Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Social Media Wins the Day

Last Thursday's brutal attack on two gay men near Rittenhouse Square was slow to make traction in the news. The papers buried it under stories about casinos sixty miles away and when it found its way on television, it was wedged between the weather and puff pieces.

One of the victims suffered skull fractures, a deep laceration on the face, and has his jaw will be wired shut for eight weeks.

However, the Philadelphia Police Department and the online community took it a little less lightly. After the police released very clear video surveillance footage of ten to twelve suspects, social media proved just how little we rely on newspapers and the six o'clock news. Even more, it proved just how swift we can be when we work together.

In a matter of hours, Facebook and Twitter turned these suspects into Philadelphia's Most Wanted. The Citizens Crime Commission initially offered a $1000 reward for information on the suspects, followed by three local businesses putting a $10,000 bounty on their freedom.

For a few tense hours, ten to twelve of the tristate's worst citizens must have been shitting their pants as they watched their faces walk across surprisingly clear surveillance footage. But that's when things took a 21st Century twist and went all Justice Leaguey, virtually speaking.

Shortly after posting the video on his Twitter feed, @greggybennett, former cast member of Real Housewives of New Jersey received and posted a photograph from a "friend of a friend of a friend" that showed a group of individuals matching those in the surveillance footage. 

The red vest is undeniable, and several others can be clearly made in the rest of the surveillance video.
It was almost immediately retweeted by @FanSince09. Minutes later followers had noted that the restaurant was Rittenhouse's La Viola. 

@FanSince09 used Facebook Graph Search to find profiles checked in at La Viola prior to the attack and managed to match a number of faces and clothing to the surveillance footage and the photograph which, at the time, was still available on Facebook and conveniently tagged by a few of the suspects.

By the time Detective Joseph Murray was contacted by @FanSince09, the hunt was essentially over. Late last night, lawyers representing a few of the suspects had contacted the PPD to make arrangements to surrender to questioning this morning. The police have not yet announced any arrests or additional information, short of deserved praise for @FanSince09, @greggybennett, and social media in general.

Despite the excitement that unfolded last night and the expectations many may have had this morning, Murray was quick to remind everyone that this is not an episode of Law & Order. With upwards of fifteen suspects likely to be brought in for questioning, it will take time to interview them all and sift through the evidence. It may be days, even a week, before arrests can be made.

As it is, it looks good for the victims (at least in terms of justice) and bad for those who chose to lawyer up late last night. Unfortunately, hate crime legislation that includes LGBT victims was struck down in 2002 and failed again in 2009. As it stands, the maximum sentence for aggravated assault that causes, or attempts to cause, serious bodily injury is twenty years and $25,000.

Without clear footage of the attack, it may seem it would be hard to prove which suspects were directly responsible for the injuries. However, given the large group of suspects, there is no question that two or more will sing like canaries and sell out their friends. And given the outrage spanning the nation last night, no District Attorney can afford to tread lightly. 

In the mean time, let's all sit back and think about the victims and their families. And on a slightly lesser note, what it's like to be part of a socially networked group of superheroes bent on spending their evenings hunting down the villains trying to ruin our Great City.

Molly's Daily Kiss

Monday, September 15, 2014

F*ck the Ten Dollar Minimum

Seriously, businesses, go fuck yourself with your $10 minimum debit card purchases. The Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010 allows merchant's to require a $10 purchase limit for credit cards, not debit cards.

How many times have you purchased a magazine at the checkout aisle because you didn't meet the $10 limit? Or worse, spent upwards of $7 in ATM fees just to take out a twenty dollar bill?

The debit card minimum is a sleazy - and illegal - way to grab a few extra dollars from the growing number of consumers who don't carry cash, all on the baseless claim that merchants are charged a "swipe fee" on all card purchases. The swipe fee, which never exceeds 4% (that's a paltry 4 pennies on a Diet Coke), only applies to credit cards.

