Are Platforms Services that Should Be Regulated?

A New York Times story frames the continuing debate about Uber as platform versus service. In Europe, Is Uber a Transportation Service or a Digital Platform?”

The short answer is that Uber is asking to be considered as digital service, and thus not subject to regulations,  instead of taxi service, which would.

That Uber is not a taxi service seems an absurd position, although it may prevail legally. Its drivers are also plausibly employees, and its business structure should be subject to the same tax&regulatory regime as any other.

But the larger question (I can’t resist calling it the uber question), is why don’t we regulate platforms in the first place? at least platforms that are companies too. And as a company, their incentives are not necessarily in the public interest, or in the interests of those of  its workers or customers. It exists to make money. That’s reasonable, but Uber’s a company, and why not regulate it as such–and in all of its businesses? Does its technical product entitle it to some fuzzy emotional “feel good” hipster exemption from the norms. If it starts selling insurance, for example, should it be exempt from the rules concerning insurance markets?

Why this should come off as a heretical position perhaps has to do with the low esteem collectivism and regulation have had over the last decades. But if the digital sphere is where we live our lives, and there are signs that at least some of it has sort of been a degenerating sphere (whether Uber contributes to that or is agnostic), do we have no standing to ask governments to say wait a minute? Platforms are not outside the pale of general activity, and are not agnostic with respect to their effects on the commonweal.

I grant, it’s not going to be an easy calculus, but not doing it seems foolish not even to ask the question.

And for enjoyable foolishness of another sort, here’s stand-up about spreadsheets.

(I do play with spreadsheets for fun, and I knew what he was up to with 255! Yikes)

“If you can draw this you can be a famous columnist”

Matt Taibbi has some fun (justified in my view) at the expense of Thomas Friedman’s last tome.

See, if the first line represents change, and the second line represents our ability to adapt to change, all we need to do to bring ourselves up to speed is move the first line up a little. Problem solved!

As numerous people on social media have commented, the second graph seems to suggest that the solution to “enhancing humanity’s adaptability” involves time travel. But that’s nitpicking. These two hilarious diagrams are pure Friedman, and a challenge to fans of the genre. Can you make a more meaningless graph?

T-shirts for the winners. It’s a fine genre…reminds me of a cute book, “F in Exams: The Very Best Totally Wrong Test Answers.” Cover illustration is not to shabby in the meaningless/misleading graphic category.


30 Days of Performing Arts

Day 7: A Symphony Concert: It’s not what you think

A general aim of these posts is to provide some sense of what to expect at  performing arts event, and to answer the questions, “what’s it like?” & “what’s in it for you?” Both turn out to be a little hard for me to answer–in part because of the wide variety of what people want to do with their recreational time, but also because my perspective is informed, and limited, by already being interested in this. The insider status doesn’t always help.

(If somebody were trying to convince me I would enjoy watching cricket, and came at it from the perspective of an intense expertise and enthusiasm, I would appreciate the fervor, but that probably wouldn’t, in itself be persausive*).

So that end, sharing something that caught my eye this morning, the last episode of a a PBS web series on the Louisville Orchestra and their charismatic young conductor (is there any other kind) Teddy Abrams,

He, and they, may or may not grab you, but I’m betting it’s contrast with what you might have had in mind as a conductor from central casting, to wit:

The great Arthur Nikisch conducting one of the earliest recordings of Beethoven’s 5th (with a expressive elan and freedom of tempo that even the most renegade of conductors today probably wouldn’t dare). Reports of of Nikisch disclose that he controlled the orchestra mostl with his extraordinary eyes.

30 Days of Attending Performing Arts

Day 6: When to Clap?

The whole clapping thing, like clothes, is one of these concerns that looms large–larger than it should. The problem: in classical music concerts, works are often composed of several movements, and or performed in sets. If you are unfamiliar with the music, it’s not necessarily clear whether a stop in the music represents the conclusion or just a pause between movements.

The program may or may not help.

To wit, if you see:

Beethoven, Symphony No. 5 in C-minor, Opus 67

Allegro con brio
Andante con moto
Scherzo. Allegro

But all you have ever heard are the famous first measures, what do you about the rest? How do you know when the whole thing ends? How do you keep from being the only person in the concert hall who reveals that you don’t know when to clap?

