August 18, 2014

So there's a fascinating thing going on, and I'm wracking my brain to remember if anything like this has ever happened before: we are in the midst of something like Horror Fatigue.

As in, there are so many giant bad dollops of news out there — we've covered this ground before, and seemingly it's about all I can write about these days — that there's room for nothing else.  And each day brings at least one and sometimes multiple outrages/sadnesses and you just start after a while to feel punch drunk.  Giddy, even, though not like you're making jokes like you used to, because it feels like a betrayal of the enormity of the circumstance.

I'm not whining!  If anything there's a novelty to it.  And of course we've been stunned into numbness before, with 9/11 being the obvious example.

But if 9/11 was one horse-sized duck, this summer is the summer of a hundred duck-sized horses.

Posted at 10:50 AM

August 14, 2014

Don't really have the time to whittle this into anything nifty and coherent, so it is what it is.  I spent the preponderance of last night, and a good bit of the late afternoon, watching with abject horror the events in Ferguson, Missouri.

It's not exactly leading the newshole the past couple days — and to be fair there is some pretty heavy shit going down all over the planet right now — so the nutshell is that a cop in this suburb of St. Louis killed an unarmed black teen on Saturday.  Bad enough!  But since then there have been protests, which have been met with this really unfathomable response from the St. Louis County Police Department that is milatarized to the nth degree.  Full camo, armored personnel carriers, laser-sighted snipers.

Maybe I'm supposed to be totally inured to that?  But last night the cops were tossing reporters (!!) in jail, loudspeakering "We are not infringing on your right to assembly!" as they were forcing crowds to disperse, tear-gassing news crews setting up TV shots.  Suffice it to say THIS IS NOT HOW COPS SHOULD BEHAVE EVER EVER EVER.

It's really the most upsetting domestic thing I've seen since Katrina, and nearly ten years later I STILL can't write about Katrina because I go into some rage fugue and ten thousand words later nothing still makes sense.  But last night a bunch of roided-up police officers cosplaying Call of Duty were pointing loaded weapons at unarmed, peaceful protesters.  Bullshit rhetoric aside, that is the sort of behavior that is not supposed to happen in this nation, and if it does, we are supposed to rally together to prevent this behavior from happening again.

PLUS ALSO in my Twitter fury last night (sounds silly but true) I got into it with some mildly popular conservative dude who was like, Not All Cops, which is like, so what not all cops?  Who's talking about all cops?  We're talking about the cops in St. Louis County.  And all that got me was him calling me sanctimonious and then refusing to address my points.  Par for the course, and reminder to self not to do that anymore.  But important to note that as egregious as this is, the political right will trivialize it out of kneejerk opposition to anything vaguely Obama.  Oh, and what else?  Racism, that's right.  (Compare Ferguson to the response to Cliven Bundy, who was actually training guns on law enforcement officials and who was largely applauded by the Sean Hannitys of the world.)

Okay.  Gonna try to work.  But that is some seriously fucked up shit out there and we all need to talk about it until it becomes an issue that needs to be addressed.

Posted at 10:55 AM

August 13, 2014

Here's a little story from the weekend that totally escaped notice.  Apparently the trucking industry is experiencing a bit of a slowdown.  Why? They are "constrained by the challenging driver market," so says one of the big trucking companies, referring to a self-proclaimed driver shortage.

But is that really the case?  According to the author of the piece, Neil Irwin:

Yet the idea that there is a huge shortage of truck drivers flies in the face of a jobless rate of more than 6 percent, not to mention Economics 101. The most basic of economic theories would suggest that when supply isn't enough to meet demand, it's because the price -- in this case, truckers' wages -- is too low. Raise wages, and an ample supply of workers should follow.

But corporate America has become so parsimonious about paying workers outside the executive suite that meaningful wage increases may seem an unacceptable affront. In this environment, it may be easier to say "There is a shortage of skilled workers" than "We aren't paying our workers enough," even if, in economic terms, those come down to the same thing.

(Irwin sketches out the actual numbers in the piece, in case you think he's full of baloney.)

Now, to play L'il Economist for a second, the same people that believe that the unfettered market solves all ills would tell you that if demand for a product service increases beyond capacity, then the capacity will be increased.  Sadly, this is patently not the case, as the shining examples of humanity that run the long-hauling industry would rather turn down business than increase wages.

