Saturday, February 19, 2011

Owww! The Stupid! It Burns!


There will be no test, so you needn't read it in full.

On Wisconsin!*

As of this writing, Madison, the capitol city of Wisconsin, has for several days been rocked by vociferous yet peaceful demonstrations, by members of the state's public employee unions (and  their sympathizers), to protest an attempt, by the  newly inaugurated Republican governor, to rescind their rights to collective bargaining.  Progressive political commentator Ed Schultz was there, and this recent segment of his reportage makes excellent viewing for all right-thinking people.


Saturday, February 12, 2011

Don't touch my 4th Amendment (or my junk), or would you like X-rays with your plastique pancakes?

In case you have forgotten it-- and it seems that many have -- and most notably among those, Tony Scalia -- here is the text of the 4th Amendment to the United States Constitution.  
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
Now the furor over the installation of airport body scanners has somewhat subsided, from the feverish peak around Thanksgiving of 2010-- when the notorious incident occurred (lately entered into the popular lexicon as 'dont touch my junk!') of a passenger refusing both the body scan and the intimate pat down, as a pre-condition of boarding an airplane.  There was at that time a call for a 'National Opt Out Day' during which airline passengers should  opt of out of the scans, and demand the pat-down, and thereby clog the security procedure to the point of effectively halting the nation's air traffic.  Fortunately or unfortunately (the latter in my opinion), this enterprise fizzled; and it now appears that the great American Sheeple, uh check that, I mean People, have gently habituated themselves to the choice between the possibility of increased risk of skin cancer, or the certainty of being groped by a stranger, whenever they fly.

I state the case too baldly you say? Perhaps I do.  First off, there are two types of scanners: X-ray and microwave.  The potential danger of the X-ray scanners, which use ionizing radiation, is described in a letter of concern from several scientists at one our premier medical schools, University of California at San Francisco.  The danger from the microwave scanners (no ionizing radiation) is less obvious, and some would rate it negligible.  (A debate on this point will be deferred to a future post.) 

But the key point about X-ray scanners, is their likely ineffectiveness!  This has been flagged by  the rightward leaning (but occasionally contrarian) Economist, which has pointed to a recent paper, by two eminent imaging scientists, demonstrating that a pancake of plastic explosive strapped to one's torso, would not be detected by the current scanners. 

So we are to submit to police state procedures, for effectively zero benefit.  My view is that the real point of the new security procedures (so called) is in fact to further socialize the American Populace to accept a Police State as the Norm.  My personal view is that this is in fact a major goal of the Global War on Terror (so called.)  My rather intemperate views on this subject will be given in future posts as well.

But a major by-product of all this pother is the further shredding of the already tattered 4th Amendment.  Brad DeLong had an excellent link, (which I have copped) on the extension of the VIPR program (visible  intermodal prevention and response) --now on display in Tampa, Florida, but  coming soon to a bus station near you-- in which passengers were frisked, and their luggage sniffed by a dope-sensing dog, as they were boarding an inter-city Greyhound.

The conflation of national security, and random searches for contraband seems poised to fray the remaining shreds of the 4th Amendment, leaving only a thread or two to which we may all collectively cling.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Lacking only teh Kneepads

We begin with a famous episode in Medieval History, in which the Holy Roman Emperor Henry IV walked barefoot across the Alps as penance for having offended the Pope.  To wit:

In the year 1075 AD, the conflict between Pope Gregory VII and the Holy Roman Emperor Henry IV, gave rise to the Investiture Controversy. The Investiture Controversy was the power struggle between high ranking church officials and the kings of Europe, regarding the appointment of the regional church officials, such as the bishops or abbots. This controversy led to a civil war in Germany and the adjoining regions, and was also responsible for the disintegration of the Holy Roman Empire. In 1077 AD, Henry IV took a long and dangerous journey, barefoot, through the Alps to the Fortress of Canossa in Emilia-Romagna, Italy, to meet Pope Gregory VII and beg forgiveness. It is rumored that the Pope left Henry standing in the snow for three days before opening the gates of the fort to forgive Henry.  (My italics.)

Well, my professional life in topdown organizations has taught me a good bit of grovelling, so that when I need something from management, my first step is to visit a local Builder's Supply Emporium, and invest in a new set of kneepads.  (Or as one former colleague of mine (a machinist) once addressed another, who was kneeling down working on some conductive screening, "Hey you look cute in those things, Vladimir; Jeez, maybe I should get my old lady a pair!")  But I digress....

The real point about penance and debasement and prostration is to be found in today's NY Times, describing President Obama's walk from the White House to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, to exhort the nation's business leaders to loosen their monetary sphincters and let some of their great reserves of hoarded cash flow out into a river of job creation.  (The prepared text of the President's remarks is here.)

It is beyond me what the President hoped to achieve by making nice with a group which seems bent on destroying him.  The response from progressive and liberal groups was in any case tepid to negative.  All that was lacking was bare feet in the snow.  And of course, the kneepads.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Franken-foods Triumphant

More on this subject over at Alternet.  Read it and weep.

Then think about how we can organize.

Davos and the Rest of Us

Simon Johnson, at Baseline Scenario, has posted an interesting dispatch from the meeting of World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.   He writes:

On the fringes of the World Economic Forum meeting in Davos this week, there was plenty of substantive discussion – including about the dangers posed by our “too big to fail”/”too big to save” banks, the consequences of widening inequality (reinforced by persistent unemployment in some countries), and why the jobs picture in the U.S. looks so bad.
But in the core keynote events and more generally around any kind of CEO-related interaction, such themes completely failed to resonate.  There is, of course, variation in views across CEOs and the people work intellectual agendas on their behalf, but still the mood among this group was uniformly positive – it was hard to detect any note of serious concern.
(My italics.)   Well my view of this is somewhat simple minded.  We start by parsing the concept of  Globalization, which to me represents the notion that in a global economy with sufficient interconnections, there is always to be found sufficient purchasing power to enrich a sufficiently globalized corporation (and its management) -- regardless of the economic conditions of workers and consumers in any particular nation.  What this says most directly is that a global labor market is a buyer's labor market, which promotes a race to to the bottom for  wages in erstwhile highly industrialized and prosperous nations, as exemplified by members of the G-8.

This runs counter to the old Henry Ford dictum: "I have to pay my workers enough to buy one of my cars."  The executive view of today is that globalization has given the lie to old Henry, and that there is no penalty for squeezing one's workers.

In this context, the unconcern (by CEO's) about unemployment is natural -- it's a feature, not a bug; depressed wages mean higher profits.  "Our responsibility is to our shareholders".... which, more and more, means to management itself.

With apologies to the ghost of the great Wallace Stevens -- letters to the NY Times

Stevens (1879 - 1955) was a great American modernist poet, strongly influenced by the French symbolists, but also by Ezra Pound's Imagist preoccupations, and the models of Chinese and Japanese lyric.  An excerpt below, from his "Thirteen Ways of Looking a Blackbird."

        I do not know which to prefer:
       The beauty of inflections,
       Or the beauty of innuendoes:
       The blackbird whistling,
       Or just after.

An awful parody of these beautiful lines suggested itself to me this morning, upon reading some letters in the NY Times, in praise of David Brooks' latest column there.  How is  this goddam rooster taken seriously?  Every time I attempt to read something of his, I throw up my hands in disgust, and wander off muttering to myself, "Who the Hell hired him?"  Thus...

      I know what which more to despise
     The bleating of inanity
     Or its supposed elevation to discourse:
     Brooks' columns in the Times,
     Or the responses.