The Essential Wendell Berry

Wendell Berry goes global, sort of

The Essential Wendell BerryPaul Kingsnorth is a British writer, of both fiction and non-fiction. His fiction includes The Wake, nominated for the Booker a few years ago, which involved him creating a variant of Old English to tell the story. His non-fiction includes Real England, published more than ten years ago, but still topical in its description of the alienation even then afflicting England’s middle and working classes—much like the US. More recently, he has been involved in establishing a group, Dark Mountain, which describes itself as “a network of writers, artists and thinkers who have stopped believing the stories our civilisation tells itself.” That’s a pretty good description of where many of us are these days.

We have been led to believe a raft of stories about ourselves that turn out to be, well, just not true. Capitalism will kill us, it’s pretty clear. Globalization has helped a number of countries pull themselves up, but it turns out to be more of a zero-sum game than predicted, and the environmental consequences of unbridled capitalism are rendering places actually unlivable now. The neoliberal project brought us two of the most undesirable US presidential candidates in history, and the morass of US politics shows every sign of deteriorating even further. Continue reading

Under Armour stock price

Four charts that prove Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank has no idea what he’s talking about

Kevin Plank is a successful businessman with strong opinions. The data, though, suggests he places ideology above facts.

Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank

Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank

If you’re a huge sports merchandise brand, you never want your marquee superstar endorser going after you in the press. But that’s what happened this week when Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank told CNBC that “[t]o have such a pro-business president is something that is a real asset for the country.”

The aforementioned marquee superstar, 2014-15 NBA champion and reigning MVP Steph Curry of the Golden State Warriors, took a shot:

“I agree with that description, if you remove the ‘et.'”

The two have now apparently gotten on the same page after some top-speed backpedaling by Plank, who has taken great pains to clarify that he only meant his praise in a strictly business sense. It’s fun when CEOs get hauled out to the woodshed.

The problem is that even the business-specific comment illustrates what a fact-resistant barking fucktrumpet Plank is. Continue reading

delete-uber

Lyft’s anti-Trump letter and ACLU support illustrate how American companies ought to behave

delete-uber#deleteUBER: When we use them we directly support anti-competitive and unconstitutional behavior.

Uber is a douchebag company run by douchebags. I first realized this when I learned of their willingness to play really, really dirty with competitors.

Uber employees allegedly posed as customers ordered and then canceled rides from Lyft, decreasing Lyft drivers’ availability, wasting time and gas, and possibly sending real customers to Uber instead. Lyft told CNNMoney in August that 177 Uber employees—contractors armed with a burner phone and a credit card—ordered and canceled more than 5,000 rides.
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Few rules, fewer regulators — President Donald’s shrink-the-government plan

In the absence of rules and sheriffs, bandits will multiply.

CATEGORY: PoliticsLawGovernment3The end game of the heavily mediated engine driving American political strife boils down to these questions:

  • What is the appropriate size of the federal government?
  • Who should decide that?
  • Who should run the “right-sized” government based on what values determined by whom?

Big, big money was wagered in the 2016 election cycle on the outcome of this game as gazillionaires of the right and left poured donations (wonder how many are legal?) into competing PACs, SuperPACS, and 501C’s.

The Democrats shouted: We need social equality. Continue reading

Politics: Democrats vs Republicans

Obama, Holder to lead fight against gerrymandering

Competition is good. Free markets are good. Give everyone a shot at the brass ring. Get rid of regulations that stifle competition and opportunity.

Thus spake many a Republican (and often a Democratic) politician, saying they only want to hand business interests in America a clear road to economic growth and apparent prosperity for all.

So why do those same politicians, at federal and state levels, balk at attempts to introduce competitiveness in elections?

What, you say? American state and federal elections are not competitive? Continue reading

The LL Bean/Trump row: time for (another) free speech lesson

You have the right to speak. You have no right not to be disagreed with.

Let’s start with a brief quiz.

