Thursday, May 31, 2012

The Case Of The Watered Down Apple Juice


Boy, you just can't be too careful these days. I'm a regular drinker of apple juice, and actually buy quite a bit of the stuff, though I've never been particularly loyal to any one brand. This past weekend, I made a trip to the warehouse club, and to save a little coin I purchased a case of 10 ounce bottles of Tropicana apple juice. To make a long story short, when I cracked open the first bottle and took a swig, I was shocked at just how watered down it tasted. So much so that it almost didn't taste like apple juice at all. Holding the bottle up to the light, I could even SEE how watered down it was compared to even the generic supermarket brand I usually buy.

Curious to see if it was just my imagination, I did a Google search and came up with, of all things, a couple of insightful customer reviews from Amazon.com:
By Jean Logan
Tropicana has gone the way of others in reducing the real juice in their product and adding flavor enhancers hidden under the words "Natural Flavors" which means the additions of a vegetable extract called glutamic acid. This extract is bad news for your body. This allows them to add more water and less juice. Buy another brand. The apple juice flavor is weak at best.
And here is a snippet from another one:
By K. Rayman
Made from Chinese apple concentrate. Chinese apples are bitter from all the chemical sprays and pesticides used on the trees and soil. China makes the juice marketable by turning the apples into powder concentrate and shipping the powder in industrial drums. Any juice that uses chinese apples is of questionable quality and we all know the chinese record for producing safe products.
The fact that the apples come from China does not surprise me, especially after this story I posted here last September, but the fact that the company would put out such a shockingly substandard product in a brazen attempt to cut costs was a real eye opener. You can bet that this will be the last time I ever purchase a Tropicana juice product of any kind.


Bonus: I guess I was the fool this time

NPR: American Dream Faces Harsh New Reality


When even National Propaganda Radio begins to notice that the American Dream is on its last legs, its probably time to sit up and take notice. The following is a story that appeared on NPR's website this past week:
The American Dream is a crucial thread in this country's tapestry, woven through politics, music and culture.

Though the phrase has different meanings to different people, it suggests an underlying belief that hard work pays off and that the next generation will have a better life than the previous generation.

But three years after the worst recession in almost a century, the American Dream now feels in jeopardy to many.

The town of Lorain, Ohio, used to embody this dream. It was a place where you could get a good job, raise a family and comfortably retire.

"Now you can see what it is. Nothing," says John Beribak. "The shipyards are gone, the Ford plant is gone, the steel plant is gone." His voice cracks as he describes the town he's lived in his whole life.

"I mean, I grew up across the street from the steel plant when there was 15,000 people working there," he says. "My dad worked there. I worked there when I got out of the Air Force. It's just sad."

Uniquely American

The American Dream is an implicit contract that says if you play by the rules, you'll move ahead. It's a faith that is almost unique to this country, says Michael Dimock of the Pew Research Center.

"When Germans or French are asked the same questions about whether it's within all of our power to get ahead, or whether our success is really determined by forces outside our control, most German and French respondents say, 'No, success is really beyond our control,' " Dimock says.

In the wake of the recession, that sentiment is now growing in this country.

"I think the American Dream for the average man doesn't exist any more," retiree Linden Strandberg says on a recent visit to the Smithsonian American History museum in Washington, D.C.

The Strandberg family story has been repeated millions of times in the last century. His parents immigrated from Sweden in the 1920s for economic opportunity. Linden grew up and worked at the phone company in Chicago for 35 years.

"I wasn't smart enough to go to college, so I wanted to get a steady job with decent pay," he says. "With my overtime I was able to buy a house, take trips to Europe and visit relatives there. I don't think a young person — woman or man — coming out of high school now could ever achieve that."

This sense that the contract is threatened intrigued political scientist John Kenneth White of Catholic University. "We have a lack of confidence by many Americans in the future of the country," says White, who edited a collection of essays called The American Dream in the 21st Century.

This crisis of confidence is not just because the economy is bad. In fact, the American Dream flowered at a time when the economy was at its worst.

"If you go back to the Great Depression where the American Dream originated as a concept, strikingly enough, there was still hope and optimism about the future," White says.

A Long History Of Optimism

In 1931, author James Adam wrote a book with the working title The American Dream. Ultimately it was retitled The Epic of America. Historians say that text marked the American Dream's emergence into the spotlight.

Yet the underlying themes had been bubbling up through the American psyche for much longer. In 1925, F. Scott Fitzgerald opened his iconic novel The Great Gatsby with these lines:

In my younger and more vulnerable years, my father gave me some advice that I've been turning over in my mind ever since. Whenever you feel like criticizing anyone, he told me, just remember that all the people in this world haven't had the advantages that you've had.

The American motifs of growth and optimism even stretch back as far as the Constitutional Convention.

"The chair in which Washington sat had a sun, and the question was asked, is it rising or setting?" White says. "And the framers answered that question by saying it's a rising sun."

At that time, the American Dream was not available to everyone in the country. Black people were kept as slaves. Women were not allowed to vote or own property.

The story of the 20th century is one of the American Dream gradually being extended to more of the population.

Composer Aaron Copland, a gay Jewish son of immigrants, captured the expansive optimism of the American Dream in 1942, in his "Fanfare for the Common Man."

Six years later, the gospel singer Mahalia Jackson expressed her faith that blacks will "Move on Up a Little Higher." The single became an overnight sensation — the best-selling gospel record to date.

In 2009, President Obama looked back across those decades as he took the oath of office. He described his inauguration as a fulfillment of the American Dream, where "a man whose father less than 60 years ago might not have been served at a local restaurant can now stand before you to take a most sacred oath."

While Obama embodies the American Dream in a powerful and specific way, this is a theme that every president and would-be president adopts in some fashion.

On the campaign trail, GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney talks about how his father grew up poor. "Only in America could a man like my dad become governor of a state where he once sold paint from the trunk of his car," he says.

"Only in America" is a universal phrase in domestic politics. The challenge for politicians today is to convince Americans that the phrase still applies — that hard work and dedication still guarantee success.

Skepticism Grows

That faith is faltering, especially among the poor, says pollster Dimock. "Lower income whites and lower income African-Americans are more skeptical about the American Dream. Higher income blacks are pretty optimistic about the American Dream, as are higher income whites."

As cynical as this may seem, the numbers suggest that the people most likely to believe in the American Dream today are those who've already attained it.

"There's a certain truth to that," Dimock says. "There are people struggling. And what you're seeing especially right now are people who feel like they played the game the right way, like they did what they were supposed to do, and the rules they thought they could play by and be OK have changed on them somehow."

Economic statistics validate those feelings. According to the Census Bureau, an average man working full time made 10 percent less money last year than he did a decade ago.

The question for this country is, can the dream be restored? And if it can't, what does that mean for our identity as Americans? Or, as the poet Langston Hughes put it, "What happens to a dream deferred?"
The answers to those last two questions the NPR reporter asks are of course, no, and we're fucked. That ought to be plainly obvious to anyone who is really paying attention to what is going on in this country. At this point it really is only hopeless optimism combined with the endless media propaganda and the atomization of our society that is thus far keeping the lid on as far as the eruption of mass social unrest. As this article indicates, that optimism is slowly fading for a whole lot of people.


Bonus: From my You Tube channel, a backhanded musical tribute to the American Dream

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Dewey & Leboeuf Declares Bankruptcy, Larger Ever U.S. Law Firm Collapse


Here's a story I gather won't generate a whole lot of sympathy. Yahoo News has the details:
The crippled law firm Dewey & Leboeuf LLP filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy protection Monday night and will seek approval to liquidate its business after failing to find a merger partner, marking the biggest collapse of a law firm in U.S. history.
Once one of the largest law firms in the U.S., Dewey has been hit by the loss of the vast majority of its roughly 300 partners to other firms amid concerns about compensation and a heavy debt load.

Dewey had warned employees earlier this month of the possibility the firm may shut down, and a person familiar with the matter had told Reuters that the firm was considering a bankruptcy filing.

"Dewey's failure is rocking the industry in the sense that most firms are saying to themselves, if Dewey could go down, could we?" Kent Zimmermann, a legal consultant at the Zeughauser Group, said in an email Monday night.

