Monday, September 30, 2019

Philosophical Foundations of Romanticism: A Quick Look

A philosophical definition of Romanticism is very useful when taking a look at the paintings, poetry, and novels of the Romantic movement. While Classicism was focused on the structure of the work, and emphasized tenets of balance, equilibrium and structure, Romanticism focuses on unity, transcendence, and the individuals perception and response.

F. W. J. von Schelling profoundly influenced artists, writers, and architects with his philosophical writings, which encouraged intense, subjective engagement with reality, and encouraged immersion in nature in order to achieve a transcendental experience. He argued that one can discover essential truths about reality, nature, and even one’s own identity by a close study of nature. In many ways, his work was a continuation of the kind of neoplatonism one might see in Renaissance writing such as Sir Philip Sidney’s “A Defense of Poesie.” 

For Schelling, the “absolute” was a union of the subjective and objective, which, in the case of painting and literature, makes subjective perception more important than the objective reality, in that the objective elements form a frame, or a scaffolding, while the subjective response is where the true meaning-making process takes place.  So, the agreed-upon common elements – the objective structure (in a painting, the elements, in a poem, the prosody) – provide the base and foundation. The meaning-making process is what occurs as the writer or artist adds aspects that trigger a response in the reader, and establish a kind of unity which elevates the reader to a comprehension of the larger, more universal concepts, and insights / knowledge. This moment is often characterized as “divine.”

Thomas Cole - romantic landscape with ruined tower
 Emmanual Kant’s writings about the concept of a transcendental ego, which builds knowledge from sensory perceptions which then are processed in a mind that has prepared itself with universal concepts and categories, has much in common with Schelling. In fact, one could look to Kant for an explanation of the mechanism at work in Romanticism. What are those categories or universals that we must learn and have in place in order to construct truly moving and timeless art?  What are the most effective perceptions for creating a sense of transcendental knowledge? How are they best communicated?  All these questions were addressed, and more, as more artists, writers, and philosophers embraced the new power that Romanticism gave them.

Romanticism was popular and powerful because it posited that individual interpretation mattered and was meaningful.  In fact, the more unique and individual your perception, the more valuable it might be in being able to tease out the ultimate meanings of life, the universe, the divine, and our relationship to it.

Core to the Kant and Schelling’s work was that the nature of reality, God, and existence itself could be understood through a close analysis of nature. Far from simply creating observations and filing them away in Aristotelian or Linnaean fashion, a Romantic (influenced by Kant, Schelling, and later Hegel) would let his or her mind make connections in juxtapositions, oppositions, and in extremes.  He or she would also seek the guidance of one’s emotions or produced mood to further structure meaning.

Romantic Landscape by John Trumbull
 While the freedom and individualism accorded the artist and the writer by means of Romantic philosophy and transcendental Romanticism were often euphoria-producing, the essential problem was in the evaluation of Romantic output. If you measure the value of a work by the way it makes you feel, the thoughts it triggers, and the insights that you personally experience vis-à-vis your own life experiences, then your evaluation is likely to be idiosyncratic and unique.

What is “good” in a world where standards are subjective?  Either one values something by the intensity of the sensation it produces, which could easily start to degrade itself into something degenerate, or it’s essentially assessed by consensus. In many cases, the supporters of Romantic work were patrons who were able to indulge their individual taste.

Since the value of Romantic writing was often measured in the level of “sensation” it produced, an entire genre of novels emerged.  Coming from the Gothic tradition, and known as “sensation” or “sensational” novels, the readers were drawn into dark webs of passion, secrets, hidden treasures, addictions, concealed evil intent, and the threat to innocents and the good. Wilkie Collins, Mrs. Henry Wood, and Mary Elizabeth Braddon were masters of the sensation novel.

History, Fables, Richard III, and a Patron Saint Day

Narrative poetry, prose, and paintings that tell us about history are constructed in order to teach, persuade, and instruct, and thus they have a very close relationship to poetry, especially the fables and epic poems.

