Monday, December 06, 2010

Obama and tax "compromise"

Just now the President made a rather interesting speech about compromise w/r/t personal taxes. What was interesting was that there was already a very clear compromise and the one that he decided to agree to gave away far more than he needed to.

The politics of the thing are that, for whatever reason, the democrats don't have the votes to limit keeping the tax cuts in place (i.e., not raising taxes for those of us not caught in spin) to the "middle class," which evidently consists of 98% of the country. I get the 98% figure from the fact that this whole debate has to do with maintaining tax cuts for 2% of the country.

What just happened is that 2% of the country held 98% of the country hostage. There wasn't even a 50/50 split - 2% won about 70% of the concessions.

What's odd is that a Democrat, someone who ran on a platform of change and commitment to average people just did this. It is odd, and it isn't odd. I've no doubt that he's reading the climate in Washington and making some sort of decision based on that, but it is very very strange for him to attempt to claim that he should not engage in actual compromise and back-and-forth because then people would have more taken out of their paychecks in two weeks than before. That is true, but when we're talking about an average of 3,000 over a year for this average middle class family, it's not really very much money. On the other hand, the amount the 2% will be retaining IS a lot of money.

The genuinely difficult part came with the claim that two years hence, we will have to make serious cutbacks and talk maturely about the future of the nation. It seems that one could easily have done that now, simply by engaging in a compromise that may have cost him more in terms of short-term political soundbites, but would have been the right thing to do. Moreover, if he had let this simmer for a little, constituents would have gotten a balanced compromise. We do have a democracy and while representatives may feel free to vote for their own interests when they don't hear the voices of their constituents, subjecting this to public debate and media coverage would have resulted in more than enough political pressure.

But maybe this ignorance of the power of public sentiment is consistent with the belief that 2% of the country is the equivalent of 98% of the country. Perhaps most of us just don't count.

Friday, February 12, 2010

New Rule

Company-wide email requests for assistance MUST be preceeded by, at a minimum, a google search with regards to your request. You must determine, before sending your email, whether it is absurd and in particular, whether it requires greater detail/specificity. For example, you cannot send an email to thousands of people you don't know asking, does anyone know of a lawyer in Africa? To clarify, "lawyers" aren't a generic commodity and "Africa" does not have a uniform legal code or mode of judicial implementation. Obviously, if it is just a quiz or survey question you can send it, but I would imagine that is well outside the bounds of approved use for such emails.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Census 2010 - Race & Ethnicity

Ordinarily, I obviously couldn't care less about the census. It is a tragically and permanently flawed entity that pretends to count people and take in a little biographical information about them as well. It counts very poorly and takes in very little data. And a massive number of human beings are actually employed to walk around and count people. Truly massive. I mean, it's just obviously idiotic but so are a lot of things (not keeping subway trains running on schedule during rush hour comes to mind).

But this year, they're switching things up in the race section. In fact, dramatically so. Hispanics/Latinos etc. are no longer a race - they are an ethnicity and they get their own question, separate from the race question.

At first that seemed kind of cool. I get irritable when I have to guess at checking boxes to define who I am on a form. I've called and complained and refused to fill things out on this basis. And I don't appreciate the idea that one of my ancestors should trump another in terms of government or statistical importance. But then I noticed the second part - that there was no hispanic for race.

Then, I was confused. I know there are people who feel strongly that this is the case - hispanic is an ethnicity, not a race, and that's cool. But I just don't know what the heck you are supposed to check of what is left in the "race" section.

(Here is a copy so I don't go painstakingly through it)

You basically get to choose white, black, native of some area where we care about natives, or asian. For some categories (natives and asians) they give you a lot of options in terms of identifying yourself. For others (whites and blacks) you get an extremely cursory discussion. I mean, really? The Alaskan Natives get to write down the individual tribe they are in and you expect people to check a box marked with a color because some of their ancestors were on the same continent with a bunch of other people?

So annoyed with this, I do some quick research and stumble upon the decision to make this change. It's a bit of madness throughout, with, for example, small groups of people insisting on recognition but then there was a pretty fascinating bit of information about one of the race categories - as of this census, "American Indian" includes natives of central and south america.

You may have no idea why that matters. It matters to me, for example, because then I get to check a box that feels more racially exact than marking a color. Like many Hispanics, my Hispanic heritage is a mix of native Spanish and native Mexican. Which means, in part, I am now officially for census purposes, American Indian.

Moving forward one more step, imagine if a lot more people (including those crazy liberals I mentioned who count people individually on the street) think this through? I have a feeling there will be a massive upsurge in the number of American Indians. So that's one issue.

But before I found the entertaining bit about defining my own race, I started searching because I realized I really had no idea what they were basing these categorizations on. Why did a race suddenly turn into an ethnicity and what was that supposed to mean? (it sounds absurdly offensive to me, while I understand and respect that the opposite is true for others)

So I searched rapidly, again, and stumbled on this article.

I read the first fellow/person's first few sentences and shook my head out of its reading slumber as I realized I was reading something very very old. Dalton Conley states you can only have one race and makes the incredibly weird comment, "You can identify ethnically as Irish and Polish, but you have to be essentially either black or white." So, a) do you mean that there are only two races? why two and not one or two and not four? why?, and b) assuming you are not absurd and do not believe there are only black and white people, why would all people of Irish or Polish heritage have to be black or white? I mean, it was weird and I assumed, I think quite reasonably, that it was an old racist thing. Nope. 2003.

Okay, so I read on. "The fundamental difference is that race is socially imposed and hierarchical. There is an inequality built into the system. Furthermore, you have no control over your race; it's how you're perceived by others." Wow. I mean, that's just wildly incorrect. If you read it closely, rather, it is. See, the sentence structure actually says that "race is socially imposed," which means it is not an independent thing. It's just magically invented by society. Weird. Then it says, reifing the earlier point, that you can't "control" race, that it is defined as how others perceive you. First off, those two phrases contradict each other because if something is controlled by how others perceive you, you can always change yourself to change the way others perceive you. But regardless, it's useless as it just sounds like prattle to me.

Next up: John Cheng. John, unfortunately, is way off base too. "Ethnicity isn't just a question of affiliation; it's also a question of choice. It's also a question of group membership. And it's usually associated with a geographic region. It's also often confused or conflated with nationality, but that's not the same thing. Today people identify with ethnicity positively because they see themselves as being part of that group. People can't just simply say, "Well, I want to become a member of that race." You either are or are not a member of that race. Whereas, if you wanted to look at ethnicity based on culture, you could learn a language, you can learn customs - there are things that you can learn so that you could belong to that group."

John totally weirded me out because he makes ethnicity sound like a club you can join. You CANNOT join an ethnicity. That isn't how it works. He doesn't seem to understand at all how it works. It also is not optional and has zero to do with choice. In all truth, ethnicity is basically a way we came up with of defining cultures that don't rise to the level of being interesting enough or don't have stories sad enough to define as races. As someone pointed out later, Irish used to be a race in America, back when Irish weren't allowed in places and signs were posted saying they wouldn't give any work to the Irish. Then they moved up and suddenly, they're just white, with a little Irish "ethnicity" dropped in. See that I also find offensive. But it's not worth going into the struggles of the Irish.