And even if this is an outlier, one teensy little example in a world filled with virtuous industrialists, keep in mind that long-hauling is responsible for pretty much every single thing in your house — that couch didn't walk it's way from whatever port it landed, and that box of Bisquick was not dropped into your pantry by a stork.

You can take capitalism or you can leave capitalism, but right now it's just broken.

Posted at 10:24 AM

August 12, 2014

I'll keep it brief; you've probably read to much about this already.

The past twenty years or so, amongst my friends it was fashionable to dismiss Robin Williams as a sort of a one trick pony.  Possessed with a certain genius, but with a motor that ran way too high, to the point that each successive iteration of Robin Williams was a parody of the earlier one.

This was bittersweet, because we were all in high school when "Live At The Met" was relentlessly rebroadcast by HBO, and damned if back then we hadn't memorized every word of it.  And yes, our amateur comedy stylings — a sketch comedy show or two — very much resembled the sensibility of Robin Williams, as when we weren't busy ripping off Monty Python, we were ripping off Williams.

And we were of course wrong twenty years ago.  Williams on Carson may well have been predictably grating, let's say, but as the years wore on Williams learned that he could sometimes speak as himself and not in an dizzying array of funny voices.

He had a storied career.  I've never heard anyone in the industry say a bad word about him.  I had a pair of rainbow suspenders when I was nine.

It was a sad night, last night.

Posted at 1:09 PM

August 8, 2014

The really fun thing about deciding not to vote for the reelection of Andrew Cuomo is that everyone can pick a different reason to not vote for the reelection of Andrew Cuomo.

Like, I know lots of people who won't vote for the reelection of Andrew Cuomo because of how he uses our mayor, Bill di Blasio, as a punching bag, so as to demonstrate to moderates that Cuomo is not a pinko like di Blasio.  And I know of lots of other people who won't vote for him because of the story that the NYT broke, concerning his tampering with his own ethics commission.  I mean, that's some pretty egregious shit, undermining an ethics commission.

But not me, man.  The reason why I will not vote for the reelection of Andrew Cuomo is because, even though he is millions of dollars ahead of his primary opponent, a woman few people have heard of, Cuomo is challenging her candidacy in court.  That is something I would expect from a Republican.  That is also a dick move.

Zephyr Teachout can expect my support in September.

(Sorry, rest of the world: Andrew Cuomo is the governor of New York, a Democrat, and a dick.)

Posted at 10:23 AM

August 5, 2014

A small correction.  In that tl;dr doom-screed that I put up last week, I kind of used the giant Siberian hole as some sort of joke, a light-hearted way into the actually scary stuff.

Well, as usual, I was wrong — the giant Siberian hole is actually pretty damn scary on its own:

According to [archaeologist Andrei] Plekhanov, the last two summers in the Yamal have been exceptionally warm at about nine degrees Fahrenheit above average. Rising temperatures could have allowed the permafrost to thaw and collapse, releasing the methane previously trapped by the subterranean ice. Methane is the primary component of natural gas.

So the craters are being caused by the warming of the atmosphere, which melts and collapses the permafrost which releases the methane which speeds up the warming of the atmosphere.

OK, got it, awesome.  Back to answering terrified emails from distant relatives about whether I have Ebola yet.

Posted at 10:22 AM

July 30, 2014

[OK, this is the longish piece I was referring to in the previous post. I had high hopes for it, but after talking it out, it's a little too grim and unfocused for the general public. But enough of my friends have been arguing that they think it's pretty good, so I'm putting it here, where no one is going to click on it by accident. And keep in mind that it was intended for publication last week, so date references will be a little bit off.]

We survived the Cold War and Y2K and 9-11 and SARS and a Kenyan socialist in the White House. Passed with flying colors. But the tenor of recent current events (capped by a real doozy of a last week) have given us the unique opportunity to freak the fuck out about soooo many things all at the same time, so come on, let's get scared.

It's like Schroedinger's Cat, but when you open the box both the live cat and the dead cat are boobytrapped with poison gas that squirts at you and melts your face off.

It's a new Golden Age of We're All Gonna Die. So let's roll around in it like it was a giant pile of money and we're all Scrooge McDuck.