That at least is what Sir Francis Bacon wrote in “The Advancement of Learning” published in 1605. I wonder if he was considering how Elizabethan narratives were actively legitimizing Elizabeth I’s right to rule.  The Tudors were lionized. The Plantagenets, be they Yorks or Lancasters, were demonized.  Shakespeare’s Richard III was considered by those who watched it to be absolutely faithful to reality. Now we know, thanks to uncovering Richard III’s skeleton when digging and constructing a car park, that his scoliosis was pretty minor, and he was in no way the twisted hunchback the play portrays him. His personality was said to mirror his physical appearance.  Another exaggeration? A downright lie?  It is possible.

I think it’s quite fascinating that Sir Francis Bacon clearly sets out a “social construction of history” (which is just a hair away from “social construction of reality”), and anticipates much of the rather earth-shattering philosophical shifts of the 1960s and 1970s.

I love Francis Bacon’s The New Atlantis (published in 1626 after his death), which includes the notion that scientists and knowledge-workers are “merchants of light.” “Light” is science or “natural philosophy” – he says it so well that there is no reason whatsoever to elaborate.  I just love it.

I’ve been trying to replicate the way I used to write in the mid to late 1990s with little or no success.  I have just changed.  I’ve been digging through old journals and I feel depressed that I no longer have the ability to write anguished and philosophically vexed poetry or prose poems.  I’ve been writing a lot, but it has been with a view to clarify rather than obfuscate.  If I’m obfuscatory, it’s unintentional, whereas it was intentional before. I was obsessed with “limit experiences” and mystical dark nights of the soul.  Now I am not. I fear aging and lack of mobility.


You found another way to say it.
    I did not.
    Your words were pink, dusty cantera pulled from an impossible quarry
        a fountain? a statue of St. Michael? A grape-strewn pillar?
            my eye sees none of those possibilities
            hoofbeats clattering at dawn

Four colonial baroque churches San Miguel El Alto
    rosy pink cantera walls and stunning domes
    industrious, proud, peninsulares married amongst themselves

        now after centuries, the same dark eyes, distinctive noses
        slim hips, long lives
            preserving the Spanish heritage
                Patron Saint days in September
                bullfights and blood in the sand
                    music in the streets
                    Spanish pan dulce supplanting tortillas

Tonight, at the edge of the largest church
        a thin young man ascends the “castillo”
        the hand-built fireworks frame
                gangling legs spider up the wire-frame ladder
                half-smoked cigarette burning like a red eye
                    he touches the tip to the fuses
                    fiery kisses that could kill

The Castillo and the Cathedral divine light
 golden lamps and showers of sparks
    Virgin Mary, sacred hearts
        flying crowns, rocketing to heaven
        or the oblivion of night

            Faith, faith, holding my hands in unconscious prayer
            no one ever will be burned

A tuba, a trumpet, and a hoarse whisper of Bruno LaTour
    “nothing is real any more”
            nostalgia? sadness?

            or the belief that this night only
           and only this night

                fiery chthonic heart
                illuminating this stop on the Camino Real
                    colonial road from the mines of Zacatecas
                                   to Mexico City

       is real
        as if anything ever were real

Today was a game day. I was exhausted and took a three hour nap. I did not bother to check the score. Now I will make a trek across town and visit my dad. I may eat part of a grapefruit before I set out.

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Farmer Ira and The Gathering of the Juggalos

Ira Murkajetty was raised with the idea that the best investment was always real estate, and especially land.  Banks could fail, stocks could crash, but land would still be there, unless of course, it was on a coast or river, where it could be washed away.

So, when Ira was in his late 40s, he bought 80 acres of beautiful wooded land near a state highway and good, paved county roads in northeastern Florida.  His first choice was Ponte Vedra.  His second was St. Augustine. But, both were too expensive, so he decided to buy land in the small town of Alachua, Florida.  The land was high and dry, for the most part, and with only one swampy, boggy area, with only a smattering of alligators. He built a small house and a big barn and officially became a farmer. His main crop was hay.  For his other income, he bought and sold vintage Schwinn bicycles.

