Wall Street is like Charlie Sheen, and we’re losing

April 8th, 2011 § permalink

A couple of weeks ago, I tweeted that I can’t watch documentaries anymore after watching the film ‘Inside Job’. That movie offered a detailed look at what led to the recent U.S. economic collapse. While it didn’t necessarily say too many thing that I didn’t really know, it explained everything that happened in a very detailed manner that hadn’t really been presented to me before that.

What made me angry after seeing the movie was that I can’t stand just seeing people get away with taking advantage of the general public, and we’re presented evidence of these crimes against society every week on shows like 60 Minutes or 20/20.

Just now on Real Time with Bill Maher, Mr. Maher briefly touched on this subject and made an interesting point about how Americans should handle the constant abuse of power by our nation’s wealthiest 1%. His example was the launch of Charlie Sheen’s tour last week in Detroit, where audience members demanded their money back – which Sheen countered with “already got your money, dude.” This is exactly what is happening on Wall Street right now.

They took our worthless home loans, bundled them together for resale under false valuation, then bet against those loans – and on top of all of that, asked the Federal Government for more money.

Did you know that General Electric has a staff of over 900 people to work on their taxes. How much do you think they paid in taxes last year, on $14 billion in PROFIT? Nothing. In fact, their accountants claim that the Treasury actually owes the company $3.2 billion. Now, apply that standard to almost every large corporation in the nation.

The company Transocean, which may sound familiar because of last year’s Gulf of Mexico oil spill, is physically based in Houston, TX – but on paper, its headquarters are located in Switzerland.

Why?

Because there’s a law that allows them, and many others to use a foreign headquarters to escape taxes in the U.S. They’re not alone. Other companies which follow similar tax evasion tactics include Google, Oracle, IBM, Hewlett-Packard, General Electric, Pfizer, Altria (Philip Morris), Goodrich, Time Warner, Morgan Stanley, Hartford, News Corp. and Devon Energy. In the 60 Minutes story I watched, a CEO defended the action because he says our country has too high of a tax rate. Well, maybe it wouldn’t be so high if everyone paid their fair share.

Yet, our federal government just narrowly escaped a shutdown while fighting over a few billion dollars. Strange coincidence: I know where they may be able to find that kind of money.

It’s not just federal taxes either. Microsoft has saved over a billion dollars in Washington state taxes because of a small office they own in Nevada. Just this week, Twitter successfully petitioned the city of San Francisco for a $22 million payroll tax break.

So, to get this straight – you and I are shouldering the burden of supporting the government while the largest companies in the world get a free pass. I could go on and on, but I wouldn’t know where to stop. Besides, news organizations and documentaries do a much better job of making the point. Then again, what’s the point of tuning in if we’re just continuing to allow these things to happen. Is that the kind of movie you like to watch?

Photo recap: Voodoo Experience, Day 1

April 4th, 2011 § permalink

One of the first things I did when I moved back to New Orleans was going to the Voodoo Music Experience in City Park.  Since I’m testing out some gallery features on WordPress, I figured I’d toss some photos from the first day as an experiment.  Enjoy!

Walking in

Picture 1 of 69

The entrance to the Voodoo Music Experience in City Park

The digital revolution isn’t the same for everyone

April 3rd, 2011 § permalink

While at my last job, I was in a meeting with department directors at work when something made me realize just how much my life has been affected by the digital revolution. We were discussing conceptual ideas for a new blog that we were creating, and I was tossing out names of blogs that I regularly visit to compare their content layouts. While giving these examples, one of them asked, “How do you know about all of these?”, and if my life were a movie, you would have seen a snap zoom into my face, bearing a look of complete confusion.

This seems like a simple enough question to answer, but I really didn’t know how to even approach answering it. In my mind, he may as well have asked how I know that the grass is green or where he might be able to see if birds really to fly.

That was an important moment for me, to realize that something which consumes so much of my life can seem completely alien to many people. I only need to watch coworkers use a Google search as their browser’s URL window (or even perform a basic search) to realize that for millions of people, the internet is like their car. It provides a service that they need, but beyond that, there’s not much appeal. They go to experts when they need help, just like they would find a mechanic for their vehicle. There are also drivers who take on racetracks, off-road courses, drag strips and other venues to hone their skills – all while fans of what they do watch.

I can understand that – while I can do basic maintenance on my vehicle, I leave anything complicated to a trained professional. To some people, that seems like a crazy notion. Some people feel comfortable rebuilding their complete engine, with little hesitation. There’s a whole industry that serves these enthusiasts. While I’m not one myself, NASCAR draws millions of fans to watch cars drive around an oval track for hours. In Europe, Formula One drivers are celebrity athletes, not unlike NFL players here in the U.S.  