***

There are obvious candidates that are burned into everyone's consciousness, but let's start with a nice, spooky subtle threat to humanity: the giant hole in Siberia. Helicopter pilots flying over the Yamal peninsula noticed a hundred foot wide, seemingly bottomless sinkhole. Now where could have that come from? A meteorite? Weapons testing? Mole men? And wherever it did come from, how creepy is that, grainy footage of an enormous landscape altering anomaly, from a remote land? It is the pre-title sequence of a monster movie. Some scientists are pretty sure that the giant hole is actually just a geological phenomenon called a pingo , but we still cannot discount that there is a kaiju or two lurking down there so we should probably start making giant robots stat. If we're gonna go down, we might as well go down inside of giant robots.

And then there are ominous events that are not so easy to laugh off, the real biggies.

Last Wednesday seemed it was going to be a real red letter day for feeling shitty, as the ongoing conflict over the Gaza Strip culminated in four Palestinian kids being killed by Israeli shelling in front of a bunch of journalists, including one of the best photojournalists alive. Obviously this is not the first (or the last) tragedy of this ongoing monkey trap of a geopolitical situation, but the immediacy and the reporting knocked the breath clean out of us. It did not exactly reframe the — let's call it a "conversation" — concerning relations among Israel and her neighbors, and that is exactly where the dread lies. As we sit there watching the coverage of this explode on our feeds, it becomes increasingly clear that not only is there no light at the end of the tunnel, we can't even agree which tunnel we're in.

Let's backdrop this against the current state of the rest of the region. Egypt is currently led by an installed military regime that was unhappy with the popularly elected Muslim Brotherhood. Libya has not been stable since Qaddafi was deposed (well, captured and murdered, actually), and when not spiraling into sectarian violence likes to divert herself with incursions into Egypt. Syria is an utter shitshow with a years-long civil war in which it grows more and more murky if there are any good guys at all, and next door in Iraq, the profits of American labor has led to yet another Sunni/Shiite conflict/full-blown civil war. About the only people who could possibly be happy with any of this are the people who make the bullets.

And in the middle of this roiling is the impossible divisive situation in Israel, a problem so intractable that we are reduced to arguing about the tone of the coverage by the New York Times and the Washington Post as some sort of proxy war between the sides. At some point we get light-headed wondering what's the tinder that's going to turn this into a replay of WWI but with warmer weather, but then we realize that it's all tinder, and it's all actually already burning.

***

Wednesday was bad. Thursday was worse. There's yet another actual shooting war taking place in the region, in Ukraine, and by lunchtime we received news of the latest collateral damage, Malaysian Airlines Flight 17. The 777 broke up at 30,000 feet and fell to earth. (If there was anything better/more harrowing than Sabrina Tavernise describing the debris field I'd like to know what it is.) And as we all know the flight was hit by a surface-to-air missile, most likely the result of Russian-sponsored separatists thinking that 17 was a Ukrainian military flight.

So while we are still reeling from the enormity of the Israeli actions against Gaza, this whole other ongoing terribleness results in a most horrific bungle that cost scores of civilian lives. Russia and the West have been brinksmanshipping each other over the Ukraine for more than half a year, like a bunch of power-mad Model UNers, and meanwhile, on the ground, the mess is turning into some Catch 22 written on a larger scale. There has to be something about this that's not gonna put snakes in your head, right? Well, turns out that the entire conflict has basically sprung from the imagination of a bunch of Eastern European sci-fi writers. Warfare was the final frontier for nerd ascendancy.

And as this is just seeping in, and well before the jarring awfulness of the separatists taking liberties with the crash site (which is in the middle of a war zone), Israel decides the time is right to actually invade the Gaza Strip instead of just shelling it to pieces. It was a series of escalating unimaginably bad things, and by bedtime Thursday, hope was really hard to find.

In case you are one of those placid types who is uninterested in all this, or thinks that this is just the way things go, North Korea also says hi.

***

I'd like to think that in this segmented and media-saturated present there is a finite amount of dread, just as there is a finite amount of attention to spare. Not so! Our dread reserves are deep and replenish quickly. Our capacity for dread is as vast as our self-regard. But for once, the variety of dread-inducing events actually matches the outer limits of our cringing.

