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The Corporation as Pop Culture Villain

[ 31 ] April 29, 2016 |

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This is an interesting discussion of how the corporation has become a popular culture villain. But I think it’s a remarkably apolitical way that doesn’t really transfer over to distrust of corporations today. The article focuses primarily on science fiction, going back to Soylent Green, which I just watched for the first time last week and which fascinated me because I wondered if it was the first major film to focus on climate change. It is, in its own way, a really interesting look at environmental problems at a time when this was just coming to be a central part of American culture.

In any case, what strikes me is that as late as today, popular culture’s consistent creation of the villainous corporation seems to not affect people’s actual vision of corporations at all. That is certainly true in recent cultural portrayals of corporations in the present. When I saw The Big Short, I wanted to go burn some banks. But that film, as well-received and relatively widely-seen as it was, seemingly had no effect on most of the people who actually watched it, even though they personally may have been completely screwed by the housing bubble. I don’t remember much of anything when it came out about what an indictment of capitalism it was. There was perhaps a bit more of this with The Wolf of Wall Street, perhaps because any Scorsese film gets more cultural recognition and perhaps because he portrayed his characters in such a way that would make viewers either want to be them or loathe them with great passion. But even that film has hardly proven some cultural anti-capitalist touchstone.

So I guess the corporation is this bad guy in sci-fi culture, but I sure wish it has some connection to real life.

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The Wages of the Olympics, 1988 Edition

[ 3 ] April 29, 2016 |

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I spent 1996-97 in South Korea teaching English in the public schools. It was a mind-blowing experience in any number of ways. But one thing was clear when I was there, which is that the poor were treated like garbage. There were still old-style slums when I was there. They were disappearing fast in the rapidly modernizing nation, but there were still sort of low-slung somewhat makeshift buildings where people were essentially growing rice in their back fields were right next to 12 story high-rises. I went from school to school, from the best in the province to very poor schools. And the poor basically were treated like garbage. So I wasn’t surprised to find out that the awful and American-supported Park Chung-Hee ordered the streets cleaned of the undesirable.

But Information Wants to be Freeeeeeeeeeeee!

[ 73 ] April 29, 2016 |

Stating what really should be obvious:

After Prince’s untimely death last week, folks trying to share his songs on Twitter and Facebook via YouTube clips — the modern mode of mourning in our digital age — were stumped. Ditto those who turned to Spotify or Rhapsody or Apple’s streaming service for solo bingeing.

Needless to say, this caused much frustration with those who feel entitled to free, instant access to every scrap of #content ever created.

“There’s a good chance you want to hear and see more Prince today,” wrote Peter Kafka at re/code. “That’s harder than it should be. Or, at least, harder than you’re accustomed to when pop icons die.”

[…]

Now, this is a bit of sophistic silliness. There are actually plenty of ways one could binge on Prince’s music, that one could feel Prince deep within them. One could purchase a subscription to Tidal. For just $10, one would gain instant access to virtually everything Prince ever recorded for a whole month. That’s an amazingly good deal. If streaming’s not your thing, you could check out Amazon, which offers 21 Prince albums (and two Prince singles) for instant download at prices between 99 cents and $23.99. I myself downloaded Prince’s finest work, Batman.* If you’re an Apple guy or gal, iTunes has you covered with a similar selection.

What Kafka means is that there’s no way to “feel it right now” for free. There’s no way to access the life’s work of a great artist for free. As comic book artist Erik Larsen — who famously ditched Marvel to work for artist-owned Image — put it on Twitter: “Prince didn’t make it easy for you to steal his music. Here’s how to binge listen to it: 1. Buy a bunch of Prince’s music. 2. Listen to it.”

#LOLCowboys

[ 92 ] April 28, 2016 |

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I thought after the Trent Richardson debacle it would be a loooong time before a running back was selected in the top 5 again. I was wrong, but was pleased to see who made the blunder.

We’ve obviously been through this before, but given that 1)the marginal quality of a team’s running game is not terribly important to winning in the contemporary NFL, 2)adequate running backs are fairly easily obtained by a competent organization, and 3)the performance of RBs tends to vary widely from year-to-year, it’s crazy to invest top-first-round opportunity cost and money in anything but a once-in-a-generation talent at the position. And nobody knows how to identify top-flight NFL running backs ex ante. Elliott will probably be better than Richardson — who isn’t? — but it’s a really dumb pick.

Conversely — and it feels weird to say this — the new management in Cleveland seems to know what it’s doing. They’re at the beginning of a long road, but hiring a good coach and accumulating lots of draft picks is a good place to start.