Next up, Sumi Cho: "In the law, I think there's a failure to seriously grasp the significance of the impact of racial exclusion and white supremacy in this society." Huh? Really? What cases have you been reading? It's pretty much explicitly spelled out and has been addressed about a million times over in lower court rulings and legislation. It's also a really dated view - I would appreciate it if these "scholars" picked up on the fact that they are staring into a class/wealth divide, not a race divide. But let's continue on.

"There are many who don't believe that racial divisions are much different from ethnicity-based divisions; i.e., what African Americans have faced in this country is little different from what Irish Americans or Italian Americans have faced." Given that I just brought up the Irish and their treatment, I'll bite. Yes, not the same thing. But I'll give you that only because of course it's not the same thing as we're not talking about the same thing. (quick side-bar, the italians were WAY better off than the Irish - that is an offensive comparison) That really doesn't help with defining race at all and the situation is WAY WAY more complicated than simply comparing apples to apples between the irish and african-americans, but whatever.

To finish up: "There's an asymmetry that's important to keep in mind when we're talking about race versus ethnicity. Yet politicians deliberately further this non-distinction between race and ethnicity, especially conservative politicians who want to downplay the significance of racial discrimination in this country." I think the irony here is that I am going through all this trying to find out what a "race" is. I started because I was trying to figure out what I was meant to check on the census form. And as I was going through I started thinking about friends of mine and wondering what they would check, how they were supposed to define themselves in a little box under "Race." I'm trying to think of groups I see discriminated against (old people, homeless people, ugly people, fat people, young adults) but none of the pictures that are coming up are racial. Sure, the imaginary people or memories of people I'm conjuring up have colors, and if I had to I could put some of them into one of three big categories, but it really doesn't play into the everyday.

By which I don't mean to say there isn't discrimination because of course there is and as I told my high school students a few years back, don't forget that racism goes in every direction and comes from every conceivable source. But I think there is a very significant generation gap here, perhaps even in the course of a decade, I don't know. But things have really changed. You see it in people socializing together. You see it in who people are willing to vote for. You see it in (something that always drove me insane) people not being described to you in part via their race. Which begs the question of why I care that I lost a race. I see a racial categorization as society's way of saying it cares. Losing that means society doesn't care anymore. Making it an ethnicity that has its own race diminishes the significance of my heritage. So I'm offended. It's not some "decision" I made about people I want to hang out with or cultural traditions I want to carry on - I have no traditions and don't hang out with anyone who does. It's the opposite of that, it's the race that he was defining. It's something you are born with and that is that.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Can't use your old plates because you're missing too many?

I honestly can think of absolutely no one who uses a computer who I could share this with, but I am sure there are plenty of people out there who can use this information and I think it's rather fascinating so here goes.

Summary: There is an online store called Replacements, Ltd. Basically, they have tons of china and silver and that sort of thing and while they do carry patterns that are still in stores, the hook is that they carry discontinued lines as well. So if you broke too many tea cups from the set you got X number of years ago, you have a chance to replace them.

My relationship with them started via some spam a year or more ago. Evidently, some pattern of china, of which I had bought some for a friend's wedding at some point (I can only assume), had been discontinued. However, there was still some available at Replacements, Ltd. I think I ignored the first few emails and then clicked through, out of curiosity, as it was obvious it wasn't spam.

The pattern of the first set of plates was really lovely and I think about them to this day (no really - charming bright floating butterflies - sort of a calming daydream). Since then, they've been sending me hideous sets that I can't imagine anyone I know ever wanted but taste cannot be bought, borrowed or stolen. In any case, I appreciate the business plan and in particular the creativity.

The store was founded in 1981 by a guy and evidently has an "inventory of 13 million pieces in more than 300,000 patterns, some over 100 years old." Which is, of course, insane. They even have a 12,000 square foot showroom. They even go and search for your patterns for you when you can't find them.

Anyways, just a shout out to a rather innovative business plan for the material era, particularly as we drift back into being more economical. No reason to throw out a whole set of plates because a few are broken or missing when you can actually replace them...

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Being Ill

There are few things I enjoy less than being ill. They almost all fall in related areas (to illness and death generally) so there is no real reason to go into detail about it. You start out in pretty much complete denial. You are entirely certain that you are not ill. Then you start to think, well I must have upset my stomach with something, it just needs to work its way through the system. Then it's just a matter of cleaning things out and resting a bit and then finally you wake up a couple hours later and feel even worse, albeit in a different way, than you did before. And that's when acceptance has to come.
In our society, illness is really looked down upon. I didn't realize this until recently and I can only posit that most adults simply don't get sick. I have quite a bit of difficulty understanding people who claim that they go to work while ill. When I say I'm ill, I'm talking about not being able to stand for periods, occasionally crying out in pain, and a mental collapse on par with sleep in terms of loss of consciousness and ability to complete tasks or reason. Evidently, this does not happen to other people as I can guarantee they would not be at work if it did. I think others don't get the "full system" effect, as I refer to it. When I get sick, it's not a cough or a chest thing or a headache - I consider that occasional miscellany that I generally don't even think about; in fact, I wouldn't even think to associate those things with illness. When I talk about illness, I'm talking about the entire body shutting down. Your head is exploding in pain and as you writhe in bed trying to find some position that isn't going to cause you to vomit again, you slip in and out of dreaming and/or consciousness. That, is being sick. Anyone who claims to be able to deliver a decent work product under those circumstances is a liar and a fraud.
So it is likely that when people get sick, they simply aren't referring to anything like this. This jives with my conversations with others, whose faces tend to drop in uncomprehending stares as I explain my cold/flu symptoms. Also when people do get sick, they get sick, but they don't get the full body thing and most importantly, the brain is not implicated. They don't lose the ability to open a door because they can't remember how you do that and while trying to figure out how, use up all remaining physical strength and have to crash to the floor and generally fall asleep there, at least temporarily, remembering, perhaps a couple days later, what the point was of opening the door in the first place.
All this to say, I am terribly ill. I am hoping it a short term bug or food poisoning, really anything but the flu. And if it is, and it is that crazy swine flu thing, I think I should be able to sue the government for preventing me from getting a vaccine because they're oh so worried about the children. I'm sorry, but weren't they on top of this a while ago? What exactly is the point of the CDC if it can't even bother to protect us against pandemics that are only minor variations from known strains? What a joke. And furthermore, I would like to know whether there is preferential treatment in terms of the distribution of the vaccine as I heard last night that Stephen Colbert had gotten it and he does not fall into any of the high risk groups and it came out like Monday. I am not amused.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

United Headsets

Recently, while listening to a video in a friend's home office, I removed the headphones to take a call. And I remarked that on the inside of the headphones (which had somehow ended up on the friend's desk after a United flight) it was marked "Will not work outside aircraft." Clearly, this is false. My question for the general public and the FAA is - are airlines really allowed to lie?

I understand that it is a lie intended to prevent what is perhaps inappropriate behavior on the part of airline travelers - and I understand that the lie isn't related to safety or other such matters but more of a bottom-line thing - but I still have a problem with it. If United is going to brazenly lie on its headphones, what can we believe and what can't we believe about what they say? And are they allowed to lie whenever it helps them financially? For example, if it makes me feel more safe, can they say things that are obviously false?