Just because these very scary events dominated the front pages, that does not mean that there are all sorts of other things to make you wonder if you should bother picking up your dry cleaning. In fact there are even more armed conflicts! Let's pan down to Nigeria, where Boko Haram, kidnappers of teenage girls and more extreme than Al Qaida, has an alarming propensity for simply killing people for whatever reason. A clear and present global danger? Maybe not. But the fact that a renegade sect is conducting random massacres of civilians with impunity is not exactly reassuring.

At least we can take solace in the internet, right? Fritter a couple of hours away cracking jokes, selfie-ing? Of course we can't! The internet is a very complex technological marvel, and accordingly about as secure as a wet piece of cheesecloth, even the parts that aren't suborned by the National Security Agency. Stories of credit card info being hacked are so jejune now as to be hardly noticed, and last week the story broke of how Russian concerns (oh great, them again) basically pwned the NASDAQ a few years back. The forensic internet guys have not yet figured out exactly which Russians, or if the target was to hamstring the NASDAQ or just to acquire information (the Order Flow!), but if the systems of a company at the very heart of international finance isn't safe, then what is? It's time to stop thinking of the internet as a rainbow/unicorn array of digital magic bringing giggles and smiles to an information-hungry world, and instead as a unilaterally tempting target for millions and millions of criminals all across the face of the planet. It may be a bitcoin future, but the goldbugs may have a point, because the hordes of black hat hackers are going to have a hard time pilfering the gold bars you have hidden in your closet with their silly computers.

Maybe it's not going to be us that's going to kill us all. Maybe it's going to be the planet that kills us, or all those little tiny micro-organisms that we share the biosphere with. We're all familiar with the impending threat of climate change, ever more verified, but a thousand clicks or so west of Boku Haram's killing fields a genuine epidemic is raging. as of last week, in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia, there have been 982 confirmed cases and 613 fatalities. The epidemic is raging, and the efforts to contain it are being hampered not only by the difficulty of treating the nasty virus and the ease of transmission, but also because rumors are flying locally that contravene medical advice. Residents distrust medical authorities, and as a result the infected are sometimes escaping from medical facilities to return to their homes, and families are insisting that the bodies of those that succumb, which are basically viral tactical nukes, be returned. It concerns me enough personally that I asked a friend, a medical science professional, if we should be packing our go-bags. She was reassuring, saying something along the lines of, "If someone on a flight out of that area starts vomiting blood then no one's getting off that plane until the authorities arrive," but I was less than comforted. People fuck up.

So then maybe it's not the bug that will be to blame, but rather some genial idiot who missed a sign. I wish I could go back in time and unwatch Twelve Monkeys. Sure, the world is on fire, generally speaking, but the ebola outbreak is the closest thing to an extinction freaking event as we have right now. Hot wars are fun, but hot zones infinitely moreso.

***

So are we all gonna die? Yup. That is what is intended by your God or your gods or, ultimately, biology. But are we at a peak moment of paranoia and hysteria? That's a question of whether paranoia and hysteria ever really go away. My generation got to come of age in the waning days of the Cold War, which were no doubt a lot less terrifying than say the Cuban Missile Crisis, when the entire country turned off Johnny Carson, in the first month of his stint on "The Tonight Show," and went to sleep wondering if we were all going to wake up dead, but still, it was pretty disruptive of our little kid sleep patterns. The grown-ups pounded it into our heads that it was more of a question of when not if, no matter what Sting was singing about. And the early years of this century were no cakewalk either, walking around waiting for another plane to fly into another skyscraper.

We have been given the gift of the latest version of eschatological anxiety, a death by a thousand cuts as opposed to waiting for the man-made version of a comet T-boning Earth.

But is any of this really likely to blow up into the actual end? Obviously, no one knows (or if someone does, speak up.) But we've been a pretty resilient species so far, as horrendously as we treat each other and the planet we live in. I hate to be the one to stick my neck out and counsel optimism, but hey, there are still limitless appetizers to eat, and TV series to bingewatch. Let's put the fires out where we can and hope for the best. Let's be optimistic.

[That's it! And to update, pretty much everything referenced has gotten worse except for the Russians hacking websites (though that kind of news usually breaks a year later). But I'm still optimistic! It's my true failing.]