Friday, August 29, 2014

That Inflatable Rat

The inflatable "Fat Cat" has become a regular fixture at the Pennsylvania Convention Center's 12th Street entrance. The Teamsters and Carpenters at the picket line have brandished posters claiming a "lockout," that they signed an agreement with the center. But that claim leaves out one fatal detail, that they didn't agree to the new terms until after the deadline. 

"Buh-bye," said the center.

Their most recent protest, at least the unions' most prominent recent presence, was during this month's Veterans Wheelchair Games. A motorcade of large vans circled the block spouting worn rhetoric about diminished wages behind a clan of $20,000 Harley Davidsons. Others shouted from megaphones while many simply mobbed the sidewalks making it difficult for wheelchair bound veterans to enter the convention.

After the protest came to a close, a police escort led the motorcade along Race Street, through Chinatown towards the Ben Franklin Bridge, ferrying the "local" workers back to their homes in New Jersey.


The irony and hypocrisy is mind numbing. But the message and tactics behind many of the trade unions in the tristate area has become so routine that the numbed minds of many Philadelphians brush it off as white noise. 

Buildings continue to rise, businesses continue to open, many without union labor. "Crossing the picket line" has no significant meaning to a Center City swapping Baby Boomers for Generation X, even Millennials. They snap pictures of inflatable rats and the union members cheer, clueless that the photo winds up on Instagram hashtagged, "WTF?" New Philadelphians didn't forget about the union protests at MilkBoy and Goldtex, they never cared to begin with.

Given the disconnect between the local trade unions and their target audience, the inflatable rat has become a sign of progress. Both MilkBoy and Goldtex weathered the frustrations of daily protests, and both are now successful businesses. Boxers, a new sports bar opening in the Gayborhood is one of the most recent targets, specifically the Sheet Metal Worker's Union. The popular Manhattan and Brooklyn nightspot is opening its third location in Philadelphia and opted for market rate labor. Few outside the trades industries seem phased, and it hasn't impeded development.

Back in the day, City Hall turned a blind eye to some of the unions' more nefarious tactics. But increased surveillance, social media, and evolving popular opinion have put protesters in a place where they can't overstep their First Amendment rights. Even some politicians have denounced the unions' unscrupulous tactics where they manifest, or simply remain quiet on the subject if it serves their interest.

Meanwhile the media, once largely sensitive to the trade unions, hasn't shied away from stories about illegal union activity. In February, ten Ironworkers Local 401 members were arrested by the FBI and the local media aired their dirty laundry.

When your sole clique survives on whores to public opinion, never underestimate their willingness to turn in favor of that public opinion. And that is the exact problem with the trade unions' overall operation. It isn't just outdated, it sidesteps a community perplexed by their message, it refuses to engage with the developers who cut their checks, and it solely functions as a bully with friends in high places. 

Without a slick public relations representative or a fresh new image, trades unions in Philadelphia are DOA, resigned to collect the crumbs from developers that didn't get the memo, or can afford the luxury of a workspace free of an inflatable rat. A rat increasingly synonymous with a better, newer Philadelphia.

Outfitting Smallville, USA

My hometown, populated by roughly 30,000 residents and nowhere near a major city, just approved the purchase of the same MRAP used in Ferguson's recent protests.
I've lived in Philadelphia for ten years and I've never seen the same militarized presence in Ferguson or a MRAP in person. When the city rioted in 2008 the police largely gained control with billy clubs and horses. 
They policed. 
When Occupy Philly camped out their protest at City Hall, First Amendment rights were protected by police officers and leaders, many who likely disagreed with their message. 
They led.
When I return occasionally to Harrisonburg, VA, I hear more and more from friends and family a kind of rhetoric that seems dangerously fascinated with the prospect that something bad could happen at any moment. They seem beat down. Fatigued. 
"This is the world we live in now."
No, it's not. 

Ferguson is one small town out of hundreds of thousands, but social media fuels the delusion that Harrisonburg, or any other small town, is next. People become ever willing to trade their civic sense of reason and healthy communities for a militarized police presence. 