Bob says X. Fred says no, X is wrong. Has Fred:

a) infringed Bob’s free speech rights, or
b) engaged in free speech the way the Framers intended?

Answer below, in case you don’t understand how freedom works.

This isn’t a big deal, really, but I saw something this morning that reminded me just how little Americans understand liberty. So I thought I’d offer a brief refresher for those who slept through Civics class.  Continue reading

Wealth

The despicable inequality and cruel egalitarianism of wealth: towards a draft wealth tax to fund a basic income

Automating dull jobs into obsolescence

Part 3 of a series.

WealthTo those who have, more shall be given. Cities get more investment. From those who have little, more shall be taken. Small towns are finding that they are excluded from the excitement happening everywhere else and little investment goes their way.

The idea of capitalism – that goods should bear market prices, that justly acquired property is yours, and exchange between willing participants be free of encumbrances – is everywhere under threat.

There is, however, little policy difference between the extreme-left and extreme-right populist response. Both demand a remarkably statist approach to government, and both are perpetually outraged by “elites.” For each, elites appears to mean liberal educated people, rather than the wealthiest 1%.

What is most noticeable is how this wave of populism – from Brexit, to Donald Trump, to Italy and France – has united the working and capital class against liberal, educated middle class folks.

There is one difference between them, though: the extreme-right are hardcore bigots. Continue reading

Capitalism

The despicable inequality and cruel egalitarianism of wealth (Part 2): the innovation and wonder of Capitalism

Design is local but manufacturing and distribution are international

Part 2 of a series.

CapitalismLet’s recognise that Capitalism has brought a billion people out of absolute poverty over the past decade, that it is an astonishing way to allocate talent and enthusiasm to its best use, and that it’s not going anywhere soon.

In 2008, I wrote a research paper looking at the impact of globalisation on South Africa’s recently opened (post-Apartheid) economy, as well as the likely trends for the future.

The textiles industry, which had been a massive employer for South Africa, had been crippled. In 2008, from my report:

“Over the past ten years, labour unions started to take hold of the environment which led to a lot of fragmentation in the industry,” says Noel Paulson, Edcon’s Group Quality Executive. “A lot of the factories found that dealing with labour issues for the manufacturing process was very time-consuming and costly. Continue reading

Energy

Despite campaign promises, Donald can’t revive the American coal industry

President Donald wants to revive America’s coal industry. He says regulations, most notably from the Environmental Protection Agency, have forced coal plants to close. So he wants to do away with those damn unfriendly regulations (such as the mercury and air toxics standards, the proposed cross-state pollution standard and the proposed limitations of carbon dioxide emissions). After that, Appalachian coal will again be riven from the earth, reviving the industry.

Nope. Won’t happen. Coal lost. Natural gas, thanks to fracking, won. Continue reading

Image Credit: Getty

Next time, ask the Reagan question before you vote

On January 1, 2019, as President Trump approaches his third state of the union address, people in America should pop the Reagan question: Are you better off than you were four years ago?

Those in the United States should ask, for example:

“Is my health insurance costing me more out of pocket than under Obama? Am I getting better, more affordable benefits?”

“Can I still get health insurance?”

“Have work restrictions been placed on my Medicare benefits? Has my state limited Medicare benefits?”

“Has my property tax bill gone up or down?”

“Has the rusty bridge carrying my daughter’s school bus been fixed?”

“I live in a city. Has my child developed asthma in the past year?”

“What’s the interest rate on a new car now?”

“Do I have to pay more for my prescription medications?”
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CATEGORY: World

After Donald, of squandered talent, wasted time, and a lost future

Trump will reign over dust and desolation…

On 1 September 1859, telegraph operators across Europe and North America watched in horror as their equipment began to spark and behave erratically. Some disconnected their equipment from their power supplies and discovered they could still transmit.

Cables arced. Sparks flew. Operators fled as their offices caught fire.

