Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Paula Deen Is More Powerful Than You Can Imagine

Illustration by Earl Barrett-Holloway

By Taffy Brodesser-Akner

Sure, Paula Deen’s mainstream career is over. But now she has her very own digital network—uncensored, y’all—and she’s making millions in a booming new sector: the martyrdom industrial complex.

In Paula Deen’s video invitation to the Paula Deen Network, which debuted last week, she stands in front of her folksy home, near her folksy porch, on an eternal spring day, and from her tanned jaw-hide you can hear her speak excruciatingly slowly as she entices you to “come on in.” (I know it is a stereotype of Southern people that they speak slowly, but Paula speaks almost as if she is imitating tape that has been slowed down.)

Inside the network are shows with names like “What Did Paula Deen Just Put In My Mouth?” and “Deen There, Done That.” Her eyes pop out in surprise that her son Bobby’s favorite herb is dill. She uses the word “asshole” a couple of times. There are a lot of recipes, new ones and old ones, healthy ones and scary ones. There is an entire show devoted to “Dad Dinner Time,” which means either things that real men will like, or that real men could make. I’m not sure.

In February a new company had been announced—Paula Deen Ventures—which had been bankrolled to the tune of a reported $75 to $100 million by an investor named Jahm Najafi. His website says he “seeks to make strategic investments in undervalued assets,” but really, homeboy loves a fire sale.

Deen’s products — through collaborations with Meyer Corporation, among others—had seen a reported 35 percent sales increase in the first two quarters of this year; subscriptions to her magazine reportedly grew by 40 percent. (For perspective, in those two quarters, paid subscriptions for magazines in general faltered 1.8 percent and single-copy newsstand sales fell a significant 11.9 percent from a year before.)

An investment in Paula Deen conveys a deep understanding of America’s political temperature and where we’re headed: that Paula’s comeback isn’t about forgiveness—it’s about standing her ground. Even in her pre-scandal life, she didn’t care when Anthony Bourdain called her “the worst, most dangerous woman in America.” No, she was defiant. “There was a time,” her recipes always seemed to say, “when we didn’t ruefully chew our tree bark and soy cheese on gluten-free foam bread in the hopes of making it to 94. We lived. We ate, and we enjoyed it. Now we are a nation that is leaning further and further toward conservative clansmanship and white tribalism, and this sets Paula on her way to being a true tycoon of her own martyrdom.

First, there’s the digital network. Then there’s the 20-city tour of a cooking show with the whole Deen family; according to the venues I checked, which were large, the tour sold quite well. She’s out there reminding everyone that she still exists, that she just won’t be subject to the same scrutiny and censorship she once was. She’s gone rogue, she has, and nobody will tell what she can’t say ever again. Continue reading

New Search for Malaysia Airlines 370

Walmart Money Services

The Fiscal Times

Americans don’t trust bankers, and bankers don’t trust Walmart.

For years, bankers have been arguing among themselves about how to profitably offer services to low-income Americans. Last week, with the rollout of a partnership with Green Dot Bank, Walmart may have settled the question, effectively saying, “Banks can’t. But we can.”

Walmart sees money to be made by filling the financial needs of customers who want services such as bill paying and check cashing but aren’t going to keep a significant amount of money on deposit. Without those deposits to lend against, banks can’t earn interest income, their most traditional route to profits.

As a result, banks have made little effort to reach out to such customers, leaving them with little or no connection to the banking industry. Within the business these unwanted customers are known as the “unbanked.” They generally manage their financial services needs through a patchwork (and expensive) combination of products available from storefront check cashers, providers of money orders and other high-fee service providers.

Bankers Ask the Fed To Keep Wal-Mart Out of Some Financial Services

Bankers dedicate annual conferences to the question of how to profitably serve the unbanked. The thinking is that with tens of millions of Americans in that situation, there must be a way to make money off them. So far, though, nobody has succeeded, and that’s largely due to the banking industry’s business model.

A large part of the problem is that the low-income customer generally needs the kind of services that banks really would prefer not to offer: in-person check cashing, money order sales, and other transactions that require a face-to-face meeting in a physical branch.

Banks have, for a decade or more, been trying to push consumers out of those expensive brick-and-mortar branches and into remote services that are much cheaper and more efficient to offer. That strategy has worked so well that low-income consumers have been pushed out to the point that they simply don’t have banking relationships anymore.

Walmart spotted this void years ago and began trying to fill it with inexpensive check cashing, money orders and online bill-pay transactions, all offered from existing stores.

