Sunday, February 27, 2005

prepackaged meat

In Colorado, workers at a Wal-Mart lube shop have voted 17-1 against forming a union.

Wal-Mart offers much to take in. Its face sticks into nearly every US town. Its other appendages snake along paths carved by global capital chessmoves. "Wal-Mart's computer database is second only to the Pentagon's in capacity," says this. If the Bentonville firm were a separate nation, it would be one of China's top 10 trade partners -- amounting to not merely a large, smart and aggressive retailer, but a separate economy. Thanks to the hallowed legal confusion between actual people and corporate persons (choreographed in the 19th century), the goal of the USian corp. is to be its own economy. Separate. Free. On the march. Unlimited upside-cum-zero-societal-obligation. Wham Bam Thank you Uncle Sam.

Wal-Mart's lightning pacifications of unionizing efforts are instructive:
In 2000, meat cutters at a Wal-Mart in Jacksonville, Texas, became the nation's only Wal-Mart workers to vote to unionize. But two weeks later, Wal- Mart announced it was replacing its meat-cutting operations in the South with prepackaged meat.

Here's a Salon analysis of Wal-Mart moolah. Especially appreciated is the characterization of a Wal-Mart press release extolling its comparative payroll largesse:
What we have, then, is a unique rhetorical form: Nonsense recited by someone who is relying on most of his listeners to understand that he is spouting nonsense.
(Irresistable aside: One might take issue with the term "unique," given how aptly this describes the rhetorical mode par excellence of Mr. Bush, for example. Much of the fitfulness experienced when within earshot of his voice is accounted for if one knows that his base knows that he knows that they know that everything he publicly avows is USDA adulterated prepackaged meat.)

Wal-Mart has sufficient standing in states like Florida to get preferential treatment from state legislatures, according to Labor Blog, produced by NY-based labor lawyer Nathan Newman:
Last fall, Florida voters overwhelmingly (72%) approved a constitutional amendment increasing the minimum wage by a buck and mandating that any employers breaking the law pay double damages plus legal fees when they violate the law.

Now the Florida GOP state House leaders want to let violators of the law escape those double damages if they give the money back within 15 days of being notified by employees of the intent to sue.
Newman says the Florida Legislature's interpretation of its own law is motivatedly wrong, and he would appear to know this because, he says, he drafted the provision.

And there are the workers who voted against unionization after being exposed to, among other things, videos offering Wal-Mart's point of view:
Cody Fields, who earns $8.10 an hour after two years, said that he had originally backed the union "because we need a change" but that the videos had been effective. "It's just a bunch of brainwashing," Mr. Fields said, "but it kind of worked."
The standard media model response to anything like this is to declare how Wal-Mart represents the brand-smashing triumph of you and me. We consumers are calling the shots, driving producer/vendors to China, exploiting Chinese labor and forcing the corp. to hold the line on wages, according to corp. bigwigs and maverick commentators like James Surowiecki.

Now what one never hears discussed is, what designed the consumer? What palimpsest of forces produced this creature that, driven like Io by cruel Necessity (the sting of price), nonetheless appears to have limitless appetite and capacity for every minute piece of unnecessary paraphenalia?

The riddle of the oikos, the order of the house, is not so simple as Surowiecki or Frontline or Sam Walton make it out: Producers, middlemen and "consumers" swim in the same large bouillabaisse. (There is no outside of Wealth Bouillabaisse.) Sam Walton, says this,
had been a small-town merchant. And he had seen the future. He had chosen to eat rather than be eaten.
Sam's Chinese slave-associates and Uncle Sam's haggard consumers are the same prepackaged protein, consuming and consumed.

Saturday, February 26, 2005

oblivia technica

Via Allied, wood s lot: Forgotten work:

Via AKMA: The work of forgetting:
Memory, History, Forgetting - Ricoeur: Why do major historical events such as the Holocaust occupy the forefront of the collective consciousness, while profound moments such as the Armenian genocide, the McCarthy era, and France's role in North Africa stand distantly behind?...

Ricoeur explores whether historians, who can write a history of memory, can truly break with all dependence on memory, including memories that resist representation. The third and final section is a profound meditation on the necessity of forgetting as a condition for the possibility of remembering...

Thursday, February 24, 2005


Monday, February 21, 2005

"Here are a few criminals who'd like to know you"

The company many credit with stealing the 2000 Florida election for George W. Bush is back in the news for handing people's sensitive credit data to "bandits":

ChoicePoint Inc., under fire for being duped into allowing criminals to access its massive database of personal information, said Monday that consumers in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and three U.S. territories may have been affected by the breach of the company's credentialing process.

The company acknowledged last week that thieves apparently used previously stolen identities to create what appeared to be legitimate businesses seeking ChoicePoint accounts. The bandits then opened up 50 accounts and received volumes of data on consumers, including names, addresses, Social Security numbers and credit reports.