My first advice is not to worry about it. You are not on trial. (And even you were, the most you might be sentenced to is a raised eyebrow of a neighbor.) Although it’s not appropriate to clap (or make any sound) during the music, after it ends–particularly when there is a big finale–somebody is likely to clap. Sometimes the conductor or soloist will acknowledge and even appreciate it, other times, if they want to go on and maintain the mood, they will you let you know that too. (I once heard Renée Fleming ask a Boston audience not to clap between songs in a lieder recital and the arresting Jaap Van Zweden, a conductor to see if you get the chance, managed, with a shrug of his shoulders, to silence a hall that began to erupt after a radiant movement in a Rachmaninoff Symphony.)

Context is all too. A singer doing a star turn in an opera or a dancer executing an extraordinary solo in a ballet will get applause. It’s a human connection.  (The clapping for the reveal of a set is another matter, and that usually seems a little weird to me. Although I have seen shows in which the set was by far the most impressive creative achievement, so I guess it makes sense.)

Part of the context is community. The pleasure (at least in ideal circumstances) of going to a live performance is that you are there with the artists and with your fellow listeners. (That sometimes this is a mixed bag, I’ll address in a future post). When something special is happening–I recall the rapt magic that Leontyne Price could summon in her recitals, something that was followed by a tumultuous roar of applause–everybody is in it together, listening, rejoicing, then clapping. If you are tuned into that, your applause will join in with your fellow listeners. A wonderful thing.




30 Days of Attending Performing Arts

Day 5: What to Wear?

tuxedoWhen I worked at an opera company, I was surprised that one of the most frequent questions from patrons at the box office was about what to wear. Given that I’m not particularly tuned into to clothing, I had underestimated the concern–or interest–in concert going clothing.

Despite widespread assumptions to the contrary, attending formal live arts events (I’m thinking opera and ballet in specific) does not call for formal evening wear; there is nothing special to buy. Unless you are going to a gala opening night, or  invite-only event that has attire requirements listed on the ticket or invitation, you can wear what you want. That said, most people do end up wearing something along the lines of business casual (meaning a button shirt for men and slacks, if not a sport jacket or suit and something at a similar level of formality for women.)

But the range is wide…I go fairly regularly to the Boston Symphony on Friday afternoons, a concert heavy with retirees, who general just come as they are (particularly near my seat up in the second balcony). My uncle, a life long opera fanatic, has not worn a tie or sport jacket to a performing arts event in my memory, and is usually wearing casual slacks, sneakers, and a shirt I will generously describe as ‘vintage.’

From the arts administrator side of the equation, I can assure you that any arts organization I have been involved in as an employee was happy to see people in whatever clothing they wanted to wear. (Well, clean was good, but beyond that no worries.) We were glad you were there–and if you were young, hip, and in jeans, not only would we welcome you, but we’d take a picture of you for next year’s subscription brochure to show that we weren’t hopelessly old-fashioned.

By this point, you might–at least some of you might–be asking “but I want to dress up! What about me?” The good news about the democratizing of dress is it works both ways. Shows and concerts are still opportunities to put on your best ‘going out’ clothes, should you desire. A Friday night at Lincoln Center is certainly a chance to see some elegant clothes (Kennedy Center, not so much, that’s D.C. for you). I personally have taken (after many years of slobitude) to wearing a suit and tie to some performances at least. Not because I particularly love dressing up, but because when it is an event–say a special trip to a show out of town–it somehow feels like it honors the occasion and the artists. But that’s subjective.

I’ll end this somewhat meandering advice with one final note. If you are attending something with other people, it’s worth it to find out what they are wearing. If you are sitting next to strangers who are dressed up or down, it’s not a big deal, but if you are the only person in a group of four in spats or sneakers, it can feel a little weird. If somebody’s regular pleasure for the holidays is getting dressed up for an annual trip to the Nutcracker and taking you along, then don’t show up looking like you are ready for the early bird special at the Olive Garden. By the same token, if you are hanging with a bunch of hard-core new music hipsters and getting to hear the latest Saariaho  String Quartet at the Gowanus Ballroom, probably best to leave the white tie at home and pull out Fluevogs.

30 Days: Performing Arts

Day 4: The mysteries of tickets.

(Yes, I know it’s Nov. 5, I will catch up.)

So you have some sense of what’s out there, what kind of experience are you looking for, and maybe have narrowed things down to a small number of things you want to see. How do you get a ticket?

This, I’m sorry to say, may not always be as trivially easy as it should be. The simplest (and still often best) approach is to go to the venue and buy a ticket in person. This is my approach for the Kennedy Center, because, like many venues, tickets purchased in person don’t have a service charge, but tickets purchased over the phone or online do. (This is counterintuitive…you’d think the automated service might save you money, but it generally doesn’t.) Also, the ticket people at the KC (like their peers at Boston Symphony Hall and many other venues) are knowledgeable and helpful. They will  advise you on finding the right combination of date, performance and seat. Something websites try to do via automation with out much success.