What became known as the Carrington Event was the result of a solar eruption as a magnetic field containing a plasma mass equivalent to Mount Everest was flung out from the sun towards Earth. Continue reading

Never forget…what, exactly?

Yesterday, Big Think posted an interesting collection of Gallup Poll results, along with some commentary: Obama Actually Made America Great Again. Here’s the Data. To hear the rabidly irrational Obama opposition on today, of all days, I can only say that these are funny numbers to describe how Obama has ruined America in eight years.

What’s truly deplorable is that, of all the ways Bush (with a boost from Dems) ruined America Continue reading

Journalism

In just a decade, ‘content’ trumped ‘news’ (and those who reported it)

 Ten years has seen the evisceration of newsrooms; the alteration of form, function, and distribution of information; and the emergence of a distorted public discourse. Oh, joy.

Since 2007, I’ve written about the stark reductions in numbers of reporters and editors in America’s daily print newsrooms. During that time, I’ve witnessed more than 20,000 newsroom jobs vanish. Now, it seems, only about 30,000 men and women toil in those newsrooms.

MediaI chose toil deliberately. First, those who remain have had to meet the continued and unchanged corporate demand for product or content once produced by twice their number. Second, the job has changed: In addition to the still-present demand for print content, those 20,000 face the imposition of onerous digital deadlines and unbelievable expectations of quantity. Post so many stories a day, or an hour, they’re told. That, of course, has impacts on the quality of those stories.

For many, those who remain even have different titles — they are no longer reporters or editors. They have become “community content editors,” “content coaches,” “presentation team members,” “engagement editors,” “headline optimizers,” “story scientists,” or “curators in chief.”

Yes, the operations of those places once known as “newsrooms” are rapidly and radically changing. But that obvious observation obscures a few emerging realities about how information (once known as “news”) is crafted and distributed.

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1940-s-british-empire-military-poster-a3-reprint-10656-pekm156x236ekm

What would “winning” the Climate Wars look like?

If our climate challenge is a world war, it’s one without an ending—or one where the ending won’t be clear for a century or two.

1940-s-british-empire-military-poster-a3-reprint-10656-pekm156x236ekmBill McKibben, who, as Vox points out, is the closest thing the climate movement has as a spokesman these days, can usually be relied on for some stimulating discourse. While he did not invent the concept (that distinction goes to the fine folks over at Carbon Tracker), he was the prime mover behind popularizing the Stranded Carbon issue. This has led to a vocal, and surprisingly successful (compared to expectations), divestment from fossil fuel companies campaign. So his recent suggestion—exhortation, really—that we need to deal with Climate Change as a World War was guaranteed to generate some responses, and indeed it has.

McKibben is looking for something large here—a grand global effort to deal with the causes and impacts of Climate Change. He’s got a point, a very large one—Climate Change is still not being dealt with, either politically or economically, as the large planetary threat that it is. So he wants a “War on Climate Change.” And he generally seems to understand what this may mean in terms of societal implications. Continue reading

ArtSunday

Writers of slender acquaintance: Karel Capek

Our houses and machines will be in ruins, our systems will collapse, and the names of our great will fall away like dry leaves. Only you, love, will blossom on this rubbish heap and commit the seed of life to the winds.” – Karel Capek

Karel Capek (image courtesy Wikimedia)

The Czech writer Karel Capek, in terms of being a writer of slender acquaintance, falls somewhere between Rudyard Kipling, a Nobelist remembered now only for children’s stories and Rhian Roberts, a Welsh writer of great promise who published a few short stories and then disappeared. While he is often (erroneously) credited with having coined the word for a creation that may haunt the 21st century,  was nominated for the Nobel Prize numerous times, and even has literary awards named for him, Capek is not widely read now.

