Monday, August 03, 2009

cash for stupidity

I admit that I once owned an 8 cylinder Chevy Suburban, a true gas guzzler...that was 1985. Before then and since, I have driven much lighter cars and since around 1990, I have often left the car home and gotten to work on a bicycle.

That history divulged, I will chance being called a hypocrite to tell you what I have felt about the automobile since my high school days when tail fins and tyrannosaurs roamed the earth.

It is a cheap thrill for some apes, and perhaps a necessary evil for the hapless working class who can not find work where they live or live where they can find work. Buckminster Fuller was one of the more prominent but hardly the earliest voices to question the massive per capita use of petroleum, metals and other resources to which the automotive addiction [and the severely dysfunctional use of land that goes with the addiction] committed us. The vision of the conventional automobile and its usage patterns as arch nemesis of sustainability was not exactly his message. He also thought more technology could be applied to help us live as well on less resources. His book "Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth" was old news by the time I read it in the late 60's. Having been taken on as a kind of manifesto for the technically inclined hippie and tossed as kookie by most others, its influence is far less than it prescience about our resource-starved present would justify. That is not the only source of my revulsion at the clumsy dirty machines, the love of which we subsidize, but it was important intellectual support. I also have youthful associations of noisy cars with bullies and negligent scholarship. It was, in my formative years, a cultural institution to rival the black holes of gambling and public drunkenness [the latter has been radically exacerbated in both opportunity and severity of consequences by the illusory freedom to escape that advertisers use to promote car ownership.]

That is not all I can say about my bad reaction to one of the pillars of both our economy and our culture but enough of that. Suffice it to say that since GM and Chrysler are sucking up billions of YOUR dollars on life support, you are owed a moment of sanity: the pillars of life in this allegedly great nation are rotting out from under you. I have not the time nor you the patience for me to explain to you that from a fundamentally economic perspective, the collapse was inevitable. That explanation would be one that puts the whole of our support system: the resources we acquire at severe political cost, the resources do we command: coal, air, water, iron, health and the costs to patch up bodies corroded by lives lived in cars...and the money that makes all those resources fungible... all counted on the ledger. Saying that collapse was inevitable and that any, ANY, reasonable extrapolation of consumption trends since the 60's amounts to a set of tracks ending at an ecological and economic cliff is unnecessary because we are at the cliff now. Plenty of smart and far sighted people already did that didn't listen to them either. I am making plans to jump off the train since it won't even slow down.

Won't even slow down. The same psychology as ever quietly commands the body politic: "I don't want to know the ultimate costs of any ploy of government/industry as long as it minimizes my immediate discomfort or protects me from the scary, the unfamiliar effort or privation. The same corporations, oil companies, and automobile companies, that benefited from congressional dispensation will continue to benefit based on the excuse of the jobs they represent in spite of the now obvious fact that the future they represent is one of empty shelves, uprooted lives, dirt and want. The corporations still have vastly disproportionate representation via lobbies and representation that speaks far better for the largest blocks of share holders than for individual workers or families. We will always see congressional creativity in new forms of subsidies overt or subtle. In the past we have had tax funded highways, tariffs on imported cars, tax breaks on car loan interest...a long and varied list to which we now add "cash for clunkers". We seem bent on rewarding the very stupidest behavior. Now, I who can pay more taxes because I have spent far less of my family wealth on cars, will pay more in taxes now and later so that you morons who bought SUVs long after they became the laughing stock of the ecologically minded, can get a do-over. A do-over of the mistake of buying a car at my expense financially and at my expense environmentally...this program sucks.

And if you think you can tolerate the suckage because at least the dupes will be driving more fuel efficient and less polluting cars, please consider:
  • They will have to buy a Japanese car or a [German owned] "Smart" car to get anywhere above 38 MPG average. American worker's benefit from this will be much less than advertised.
  • Another ton of iron will be mined or refined and another ton of coal burnt to make the replacement car. A comprehensive analysis factoring in more than job-angst would have us just drive the clunkers more slowly and trade them in when they were really ready to trade.

Its a hoax, folks. The popularity is just a tip-off on how fatuous the fans of this "solution" are.

At one time or another, we have given Detroit and Dallas [1]every conceivable advantage using the general revenues of this nation. Now, populism provides a willing if blind alliance of the least conscientious consumers and the least conscientious industries to raid the coffers when they are already empty by the accounting standards that your bank would apply to you.

