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May 28, 2010

tell congress to stay out of your wallet

On a popular progressive journalism site I favor, the ads today are featuring aggrieved-looking white people holding up a wallet or a credit card and copy like "BIG GOVERNMENT wants you to stop using your credit and debit cards!!" and "WARNING: you're about to pay more for your debit card so retailers can profit!!".  All of the versions of the ads end with "Tell Congress NO!" or some other exhortation to contact your representative.

Sounds pretty rousing, right?  Not many people like BIG GOVERNMENT, and no one likes paying more.  And retailers profiting is just un-American.  Obviously, as the target demo of the ads are people like you and me that could be accurately described as "consumers", this must be some grassroots advocacy that is trying to save us citizens from an unimaginable fate.

Yeah, nope.

The group purports to be concerned about consumers paying fees on purchases when they use debit cards.  The financial industry created the "group" in response to an item in a regulatory reform bill that would protect consumers by allowing the federal government to limit on debit card acceptance fees for retailers. The "CARD Alliance" casts this effort as "retail discrimination" and says the measure would force people "to have to carry around cash at all times."

The most excellent part of this sock monkey outfit is the name: Consumers Against Retail Discrimination, which is a dog's breakfast of vague and ridiculous ideas (retail discrimination?).  But it's got the word "consumers" in it, so it should drum up a whole 'nuther Tea Party real soon.

This is the financial service industry's plan to win over public opinion: hornswagglery.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:10 AM

May 27, 2010

art linkletter and kids

The real lasting contribution of Art Linkletter (a nice appreciation of whom here, BTW) is the one that no one is talking about: Art Linkletter invented children as we know them.

In the centuries before Art Linkletter (who was adopted by a one-legged cobbler in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan in 1912, no shit), children were a step above barncats on the familial ladder.  They were noisy and messy and generally didn't do what you told them.  In addition, they were weak, so if you wanted to have enough kids to ensure that you would be taken care of in your reclining years, you had to have a whole bunch of them, so that even if half of them died from the grippe or brain fever or other child-killer of the day there would be enough left over.  Though it was fashionable to ship them off to factories for meaningful daytime engagement, they hardly earned enough to pay rent, and so there was no small resentment from gainfully-employed family members.  Plus also: not that smart.  Once they got to the point you could understand what they were saying (which takes forever), you still couldn't hardly have an adult conversation with one, as children are easily distracted and poor listeners.

So children, pre-Art, were much more of a necessary evil, the necessary by-product of a harmless roll in the hay, than something you'd put on a postcard.

And then Art came along, and discovered that children were a vast untapped resource, that you could take their immature reluctance to make a lick of sense and, with a deft bit of forbearance on the part of the host, it could be entertaining instead of infuriating.  Hence "muddleheaded foolishness" began to be thought of as "the darndest things".  And as this most annoying trait began to erode into charm, then other aspects of children began to also be thought of favorably — like the improbable proportion of their limbs, say, and their gullibility.

And to this day children are "cute", or even "the future" if you want to get histrionic about it.  All because of Art Linkletter, who truly was a great Canadian.

Posted by mrbrent at 9:58 AM

May 26, 2010

apple: the new aol?

You might've heard that Apple has surpassed Microsoft as the most valuable technology company.  Second only to ExxonMobil now of all US companies, or some such.

But please do keep in mind that these valuation are based on market capitalization, or the aggregate value of all outstanding stock.  And based on this very same measure, AOL was at one time so valued that it could purchase an enormous entertainment conglomerate for $164 billion.  If you don't remember how that turned out, do whatever it is we do these days to research.  Maybe Wolfram Alpha "laughing stock"?

And how is it again that the stock market is the metric we use to measure the value of a business concern?  I understand that's it's a uniform metric, but it's one defined by a combination of supercomputers racing each other and insane crazy people.  Basically some asshole who's lost his nut and is putting it all on black, so to speak, has more to do with the intrinsic value of a concern than, say, its assets, its market share and the amount of actual things that it makes.

I don't want to tell a whole industry of super-geniuses that they're doing it wrong, but that is some untethered shit, and it's both a symptom and a problem.

But congratulations to Apple for being more favored by speculators than Microsoft.  Keep making pretty, useless, DRM-infested hardware.

Posted by mrbrent at 11:34 PM

learn to love the dystopia

This is a passage from a Fourteenth Banker post concerning a Guardian UK piece on the uncertain prospects of Europe in general.  Fourteenth Banker likes the article, and extrapolates how ominous fate of Europe could happen here too:
For a decade there has been no real income growth from salary and wages.  Income growth has compounded for corporations, disproportionately for senior management and stockholders. America’s vast middle class is pressured and increasingly left to its own devices, with even investment opportunities for savers lacking as interest rates are artificially low and stock markets are skimmed by traders, manipulators, and frontrunners.  Pensions are largely gone.  Someone should do a study on what part of corporate income growth is related to no longer funding defined benefit pensions, cutting 401K matches and cash balance pension contributions, and increasing drastically healthcare copays and deductibles.  In other words, leaving employees to their own devices.