So why do small town residents seem to overwhelmingly live with a much higher level of fear than residents of Philadelphia or New York or Los Angeles? Are the bored? Is the prospect of imminent danger somehow morbidly exciting? Have residents of small, more conservative rural communities been duped by D-list politicians? Or are their small police forces truly ill-equipped and untrained in the event that something catastrophic does happen?

All are probably a little true, but in the case of the latter, the solution isn't outfitting any police force with weaponry and defense specifically designed for war. Police absolutely should have every resource at their disposal to serve and protect, but machine guns and tanks aren't designed to police. They're engineered to kill and defend against an onslaught of equally aggressive tactics. 

Perhaps, despite the fact that small towns like Ferguson find their way to the national spotlight, these towns are largely left out of the national dialogue. CNN and FoxNews lecture and debate, but they don't engage. When small town residents find their town on MSNBC, the subject of a crisis by pundits offering little in the way of solutions that don't devolve into partisan bickering, they find themselves in uncharted territory. Faced with the unheard prospect of violence on the streets of Smallville, USA, residents view their fate as dire and embrace unreasonable militarization.

Excessively arming any police department goes against the very core of our police force and our justice system. Like in war, it assumes guilt, that every citizen is a criminal. We live in a nation vastly consisting of just and honorable citizens, Americans capable of policing their own behavior. When the government turns on that self governance, reasonable people become less reasonable. Assuming everyone on the other side of a machine gun or MRAP vehicle is a criminal, creates criminals.

The tactics used by the Ferguson Police Department have been put into question both politically and publicly. But militarization in the broader scope of hundreds of other small towns has been ignored because it isn't newsworthy. When that kind of ammunition is warranted, the National Guard exists for that exact scenario. When that kind of ammunition is given to our Men and Women in Blue, it makes every citizen an enemy.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Monkey Business

Terry Gilliam's Twelve Monkeys is debatably a classic. Written by David and Janet Peoples, the 1995 movie follows James Cole (Bruce Willis), a prisoner from the future who is sent to a pre-apocalyptic Philadelphia to retrieve an unmated form of a virus that destroyed most of his world. Finding himself in an insane asylum, he's cared for by psychiatrist Kathryn Railly (Madeleine Stowe) who begins to take a peculiar interest in the comments he's making, beyond simply being the ramblings of a homeless man who claims to be from the future.

Like a lot of time travel stories, Twelve Monkeys often questions the hero's own sanity. But it also delves into the possibility that a therapist may question her own if she becomes too personally involved in her subject.

The plot is often confusing, waxing and waning between the past and future as much as it treads between what's real and what's not, even the relevance of a past that's already happened. Using 1995's Philadelphia as a backdrop, the city is as much a character as any of the actors in the film. 

Other time travelers occasionally expose themselves as future prisoners who escaped to the dying past, homeless prophets in front of the derelict Met Opera House or along Frankford Avenue awaiting to relive the impending outbreak.

It's good. It's cerebral. Loosely based on the short French film, La jetee, it received the critical acclaim it deserved. 

But SyFy is turning it into a series. Without releasing too many spoilers (if you haven't seen the film, you probably shouldn't read any further), the premise of Twelve Monkeys can't be respectfully made into a television show. With Terry Matalas and Travis Fickett of Terra Nova having written the pilot, it's clear that those in charge of SyFy's Twelve Monkeys didn't get Twelve Monkeys

Like the CW, SyFy is a cable network that arduously employs viewer feedback to continuously retool a show's premise. But what made Gilliam's Twelve Monkeys so great is that it was upsetting, confusing, and never once offered the audience what it wanted or expected. Some of the best movies don't end neatly and happily, and aren't meant to be resolved.

While SyFy's Twelve Monkeys is meant to be a reboot only inspired by the movie, the trailer show's a pilot episode that recaps and retells most of the movie, leading those who enjoyed the movie to wonder how writers could possibly move beyond the final scene.

