Sanjukta Paul on the exploitative business practice of classifying workers as independent contractors -over at the Frying Pan blog. (This is part I of a three part article; part II and III will be added as they appear)
"He who dislikes the cat, was in his former life, a rat."
Sanjukta Paul on the exploitative business practice of classifying workers as independent contractors -over at the Frying Pan blog. (This is part I of a three part article; part II and III will be added as they appear)
Do watch. It is not silly, I promise. Can't say whether his will be a "rags" to riches story but the man is an inspirational speaker and exceptionally diligent. Hope his wife and mother are back. (via 3 Quarks Daily):
Never mind that in Marin County, California one can qualify for affordable housing with an income of $88,800. Some residents worried that George Lucas' original plans would “pose a serious and alarming threat to the nature of our valley and our community,” “dwarf the average Costco warehouse” and generate light pollution so that “our dark starry skies would be destroyed.” But now that Lucas' proposed new plan has been revealed, the denizens of this exclusive neighborhood are beginning to see stars during day light hours. The famed director, the richest resident of Marin County, is being blamed for inciting class warfare by his neighbors.
Michael Sandel has written a long, thoughtful, but frustrating article that raises questions about the intrusion of markets and market values into new domains. He begins with a long list of problematic goods and services that can now be bought and sold, then explains why we might worry about such things being sell-able. He has some things to say about deregulation and how the market has given free rein to greed. He worries too about inequality and its impact upon consumption, so that the more we do with markets the more inequality "matters."
The meat of his argument, however, is about "corruption." By corruption he means not bribery or nepotism, but rather the more "religious" cluster of debasement/pollution/impurity:
Putting a price on the good things in life can corrupt them. That’s because markets don’t only allocate goods; they express and promote certain attitudes toward the goods being exchanged. Paying kids to read books might get them to read more, but might also teach them to regard reading as a chore rather than a source of intrinsic satisfaction. Hiring foreign mercenaries to fight our wars might spare the lives of our citizens, but might also corrupt the meaning of citizenship.
Economists often assume that markets are inert, that they do not affect the goods being exchanged. But this is untrue. Markets leave their mark. Sometimes, market values crowd out nonmarket values worth caring about.
We don’t allow children to be bought and sold, no matter how difficult the process of adoption can be or how willing impatient prospective parents might be. Even if the prospective buyers would treat the child responsibly, we worry that a market in children would express and promote the wrong way of valuing them. Children are properly regarded not as consumer goods but as beings worthy of love and care. Or consider the rights and obligations of citizenship. If you are called to jury duty, you can’t hire a substitute to take your place. Nor do we allow citizens to sell their votes, even though others might be eager to buy them. Why not? Because we believe that civic duties are not private property but public responsibilities. To outsource them is to demean them, to value them in the wrong way.
This seems fair - not that many people believe the market should control everything, and I don't think anyone believes children should be sold to the highest bidder. However, Sandel's arguments, and especially his examples of inappropriate goods, are not persuasive (to me at any rate).
Move over, BPA, make room for the new kid on the block: 4- MI ( the 'cute' name for 4-methylimidazole), a byproduct of the process used to create one of the coloring agents used in what is obliquely termed 'caramel color' on the ingredients list of many processed foods, most notably sodas like Coca Cola and Pepsi.
The Center for Science in Public Interest had submitted a docket to the FDA, requesting that the caramel colorings with 4-MI be banned, but can claim success of a different sort from what it had hoped. Because of regulations in the state of California, where Coke and Pepsi would have had to label their drinks with warnings similar to "This product contains chemicals known to the State of California to cause cancer and birth defects or other reproductive harm."
If it causes cancer in California, surely, it must cause cancer elsewhere. Ah, the power of truth in advertisement, and the things manufacturers will do in order to not have to issue disclaimers that their product contains substances that are considered carcinogens, even it is only in California. Or is the fear that they could be sued in California by any private citizen or group over the 4-MI in their formulation? This article sheds more light on their concerns.
"Our member companies will still use caramel coloring in certain products, as always. The companies that make caramel coloring for our members' soft drinks are producing it to meet California's new standard,” the beverage association said in a separate statement.
“Consumers will notice no difference in our products and have no reason at all for any health concerns.”
The question is still up in the air as to whether the results of lab tests that show that 4-MI is indeed carcinogenic in lab rats, at high concentrations that far exceed the normal levels that even the most avid drinker of sodas would be exposed to, can be used to argue that 4-MI in caramel color is indeed responsible for a variety of cancers in the population ingesting it. My guess is that at best, it would be one of a gazillion contributing factors towards any cancers that did develop.
Some doctors now believe that extreme grief due to the loss of a loved one should be medically classified and treated like any other form of depression. Others argue that grief is a natural (and sometimes, necessary) human emotion and it should not be categorized as an ailment that needs to be corrected by "Happy Pills." I don't know whether grief is a "disorder." I am inclined to say "no." I don't think that our brains, and therefore our lives, are meant to be relentlessly cheerful. I suspect that in the absence of "negative" emotions such as sadness, fear or anger, we would also be lacking in beneficial qualities like empathy and survival skills. We all cope with life's ups and downs in our own ways. Throughout the world social rites and religious rituals are designed to help survivors deal with suffering due to bereavement. Despite that the loss of a loved one affects different people with vastly different levels of trauma; some come to terms with it requiring no third party intervention while others may need prolonged periods of solace, and even professional counseling. Surely, a grieving person is depressed. The question however is whether such depression requires medication and if so, what carefully considered criteria ought to be in place regarding the duration of the condition and the severity of the debilitation.
Grieving the loss of a friend, family or loved one may soon be considered a form of depression. While many doctors acknowledge that grief is a very normal part of losing someone close to us, they also acknowledge that it’s important to deal with that grief.
Speaking to the New York Times one doctor explains why turning grief into a depression diagnosis could end up hurting those people suffering from some for of grief.
“This would pathologize them for behavior previously thought to be normal.” says one doctor.
Opponents to the diagnosis also say to could lead many people with short term grief receiving drug treatments that would normally be unnecessary outside of depression symptoms.
I asked my co-bloggers to weigh in with their opinions on the matter. Unsurprisingly, their responses fall on both sides of the argument.