Walmart is ideally placed to offer the kind of services that low-income customers need but banks don’t want to offer. The company can place its financial centers in existing stores, which already attract the same customer base, without substantially increasing its expenses. The added banking services, not incidentally, can bring customers to those stores, with paychecks in hand, where they can buy any of the thousands of consumer products Walmart sells.

The verdict may not be officially out, but it now looks as though the question of serving the unbanked has largely been solved, and the banking industry came out on the losing end.

Inherent Vice

Monday, September 29, 2014

Living Water

Hong Kong | Political Earthquake

Hong Kong protests explained in 2 minutes. Vox

The New York Times

A civil disobedience movement to push for democratic elections of Hong Kong’s leader in 2017 was launched last week, dubbed the “Let Love and Peace Occupy Central” movement.

China doesn’t welcome civil disobedience, nor universal suffrage, having often said that what it terms “western-style democracy” is unsuited to the mainland of China, though it has appeared to promise something like it for Hong Kong.

If the push succeeds, Hong Kong would become the second Chinese place, after Taiwan, to democratically elect its leader. In recent years, calls for universal suffrage have grown increasingly strong in Hong Kong.

“hands up, don’t shoot”
Seemingly nodding to the US and Ferguson, Hong Kong demonstrators gesture their intentions to the world.

Photo: Alex Ogle/Getty

The “Umbrella Revolution”
Umbrellas, used to deflect pepper spray, have become the movement's most visible symbol.

Photo: Vincent Yu/AP

Photo: Aaron Tam/AFP/Getty Images

Photo: Alex Ogle/AFP/Getty Images

Litterless demonstration
As protests continue, people have been seen distributing food and water as well as cleaning up after themselves collecting trash and helping each other by washing sweat and tear drenched towels. In the famously orderly city, students sorted plastic bottles for recycling even as they wore goggles and plastic sheets to protect against pepper spray.

Police & demonstrators rest

Agent Believes Lana Newstrom May Be the Greatest Living Artist

Art enthusiasts admire Newstrom's paintings and sculptures at the Schulberg Gallery in New York.
Photo: Nick Fabin

Kevin Bruey shared a story on his Facebook page about New York artist Lana Newstrom whose agent, Paul Rooney, believes Newstrom may be the greatest artist alive working today.

Rooney’s claim is in direct contrast with Bob Dobbs who has said that he is the greatest living artist.

“…I’m the greatest artist and the only artist ALIVE, because nobody else is alive, nobody’s in the position I’m in.”

Newstrom says she is the first artist in the world to create invisible “art” (Bob Dobbs’ acoustic art is also invisible).

“Just because you can’t see anything, doesn't mean I didn’t put hours of work into creating a particular piece. Art is about imagination and that is what my work demands of the people interacting with it. You have to imagine a painting or sculpture is in front of you.”
Lana Newstrom, artist

”When she describes what you can’t see, you begin to realize why one of her invisible works can fetch upwards of a million dollars.“
Paul Rooney, agent

A documentary team from the Canadian Broadcasting radio network traveled to Newstrom’s empty studio to learn more about her art that isn’t there. Listen to the broadcast.

But Newstrom is not the first to create invisible art. In August, 2011, actor James Franco helped raise over $16,000 on Kickstarter for his collaboration—Non-Visible Museum of Art.

James Franco Makes Invisible Art He Sells for Real Money, Fox News


The Non-Visible Museum of Art is where ideas and images become part of the New Economy.

The Non-Visible Museum is an extravaganza of imagination, a museum that reminds us that we live in two worlds: the physical world of sight and the non-visible world of thought. Composed entirely of ideas, the Non-Visible Museum redefines the concept of what is real. Although the artworks themselves are not visible, the descriptions open our eyes to a parallel world built of images and words. This world is not visible, but it is real, perhaps more real, in many ways, than the world of matter, and it is also for sale.

Important Note: When you contribute to this Kickstarter project, you are not buying a visible piece of art! You will not receive a painting or a film or a photograph in your mailbox. What you will receive is a title card with a description of a piece of art, as well as a letter of authentication. You may mount this card on a blank wall in your home or gallery. What comes next is up to you! The artwork comes to life—and takes on full personal meaning—in your imagining and describing of it, both to yourself and to your visitors. You may also choose to sell the non-visible artwork to another collector, to exhibit it elsewhere, or to lend it back to Praxis when we take the Non-Visible Museum on tour.

As these non-visible works of art are bought, exchanged, and resold, they open our eyes to the unseen universe that exists at every moment, and we can share that universe. It is like finding the code beneath. We exchange ideas and dreams as currency in the New Economy.

The Lottery | Episode 10