For example, will that seat cushion really support me if I need to float in the ocean (and how long are they anticipating that I can hold my arms around it while floating in the ocean)? Does the door really weigh whatever they say it weighs? Can I actually believe that a lithe or rather chubby flight attendant can lift that door? These are similar to questions already asked, and in their minds answered, by travelers. For example, the rule that phones must be turned off during flight (and particularly during take-off and landing) is routinely flouted, in large part because travelers believe the airlines are lying about interference with air traffic control communications. Similarly, passengers will frequently pass on purchasing a "fresh" type food option as they (rightly) do not believe that food served on a 9 hour flight can really be "fresh." There is outright laughter at the announcement "we know you have a choice" in terms of choosing a carrier, because it implies that the airline is making an effort at customer service, which is made very evidently false by the exceptionally surly flight attendants. When the pilot comes on and announces that the plane is encountering light turbulence, passengers honestly don't know what to believe. And I think in large part this is due to the duplicity of the airlines in other practices. Claiming you've paid the fare and then charging extra for taxes, bags, food, alcohol, and now even flying home for thanksgiving. Saying your bags are covered and then refusing to pay you when your bag is destroyed or permanently lost on some bizarre technicality. Selling you a ticket and then not allowing you to get an assigned seat even though over half the plane is full and forcing you to show up at the airport hours early or log-on to the website exactly 23 hours ahead of take-off to get the earliest spot on the list, and even then, you can get bumped by someone with higher "status." Honestly, given these experiences, how are you supposed to believe anything the airlines or their employees say? The only things I believe are the ones I overhear flight attendants gossiping about before flights. I have learned a lot about the financial status of the airlines far ahead of the markets while listening to these conversations.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Peter Singer and some conclusions

Peter Singer has some inconsistent and problematic opinions, this I have known for a while. But I've never cared enough to actually read any of his "philosophy" - I'm not sure I knew that such a thing even existed.

However, while reading a totally different book, I came across a quote summarizing his views on animal rights and was fascinated that he completely lost me immediately, as I will respect a well-crafted argument regardless of its content : "Take the premise of equality among people, which most of us readily accept" Huh? Where do people readily accept this and how do they do it? I've traveled vast swaths of the world and have never seen this. As a general rule if you have money, good looks, athleticism, intelligence, stylish clothes, a well-known family, creativity, opinions etc. you are better than other people who lack these things. That's how it works. And that list goes on forever and varies by culture and sub-culture but it doesn't matter. No one who spends more than 5 seconds thinking about it can actually honestly believe that our society treats people equally.

It goes on: "Equality is a moral idea, not an assertion of fact" - that of course, means nothing. There is a bit of explanation that follows: "The moral idea is that everyone's interests ought to receive equal consideration, regardless of 'what they like or what abilities they have.' Fair enough" - no again, not fair enough. In no way shape or form do people honestly believe that every person's interests should receive equal consideration. It doesn't even make any sense. Some people's interests are useless and even detrimental to society while others are quite beneficial. If we gave every person's interests equal consideration, we'd be living in the third world, in a best case scenario.

And finally, the, I'm sorry you took this where?, tour de force: "If possessing a higher degree of intelligence does not entitle one human to use another for his or her own ends, how can it entitle humans to exploit non-humans for the same purpose?" - right so, beginning with the first clause, having a higher degree of intelligence ALWAYS entitles you to use other humans for your own ends. That's how corporations, firms, household cleaning services, governments, families, pretty much everything in our society works. We, in fact, believe just the opposite - that a higher degree of intelligence allows you to control anyone less intelligent than you, unless they possess other qualities we deem more important (like money etc.). Now, that's just within the human realm. As to animals, I personally have no opinions on this subject, but there is an essential logical link missing here - that being that somehow animals are the same as humans. And here is where I get confused.

It seems to me that if animals are the same as humans, so are vegetables and water and the rays of the sun and pretty much everything around us. I've never once understood the distinction between animals and vegetables by those who are vegetarians and I've never had someone give me more of an explanation than that animals were alive - well, so was that lettuce before you chopped it up to eat it. I rather doubt there is an explanation for it. I searched for "vegetarian philosophy" and this came up as the first hit, a piece by Peter Singer vilifying McDonalds.

McDonald's is a throw-away for so many reasons, mostly having to do with the fact that the organization engages in mass production of food for people with limited budgets and so you can expect things won't be ideal anywhere along the food chain. It's very very easy to criticize. But the interesting part was a quote from a group that was attacking McDonald's with regards to its means of raising animals: "Their deaths are bloody and barbaric." And then, I thought, perhaps I had landed on it. It was simple anthropomorphism. Perhaps because you can have a "bloody" death with an animal, it can somehow be barbaric if you think the animals are people. And because you're not allowed to kill people that way, you shouldn't be able to kill animals. But it doesn't really work.

I don't deny that Mr. Singer does an admirable job for his cause by throwing in supply and demand and fully agree that people can't ignore this fundamental force of our economy when they calculate the impact of individual choices on the world as a whole - too many people are bizarrely ignorant of the way in which multiple individual choices combine together to create a market force. It's just that he never explains why there is a problem with treating animals the same way we do lettuce or tomatoes. I don't deny that the explanation exists, I would just like to hear it in a form that doesn't presume the belief that animals should be treated "humanely" - the argument needs to be made for that as well. Indeed, given that all humans aren't treated with the same stanards, that many are treated quite horribly, it's difficult to even know what a humane standard would be if then applied to something we know relatively little about, like cows. The bases for defining "humane" treatment have to do with how humans interpret things that happen to them and then how they project their feelings onto the potential feelings of others. Somehow it is humane to kill someone by lethal injection but not by strangulation. It seems to me that for the person being killed it can't matter very much at all, but in any case, it is clearly highly dependent on the concept of a "human" and what is appropriate.

To go full circle, it seems to me that there is also little support for the divide between animals and humans and vegetables; we only support such a divide because we need to in order to have a functioning society - we can't have cannibalism running rampant, we can't have people beating each other up in the streets, it just doesn't work, it would create a wildly inefficient society in which people were fighting merely to stay alive. Perhaps there is an argument that we have a more developed society and thus no longer need to maintain that animals are different from humans, but then I have to ask again, why do we get to keep raising vegetables to kill and ingest them? I don't see how this line is drawn and at the end of the day, we have to eat or else we die as well. Assuming factory farmed animals aren't being raised and so the environment isn't being unduly harmed, it is hard to see the argument for using animals to create energy for our bodies as being worse than using vegetables.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

ACORN - the need to organize the organizers

So recently ACORN, the miscelleous entity, ended up all over the news again and once again, for completely awful reasons.

As a quick summary, this fellow who is 24 and a law student went around with his 20 year old female friend to a number of ACORN's what appear to be counseling/mortgage storefronts around the country and proposed some inappropriate situations (largely illegal) to which the ACORN employees responded as though being asked for perfectly normal counsel. Oh, and he got it all on tape.

Here's the thing - if a number of your employees at different locations are giving people walking in off the street legal advice on how to commit federal crimes and not get caught and all this ends up on video that is distributed widely across the country and world and you've already had similar problems and you care at all about public perception of your organization, you don't go the defensive route. You don't go the crazy outraged route. It just doesn't work. Especially if you already used up that chip over the voter registration forms. Which is why I didn't understand why ACORN would post this article on their website: Attack Videographer Caught in Manipulation and Lies.