Posted at 4:18 PM

July 28, 2014

So I wrote this thing that was intended for commercial publication and all parties decided that it was, among other things, a little to glib in dealing with the bleakness that is the world these days.

So while I am pondering whether I should put it here (in the interest of wasting no part of the animal), read this Michael Tomasky piece on the bleakness that is the world these days:

But: Am I the only one to whom things right now feel a little... different? By which I of course mean worse. This Israel-Hamas war feels different, neither turtle nor scorpion even pretending anymore about seeking peace. What's happening in Syria, where hundreds die every week now with almost no notice in Washington, is certainly different. Lebanon teems with Palestinian and now Syrian refugees--imagine if you lived in a country of 4.5 million people that was being asked to house a number of refugees that equaled 20 percent of your population--and every effort at normalization is pulverized by the thugs of Hezbollah, which in effect governs the country and which is helping Bashar al-Assad murder civilians while limning Hamas' glorious contributions to "the resistance," as Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah did in a bellicose speech Friday.

Good day to you all.

Posted at 1:50 PM

July 25, 2014

I was reading the news of Paul Ryan's new anti-poverty proposal with a bit of interest, mostly because traditionally Ryan just hates hates hates the poors, thinks that they're takers, that it's their fault, etc.  I guess I was expecting some perfidy, some double-speak that was actually an arrow aimed at the heart of the impoverished.  And sifting through it, it's just a bland retrofit of the idea of block grants — instead of having individual programs (hunger, housing, child assistance, etc.) administered by the federal government, Ryan wants to give grants to the states directly covering all of everything.  You know, doesn't exactly rise to the level of Dr. Evil, even though I'd trust the State of New York to deal with this than a state like Louisiana, who would probably use the grant to sweep the poor into Lake Pontcharchain...

Whoa wait one second:

If a state opted into the pilot program, it would have low-income residents meet with case managers who would create an "opportunity plan" offering both financial advice and coordinating the provisions of the several different programs they need. The residents would sign contracts with these case managers that would offer incentives to reach financial security and sanctions if they do not. A neutral agency would evaluate each provider's success at moving poor Americans out of poverty.

[Emphasis mine.]

Oh, I get it, it's not a social safety net, it's a fucking reality show.  Not that I am against the goal of eliminating poverty once and for all, but I am wildly against punishing the poor for remaining poor.  Mostly because we live in an economic system that is predicated on the concept that there is such a thing as an acceptable level of unemployment, which means that there will always be people down on their luck, and Paul Ryan wants to gamify this into some spectacle where the down on their luck have to additionally worry because they're a unwitting contestant on the big fucking TV hit Poverty Wars.

More sedate criticism of the proposal can be found here, courtesy of TalkPoverty.org.

But Paul Ryan: yeah, that's about as evil as usual.

Posted at 10:01 AM

July 22, 2014

Let's talk about James Garner.

You remember Jim Garner — he was Brett Maverick, he was Jim Rockford.  He passed away over the weekend, at his home, of natural causes, at the ripe old age of eighty-six, which is about the best you can wish for, right?

But Garner was a lot more than a TV star to me.  Garner is one of the reasons I didn't grow up to be a macho knucklehead.  Now, considering my bookish/slight nature, the chances were pretty slim, but Jim Garner on the telly was one of the more vivid examples of masculinity that my little brain was taking in.  Oh sure he was a big hunky, athletic fellow, but he was also wry and bemused, and he also frequently didn't win.  His charm didn't come from invulnerability, but rather empathy and persistence.

So when I was growing up, I didn't want to be some star quarterback with cheerleaders hanging off him,  I wanted to be Jim Rockford.  (And yes maybe it's not fair to conflate Garner/Rockford, but be fair: a lot of that wasn't acting.)

And the other thing notable about Garner is that he was one of the few big stars that took on the Hollywood machine and won.  He sued twice over "Hollywood accounting" (which, I can tell you from experience, means cooking the books so that no net profits are shown).  After suing Universal over "Rockford Files" profits in the early 80s, he was pretty much blacklisted from TV.  And oh yeah he won:

"There's a lot of people who can't afford to do what I've done in the way of taking on studios (over his share of series profits). And I've done it twice and won both times. But it meant something to other actors, that it can be done. And it's also changed a little bit of policy by the studios toward the actors."