The ring...operated for more than a year before it was detected. Formed in 1997 as a spinoff of credit reporting agency Equifax Inc., ChoicePoint has 19 billion public records in its database at its suburban Atlanta headquarters.

19 billion. Whoa.
Attorneys general in 38 states have joined an open letter to ChoicePoint Inc., demanding that the data-brokering company do for their states' residents what they did for Californians - inform anybody affected by the security breach that they may be vulnerable to identity theft. Seattle Post Intelligencer.
So far, other than a muted mention in the St. Pete Times, I find no media noting the link between Choicepoint and the trashing of 91,000 black democrat votes in Florida during the 2000 election.

Now here's an interesting factoid: Florida is the only state that pays a private company that promises to "cleanse" voter rolls. (This was the contract for the Simulated 2000 George Bush Election Reality that put him in the White House.) Choicepoint's self-exculpatory story regarding Florida 2000 is here. And here is one description of how the company it purchased, DBT, blocked voters from doing their citizenly duty in 2000.

Back to the current predicament involving blown privacy for people all across the country (USA Today has victim estimates for each state):

The company learned of the problem in October, but did not notify those customers who were possibly affected until this month because authorities did not want to jeopardize their investigation.
USian media is always quick with the "because" clause. It gives us the secure feeling we can return to sleep. But whose "because" is this? Would it have been a tad embarrassing in the month before the 2004 election to have to admit that the very same Georgia Republican-run company that delivered the election in 2000 was this freaking incompetent? To remind us of their role at that delicate moment was dangerous enough. But what do we know of their role in the 2004 election? Not much, but there's this, and this. Did Bushco really want to air this right before the election?
"ATLANTA - Consumer data collector ChoicePoint Inc.'s mission is to arm customers with the information necessary to verify that the people they are doing business with are who they say they are.

That selling point has been turned on its head by bandits who were given access to the company's massive database by duping it into thinking they were someone they were not.

'The irony appears to be that ChoicePoint has not done its own due diligence in verifying the identities of those 'businesses' that apply to be customers,' said Beth Givens, director of the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, a nonprofit consumer advocacy group in San Diego. 'They're not doing the very thing they claim their service enables their customers to achieve,'
says Canadian lawyer David T.S. Fraser.
So Choicepoint's criminal fiasco doesn't appear in the headlines of 2004 for the company.

A few more bits:

ChoicePoint's board and executive roster are packed with Republican stars, including billionaire Ken Langone, a company director who was chairman of the fund-raising committee for New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani's aborted run against Hillary Rodham Clinton. Langone is joined at ChoicePoint by another Giuliani associate, former New York Police Commissioner Howard Safir. And Republican power lobbyist and former congressman Vin Weber lobbies for ChoicePoint in Washington. Just before his death in 1998, Rick Rozar, president of a Choicepoint company, CDB Infotek, donated $100,000 to the Republican Party. Salon.
A semi-juicy bit about boardmember Langone here - two bits, in fact: allegedly defaming a competitor and allegedly misleading the NYSE about Dick Grasso's compensation.
The NYT does the obligatory soporific metapiece:
''Among other things, the law restricted the government from building databases of dossiers unless the information about individuals was directly relevant to an agency's mission. Of course, that's precisely what ChoicePoint, LexisNexis and other services do for the government. By outsourcing the collection of records, the government doesn't have to ensure the data is accurate, or have any provisions to correct it in the same way it would under the Privacy Act. There are no limits on how the information can be interpreted, all this at a time when law enforcement, domestic intelligence and foreign intelligence are beoming more interlinked.'' NYT.


Saturday, February 19, 2005

walls less and more

The poor live with the wind, with dampness, flying dust, silence, unbearable noise (sometimes with both; yes, that’s possible!) with ants, with large animals, with smells coming from the earth, rats, smoke, rain, vibrations from elsewhere, rumours, nightfall, and with each other. Between the inhabitants and these presences there are no clear marking lines. Inextricably confounded, they together make up the place’s life.
Twilight was setting in; the sky wrapped in cool grey fog, was already being closed off by darkness; and the wind, after spending the day rustling stubble and bare bushes that had gone dead in preparation for winter, now lay itself down in still low places on the earth...
The poor are collectively unseizable. They are not only the majority on the planet, they are everywhere and the smallest event speaks of them. This is why the essential activity of the rich today is the building of walls – walls of concrete, of electronic surveillance, of missile barrages, minefields, frontier controls, and opaque media screens.

~ John Berger, channelling Andrei Platonov, via the marvellous Charlotte Street.