Dewey said in a filing it had decided to wind down its business following unsuccessful negotiations with other law firms to strike a deal. It said it would ask about 90 employees to remain on staff to assist in the liquidation, which it expects to be completed in the next few months.
Gee, that's too bad. So what was the cause of the firm's sudden downfall?
The firm's collapse is expected to be the subject of years of court proceedings, and a number of former partners have already retained lawyers to represent them.

Monday's filing follows months of turbulence, as wave after wave of partner defections shattered the high-profile firm from within. In April, the Manhattan District Attorney's office launched a criminal probe of former firm chairman Steven Davis. He has denied any wrongdoing.

The result of a 2007 merger between Dewey Ballantine and LeBoeuf, Lamb, Green & MacRae, Dewey & LeBoeuf had about 1,450 attorneys at its peak, according to The National Law Journal.

But the firm was eventually undone by a combination of the economic downturn, excessive compensation and governance problems, according to former partners and others in the industry. In particular, Dewey's management promised millions in packages to about 100 partners, according to the court filing, leaving it strapped for cash when revenues fell during the recession.


Dewey has retained Joff Mitchell of Zolfo Cooper LLC as Chief Restructuring Officer and Albert Togut of Togut Segal & Segal LLP as bankruptcy counsel.

"The full extent of the partner compensation arrangements is subject of continuing investigation," Mitchell said in the filing.
So, rapid expansion right into the teeth of the Great Recession and top management squeezing the the juice out of the firm with excessive compensation packages. Where have we seen this before? Oh that's right, all across every sector of the economy these days.


Bonus: They're probably not in love anymore

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Alabama Closing 13 National Guard Armories


This is a good companion to this morning's post. Here is the Tuscaloosa News with the details:
Alabama’s National Guard plans to close armories across the state, including some in the Black Belt, citing smaller military forces, changing military needs and budget constraints.

The National Guard announced Nov. 1 that it would close 13 armories, many of them aging and substandard. Some were built in the 1950s.

“We’re $12 million behind in maintenance, we have roofs leaking, commodes won’t flush, lights are flickering and they’re dangerous,” Maj. Gen. Perry Smith, Alabama’s adjutant general, said last week.

Smith announced in November that armories in Georgiana, Greenville, Grove Hill, Hartselle, Heflin, Linden, Lineville, Millport, Moulton, Ozark, Thomasville, Union Springs and Wetumpka would be closed.

The state’s military department said last week that it has already closed 11 of them, leaving only two on its list, the Linden and Hartselle armories, still open.

The Fort Hill McManus Boggs armory in Linden is scheduled to close before Sept. 30, the end of the fiscal year.

Smith said it’s not just the lack of money that is forcing the armories to close, but also changing recruiting and military needs.

Linden Mayor Mitzi Gates, however, is trying to convince state officials not to close the armory in her town, saying it is still fairly new and is in “great shape.”

She has the support of area legislators in her efforts.

“We’ve had a military presence since the 1950s and it’s part of the culture of our town, of course,” she said. She said the armory, with its 14 or 15 full-time employees, has an economic impact on Linden.

“It was puzzling to me why they would close it,” she said.
Just like at the national level, nobody wants to cut back on military spending because it will result in people losing their jobs, but sooner or later the money simply will not be there to continue to support this form of Military Keynesianism.


Bonus: Bill visits Alabama

Military-Industrial Complex Porn: Congress To Spend More On Tanks Than The Pentagon Wants


From The Raw Story, I've got your "austerity" measures RIGHT HERE:
The US Congress is poised to approve more funds for modernizing the US Army’s main battle tank despite objections from the military that it puts the Pentagon’s overall strategy in jeopardy.

In its 2013 budget proposal, which begins in October, the Obama administration requested $74 million to upgrade the M1A2 Abrams tank, which originally was intended for land warfare in the plains of central Europe.

But, just as it did last year, the Congress has turned a deaf ear to the Pentagon, with the Republican-controlled House of Representatives passing a defense authorization bill last week that adds an additional $181 million to the program.

In the Senate, Democrats have also gone way beyond the administration’s request and in the Senate Armed Services committee approved an additional $91 million for 33 extra tanks to be upgraded.

“The conundrum we have is that we don’t need the tanks,” General Raymond Odierno, the army chief of staff, told members of Congress.

“Our tank fleet is two-and-a-half years old (on) average now. It’s been recapped, its been reset, we’re in good shape, and these are additional tanks that we don’t need.”

The defense bill is expected to go to the Senate floor next week. The House and Senate versions, with their differing amounts for the Abrams, will then have to be reconciled.

Lawmakers say the additional spending is needed to keep production lines open at the Ohio factory where upgraded tanks are built. They say at least 70 tanks a year must be built for the factory to stay open.

However, Pentagon officials fear that in a time of budget cutbacks, the extra spending on the Abrams and other programs favored by Congress will undercut competing plans considered essential to the US strategy toward Asia.

“There is no free lunch,” US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta warned lawmakers earlier this month.

“And if members try to restore their favorite programs without regard to an overall strategy the cuts will have to come from areas that could impact overall readiness,” he said.
Blogger Charles Hugh Smith calls boondoggles like this part of a massive number of "make work" programs designed to try and keep people employed in a failing economy. But I can't think of a less beneficial form of make work program than building a bunch of tanks that the military doesn't even need. At a time when there is no conceivable conventional military threat to the U.S. anywhere in the world, this is sheer waste of resources is maddening in it's utter insanity.

If the government is going to continue to borrow obscene amounts of money to try and keep people employed, let's at least have them doing something useful like repair some of the nation's crumbling infrastructure. But no, somehow having the government employ people to try and maintain the common good is "socialism," wheras giving that same money to defense war contractors who would be out of business without it is as American as baseball and apple pie. Notice, too, that once again this is a bipartisan initiative from a supposedly hopelessly gridlocked congress. Just par for the course in Washington these days.


Bonus: "They're gonna rip it off...Taking their time right behind my back"

Monday, May 28, 2012

Memorial Day


I hope my American readers are out enjoying the holiday today. I don't have any grand statements to make, just a link from my You Tube channel of a very appropriate song from James McMurtry.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Short Attention Span Nation

Many thanks to reader eggdogg over at the Hubbert's Arm discussion boards for posting this as an interesting topic of conversation.

As a lifelong fan of rock and roll, I was for many years a subscriber to Rolling Stone magazine, which used to be the bible of rock music. For Rolling Stone, writing about rock and roll was about more than just the music, it was about the writing. Take for example, this original review of Jackson Browne's classic 1974 album, Late for the Sky:
Like Browne's two previous albums, Late for the Sky contains no lyric sheet. The three or four hours required to make a full transcription will, however, be well worth the effort for anyone interested in discovering lyric genius. I can't think of another writer who merges with such natural grace and fluidity his private and public personas in a voice that is morally compelling yet noncoercive.

Late for the Sky, Jackson Browne's third Asylum album, is his most mature, conceptually unified work to date. Its overriding theme: the exploration of romantic possibility in the shadow of apocalypse. No contemporary male singer/songwriter has dealt so honestly and deeply with the vulnerability of romantic idealism and the pain of adjustment from youthful narcissism to adult survival as Browne has in this album. Late for the Sky is the autobiography of his young manhood.

The album's eight loosely constructed narratives rely for much of their impact upon stunning sections of aphoristic verse, whose central images, the antinomies of water and sand, reality and dreams, sky and road, inextricably connect them. Browne's melodic style, though limited, serves his ideas brilliantly. He generally avoids the plaintive harmonies of southern California rock ballads for a starker, more eloquent musical diction derived from Protestant hymns. Likewise his open-ended poetry achieves power from the nearly religious intensity that accumulates around the central motifs; its fervor is underscored by the sparest and hardest production to be found on any Browne album yet (Late for the Sky was produced by Browne with Al Schmitt), as well as by his impassioned, oracular singing style.

On side one, Browne tells bluntly about his personal conflict between fantasy and reality in erotic relationships, struggling with his quest for idyllic bliss. The title cut explores an affair at its nadir ("Looking hard into your eyes/There was nobody I'd ever known"), concluding with an image of the sky, the album's symbol for escape, salvation and death. "Fountain Of Sorrow" develops parallel themes of sex and nothingness, fantasy and realism, as Browne, looking at the photograph of a former lover, recalls: "When you see through love's illusion, there lies the danger/And your perfect lover just looks like a perfect fool/So you go running off in search of a perfect stranger." In the chorus, highly romanticized sexuality becomes a "fountain of sorrow, fountain of light." Later in the album the water images are developed into a larger metaphor for death and rebirth.