When Ira turned 75, he started to realize that his nest egg was not doing much for him.  He was also sick of losing auctions on E-Bay for old Schwinns and it was getting increasingly difficult to find spare parts.  One morning while he was drinking coffee and eating his morning English Muffin with Smucker’s strawberry jam, someone talked about how much money people could make by leasing their land out to be used for music festivals.

“Well,” he thought to himself.  “I have just the place.  It’s dry, the hay has just been cut, and so there’s room for parking and a stage. Plus it’s wired for electricity and I already have a detached bathroom with 4 toilets and 4 showers.”

He called up the Gainesville Chamber of Commerce, and then Jacksonville. Mary Kate, in Gainesville, was the most encouraging, albeit guarded.

“Are you sure you want to do this?” she asked.  “It just so happens that a group just contacted us for a festival this summer. They call it “The Gathering of the Juggalos,” and they usually get between 8,000 and 10,000 attendees.”

“That sounds nice!” said Ira. He had never heard of a Juggalo. His mind immediately converted it to “Buffalo.” In his mind, images of a cross between blue grass and a small symphonic orchestra playing pop tunes, like the Boston Pops Orchestra in Tanglewood, Massachusetts years ago.  Well, if this went well, he might even talk to people about having Shakespeare in the Park and perhaps weekly bluegrass and square dance meetups.

“Ira, if you do this, please be sure to get a LOT of liability insurance,” she said.

“Oh, okay,” he said. He was thinking about doing that anyway, since it would make it easier to sell the land or do anything.  So, he called up his insurance agent and got a $10 million umbrella policy for the next six months.  It was not expensive, and he felt sure he would recover it.

In the morning, Mary Kate called him and told him that she had given his number to a group called ICP, and also a company representing musicians.

He talked to a very polite man who introduced himself only as Shaggy. “We will have music from all our groups and artists. We’ll have a few wrestling matches, and also different types of fashion and drama exhibitions.”

“That sounds nice. How much will I be paid?” asked Ira.  We’ll pay you either $50 per person, or a flat $250,000, if you prepare the fields and put out bales of hay, parking, electrical outlets, porta-potties, open air showers, and camping spots where we need them.”

“I’m in! Yeeee hawww!” shouted Ira. He had not been this excited since he competed in a local rodeo when he was a teenager.

So, Ira did everything he thought would be prudent. He bought the umbrella policy. He got insurance on all of his equipment and business fixtures. He obtained casualty insurance for the relatively few things that could be destroyed.

He told his buddies at The Breakfast Shack that he was a bit surprised at how thick the contract was, but he signed it. “$250,000 will set me up! I’ll be able to retire! Finally!” he gloated.

But, all was not well in the little paradise of Alachua.  First, Ira wondered if his high blood pressure medication was making him hallucinate one night when he looked out into the field and saw two women in rainbow bikini tops and painted clown faces, and three men in baggy clothes and clown faces.

“What?  Clowns?  Clown masks?  Luchadores?”  he questioned.  He decided he needed a long night’s sleep.

But, his eyes had not deceived him.  On the agreed-upon set-up date, equipment appeared, beautifully choreographed, almost as though controlled robotically. If it had just been the setup for the music, he would have been less nervous.

He walked up to the guy he thought he had signed a contract with, but was shocked when he turned around and had on clown makeup, too.

“Shaggy?”  Ira asked.

“Yes, I’m Shaggy 2 Dope,” he said.  “Thank you again for letting us lease your property for our annual Gathering of the Juggalos.”

“Oh. Okay,” said Ira.  He still had the feeling he was in the kind of dream you have when you hit snooze and you shouldn’t.

Just then a pickup truck drove up and two men and two women got out.  They were wearing something that he had only seen on the box of his granddaughter’s My Little Pony and Sweet Unicorn toys.

“Whoop, WHOOP!  Juggalo family love!” they shouted. One of the women waved what seemed to be a plastic hatchet.  “Juggalo code!”  one woman sang out.  Ira was to learn later that these were the good Juggalos.  He never did encounter any of the 10-15 percent bad apples, who behaved with such depravity and criminal intent that they were classified as a national gang. If Ira had met them, it is unlikely he would have rented out his little corner of rural paradise.