Without additional commentary on the nature of the GOP presidential candidates, here is just one "idea" proposed by the current front runner Newt Gingrich whom some are calling the Newtron Bomb.
It's a fact, because he has told us so, that Republican primary candidate Newt Gingrich is first and foremost a historian, so it's no surprise when he buttresses his views with historical precedents. But in his recent plans for lifting poor children out of poverty, we were alarmed that he chose to follow the Dickensian model of child labor practices.
A few weeks ago, at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, he talked about his "extraordinarily radical proposals to fundamentally change the culture of poverty in America."
Calling child labor laws "truly stupid," he said that people who became successful in one generation "all started their first job between nine and 14 years of age." He proposed that schools in poor neighborhoods "get rid of the unionized janitors, have one master janitor and pay local students to take care of the school."
Where does one begin? Child labor laws exist to protect children from just such crackpot ideas. But then he went even further in a campaign speech in Iowa last week: "Really poor children in really poor neighborhoods have no habits of working and have nobody around them who works. So they literally have no habit of showing up on Monday. They have no habit of staying all day. They have no habit of 'I do this and you give me cash' unless it's illegal."
We could splutter all day at the offensiveness of these assertions, but our time is better spent in thanking Charles Blow, (link here) the visual Op-Ed columnist of the New York Times, who last Saturday used his gift for information graphics to present a column that succinctly demolished Gingrich's careless, cruel stereotypes, showing them to have no factual basis.
Blow presented an analysis of data from the U.S. Census Bureau's American Community Survey, which showed that three-quarters of poor adults ages 18 to 64 work - half of them full-time. Most poor children live in a household with at least one employed parent, and among children in extreme poverty, nearly one in three lives with at least one working parent.
And as for the most egregious, irresponsible claim - that poor children have no habit of performing tasks for money "unless it's illegal" - Blow wrote that Gingrich "vastly overreaches by suggesting that a lack of money universally correlates to a lack of morals."
Poverty is indeed a factor in crime increase, but Blow's data show that even though the number of Americans living in poverty has grown recently, the crime rate has dropped overall, specifically among juveniles.
But, given his historical leanings, we can at least be thankful that Gingrich has never been accused of modesty, so odds are that we'll be spared a revival of that famous "Modest Proposal," put forward by Jonathan Swift in 1729, "For Preventing the Children of Poor People in Ireland From Being a Burden to Their Parents or Country."
More on the same from Kathleen Parker in the Washington Post.
Who is your shepherd? (select only one)
1. Adam Smith
2. The Lord
3. I am.
Where is fairness manifested? (select as many as apply)
1. The free market
2. In higher primates
3. The clan
The Lord Is My Shepherd (Norman Costa)
by STUART KAUFFMAN
The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside quiet waters.
He restores my soul;
He guides me in the paths of righteousness for His name's sake.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You have anointed my head with oil;
My cup overflows.
Surely goodness and kindness will follow me all the days of my life,
And I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever. --Psalm 23
"The exquisite 23rd Psalm is one expression of what philosopher Karl Jasper called "The Axial Age." This period from about 800 BCE to 200 BCE is when, in China, India, Persia, Greece and among the Jews in Exile in Babylonia, civilizations seem to have gathered themselves up and found new expression through Lao Tzu, Buddha, Zarathustra, Plato, Socrates and the writing down of the Old Testament. It was a period of revision some 5,000 years after agriculture led to the beginnings of property rights and the creation of greater accumulated wealth. Civilizations arose in China, the Indus valley, the confluence of the Tigres and Euphrates, the Nile Valley and Abraham gave birth to three great monothestic religions.
"The Axial Age is said to have focused attention on the individual, witnessed in David's Psalm above, a paeon to the relation between the Lord and an individual. Emphasis on the individual is a cornerstone of our United States Constitution and Adam Smith in the Scottish Enlightenment, setting the foundations of modern economics with his famous "invisible hand," where each acting for his or her own purely selfish interests unwittingly, through the invisible hand of the market, achieves the benefit of all.
"Now, 2,500 years after the Axial Age, we have learned much that may be of use as we face what historian Thomas Cahill called a "hinge of history." Our many civilizations around the globe are being woven together as never before in history. We will partially shape what we become.
"I write to raise a large question: Do we need to examine our Axial Age anew? I think we do."
Read more HERE:
Stuart Kauffman is an experimental and theoretical biologist.
Kauffman has written about three hundred articles and four books: The Origins of Order (1993), At Home in the Universe (1995) and Investigations (2000), published by Oxford University Press. Most recently he published Reinventing the Sacred (2008), Basic Books.
Kauffman is well known for arguing, in Origins of Order and At Home in the Universe, that self organization, as well as Darwin's natural selection, are twin sources of order in biology. Thus we must rethink the becoming of the biosphere.
Read more about Stuart Kauffman:
India launches Aakash tablet computer priced at $35 (Norman Costa)
In 2008, Tata Motors announced the Nano.
It is 3 metres long, seats four comfortably or five at a squeeze, does 65mph and aims to revolutionise travel for millions. The “People’s Car” is also the cheapest in the world at 100,000 rupees (£1,300) – the same price as the DVD player in a Lexus.
Today, India announces the Aakash tablet.
India has launched what it says is the world's cheapest touch-screen tablet computer, priced at just $35 (£23).
What happens when China or India start developing pharmaceuticals at a fraction of the cost of U.S. and German drug developers? How about heavy lift rockets that can compete with the Russians? We've been out of that game for a long time. In a generation both Europe and the U.S. will find it hard to compete with Russia in the commercial aircraft market. Within another generation, if not sooner, India, China, and Brazil, will be taking their own sizeable share.
Read more HERE.
A couple of weeks ago I posted the news about KV Pharmaceutical's price gouging tactics involving a common drug used to prevent premature labor in pregnant women. The FDA, which gave exclusive manufacturing license for the drug Makena to KV, has now reacted to the massive bad press generated by the extortionist ways of the pharmaceutical company. Frank Pasquale has a wrap up on the FDA aided KV fiasco as well as other pertinent issues regarding price fixing, ineffectual cost control and cost shifting in the US health care system.
A Few Thoughts on the Natural Disaster in Japan (Norman Costa)
I was commenting on Ruchira's post "Are the Japanese culturally better equipped to handle catastrophes?" It was getting a bit long, so I thought I would make a separate post.