"Farther On" and "The Late Show" complete the first part of the song cycle. Locating the sources of Browne's exacerbated romanticism "in books and films and song," "a world of illusion and fantasy," "Farther On" defines Browne's quest as a "citadel" in "a vision of paradise." Its desolate conclusion finds Browne alone and older, "with my maps and my faith in the distance, moving farther on." By "The Late Show," Browne is so absorbed in despair that if he "stumbled on someone real" he'd "never know." Midway in the song, however, he meets a lover and in an impulsive gesture they drive away from the past in the "early model Chevrolet" pictured on the album cover.

The second side of the album describes the precariousness of the journey, as Browne's sense of personal tragedy metamorphoses into a larger social apprehension. "The Road and the Sky," a jaunty rock song, reintroduces the water motif: "Can you see those dark clouds gathering up ahead/They're gonna wash this planet clean like the Bible said." "For A Dancer," which follows, is one of the album's two master-pieces, a meditation on death that harks back to "Song For Adam" on Browne's first album: "I don't know what happens when people die/Can't seem to grasp it as hard as I try/It's like a song I can hear playing right in my ear but I can't sing/I can't help listening." But "For A Dancer" is not a lament; it calls for joyful procreation to combat metaphysical terror. Browne's graceful lyric, as fine as any he's written, finds its counterpart in the music, an ethereal tango in which David Lindley's fiddle dances against Browne's vocal. A crisp little rock song, "Walking Slow," celebrates Browne's new-found domestic stability. "Before The Deluge," the album's summary cut, brings together in a comprehensive social context the themes of the rest of the album. A march for three voices — Browne, Lindley's fiddle and backup chorus — the song evokes the spiritual malaise following Woodstock:

And in the end they traded their tired wings
For the resignation that living brings
And exchanged love's bright and fragile glow
For the glitter and the rouge
And in a moment they were swept
Before the deluge

The verses are linked by a moving secular prayer for music, shelter and spiritual sustenance: "Let creation reveal its secrets by and by/When the light that's lost within us reaches the sky." This chorus's final statement follows a verse so imagistically potent as to suggest literal prophecy:

And when the sand was gone and the time arrived
In the naked dawn only a few survived
And in attempts to understand a thing so simple and so huge
Believed that they were meant to live
After the deluge
Reading that review again, I could actually hear those bittersweet sounds and words in my mind, so evocative are the descriptions. Obviously, Rolling Stone is not written for intellectuals, and yet publisher Jann Wenner was able to build a media empire by regularly providing this kind of thoughtful, well written content.

So how is it going now, less than four decades after that review appeared? Let's check a recent Rolling Stone review for the album, Neck of the Woods, by the Silversun Pickups:
On their two previous discs, this L.A. band tapped into the shoegaze majesty of peak Smashing Pumpkins and My Bloody Valentine. There's a little more digital burble coursing underneath the guitar haze this time out. Dance beats undergird the Pumpkins power-pop of "Gun-Shy Sunshine" and "Busy Bees," while songs like "The Pit" recall the sheer, synthed-up alt-rock Garbage made big in the Nineties. It could be a blurry Xerox of old sounds, but singer-guitarist Brian Aubert infuses his songs with wispy drama, balancing moppy-haired brooding and bright, bracing fuzz-drunk melodies. On "Dots and Dashes (Enough Already)," he invites us to look into his "scrapbook of fantasies." They're all borrowed, but he makes each nicked noise his own.
Clearly, Rolling Stone no longer believes that it's readership has the attention span or the desire to read engaging reviews like they did back in 1974. And lest you think this is a trivial example, it very much parallels what has been happening in the news media during this time. No wonder so few people seem capable of engaging in any sort of nuanced thinking about any particular issue these days. If you can't summarize it in a paragraph, or God forbid a Tweet, they simply aren't interested.


Bonus: This song might be more relevant today than it was back in 1974

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Saturday Night Music Video: "The Weekenders" by The Hold Steady


For my money, one of the best American indie rock outfits of this past decade is Minneapolis's own, The Hold Steady. The band's specialty is the kind of heartfelt, bombastic, poetic rock and roll Bruce Springsteen used to make before he he got old and started taking himself too seriously. "The Weekenders" is a gorgeous track off of their most recent album that always puts me in a happy mood whenever I hear it. The perfect song for a holiday weekend.

Enjoy!

Georgia Perimeter College To Lay Off 185


Another bad sign from the world of higher education. Here is the Atlanta Journal Constitution with the details:
Georgia Perimeter College will lay off about 185 people to close what could be a $25 million deficit next year.

Tenured and tenure-track faculty will be exempt from layoffs, but they will teach more courses. More students will be crammed into classrooms. And the college will hold off buying new computers and upgrading its network as part of an eight-step plan Interim President Rob Watts released Friday.

"Staff will need to stretch to take up the slack that will be created," Watts wrote in an email to faculty and staff. "My focus will be on our access mission and on preserving academic and instructional quality."

Questions remain over how the two-year college dug itself into this financial mess.

The college has been overspending for the past four years, according to state audits and university system analysis reviewed by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. The school depleted its reserves to balance the books, leaving little money to bail itself out this time.

Auditors from the University System of Georgia are investigating the school's internal controls and how it recorded and communicated financial information, according to emails and documents the AJC obtained through an Open Records request. The system's chief auditor wrote the college failed to conduct regular audit reports.

State auditors will also review the school's books. And the Attorney General's Office is reviewing the situation because former President Anthony Tricoli alleged "fraudulent behavior by key financial personnel." Watts has since brought in new financial officers.
Of course, the biggest fraud of all is persisting in selling the need for a college education to young people who then graduate with huge student loan debts and can't find a decent job. But Georgia Perimeter is hardly unique in that regard.

Let 'Em Eat Cake Porn: Five Reasons You Should Never Take Advice from Celebrities


The always awesomely funny Cracked.com posted a biting article this week about why the average person should never, ever trust a celebrity. Personally, I would expand this to include not only major movie stars, musicians and sports figures, but big time politicians as well. The whole this is worth reading, but here is the first of the five to whet your appetite:
Remember that time you were watching an interview with some celebrity, and they spouted off a nugget of wisdom that made you turn to your friend and say, "You know what? Lisa Edelstein is right. We really should alleviate our stress by getting up at 3 a.m. and doing two hours of yoga"? Don't worry, neither does anyone else. But it doesn't stop celebrities from dispensing it like that virtually see-through toilet paper in a truck stop shitter. There are reasons we wisely choose to ignore their advice (or in many cases, make fun of it), but I don't think the celebrities themselves see the problem. Allow me to explain to them that ...

#5. They Come from a World Where Money Isn't a Thing

The number one cause of stress in the average person's life is money, mainly because all of the other things you worry about (your job, your degree) are just other ways to worry about money. So when we get advice from Gwyneth Paltrow on "what to get the man in your life," it's incredibly hard to not burst into fits of psychotic laughter like the black guy from RoboCop. Seriously, take a look at what she suggests and tell me you don't want to punch her in the face:

"Room spray" (the size of a pill bottle): $125
Sweater: $800
Belt: $420
Rug with silhouette of his head: $3,500

I mean, I understand that Gwyneth is a special kind of crazy, but is she really so out of touch with the general public that she thinks these are 1) things men want and 2) things the average person can afford without taking part in some hardcore, Class X embezzlement? If my wife brought home any one of those items, I'd immediately assume she had taken on a second job fucking Japanese businessmen for poker chips in Vegas.

It's not a huge mystery that when you enter into that celebrity level of financial security -- let me rephrase that: when you become so effortlessly rich that your life makes fuck sounds -- the enormous weight of that stress just evaporates. I'm not talking about some successful business owner who works around the clock, I'm talking about a class of people who can collect six-figure checks just for showing up to some event whose organizers want a famous person in the audience. After living that lifestyle -- and hanging around others who share it -- for so long, it becomes impossible for you to relate to the average human. But since she still thinks of herself as "just another person," she can't help but come off as catastrophically clueless.