Still, it’s hard for me to understand how a portal for so much information can be misundertood by so many people.  Maybe a lot of it has to do with how the average PC operates.  I firmly believe that the iOS/Android interfaces are much more intuitive and match the needs of the average computer user.  It’s taken around 30 years for the computer to evolve from a device that performs very basic tasks to one that performs many tasks, but requires technical understanding of the platform to what I call the McDonald’s version of a UI.  Just like the burger chain makes it easy on its workers to press the button that looks like fries to make sure the customer gets fries, our newest generation of OSs wave goodbye to file organization, de-fragging, and many of the usability and maintenance tasks that currently stand between users and the task they want to perform.

This makes sense, because most people don’t want to understand how or why their computer does what it does, they just want instant results.  Hopefully, now people can take advantage of the useability and can instead embrace the full potential that digital tools can provide.

Time for a reboot

January 19th, 2011 § permalink

After starting this blog last summer, I let it slip into oblivion. Despite the best of intentions, the habit just didn’t stick. I think part of the reason is that I was trying to put parameters on what I wrote, but let’s face it – I’m a complex motherfucker.

It didn’t make things easier that I left my job in California and moved to my hometown – New Orleans… er, NAWLINS this past October. Anyway, a lot has happened since then, but now that my life is back to some kind of normalcy, I’m going to try this whole blogging thing again. Let’s see how it goes…

Entitlement is making me go mad

August 9th, 2010 § permalink

One thing that has been a reoccurring topic in my mind has been the overzealous sense of entitlement that has overtaken our society.

Just today, I experienced quite a few symptoms of this epidemic.

The first involves an email I received over the weekend. I work at a newspaper, and a reader wrote to complain about a comment on our website. It’s no secret that news websites have a major issue with reader comments, so I assumed that this was the problem – until I realized that the comment was not on an article, it was a review of this person’s business. This person didn’t like the comment, and couldn’t understand why I wouldn’t remove it. This is a mild case of entitlement, but still a usable example.

Amazing parkingAnother incident involves the stellar parking job that I walked out to after lunch. The white lines may as well have been invisible. I had to get into the passenger side of my car. Who does this? In the same parking lot, a few weeks ago, I noticed that two cars had created their own parking spots which blocked access to the supply entrance of a restaurant and the dumpsters which serve the merchants in the strip mall. I tweeted about it, and I quickly heard a response that it the move was actually resourcefulness. Obviously, I disagree.

In yet another incident, a reader called our breaking news line, a number which is normally used to report major incidents, to ask which restaurant downtown is selling paintings. I explained to him that he had called an emergency line, to which he seem unfazed, and asked if I could still help him. I asked which date the story ran, so I could try and help, but he had no details. I explained that I could not assist him, and he responded with a request for the receptionist’s number. Right, because she reads and memorizes every article we write just to answer questions like these.

The last occurred on the way home from work. Driving in the lane second from the left, a truck came speeding toward me, in my lane, and slowed down just in time to avoid running into me. Never mind the fact that an empty lane, designed for faster driving, lie empty next to us, he wanted the lane I was in. I change lanes to the one on the right of mine, and he speeds up, shooting past me. This happens often, vehicles who refuse to change lanes, tailgating drivers like me until we move out of their way.

Those incidents are just from one day. It seems to happen everywhere I look. On my last flight, as soon as we reached the gate, a man seated in the back of the plane immediately began walking down the aisle, stopping at the row in which I was seated. Of course, we all know the standard procedure – when a plane lands, the rows empty one by one from the front to the back. Not this guy, he was getting out four rows early. That wasn’t the first flight I’ve seen where people just refuse to do things the way they should be done. I can’t count the number of times that flight attendants have had to pry luggage that doesn’t fit in overhead bins from the hands of its owner, who is normally yelling and refusing to cooperate. Heck, on one flight, a passenger couldn’t understand why she wasn’t allowed to place a carry-on underneath the seat NEXT to hers, oblivious to the fact that that area was for the person seated next to her.

JetBlue flight attendant Steven Slater probably knows something about this. He’s the guy who abruptly left a plane via the emergency chute following an incident with a passenger who demanded to remove his bags as the plane was taxiing to the gate. Mr. Slater had been doing his job for years, and probably knew what we all should – this problem is going to hurt us more than we may be able to survive.