I spent a little time in Tokyo on business trips from Hong Kong where I lived and worked for a short time in 1988 and 1989. I got to know a few Japanese, including some who were on assignment in the U.S. Mine are casual observations and do not compare with those who have lived and worked in Asia for much longer periods, or those who have studied and reported on cultural matters.
There is a significant element of order and predictability, coupled with a resignation to fate and the desire to maintain a harmony among the competing forces in life. These are ideals that can be seen by the casual observer and visitor. Everyone signs on the obeying the rules of good order, and commits to playing their part in the survival of whatever group with which they identify - family, town, employer, school.
American business travelers notice two things in Tokyo. The first is that you are wide awake at 3 am in the morning as a result of jet lag. So you leave your hotel and go out for a walk. The second is that local citizens, on foot, will obey all traffic lights. They will wait, patiently on the sidewalk, for red to turn to green before crossing the street. This pedestrian caution seems ridiculous to Americans because there is not a car, bus, truck, motorcycle, or push cart to be seen at 3 AM.
I was staying at the Okura Hotel on one visit, and complained that my laundry had not been returned to my room by the time expected. They scurried to find out what happened and, eventually, my clean and folded laundry was delivered. With many bows and apologies for not meeting my expectations of service, the hotel employee kept pointing to the instructions on the laundry bag as he handed it to me. He would not stop bowing until I understood why he kept drawing my attention to the instructions. Apparently, I did not take notice that same day service required me to submit my laundry before a designated hour. I had submitted it too late.
The lesson of this is that they pulled out all stops to meet my expectations and get my laundry back to me that day, while being as polite as possible to get me to read the instructions. They do not want to disappoint their guests or behave badly.
This is not the final word, though, on the social behavior of Japanese. There is a lot we do not see. At Narita airport I took note of a couple of armored personnel carriers, a few self-defense force soldiers, and crowd control barriers on hand for deployment when needed. At first, I thought this was precautionary in a time of terrorist threats on aircraft and airports. It was actually as vestige of preparedness from the violent riots and assaults when Narita was being built. Land that was used for rice production was appropriated for the airport. The dispossessed farmers protested and fought for a long time to prevent the construction and opening of the airport. Thousands rioted and three policemen were killed.
The efficiency we acknowledge and applaud in Japanese automobile manufacturing, is an exception in the context of much of Japanese industry, government, and life in general. The Japanese Diet (Parliament) is notorious for its inefficiency and lack of social progress of many kinds. The union/association of rice growers is so powerful that they kept the price of home grown rice so high that it could not compete in the world markets. For decades, Louisiana growers could deliver rice to Japan cheaper that Japanese farmers, yet were kept out of their market. (I do not know the present situation on farm products.)
The Japanese can be vocal and aggressive within their own society. The protest of the rice farmers was a good example. When INEFFICIENT and corrupt manufacturers were discharging toxic mercury and other nasty stuff into the rivers, thousands of children were born with, or developed, physical and mental disabilities. The mothers of those children went to war and brought down the government and the corporations and stopped the pollution.
There are a few socially accepted outlets for personal anger. Within some large corporations there is an understanding that a person is not responsible for offensive comments about others, if the speaker is intoxicated. Business meetings that take place in the evening usually involve drinking alcohol. In a manner of role playing, a man can pick up a drink and start to tell his boss that he is a horse's ass for making a stupid business decision or not giving him a raise. Mind you, the speaker starts to slur his words and give a drunkard's sway before he gets the drink to his lips. After the meeting, it is all forgotten.
So what will happen to the Japanese in this disaster which is only beginning to unfold? It is my personal opinion that whatever happens at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, the media will uncover significant problems of long standing that were not fixed by the corrupt management and the politicians they supported. This alone will probably spell the dismissal of management and the end the present government. The major news agencies are already reporting widespread anger over the Fukushima disaster.
It is my view that we will see a great deal of unrest and anger if Japan is not able to begin a recovery and rebuilding program in the next few months. I expect to see local Japanese organizing what is left of their communities, and showing a great deal of anger in the process. I expect to see local prefecture politicians taking issue with the national government.
There is one other problem. All construction is controlled by the Yakuza (Japanese organized crime). As to what this means for recovery and rebuilding, I do not know. The amount paid to them is significant. They could hold up recovery for a long time if necessary. Japanese banking and financial institutions have had a reputation on a par with the comparable US corporations that brought on the recent financial crisis. Will they play fast and loose and corrupt with the monies needed for national construction projects, in the wake of this disaster? I do not know.
For reasons I will not go into here, the economic future of Japan rests, in no small part, with the wives and mothers of Japan. They manage all household finances, and systematic savings and investments for the family. These have become the engines of growth, in the past, for Japan. The sooner the displaced and dispossessed wives and mothers can resume some control over their lives and their family's fortunes, the sooner there will be real progress and renewal.
The National Council of Applied Economic Research has released numbers about the number of Indian households at different income levels, for 2001 and 2010. I couldn't find the paper online with a quick search, but there's a story here. (The headline is a bit polemical, but whatever)
I tabulated the numbers:
|Number of Households (millions)|
Low income is defined as being under 45k INR p.a. (~1k USD today, nominal), while "high" income is 180k INR/~4k USD, where all numbers are at 2001 prices. I don't know if household composition changed any over the past ten years, but I imagine it isn't a huge effect.
Sounds to me like the optimistic narrative re Indian economic growth isn't that far off...
Abercombie & Fitch, the upscale clothing retailer has long been suspected of discriminatory hiring practices as also, criticized for marketing what many consider tasteless t-shirts. (The Chinese laundry logo, "Two Wongs Can Make It White," is priceless; I wonder how many high fives were exchanged after this particular witticism was coined.) Given the image of the store, it is not surprising that an African American employee lost his job for wearing his hair in corn-rows. It is also unsurprising that the dismissed employee sued on the basis of racial discrimination. Here is the press release of the case.
Race Discrimination Case Against Abercrombie and Fitch Heads
Toward Trial: African-American Man Was Fired in 2007 for His
So-Called “Extreme” Hairstyle
A federal race discrimination lawsuit filed against Abercrombie and Fitch by an African-American man who was fired for his hairstyle is gearing up for trial. Abdul Jabbar Gbajiamilla filed his case after he was fired in 2007 from a San Diego store for wearing his hair
in corn-rows. The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in May 2010, by civil rights attorneys Lisa Holder and Sanjukta Paul of Los Angeles, has cleared initial procedural hurdles and is now on the path toward trial.