Don't think I'm just picking on Gwyneth here -- the problem is everywhere among that group. When asked about how to keep level-headed and grounded, Goldie Hawn's advice is to stand in front of the ocean. Which I'm sure that, for the multimillionaires living on beachfront property, it's a great idea. Or for the small percentage of people who live close enough to the ocean to drive there. But for the overwhelming majority of the globe, it's just gibberish horseshit spraying from the mouth of an ultra-privileged, out of touch alien.

You can't give advice based on a lifestyle that's only shared by a single-digit percentage of the globe and expect to be taken seriously. "But what about the things that don't take a huge bank account to do, like dieting tips and workout regimens?" asks all of Hollywood in unison. "Surely we could have something valuable to say there."

#4. They Literally Pay People to Live Their Lives for Them

#3. Their Day-to-Day Life Bears No Resemblance to Yours

#2. They Are Experts at Appearing Smarter Than They Actually Are

#1. They Have Nobody to Tell Them They're Wrong
It's just so sad that so many people out there are such blind followers.


Bonus: Bill was never a big fan of people who sell out for celebrity

Friday, May 25, 2012

Friday Rant: Another Sick Holographic Lynching


It's pretty much a given that the mainstream media these days will focus on whatever triviality it can to distract the masses from the creeping effects of our unsustainable industrial civilization's very dire resource predicament. Usually in this ongoing effort, the Hologram focuses on the trials and tribulations of various vacuous celebrities--and that's fine as far as it goes. The attention whores aren't apt to complain about the white hot spotlight, and have layers of private security to protect them against any unhinged freak who might come after them as a result of all the unwarranted publicity.

But once in awhile, an ordinary person gets their life turned upside down because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time and managed to do something the gatekeepers deem "newsworthy." Take, for instance, the example of Patricia Krentcil, the so-called "Tan Mom," who is apparently guilty of exercising bad parenting judgement and is certainly guilty of having an unhealthy addiction to tanning beds. Bad parenting happens every day in this country, unfortunately. Except Krentcil had the misfortune of having her very unimportant case become subject of yet another asinine media frenzy. Here is The Raw Story with the details:
After being charged earlier this month with child endangerment for allegedly putting her 6-year-old daughter on a tanning bed, an alarmingly bronzed New Jersey woman came to national prominence, and she hasn’t had a moment’s peace ever since.

Now the butt of endless jokes, Patricia Krentcil, 44, is getting a little sick of it all. She’s been featured on late night talk shows, had an action figure made in her likeness, and even endured a ribbing by Saturday Night Live.

Speaking to NBC’s Today on Tuesday, Krentcil said she wants America to know that despite her appearance, she’s still a good mother.

I’m up at 3:00 in the morning making sure all the wash is done, my husband goes to work at 4:30,” she explained. “[He] works on wall street, and then I make pancakes, pack [the kids'] bags, and they’re all off and gone, and then I work all day inside and outside of this house.”

Krentcil added that her daughter, Anna, got a sunburn after playing in a pool on a sunny day — and not from going into a tanning bed with her mother. “She’s a redhead,” she said. “She got sunburnt.”

“We’re fighting these charges because I’m not guilty,” Krentcil insisted. “Every allegation was completely wrong, and I just want people to leave us alone.”
Maybe Krentcil is guilty, maybe she isn't. The point is that her guilt or innocence in this particular case is of no fucking consequence to anyone outside of her immediate family. Make no mistake, the media jackals have made a spectacle of her for one simple reason: because she looks like a freak. She is yet another woman whose physical appearance is being gleefully used as a weapon against her by cretins with no moral compass.

Sadly, that is the state to which the American media has descended--a fucking high school gossip mill where the good looking and popular kids bully and mock the "geeks" and "freaks" and everyone else is too afraid that they will be next not to join in the cruel laughter. Everyone who has been taking pleasure in voyeuristically reveling in this poor woman's travails ought to be ashamed of themselves. Really, is your life THAT fucking empty of meaning? Are you THAT fucking addle-minded that you don't instinctively recognize what an abomination it is to make a laughing stock out of this particular loser nobody? After all, it's not like she murdered or molested her daughter, or, oh I dunno, gave the order to drop a drone missile on top of her.

Lest you think I am overreacting to this story, you'll recall that yesterday I posted an article about how Sandra Fluke received some extremely vile and malicious Twitter messages from some fucking douchebag asshole who has never met her whose hatred of her was deliberately whipped up by the right wing's pretty hate machine. Is it really too much of a leap to imagine that Patricia Krentcil could possibly get physically attacked by some whackjob who is frothing at the mouth at thought of the "horrible" way she abused her daughter? Unlike, say, Paris Hilton or the Kardashian sisters, Krentcil isn't a multimillionaire who can afford to hire a phalanx of bodyguards to keep the nuts away from her and her unfortunate family.

For the American media, the hyping of this non-story represents yet another new low. But don't worry, I'm sure there are plenty of teevee "news" producers and reporters out there right now, sniffing around, searching for ways to lower the bar even further in their mad race to the bottom of the barrel.


Bonus: "Television is not the truth...television is a goddamn amusement park"

Thursday, May 24, 2012

New Orleans May Soon Become First Major City Without A Daily Newspaper


We know the newspaper business was in a technology driven downward spiral even before the crash of 2008. This day was perhaps inevitable, but that doesn't make it any less shocking. Here is the Atlantic Wire with the details:
The New Orleans Times-Picayune is facing massive budget cuts, including "wholesale layoffs" and a reduction in the publishing schedule that would leave the city without a daily print newspaper. The report from David Carr of The New York Times says that the paper's owner, Newhouse Newspapers, will likely cut the publishing days to two or three a week and replace or let go many of its top editors. According to the website Best of New Orleans, reporters who do stay will face "sharp salary cuts" and be expected to post most of their content online at the paper's website, Nola.com.

Current staff members say they learned of the news through The New York Times report or via Twitter. The cuts are being compared to Newhouse's treament of the Ann Arbor News, which was shuttered several years ago (after 174 years of publication) and is now only available online. The company famously claimed a "no layoffs" policy for years, but rescinded that rule in 2010.

The loss of the Times-Picayune is particularly painful for New Orleans, which has relied heavily on the paper for its investigative reporting in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. The paper won the Pulutzer Prize in 2006 for public service reporting, even after power failures from the storm prevented the printing presses from running for three days. Like many of the city's institutions, the paper never fully recovered, but continued to provide valuable coverage of stories city corruption and frustrating rebuilding efforts, such as the story of Danziger Bridge shootings and a recent series on state prisons. The Times-Picayune first began publishing in 1837.

The news comes a day after Oregon University's student paper the Daily Emerald announced that it will end its "92-year streak as a Monday-to-Friday newspaper," but under very different circumstances. The paper will be shifting most of its resources online, cutting back to two print editions a week, along with occasional special editions. The paper insists this "is not a move made out of financial desperation," but one made with the future of the industry in mind and as a preemptive effort to focus on the growing digital audience. Perhaps the Times-Picayune will be able to adapt and thrive in an online-only world, but given Newhouse's recent history with the Ann Arbor paper, the initial response is not optimistic.
People who have become addicted to getting all of their information online will shrug and say, "What's the big deal?" The big deal is twofold. First, not everyone can afford Internet access, and this is just another way that the poor will now be isolated from the mainstream of society. Secondly, since no one has figured out a way to build a truly robust online news outlet that doesn't glean most of its information from more traditional media sources, this action sounds the death knell for whatever remains of true journalism at a time when the propaganda influence of the national media Hologram is becoming omnipotent.

I've been highly critical on this blog of the way newspapers have followed the lead of television news and have become much more superficial in their news coverage in recent years, but I do recognize this action portends a very dark future in which getting real information about what is really going on in many communities will be well nigh impossible.