[Garner] smiled. "Of course, the minute you plug up one hole they find another one. They've got these batteries of lawyers to find ways to steal."

He was a pretty nifty guy, and I feel fortunate looking up to him when I was a kid.

Posted at 11:01 AM

July 17, 2014

A nice read concerning the interaction between big business and the rest of us is this Eduardo Porter column entitled "Motivating Corporations To Do Good."  Now, others might tell you to go read the Andrew Ross Sorkin from Tuesday, but I'm not that fellow.  Sure, hate-read that piece of apologia, the weeper about the sad Big Pharma company that just has to depatriate to the Netherlands because of a couple of points's savings in corporate tax, but no need to start the day gritting your teeth.

Porter takes the longer view, going into how business culture has changed w/r/t public responsibility:

"Over all, there is no question that the ethos of corporate America has changed dramatically over the past 40 years," said Rick Wartzman, executive director of the Drucker Institute at Claremont Graduate University, who is writing a book about how the social contract between workers and employers has changed since World War II. The belief that business must serve multiple constituents, he argued, has given way to an imperative "to make the shareholder king..."

Though legally dubious, the argument that it is an executive's fiduciary duty to maximize the company's share price became a mantra from the business school to the boardroom. And it was nailed down with money.

This is demonstrably true, to the point that Americans believe in this on some personal level as an excuse for callous greed.  "Why did you embezzle all that money from a church?"  "Just increasing shareholder value, who could blame me."

Though I wonder if this maxim has not metastasized into something much more insidious, like, "The fiduciary duty to increase shareholder value by increasing executive compensation," though that might be a bit cynical of me.  Oops!

But this stuff is important.  We live in a nation of Walmart drones and Amazon warehouse pickers, underpaid and commensurately miserable.  This was not always the case!

Posted at 10:42 AM

July 15, 2014

Apropos of nothing, may I say publicly that the "Purge" series of motion pictures offends me on a moral level.  If you missed them (and I'm only thinking about them because the sequel coming out soon is advertising all over NYC's subways), the premise behind them is that there's this alternate universe America that picks one day a year where (wait for it)... all crime is legal!  Hurrah, confetti, etc.

Obviously a movie, or a book or a video game or what have you, is not an endorsement, it's not a proposal of proscriptive behavior.  In fact, consensus is that the plotline of the "Purge" is hamfisted political commentary: intended as an emotional outlet for the emotional well-being of society, the process is instead a cynical ruse by the future-government to mask population control of the lower classes.  Okay.

And it's not the first to posit some version of society where everyone has the uncontrollable urge to go out and murder people.  Go back to The Lottery, or Escape From New York or any of the silly Rollerball ripoffs where televised mayhem is the order of the day (more on that some other time).  Still, seeing those freaking posters while waiting for the A train has me seething a bit.

I am not anti-speculative fiction, or sci fi or horror or any of the ancillary genres.  In fact, it's a lot of what I'm reading at any given time.  But the suggestion that given the chance we'd all devolve into savages just really irks me in a visceral way, like I get all frowny and my mood plunges when I see the posters.  Maybe because I'm afraid it's true?  Maybe confronting the fact that my high estimation of human nature could be off the mark is something I'm having difficulty with?

Whatever.  See the movie if you want.  But if want to see something that will make you fall in love with the mundane, with the innate possibility in every day, go see Boyhood instead.

Posted at 10:12 AM

July 11, 2014

I was totally gonna ignore this in hopes that it would die a slow death, bereft of attention, but I think that it's largely already forgotten and therefor safe to bring up.

Ben Smith, currently of Buzzfeed, is a smart, hardworking guy.  He is also occasionally a knucklehead.  Take this, his very earnest effort to both explain and rename the two dominant wings of the Republican Party:

I propose replacing the messy old terminology with a simple new vocabulary, one that has evolved organically, which has deep and consistent intellectual roots, no pejorative implications, and which political leaders use effortlessly and without reflecting. The division that will define the Republican Party for the next decade is the split between Liberty Conservatives and Freedom Conservatives.

Okay.

What follows is a bunch of words explaining the difference between the two, which makes sense, etc.  But!  Too suggest that Freedom and Liberty be appended to "Conservative" in order to distinguish between them us not unlike suggesting that Democrats be divided into Fascists and Communists.