The company did not contend that Gbajiamilla suffered from performance problems or that there was any other reason for his termination. Instead, Abercrombie has expressly stated that corn-rows violate the company’s grooming policy, which requires employees to sport a “clean, natural, and classic” hairstyle. Abercrombie’s Director of Human Resources testified in a related proceeding that corn-rows do not fit this definition because they are “extreme” and “uncommon.”
Plaintiff Gbajiamilla commented, “I brought this lawsuit because I believe the United States has come too far in regards to racial tolerance to now retreat. I should not be forced to conceal or tone down my God-given identity as a black person. There is nothing ‘extreme’ about being black.”
The lawsuit is the latest allegation of racial discrimination against the national retailer, which is already subject to a federal consent decree that requires it to take steps to prevent discrimination against nonwhite employees and to promote racial and cultural diversity. That suit, filed by a panoply of civil rights groups, settled in 2005.
Gbajiamilla is the son of Nigerian immigrants and grew up in Southern California. He had styled his hair in corn-rows for his college graduation ceremony from San Diego State University.
The lawsuit is brought under Title VII of the federal Civil Rights Act. It alleges that under Abercrombie's grooming policy, which mandates that employees sport a "clean, natural, and classic" hairstyle, African-American employees are required to wear hairstyles which are intended to conceal the distinctive texture of their hair. For example, African-American men are required to wear a closely cropped haircut, such that the texture of their hair is not visible at all. Other men, with "straight or loosely curled" hair, are permitted to wear their hair in a vast array of hairstyles and in varying lengths.
Perhaps the dismissal of Gbajiamilla for allegedly sporting an "extreme" hairdo and the image of Abercombie & Fitch can be better understood when you examine the man behind the store's "classic" look.
(One of the two civil rights attorneys working on the case is my daughter Sanjukta Paul. You can listen to an interview with the lawyers, Lisa Holder and Sanjukta on KPFK radio, San Diego. (you have to wait a bit for the interview to begin). Here is a report in the L.A. Weekly which leaves nothing to the imagination by beginning the article by invoking Hitlerian aesthetics right off the bat.)
When a Detroit minister named Mayowa Lisa Reynolds went to her City Council last summer to complain about malt liquor advertising, she came prepared.The minister had conducted a survey in which she found a Colt .45 billboard in every square mile of the city. She looked in the nearby, majority white suburbs of Plymouth and Royal Oak.There were none.
Still, the Colt .45 billboards were relatively inoffensive by the traditional standards of malt liquor advertising.In one notorious 1986 print spot for Midnight Dragon, a voluptuous woman grasped a squat 40 ounce bottle above the tagline “I could suck on this all night.”In the 90s, charismatic gangster rappers incorporated 40s into their tales of murder and drug-dealing, driving malt liquor sales to all-time highs. In contrast, the 2009 Colt .45 ads merely featured a cartoon drawing of longtime spokesman Billy Dee Williams dressed in mauve and beige evening wear, accompanied by the slogan, “Works Every Time.”
Reynolds needn’t have worried. Several council members went ballistic at her findings. Alberta Tinsley-Talabi, who created a “Denounce the 40 Ounce Campaign” in the 90s to reduce alcohol consumption in Detroit, fumed that “every 20 years we have to start this fight again.” Reynolds pondered the meaning of “works every time.” “If women drink it, ladies will lose their virginity?” she asked. Councilwoman JoAnn Watson brought out the heaviest rhetorical guns: “This is killing our community. It’s an issue of racism and perversity.” (David Josar, "Detroit council takes aim at Billy Dee Williams malt liquor ads," The Detroit News, July 7, 2009).
For someone who knew nothing about the history of malt liquor, such strong denunciations might seem excessive. Racism and perversity? The Colt .45 billboards in Detroit are hardly more outlandish than other kinds of beer advertising.
But the anger from Tinsley-Talabi and Watson are not atypical.In the summer of 2008, at a Philadelphia bike shop called Jay’s Pedal Power, community protests forced the painting-over of a different graffitti-style billboard of young partiers drinking Colt .45. In June 2009, Colt .45 bus-shelter ads in St. Louis brought protests that the company was seducing young African-Americans into a life of alcoholism. "If you look at the black community, the only thing that's advertised is cigarettes and alcohol. Period," alderman Charles Quincy Troupe told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. "There's nothing that's advertised that puts forth any wellness."
Malt liquor clearly bears a stigma with African-Americans. But with the current “reboot” of an aging and stigmatized brand, Colt .45 is also trying to sell to a different demographic group, a group of people that sometimes appears to lack historical memory of anything that happened before last Tuesday: hipsters.
Like an earnest Mom trying to connect with her teenagers by using the latest slang, Colt .45 is communicating with the kids in a language that they will understand. And some of the efforts are impressive. The company has dialed-in promoters putting on parties and concerts in New York and L.A. with hot bands of the moment, like Das Racist, War Tapes, and the Rapture – with Colt .45 served on the house. Whatever your principles, it’s hard to turn down free booze and music, especially in the middle of a brutal recession.
Some of the other tactics are less auspicious. There’s the bizarre schwag, like special edition brown bags or a Colt .45 unisex robe (available now for just 30 dollars). And some painfully unclever cartoons, as when a young man seduces a total stranger, who has just had a terrible fight with her boyfriend, merely by knocking on her door and giving her a can of malt liquor. (Unless your taste runs to poverty-stricken alcoholics, courtship tends to be a bit more complicated than that, even in these informal times). In a different cartoon scenario with vague echoes of Buckwheat from The Little Rascals, a group of partygoers discover that they have run out of Colt .45 – until noticing that one resourceful drunk has squirreled away a dozen cans in his Afro. They’re forced to attack him to get their fair share.
The humorous portrayals of problem drinking are the work of a young white graphic artist named Jim Mahfood, who hails from the macrobrewery company town of St. Louis. On a promotional video produced by Colt .45’s ad agency Cole & Weber United, Mahfood explains the concept behind the campaign:
"The general vibe, of like, Colt .45, or even drinking 40s?…It just reminds me of being at art school, and people having like, a spontaneous party on the campus lawn, and just people drinking 40s and listening to a ghetto-blaster…When I was able to tell all my friends, especially my friends I went to art school with, that I was doing this campaign? And my comic book label was called "40 Ounce Comics?" I feel like I've been rewarded for all those years of drinking malt liquor."