The Internet's Awesome Power To Humiliate


A funny if disturbing story has gone viral on the Internet in the past few days. As I wrote a couple of weeks ago, anyone who is thinking of standing up against injustice in this country needs to be prepared for the vitriol that will be unleashed against them, particularly by the right wing hate machine. In that vein, it seems that a misogynist douchebag down in South Carolina has been whipped up into a frothing of Rush Limbaugh-generated hatred towards Sandra Fluke and was thus compelled to send her couple of extremely vile messages on Twitter. Behold:



Delightful alleged human being, huh? As it turns out, not only is George Tierney an asshole, but a clueless asshole as well. Here is Firedoglake with the story:
Misunderstanding how the Twitter works, George Tierney of Greenville South Carolina seemed to think he was using his “inside voice” when speaking (twatting) to Ms. Fluke on Twitter only to find out, in a very round-about way, that she elected to retweet to her 36,000 followers what George Tierney of Greenville South Carolina had to say to her and she only did this because she is obviously racist against douchebags who like to shout stuff at ladies on the internet because, as we like to say: virtual manhood is better than no manhood at all.

Anyway, that is where I came in when I screen-capped the whole exchange and made a post out of it, which brings us to last week when George Tierney of Greenville South Carolina decided to google himself on the internet and OH HOLY SHIT! he is now kind of semi-famous for Doing Internet Swears At Ladies and now all that money he spent on eHarmony is just fucking wasted because ladies will not want to go on a date with him ever ever again besides the fact that all he ever wants to talk about is golf which is like the third gayest sport ever. Besides, also: boring.

So eight days after I shared The Magic of George Tierney of Greenville South Carolina he wrote an email to my patron d’art, as follows:

Whoever runs this site needs to take my damn comments off of it. I did not give you permission, nor did you ask me for it. It shows up on google and I will see a lawyer if this doesnt disappear. Ask me before posting bullshit about me. You fuckers had no right.

Sincerely,

George Tierney Jr


Adorable, right?

Jane responded:

Dear Mr. Tierney,

It is site policy to establish that you are actually George Tierney, and not someone claiming to be him, in order to engage you on this matter further. Please have your lawyer confirm that you are in fact the George Tierney referred to in the post and I will be happy to discuss the matter with him. My contact information is below.


Annnnnd ….. Mr. Tierney responded:

You dont get to make the rules. I am the george tierney that made the comments to sandra fluke, not to you..take it off google. If it goes to a lawyer, it will be settled in court, with me getting paid.

Sincerely,

George Tierney Jr


Yes. This is true. We are NOT The Boss Of George Tierney of Greenville South Carolina and we DO NOT Make The Rules in much the same way that George Tierney of Greenville South Carolina does not make up THE MAGIC LAWS OF THE INTERNET that say that you cannot

point at and make fun of
be sad about
heh, indeed
…something that someone says in a public forum.

Having said that, and because we are all about trying to help people be better people, we are willing to update the offending post if George Tierney of Greenville South Carolina makes a public apology to Sandra Fluke, and not one of those bullshit, “I apologize if you were offended because I called you a under-rock-dwelling dick sucking cunt” kind of apologies. No, that will not do.

Also, too, stop doing this.

Additionally he could make a substantial but not ostentatious contribution to Planned Parenthood in Sandra Fluke’s name.

Yes, that would be nice. For that we would totally consider updating the Google for him.
Sure enough, this exchange has spread like wildfire and has been picked up by numerous blogs and progressive websites with the bloggers going out of their way to repeat Tierney's name and city of residence as many times as possible. It is one of the most devastating takedowns of a very deserving knucklehead I have ever witnessed.

However, I did want to throw in this little bit of caution. This power of the Internet to put a troglodyte in his place is a great thing...assuming it really was George Tierney of Greenville South Carolina who made those tweets. For just as anyone can create any identity to hide behind on the 'Net, I don't see what would stop a person from creating a fake account using the identity of someone they might happen to have it in for and then go trolling around until they elicit this kind of a response.

Recall that in the Trayvon Martin case, a couple who lived in George Zimmerman's neighborhood received a barrage of harassment when Spike Lee incorrectly put out their home address as Zimmerman's. I don't think it takes too much imagination to envision a scenario where someone who wrongly becomes the target of a virtual vigilante campaign then becomes the victim of real life vigilante violence. Just food for thought.

Update: Glossynews.com scored an exclusive interview with George Tierney Jr. At least in this case, it doesn't appear that he was set up, but it does appear that he is even crazier than his exchange with Fluke would indicate. You can read the whole interview here.


Bonus: Bill Burr takes down a racist on the Internet

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Peak Helium


Yet another story about a vital resource that is in short supply--only this time the shortage was created by the idiocy of our so-called "leaders." Here is the Bend Bulletin with the details:
Sure, Congress has plenty of crises to deal with: a weak economy, an expiring highway bill, the end-of-the-year “taxmageddon.” But now there’s another one floating into view.

The United States is running out of helium.

Yes, helium. Thanks to a 1996 law that has forced the government to sell off its helium reserves at bargain-bin prices, the country’s stockpile of the relatively rare and nonrenewable gas could soon vanish.

Party supply stores are already feeling the pinch, as helium shortfalls are driving up the price of balloons. But it’s not birthday parties we should worry about. A severe helium shortage, experts say, would cause problems for large swaths of the economy, from medical scanners to welding to the manufacturing of optical fibers and LCD screens.

Congress is slowly grasping the extent of the problem. At a sleepy Senate hearing last week, the Energy and Natural Resources Committee listened to an array of experts chat about helium. The hearing was tied to a bill, sponsored by Sens. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., and John Barrasso, R-Wyo., that would change how the government sells helium from its Federal Helium Reserve to prevent shortages.

“Chances are you’ve heard little or nothing from your constituents about helium over the past 15 years,” said Walter Nelson, director of helium sourcing at Air Products and Chemicals. “That’s a good thing!” But if the problem doesn’t get fixed soon, Nelson warned, there will be serious “grumbling” across the land.

History of helium crisis

So how did we get to this point? Back in the 1920s, when blimps and other airships seemed like a useful military technology, the United States set up a national helium program. In the 1960s, it opened the Federal Helium Reserve, an 11,000-acre site in the Hugoton-Panhandle Gas Field that spans Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas. The porous brown rock is one of the only geological formations on Earth that can hold huge quantities of helium. And the natural gas from the field itself was particularly rich in helium — a relative rarity in the world.

By 1996, however, the Helium Reserve looked like a waste. Blimps no longer seemed quite so vital to the nation’s defense and, more important, the reserve was $1.4 billion in debt after paying drillers to extract helium from natural gas. The Republican-led Congress, looking to save money, passed the Helium Privatization Act, ordering a selloff by the end of 2014.

There was just one small hitch. According to a 2010 report by the National Research Council, the formula that Congress used to set the price for the helium was flawed. Bingaman has dubbed it a “fire sale.” The federally owned helium now sells for about half of what it would on the open market.

And, since the Federal Helium Reserve provides about one-third of the world’s helium, this has upended the entire market. There’s little incentive to conserve, recycle or find new sources of helium. Instead, we’ve been frittering it away. And once helium escapes into the air, it can’t be recovered.

Worse, under existing law, the Federal Helium Reserve could run out of money to operate as early as mid-2013. When that happens, it will still have a large chunk of the world’s helium supply locked in the reservoir — but no one will be able to access it.

“If Congress does not act,” Bingaman said, “the helium program will disappear altogether in less than three years, leaving our hospitals, national labs, domestic manufacturers and helium producers without an adequate supply.”
Bill Maher said it best a few years ago when he asked in mock exasperation why America always has to be the STOOPID country.


Bonus: "Balloon Man blew up in my hand"

Americans Elect FAIL: "Centrism" Craps Out


I hate to say "I told you so," but back on November 4th of last year in my post, "Friday Rant: Why the Americans Elect Third Party is Another Really Bad Idea" I explained why this particular third party effort was an exercise in sheer wankery. And now, here comes the proof in this story from Talking Points Memo explaining why Americans Elect crashed and burned:
“None of the above” will now be the only real option for voters frustrated with the tired choice between two parties now that Americans Elect, the well-funded nonpartisan organization that sought to nominate a legitimate third-party candidate for president in 2012, has folded. (Only Nevada has an actual “none of the above” option on the ballot.)

It seems that the inability to create a movement in this vein was less about the sentiment — polls show Americans are aren’t fans of either party specifically or the political process generally — but it was lacking a key ingredient: leadership.