Food History Reading List

[ 23 ] April 28, 2016 |

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Backlist has published an excellent food history reading list for those of you interested in those sorts of things. I did a labor history reading list for them a few months ago. These are good lists and excellent primers for smart readers like you who want to read more history and support the efforts of poor historians through your generous readership.

Soil Conservation: A Southern History

[ 35 ] April 28, 2016 |

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When we think of soil conservation (a topic I know is near and dear to all LGM readers!) we think of the Dust Bowl as the central event. And in many ways that’s true, but it has deeper roots, which is fantastic erosion created in the Southern cotton regions. Above is Providence Canyon, Georgia. This is one of Georgia’s Seven Natural Wonders. It is also completely created by erosion from cotton growing. The historian Paul Sutter expands upon this and previews his new book on Providence Canyon by looking at Soil Conservation Service head Hugh Bennett.

Only a couple of years later, in 1913, Bennett traveled to Stewart County, Georgia, just south of Columbus, where a soil survey team was struggling to map a landscape wracked by the most extreme gullying he had ever seen. Again, Bennett and his colleagues mapped tens of thousands of acres of “Rough gullied land.” Some of the county’s gullies were more than 150 feet deep and hundreds of feet wide. The published “Soil Survey of Stewart County” highlighted a gully that locals called “Providence Cave,” a place that would later come to be known as Georgia’s “Little Grand Canyon.”

Witnessing such erosion convinced Bennett that something needed to be done to save the region’s, and the nation’s, soils. But several factors limited the effectiveness of his proselytizing for a federal soil conservation bureau. Federal conservation programs on public lands had developed during the Progressive Era, but instituting a program to regulate resource use on private lands had proven more difficult. The interruption of the First World War and the more conservative political climate of the postwar years also thwarted his ambitions. Bennett had to contend with another problem, too: the head of the U.S. Bureau of Soils, Milton Whitney, refused to take soil conservation seriously. Instead, Whitney repeatedly insisted that “the soil is the one indestructible, immutable asset that the Nation possesses.” Everything Bennett had seen in his travels around the South had convinced him otherwise. “I didn’t know so much costly misinformation,” Bennett lamented, “could be put into a single brief sentence.”

Whitney’s death in 1927 brought on a flurry of soil conservation activity, including a formative government report, Soil Erosion: A National Menace, co-authored by Bennett in 1928. Bennett also began, as he put it, to “howl about the evils of soil erosion.” His campaign built strength over the next five years, especially after 1932 because of the Roosevelt administration’s willingness to wed federal work relief and soil conservation. Bennett continued to use the massive soil erosion he had witnessed in the American South as rationale for a soil conservation agency, citing the cases of Fairfield and Stewart County repeatedly.

The cause of soil conservation, then, was ascendant well before the first dust storms rolled off the Great Plains and into the nation’s consciousness. The devastated soils of the American South had a particularly formative influence. The Dust Bowl certainly played a major part in the final passage of the Soil Conservation Act of 1935, but it was a latecomer to the stage – the latest disaster in a long history of destructive human-induced soil erosion.

Objection. Nonresponsive.

[ 93 ] April 28, 2016 |

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This is my favorite of Jim VandeHei’s responses to Dylan Matthews, which Rob linked below:

DM: The Innovation Party sounds like a typical Beltway centrist project: pro-entitlement cuts, hawkish, socially liberal, etc. Is VandeHei familiar with research from political scientists David Broockman and Doug Ahler showing that most self-identified moderate voters aren’t actually that kind of centrist at all? People who want lots of government programs but also are skeptical of abortion and immigration are a more typical kind of moderate. Why would those people ever vote for the Innovation Party?

JV: I would be careful about reading too much into studies of voter habits right now. Did you anticipate Republican voters would elect an anti-trade, pro-status-quo-on-entitlements Democrat as their nominee? Did you predict a 74-year-old man would clobber Hillary Clinton among young women? There is extreme volatility in politics and I believe most eligible voters are willing to consider something unique or different.

This is…amazing. It’s almost aggressively self-refuting.

Matthews is making a familiar but important point. Elite journalists pining for a third party candidate almost always call for one who is, like them, fiscally conservative (especially with respect to popular entitlement programs) but socially liberal. So one obvious problem with VandeHei’s latest iteration is that it’s the antithesis of “innovative,” a label we can safely say can never be applied to something once Tom Friedman has written his first dozen identical columns advocating it. An even more important problem, as Matthews observes, is that these views 1)have very little popular constituency and 2)are already massively overrepresented among Beltway elites.

