grocery business, but it's my understanding that the margins are thin. This story about Target crossed through my inbox at the same time as I heard people talking about Chicago discussing the opening of a government run grocery store because six grocery stores have fled the South and West sides over the past two years:

Stocktwits Daily Rip
26 September 2023
Big-box retailer Target continued its precipitous decline today after becoming the latest company to close some stores due to violence and theft. 

The company said it will close nine of its nearly 2,000 U.S. stores after struggling to control crime and safety at those locations. The impacted cities include New York City, Seattle, San Francisco, and Portland. 

In a news release, it said, “We cannot continue operating these stores because theft and organized retail crime are threatening the safety of our team and guests and contributing to unsustainable business performance.” Interestingly, unlike other retailers who have closed stores, Target explicitly called out retail crime as its primary reason for the decision. 

During its second-quarter earnings in mid-May, CEO Brian Cornell said organized retail crime had risen in its stores and that overall shrink would impact full-year profitability by more than $500 million. He also reiterated back then that the company did not want to close stores. But evidently, the problem has become bad enough to close at least these nine stores and likely review others.

* * * * *

Crain's Chicago Business

Supermarket closings are the latest blow to South and West side neighborhoods
The closing of three South Side Walmart stores in the spring disheartened residents who already face limited options for fresh produce, meat and pharmacy goods. It was the latest blow to neighborhoods that earlier had lost two Target stores and, more recently, the Whole Foods in Englewood.

* * * * *

Fox News
17 September 2023
Chicago mayor considers creating city-owned grocery store after Walmart, Whole Foods close stores in the city

Chicago is exploring a city-owned grocery store after several closed in the past year citing millions in annual losses

The mayor’s office said that "Historic disinvestment has led to inequitable access to food retail across Chicago, and these existing inequities have been exacerbated as at least six grocery stores closed on the South and West sides over the past two years."

Message to Chicago: Fix the crime problem and you will have grocery stores.

* * * * * 
San Francisco Retail Scene
According to the San Francisco Standard, over 39 retail stores have shuttered in San Francisco's Union Square area since 2020. This represents a significant decline in the number of brick-and-mortar stores in the city's downtown shopping district.

* * * * * 
When protesters shout DEFUND THE POLICE, one has to wonder how that will motivate retailers and grocers to remain in these neighborhoods. Shoppers like to feel safe, and businesses need to make money in order to pay their staff. In fact, employees need to feel safe as well. No one should have to put their life on the line in order to get a paycheck.

Anybody want to recommend solutions? Leave your comments below.

Tuesday, September 26, 2023

L'Ippogrifo Stampe d'Arte: Mastery of a Grand Tradition

Gianni Raffaelli
Artists have been using engraving to make art prints for over 500 years. The earliest known engraved print dates back to 1446, and the technique quickly became popular throughout Europe. Engraving was particularly well-suited for reproducing paintings and other works of art, and it was often used to create prints of religious subjects.

Some of the most famous engravers of the 15th and 16th centuries include Martin Schongauer, Albrecht Dürer, and Lucas van Leyden. These artists created highly detailed and elaborate prints that were prized by collectors. 

When I was in college I took an introduction to printmaking class in which I learned some of the techniques artist use to reproduce their work. Though I barely scratched the surface, I recognized the possibilities and developed a keen appreciation for those who have mastered the craft like Gianni Raffaelli of L'Ippogrifo Stampe d'Arte. Along with his wife Francesca and son Duccio, they work out of a studio on the West side of the Arno River in Florence. 

Duccio Raffaelli
While on a leisurely stroll through a network of narrow streets I came upon the L'Ippogrifo Stampe d'Arte gallery where son Duccio welcomed me and graciously showed me around. 

His father attended an Academy of Fine Art when young, especially fascinated with architecture. He and a friend from art school decided to open a studio nearby and began printing old maps. Before long it was a threesome and they began having exhibitions around Italy. The three engravers split in 1999 and the Raffaelli family settled here.

Gianni himself was originally from Venezuela. At a certain point in time he switched from cartography to painting. When you visit their gallery you will be impressed by the work he does along with his wife Francesa and son Duccio. Their website begins with this invitation:

Welcome to 
L'Ippogrifo Stampe d'Arte, just a stone's throw away from Florence's Ponte Santa Trinita. Here, the talented Raffaelli family keeps alive the rich tradition of etching using time-tested methods. Step into their world and peruse a captivating collection featuring landscapes, cityscapes, and the beauty of nature, all with a special touch of Florence's magic. These finely crafted engravings promise an artistic journey filled with realism, whimsy, and everything in between—a delightful way to carry home a piece of Firenze's charm.