Another shook up a 2-liter bottle of what appeared to be a neon-colored pop.  He could make out the word, FAYGO.

Ira looked at the different pieces of equipment.  It slowly dawned on him that ICP stood for Insane Clown Posse, and he had just agreed to allow his beautiful meadow to be used for a gathering of what looked like a cross between Halloween and the very last night at the carnival of a rural county fair. He also learned that the Insane Clown Posse was often considered the most hated band in the world.

“What is … uh… a Juggalo?”  he asked Shaggy 2 Dope.

“Ira, I’m totally straightedge, but I will say that not everyone is so. I’m so impressed with Juggalos. Most are very creative, entrepreneurial and hard-working. We started out poor. I mean rough in Detroit. But, we pushed ourselves very hard from the very beginning – we dreamed of this. We started out wrestling, then the horrorcore rap. No one really understood us, but then over the years, we have a strong gathering of like-minded people. But it can be a little rough.”


Ira shuddered.  This group was starting to scare him. “Uh. I think I might need to visit my relatives in Gainesville for a week or so.  You’ll have this cleaned up, right?”

“Yes. Without a doubt.  We work hard all year to make The Gathering of the Juggalos something they will remember.  Our record label artists will be performing, and we’ll have all kinds of acts and shows,” said Shaggy.

Ira cringed.

“I don’t think I want to know,” he said. Ira had a bad feeling about it.

“Well, perhaps you don’t,” agreed Shaggy.

Two weeks later, Ira returned to his farm and was delighted to see that it was very clean, just a few deep tread marks and a place where it looked like a few dozen bales of hay and some cut grass had burned.

That night, he noticed a new movie on cable.  The name of the movie was Family (2018, dir. Laura Steinel), and it starred Taylor Schilling and a young actress, Bryn Vale, as her young niece who, due to being bullied at school, wanted to run away and become a Juggalo. He watched the movie, and found it to be quite heartwarming (although the Juggalos still made him nervous).

A few months later, he got a call from Shaggy.

“Ira, we loved your farm and we were planning to contract with you again. But, your county banned us. They said that while they appreciated the fact that they could have access to federal funding since the Juggalos have been officially classified as a gang, the townspeople sort of rose up against it."

Ira had not actually spoken with the town officials. He had read an Opinion piece in the Alachua Weekly Gazette that criticized Ira for renting his place out for such a self-contained festival. "It did not benefit the community," said the writer.  "Everyone brought in their own supplies, and there was little or no economic activity in the community, except for groceries, alcohol, and gasoline. No one stayed in the hotels, and no one shopped in our Florida Heaven Antiques Mall." 

Ira focused his attention back on the conversation.

Shaggy 2 Dope continued, "Your place is a good place for a festival, though.  Let me know if I can be of help in finding a situation that would be a good fit."

"Maybe something like a blue grass festival with clog dancing?" said Ira. Those types tended to be really obsessive and would buy Indian tacos and embroidered household items.

Ira mentally calculated how long thw $250,000 would last him, and he drew a long, contented sigh. He was sorry that the bad apple Juggalos had ruined it for the Alachua location. Oh well. One must count one's blessings. He would talk to a financial advisor tomorrow.

In the meantime, “whoop, WHOOP!”

Friday, September 06, 2019

Technological Utopia or Economic Apocalypse? Today’s Oil Industry Embraces Both

Everyone knows that the oil industry is a very different animal than before the 2014 oil price crash. It can be difficult to assess what the animal is, however, thanks to “binary twin” narratives of utopia and apocalypse that have come to shape the industry.  With their ability to simultaneously generate euphoria and fear, the narratives destroy confidence.  Thankfully, a recent summer seminar brought together the two narratives in a single event and provided illuminating insights for a clearer path forward.

Those who attended the AAPG-HGS “The State and Future of Technology, Finance and Economics, Exploration and Production” on August 20 at Summer NAPE had an opportunity to explore the implications of both narratives as representatives of technology, finance, and operations participated in three separate panel discussions and fireside chats.  This innovative format was developed and organized by Mark Hamzat O. Erogbogbo, with assistance by AAPG.  Hamzat’s vision as a corporate strategist made the structure of the event uniquely valuable.