VandeHei’s asserts that we should ignore the fact that both Democratic and Republican voters support federal entitlement programs. To support this, his first move is…to point out that Donald Trump is winning the nomination while being the only Republican candidate who supports preserving entitlement programs! He then proceeds to observe that Bernie Sanders is popular among young women. How this shows that voters are clamoring for the INNOVATION of Pain Caucus brand neoliberalism and plenty of it, led not by a New York billionaire but a Silicon Valley billionaire, is…not obvious.

This is an inadvertently perfect illustration of how impervious to reason VandeHei’s deeply embedded fealty to centrist Beltway received wisdom is. Somebody points out that pretty much everybody hates his ideas. His response is to cite politicians who have effectively mobilized voters who hate his ideas as evidence that people want things to be DISRUPTED based on his own massively unpopular ideas. It’s really quite amazing. If his first column was beyond parody, his defense of it is doing to parody what Homer did to the Krusty Burglar:

Jim VandeHei, everbody!

A People’s History of the Marvel Universe, Week 10: The Mutant Metaphor (Part II)

[ 39 ] April 28, 2016 |

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Face front, true believers!

Last time, I talked about the “protean” nature of the “mutant metaphor,” its roots in science-fiction of the time, and how at least initially there was relatively little mention of mutant identity and anti-mutant prejudice.

Speaking of which, one of the curious things about the original run of X-Men, especially from the “mutant metaphor” angle, is that their mission to “protect a world that hates and fears them” means that the X-Men spent a lot more time fighting “evil mutants” (more on this next week) than defending mutants against those who “hate and fear them.” However, the major exception to this rule in the Lee/Kirby era, the one place where the X-Men confronted anti-mutant prejudice head-on, was the Sentinels:

amongusstalk

Read more…

SEIU and Airbnb, Revisited

[ 62 ] April 28, 2016 |

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The proposed agreement between SEIU and Airbnb collapsed under withering attack from other unions and the San Francisco left.

In a statement obtained by the Guardian on Thursday afternoon, SEIU said it does not have an agreement or deal with Airbnb and that it plans to work with Unite Here, a separate union that represents hotel workers and has strongly criticized the potential SEIU-Airbnb partnership.

“Representatives from SEIU and [Unite Here] met and have agreed to find a common approach to protect and expand the stock of affordable housing in all communities across the country and to protect and preserve standards for workers in residential and hotel cleaning while also growing opportunities for these cleaners to improve their lives,” SEIU’s statement said.

Unite Here welcomed SEIU’s decision to back away from a deal with Airbnb. “It is our clear understanding that SEIU will not have a deal with Airbnb to represent housekeeping services,” said Unite Here spokeswoman Annemarie Strassel.

Strassel continued: “[Unite Here] will continue to vigorously oppose any efforts by Airbnb to expand and push for commonsense laws to mitigate the devastating impact this company has had on our communities.”

Under the terms of the proposed deal, Airbnb reportedly would have endorsed a $15-an-hour minimum wage effort backed by the SEIU, directing hosts to use cleaners who were paid the minimum rate and trained and certified in “green home cleaning services”.

I still struggle to see the big problem with such an agreement. Airbnb is not going away, it’s not a major factor in rising housing prices, and it hasn’t led to hotels having vacant rooms. That’s not to say there’s not problems with Airbnb, including minor contributions to the above problems, customer safety, and the outsourcing of risk to independent contractors. But moving Airbnb toward promoting something like union work is not a terrible thing. Airbnb or similar companies are not going away and unions will need to figure out what to do about it. There may well have been problems with the proposed deal, but I’m not really seeing it.

Schilling

[ 81 ] April 28, 2016 |

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It turns out that ESPN finally had a point of no return for Curt Schilling. While the Worldwide Leader would suspend non ex-jocks for daring to challenge Curt Schilling’s incessant political nonsense, Schilling himself continually walked a fine line being offensive and OMFG how could one say that. Finally, he outdid himself by promoting an anti-transgender image of Facebook, which is somewhat amazing in that transgender rights are now a real enough thing that you can be fired for saying terrible things about them. Now Schilling is saying that ESPN is full of racists. Of course what he means by “racism” is “black people are allowed to talk.” Now, there’s no question that Stephen A. Smith is a blithering idiot, but of course for Schilling, that means that he’s being discriminated against. Curt Schilling is a very stupid man.