But why bother capitalizing on a movie with only an arguably cult following? SyFy's Continuum delves into a very similar premise and has obviously scraped content from Twelve Monkeys, particularly when the homeless man, Jason found another time traveler. Why not expand that? Why shoehorn the same premise into a new show that Terry Gilliam himself called "dumb" and "ridiculous."

If you've never seen Gilliam's Twelve Monkeys, SyFy's looks like it might be a fun ride. But if you have seen the film, and liked it, take a look at Continuum. You'll get the same thrill ride without the frustration of watching a well crafted and artistic movie get castrated.

Art and the Death of Culture

Between Sinead O'Connor's vendetta against the sexualization of the music industry and Madonna's refusal to grow old gracefully, Lady Gaga hiring Millie Brown to vomit dyed milk on stage and Casey Jenkins knitting from her vagina for 28 days, the final battle is brewing in a war inside the world of art. 

If you want to see the future, take a good look. This is it. Our world of tomorrow might look a little more like 1930, even 1830, than 2030. When one of the last vestiges of purported creativity is to lose virginity in front of an audience, it's safe to say that our era in art history is coming to an end.

"I was at dinner last evening, and halfway through the pudding, this four-year-old child came along, dragging a little toy cart. And on the cart was a fresh turd. Her own, I suppose. The parents just shook their heads and smiled...Now, I could just shake my head and smile. But in my house, when a turd appears, we throw it out. We dispose of it. We flush it away. We don't put it on the table and call it caviar." - Sir Gerald Moore, Bonfire of the Vanities

Say what you will about the film adaptation of Bonfire, but Tom Wolf is an accomplished and respected author. Although his comment on the "fresh turd" was directed at Bonfire's anti-hero, Sherman McCoy, it is a commentary on modern art theory reflected in Wolf's other writings including The Painted Word and From Bauhaus to Our House.

The art war is nothing new. From architecture to music, critics have bickered about theory throughout the history of our culture. But what's taking place now isn't a simple division between the appreciation of craft and method. This isn't Warhol versus the Masters. The theories have become so polarized that today, a "fresh turd" can pass for art because the crap on the other side smells just as bad. 

We can't blame the Millie Browns and the Casey Jenkins' for doing what they do. Pop art, whether it's film, print, or music, has become so commercialized by think tanks, target audiences, and profit that in order to stand out, one must truly be shocking. 

But it's not art.  

There is nothing inherently artistic in reacting to the lowest common denominator. Vomiting as some sort of commentary on commercial art negates itself by admitting mainstream puke exists. Shitting on a wall will never be art, it's just more shit.

Mischa Badasyan is a 26 year old Berlin artist who plans to begin his performance piece in September by having sex with one man each day of the year. This may remind some of Clayton Pettet, a 19 year old London art student who claimed he would lose his virginity in front of an audience. When the time came, he asked each of the 120 people in the audience to put a banana in his mouth. 


Marina Abramovic is another performance artist who, although far less racy in her premise, was just as lazy. In 2010, Abramovic sat at the MoMA for more than 700 hours while more than 1000 people sat in front of her, simply watching. 


Despite the slovenly gyrations performed by commercial artists like Ke$ha and Mylie Cyrus, the mind numbing and inexplicable length of Madonna's career, or the fact that Justin Bieber has one at all, those on the self-assigned elite side of the art spectrum are just as hackneyed, commercial, and arrogant as those commercial artists who make no excuses for the checks they cash.

Meanwhile the audience is left to suffer through auto-tuned amateurs, or pretend to understand a narcissistic performance piece with a shoehorned message.

Before starving artists had YouTube, shock rarely found itself in front of the public eye. But today, anyone with more than 500 Facebook friends can post a grainy video of themselves defecating online and within a week, if it isn't picked up by Tosh.0, it will find an audience with some veiled excuse to call it art.