The event took place the at the George R. Brown Convention Center.
New Technologies
Thankfully, the euphoria-producing narratives appeared first, in the all-morning session dedicated to new technologies.  The extremely high cost of drilling, completing, and producing shale oil and gas has been dramatically reduced by using new technologies that improve efficiencies and allow companies to trim their workforce and drill fewer wells that have higher recovery factors. Further, the use of blockchain technology is allowing better monitoring of performance as well as more efficient back-office operations.

The euphoria is generated not only by the results produced by the new technologies, but also from the potential profitability of investments in start-ups.  A number of companies such as Chevron, Shell, Saudi Aramco, and Equinor invest directly in start-up technologies. Companies such as Frost and Sullivan and Darcy Partners act as both scouts and mentors along the way. Many operators have new technology and innovation centers, and they dedicate at least some of their operations to being a living laboratory for beta-testing the innovations. The efforts often center around machine learning-focused simulations, modeling, information management (Sidd Gupta at Nesh) and imaging, along with blockchain technologies (Andrew Bruce at Data Gumbo). Making the land and legal work more efficient is also the focus of a breakthrough (Ashley Gilmore at  AI platform integrated to the human eliminating safety events, NPT, CAP/OPECX, and upcoming wearable sensors for improved safety (Travis Laman at DeltaPerform) and water treatment and sourcing improvements (Josh Adler at Source Water) have made strides in oil field services.

Guiding the start-ups are companies such as Frost and Sullivan (Ethan Smith), while Microsoft provides enterprise digitalization support.  The potential for technology to be dramatically transformational and to turn now marginal (or money-losing) plays into sustainable, profitable, and environmentally friendly ones was the underlying theme. The fact that technology is accessible to all was emphasized by Invatare’s Trond Ellefsen; with the notion that companies of all sizes and scales of operations can find a way to be profitable.

Finance and Economics
The fear-inducing apocalyptic narrative kept the audience awake in the usually soporific after-lunch sessions. Economics and financial executives, Jeff Henningsen, Ed Hirs, Casey Minshaw, and Jim Harden, pointed out that North American exploration and production companies saw their net debt rise from $50 billion in 2005 to nearly $200 billion by 2015.  Service companies also entered into massive debt positions, since large capital expenditures were required to be able to meet the needs of their clients.

As several pointed out, in 2018, uncertainty gripped the industry as it seemed that some of the largest companies would not be able to restructure their debt. The debt problem continues to make headlines in The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal, and more apocalyptic of financial reporters regularly question whether or not the debt trap will trigger another financial crisis. The result is that there is little appetite for funding new ventures, and private equity funds are retreating rapidly from the scene from the high of $70 billion in 2015.  However, consolidations are the norm, and will continue to be so as they are viewed as a solution that has both short-term and long-term efficiency benefits.  The price of oil is expected to continue to stay fairly low, and the public is expected to remain hostile toward carbon-derived energy. Although the outlook was gloomy, there were glimmers of optimism and enthusiasm with respect to mergers and acquisitions, and the technological transformations that would make operations profitable.

Exploration and Production
The third session featured operations, and the fireside chat structure of this session, facilitated by Godswill Nwankwo made it possible for individuals to speak openly and informally about their views of the trends of the last few years, and the directions that are most likely to be the true path forward. New technology’s potential combined with tight funds united for a general consensus that the oil field of the future will have fewer people, more automation, and better placement of laterals. AI Driller’s Felipe Armaza and Stage Completions’s Carlos Piñeda pointed out that people who will thrive in this environment will be the ones who manage data from diverse sources, make data-driven decisions quickly, and who are able to detect when the models may not be accurate.  Shell Technology’s Hani Elshahawi pointed out the importance of being agile with respect to technology and innovation. What it means for all geoscientists and engineers is that not only do they need to be able to integrate data and work with multiple software platforms and applications, they also need to understand how the real-world physical fundamentals (the rocks, the reservoirs, the produced fluids), look and behave in the digital realm.  

