May
29

Sunday Morning Music

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May
28

Aristotle’s ashes

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Reports out of Greece this week not about refugees and economic chaos say archaeologists may have found in his home town of Stageira the tomb of the philosopher Aristotle. You know, the “golden mean” guy. Wonder what Aristotle would think of our orange mean guy? Or the rest of us, for that matter.

Keeping one’s head has not been in fashion in America, oh, since September 11, 2001. Of late, those who do are – to both the right and left – clearly part of the comfortable establishment that has to go. Sorry, Ari.

Dahlia Lithwick covers the Supreme Court of the United States for Slate. A more establishment institution you will not find. (SCOTUS, I mean.) Maybe it is because she is Canadian, but Lithwick is a tad uncomfortable with the rhetoric of the presidential race. And because she leans left, she is more than a tad uncomfortable with the tone of from fellow lefties. “There’s no heavier burden than a great potential!” Linus van Pelt once said. No one can disappoint you like your friends.

Regarding those litigating Hillary v. Bernie, Lithwick writes:

I have been taken up short by the number of comments and scoldings I have faced, from close friends and casual acquaintances alike, for voicing even a hint of support for one or the other in recent months. The tone hasn’t merely been dismissive and furious; the message beneath has almost universally been that I am a moron.

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The future is fun! … The future is fair! … You may already have won! … You may already be there!

— Firesign Theater, I Think We’re All Bozos on This Bus, 1971

Oh, yeah. From the BBC:

One factory has “reduced employee strength from 110,000 to 50,000 thanks to the introduction of robots”, a government official told the South China Morning Post.

Xu Yulian, head of publicity for the Kunshan region, added: “More companies are likely to follow suit.”

China is investing heavily in a robot workforce.

That would be Foxconn Technology Group, technology factory with the nets to prevent employees from committing suicide by jumping off the roof. Presumably, the robots won’t and the riffed workers can find their own roofs to jump off. What an opportunity for savings. The BBC continues:

“We are applying robotics engineering and other innovative manufacturing technologies to replace repetitive tasks previously done by employees, and through training, also enable our employees to focus on higher value-added elements in the manufacturing process, such as research and development, process control and quality control.

“We will continue to harness automation and manpower in our manufacturing operations, and we expect to maintain our significant workforce in China.”

Define significant. Meanwhile, here at home:

McRobots are not coming to a McDonald’s near you just yet, according to Steve Easterbrook, the company’s chief executive officer.

His comments came two days after one of the fast-food giant’s former US chief executives suggested that a minimum wage of $15 an hour could lead to McDonald’s replacing its workers with robots. Easterbrook was speaking at the company’s annual shareholders’ meeting when he said that technology is not likely to lead to “job elimination” at McDonald’s.

“It’s a topic of discussion right now,” he said, when asked by one of the shareholders if the higher minimum wage would lead to shift to more automated services. McDonald’s is in a service business and “will always have an important human element”, Easterbrook said.

Whew! Dodged that bullet.

Two days before the shareholders’ annual meeting, former US boss Ed Rensi told Fox Business that “it’s cheaper to buy a $35,000 robotic arm than it is to hire an employee who’s inefficient, making $15 an hour bagging french fries”.

Efficiency is one of those boardroom fetishes, like shareholder value. When you hear it, update your resume, John Henry.

Selling fries is one thing. But “Pepper” is not so good interacting in an office environment. Still waiting for my jetpack.

(Cross-posted from Hullabaloo.)

Categories : International, Labor, Science
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May
27

Friday Open Thread

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With Trump telling so many, are we going to face a shortage of lies?

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“Donald Trump cares about exactly one thing: Donald Trump,” Sen. Elizabeth Warren said, opening up with both barrels in a speech on Tuesday:

“Donald Trump was drooling over the idea of a housing meltdown because it meant he could buy up a bunch more property on the cheap,” Warren said at a Washington, D.C. gala for the Center for Popular Democracy Tuesday night.

“What kind of a man does that?” an incredulous Warren asked. “Root for people to get thrown out on the street? Root for people to lose their jobs? Root for people to lose their pensions? Root for two little girls in Clark County, Nevada, to end up living in a van?”

“What kind of a man does that?”

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Photo by Rachel Sian, via Creative Commons.

Photo by Rachel Sian, via Creative Commons.

Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC) told Huffington Post yesterday he has “issues” with his state’s HB2 anti-transgender law passed overnight in March:

Burr has largely avoided talking about the law. He previously said he was out of the country when it passed; stated it’s up to the courts to decide if it’s valid; suggested it doesn’t actually discriminate; and declared it a state issue.

It is certainly an issue for Charlotte. The Chamber of Commerce there is under fire from the Human Rights Campaign as an “anti-LGBT bully.” The Chamber supported a city council vote for repealing the now moot nondiscrimination ordinance that the legislature gave as the reason for passing HB2. The Chamber nonetheless issued a letter to state lawmakers asking them to allow cities to pass ordinances to protect LGBT citizens.

