Monday, April 14, 2014

Bud-Vending Innovation (Who Says Americans Don't Make Anything Anymore?)

ZaZZZ it, the reefer robot

So Colorado now has coin-operated vending machines that dispense hash brownies? Try to top that, Amsterdam!

According to today's NPR report, the machines are aimed at the medical marijuana market. I guess that makes them, like, urgent care facilities. Because there isn't always a hospital nearby when you've harshed your mellow.

An automated pot-selling machine was unveiled at an event held at an Avon, Colo., restaurant Saturday, promising a potential new era of selling marijuana and pot-infused snacks from vending machines directly to customers.

Its creators say the machine, called the ZaZZZ, uses biometrics to verify a customer's age. The machine is climate-controlled to keep its product fresh.

You may be picturing a vending machine on a sidewalk, ready to dispense pot brownies to anyone with correct change. That's not quite what backers of the machine have in mind. For now, at least, the ZaZZZ is aimed for use only by medical marijuana patients. And it'll be in licensed stores, where it will serve a purpose like that of an automated checkout line at a grocery, they say.

-- snip --

"We're going to eliminate the middle man," Herbal Elements owner Greg Honan tells Denver's Fox 31 TV. Describing the vending machine's benefits, Honan added that the snacks will go directly "to our budtender, right into the machine. There's no room for theft by patients, by employees — there's no way to lose track of the inventory."

The ZaZZZ isn't the only marijuana vending machine out there. Both Arizona's Endexx and California's Medbox have made headlines for their efforts to streamline pot sales. But as far as we've seen, those companies' products are kept behind stores' counters — for now, at least.

Apparently "Budtender" is now a job title, like "Barista." The next step is inevitable: display cases of farm-fresh gourmet weed at Starbucks. Which, for all I know, might already exist someplace.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

River Deep Mountain High (1966 Promo Video)

I have no real reason for posting this video, other than that it is the best two and a half minutes of recording that I've ever heard.

Plus, it's infectiously joyous, and that's helping me recover my composure after wading through the smarmy mess of the Podesta divorce.

What Sad Things Happen When Avaricious and Politically-Connected People Fall Out Of Love

Matthew Continetti of the Washington Beacon has done a Tom Wolfe-ish treatment of the conscious uncoupling of premier Democratic lobbyists Tony Podesta (the Podesta Group) and Heather Podesta (Heather Podesta + Partners), a distinctly DC drama that is playing out through news leaks as much as law suits.

Divorce Beltway Style looks at the tens of millions in annual revenue the two Podestas took in, the multi-million dollar houses they owned, the art collection they'll have to split, and, most of all, the self-licking ice cream cone that is political lobbying at their level.
They [the suits and counter suits] tell stories not only of a May-December romance gone sour, but of how obscene wealth can be amassed through rent-seeking and influence-peddling in Washington D.C., and of the hoary means by which the princelings of the capital and their consorts maintain and grow that wealth.

-- snip --

Heather changed her name — something she had not done in her previous marriages — to Heather Miller Podesta ... She joined the company, began lobbying. She picked up Tony’s art habit, and together they amassed a collection of more than 1,300 pieces [you can view some of them here].

-- snip --

In 2007 Podesta Matoon became the Podesta Group. Heather formed Heather Podesta + Partners, establishing two prongs of the Podesta family empire. The third prong was the Center for American Progress, founded in 2003 by John Podesta, who would oversee President Obama’s transition team in 2009, and join the Obama administration as a senior adviser in 2014. The Podestas had become the most important non-elected family in the Democratic Party.

-- snip --

In 2009, with the inauguration of Obama and the dawn of unified Democratic control of Washington, business boomed. Revenues at Tony’s firm close to doubled, and revenues at Heather’s firm increased by 50 percent. The money has continued to roll in. The Podesta Group had some $13 million in lobbying income in 2013, sporting clients such as Lockheed Martin, Wells Fargo, U.S. Airways, Walmart, and the National Biodiesel Board. Heather Podesta + Partners made some $4 million, lobbying on behalf of health companies, the American Beverage Association, Brookfield Power, DeVry University, and others. A portion of that money was recycled, contributing to Democratic campaigns, opening up avenues of influence: Tony gave some $45,500 in 2013, all to Democrats; Heather some $95,798 to Democrats, Democratic committees, and liberal groups.

-- snip --

Corporations give to Democratic politicians, avoiding the scrutiny of liberal attack dogs in the media and nonprofit sectors, and enjoying the ego boost that comes with being on the “right side of history.” Then those corporations hire the Podestas to get them out of the Rube Goldberg traps the Democrats have enacted into law.

He ends with this:
Now that shared enterprise is no more, the Heather and Tony Podesta brand is damaged, and all the years of strategic cultivation is in danger of coming undone. This “married couple who both lobbied” is sundered, revealing a political culture of pettiness and greed, and reminding us that there are few things as revolting, intellectually, morally, and ethically, as the “Washington power scene.”

Sunday, April 6, 2014

These Dynasties Are Still In Rerun

In 2016?

Looking at the 'Jeb Bush Talks Strategy If He Runs for President' story in the New York Times tonight made me wonder when was the last time, before 2012, that we had a Presidential election which did not feature anyone named either Bush or Clinton.