Throughout history, each culture or era can be defined by its art, its music, its architecture, and this is where our's comes to a close. This is where our art ends. The canyon between good and bad has become an ocean separating two mediocre ideals. Perhaps soon art can reborn as something more - better - than puke stained canvasses or Justin Bieber.

Until then we're stuck looking at a turd, or a turd pretending to be something its not.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Losing a Philadelphia Icon

Long before the additions to West Market and JFK transformed the skyline into one you'd expect to find looming over millions of residents and workers, Philadelphia's skyline was unique. I remember looking up at its monolithic office buildings, stone church steeples, and masonic adornment as a child and wondering which comic book villain had a lair inside City Hall's clock tower. 

But its uniqueness doesn't solely lie in our skyscrapers that line narrow streets, abutting 19th Century brownstones, or the three dimensionality created by the divide between the towers built before and after 1988, when our infamous Gentleman't Agreement was abandoned.

Our skyline has retained a uniqueness embedded in quizzical nostalgia without succumbing to the collective "ugh" typically prompted by worn nostalgia like 50s Rock Cafes.

From the Divine Lorraine to the PSFS Building, to Victorian signage offering hat and shoe repair or Automats; to outsiders, Philadelphia is a fictional city full of businesses and companies that don't exist.

Philadelphia is Gotham. It's Metropolis. Star City.

Fur coats are still advertised at Meglio's on South Broad Street. A city that refers to our flagship department store as Wanamaker's will likely dub the upcoming Century 21 retailer at the Gallery, Strawbridge's. 

I've watched tourists gaze up at the PSFS Building and declare it a 1960s eyesore unaware that it was completed just before the Great Depression and its original fixtures, designed by Cartier, remain intact and in place.

The glowing neon sign atop the tower is particularly troublesome to many who don't "get" Philadelphia. And maybe, in some ways, they're right. In isolation, perhaps it would be an eyesore. In a downtown like Los Angeles or Seattle, it would have been removed decades ago, long since replaced with modern corporate signage scraped from a website, recognizable to the world. 

Most cities are determined to exclusively modernize or restore, ignoring decades of evolution that transform our built environment into one full of inadvertent icons. Were the PSFS sign not surrounded by similarly defunct signage, were it situated on Pioneer Square in Portland, OR, it would look bizarrely out of place. 

But our eclectic mix of fictional businesses advertised in neon or hundreds of incandescent light bulbs create a cohesiveness that identifies this city. As these signs begin to vanish, how will the PSFS or Divine Lorraine signs be received when they're outnumbered by digital signage flaking Market East or Temple University's logos lining North Broad?

Suburban Station may soon be renamed Verizon Station and U.S. Representative Chaka Fattah found approval to rename 30th Street Station, William H. Gray III 30th Street Station. What will become of Suburban Station's iconic sign or its Art Deco signage along JFK? Verizon wants to show its corporate presence in a neighborhood synonymous with Comcast, so it's doubtful that they will be subdued in branding Suburban Station with modern, corporate logos.

Today, South Broad Street began losing its own icon. The large PNB letters at One South Broad which, like the Pennsylvania Saving Fund Society, represent a defunct Philadelphia National Bank, are currently being removed by helicopter.

Unlike the PSFS Building, the PNB letters were added to One South Broad in the 1950s and are not original. The building itself is stunning and perhaps to some, even more handsome than the PSFS Building. But despite being one of Philadelphia's many beautiful old office buildings, today it ceases to be any more than that. 

We've lost the Daily Planet. The PNB Building is no longer a character in Philadelphia's fictional narrative. 

Of course these iconic signs do more than tell the tale of a fictional city that doesn't exist, they're time travelers that tell the story of a Philadelphia that did exist. Say what you will about the Shirt Corner's garishly patriotic facade, but it too was part of the city's visual dialogue that reminded us of an era many would like to forget.

Aion Partners of New York purchased One South Broad Street in May. Unlike Loew's, Aion Partners has decided to remove any ambiguity.