A report from the Chamber estimates that HB2 has so far cost Charlotte and Mecklenburg County “$285 million and a loss of as many as 1,300 jobs,” according to the Charlotte Observer:

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May
24

Not a good look

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Social media has largely taken over the family-and-friends propaganda market from email. I’ve mentioned my collection of over 200 specimens of right-wing “pass-it-on” emails. You know the ones: the lies, smears and disinformation we all have received from fathers and T-party uncles, the kind with large, colored type and maybe a gif of praying hands above the exhortation to “pass it on.” But in-box Izvestia pretty much tailed off as Facebook, Reddit, etc. gained market share. Sadly, what with email was overwhelmingly a phenomenon of the right has shifted left with social media. Not a good thing. We should be better than this.

In the misty past before the dawn of the internet (1980?), I was visiting the home of a friend who told me with some alarm that I should never buy any more products from the Procter & Gamble company of Cincinnati, Ohio. Its president, she said, was on the Phil Donahue Show and said the company gave money to the Church of Satan. As proof she told me, you could look on their packaging and see a small crescent moon and stars symbol, a “satanic symbol.”

“When did you see this?” I asked.

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Edward Snowden. Photo by Laura Poitras / Praxis Films CC BY 3.0 , via Wikimedia Commons.

Edward Snowden. Photo by Laura Poitras / Praxis Films CC BY 3.0 , via Wikimedia Commons.

The Guardian has a lengthy read about a Department of Defense figure involved in handling DoD whistleblowers. So far, John Crane has escaped the media spotlight surrounding the case of Edward Snowden. Crane worked in the Department of Defense’s inspector general office for handling internal whistleblowers when – ten years before Snowden – Thomas Drake came to report the same illegal activities Snowden revealed to the press. Mark Hertsgaard sets the stage:

Drake was a much higher-ranking NSA official than Snowden, and he obeyed US whistleblower laws, raising his concerns through official channels. And he got crushed.

Drake was fired, arrested at dawn by gun-wielding FBI agents, stripped of his security clearance, charged with crimes that could have sent him to prison for the rest of his life, and all but ruined financially and professionally. The only job he could find afterwards was working in an Apple store in suburban Washington, where he remains today. Adding insult to injury, his warnings about the dangers of the NSA’s surveillance programme were largely ignored.

According to the account Crane gave to Hertsgaard, DoD officials first illegally disclosed Crane’s identity to the Justice Department, then “withheld (and perhaps destroyed) evidence after Drake was indicted; finally, they lied about all this to a federal judge.”

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May
22

Strange attractors

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Visual representation of a strange attractor by Nicolas Desprez via Wikimedia Commons.

Visual representation of a strange attractor
by Nicolas Desprez via Wikimedia Commons.

Dissatisfaction runs deep. This season, large blocks of American voters across the political spectrum are backing anti-establishment candidates. Yet the public does not seem to agree on a coherent set of fixes. Dissatisfaction is like a vague pain that comes and goes and moves around.

Perhaps the closest thing to a strange attractor around which left and right opinions cluster is the undue influence of money in our politics. Donald Trump claims he is so wealthy no one can buy him. Bernie Sanders has turned $27, his stated average campaign contribution, into a stadium-sized brag. But in his new book, Plutocrats United: Campaign Money, the Supreme Court, and the Distortion of American Elections, Richard Hasen argues that the view that big money is buying elections and bribing politicians is too narrow an understanding of how money influences our politics and policy. I have not read Hasen’s book, but an excerpt at Bill Moyer’s blog provides a sense of where Hasen’s argument will go:

It is hard for reformers to avoid the corruption talk. To begin with, “corruption” resonates with the general public — a poll commissioned by Represent.Us saw support jump from 60 to 72 percent of Americans when a campaign finance reform bill is packaged as an anticorruption measure. Using the term broadly, corruption can mean anything deviating from some perfect state of nature.

Of course, corruption shorthand has escalated in the wake of the 2010 Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission ruling in the U.S. Supreme Court, but the word paints with too broad a brush:

The new Citizens United era is not full of corrupt politicians taking bribes or of elections going to the highest bidder. To claim it is so puts the public’s spotlight in the wrong place, looking for elected officials to use large amounts of money for private gain. The more central problem of money in politics is something just as troubling but much harder to see: a system in which economic inequalities, inevitable in a free market economy, are transformed into political inequalities that affect both electoral and legislative outcomes. Without any politician taking a single bribe, wealth has an increasingly disproportionate influence on our politics. While we can call that a problem of “corruption,” this pushes the limits of the words too far (certainly far beyond what the Supreme Court is going to entertain as corruption) and obscures the fundamental unfairness of a political system moving toward plutocracy. The political power of the wealthy is especially troubling in our current period of rising economic inequality, when those with great economic clout can use their increased political power to protect their economic position.

Widespread use of “corrupt” and “rigged” to describe our current state even by progressive icons such as Sen. Elizabeth Warren seems to be having the unintended consequence of promoting a sense that affecting change through political means is pointless, if not hopeless. Let’s just say my experience is that limited efforts of short duration are not likely to produce durable reforms. I attended the funeral of a friend last week, a former Freedom Rider with a history that went back to who SNCC, who never lost hope and never stopped fighting. Perhaps he was naive. And perhaps not.

Categories : National
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May
22

Sunday Morning Music

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RIP, Guy Clark

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