As a contrast, and as proof that the people in charge actually understand the significant implications for the future of their agency and its cause, you can see the primary article posted on the home page, ACORN Announces Major Steps to Address Issues Raised by Videos.

Returning to the "news" article (which is at best a mixed news/opinion piece), was what the O'Keefe fellow did "manipulative"? Possibly - I don't think there's a meaning of that word that doesn't involve projection of an individual's insecurity onto the target, but let us take it down a notch and say that what O'Keefe did was designed to elicit certain responses and reactions. That is true. It isn't really manipulaive, in my opinion, because he wasn't trying to change people's opinions or thoughts or alter how they dealt with situations - it's the entrapment question, but this is pretty straightforward. From the employees' extensive explanations of how to get around laws it seems to me that they were rather adept at doing this (counseling people on how to violate federal law) and didn't seem as though they felt pressured or out of their element. I just want to clarify for people that someone isn't engaging in "manipulation" just because you're not the one controlling the situation. It's an absurdly inflammatory choice of words.

Next up: lies. Did he "lie"? Technically, of course he lied. That's a given and it's part of the style of investigative journalism that he engages in. The point is to see how people deal with situations and to get on tape when you disagree with the manner in which they handle themselves. People generally don't engage in investigative journalism when the subject is something they believe strongly in. I mean, I've never seen it and it would be totally illogical so I assume people don't do this. But again, "lie" is not in the title of the article to make the technical point that O'Keefe was not a pimp as he claimed to be, it's there to suggest that he was engaged in deliberate falsehoods and requires that one subscribes to the kindergarden age appropriate belief that lies are bad, regardless of circumstances. Again, not really the angle you want to take here. It's whiny, self-righteous and just underlines the point that you don't understand what the problem is with being an agency that claims to be doing social good that flouts laws in favour of helping certain types of people. That just isn't how people think in America. I mean, moreover, if your employees are recommending that people who make their living off breaking laws should lie to the federal government and banks and any number of other entities or people, it's a bit much to complain when someone else uses tactics that you're recommending against you.

But as to the "story" - the woman mentioned here claims that she knew it was a fraud and that she was making fun of them by responding to their statements with even more incredulous statements.
1) That just isn't an appropriate professional response. If someone is messing around with you, you show them the door and tell them to have a nice day. End of story. Why would you play games with them? Why are you wasting the organization's and taxpayer's money in that way? If you don't think these people need help, why aren't you helping people who do? It rings false and seems weird that she would continue to engage with people she thought were mocking her - of course, she could be incredibly insecure and need to feel validated by mocking other people, but it doesn't really matter what her personal issues are, she needs to behave professionally at work.
2) Why, if you were mocking them, would you see fit to say that your employer wouldn't approve of your actions: "Further, as the actors repeatedly noted how nice she was being, Ms Kaelke responded, also repeatedly, that her"niceness" was just her, not ACORN. "My supervisor would shoot this down like faster than a bat out of hell."" I mean, hmmm. That isn't terribly amusing. It isn't a sense of humor at all. I have a terribly terribly dry sense of humor and I can't imagine any world in which that would be funny. The only legitimate interpretation of that statement is that she was in fact saying things that her employer would't approve of, which may or may not be true - I don't know as I don't know who her supervisor is or what exactly she was saying at that point but again, it doesn't really matter. It just isn't funny to say that your supervisor doesn't approve of what you're saying. If it's true, you shouldn't be saying it, especially not at work. If it's not true, that's the type of joke you'd have to tell at a bar with your work buddies so the irony was caught, not to some complete strangers.

It sort of continues on in the same vein from there, ending with "Ms. Kaelke, who did not know she was being filmed, is appalled that her defensive attempts to deal with a troubling experience have been manipulated into an attack on her work helping low- and moderate-income families fight the foreclosure crisis, work for needed health care reform, and face the economic crisis in San Bernardino. " I don't know ACORN well enough to comment on the substance of this but again, let me throw some marketing it its direction. The sentence screams defensive. The way to say this was to have an explanation of ACORN's work placed separately from this. ACORN works to help etc., explaining in detail what they do and why what they do is important. THEN you say, completely separately, and probably much earlier in the piece that she didn't know she was being filmed, although I would probably drop that as it doesn't help the case. And you drop the "manipulate" business because it's simply too much. You can't go from "radical" to "important social vehicle" by calling people names. (yes, I recognize they did not write this article but if you post something on your organization's website, you may as well have written it as you implicitly endorse what it says unless you explicitly do not)

As I mentioned I don't know enough about ACORN's actions to make any statement on what they do but assuming they actually are working to help lower and middle income individuals have better lives, wouldn't it make more sense to present this as a matter of maintaining proper standards for living in our society, respect for our fellow man and reminding people that America is based on the belief that we help our neighbors when they need help? It just seems to me that if you stick with the fundamentals, stay on message and do a good job, you accomplish a lot. When you go the radical route, you lose most of your potential audience. It's an especially problematic angle to take as a non-profit and especially in America with regards to the issue of poverty and relative poverty since there is a notion that one is meant to pull oneself up by the bootstraps - not that it's right or anything like that, but people do believe that. So you have to get around that and you don't do it by being radical.

Friday, August 14, 2009

What is wrong with these people?

I hadn't thought much recently about teachers. Mostly because I'm not in school, no one in my family is in school and the people I know who teach know what they're doing and don't whine to me about it. And then, today, someone sent me this Washington Post Link: Schools Need Teachers Like Me: I Just Can't Stay.

Now, in my defense, I didn't read the whole title when I got the link. I stopped reading entire sentences sometime over the past few years and now just pick up keywords and if I can't tell what's going on, will read a phrase here and there. If I had read the title, I would never have read the article. The title itself says exactly what this girl's, Sarah Fine's, issue is and I certainly didn't need to hear it again. But I read so fast I didn't realize until I was three-quarters of the way through how absurdly offensive it was.

Sarah Fine is evidently the child of an upper-middle-class suburban upbringing who then went onto an ivy league school and then felt oh so terribly guilty about who she was that she went to teach children at a DC charter school. Immediately, you've lost me. I know these bratty little suburban idiots and they have nothing substantive going for them. They are sheltered and whiny and waste everyone's time with their incredibly boring monologues about the depth of their thoughts and how oh so unique their circumstances are. Most importantly, they can't for the life of them see the big picture because, in real world terms, they are simply dumb. It doesn't matter where you go to school or what you study if you know absolutely nothing about people - about how they work, how to influence them and how to improve both your and their lot in life - you will achieve nothing of substance.

The reason I was done with this piece before I started has to do with many things. I know a lot of teachers who teach genuinely challenging student populations and who had privileged upbringings and aren't engaging in a public display of self-pity over it. In part because they actually know how to work with people but mostly because teaching is not akin to slaving over a series of cutting-edge scientific discoveries. You're literally doing nonsense like teaching children to read and write. I'm sorry and I don't care what population you're working with, it simply does not rise to the level of "difficult." It may be difficult for an individual due to his or her circumstances and psychological weaknesses, but it is not objectively difficult. I would also like to note that teachers are MORE than fairly paid for the minimal (compared to the rest of us!) time they spend working (and yes, I am including time outside the classroom) and maybe Ms. Fine should try living someplace a little less trendy than DuPont if she wants to cut down on expenses rather than whine about how she thinks an underfunded public school system should give her a raise.