He should be. His central themes – the ability of technology to overwhelm and destroy humanity, the dangers of rampant consumerism, corporatism run amok, the evils of authoritarianism of both left and right political persuasions – will resonate powerfully with contemporary readers. Given that Capek died in 1938, his prescience about the power of these forces in our lives makes him a writer who should be widely read and discussed. Continue reading

aging-infrastructure

Clinton, Trump proposals to rebuild nation’s infrastructure do too little

Hillary Clinton, the Democratic nominee for president, says she wants to spend $275 billion over five years to rebuild American roads and bridges. As noted here last year, that’s nowhere near enough money. Donald “I am your voice” Trump, the GOP nominee, says he’ll spend twice as much.

Neither candidate is overly specific on the details of how to fund those repairs.

But the amounts suggested are piddling. Take Clinton’s $275 billion, for example. What will that buy?

aging-infrastructureAccording to the American Road and Transportation Builders Association, the United States has “4.12 million miles of road in the United States, according to the Federal Highway Administration, including Alaska and Hawaii. The core of the nation’s highway system is the 47,575 miles of Interstate Highways, which comprise just over 1 percent of highway mileage but carry one-quarter of all highway traffic.” [emphasis added]

The association provides a variety of estimates for road construction and reconstruction, varying by number of lanes, urban vs. rural, rebuilding vs. milling and repaving, and so on.

Using a middle-of-the-road (an appropriate cliché here, I suppose) figure of $5 million per mile, Clinton’s proposed spending would buy reconstruction of about 45,000 miles of highways — only 1 percent of America’s traffic-bearing byways.

Continue reading

Adam Silver NBA Hb2

Hey Brian Windhorst: The NC legislature held a special session to PASS #HB2. Why can’t they do the same to repeal it?

I love Brian Windhorst, but he needs to get his act together on this one.

The NBA is mulling pulling the All-Star Game from Charlotte over the state’s reprehensible HB2 “bathroom law.” Good – this is as it should be.

But the ESPN story cited here, penned by NBA reporter Brian Windhorst (whom I really really like), has a little problem. Not massive, but important. Here’s the quote: Continue reading

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An American president under age 35? Oh, my …

Captain Morgan’s real campaign premise here is just to increase its share of the rum market.

Tcm_logo_image-e1427478632990rump (age 70) vs. Clinton (age 68)? This is the best choice the vaunted two-party system can provide for Americans?

If they’d like better, they ought to begin drinking rum. Especially Captain Morgan, a brand owned by Diageo, which bills itself as “the world’s leading premium drinks business.”

Captain Morgan will campaign for a constitutional change — allowing American residents under 35 years old to serve as president.  A petition is already parked at the White House, hopeful of attracting at least 100,000 signees.

According to AdAge, “The effort will get significant paid support, including a print ad running in Tuesday’s New York Times.” Continue reading

Korn-Ferry_Hay-Group

When is sharing a password a federal crime? And when isn’t it?

By Carole McNall

Korn-Ferry_Hay-Group.jpgI glanced at the sexy headline: Sharing your Netflix password is now a federal crime, court rules.

Intrigued, I read the story. Then I read the court case, United States v. Nosal.

I discovered, within a page and a half, that the headline writer had created his or her own legal precedent. The blunt statement that made a sexy headline was far less nuanced and far more definitive than the actual decision.

The story I read was bylined, which I always take to mean a reporter actually does something to gather the information. But for many reporters, “gathering information” for this story seemed to mean finding it on another website and doing a little rewrite.

So let me offer some context for evaluating the sexy headline.

Who was sharing passwords and why? The password sharing happened when David Nosal and two others decided to leave the executive search firm Korn/Ferry. Before they left, they began downloading information from Korn/Ferry’s confidential database of search candidates. Even after their access to the system was revoked, they continued downloading, using the freely given password of someone still working at Korn/Ferry.

The firm emphasized the confidentiality of the database through messages ranging from a required agreement for all new employees to a pop-up message every time someone did a custom search.

Eventually, Korn/Ferry discovered the access and criminal charges were filed. This month’s decision was the second appeal of Nosal’s conviction on those charges to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

OK, there’s the federal crime. But what law did they violate? Continue reading