Did you think XOM was an oil company? If they were an oil company they would need a headquarters in the oil patch but I doubt they drill much oil on K street yet profit spectacularly. Like almost any other corporation, the sole logic of their existence is profit...they are a profit company more than an oil company. Hence the nice HQ office by the beltway. Your government and your oil company are so very much in bed together you probably can't tell who is on top unless you rip off the covers.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Thats the way it was

I note the passing of Walter Cronkite with the same sadness as many older Americans.

But do you think the news was more balanced and unfiltered when he broadcast it? Are you sad because with his passing , you think the period is now placed on the last sentence of real news and no one is likely to scold us for consuming the news we want to hear and little else? I'll scold. The reason most of us would smirk if either Huffington or O'Reilly signed off "Thats the way it is" is because we know we tuned for "that is what you wanted to hear".

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

And when they came for the bloggers, no one was home

You know there is a series of books and probably a television show on the theme of "what would you do to survive X" where X is something dreadful most of us would expect to kill us. X is things like a shark attack, a lion stalking you, your car going into a skid on an icy road, the elevator you are in suddenly snapping its cables etc.

Here is a modern media problem: you get a subpoena about the forum or blog you run, requesting the identities of commenters or posters ... and you are under threat of jail if you even reveal that you have been asked to reveal names. What would you do to survive that? Its not a hypothetical question.

In the case of the operators of the website Room 8, a forum for talking about NYC politics, the game played out thusly...
This, of course, is a blogger’s nightmare: enforced silence and the prospect of jail time. The district attorney eventually withdrew the subpoena and lifted the gag requirement after the bloggers threatened to sue. But the fact that the tactic was used at all raised alarm bells for some free speech advocates.

So maybe you could sue the DA, but the "but" in that paragraph tells you that if you blog or even just comment on blogs, you might want to read the article and learn how to cover your ass. Beware of the advice you find linked in the article however: the date on their linked technology story is 2006. Check around for more up-to-date software for identity protection. The feds probably do not have to be as overt at the DA in New York...they don't need a warrant or a subpoena, they can just bust in to your packets and see who is saying what to whom. For instance, don't you suppose then Attorney General Alberto Gonzo sorely wanted to subpoena anyone who was in touch with Paul Kiel and Justin Rood around Jan. of 2007?

I find it oddly incompetent or naive of Mr. Smith, one of the proprietors of Room 8, that he runs web site yet doesn't know what the police would want with an IP address. If you use, for instance,, to count the hits on your blog, poke around in the user interface to the stats. Even if you don't pay for the service you get the first three fields of the IP, the portion that maps to a domain usually. If you pay, you get to see the full server log entry and it would tell exactly which machine if the user was not using some kind of cloaking measure. The ISP will mask the location, maybe even lie about the town just to protect the privacy of its customers from stalkers but trust me, the ISP can be pressured to provide the correct details and now that the carriers are immune from lawsuit or prosecution for privacy violations, how long until ISP's get the same dispensation. You know a democratic congress including a certain democratic senator running for president passed the present swiss cheese version of FISA. I think means the imminent departure of Bush guarantees no rights in this matter.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Kinda like The Cream but with a lot of garage bands just off stage

Huffington visits Marshall. These two comprise my first-reads of the day more often than not. HuffPo is getting a Webby award. Well, someone has to get them.

There are a million more of us out here scribbling away and I think that is good just to make sure nobody who isn't in a coma misses the import of peril, perfidy and possibility of our precarious times. You may be one person reflecting, repeating and writing...but always distilling the broad stream, even if only by choosing what to link or paste: You are voting, by emphasis, for what you think matters most. If you have one reader or only a few, you still strengthen the synapses of the hive mind around the knowledge that matters and you still hammer your little blow to forge the more sane and informed consensus that keeps the elections and legislation from sliding toward fascism. Do the courts, the State department, the Congress, the regulators of banking, commerce and communications hear us? They certainly won't if we don't speak up.

First the crowd hears itself, then the leaders hear the crowd. Most bloggers are more audience than artist or author but they really do get to be a bit of both. That exemplifies the two-way conversation between authority and subject that should mark all aspects of a democracy. But MSM has eschewed real dialog for the profit of an assembly line of news. Assembly lines only flow in one direction, most of their output briefly in our hands on its way to a landfill somewhere. Huffington is asking for suggestions for a five-word "acceptance speech". I wish I could find five words to say "news factories broken, dialog prevails"...but those particular five words only work at the end of a blog post.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