Ms. Fine reveals her absurdity rather clearly when she notes that she was near or in tears upon being told by a school administrator that he/she didn't like the way she was conducting her classroom. Um, why the tears? Why not come up with a constructive solution? Oh wait, I know why. Because you're a spoiled little brat who has never considered for a moment figuring out how to work within the system, exploit the administration and use the over-burdened hierarchy to your advantage. You don't realize that in the real world, people try to thwart you every step of the way and you have to constantly hold your own if you ever plan to succeed in achieving anything. In sum, you aren't smart enough to be a teacher at a real school.

Of course, the title more or less alludes to this obscene level of self-involvement - why exactly would schools need teachers like her? What does she have to offer to some grade schoolers or high schoolers that millions of others her age across the country don't have? Nothing, from what I could discern. She seems unable to reach her students, unable to overcome administrative hurdles, unable to marshal forces to her side in favor of her cause, just generally unfit to teach. If you can't ignite intellectual curiosity in your students - wake up! - you're not a good teacher. It requires innovation, creativity and above all, intelligence, none of which she evidently has. And it was odd how the story was just about her. Not about her students or their lives or the community or the purpose of the charter school or any of the things that are actually interesting and she should care about, if she is actually interested in teaching. I don't know why she would think anyone would care about her. And I can't imagine why she thinks the system needs her.

I worry a bit about her, really, as it seems to me she is unfit to do much of anything. News flash Sarah - of course people ask lawyers and doctors and consultants why they do what they do, and often it actually is with a condescending note. It's not some huge conspiracy against you - it's your personal belief that teaching is some sort of sacrifice you're making, that you are somehow "better" than teaching, that is causing you to construct a negative association where there is none. I don't doubt that some people say things with precisely the intention you suggest but people say completely absurd and offensive things to me upwards of 50 times a day. You just have to ignore most of what people say or the world is an overwhelming place.

But, as someone who grew up in a privileged environment, went to an ivy league school, and taught in the DC public schools, I have to say that this piece really underscored why most Americans hate me before they meet me. It is people like Sarah Fine, who feel they are entitled to a certain standard of living, both monetarily and psychologically, who are going to destroy the country as we know it. If I were the head of a rebel group seeking to implement a socialist agenda, I would use her story as an example of why we have to remove the privileges of the wealthy and create a new system based on "merit" (quotes as I don't believe we currently have a definition of "merit" that makes any sense or adequately measures the skills and talents that are of use to society). What a horrible little girl.

Friday, July 10, 2009


Today was one of those days. I started out by buying three 16 oz energy drinks (even though I had half of one at the office and another in my purse) and a jar of nutella. I then proceeded to eat the nutella with a spoon as I googled "how to shotgun a beer" not because I wanted to shotgun a beer (I'm allergic) but because I thought shotgunning one of the energy drinks might be a fine idea. I quickly realized I would be horribly nauseous and decided against it. Then, while reading about Shiites in Afghanistan forcing their women by law to do housework (which was so not a story to me - when are they going to actually start educating children in public schools and teach them that most of the world is a morass so I don't have to read the graduates of these schools post their shocked comments every time some "journalist" stumbles upon an incredible breaking story) and I see, "read your horoscope." I decide I will and get, for example, this: "there's excitement aplenty. Whether it will lead anywhere is another matter" What? what does that even mean? Where would excitement lead? Excitement is an emotional state - it doesn't lead anywhere. But I recognize that most people don't actually speak English. So then, the last three lines: "Don't become impatient. People may be moody or changeable. Unusual little things may occur." What does any of that mean? Of course I'll be impatient. I'm always impatient - it's a trait of my astrological sign, moreover. People MAY be moody or changeable? How about a heads-up when they AREN'T going to be moody or changeable. That would actually be informative. And what in the world is that last part supposed to mean? Unusual little things occur to me constantly. They irritate me to no end as it feels like I am living in an alternate reality. What a scam. There are legitimate horoscope folk, BTW. And it's 9am.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Random Prisoner/Census Data

Obviously there are a lot of issues with the census and those issues are particularly serious when you deal with urban environments but I came across this randomly and don't have time to adequately investigate it now so will get back to it later, but: "Sixty percent of Illinois' prisoners are from Cook County (Chicago), yet 99% of the state's prison cells are outside the county." Now, evidently, but not entirely clear from this piece, the prisoners are counted as residents of the place where the prison is located, which is kind of technically logical and yet, probably terribly flawed. This is particularly true when the census data is used for the purposes of drawing districts and providing representation and the prisoners aren't able to vote. It's all very bizarre and I will return to it in depth later.

Friday, June 05, 2009

Zimbabwe/ South Africa Spam

So sometimes I get confused, usually when I am tired or whatnot, and I think, well what if these people are really having difficulties...I'm not sure that has anything at all to do with these complicated scams, I don't mean the people sending the e-mails, but the people whose stories they steal. Like that's sad.

But my favorite part about this is the clause providing: "we planned to invest the rest of the money in your country under your guidance."

It's an interesting direction, and I suppose it could appeal to someone with a scam company that needs funds etc. I mean, theoretically, you could take all of their money, if you were unscrupulous :) But yes, bonne chance Mme. Konta


ATTN: THE DIRECTOR/C.E.O. FROM: MRS. HELEN KONTA JOHANNESBURG, R.S.A. TELL: +27-83-979-0894FAX: +27-86-558-8894 Dear Sir, A PLEA FOR URGENT FAMILY ASSISTANCE. With due respect, trust and humanity, I write this letter to you Seeking your help and assistance. Though it’s difficult since we do not know each other and have not met before. I got your good contact from Network onward here in South Africa, regarding your business profile and sincerity. I believe that you are capable and reliable in handling this urgent international transaction of this sort. I am MRS. HELEN KONTA, the wife of the COMRADE JOHN KONTA, the Zimbabwean former Minister for Youth & Gender Equality who is also a businessman and politician, in the Zimbabwean political arena. My Husband was the Famous politician who stood firm against President Mugabe’s idea of continuous Fight in Democratic Republic of Zimbabwe and my Husband also stood against the Seizure of white owned farms and the distribution of it to the blacks without compensation to the white owners. Because of my Husband sincerity, he was killed on 14th April 2007 by a planned motor accident along Mashonaland in Western Mashona Province of Zimbabwe. The planners of the accident are to be said dissidents Soldiers suspected to have the backing of the Government and President Mugabe himself. When this accident occurred at about 10:15 am Zimbabwean time, my Husband did not died on the spot rather he was rushed to Harare hospital by unknown soldiers and my Husband managed to call me and my elder son JOSHUA, through his assistance,He instructed me to take good care of our children and leave Zimbabwe immediately for our safety, which we have successfully did and now we are in South Africa as Asylum Seekers (Refugee) with the original Documents of the deposit money intact, issued by the Private security company. But because of the country’s existing law in South Africa which bars asylum seekers /refugees like us to operate an account with such huge amount (US$37 Million (Thirty Seven Million United States Dollars) and the fear of the money not raising eyebrows here in South Africa as our neighboring country, I decided to write to you to seek for your help for this money to be transferred into your private bank account as all arrangements for a hitch-free transfer have been dully made. I want to assure you also that this transaction is 100% risk free, as no other person knows about the real contents of this box apart from my two children, my brother and our family legal instructor here in South Africa and I. As for your reward for your kind assistance, we have resolved to enter into a joint venture establishment with you upon the conclusion of the transaction or Alternatively, we are ready give you 20% of the total amount, 5% has been mapped out for any expenses that might be incurred in the course of this transaction and we planned to invest the rest of the money in your country under your guidance. If you are willing to help us, you can choose any of the two options for your reward above and try as much as possible to contact my BROTHER JACOB with these above telephone/fax or email numbers to enable him detail you the procedure as he made towards concluding the transaction. Bear it in mind that our future lives solely depend on this fund and we do hope that this money will be safe when finally transferred into your personal bank Account. I do hope of establishing a rewarding and good relationship with you and your family after this transaction. I await your promptly Reply and you can send your direct telephone and fax Numbers in your reply for Easier and oral Communication and more explanation about the transferring procedure. Have A Nice Day as I wait for your urgent response via the telephone/fax numbers of my BROTHER JACOB above. For more information concerning the brutality of the Mugabe government please Click this links: h.t.t.p.:/./,8599,1833968, Zimbabwe: UN Political Affairs Chief Says 'Winner-Takes-All' Approach Will Widen Divisions, Produce Discredited Result (Page 1 of 1)h.t.t.p.:/./ regards Helen Konta (Mrs.)