“You can’t fill a political vacuum with a concept,” Lee Miringoff, assistant professor of political science and director the Marist College Institute for Public Opinion, told TPM. “The context is there, and the climate is right, but you need someone you can look at, a person, a candidate. Politics has become much more about personal qualities of individuals.”
Americans Elect announced last week they were unable to field a presidential candidate, due to a lack of interest and an online nominating system that only the most committed third-partiers could seem to the figure out.

The organization drew serious financial backing to the tune of $35 million from major donors, who mostly remained anonymous due to the group’s status as a 501(c)4 rather than a political entity, although one major donor who surfaced was hedge fund billionaire Peter Ackerman, who gave $5.5 million to the cause. And organizers didn’t lack for ambition — Americans Elect had a stated goal of qualifying for the ballot in all 50 states — it ultimately got 27.

But the biggest draw and the largest failure was in finding an actual candidate. Organizers had offered up the names of some of the most well-known political centrists — New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Maine Sen. Olympia Snowe, former Indiana Sen. Evan Bayh and others. None expressed interest.

“There is a desire among delegates and millions of Americans who have supported Americans Elect to see a credible candidate emerge from this process,” the organization said in a release announcing it was closing shop. “However, the rules, as developed in consultation with the Americans Elect delegates, are clear. As of this week, no candidate achieved the national support threshold required to enter the Americans Elect Online Convention in June. The primary process for the Americans Elect nomination has come to an end.”

The group’s web-only procedure contributed to its downfall, creating two specific shortcomings. There wasn’t much interest in the candidates who actually said they would accept a nomination under the organization’s banner (former Louisana Gov. Buddy Roemer, for instance) and attempts to “draft” candidates produced only pols who have been heavily involved in national politics before - including candidates from this presidential cycle: Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX), former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders (VT) and even President Obama.
Gee, who would have ever thought that a third party effort backed by billionaires with the intention of putting yet another bland, mealy-mouthed centrist candidate on the ballot might not inspire any actual voters. Given that President Hopey-Changey himself is in reality a right-of-center politician, there is really no point in trying to capture the false "middle" between him and the Republicans.

The far left, of course, is completely unrepresented in American politics and WOULD be fertile ground for a viable third party effort, but no billionaire is ever going to support any movement which would favor confiscating much of his or her wealth. And given how little understanding most people on the left seem to have of the issues of peak oil and resource depletion, such an effort would hardly have any realistic solutions anyway.


Bonus: Our elections should be more like this

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Two Central Tennessee Counties To Lose 170 Jobs

image: Yet another disaster is about to hit Murfreesboro, Tennessee

It's always tough to see a bunch of layoffs clustered fairly close together. Here is The Tennessean with the details:
Roughly 170 employees at three worksites in Davidson and Rutherford counties have been given layoff notices, according to state labor officials.

The majority — 125 employees — work at a Dillard’s distribution center at 444 Brick Church Pike Drive in Davidson County, the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development said.

Layoffs there will begin June 23 and last through Aug. 3, according to a Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification the Little Rock, Ark.-based department store chain sent to the state. The center is being closed, according to the notice.

Menlo Worldwide Logistics notified 29 employees in Smyrna that they will be laid off between June 15 and July 27, the state agency said. The facility at 230 Midway Lane will be closed, according to the state agency.

Also in Rutherford County, 16 Rose’s Department Store employees at its 1018 Mercury Blvd., Murfreesboro, location were told they will lose their jobs when the store closes in July.
And so it goes.

Hewlett-Packard Likely To Lay Off 25-30,000 Employees


The big announcement from Hewlett-Packard is not expected to come until tomorrow, but for the company's workers it is expected to be a bad one. Here is Market Watch with the details:
H-P will post fiscal second-quarter results following media reports that the company was going to eliminate 25,000 to 30,000 jobs, or up to 10% of its workforce. The Palo Alto, Calif.-based company will present both its results and restructuring plan after the closing bell, the source told MarketWatch.

For the quarter, analysts expect H-P to post a profit of 91 cents a share, on revenue of $29.9 billion, according to a consensus survey by FactSet Research. For the year-earlier period, the company reported a profit of $1.24 a share, on revenue of $31.6 billion.

The company has struggled with stiffer competition and internal squabbles, which have taken a toll on its market value. The company’s stock slid by 25% since its last earnings report in late February, when it reported that profits had plunged by 44% and gave a disappointing forecast for the current period. See full story on H-P's last quarterly report.

Many analysts see layoffs at the tech giant as inevitable. “These are never fun but given where H-P is, these are necessarily to get the company back on track,” Sterne Agee analyst Shaw Wu said.

Topeka Capital Markets analyst Brian White affirmed this view, saying in a note, “Downsizing at H-P is clearly needed.”

The reported plan, he said, could “benefit H-P’s annual earnings per share by about 75 cents.” He also noted that H-P’s efficiency as measured by revenue per employee was at “the lowest level in a decade.”
Personally, I'd rather see the downsizing of asshole analysts like Shaw Wu and Brian White. After all, unlike those two useless paper pushing parasites, Hewlett--Packard employees actually make something for a living.

I would also note that H-P's CEO is still the hideous Meg Whitman, who thought nothing of blowing a cool $144 million or so of her own cash in her hilariously inept California Gubernatorial bid against Jerry Brown. If H-P needs to cut costs, maybe it should fire her fucking ass first.


Bonus: "It's so easy to hurt others when you can't feel pain"

Bipartisanship Strikes Again: House Overwhelmingly Rejects Afghanistan Withdrawal Measure


When it comes to issues of real importance, those involving unwavering support for big business war and empire, there is absolutely no difference between the two parties. This obvious but far too little acknowledged truth was on full display yet again this past week when the House of Representatives voted down a measure that would have resulted in an immediate exit of combat troops from Afghanistan. Here is Common Dreams with the story:
By a vote of 303-113, the US House of Representatives rejected an amendment by California's Barbara Lee (D-Oakland) on Thursday that would have swiftly ended combat operations in Afghanistan by limiting funds only to the "safe and orderly withdrawal of U.S. troops and military contractors from Afghanistan."

Congresswoman Lee (D-CA) discussing her amendment to end the war in Afghanistan.

The amendment was among dozens debated during passage of the 2013 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).

"The American people are far ahead of Congress. It's past time to end the war and bring the troops home," Lee said ahead of the vote. "My amendment allows Congress the opportunity to stand squarely with the war-weary American people who want to bring our troops home. The call has been growing across this land to bring this war to an end. It's time now for the Congress to answer the call here today." It was not to be.

An Associated Press-GfK poll released last week showed that backing for the war has hit a new low and is on par with support for the Vietnam War in the early 1970s, reports the Christian Science Monitor. Only 27 percent of Americans say they support the war effort, and 66 percent oppose it, according to the survey.
So, 66% of the American public oppose the continuation of the Afghanistan war and yet over 56% of their supposed Representatives voted to continue the war anyway. Some great democracy we have going here.

One thing the article failed to mention was just how many Democrats voted against the measure. So I went to the House website to find out. All told, 79 House Democrats cravenly voted to keep the war going and 10 more were too chickenshit to vote (including the Democratic party chairwoman, the hideously obnoxious Debbie Wasserman-Shultz). In fairness, 12 Republicans, including Ron Paul, actually voted in favor of the amendment. With this number of "aye" Democratic votes, it wouldn't have mattered if that sellout party was still in control of the House, the measure would still have failed.

All we keep hearing in the mainstream media is how hopelessly gridlocked Washington is these days and how bipartisanship is dead. Great line to sell to the idiots who don't pay attention. Unfortunately, it isn't true at all. For when it comes to supporting the true agenda of the billionaires who really run the country, you can absolutely count on a bipartisan majority to emerge every single time.


Bonus: From my You Tube channel - "Another day to face up...another day to wake up...on the feed kill chain"

Monday, May 21, 2012

Peak Fish


Over the weekend, the Washington Post ran the above chart as part of a brief blog post covering the topic of Peak Fish:
Between 1950 and 2006, the WWF report notes, the world’s annual fishing haul more than quadrupled, from 19 million tons to 87 million tons. New technology — from deep-sea trawling to long-lining — has helped the fishing industry harvest areas that were once inaccessible. But the growth of intensive fishing also means that larger and larger swaths of the ocean are in danger of being depleted.