Maybe Schilling can now get back to his previous job of stealing money from the state of Rhode Island. To be fair, Rhode Island was asking for it. Just to bathe in a little bit of the Red Sox glory (talk about little brother syndrome) former governor Donald Carcieri did was Massachusetts wouldn’t, give Schilling a bunch of money for his harebrained video game company idea. It was portrayed as the economic savior of our poor state, not to mention giving us desperately needed cachet. We were begging to be ripped off, putting all of our very few eggs in this single basket. Although evidently the one game it actually produced was pretty good, it went under faster than the Titanic, leaving Rhode Island holding the bag. To be fair, Schilling himself, under the illusion that he was a competent human being, also lost millions of his own money. But the 38 Studios disaster truly is the defining moment of Rhode Island in the last decade. Here’s a review of the whole disastrous episode.

Basically, everything Curt Schilling touches turns to complete garbage. Couldn’t happen to a nicer guy. I’m just waiting for him to volunteer to pay back Rhode Island taxpayers. But of course he’s a maker so he owes nobody nothing. In fact, I’m obviously an anti-white racist for suggesting otherwise.

Boehner on Cruz

[ 84 ] April 28, 2016 |

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Why can’t that nice young Ted Cruz unite the GOP? 

Much of the discussion – and laughs – focused on Boehner’s views on the current presidential candidates. Segueing into the topic, Kennedy asked Boehner to be frank given that the event was not being broadcasted, and the former Speaker responded in kind. When specifically asked his opinions on Ted Cruz, Boehner made a face, drawing laughter from the crowd.

“Lucifer in the flesh,” the former speaker said. “I have Democrat friends and Republican friends. I get along with almost everyone, but I have never worked with a more miserable son of a bitch in my life.”

In other news, watch Dylan Matthews cut pieces off of Jim Vanderhei. Slowly.

Being here

[ 28 ] April 28, 2016 |

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A couple of days ago the Wall Street Journal published what almost seemed like a parody of an op-ed, arguing for a third way party — “the Innovation Party,” naturally — that would allow Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg to Lean In on partisan politics, and create a non-ideological hack for civic republicanism, etc.

This text created a target-rich environment for satire, which led Esquire to publish a piece featuring insights such as:

The Innovation Party will be phablet-first, and communicate only via push notifications to smartphones. The only deals it cuts will be with Apple and Google, not with special interests. We will integrate natively with iOS and Android, and spread the message using emojis and GIFs, rather than the earth-killing longform print mailers of yesteryear. This will give us direct access to netizens, so we can be more responsive than any political party in history.

Now that’s pretty funny — IMO LOL — although admittedly the WSJ piece already read like satire, so this exercise seemed a bit redundant, like satirizing Goldfinger or Donald Trump. But whatever.

The problem was the Esquire piece was run under this byline:

Prof Jeff Jarvis is a Hyperglocal thinkfluencer and a Journalism 3.0 advocate. He is the cofounder @ Mogadishu:REinvent unconference and CEO Mogadishu Capital Partners LLC. Not @JeffJarvis.

That turned out to be a problem because there’s an actual Prof. Jeff Jarvis, who is apparently well-known in certain circles, or at least well known enough to have inspired a parody twitter account, run by somebody supposedly named Rurik Bradbury, who turns out to have been the “real” — assuming that word means anything any more in this postmodern hypertext cyberworld — author of the Esquire item:

“Prof. Jeff Jarvis” isn’t former Entertainment Weekly editor and well-known future-of-media pontificator Jeff Jarvis. Rather, it’s a character developed in a parody Twitter account run by Bradbury. Well-known in certain media circles, @ProfJeffJarvis initially satirized the thoughts of Jarvis himself before growing into a more general and very funny riff on the pie-in-the-sky gambits of new media.

The piece has now disappeared from Esquire’s website, apparently because the real Jeff Jarvis, also a journalism professor, “emailed […] Hearst executives” who “brought in other editors,” setting up a chain of events that seem to have resulted in the piece being removed entirely.

But of course nothing can be removed entirely from the Internet (see for example the sad story of the now ex-chancellor of UC-Davis), plus there’s the Streisand Effect, of which this incident is a nice example I suppose.

Anyway this all seems like tricky territory. How famous do you have to be to legitimize someone satirizing you in a national magazine via a fake Twitter account? Is it OK that Jeff Jarvis used his friends in high places to pressure Esquire to throw the article down the memory hole? How do we balance the fact that people spend 15 seconds or whatever looking at satirical pieces that aren’t obviously satire with the fact that it takes 15 seconds to confirm whether something is satire if you bother to check which of course no one does because short attention spans 3.0? Surely there’s an app for questions such as these in development even now, or at least I hope so.

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