Sunday, May 24, 2009

New rule for commercial websites

If you no longer have something in stock and it isn't going to be in stock again, don't list it on the only page that exists that lists things in stock, you frustrating teases. Set up a separate page showing what you've sold in the past, indicting the types of things you would be able to get in the future. Not a happy sunday.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Sarah Palin's Clothes

So just to clarify, I couldn't care less how much the RNC spent on Sarah Palin and family's clothes. 150K, while obviously a big number, isn't necessarily that much when it comes to dressing a family in top-quality camera and crowd sparkling clothing. Particularly when you're running on a ticket with a man who can't remember how many houses he owns (the answer was ultimately determined to be 7, so that gives you a sense of what we're working with).

No, my issue was I wanted to know what exactly she bought. I understood she went to Saks and Neimans and Barneys, so put in context, I can see how you'd get to that number. But you'd hear this number thrown around, a lot of shock and awe, and then the handful of people like me were left silently asking, but wait, what did she spend it on?

I found at least one answer: 50k went to Escada. Now Escada just isn't for me. Too much a toned down version of the eighties power/socialite woman. It explained a lot, actually, because I kept looking at her clothes and wondering how she could have spent so much money and still look so blah.

Her glasses were $374 Kazuo Kawasakis (I never thought much of those and never understood the attraction - again, it seemed a really strong 80s throwback).

For her acceptance speech at the RNC convention she went with a $2500 Valentino jacket (see photo - cute jacket so not clear why they couldn't have given her a skirt that actually did something for the jacket).

A few tidbits. None that satisfying...

Monday, May 11, 2009

RIP online IHT...

damn you, patronizing and bourgeois NYT

Friday, April 24, 2009

Cost of medicine

This is obviously a very hot topic lately, so I want to post an article I came across that caught my eye: "Burned Baby's Parents Charged, Mother: Didn't Want to Pay for Ambulance"

As is often the case in these situations, many things went wrong. An infant was left unattended in a sink, a toddler was left unattended, the extent of wounds was underestimated and balanced against the estimated cost.

A couple thoughts. It doesn't matter what your opinion is about whether or not people have a right to health care (and from what I read on message boards, many people do not believe there is a right to health care), when the lack of affordable health care leads to serious injury and potential death, you have a social program that destroys its citizens. The issue isn't that these parents made a mistake, but rather their thought process. They love their child, but can't afford the cost of an ambulance and couldn't get a ride to the hospital. The wounds didn't look serious, so when they could get there they didn't go, because they couldn't afford the cost of care. Now society wants to charge them for not giving the child care they couldn't afford.

I think it's a very difficult question. It seems not unlike debtor's jail - if you can't afford your child's medical treatment, you are a criminal. Yes, a child is a human life and as a result, anything done to hurt the child is an attack against a human. And my response here would be that by deciding to have a child, these people took on that responsibility until the child is at an age of majority.

The only problem is, you don't end up with a child the way you end up with a pair of shoes you don't need. Particularly when you're poor and grow up in circumstances that put different values on family and motherhood and validate a sense of identity for a girl growing up in what are highly unusual circumstances to the people in the judiciary/jury who would pass judgment on this case when she becomes a mother. She finally becomes someone. Moreover, children have a tendency to pop out, often regardless of whether precautions are taken.

Point merely being that, as with many of these situations, the issue is extremely complicated and is far from being a simple case of abuse. It actually doesn't sound like abuse at all to me. And furthermore, I think we undermine the importance of going after abuse when we call what are rational actions in certain people's minds, as a result of their circumstances, abuse. We owe the people who end up in these circumstances far more than to call them criminals and post their photos on the web. They need to be treated like human beings. They needed that a long time ago. And instead of doing anything about it, we chastise them years later when their actions are inconsistent with what we think is appropriate. Where were we when they needed to learn how to deal with these situations? What solutions are we providing?

Why do CA and LA have the same license plate?

I recently found myself in the south of the United States and stumbled upon something that has deeply troubled me.

I first noticed it because I tend to unconsciously scan license plates as I walk past and I was struck by how many California license plates were in Louisiana. Of course, some, sure, that makes sense. But there were tons.

Until I looked closer.

I've spent a lot of time in California and so am intimately familiar with the standard California license plate. But it turns out that Louisiana's is basically the same. Red right-leaning script of the state's name on the top across a white background with the license plate number in block dark blue letters/numbers.

Apart from it being an odd coincidence, it really lacks creativity. And begs the question of what exactly, on a deeper level, California and Louisiana have in common.

Thursday, April 23, 2009


So someone else is evidently as amused with humanity as I am:

See, Craigslist Underground

I have also added this to my permanent list of sites.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

More scam email...

I really like this one for some reason - it just seems absurdly improbable, so I can't imagine why anyone would sign up for this. Maybe the use of all caps is meant to entice a sense of security...oh, but no, it does the exact opposite...

This is actually a little tighter than some of the others - for example, a phone number is provided, the country code of which is actually the country the e-mail purports to come from, a street address is provided, although the address is of Afribank and not a part of the government. Sadly, as per usual, the horrific spelling errors give it away - the person writing the e-mail clearly did not even have an english word processing system built in to detect obvious orthographic missteps. Also, there's no indication of what 30th anniversary is going on and why in the world the WHO, U.N. and E.U. would randomly be giving money to people who haven't entered a contest and who were theoretically involuntarily and unknowingly entered into it, like it even makes sense that they would be joining together for something like this. But I digress because it is late. Enjoy.


BATCH No:(W-342-8876,U-500-32)

Saturday, 18 April, 2009 12:18 AM




WINNING BATCH No:(W-342-8876,U-500-32)

FULL NAME:________________________
PRESENT COUNTRY:__________________
TELEPHONE NUMBER:________________

Mr.Fred Usman
Tele- +234-805-1860-375

Friday, April 17, 2009

What is up with the U.S. Governors?