Daniel Pauly, a professor of fisheries at the University of British Columbia, has dubbed this situation “The End of Fish.” He points out that in the past 50 years, the populations of many large commercial fish such as bluefin tuna and cod have utterly collapsed, in some cases shrinking more than 90 percent (see the chart to the right).

Indeed, there’s some evidence that we’ve already hit “peak fish.” World fish production seems to have reached its zenith back in the 1980s, when the global catch was higher than it is today. And, according to one recent study in the journal Science, commercial fish stocks are on pace for total “collapse” by 2048 — meaning that they’ll produce less than 10 percent of their peak catch. On the other hand, many of those fish-depleted areas will be overrun by jellyfish, which is good news for anyone who enjoys a good blob sandwich.

The full WWF report , meanwhile, is chock full of brightly colored graphs charting the decline of wildlife across the globe. All told, global vertebrate populations have declined by some 30 percent since 1970. But that number masks a lot of variation. Wildlife actually appears to be recovering in the temperate areas, while it’s utterly collapsing in the tropics. (It seems there have been some modest conservation successes in the wealthier temperate regions — the European otter is staging an impressive comeback, for instance.)

The big thing the WWF paper emphasizes, however, is that human consumption patterns are currently unsustainable. We’re essentially consuming the equivalent of one and a half Earths each year. This is possible because we borrow from the future, as is the case with fish — one day the world’s fish population may collapse, but there’s plenty for us now. WWF doesn’t quite call it a Ponzi scheme, but that’s the first metaphor that comes to mind.
Wow--a pretty grim assessment. Too bad Professor Pauly had to go soft at the end:
So is there any way to stop this slide? After all, it’s not like people can just stop eating fish altogether. Pauly, surprisingly, is fairly optimistic. He argues that strict government quotas on catches can help stop the slide. “There is no need for an end to fish,” he writes, “or to fishing for that matter.” (He’s not sold on aquaculture, or fish farming, since it often requires huge harvests of smaller fish to feed the big carnivorous ones in farms.)
And yet, the Post, actually gives a pretty realistic rebuttal to Pauly's optimism:
The hitch is that when governments have tried to institute such quotas in the past — as they’ve recently attempted with Atlantic bluefin tuna — the rules tend to get, uh, watered down under intense lobbying. Or else shadowy black sushi markets emerge to flout the rules. But no one said it was easy, halting the end of fish.
Of course, one could reasonably ask why this story was not plastered across the Post's front page as a screaming headline instead of being tucked away on Ezra Klein's Wonkblog (please note that it was NOT Klein who actually posted it), but I guess you have to start somewhere.

Of course, with any story like this, the reader comments can also be enlightening. Like this one:
large23220
5/20/2012 12:56 PM EDT
More lib crap-aganda. God told us to be fruitful, multiply, and take dominion over all the fishes of the sea. God didn't qualify that instruction with any touchy-feeling whale-hugging horse hockey.

There will always be enough fish sticks. God promised.
And Jaysus wept...


Bonus: My all time favorite fishing song.

Nazi Germany’s Example and the Future of America (Part 2)


In the first part of this essay last Friday, I briefly recounted the history of Nazi Germany’s final years and how Hitler’s government managed to stave off collapse well past the point where the world war became a hopeless quest by marshalling all of the resources still available to the nation. The takeaway is that even though the inevitability of eventual collapse may have been as apparent to any rational observer then as it should be in America today, when it comes to extending the status quo for as long as humanly possible, rationality usually finds itself locked out in the cold.

In part two, I would like to examine what life is like for an average citizen living under a regime that is beginning to see its delusions of grandeur crumbling into dust. Once again, we can look to Hitler’s Germany for clues as to what our own future may well hold. Many people with only a superficial grasp of Nazi Germany’s history seem to have the idea that Hitler simply took power, snapped his fingers, and unleashed the Holocaust. The reality, however, is far more complex. Though life for Germany’s Jews was certainly precarious once Hitler was appointed Chancellor in 1933, their situation in fact only slowly deteriorated and it was not until 1942—more than two years after World War Two began—that the Final Solution became the official policy of the German government. In fact, by the time Reinhard Heydrich called the Wannsee Conference in January of that year, sealing their fate once and for all, the tide of war was already beginning to turn inexorably against the Nazis.

The lesson here is again fairly simple: governments become more repressive during times of national crisis, and that repression increases as the situation becomes more desperate. Looking back at some of the greatest assaults on individual liberties throughout American history—the Alien and Sedition Acts in the late 1790s, the suspension of Habeas Corpus during the Civil War, the imprisonment of antiwar protestors during World War I, the Palmer raids during the first wave of Red scares, the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II, the McCarthy hearings early in the Cold War, the Kent State shootings when the Vietnam War had become a hopeless quagmire and waterboarding, rendition, and warrantless wiretapping during the “War” on Terror—shows that they all occurred at a time when America was either actively at war or feared it was about to be attacked.

What is even more illustrative than the Holocaust in the case of Nazi Germany is the repression the regime unleashed against many Aryan Germans once defeat became inevitable. The Nazi regime was built on terror, of course, and many communists, labor unionists, Social Democrats and others deemed “undesirable” were rounded up after Hitler’s ascension to power to be beaten and tortured in the first concentration camps. What is less well remembered is that after the regime had successfully placed its boot heel on the necks of the German populace, many of the concentration camp inmates were released, and by the late 1930s, only a relatively small number of Germans were still suffering “indefinite detention.”

The fact is, if you were a non-Nazi “Good German” during this time—law abiding, able bodied, willing to work and not too vociferous in your complaints about the nation’s leadership—the first seven years or so of Hitler’s rule must have seemed like a glorious time to be alive. Even after Hitler launched the war and chronic shortages of nearly every consumer good became endemic, for awhile you could at least take national pride in the seemingly never ending stream of German military successes. In fact, unless you were one of the unlucky souls slogging it out in the brutal combat of the eastern front, it was only after the defeat at Stalingrad and the appearance of American and Royal Air Force bombers overhead with relentless regularity that your quality of life really began to suffer.

The Nazi leadership was not blind to this importance of morale on the home front. Because one of the key memes used by Hitler during his rise to power was the so-called “stab in the back,” when the “traitors” supposedly turned on Kaiser Wilhelm at the end of World War One, the SS’s intelligence service was forever monitoring the mood of the population, determined to stamp out any such “insurrection” before it had a chance to threaten the regime. By 1944, an ill-advised casual joke told about Der Fuhrer overheard by the wrong person could result in its teller being swiftly bundled off to a concentration camp.

Worse still, by early 1945 when the Russian tanks were already closing in on Berlin, fervent Nazis took to the streets and began summarily hanging anyone they considered to be a “defeatist” or a “deserter.” One might view their actions in light of the looming total defeat as insanity, but they did ensure that the German people continued to at least passively accept the regime right up until the very moment when their own city or town was “liberated” by the Allies.

Just as many Nazis refused to accept the approaching reality that their nation had been totally defeated in war, most Americans today refuse to accept that our “way of life” is not only negotiable but in fact completely unsustainable and already unraveling. From this perspective, it is hard not to hear someone spout the idiotic phrase, “Drill, baby, drill” without thinking of how it in spirit resembles the “Horst Wessel Song.”

While it is hyperbolic to say that America is already an authoritarian regime, it is not too difficult to see where the trends of this past decade are heading. As our economic decline continues we can expect that there will be a corresponding increase in the curtailment of individual liberties. The supreme irony is that as growing energy restraints force the Pentagon to begin dismantling its overseas empire of military bases, political repression will likely be increasing here at home.

That doesn’t mean, however, that you should expect to wake up one day and see a squadron of jackboots goose-stepping down your street. When overt repression finally comes to American streets and towns beyond putting down Occupy protests it will more likely be, as we are starting to see already, in the form of electronic monitoring, internal check points and surveillance drones, augmented by a healthy number of informants planted among the citizenry. Don’t be surprised if “hoarding” gets placed on the list of “subversive” activities, which is all the more reason preppers would be well advised to keep their activities as low key as possible.

The most amusing thing about many Americans’ messianic belief in our “exceptionalism” is the idea that this country is somehow different in behavior than any other nation-state or empire in world history despite all of the evidence to the contrary. As the reality of our predicament becomes more and more undeniable in the coming years, we’re about to find out that many of us have merely been “Good Germans” all along and that being so won’t save us from inclusion in the eventual Gotterdammerung.