But if you can’t get to the hall, then online or phone is likely your option.  Most venue websites let you pick your seat (some even have images that show you the view from your proposed seat). You should steel yourself for all the fees…as well as a pitch for a contribution. You can print the tickets, have them held at the box office, or, at some venues, get them to email you a digital ticket for your phone.

It’s important to make sure you are on the website that is authorized to sell tickets for the attraction you want to see. This is not a problem for most of what I go to (people are not thick on the ground pirating tickets online for baroque opera for example). But it is a real nuisance for big hits. (Ticket fraud for Hamilton is happening online and on the street.)

It’s also worth untangling subscription versus single ticket sales. Non-profit arts organizations’ business models (by and large) depend on subscriptions. That is what provides them enough capital to do a whole season. Personally, I think this model is getting a little wobbly of late, but for the moment it still is how things work.

As a result, subscribers get first crack at the best seats, generally getting some price break for bundling shows together. You also get other benefits such as the right to exchange tickets. There is a more intangible aspect–feeling connected to a given organization–being “a member.” It is true that certain things–last year’s Ring cycle by Washington National Opera, and Hamilton for instance, are more likely to be available to subscribers than single ticket buyers. Subscriptions also may introduce you to things you wouldn’t have seen on your own. I didn’t much care for last year’s Disgraced at Arena, but I thought Sweat was terrific and beautifully acted and directed. I wouldn’t have gone to either if we hadn’t been subscribers.

That said, subscribing isn’t for everybody. If you are new to performing arts stuff, I would “date around” with different companies before considering subscribing. You’ll get a feel for what style and tone they offer. (Edgy, like Studio Theater in DC, elegant and old school like the Boston Symphony, etc.) And also it’s worth paying attention to whether you like being there, that is in their main venue–whether it’s a place that just seems enjoyable to go to. For many years, I went to (and often reviewed) the free concerts in the Garden Court at the National Gallery of Art. It is far from being an ideal venue–echoing acoustic and poor sight lines. When there was an orchestra, it was a pick up band that wasn’t extensively rehearsed, soloists were sometimes great, other times kind of winging it. yet those concerts had an openness, and generosity that was rare. And ticket wise? You didn’t need any all. Loving the venue is part of it.

In a future post I’ll deal with handling the price (costs can be high, but relatively speaking the performing arts are a good buy, and there a lot of ways to attend on the cheap if you are willing to do some leg work.)




30 Days of Attending Performing Arts

Day 3: Where to start?

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, live performing arts opportunities are widely available in large and mid-size cities, and often within reach in smaller areas via colleges, civic organizations, tours and the like.

So how can you decide what to see? This is an idiosyncratic decision–like any choice, but here are some questions that might narrow the choice a bit.

  1. Big or small? performances comes in all sizes, from the intimacy of a lieder singer giving a recital in a hall that seats a couple of hundred, to a blockbuster musical like Phantom playing in a theater that seats thousands. Both can be rewarding, but they are very different kinds of emotional experiences. One acquaintance of mine is mostly interested in seeing grand productions–orchestra performances with huge bands (for instance, Schoenberg’s Gurrelieder). Another might want nothing more than an evening with a lone cellist playing the Bach Cello Suites, or a one-person play.
  2. Familiar or unfamiliar? Although you may think you don’t know classical music, opera, Shakespeare, what have you, I bet you do have some context. (Maybe you have heard Ravel’s Bolero, listened to Carmen’s Habanera, read the balcony scene from Romeo and Juliet (or seen one of the many film versions.) If any of those struck a chord with you, look for related performance. Great classics are given all the time all over because they are–well–great. It’s fine, probably more than fine, for your first opera to be La Bohème because you saw it Moonstruck. Trust me, you won’t be disappointed by it in person if you liked it there.

stampAlternately, you can go for something alternative. A new music group, a play reading by a new playwright, a work that explores a time, culture, topic far away from your ken. Some of my most memorable evenings have been walking in to an unknown–maybe folk music from a tradition that is new to you, or a composer and performer you have never heard before.

3. Finally, think about what kind of night (or afternoon) you are up for. Performing arts can be a ‘big night out’ –with all the trappings of a special event. Or it can be as simple as listening to a free pick-up concert in somebody’s home. Both are fine, but planning for what kind of experience you want can help. Matching the emotion and the content to the character of the evening.