It’s the main reason that began the recession we entered in late 2007. Want a big house? Sure. Don’t have the money for a down payment? No biggie. Hey college kids, want a free t-shirt? Just sign up for this credit card, and it’s yours. One car? No way! Each family should have three, and all brand new. These were the ways that money flowed from the hands of banks to people who thought they deserved more than they could sustain.

I see five year old kids crying when their parents use their kids’ cellphones, middle schoolers with $200 jeans, teenagers with tattoos and brand new cars. We are a society that celebrates excess, just look at shows like ‘My Super Sweet Sixteen.’

NBA, MLB, and NFL rookies get paid tens of millions of dollars before playing one second as a pro. Reality shows turn nobodies into instant celebrities, earning some, like the cast of the Jersey Shore, up to $30,000 per episode. All for doing nothing.

I get it, my parents always said that they wanted a better life for me than how they grew up. Well, looks like their dreams came true, or did they?

I think there’s a reason why the one which fought in World War II is called the greatest generation. They didn’t want to live beyond their means, a modest life was more than suitable. Many families lived in houses where siblings shared rooms, and families owned one car. Air conditioning? Yeah, right.

I’m not saying that their lives were better, but I like to think they were richer – in the soul at least. I feel like our current actions just seem so childish, like the ones of spoiled brats. There’s more to life than getting everything we want when we want it.

After all, don’t all the wise sayings explain so? Good things come to those who wait. Do to others what you would want them to do to you. The list goes on and on.

We need more of that, more accountability, more modesty. Our society will be better for it, on so many levels. Why shouldn’t we want to treat each other with more respect, to take less than we need? I saw a cartoon over the weekend about global warming, one that suggested that if it were all just a myth than we would have made the world a better place for nothing. It was a joke, but it just seems to stick in my mind. We don’t do things because they’re “right” anymore, that’s so 20th century.

I want to change this. I don’t think any of us really want bad things to happen, I think so many people feel entitled to do as they wish because the consequences haven’t been weighed. Over the past few weeks I’ve made it a point to talk about it more, get people around me thinking about this problem. Hopefully, my friends and coworkers with children will make it a point to instill the right values while raising them. I know I will, whenever that happens. If we all just let it continue to happen, it will.

The reason things have gotten so far is that people are allowed to behave this way, their entitlement is enabled by a general refusal to stop it. It doesn’t have to be that way, we can take the power back.

So, the next time I see someone acting in the manner, I plan to say something. Not in a harsh manner, but in a gentle tone – kill them with kindness, so to speak. I hope more people join me in this quest, there’s a lot at stake for us.

My name is Matt, and I’m addicted to music

August 8th, 2010 § permalink

Last night, I was having a conversation with Mike Foley, during which he mentioned that he doesn’t have much of a need for a cloud version of iTunes, or anything that would do the same function, because he doesn’t “do a lot with music.”

I can’t think of a statement that sounds less like what my life is like. In no slight to Mike, I literally cannot imagine my life without music, or how anyone else could.

Twisted SisterMy love affair started at an early age. My parents always had a pretty decent music collection – for their era – and I became hooked on MTV as soon as it came on the air. Famously, my mother received a phone call from my kindergarten teacher on a day when the class all shared their favorite songs. Mine was a Twisted Sister song. That didn’t go over too well at my small Catholic school.

I can remember making mixtapes with friends, calling into radio stations and recording broadcasts. The first cassette I purchased was Guns ‘N’ Roses, Appetite for Destruction. Obviously, as a kid, I was pretty much limited to what I could either hear on the radio, see on MTV, or read about in magazines. My taste mostly consisted of Top 40, hair metal, and hip-hop for most of my childhood.

My taste expanded a bit when I reached 8th grade and heard alternative music for the first time. Red Hot Chili Peppers, Jane’s Addiction and Beastie Boys’ album Paul’s Boutique were instant hits on my cd player.

My high school years were greeted by the introduction of the the 90s grunge scene – the perfect music for teen angst. Halfway through my junior year of high school, I began playing guitar and formed a band three days later. We were never very good, but that didn’t stop us from playing mediocre versions of songs by our favorite bands.

From there, nothing was off limits. Gangsta rap? Check. Metal? You got it. Techno? Uh-huh. Classic rock? Of course. I’d imagine that I bought around 600-700 cds in a five-year period.

NapsterA few years into college, a little invention called Napster changed my life. I could download any artist or band that I desired. This only broadened my musical palate. Songs and albums that I would have never given a chance were now given frequent listens by me. As the technology evolved, and P2P platforms changed, I kept up, quietly creating a musical palate that my friends never caught up with. Still, they always enjoyed the suggestions I make, always promising the next new thing to blow their minds.