That is to say, both Freedom and Liberty are so impossibly unassailably positive that it is downright unfair, like naming your child Jesus Christ.  And to suggest this, unironically, suggests a certain lack of perspective that borders on bias.

I mean, why not Awesome Conservatives and Terrific Conservatives?  Or War Hero Conservatives and Movie Star Conservatives?  Pepperoni Pizza Conservatives and Buffalo Wing Conservatives?

I keep trying to give Smith a fair shot, but you really do end up feeling like he should know better.  (And yeah, there's his Koch brothers connection, but that's a whole nuther.)

Okay, let us not speak of this again.

Posted at 10:23 AM

July 9, 2014

Ah!  A chance to in-your-face one of those Objectivist Silicon Alley knuckleheads!

Background: Tuesday a new app, with whose name I will not bore you, launched in San Fransisco, an app that scalps restaurant reservations.  Really!  A robot takes up all available reservations for hot SF restaurants, and then the app auctions them back to people for cash.  And of course there was an uproar, as it is generally a slimy endeavor that hurts the restaurants, as what seem like fully-booked nights are actually contingencies on the whims of millionaires.  Read all about it here.

But the dude behind this app, Brian Mayer, actually took to his blog to defend himself, as in his conception, he is doing something virtuous:

If someone does pay for it willingly, is it really unethical? The consumer has made a choice, the reservation stands, the restaurant gets a table filled as planned, and I have made money for providing the service. That seems perfectly ethical to me.

There's something very Aleister Crowley about that — "'Do what thou wilt' shall be the law of the land," or whatever — but even with the added gloss of the "consensual transaction" it doesn't make a lick of sense.  What are some other things that people pay for willingly?  Um, drugs, prostitutes?  Now of course those things are technically illegal, not everyone believes they should be.  Okay, what are some other things?  How about contract killings?  How about child prostitution?

Sorry, the fact that the buyer will pay for something willingly is absolutely untethered to the ethics of the situation, and any man that believes otherwise is indeed either unprincipled, stupid or both.

This app is a solution for a problem that does not exist, creating yet another profit margin out of thin air, monetizing something that never should have been monetized in the first place.

Disruption or not, it's yet another example of how these low-rent VC philosopher/kings are basically nihilists,

Posted at 10:44 AM

July 8, 2014

Bubbles are marching through today's headlines!  And not the fun kind, either.

On the whimsical side, sift through this episode of history repeating itself, this time with regards to the cupcake industry.  The cupcake chain Crumbs shuttered its remaining stores yesterday, the inevitable result of big business surfing a fad, milking it for all it was worth, and then planting it face-first in the dirt.  The Free Market may solve all problems, but sometimes it demands unsustainable growth at the expense of shareholder value.

And on the scary side, meet the Everything Bubble:

Welcome to the Everything Boom -- and, quite possibly, the Everything Bubble. Around the world, nearly every asset class is expensive by historical standards. Stocks and bonds; emerging markets and advanced economies; urban office towers and Iowa farmland; you name it, and it is trading at prices that are high by historical standards relative to fundamentals. The inverse of that is relatively low returns for investors.

The phenomenon is rooted in two interrelated forces. Worldwide, more money is piling into savings than businesses believe they can use to make productive investments. At the same time, the world's major central banks have been on a six-year campaign of holding down interest rates and creating more money from thin air to try to stimulate stronger growth in the wake of the financial crisis.

What's happening is this: there's just too much idle cash globally, and nowhere to put it that brings back returns comparable with returns pre-Great Recession.  So the idle money is seeking out every possible asset with even a marginal return.

Two ominous thoughts.  First, call me old-fashioned, but the only thing I think about when I see this sort of bubble is the fact that bubbles burst, and the fact that this bubble is pretty much all assets everywhere, that's quite a burst to contemplate.  Our last two "corrections" were (largely) caused by defined, finite bubbles, the tech sector and then real estate.  This bubble is seemingly boundless.  Yikes.

And the second thing is that, in light of the income/wealth income all over the globe, why the hell is there all this idle cash?  Where did it come from, and, better yet, is there a moral reason that it ended up concentrated in so few hands?

Ah, well, such is life!  Have a cupcake.  Have two!

Posted at 9:47 AM