Bonus: From my You Tube channel - A cool song about domestic spying (yes, really)

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Work Is Hell: Target Fires Veteran Cashier For Being Two Minutes Late Taking Her Lunch Break


This story from the Sacramento Bee really has to be read to be believed:
Retail heavyweight Target Corp. has shelled out $275,000 to extract itself from a wrongful termination claim by a longtime employee at its Woodland store.

Margarita Arriaga alleged in a civil rights lawsuit in Sacramento federal court that she was fired because she was late going on lunch breaks after working at the Bronze Star Drive store more than 16 years.

Now 40, Arriaga worked as a cashier, shelf stocker and saleswoman. By the company's own account in court papers she was "well-liked by her managers and peers, and she received generally satisfactory performance evaluations."

She was fired, Target said in the papers, because she was late taking a meal break three times in 18 months – "an automatic ground for termination of any Target employee."

On one of those occasions, Arriaga was two minutes tardy. Target "makes no exception for 'two-minute violations,' " the company declared in court papers.

Because of a diagnosed disability, Arriaga had trouble keeping track of time and was reminded to take her breaks by other employees over the years, the January 2010 complaint related. It said that, in 2009, despite Target's awareness of her disability, this accommodation ceased and, "without any verbal or written warning," she was fired in June of that year.
"Target makes no exception for two-minute violations." That one sentence sums up just how horrible the American workplace is becoming these days. Thank you, Frederick Taylor. It's nice that Ms. Arriaga won her lawsuit, but this would never have been a court case if there remained one fucking ounce of decency or common sense left in the modern corporate world.


Bonus: Dedicated just for Target

Human Moral Weakness and its Consequences


Blogger Ian Welsh put up an interesting post recently about how basic human weakness is what causes so many people to blindly follow their "leaders." The whole thing is worth reading, but here is a snippet that gets the point across:
When we say humans are weak, what we mean is that they tend to do what they’re told to do, and tend to follow the roles and norms of their society and peer group. We’ll explore this by touching on two famous experiments: the Milgram electroshock experiment and the Stanford prison experiment.

In the Milgram experiment subjects were told to administer painful electrical shocks to another person when that person answered a question wrong. Each time an answer was wrong, the amount of the shock was increased. Sixty-three percent went all the way up to a 450 volt shock, continuing after the person being shocked started screaming, begged them to stop and told them they had a heart condition. With variations, the number who would go all the way could be increased to 91% or go as low as 28%. This result has been replicated time and again since the original experiment in 1963, and has been found to be true in multiple cultures

The sixty-three percent compliance rate was a surprise to psychologists when the result was first published, despite the world having recently seen the Nazi death camps. Perhaps this is because death camp guards were under military discipline and could expect harsh punishment for refusing orders. Or perhaps it is because Americans assumed it was a cultural thing: Germans would do it, Soviets would do it, but Americans wouldn’t.

The students in the Milgram experiment were American and faced no consequences for refusing to shock a scream man. Most of them shocked the man anyway.

Americans would. People of every culture would.

Milgram’s subjects almost all felt that shocking the subject was wrong. They did it anyway.

Most people will do something they believe is wrong if told to by a figure in authority.
When I read this, I immediately recalled a rather harrowing video I saw just this past week. Here we see a bunch of North Koreans viciously abusing an effigy of South Korea's president on behalf of a monstrous regime that has been terrifying and subjugating them for more than 60 years:



Many in the west who watch this no doubt smugly look down their nose at the "barbarous" North Koreans, confident that such a thing could never happen where they live. I would argue, however, that the only difference between the North Koreans and us westerners is the level of propaganda they have been subjected to during their lives. A scary thought for a society in which the level of propaganda slowly increases with every passing year.


Bonus: "This is for all of the weak people in the audience...is there anyone here who is weak?"

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Saturday Night Music Video: "Waiting For Kirsten" by Jens Lekman


Jens Lekman is a Sweedish singer-songwriter who sings in English and whose specialty is guitar-based pop with heavy use of samples and strings and lyrics that are often witty, romantic, and melancholic. "Waiting for Kirsten" is a bittersweet little ditty that imagines a young man pining for actress Kirsten Dunst, who happens to be visiting his hometown while shooting a movie. It's the kind of song that can put a bounce back in your step if you are feeling down.

Enjoy!

Preventive Detention In Obama's America


Still think it matters whether Obama or Romney wins the election this November? If so, then please explain this, as reported by the Examiner.com:
According to an interview with National Lawyers Guild (NLG) spokesman Kris Hermes, Chicago police officers raided a Bridgeport apartment complex on Wednesday evening without a valid warrant and detained up to nine people without cause.

The NLG is working in Chicago this week sending monitors to protests at the NATO Summit 2012 to insure activists rights are not violated. They are also functioning as lawyers for anyone detained during the week's activities.

The NLG worked through the night to locate the arrested activists. They were unable to get any information from the Chicago Police Department (CPD) or even any acknowledgement that a raid had taken place.

"We've called police officials at every level trying to find out where they were being held. We were denied any information at all about any people being arrested, let alone a raid happening last night. So essentially these people were disappeared for more than 12 hours until we could finally locate them," said NLG spokesman Kris Hermes.

They were found at the CPD Organized Crime Division police station lock up at 3340 W. Fillmore St. on the West Side.

Lawyers from The NLG were allowed to meet with nine individuals and reported that they were in low spirits, confused about why they were arrested and shackled at both their hands and feet at the meeting. No charges have been filed against them almost 24 hours after their arrest and an Illinois States Attorney at the station refused to meet with the NLG lawyers.
And spare me any bullshit about this being a local matter out of Obama's control. He is from Chicago and his former chief of staff is now Chicago's mayor, meaning he absolutely could influence what happens in that city if he wanted to. The fact is, he doesn't give a shit about civil liberties any more than his predecessor did, and if you vote for him in November thinking that he is somehow on your side you are seriously delusional.

Update: It's now being reported that three "terrorism" arrests have been made in Chicago, though it is unclear if the three detainees are connected to the incident reported above:
Three men loosely connected with the NATO protests have been arrested in Chicago for planning terror attacks on major police stations and businesses downtown, as well as President Obama's campaign headquarters and Mayor Rahm Emanuel's house.

Brian Church, 20, Jared Chase, 24, and Brent Vincent Betterly, 24, have been charged with criminal acts relating to terrorism, conspiracy to commit terrorism, and possession of explosives. The three were arrested Wednesday evening after a raid on a Chicago apartment found them loading Molotov cocktails into the back of a truck. According to court documents, the four had travelled to Chicago from out of town ahead of the NATO protests. They spent the days leading up to the weekend training themselves and planning their course of attack. Their plans for the weekend included:

According to court documents, the men planned to first attack four Chicago police stations and destroy several squad cars with "destructive devices" in order to divert the department’s attention and resources.

While authorities were distracted by those strikes, the group intended to hit Obama’s national campaign headquarters in the Prudential Building, Emanuel’s home in Ravenswood and other downtown financial institutions, prosecutors said. The group had already done reconnaissance work on the Chicago Police Department headquarters in Bronzeville in preparation for the attack, law-enforcement officials said.

Law enforcement records say the police confiscated, "four completed Molotov cocktails... a mortar gun, swords, a hunting bow, throwing stars and knives with brass knuckle handles," plus protective equipment like, "pre-positioned shields, assault vests and gas masks to help hide their identity during the planned attacks," according to the Chicago Tribune. "These men were here to hurt people," said the state's attorney Anita Alvarez. “The individuals we charged are not peaceful protesters, they are domestic terrorists,” said Alvarez.

But the lawyers in charge of defending the three men are alleging they're being set up by the Chicago police department. According to the New York Times report on the story, the lawyers from the National Lawyers Guild in charge of defending the three are going to argue for entrapment. They say a man and a woman who were either informants or undercover officers came up with the plans and provided the three men charged with the explosive equipment.
If this is part of the same action, even if the police account is true, that is some pretty weak tea. We are really supposed to believe that these guys were going to make a direct assault on the massive security wall surrounding Obama or Emmanuel with such puny weaponry?


Bonus: "I've got no patience now...so sick of complacence now"