That’s something that’s important about this obsession of mine, I want to spread that feeling I get when I hear a song and it takes me a million miles away to everyone that I can. It doesn’t bother me that I’m doing the legwork: checking music blogs, reading articles, discussing on message boards. What matters most is that I can help share the sounds that mean so much to me.

I can’t even begin to describe how much of my life involves music. At the office, I’m almost always listening to my headphones. In the car, I installed a special component so I can hardwire my iPod to the stereo, instead of a FM transmitter that would do the music no justice.

If I had to take a wild guess, I’d say that I’ve seen around 300 bands perform live. From local performances during my childhood in New Orleans to two Lollapaloozas, two SXSWs, seven Coachellas, and countless arena and bar shows. Just trying to keep track of it all would take longer than I care to try and gather. I have ticket stubs to some, I’ve gotten band autographs, been a member of fan clubs, hung out backstage, and shot pictures in photo pits. There is almost nothing I’d rather do than see a band perform live.

Still, I realize that my obsession is a rare one. A platinum-selling album is one that sells one million units. I don’t know any other form of entertainment where getting only one million people to buy the product is a noteworthy accomplishment. Clearly this means that most of you aren’t like me; I’m the weird one.

Yet, songs fill the TV shows, commercials, and movies we watch. Even video games use real artists in their soundtracks now. Satellite radio is a hit, and despite boasting many talk channels, most still provide music. Apple’s biggest weapon in it’s turnaround was the iPod – and let’s face it, the iPhone is just an extension of that product’s concept.

At the end of the day, maybe everyone is a music fan at heart. That’s why little kids dance to random drumbeats and little white earbuds fill subways and buses. The only thing that makes me different is that I choose to spend more of my time trying to re-create those magical moments that we all feel.

You want the news, now pay for it

August 2nd, 2010 § permalink

The issue of paywalls seems to be a hot topic within the media industry, and I have made it no secret that while I can’t speak on behalf of the business ramifications of the move, I fully support it in concept. Most of my feelings are due to my increasing frustration with society’s growing entitlement issues. I’ll save my thoughts on entitlement for another post.

The most popular argument against paywalls seems to be centered around the concept that information is free, and that if news organizations start charging for it, then people will find it elsewhere. My biggest problem with this argument is the assumption that this information is abundant and will be presented in its current form and caliber. In most markets (NYC, LA & Chicago are NOT typical markets), residents rely on local media to report on local government issues, schools, sports, etc. – topics that national websites don’t cover (and don’t want to).

While I realize that the user base will shrink, at least it will consist of people who really want that information. That’s the group that a newspaper or local TV affiliate should want on a site anyway, one that has an active interest in the content, not people who digest it just because it’s there.

The fact remains: Somebody has to foot the bill for the information gathering, or else noone will gather it. Why do you think there are rights given to the press? Because they need to uncover truths that people don’t want exposed. They need access to what people want to know about, so they can distribute it.

So, I pose this question: Why shouldn’t the people who want this local news be the ones who pay for it to be gathered? They can demand better coverage if their finances sustain the site, or can choose to spend their money elsewhere and let the community go uncovered – but either way, THEY made a CHOICE rather than a DEMAND for free news.

The sad thing is that many of the resources that news organizations use are available to the anyone who wants them. Most government documents are public records. Most events they cover are open to the public. There is really nothing stopping anyone from getting the information that news organizations distribute.

There lies the issue, most people don’t know how to, much less have the patience to sift through mundane information in hopes of finding something that may impact them. They don’t want to learn pro-photography skills to document the events they attend. Instead, they want it spoon-fed. They want the community to see their good deeds. They want to get to the punchline without listening to the whole joke. And now, we’re saying they want it for free?

Most news does not lie on the surface, it takes countless hours of work to uncover, followed by interviews, fact-checking and investigation. Many stories never make it to print – and that’s OK, because there’s always something else that’s important waiting around the corner.

Take the recent developments in Bell, California, where the city manager was being paid nearly $1 million a year, nearly quadruple the state average, among other highly paid government offices. Now, some of the officials involved have resigned and the state will likely reform government salaries. I beg you to find a resident of Bell who wishes that they didn’t know this was how their tax money was being spent.

This same issue happens in communities around the country – people who don’t know how to hold their school districts accountable, who don’t spread the message about a criminal at large, who cut out photos of their son’s baseball game. All of this takes WORK to produce.