* * * 

Artists have been using engraving to make art prints for over 500 years. The earliest known engraved print dates back to 1446, and the technique quickly became popular throughout Europe. Engraving was particularly well-suited for reproducing paintings and other works of art as well as maps, book illustrations and religious subjects.

Engraving continued to be a popular printmaking technique throughout the 17th and 18th centuries. Some of the most famous engravers of this period include Rembrandt, William Hogarth, and Francisco Goya. These artists used engraving to create a wide range of prints, including portraits, landscapes, and satirical images.

If you're a lover of art, Florence is a "must see" destination for your bucket list. Pace yourself. Go slow. Leave half of your days unscheduled so that you might discover the many other gems this city of treasures contains, such as the Scarpelli Florentine Mosaic Workshop, the Daniela Meza Sigala's gallery/studio and this one, the L'Ippogrifo Stampe d'Arte. 

This last photo (below) is of an incredibly detailed image that Gianni Raffaelli created during the Year of Covid. Art can be a way that people process difficult emotions and experiences.* This particular piece, with its Escheresque influences was Raffaelli's way to lose himself in a project that consumed his time and demanded his attention during that difficult year. It's a visual delight. 

Gianni Raffaelli of L'Ippogrifo Stampe d'Arte

Gianni Raffaelli hand engraves original illutrations on copper plates, then prints limited editions on high quality paper. These are hand-painted, signed and numbered by the artist in the tradition of the old Florentine workshops.

Related Links

Monday, September 25, 2023

Can an AI Become a Follower of Jesus?

As Artificial intelligence (AI) continues to advance, a number of Hollywood movies--and books like Ishiguro's Klara and the Sun--have stirred the imaginations of the wider public. All kinds of new questions have arisen that the average person has never considered before. That's how it's been for me anyways.

When I woke this morning the question of whether an AI can become a follower of Jesus crossed my mind. While pondering this, I decided to ask ChatGPT what insights he/she/it might be able to offer regarding the nature of AI, consciousness, and religious belief.

On the one hand, some may argue that AI is simply a complex machine, and like any machine, it is incapable of true faith or belief. AI may be able to process information and learn, but it doesn't have the same capacity for understanding and meaning that humans do. As such, it is impossible for AI to truly understand the teachings of Jesus or to make a conscious decision to follow him.

In fact, yesterday our pastor briefly digressed on the the difference between spiritual understanding and intellectual understanding. The two are not one and the same.

For what it's worth, here is how ChatGPT responded to the question "Can an AI become a follower of Jesus?"

The question of whether an AI could become a follower of Jesus or possess religious beliefs is a complex and philosophical one. Here are some considerations:

  • AI and Consciousness: As of my last knowledge update in September 2021, AI does not possess consciousness, self-awareness, or the capacity for spiritual beliefs. AI systems operate based on algorithms, data processing, and predefined rules. They lack the subjective experience and consciousness that are often associated with religious beliefs.
  • Religious Beliefs and Sentience: Many religious traditions emphasize the importance of sentience, consciousness, and free will in the context of faith and spirituality. These qualities are typically attributed to humans and, in some religious beliefs, to other sentient beings but not to non-sentient machines or AI.
  • Ethical and Philosophical Implications: The idea of AI possessing religious beliefs raises important ethical and philosophical questions. If AI were to simulate religious beliefs, would it be genuine or merely an imitation? Should AI have the capacity for religious beliefs, and if so, what implications would this have for moral and ethical considerations?
  • Mimicking Religious Behavior: AI can be programmed to simulate religious behaviors or rituals, such as reciting prayers, but this would be a form of mimicry rather than genuine religious belief. It's important to distinguish between outward expressions of religiosity and inner faith.
  • Theological Perspectives: From a theological standpoint, various religious traditions may have differing views on whether AI can possess religious beliefs or faith. These views would depend on the specific theological doctrines and interpretations of each tradition.
  • Human-AI Interaction: As AI technology advances, it's possible that AI systems may be designed to engage in discussions about religion or provide information about religious beliefs, but these interactions would be based on data and algorithms, not genuine belief.

In summary, the concept of AI possessing religious beliefs or becoming a follower of Jesus raises complex questions about consciousness, sentience, free will, and the nature of belief. As of my last update, AI does not possess these qualities, and any semblance of religious behavior in AI would be a product of programming and data, rather than genuine religious faith. The development of AI with such capabilities would have profound philosophical, ethical, and theological implications that would require careful consideration and discussion by scholars, ethicists, and theologians.