(Cole & Weber United website, accessed October 1, 2009)
The artist's life turns out to be not so tough -- so long as you jettison any pretensions to originality or having something to say.
Companies are not always so ham-handed when it comes to marketing products to hipsters. The journalist Christian Lorentzen may have concluded that “hipsters” don’t actually exist, but Madison Avenue certainly thinks that they do. That's not praise, so much as an observation – advertisers are clearly targeting hipsters, a group loosely defined as young people with relative pop cultural sophistication, a surface detachment from middle-class values, and a love of kitsch and retro styles.
The resuscitation of Pabst Blue Ribbon offers the best example of how subtle the Don Drapers of today can be. P.B.R. went from a beer known for being cheap and bland and in seeming terminal decline in 2001, to a brand known for being cheap and bland that has increased sales by over 25% since 2008, in spite of raising prices in the middle of a recession. That’s on top of a roughly 60% increase in sales between 2001 and 2006, due to a stealth marketing campaign astutely analyzed by Rob Walker in his book Buying In.
As Walker shows, P.B.R. grew precisely because of the lack of overt marketing. A group of bike messengers, skaters, punks, and others who identified with P.B.R.’s low price and vaguely blue-collar image were also attracted by the fact that the beer’s corporate parent didn’t seem to care enough about it to run endless T.V. ads or miles of billboards. (Never mind that the actual owners were uniformly white-collar, having summarily fired 250 Milwaukee brewery workers and outsourced production to Miller in 2001 – PBR is a “virtual” brand that exists only as a marketing and distribution entity).When Kid Rock’s lawyer noticed the young, hard edged drinkers drawn to P.B.R., and thought that that his client might make an excellent spokesman, the company rebuffed his overtures. Instead, P.B.R. continued its unobtrusive promotions, like skateboard movie screenings, art gallery openings, indie publishing events, and the "West Side Invite,” where Portland messengers drank beer and played “bike polo” together – but without pushing the brand using ostentatious posters or signs.
Alex Wipperfürth, who consulted for P.B.R. during those years and has written a book that draws on his findings, describes P.B.R. customers as engaging in “lifestyle as dissent” and “consumption as protest” – embracing this seemingly forlorn beer as a kind of expression of “no future” solidarity. P.B.R. succeeded by willfully keeping its marketing efforts as neutral as possible, to perpetuate the beer’s underdog image.
Buying P. B. R. is not much of a form of dissent, in comparison with, say, marching across the bridge at Selma or smuggling in food to Anne Frank, but it is dissent nevertheless. As Walker observes, buying the P.B.R. beer brand, owned by a large holding company, is hardly a way to strike back against corporations – but it is a way to protest against the phony hilarity and brand saturation of conventional marketing. Incredibly, Pabst marketing whiz Neal Stewart shaped his unconventional campaign by reading Naomi Klein’s 2000 book No Logo. After finishing Klein’s impassioned protest against the pervasiveness of corporate brands, Stewart concluded, "Hey, there are all these people out there who hate marketing – and we should sell to them."
Though Pabst is in the same family of brands as Colt .45, the patronizing cartoons and that silly bathrobe suggest that Cole & Weber United hasn’t learned the lessons of subtlety in selling to young people who loathe pandering advertising campaigns. The central conceit of the hipster is that his bullshit-detector and cultural awareness render him too much of a special snowflake to be targeted by some agency’s dorky creative team. But even were Cole and Weber to replicate some of P.B.R.’s clever moves, it would be hard for it to replicate their results. Colt. 45 is not just another beer, as Watson’s accusation of “racism and perversity” suggests.
Instead of the vaguely blue-collar but essentially blank canvas on which hipsters can project a “no future” image, Colt .45 and malt liquor offer a very particular history. Originally invented during the Depression as a way to make a potent brew cheaply, by replacing some of the expensive malt used in conventional beer with less expensive dextrose, and using heartier yeast strains that result in more alcohol and less flavor, malt liquor has been eclipsed by its marketing. In the 1980s and 90s, malt liquor became a way for brewers to bottle black stereotypes and sell them, in a pomo echo of the minstrel tradition.
I have been sitting on this link for more than a week although the story caught my eye on the same day that it came out.
The current and future problems of the beleaguered nation of Afghanistan may go well beyond war, the Taliban, Al Qaida, US occupation, poverty and heroin trafficking. The land locked nation of rough and rugged terrain is apparently the repository of vast mineral wealth, including large quantities of lithium, an essential component of many electronic gadgets. But like an uninformed (and unstable) nouveau riche individual, a poor, backward, politically fractious, war torn country may find its sudden wealth to be a burdensome and even a lethal liability. Prosperity is as much about managing one's assets as it is about owning them. The savvy rich get richer when blessed with goodies and the poor often become bewildered, murderous and vulnerable when in possession of sudden new riches.
The United States has discovered nearly $1 trillion in untapped mineral deposits in Afghanistan, far beyond any previously known reserves and enough to fundamentally alter the Afghan economy and perhaps the Afghan war itself, according to senior American government officials.
The previously unknown deposits — including huge veins of iron, copper, cobalt, gold and critical industrial metals like lithium — are so big and include so many minerals that are essential to modern industry that Afghanistan could eventually be transformed into one of the most important mining centers in the world, the United States officials believe.
An internal Pentagon memo, for example, states that Afghanistan could become the “Saudi Arabia of lithium,” a key raw material in the manufacture of batteries for laptops and BlackBerrys.
The vast scale of Afghanistan’s mineral wealth was discovered by a small team of Pentagon officials and American geologists. The Afghan government and President Hamid Karzai were recently briefed, American officials said.
While it could take many years to develop a mining industry, the potential is so great that officials and executives in the industry believe it could attract heavy investment even before mines are profitable, providing the possibility of jobs that could distract from generations of war.
“There is stunning potential here,” Gen. David H. Petraeus, commander of the United States Central Command, said in an interview on Saturday. “There are a lot of ifs, of course, but I think potentially it is hugely significant.”