The binary opposition of the two prevailing narratives in today’s energy industry is likely to stay in place for the foreseeable future, and while it can be confusing for a person who is trying to launch a career or put together a deal, understanding the underlying reasons for them can equip one for success.

Susan Nash, Ph.D. 

Brief biographical sketch:
Susan Nash is Director of Innovation, Emerging Science and Technology at the AAPG where she works to promote investment, knowledge transfer, and innovative application of technologies that protect human safety and the environment while they increase the efficiency, supply and distribution of energy.  She has over 20 years of experience in geology as well as economic and technology development. Nash has published in the areas of machine learning, new technology, economic development, and the use of narrative strategies in persuasive documents.  Her Bachelor of Science, Master of Arts, and Ph.D. degrees were earned at the University of Oklahoma.


Monday, February 04, 2019

What do you do if your brand is being damaged by online bullies and trolls? The Daily Mail's "unmasking the trolls" approach

Fed up with the social media accounts dedicated to insulting Meghan Markle, Kensington Palace and the U.K. tabloid, The Daily Mail, clawed back by putting the photos, names, and hometowns of the owners of social media sites that had posted hateful posts. The headline immediately attracted attention for calling out the critics: "Unmasked: The cruel trolls who spew bile against the Duchess of Sussex on social media, branding her a 'hooker' and 'trash'... and call for #Megxit," and the article contained images the owners of the social media accounts and some details about their posts, their identities.

It is by no means the first time that The Daily Mail has used this approach. It has been done before in the case of British politician Jeremy Corbyn. However, it is not an approach that is regularly seen in the U.S., and many of the Meghan Markle critics are based in the U.S.

Question: Do you think The Daily Mail's strategy will work to stop people from saying and posting harsh opinions and speculation about public figures?

There have been some complaints from the people who were “unmasked” that they feel they are now in danger from people who are offended by them. But, since their information was public, do they have a defensible case? 

If someone has a social media account in which they insult celebrities, promote conspiracy theories, or encourage people to act out, is it a good approach to “expose” them? 

On another level, when a person or entity with wealth and power  publicly hits back after receiving criticism (no matter how harshly worded or threatening) doesn't it set up an "underdog" dynamic? And, in doing so, does it somehow start to legitimize racist, misogynist, ad hominem attacks?

Will "clapping back" backfire on The Daily Mail or Kensington Palace, as in the case in Amy's Baking Company? 

Here's a bit of background: After celebrity chef Gordon Ramsey savaged Amy’s Baking Company during an episode of Kitchen Nightmares in 2013, Amy's basically self-destructed on social media when they attacked back. Internet critics descended, and instead of coming up with a positive media campaign, Amy’s Baking Company became increasingly defensive.

Amy’s Baking Company’s responses became increasingly unhinged, to the point that they were absolutely excoriatingly vicious.  You have to read them to believe them.  A article contains some of the jaw-dropping responses.

Amy’s Baking Company ended up having to shutter their business, suffer financial losses, and face the fact that they were victims of their own poor strategies. 
What could they have done differently?

In any case, there seems to be a profound loss of civility and civil discourse, first in the anonymous or almost anonymous commenters on the Internet, and then within groups or hashtag clusters where people who share the same opinions express themselves in harsh ways, perhaps for comic effect, or perhaps simply for rhetorical impact. In any case, the discourse often has real-world impacts, in damaging brand and brand images, along with other possible consequences. 

Responding to bullying is never easy, and an historical analysis of public relations responses to crises or controversial public figures could yield new insights.

Are Social Media Trolls Threatening Your Online Brand Reputation? 

Honorof, Michael (21 Nov 2016) How Amy’s Baking Company Ruined Itself on Social Media.

Tepper, Rachel (14 May 2013) Amy’s Baking Company Freaks Out Online After Epic Meltdown on Gordon Ramsay’s “Kitchen Nightmares” 

Wace, Charlotte (2 Feb 2019) Unmasked: The cruel trolls who spew bile against the Duchess of Sussex on social media, branding her a 'hooker' and 'trash'... and call for #Megxit