Now, governors, while generally thought of as statesmen, are of course primarily politicians. It isn't that they are primarily motivated by politics - the good ones aren't. It's that in order to productively effect change in American society as currently designed, politics, in one shape or form, is the best forum.

And to back up a second, "politics" isn't a bad word. There are two main classes of definitions for "politics" - one referring specifically to the act of governing/managing a nation or other governmentally-defined body and another that deals more with the derogatory notion that people are engaged in behavior that is not substantive but rather more along the lines of "social relations involving intrigue to gain authority or power." People tend to collapse the two into one since often to engage in the former brand of politics, one is required to engage in the latter. It's the nature of our electoral system. But in no way does that mean that the former is actually just the latter. Trust me. People are actually doing real things to help people and our society and it does absolutely nothing for them. You won't hear about it a lot, because it doesn't fall in that second category and given that we all want the instant gratification of sensationalism, it just doesn't get coverage. But it's very very real.

Now given this, I've been deeply weirded out over the last few months or so by the bizarre behaviors of U.S. state governors. We'll start with Governor Rick Perry of Texas' recent suggestion that Texas might, again, secede from the Union. He claims not to have specifically said it would, but rather ominously in the midst of standard tax day protests: "Perry said he doesn't think Texas should secede from the union despite some talk about it on the Internet. But he said Americans are getting fed up with Washington and that it's unknown what that might lead to one day."

While I understand and actually respect the sentiment and moreover the lack of reverence for authority, it doesn't work that well when you ARE authority. It's fine if some bizarre anarchist covered with tea bags makes this sort of vague threat to the Union and Washington but really not cool when a governor does it. I understand it's posturing and all politics is local, but really, it's just hack work. Part of it is the impotence Perry must feel. And part of it has to do with the irresponsible behavior of the electorate. We really should not be electing these types of people to posts where they have massive power and influence. See, only a fifth of Texas voters would actually want to secede -and I can't imagine that's much higher than in other places. Again, it's posturing but the thing is, Washington doesn't need that much from the states. It doesn't really matter if Perry is upset or not. So it's really just a waste of the taxpayers' time.

See, e.g., the decision, well not decision but posturing, about not accepting federal stimulus funds. The problem here, again, is that if you're a radical with no one (or other radicals) to answer to, you can adhere to a strict belief system. In the real world, and particularly in the political world, and particularly in a diverse state, you are in the end beholden to your constituents. So Mark Sanford of South Carolina who went off about not taking stimulus funds, well, he's having to backtrack. Sanford's particular issue was that he wanted to use the stimulus funds not for education, but for paying off the state's debt. My guess is the people of South Carolina, on the whole, would like to see their schools fixed and some jobs immediately created in the process.

I won't bother going through all the republican governors who played this absurd game because it isn't worth my time to pull up all the articles b.c., big picture, all the stories are the same.

Of course, this is the primary pool from which we pull presidents. And I worry about these behaviors because it appears to show that they don't know when to knock it off with the second definition of politics and get back to the first one. I will grant that there are numerous arguments against the use of stimulus funds in specific circumstances but none of them hold water when you consider that economies go beyond an individual state. So if a neighboring state is getting this money and yours isn't, that isn't going to help you, regardless of how laudable your long-term financial and economic view was.

Saying the government shouldn't give out money by not personally accepting it isn't going to stop the government from giving out money. That's just not how it works.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009


Someone misunderstood, entirely in fact, what I was saying the other day and thought I was expressing sympathy for Somali pirates. Apart from being an alarmingly stupid interpretation of anything I would say, it bothered me more generally because I fear that extremist left-wing individuals without much information are thinking that really, these "rich" Western nations are in the wrong and these "pirates" (it offends me that the term is used as their activities do not at all rise to level of impressive piracy) are behaving appropriately given the circumstances. It should be noted that this is a variation on the belief that Western nations are responsible for poverty in Middle Eastern nations (actually the fault of the ruling oligarchies) and so on and so forth and as a result, human beings are allowed to randomly attack other human beings without consequence.

Obviously, that doesn't make any sense. You can disagree with the world order but certainly anarchy is no solution. No one wins under that scenario.

Somalia has been vaguely painted in the press as a horribly poor country just fighting for survival through these acts. That's not what's going on. This is just another form of the young men without a sense of propriety, discipline, or law enforcement to control their impulsiveness deciding to harass other people so they can engage in whatever marks tacky nouveau riche behavior in their society. There, here's what it is:
"With their black scarves covering their faces and submachine guns slung over their arms, Somalia’s pirates are the real Jack Sparrows of the twenty-first century, minus the eyeliner. One young woman who lives near Boosaaso bragged about going to a pirate wedding that lasted two days. A band was flown in from neighboring Djibouti. There was nonstop dancing and an endless supply of goat meat. “They drive the best cars, they throw the best parties,” she gushed. “We all want to marry them.” She claimed that her own pirate boyfriend had just given her a small gift—$350,000 in cash. For young Somali men, pirate life is becoming too much to resist. Fishermen all along the coast have traded in their ragged fishing nets for rocket-propelled grenades."

Sounds a lot like the Colombian drug lords back in the day, no? And the current Mexican drug lords? And like a lot of people in....well, I've decided against insulting people for a while (but think, hotbed for the nouveau riche).

The twist on this actually also follows the traditional route for justification of this behavior - someone has done something upsetting to the environment and so, drastic behavior that has nothing to do with the original issue is appropriate. In this case, a couple decades ago the country's government fell apart and then things were found floating in what I will assume were national waters for the Somali pirates' benefit in this argument and there was overfishing and so, there was a right to attack international vessels, hold people aboard hostage and extract huge amounts of ransom money. Um okay. Let's say they'd done this and used the money to fix the water, block international vessels from fishing within their waters, etc. Then, maybe, maybe, there would be an argument. It wouldn't be right, but it would be understandable, given that it was unlikely the fisherman could actually reach out to those corporations and demand restitution. Of course, that isn't what they did with the money. Instead, it's now a business, with investors, inventory, ROI estimates etc. without any connection to improving the nation. It is, however, dedicated to a redistribution of wealth from "wealthy" countries to violent people in developing countries.

Just a point - there's no need for violent people in developing countries to have more money. Ergo, there's no reason to support the actions of the pirates. And people who do can turn their money over to the pirates voluntarily. Go ahead.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Is CNN getting its news from gvmt propaganda?

This struck me as a really odd coincidence. Today, CNN is reporting a "news" story that is not really news and that I saw a week ago or so on the award-winning Pentagon Channel. (no idea if the Pentagon Channel has won awards and I certainly hope not as it is essentially military propaganda, mixed in with weird stuff like my favorite, "Fit for Duty," an exercise/aerobics show with three people in what must be military work-out gear, generally using steps)

The reason the show caught my attention the first time is that it wasn't really news. Basically, the military is paying for enlisted men to get financial advice. The show I saw focused on forces stationed in Europe. It was sandwiched in between a bunch of other feel-good stories like a fellow in Germany getting a new car from Pizza Hut. So there was really no reason for anyone else to pick up on it.

So when I just saw this on CNN I had to wonder, why exactly is CNN reporting on this? It really made me wonder about what other CNN-origin "news" I saw was actually a product of government propaganda. Can we even trust the validity of things reported as news on CNN?

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Signs we may actually be at war...