The average person doesn’t even know how to reach their local councilman, much less hear what he thinks about an upcoming tax measure. In a paper or newscast, they can find out in a matter of seconds. Photos of the school play you missed? Those didn’t just appear out of thin air, someone with an expensive camera and actual photo training took it. That list of events? Well, that’s easy, for someone who has the patience for data entry.

My expectations are reasonable (to me) – I don’t expect paywalls to cost the users a lot, nor do I expect most people to pay them. As I said at the top of my post remains true, I don’t even know if news organizations can stay afloat from paywalls alone, but what I can’t accept is the expectation that news should be free.

Are diapers like racecars?

July 28th, 2010 § permalink

Ten days ago, my good friend Mike and his wife welcomed their new son into the world during a surprise early delivery.  Last week, I had the privilege of meeting little Griffin Hatton, and I have to admit he’s a cute little guy.

The surprise baby

After catching up on the specifics behind his early arrival, I was able to witness – and videotape – the first official diaper change by the new mom and dad. With Kristine in bed at the hospital, Mike had been handling the duties solo, but now that they were at home, they could team up for quick change.

Before I go any further, I have to explain that a few hours earlier, he underwent a circumcision at the hospital, so let’s just say that everything is on the mend.

Anyway, what unfolded when they began the changing process was pretty funny, for me. To begin with, Mike handles the dirty diaper removal with ease. Though, the sight of what waited inside was enough to make everyone gasp. Let’s just say that they don’t have to teach their son how to poop.

From there, chaos ensued. They had placed Griffin on this diaper changing device (it looks kind of like a curved, short ironing board). Anyway, it’s cloth, and something they’ll be using A LOT, so setting the tar-covered bottom of their son on it was not really an ideal move – but they didn’t have a blanket or anything to put under him, so in comes Kristine’s mom.

That’s right, the diaper changing becomes a three person maneuver now. Kristine doesn’t want to look at the diaper area, because of the recent procedure on Griff’s little guy. The problem is that Mike needs help getting wet gauze (you can’t use baby wipes on newborns – who knew?) and holding a bandage over the healing area while he closes the diaper.

I’m doing a horrible job of explaining this process, but it took almost 10 minutes and three people, so it felt like a NASCAR pit crew. And the whole thing is on video. So, in 14 years, they need to pull out this video when they have “the talk” with their son – because if nothing demonstrates the seriousness of parenthood, the sight of three grown adults looking at a diaper like they’re defusing a bomb in a Bruce Willis movie should plant a serious seed in Griffin’s mind.

All that aside, it was great to see them getting used to being mom and dad, and just how small their child is. Noone knows what the future holds, but I have a feeling I’ll be seeing lots of pics of him grow in my Facebook feed.

Let’s rock this party, with keyboards!

July 21st, 2010 § permalink

It’s official now, Rock Band 3 will be released in the U.S. on October 26.  I must confess – I love this game series.  It presents everything I love about karaoke, mixed with actual instrument use.   As a guitar player in real life, I love the chance to play with friends or coworkers who don’t know how to play real instruments.  Of course, what I love about this new game is that introduces the use of  keyboards.  Finally some rockin synth action!

I can imagine the Bon Jovi and Journey songs already.

EA has already released some of the tracklist already, and it contains songs from some of my favorite groups – Metric, Jane’s Addiction, Huey Lewis and the News, The White Stripes, The Cure, Queen, and Phoenix.

A word of caution to my neighbors, late October and November will be loud in my house.

Keeping the lid on the new Arcade Fire album

July 19th, 2010 § permalink

On August 3rd, two weeks from now, the new Arcade Fire album The Suburbs will fill digital and physical music stores.  Boasting 16 new tracks, and featuring 8 different, but similar album covers, the band has managed to keep one of the most highly anticipated albums of the year under wraps, other than four songs that they’ve previewed themselves.

Aside from hearing the other twelve songs, what I really want to know is how in the world they’ve managed to avoid a leak so far.  Almost every major album gets into the hands of eager fans and file-sharers well in advance of its release nowadays.  I don’t know if it’s out of respect for the band, or because of the previews, but it’s refreshing to see things look like they used to for the music business.

  • Matt Wolfe

  • About me

    I am a New Orleans native that just returned to the Big Easy, after 7 years in Shreveport, then 8 in Southern California. Fun is not my middle name - that's Patrick - but it is something I love, along with music, travel, tronics, film and the interwebs. I've worked in the media for 10 years, first in broadcast, then print. Now, I'm the New Media Editor for New Orleans City Business. Not often enough, I still edit video for fun, and love to argue... in a loving way.