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[ 27 ] September 19, 2013 |

César Díaz’s essay on the difficulties of growing up in Brownsville and then going off to college from a poor family and then living in white Austin is your read of the day.

It’d be nice of course if Guernica chose an image that was somewhere within 400 miles of Brownsville instead of the Big Bend. We’ll make up for it with a song from the finest Brownsville has to offer.

The Hackiest Hack in All Hackdom (TV Pundit Edition)

[ 76 ] September 19, 2013 |

Chuck Todd.

Vital American Holidays

[ 84 ] September 19, 2013 |

Happy Gerald Ford Stuck in an Elevator at the University of Pennsylvania Day!

Evidently, UPenn also has urinals sponsored by donors, so it has a number of things for me to visit next time I am in Philadelphia.

Among the other presidential moments that should be become a national holiday are:

Vomit Day–Celebrating the January 8, 1992 moment George H.W. Bush vomited in the lap of Japanese Prime Minister Kiichi Miyazawa
Pretzel Day–January 13, 2002, when George W. Bush nearly choked on a pretzel. We could even get some corporate sponsorship for this one.
And of course whatever day in his presidency Rutherford Hayes’ beard grew to its longest point.


[ 106 ] September 19, 2013 |

This new pope is surprising to say the least. If he’s making the nutcase Bishop of Providence (who is a real piece of work) mad because he’s not frothing at the mouth about abortion and suppressing gays, this is a real improvement.

The Best Song of 2013

[ 29 ] September 18, 2013 |

Others may have their own choice for the year’s best song, but I don’t know that I’ve heard a song as powerful as Jason Isbell’s “Elephant.” Note: this is not a song that will make you feel happy. It is about cancer. Be warned.

Quit Telling the Poor What They Need

[ 99 ] September 18, 2013 |

The world’s poor indeed want to have fun and perhaps they want to have fun more than they want indoor plumbing, especially if the latter is hard to imagine. In any case, I agree with the op-ed that the spread of the internet to the developing world leading to more fun is in itself a great thing and that people need to stop telling the poor what they should want with their lives.

Unnecessary Presidential Biopics

[ 189 ] September 18, 2013 |

Warner Brothers is trying to sign Leonardo DiCaprio up for a biopic on Woodrow Wilson. Why do we need a biopic on Woodrow Wilson? I have no idea. Maybe it will center on Wilson holding a screening of Birth of a Nation in the White House. More likely it will center Wilson and the Versailles Treaty and neoconservatives will be excited. The AV Club brings the proper snark:

It’s likely the film will also cover some aspect of Wilson’s post-presidency, as he spent the rest of his life pushing the victorious Allies to form a League of Nations, only to see the U.S. Senate reject membership. It’s probably less likely that the film will spend a lot of time on Wilson’s history as a white supremacist who re-segregated most federal institutions for the first time since Reconstruction, and either demoted or fired as many African-American government employees as he could.

Ketchup Revisited

[ 240 ] September 17, 2013 |

Building on this, here is some information on ketchup. Glad to see I’m not the only one exploring this key question to 21st century life:

Surely the big question is: when did it get here? To which the big answer is: some time in the early 1700s. It first shows up in an English cookbook in 1727, in Elizabeth Smith’s The Compleat Housewife. One of her recipes calls for “a little ketchup, pepper, salt, and nutmeg, the brains a little boiled and chopped, with half a spoonful of flour”.

Brains? In 1727 it was normal to eat brains.

Ah. I see. But not tomatoes? Not in ketchup, no, because it wasn’t originally made with tomatoes. Back in 1876, when Henry Heinz first marketed his now ubiquitous creation, “tomato ketchup” was just one of many ketchups on the market.

So what’s ketchup doing now? Feeling the squeeze. Sales of Heinz tomato ketchup have fallen 7% over the past year.

Why? Possibly because, after 137 years, we’re getting bored of it. According to the Grocer, the fall in ketchup sales was accompanied by a rise in sales of chilli sauce, mayonnaise, dressings and “other ethnic sauces”.

I’ll say this for our ancestors: their version of ketchup made with brains was no doubt a superior condiment than the sugary-sweet ketchup that pollutes food today.

But you do have to give credit to Americans for increasingly rejecting ketchup in favor of salsa, hot sauce, and other condiments. If we are lucky, you will all continue to shun your neighbors who use ketchup, convince them of their poor taste, and reform them into people who use tasty condiments. We will know we have advanced as a nation when we follow the example of our Belgian comrades and prefer mayo on our fries.