The value of the newly discovered mineral deposits dwarfs the size of Afghanistan’s existing war-bedraggled economy, which is based largely on opium production and narcotics trafficking as well as aid from the United States and other industrialized countries. Afghanistan’s gross domestic product is only about $12 billion.
“This will become the backbone of the Afghan economy,” said Jalil Jumriany, an adviser to the Afghan minister of mines.
Or will it? Can Afghanistan manage its resources to benefit its citizens? Or will "outside help" be needed to school its leaders in wealth management and investment in its future? Will those benefactors even be interested in Afghanistan's prosperity and progress? Or is it in the interest of hungry consumer nations that the wealth be controlled by a few pliable lackeys while the general population remains ignorant, uninformed, miserable and act as a source of cheap labor to mine the minerals for a low price? Will Afghanistan become like Africa and Asia under European colonial rule? The "partners" it finds may be more interested in its gleaming natural wares than its welfare. This time around the "crooked" partners may not be just the obvious ones from the west, with their colonial pasts, craftiness and imperialistic designs. Fast developing and rapacious neighbors in the east, like China and India (especially, China) will be salivating too.
The NYT article is not correct in stating that Afghanistan's buried treasures have been discovered for the first time by the US. It appears that prior "visitors" to the region were aware of them too and found it a daunting task to harvest the minerals efficiently and profitably.
The lawless culture of poverty and its attendant perils are not a geographic phenomenon. Affluent countries have their share of the beaten and the abused, and their underprivileged are just as pathetic. But there are advocates and safety nets in politically advanced cultures, however inadequate, to raise awareness. Murder, mayhem, fraud and theft are punished by the law when brought to the attention of society. A country like Afghanistan (or the Republic of Congo) won't know where to begin protecting its resources and its citizens from gross abuse and exploitation from outsiders as well as its own leaders.
Coming from India, the erstwhile "Jewel" in the British Raj's crown, it always sends shivers down my spine when vast natural resources of any kind are discovered in a poor, underdeveloped, politically fragmented nation. If the extent of the mineral wealth is indeed as rich and extensive as the NYT article suggests, get ready for "Blood Lithium" in your BlackBerry.
I hope the FDA stops this drug approval process in its tracks. The birth control pill was something women needed. This one they don't. Making up a malady where one does not exist, is the game the pharmaceutical companies like to play. But will the FDA go along? Will women?
Ever since Viagra met blockbuster success in 1998, the drug industry has sought a similar pill for women.
Now, a German drug giant says it has stumbled upon such a pill and is trying to persuade the Food and Drug Administration that its drug can help restore a depressed female sex drive. The effort has set off a debate over what constitutes a normal range of sexual desire among women, with critics saying the company is trying to turn a low libido into a medical pathology. ...
There is no dispute that some women have a depressed level of sexual desire that causes them anguish. Boehringer cites a condition — hypoactive sexual desire disorder — that is included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, a reference book for psychiatrists and insurers.
But many experts say that unlike sexual dysfunction in men — which has an obvious physical component — sexual problems in women are much harder to diagnose. And among doctors and researchers, there is serious medical debate over whether female sexual problems are treatable with drugs. Some doctors advocate psychotherapy or counseling, while others have prescribed hormonal drugs approved for other uses.
There is also debate over how widespread hypoactive sexual desire disorder actually is among women. The medical literature, including articles in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine, indicate numbers above 10 percent, but such studies have been financed by drug companies.
Critics say Boehringer’s market campaign exaggerates the prevalence of the condition and could create anxiety among women, making them think they have a condition that requires medical treatment.
“This is really a classic case of disease branding,” said Dr. Adriane Fugh-Berman, an associate professor at Georgetown University’s medical school who researches drug marketing and has studied the campaign. “The messages are aimed at medicalizing normal conditions, and also preying on the insecurity of both the clinician and the patient.”
"Welcome to Chicago, home of the 1908 World Series champions." "We know you have many choices in airlines, and we're just glad you can't afford any of the others." --Southwest flight attendant
Southwest employees are known for their unorthodox in-flight announcements. Apparently, they are at their best on short hops between Texas cities - Houston, Dallas, Austin etc., which serve as daily /weekly commuter flights for many Texans. The flight attendants some times let loose on longer legs too. About five years ago, on my way from Los Angeles to Houston on a Soutwest flight, we were treated to an unusual safety announcement. I don't exactly remember everything that was said. I will try and recollect some of it as best as I can.
Welcome to Southwest Flight # *** from Los Angeles to Houston. My name is *** and I will be your flight attendant and cheerleader on this flight. Our flight time is estimated to be 3 hours and 15 minutes. The weather in Houston is currently clear skies and 86 degrees.
Please keep your seat belts on during take-off, landing and when the Captain turns the seat belt light on. Seat belts should be worn tight and low around your waist like J-Lo wears her pants. (Jennifer Lopez was hot property five years ago)
This is a non-whining, non-complaining, non-smoking flight. FDA regulations prohibit smoking on all flights. Bathrooms on this plane are equipped with smoke detectors and video cameras. Tampering with the smoke detectors may result in a fine of up to $ xxx. If you think you can not put up with the no-smoking regulations, there are four exits on this plane.
In case of emergency landing or evacuation over water, your seat cushions can be used as flotation devices; in the event of a water landing please use them to stay afloat and then kick-paddle, kick-paddle to the nearest shore. A Southwest attendant will follow closely with complimentary peanuts and soft drinks.
Should the cabin lose pressure during flight, oxygen masks will drop from the overhead area. Please pull the mask over your own face and breathe normally before assisting children and husband with theirs.
There was more. Some readers may be very familiar with the shtik. I have just heard it once although I have flown Southwest quite a few times. During the above mentioned L.A - Houston flight, a Chinese gentleman with limited command of English, complained that he had not understood anything that the flight attendant had announced and also he couldn't properly hear her words because the other passengers were laughing. He was given a set of written safety instructions with diagrams.
(Note: you can probably tell that as far as substantive blogging goes, I am running on empty these days)
What's going on here? It's a bittersweet human interest tale with some facts and figures mixed in, not too cloying.
Blacks and whites have encountered one another in increasing numbers recently in the crowded waiting rooms of the welfare office and at the food pantry, where many of both races have ventured for the first time. Struggling black-owned businesses are attracting the attention of white patrons. Neighbors are commiserating across racial lines.