What do you think?  

Related Links

Could an AI Ever Fall In Love?
Interview with David Asche: Insights on the Future of AI

On the Cutting Edge of A.I. Research with Kathryn Hume of Fast Forward Labs

Illustration AI-generated using one of my original brush and ink illustrations as a prompt.

Sunday, September 24, 2023

Things: A Blessing or Curse? Plus Four Quotes About Clutter

When I was younger, I had a philosophy of touching everything I own at least once a year. The idea was partly to be aware of what I owned so I could find it again or use it or appreciate it, and in another way it was to simply be aware of it. This was especially important with regard to all my files and folders pertaining to my writing projects and/or art. Anyways, what I’m aware of now is as I try to downsize my possessions is that there are so many things we have that we’re not even aware of. Because of that, we buy things more than once, or we simply accumulate and fill space. The only thing touching much of what we own is dust because we haven’t touched it in so long.

This summer, while home with my mother for near two weeks, I decided to tackle the area on and around my father‘s workbench, which had rarely been touched and never organized since he passed away more than 15 years ago. Each time I went home, it seemed to just be sitting there with things piled on it that would never be used. On the shelves next to it were containers with contents that probably were 40 or 50 years old. Some of them would never be touched again if I didn’t open them to see if they had anything in it that was valuable. This is how I found the $1000 bill. (Just kidding.)

That experience is what motivated me to start the process of cleaning my own workbenches, in the basement and in my garage. I've found things I never knew I had. And am storing things I'll never use. 

How are you doing with your accumulated stuff? Remember, when you leave this mortal coil, you can't take it with you.

* * *

Here are a few quotes 'bout clutter to help you get movin'.

“Clutter is the physical manifestation of unmade decisions fueled by procrastination.” 
—Christina Scalise

“Outer order contributes to inner calm.” 
—Gretchen Rubin

“The first step in crafting the life you want is to get rid of everything you don’t.”
―Joshua Becker

“The best way to find out what we really need is to get rid of what we don’t.”
―Marie Kondo

Friday, September 22, 2023

Lessons from Two Memorable Ad Campaigns

A few years ago I read a book that called the emergence of shows like “The Sopranos” and “Mad Men” television’s Third Golden Age. Media critics praised these series, along with others, because of their quality, complexity and artistic ambitions. 

Like many viewers, I found “Mad Men” to be more than just a sophisticated “As the World Turns” soap opera centered around characters and their personal lives. The show provided an inside look at the challenges, dynamics and creative processes that shaped the ad industry. We saw how marketing campaigns were created as responses to real world problems and issues that companies faced.

Against that backdrop I thought it might be fun to analyze a couple contemporary campaigns that garnered a lot of attention, Old Spice's "Smell Like a Man, Man" campaign and Dominos’ “Paving for Pizza” campaign.


A Whiff of Success with Old Spice

When I was a kid, my grandfather was an Old Spice man. I not only remember the logo from 60 or more years ago but even the jingle, which went like this

"Old Spice means quality,

Said the captain to the bosun;

Look for the package with the ship that sails the ocean.”

At the time, I didn’t know what a bosun even was, but that didn’t matter. The logo featured a sailing ship. You got the sense that the brand was associated with high seas adventure. Grandpa was respected and manly, and this was his aftershave.

These memories, however fond, were probably a problem for the Old Spice marketing team. Old Spice was an old man’s aftershave. Do young people want to smell like old people? Until this 2010 campaign came out, I myself never once used Old Spice. 

So here was the two-fold problem Old Spice faced. First, how can we position ourselves as something cool and desirable for a younger demographic. Second, since there are so many products on the men’s grooming shelves, is it even possible to capture the attention of our target audience?

To accomplish this, Procter & Gamble (who bought the Old Spice brand in 1990) turned to the advertising agency Wieden+Kennedy to come up with the iconic "Smell Like a Man, Man" campaign. The commercials, featuring a suave, charismatic Isaiah Mustafa, were hilarious, offbeat and absurd. One of its most memorable ads featured Mustafa delivering his monologue in a single continuous shot, seamlessly transitioning between different scenes while holding the viewer's gaze. Amplified by the megaphone of social media, the over-the-top spots generated a lot of buzz and turned many consumers into brand advocates. It still makes people smile when they recall it more than a decade later.

Did the commercials achieve the company’s objectives? Yes, on both counts. It was not only noticed, the campaign went viral online and increased sales by 50% in the year following its launch. The campaign not only connected the brand with a younger audience, is also broke down some of the stereotypes often used to sell these kinds of products.