I don't mind paying for my news

I took a journalism course back around 1970. I don't recall what text we used but the prof did most of his teaching around our mandatory subscription to the LA Times. Nobody, not even the editor, agrees with every word printed in a serious news paper but a proper and progressive attitude for being an informed citizen demands that spectrum of coverage. To be so informed I consider as much an obligation of citizen-powered nations [we abuse the word "democracy"] as voting or willingness to pay taxes and serve in defense forces.
So, I am sad when an important news organization crosses a threshold of demise and heads towards the trash heap of trivialized "major media" mush.
I don't think there is any way to be a serious newspaper for a publisher who won't provide enough budget to send adept and knowledgeable sleuths among our businesses, politicians and other influencers of world events and enough freedom to write the complete and cogent exposition and analysis of what those sleuths find, regardless of the wishes of the subjects and sponsors [too often the same party] to spin news favorably. Those are two things that get me to pay any attention to a paper. Those are things I will pay for in cash because they ARE value to me and only such coverage actually satisfies my hunger to be realistically informed of the state of the world and our prospects in it.

NY Times recently polled on line readers to get a profile of the readers and their responses to various features of the Times' product. I had to add a comment that I was willing to pay for sound reporting since they took their premium content out from behind the pay wall. If you, as a consumer of news, insist on getting something for nothing, you deserve the pablum press and trite talking heads that are displacing real news sources. How long will you be able to change the channel to PBS and NPR?

I doubt they are listening to me but if Mr. Zell or the Board of Directors at NY Times, [you go to hell, Rupert, you are just a pusher] have any interest in keeping ME as a customer they had better not water down their news any further nor pander to politically powerful. Yes, the Wal-Marts of the world make money...but not from me. I would caution publishers strongly against the urge to become a Wal-Mart of news with an abundance of formulaic fluff you can print at a profit. Wal-Mart shoppers wind up with few choices. Josh Marshall's Talking Point Memo, for example, sometimes quotes mainstream media outlets but they have been freer than the mighty NY Times to dig and to disclose the dreck that Washington does and disguises who is my first read in the morning? Who's ads do I see first? Its getting to be a toss-up.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Is Green the new Black?

Green as a fashion statement is corrupt and useless. I welcome Huffington Post to the market in environmentally conscious news with a mix of appreciation and skepticism. I hope the objective of Huffpo is to compliment, not harm, the longstanding promoters of green living and green economies by moving in on its trendy new find. The inaugural "green" page had 12 adds this afternoon, adsensed for relevance...that's more than they have on their politics page or their business page.

I am aware that HuffPo is more of a business than a cause and therefore the ad count raises red flags for me concerning the sincerity in putting up a "green" section. I am hopeful, since it marks at least a recognition that to run a paper in the black, you should go green, i.e. that is the direction in which the hearts and minds of readers are drifting. I am hopeful and watchful...

Green, if it means LEARNING to live with a less damaging net impact on the ecosystems is good. If it is mesostream medium cutting into the market of, or regaining the market lost to, those whose values [yes, it IS a values matter] had already made a tiny economy out of environmental awareness...then its a sham and not really helpful. If HuffPo will reach new audiences and change minds or at least awareness, all the better. If they are just selling Green hummers and green day spas, why bother? The awareness that we must all use less of the planet is not entirely consistent with strident commercialism. I wonder if the advertising rates are reduced for struggling but truly environmentally beneficial enterprises, dot-orgs and such.

As to the timing of this new enthusiasm... Some people have been working this beat since the 80's and earlier. The HuffPo writers critcized McClellan's new found honesty as "Scotty come lately" . Should people who want to move into a green house throw stones?

I love and I link the HuffPo...Arianna and company have dead accurate tone and damn quick presentation of news facts in politics. I just hope they use their reportorial muscle to make politics less of an obstacle than it has been to those of us who have made no money by trying to spare the really isn't a money making game. First comes the revolutionaries, then comes the traders. If HuffPo does not dedicate some of its efforts to making a difference in how consumers see their impact on the livability of the near and long term future, I will be pointing out the failures.

UPDATE: A. H.'s inaugurating post for the HuffPo green pages was taking comments. It has about 60 at this time, one of which is not mine. I submitted this post, sans links as a comment last night and it has not appeared. They want fans, not critics.

Monday, January 09, 2006

A bit of bad news for anti bush blogging.

Atrios and Lindsay have both got posts today about a bill just signed into law by Bush which could be used by the bush league to harrass their political enemies. This new act has a name that sounds like it would be protective of good citizens but the language allows it to be used to protect bad politicians. For those who, like myself, blog anonymously to save themselves and their family or employer from distress and unwanted attention, this is clearly a threat to free speech. As Mumon points out, you don't even have to lose the lawsuit that could show this is an unconstitutional bit of bushwhackery to be damaged by exposure...who wants to sue first?

But why should I worry? The bush league would never harrass someone just for saying bad things about them. Of course not!