Across the country, there have been many reports about the recession’s racial divide, as blacks have lost their jobs and houses at far higher rates than whites. But Henry County, about a 30-minute drive south of downtown Atlanta, has a very different profile from the rest of the nation. In Henry, the median income of black families, $56,715 in 2008, approaches that of whites, $69,728 (nationally, the average income gap was $20,000). Blacks in Henry County, many of whom are retirees from the North or professionals who work in Atlanta, are more likely than whites to have a college degree.
That does not mean that Henry County is a perfect laboratory of equality. Blacks made up a disproportionately high number of those seeking government assistance both before and after the slowdown. Since 2006, the number of blacks on Medicaid has more than tripled, outpacing the increase among whites.
But it seems as if a point is being missed when a black man's preemptive apology—"I’m not racist, but it’s harder for black men."—goes unremarked, indeed, is used to convey a facile notion of equality, one for which racism is little more than a personal preference. I have a hard time swallowing the notion that the leveling phenomenon of Henry County is a silver lining of the economic cloud. If a bridge is spanning a racial divide, it's more likely due to a shared oppression than to a sudden recognition of common needs and ambitions. Wealth and power can be wholesomely color-blind when targeting subjects to exploit.
We have discussed this topic a couple of times here, the last time was not so long ago. What do modern nations owe each other regarding the return of or restitution for art and artifacts (some of them very ancient and invaluable) removed from their place of origin by way of sale, stealth or superior military power? In the current climate of globalization, international trade and treaties and resurgent nationalistic feelings, the debate can be long and heated. Usually the demands for restoration come from less wealthy nations whose ancient religious and cultural relics often adorn the glittering halls of museums in far away countries, some of them, past conquerors and colonizers. In recent days Egypt has demanded the return of the priceless (and gorgeous, I should add) bust of Queen Nefertiti which has been in German hands for more than a century. It also wants some items housed in the Louvre to return home from France. Ostensibly, as Egypt’s chief archaeologist, Zahi Hawass has claimed, the wish to regain control of these objects of art arises from Egypt's pride in its national history. But as it turns out, it may also have been influenced to a large extent by a recent political skirmish with the host nations.
BERLIN — As thousands lined up to catch a glimpse of Nefertiti at the newly reopened Neues Museum here, another skirmish erupted in the culture wars. Egypt’s chief archaeologist, Zahi Hawass, announced that his country wanted its queen handed back forthwith, unless Germany could prove that the 3,500-year-old bust of Akhenaten’s wife wasn’t spirited illegally out of Egypt nearly a century ago....
Globalization, it turns out, has only intensified, not diminished, cultural differences among nations. The forces of nationalism love to exploit culture because it’s symbolic, economically potent and couches identity politics in a legal context that tends to pit David against Goliath.
Mr. Hawass also recently fired a shot at France, demanding the Louvrereturn five fresco fragments it purchased in 2000 and 2003 from a gallery and at auction. They belonged to a 3,200-year-old tomb near Luxor and had been in storage at the museum. Egypt had made the demand before, but this time suspended the Louvre’s long-term excavation at Saqqara, near Cairo, and said it would stop collaborating on Louvre exhibitions.
France got the message. It promised to send the fragments back tout de suite.
It didn’t go unnoticed in Paris, Berlin or Cairo that Mr. Hawass pressed his case about Nefertiti and suspended the excavations by the Louvre just after his country’s culture minister, Farouk Hosny, bitterly lost a bid to become director general of the United Nations’ cultural agency, Unesco. The post went late last month to a Bulgarian diplomat instead. Mr. Hosny would have been the first Arab to land the job, and Egypt’s president, Hosni Mubarak, had banked a not insignificant amount of his own prestige on the minister’s getting it.
Also, a feud has begun between India and Albania (Macedonia may enter the fray soon) about the rightful resting place for a more recent relic - the remains of Mother Teresa who was born in a town that was once part of Albania but which now belongs to Macedonia. As everyone knows, from the age of eighteen onwards, Mother Teresa lived and worked in India, where she also died.
India has rejected a demand by the Albanian government for the return of the remains of Nobel laureate Mother Teresa, buried in the city of Calcutta.
"Mother Teresa was an Indian citizen and she is resting in her own country, her own land," Foreign Ministry spokesman Vishnu Prakash said.
A spokeswoman for the nun's Missionaries of Charity described the Albanian request as "absurd".
Mother Teresa, an ethnic Albanian, was born in Skopje, now part of Macedonia.
Correspondents say that the row over her resting place could develop into an ugly three-way squabble between India, where she worked most of her life, Albania where her parents came from and Macedonia where she lived the first 18 years of her life.
The row is expected to intensify by August next year - the 100th anniversary of Mother Teresa's birth - by which time many commentators expect her to have been canonised as a saint.
And then there is the report of a refund. It is taking place quietly without much fanfare. It seems that a highly touted "educational" merchandize did not quite do what it had promised eager consumers.
They may have been a great electronic baby sitter, but the unusual refunds appear to be a tacit admission that they did not increase infant intellect.
“We see it as an acknowledgment by the leading baby video company that baby videos are not educational, and we hope other baby media companies will follow suit by offering refunds,” said Susan Linn, director of Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, which has been pushing the issue for years.
I call myself a classical liberal in part because I believe that negative liberties, such as Min’s freedom from government interference, are the best means to acquire positive liberties, such as Min’s ability to pursue further education. I also value the kind of culture that economic freedom produces and within which it thrives: tolerance for human variation, aversion to authoritarianism, and what the libertarian economist F.A. Hayek called “a preparedness to let change run its course even if we cannot predict where it will lead.”
But I am disturbed by an inverse form of state worship I encounter among my fellow skeptics of government power. This is the belief that the only liberty worth caring about is liberty reclaimed from the state; that social pathologies such as patriarchy and nationalism are not the proper concerns of the individualist; that the fight for freedom stops where the reach of government ends. It was tradition, not merely government, that threatened to limit Min’s range of possible lives. To describe the expanded scope of her agency as merely “freedom from state interference” is to deny the extent of what capitalism has achieved in communist China.