If you count 2004 as an election with a Clinton in it - since Hillary ran for the nomination - then you have to go all the way back to 1976 for the last time we had an election that did not include a single Bush or Clinton.

Every election between 1976 and 2008 had a candidate Bush, or Clinton, or both. That's 32 years. And now, maybe the dynasties will reemerge in 2016.

Dynastic rule is common around the world - think of the Bhuttos in Pakistan, the Assads in Syria, the Ghandis in India - and it isn't actually incompatible with democracy. But still, isn't there some section of the U.S. Constitution that can save us from alternating lines of hereditary Presidents?

The 22nd Amendment ended serial Presidency. Can we please add another one to end the threat of political dynasties? For example: "No person shall be eligible for the offices of President or Vice President who is a parent, child, spouse, sibling, aunt, uncle, cousin, or in-law of, or has any collaterally consanguineous relationship with, a person who has already been elected to that office."

Really, 32 years is enough. Let us find a new crop of candidates.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Art in Embassies Couldn't Bridge Pakistani-American Differences

I have all the regard in the world for the professional curators in the Art in Embassies (AIE) office. They make a serious contribution to public diplomacy by, among other things, placing permanent exhibits at each of our new Fortress Embassies - of which there are 111 and counting as of this month - and, God knows, those places can use some cultural uplift.

Frankly, though, I don't think a sculpture of an albino camel gazing at a gigantic needle is the artwork we need at U.S. Embassy Islamabad. I mean, a camel? Why put out that bait for cheap jokes?

Well, it turns out that AIE didn't want the camel at first, either.

Virginia Shore, Chief Curator of AIE, was interviewed about her job by LA Contemporary and she had this to say about the Islamabad embassy project:
[Question] In war torn or "hostile" countries, have there been instances where artists need to reflect on their right to create, to see, to think, to absorb, to interpret, and to translate?

[Answer] I believe the visual arts programming is relevant in every country but can be more critical in hot-bed countries where there is unrest, instability, or conflict exists between us. The art humanizes these buildings and becomes a common denominator. Sometimes these buildings look like bunkers. The objective of the art program is to highlight the similarities as well the differences between our countries. While the art may not ultimately change the outcome, it helps on a humanitarian and emotional level. Yes, at times it can be tricky for artists from the host countries at times to work with AIE.

Recently, I have been working with Shahzia Sikander, an internationally acclaimed artist from Pakistan who is a miniaturist and video artist. Sikander lives in the US. The initial concept was for her and a classmate of hers from the National College of Arts in Lahore to collaborate on a site-specific commission for the new Embassy in Islamabad, Pakistan. However, the local politics in Pakistan came into play. Heated debates on her role in the history of contemporary art emerged, and a critic questioned her contributions as a leader of Pakistani art, as well as her allegiance. Ultimately, we decided that any type of collaboration would be fraught with issues and might be interpreted as having messages of propaganda. So, we are working on site-specific commissions for both artists versus a collaboration.

Well, well, well. So the politics of Pakistan made it impossible for the State Department to commission a noted Pakistani-American artist to produce a representational artwork for our embassy there. Her "allegiance" - meaning, presumably, her allegiance to Pakistan - was questioned by Pakistani critics, and her collaboration with a local artist might have been seen as propagandistic. And so, we went with the camel instead.

Too bad. If the objective of the Art in Embassies program is to "highlight the similarities as well the differences between our countries," what better way to do that than with a Pakistani-American collaboration? The camel has nothing to contribute to that objective.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Camel, Needle, Representin' at U.S. Embassy Islamabad

Yeah, I don't understand that sculpture either 

The U.S. State Department has purchased for $400,000 a reproduction of that sculpture you see in the photo above, and will display it at the new U.S. Embassy that is now being constructed in Islamabad, Pakistan.

Acquisition of “Camel Contemplating Needle” by John Baldessari. Includes production cost related to the procurement of representational artwork to be displayed at the new US Embassy Islamabad and reproduction rights.

Representational artwork in embassies is intended for cross-cultural understanding through the visual arts, or something like that. So, what does that sculpture say about how the United States sees its relations with Pakistan? Is one of us the camel and the other the needle?

The only description of the sculpture I could find doesn't offer an interpretation:
John Baldessari's sculpture Camel (albino) Contemplating Needle highlights a confluence of belief from several different cultures. References to the camel and the needle appear in the Quran, Bible, and the Midrash [an ancient commentary on part of the Hebrew scriptures].

A life-size dromedary with its neck extended inquisitively eyes a super-sized needle in a way which makes the viewer think it could actually pass through the needle's eye. The colorless beast with striking blue eyes is simultaneously intriguing and peculiar especially when stripped of its pigment and fur.

Interfaith dialog is extremely tricky ground for public diplomacy. In the first place, I don't think the camel-and-needle story means quite the same thing in its Koranic version (here) as it does in the New Testament. And, even if the Pakistanis interpret the sculpture in light of the biblical parable, surely they would see the United States in the role of the rich man who wouldn't give up his worldly goods in order to enter the Kingdom of God, and why do we want to send that message?

Must we always do such abstruse artwork? Wouldn't something more accessible be a better choice, I mean, if the goal is actually to achieve cross-cultural understanding and not just to put out art for art's sake?