When this issue comes up, pretty much the first thing that jumps into my mind is the frog-in-boiling-water myth, enough that I actively try not to have that come to mind and then fail miserably.  But I think it is useful, but not from the perspective of the frog, but from the perspective of the frog-boiler.  None of the conditions described above, the abandonment of the middle class by employers, the raging wage inequality, is a secret.  It's easily anecdotally observable — financial services on one side, Wal-Mart on the other, and underemployment in the middle.  There's certainly time to turn the burner off, as it were.

And so I wonder if the reluctance to do so is laziness, or on purpose?  This new economic structure is certainly fun if you're the salvaged remnant, but it's going to create a world that will make all the dystopians right.

Posted by mrbrent at 11:43 AM

garrison keillor tolls the bell

This is controversial, because it is the collision of two very polarizing topics: the future of publishing, and Garrison Keillor.  I'm gonna step above this and say that you will very much enjoy it — a short pessimistic but nostalgic bit of sky-is-falling, unless you are the type of person who will be enraged by it:
I grew up on the windswept plains with my nose in a book, so I am awestruck in the presence of book people, even though I have written a couple books myself.  These are anti-elitist times, when mobs are calling for the downfall of pointy-head intellectuals who dare tell decent people what to think, but I admire the elite.  I’m not one of them — I’m a deadline writer, my car has 150,000 miles on it — but I’m sorry about their downfall.  And this book party in Tribeca feels like a Historic Moment, like a 1982 convention of typewriter salesmen or the hunting party of Kaiser Wilhelm II with his coterie of plumed barons in the fall of 1913 before the Great War sent their world spinning off the precipice.

Florid?  Yeah, but that's Keillor's gimmick, and I can't blame a person for loathing it as long as they don't blame me for finding it soothing.  And as far as the publishing world goes, I think that it maybe set people off (it's an edited version of a speech Keillor gave to the Authors Guild, which left a wake) because of its steadfast Luddite overtones and because of its supposition that the digitalization of culture is a death of some sort.  But I think that we do need the soulful old geezers for the elegies as paradigms shift, even if we just tip our hat as we dash past them.  I myself hope to be one of these soulful old men myself, some day.

But more importantly, and maybe more confusing, is that I think that exaggeration is an overlooked element of the Keillor gimmick, specifically with regard to his grim, polite Lutheranism.  In other words, when he says in his piece that editors will someday disappear, I think that he's intending that metaphorically and not as a statement of fact.  Could be wrong on that, and Keillor might be entering his Ted Kaczynski stage, but yes: it does bum you out reading it.  That's what Keillor does.  It does not make him an accurate predictor of the future.

Posted by mrbrent at 9:53 AM

May 25, 2010

pittsburgh pirates blowing bell curve

Attention baseball nerds: Tom Scocca discovers a statistical anomaly concerning the record of the Pittsburgh Pirates that is indeed fascinating:
For the season, that gives the Pirates a run differential of minus 109.  The Orioles, the least successful team in the American League, are at a mere minus 62.  The Milwaukee Brewers and Houston Astros, the two teams behind Pittsburgh in the NL Central, are at minus 29 and minus 73—meaning the Pirates are worse than both of them put together.

Worse, that is, except at actually winning and losing ball games. The average score of a Pirates game is Other Team 5.86, Pittsburgh 3.39. Yet the Pirates have won 43.2 percent of those games.

In other words, the Pirates are finding exciting new ways to overachieve while still sucking.  I think that all us Charlie Browns can take some serious heart from that, right?

Posted by mrbrent at 10:16 AM

heckuva job, bp

I'm trying to figure out who has pushed around and abused the United States as bad as BP has.  I was thinking, "Ha ha, how about the North Vietnamese?" but they didn't so much as push the US around as they won a war by not-losing.  With BP, it's like they landed in a spaceship and targeted us with their death rays to ensure our quiet compliance.  Those boots on the neck that are blustered about are looking pretty soft and fluffy considering that BP is taking federal direction as a suggestion and not a rule.

Granted, the swirling nests of federal bureaucracy — from the Department of Homeland Security to the Department of the Interior to the Coast Guard to the Environmental Protection Agency — would probably fare no better.  After all, it's a spigot with the handle broken off a mile under water, and BP has all the best robots.  But at least a federal-run effort would do a much better job at projecting competence and concern, alternately, while BP's public relations engine is stuck on "insouciance".

If you would like a strident and populist commentary on the issue watch Mike Papantonio on the Ed Show.  I know, leftie talkers are so four years ago, but Pap is probably the best informed observer of the Deepwater Horizon Spigot, because he is an Emerald Coast local and also a trial lawyer who will be seeing BP in court.

Posted by mrbrent at 9:19 AM

May 24, 2010

bret michaels the celebrity apprentice seo megablast!

Pretty much every site I've visited this morning has mentioned one or both of Bret Michaels and "The Celebrity Apprentice", with the promise that if I clicked inside or past the jump, the site would reveal to me the winner of this "The Celebrity Apprentice".

And I've not clicked once.  If this is truly important information, they would not be giving it away after only one click, which is practically free.  If this information mattered, then it would be contained in a fifteen page slideshow.

So let's keep an eye on Business Insider and see if one pops up.

Posted by mrbrent at 8:21 AM