As former Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints leader Warren Jeffs can tell you, it’s possible to be an anti-government zealot with no interest whatsoever in individual liberty. If authoritarian fundamentalist compounds are your bag, the words personal agency will hold no magic for you, and Min’s situation will smack of social chaos. But libertarians for whom individualism is important cannot avoid discussions of culture, conformism, and social structure. Not every threat to liberty is backed by a government gun.
The response at the site, both from the first discussant, and especially in the comments section, is far from congenial. People like Jonathan Haidt have said that differences in moral intuition between liberals and libertarians are hard to detect in tests, that the divergence in views really traces back to substantive disagreements about the tendencies of different economic and political institutions. If the commentators at Reason magazine are representative of American libertarians though, that seems implausible to me. These aren't kinda-sorta liberals who're distinctively committed to the thought that freedom entails the freedom to be wrong, or who're atypically sensitive to state power grabs or bureaucratic inefficiency. Going by the views expressed, not to mention the level of vitriol, libertarianReason is closer to being a social and cultural conservative who in addition really, really hates the gummint, even when it does things he might like.
Howley does achieve a quite beautiful parody of her adversaries:
Potential Libertarian: What’s libertarianism?
Seavey: A philosophy of freedom and property rights.
Potential Libertarian: Oh, right. Freedom like civil rights?
Seavey: No, not that kind of freedom.
Potential Libertarian: Oh. Freedom like the freedom to be openly gay?
Seavey: No. That has nothing to do with liberty.
Potential Libertarian: Oh. Um…
Seavey: Let’s talk about easements!
Update: on the other hand, this discussion of Howley's post is not just thoughtful and civilized, it's carried out largely by people who do fit Haidt's profile. Perhaps I've just rediscovered for myself that comparable blogs can have comments sections of wildly differing quality.
A survey last month by the Pew Research Center on Social & Demographic trends found that only 47% percent of the respondents considered a microwave a necessity rather than a luxury, down 21 points from 2006. This is just one curious finding from a much broader survey relating to how the population is weathering the bad economic climate. After commenting that people who have been hit the hardest over the last year or two are more inclined than others to take steps to brace themselves for the future, the authors of the report note that "this distinction doesn't apply to changing perceptions about what's a luxury and what's a necessity." That shift is widespread, they maintain. I'm encouraged by their analysis. There are few necessities, hordes of luxurious baubles. (I count high-end audio among the former, by the way, in which respect I am woefully undernourished.)
That is, I'm encouraged until I read the New York Times story reporting on the Pew survey and others' views of the trend not to spend. Beginning with the lede there is squishy talk of a "culture of thrift" and financial virtue, and then a bit later, "the forces that enabled and even egged on consumers to save less and spend more—easy credit and skyrocketing asset values..." Of what does this culture and its virtue consist? Whence these forces? One sentence coyly avoids making the connection: "American businesses have become so dependent on consumer spending that any pullback sends ripples through the economy." There's no mention here of business' dependency on other businesses, or of savage competition among businesses for consumers' dollars. That might intimate a more systemic problem, worthy of systemic repair.
If I had read it only in the NYT, I would not have accepted that people are saving more. For one thing, it doesn't make any sense. Perhaps we're trying to save more, or planning to do so, but I know the more I think about bolstering savings, the clearer it becomes I won't be able to do so. (For me this means no upgrade to my turntable's suspension, power supply, or onboard phono stage, not to mention no new amplifiers, no new CD player... Oh, yeah, and then I have a wife and kid and self to feed and stuff.) Since Pew says it's so, though, I'm more inclined to accept the trend. Still, the Times and its tapped experts ought to cool the analysis a bit. It's obvious that saving for contingencies is a good thing, Keynes be damned.
Today being Mother's Day, I dedicate this post to my mom, who knows how to save. Yes, she owns a luxurious microwave, but it surely must by now be an antique, and she's too thrifty to buy a new one.
Why become a pirate? Perhaps because other "honest" means of livelihood have been destroyed? Lawlessness is a menace whether perpetrated by pirates or "civilized" governments. So reveals Johann Hari in the Independent. (via 3 QD) Hari also reflects on the rebellious and brutal history of pirates, some of whom were mercenaries for legitimate European regimes.
Who imagined that in 2009, the world's governments would be declaring a new War on Pirates? As you read this, the British Royal Navy – backed by the ships of more than two dozen nations, from the US to China – is sailing into Somalian waters to take on men we still picture as parrot-on-the-shoulder pantomime villains. They will soon be fighting Somalian ships and even chasing the pirates onto land, into one of the most broken countries on earth. But behind the arrr-me-hearties oddness of this tale, there is an untold scandal. The people our governments are labelling as "one of the great menaces of our times" have an extraordinary story to tell – and some justice on their side.
The words of one pirate from that lost age, a young British man called William Scott, should echo into this new age of piracy. Just before he was hanged in Charleston, South Carolina, he said: "What I did was to keep me from perishing. I was forced to go a-pirateing to live." In 1991, the government of Somalia collapsed. Its nine million people have been teetering on starvation ever since – and the ugliest forces in the Western world have seen this as a great opportunity to steal the country's food supply and dump our nuclear waste in their seas.
Yes: nuclear waste. As soon as the government was gone, mysterious European ships started appearing off the coast of Somalia, dumping vast barrels into the ocean. The coastal population began to sicken. At first they suffered strange rashes, nausea and malformed babies. Then, after the 2005 tsunami, hundreds of the dumped and leaking barrels washed up on shore. People began to suffer from radiation sickness, and more than 300 died.
Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, the UN envoy to Somalia, tells me: "Somebody is dumping nuclear material here. There is also lead, and heavy metals such as cadmium and mercury – you name it." Much of it can be traced back to European hospitals and factories, who seem to be passing it on to the Italian mafia to "dispose" of cheaply. When I asked Mr Ould-Abdallah what European governments were doing about it, he said with a sigh: "Nothing. There has been no clean-up, no compensation, and no prevention."
At the same time, other European ships have been looting Somalia's seas of their greatest resource: seafood. We have destroyed our own fish stocks by overexploitation – and now we have moved on to theirs. More than $300m-worth of tuna, shrimp, and lobster are being stolen every year by illegal trawlers. The local fishermen are now starving. Mohammed Hussein, a fisherman in the town of Marka 100km south of Mogadishu, told Reuters: "If nothing is done, there soon won't be much fish left in our coastal waters."