***You go to the movies and prior to the feature presentation are subject to propaganda videos, designed for our times.***

Please see, "Guardian," courtesy of Kid Rock in conjunction with, yes, the NATIONAL GUARD.

The U.S., while in a horrible recession (I prefer saying depression but people give me a look of death), looking to raise taxes, cutting the professionals in the Navy claiming mass redundancies, while all this is going on, they choose to spend money on REALLY expensive commercials, including a rock video.

So yesterday I went to the movies, and the entire run of previews was sponsored by the National Guard and branches of the armed services. This was a little creepy and I became nervous. However, once the ode to the armed services became a rock video, I was genuinely troubled.

I alluded to the cost above, just because the production values were extremely high and seriously, the commercials I saw must have cost a fortune. But more importantly, and because the things that come out of my mouth when unguarded are more insightful, I turned to my boyfriend and said, if this isn't like putting cartoon characters on cigarette boxes I don't know what is. He, appropriately, gave me the, I can't believe you just said that as it is totally inappropriate as this is the government and involves patriotic values etc. Of course, the question is, does it.

The problem with military recruitment is the way in which it skews towards those with greater financial needs through its incentive programs and the opportunity to get a job without the connections that are typically otherwise necessary since we don't actually live in a meritocracy (see random Army recruitment video). There are always exceptions to this, but I want to talk about the bigger issue. Making the whole thing exciting and glamorous and having there be a rock video in which soldiers are these perfect heroes obviously exacerbates these issues. It panders, again, to those who have not been fully educated as to what the military really does and the impact it has on other nations. My biggest issue is probably that it panders to the image of members of the armed forces as precisely what they should not be - that is, violent, irreverent, blind balls of frenetic energy that can run off in any direction.

Most of all, the videos were obviously propaganda films, a la, WWII and various other wars. For those who aren't aware, previews in the cinema were a regular forum for these videos and the videos were often weird.

(as examples of weird I offer a couple of Walt Disney examples --> Donald Duck anti-Nazi film and a truly troubling example of a cartoon-style documentary, the style of which will be familiar to anyone who grew up watching these)

They're amusing to watch now, given that we won and all, but you have to remember that the Germans and the Japanese had them too. Everyone thinks they're right. And the distortion of popular culture for political/military ends seems a lot more like something an evil corporation would do for personal gain than something a benign but powerful capitalist democracy should be doing. It just troubles me. And I'm offended that I'm paying taxes for this.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Ponzi Schemes!

People are rather riled up about ponzi schemes right now, because discussion of Bernie Madoff's business dealings was evidently some people's first exposure to the concept of ponzi schemes. I find this very hard to believe, but have no other explanation for the sudden intense upswing in scrutiny of ponzi schemes.

Background: What are "Ponzi schemes" and why are they called that?

Ponzi was an Italian immigrant to the United States who first learned of the concept, at least in a business context, from working at a Canadian bank that employed this plan to entice people to deposit their money there - those depositing money were offered double the going market interest rate, this drawing in so many new depositors (the bank relied primarily on Italian immigrants), that it was able to keep up these interest payments despite bad loans, which in any case, probably wouldn't have been sufficient to make the interest payments and sustain a profitable bank. When the bank failed, the owner fled with a substantial portion of the money to Mexico.

Ponzi ended up slipping into a former customer's office and writing himself a check to facilitate his escape to America, but was caught by police and spent 3 years in prison.

He then got involved in a scheme to smuggle immigrants across the border and ended up spending a couple more years in an American prison when he met and studied the fashionings of a Wall Street scam artist, Charles Morse.

Ponzi's Scheme, Part 1: International Reply Coupons

IRCs are this rather fabulous device that allows people who are in one country and want to allow people in another country to send them things pre-paid to do so by translating a coupon bought in say, Italy, into postage in the United States. Basically like those pre-paid return envelopes you get from catalog companies. But the trick was that arbitrage was a valuable option due to the disparity in currency/postage values between the great wars. You paid for the cost of postage in the country of origin and then got to exchange that for the equivalent cost of postage in the country of receipt. In this case, Italy was a low-cost postage country, the United States a relatively high-cost country and as a result, money sent from the U.S. to Italy to buy IRCs which were then returned to the U.S. could then be turned into U.S. postage of a greater value than the amount sent. Pretty impressive, really. Evidently the profit was something like 400%, although it did have the complication of having to sell U.S. postage as a private citizen.

This is still a possibility, if you're on top of the fluctuations in cost of living between different countries. It was a solid plan, theoretically, but difficult to implement (potentially so difficult that the costs would have been prohibitive for a profitable company) and ultimately, Ponzi was lazy and a result he ended up paying off old investors with the investments of new investors.

In a dying interview, he expressed what sounds, uncomfortably like many financiers today: "Even if they never got anything for it, it was cheap at that price. Without malice aforethought I had given them the best show that was ever staged in their territory since the landing of the Pilgrims! It was easily worth fifteen million bucks to watch me put the thing over."

Many, many other Ponzi schemes:

If you are interested, there are plenty more examples, all following the same basic premise. Among the more interesting are a Scientology scam by Reed Slatkin, a "minister" of the "religion." Weirdly, at some point this involved a Grateful Dead roadie: "Federal prosecutors announced tax-evasion charges Tuesday against former Grateful Dead road manager Ronald L. Rakow and his girlfriend in connection with a scheme to conceal Rakow’s income, much of which he earned working for convicted Ponzi scheme operator Reed Slatkin."

Other things that for average people are scams and thus categorized as pyramid schemes as some sort and about which a bunch of difficult people who don't mind average people being scammed whine that they're not really pyramid schemes:

Avon cosmetics, Mary Kay etc.: These really don't work nowadays because if you have a legitimate product, you don't want to rely on random "representatives" to sell the bulk of your product. You want to sell it online. In your online store.

So then what could possibly be the benefit of becoming an Avon representative?

Evidently, the solution is that you are meant to bring in other people underneath you, who are selling for you, thereby allowing you to sit around and do nothing. Basically a pyramid scheme for anyone not at the top of a pyramid within the pyramid.

The thing that's really unreasonable about this, and other "work at home" plans that are just out-and-out scams, is that they prey on the most defenseless individuals - those who are least likely to be informed, most likely to be desperate, and least likely to be able to take action against those who scammed them. I mean, at some point, it has to be a legitimate claim that the "company" you dealt with misrepresented your opportunities, understated the risk, and deliberately tried to convince you that this was just an easy at home way to make money.

Video Professor Fellow: You always have to be careful when you are given "free offers." Particularly when the underlying product makes no sense, like a dvd that teaches you how to sell things on ebay. I mean, ebay tells you that. There's not a lot to it. At all. So I was not at all surprised to discover a plethora of horror stories about inappropriate charges following a "trial" with video professor.

There are many other infomercial type scams listed here. There are many more than these, but you get the idea.

Conclusion: Use some common sense, PLEASE

I've posted absurd letters from people claiming to be some variation on the son of a deposed African prince, including response letters I've sent explaining how their letters were preposterous. I think the rule is, if you're going to be scammed, it should be a good scam. Legitimate people should be confused. It should be scammish enough to send the individuals responsible to jail. If it seems too good to be true, figure out if it really is. Don't give in to the impulse to believe that wonderful unbelievable things can happen and magically fix one's life.