1876 is also not only the year with an election that led to the end of Reconstruction. It’s also the year modern ketchup came on the market. Now that’s a bad year.

…..Also, here’s an interesting history of ketchup, including its non-tomato varieties. Pretty much like most popular histories it talks of Heinz as the one good employer who treated his workers fairly, blah, blah. I don’t know anything about the details of Heinz labor relations, but I do know that if every public historical discussion of how the rich treated their employees were true, we’d never need a union in this country.

Harry Potter and Working Conditions

[ 17 ] September 17, 2013 |

This is an interesting story about how a sizable group of Harry Potter fans have organized to push Warner Brothers to make sure that Harry Potter-themed products are produced in fair and just conditions. The Harry Potter Alliance believes chocolate associated with the series is produced using child labor in Africa. It is pressuring Warner Brothers to ensure it is produced without child labor. WB claims it looked into it and is fine, but of course there is no transparency here.

This is a case when there is absolutely no reason not to source products with fair employers. Like with Apple products, the buyers are willing to pay high prices already because of the commitment to the brand. Raising those prices by a tiny amount to cover chocolate produced by adults, clothing made in safe factories, and (in Apple’s case) computers not produced in plants that require suicide nets to keep workers from jumping out windows, is an obvious call. Even outside of the morality of the issue and the fact that no products should be produced this way, it’s a clear upside for the corporations who can claim they care about these issues. But producing goods as cheaply as possible is more than just a business decision. It’s an ideology and the hippies who oppose it hate capitalism or something.

This also shows how motivated consumer groups can still make a difference in workers’ lives, but it’s much harder to do when there is such distance between production and consumption. When New Yorkers saw women jumping out of the Asch Building during the Triangle Fire in 1910, they were motivated to demand change because of their own personal experiences. Outsourcing clothing to Bangladesh or producing chocolate in west Africa (admittedly there are climatic and soil limitations on where the crop can grow) make it extremely difficult to know anything meaningful by the conditions of production. And this is a huge benefit for corporations.


[ 168 ] September 17, 2013 |

Megan McArdle gives some really useful advice to young people who find themselves out of work. Among that advice is take jobs for free, don’t complain about the current economic climate and your lack of a job you whiny privileged brat because you didn’t grow up in the middle of an Angolan civil war so you don’t know how lucky you have it*, realize that your poverty is going to open up life opportunities like starting hobbies, and avoid your friends.

While Adam Weinstein is actually responding to a different post where a rich person complains about young people whining because they are poor, I think his response works pretty well for McArdle:

2) Go f**k yourselves.

You have no idea about student debt, underemployment, life-long renting. “Stop feeling special” is some shitty advice. I don’t feel special or entitled, just poor. The only thing that makes me special is I have more ballooning debt than you. I’ve tempered the hell out of my expectations of work, and I’ve exceeded those expectations crazily to have one interesting, exciting damned career that’s culminated in some leadership roles for national publications. And I’m still poor and in debt and worked beyond the point where it can be managed with my health and my desire to actually see the son I’m helping to raise.

Younger journos see me as a success story and ask my advice, and I feel like a fraud, because I’m doing what I love, and it makes me completely miserable and exhausts me.

Last weekend my baby had a fever, and we contemplated taking him to the ER, and my first thought was – had to be – “Oh God, that could wipe out our bank account! Maybe he can just ride it out?” Our status in this Big Financial Game had sucked my basic humanity towards my child away for a minute. If I wish for something better, is that me simply being entitled and delusional?

*Shorter McArdle in 1935–”Stop complaining about your poverty. The Salvation Army gives you a free meal once a day if you listen to their sermon. You think people who lived in the Black Death had bowls of soup from the Salvation Army? Landon ’36!”

FLSA Extended to Home Care Workers

[ 11 ] September 17, 2013 |

It’s about time the Fair Labor Standards Act was extended to home care workers, meaning that minimum wage and overtime law applies to them. I don’t really know why they were specifically excluded in 1975, but kudos to the Obama Administration for ending this problem. A real victory for working people.


[ 9 ] September 15, 2013 |

$10 an hour is not enough to live on, especially in California. But the Golden State creating the highest minimum wage in the nation is a major step in the right direction. Hopefully a national $10 wage will become an important progressive priority soon.