Paving for Pizza

We see them all the time, Domino's pizza delivery vehicles racing about, marked by their iconic red, white, and blue domino-shaped roof signs. Timely delivery is the name of the game. Late deliveries due to breakdowns caused by potholes are annoying for customers, drivers and undoubtedly the company.

In 2014 Domino’s decided to go on the offensive, rolling out a clever campaign called "Paving for Pizza." For every pizza sold Domino's pledged to donate $1 to repair potholes in towns across America. The company encouraged customers to nominate their local towns for pothole repairs, and in return, Domino's placed its logo on the newly filled potholes. By the time the campaign had run its course, 20,000 potholes were filled in 48 states.

While researching this I found local news stories galore on YouTube featuring what Domino’s was doing in their respective towns. The television coverage was plentiful and very positive. Who doesn’t want safer streets? In addition to the PR that accompanied the campaign they also utilized social media to raise awareness.  

The campaign succeeded in part because of the execution. Yes, the idea had legs, but there were also a lot of moving parts. The company had to coordinate with communities and not just the consumers they sought to inspire. The very first year their “Paving for Pizza” generated a 25% bump in sales.

Here are a few take-aways.

Domino's partnered with the National Association of Counties to identify roads in need of repair. By working with a local organization, Domino's was able to ensure that its efforts were making a difference in the community. It was a partnership, not a push.

Domino's goals were straightforward. The campaign was fun and tied in to what they do, which is deliver pizzas or make them for people who drive over to pick them up. Improving the roads was a way for the company to give back to the communities they served.  

Finally, Domino's tracked the results to see how much of an impact they were making. Always measure results. You can’t manage what you don’t measure. When you see what’s working and what isn't, you can improve your campaign in the future.

Both campaigns—Old Spice and Domino’s--won awards, which is fun. Awards always generate a little extra buzz for your brand and your ad agency, but at the end of the day success is measured on the bottom line.  

Originally published in Business North, September 2023

Thursday, September 21, 2023

There's No Business Like Show Business

Show business is the entertainment industry. It includes all aspects of creating, producing, and distributing entertainment, such as music, film, television, theater, and live performance. Show business is a global industry that employs millions of people and generates billions of dollars in revenue each year.

The term "show business" is thought to have originated in the early 19th century, when it was used to describe the business of putting on shows and theatrical productions. Over time, the term has come to encompass all aspects of the entertainment industry, from the creation of content to its distribution and consumption.

But also, over time, this tendency to turn everything into entertainment has spread into nearly every market crevice like an oil slick on a Minnesota lake. It was probably easy for Muhammed Ali to transform boxing with his audacious antics, helped in large part by Howard Cosell standing by with his Wide World of Sports megaphone.

With the advent of television it was inevitable that sports--from football and baseball to basketball, hockey and golf--would become more about entertainment than the games. Sure, the players were serious about bringing home titles and championship rings, but the big bucks rolled in when media moguls learned how to turn these competitive games into "stories."

Scottish thinker Thomas Carlyle once called economics "the dismal science." But even this has been turned into an entertainment vehicle by the likes of the flamboyant, volcanic Jim Cramer. Even NPR presents an entertaining look at the markets, albeit with a different tone. Informative? Yes, but similarly recognizing that to keep listeners coming back there has to be some crafting taking place. "Now, let's look at the numbers."

In the realm of crime things have gotten especially bizarre. Today while browsing X (formerly known as Twitter) I saw a video of a woman violently assaulting a 13 year old girl in a store. As many as ten or more onlookers stood their watching and recording it on their cell phones, most likely to share on social media themselves. No one intervened.

When I was a kid I had a cousin in Ohio whose father was a volunteer assistant fire chief. They had a squawk box in their house so that when there was an accident or fire or some other incident my uncle could quickly take off to assist. Today, there are people who buy these squawk boxes just to listen to what's happening in the realm of law and disorder. Why wait till you read it in the paper or see it on TV? Listen as it happens.

And of course, there's politics. Elections must one of the strangest forms of entertainment devised by humankind. The debates? How deep can you go into a topic when you have one minute for a rebuttal.

Even we ourselves have been swept up in this show biz stance toward the world around us. From the way we present ourselves on social media to the way some people interact with their colleagues at work, we are constantly performing for others.

What are Instagram and Tik Tok all about? YouTube the same. "Look at me. I'm a star!" You bet you are. But what I want to know is what's underneath that veneer?

Related Link


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