~ Meanwhile ~

The privileged class I am proposing has a substantial material base--a massive hunk of this country's wealth, which is right now being transferred at a fairly rapid pace from the "moving lane" parents to their "aboveground" offspring and heirs. Wealth, however, remains a necessary but insufficient determinant of class. There must also be a common culture, and this culture is what's lacking in today's privileged class.

The basic choice is to recognize that their children are really and truly different from the children of the less successful. ...

Building this culture will, of course, demand special institutions. The most important of these, and the only one that stands a chance of any success against both consumerism and wealth perversity, is boarding school.

~ Nelson Aldrich, really and truly channelling Manifest Destiny, via The Happy Tutor.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Manchurian moment of Zen

Few will fail to recall this Times piece by Ron Suskind from October 2004, a scarce few weeks before Bush and Co. created its own reality on Nov. 2. It dwarfs the detritus of election year rubbish with what has to be the most famous unattributed quote of perhaps ever:
In the summer of 2002, after I had written an article in Esquire that the White House didn't like about Bush's former communications director, Karen Hughes, I had a meeting with a senior adviser to Bush. He expressed the White House's displeasure, and then he told me something that at the time I didn't fully comprehend -- but which I now believe gets to the very heart of the Bush presidency.

The aide said that guys like me were ''in what we call the reality-based community,'' which he defined as people who ''believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.'' I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. ''That's not the way the world really works anymore,'' he continued. ''We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality -- judiciously, as you will -- we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.''
So remarkable was the reception this statement garnered that it has its very own entry in Wikipedia, a Red-Letter Day for a sinister paradigm. How sad for its author, and for us, that to this day we don't know which of history's actors -- or escorts -- to thank.

It has to be someone profoundly psychosociopathic. No sane senior advisor to the elected servant of a democratic entity says "We're an empire now," to a reporter for a major alleged news organization. No legitimate news organization in a democratic state would conceal the identity of the powerful advisor who said it.

We can be fairly sure it wasn't the feckless Ari Fleischer, who simply can't explain how Jeff Gannon/Jim Guckert or anyone else gets credentialed at the White House. Anyone close to power who talks of creating "our own reality" in a time of worldwide backlash against Freedom on the March is not the type to dither or demur.

Indeed, only someone as imperially contemptuous of reality as Suskind's concealed source would have what it takes to put a Jeff Gannon into the White House Press Corps. Only someone who has sufficiently "seemed to have, ehm, divorced themselves from reality" would invent Jeff Gannon.

I'll bet my presidential pretzel-pin: Acquire the identity of Suskind's source and discover who, what, is behind the Grand-Guignol of Guckert-Gannon.

Update: Frank Rich apparently shares some of these concerns. See the middle part of this column from March 4, 2005:
Mr. Gannon, a self-promoting airhead, may well be a pawn of larger forces as the vainglorious Mr. Liddy once was. But to what end?...

We still don't know how this Zelig, using a false name, was given a daily White House pass every day for two years. Last weekend, Jim Pinkerton, a former official in the Reagan and Bush I White Houses, said on "Fox News Watch," no less, that such a feat "takes an incredible amount of intervention from somebody high up in the White House," that it had to be "conscious" and that "some investigation should proceed and they should find that out."

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Land of the stupid

Curious, this strident affectation of shock at the simple fact that an alleged gay prostitute has been enjoying full White House press access.
Let’s be clear: a working prostitute with no legitimate journalistic credentials, acting under a pseudonym under the auspices of a phony news service run by a Texas GOP activist was given direct access to that most guarded of inner sanctums, the White House press room, where he served no function but to shill for administration viewpoints. Additionally, he was given special access to a confidential CIA memo regarding Valerie Plame, the leaking of which (by unknown administration officials) is currently the subject of a criminal investigation. American Coprophagia
It seems a misplaced stress. The point it not that Jeff Gannon/Guckert is gay, or an escort with a certain military fetish, and that therefore he should not be in the White House Press Corps. Many people have extra jobs. The point is that in the current climate of Homeland Security, at a time when every sort of precaution toward cartoonish notions of terror is adopted and practiced with jackboot devotion, a flagrant cluebomb like "Jeff" can be planted inside the White House and patiently keep from exploding until someone --anyone -- notices. It's almost too classically cloacal to hold water. Or Journal Jism.

More than dignity it's majesty that's compromised. Common sense is offended. Along with any assurances about national intelligence.


Domesticity begins with accouchement.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Anti-disneyfuckation box

When Oscar organizers picked Rock as host it was because of his provocative brand of humor. Industry observers have said his selection made sense in light of efforts by the ABC network to draw more interest in the show, especially from younger viewers.

ABC, a unit of the Walt Disney Co., will broadcast the 77th Academy Awards on Feb. 27, with a time delay of several seconds.
The point of hiring the guy and surgically removing his weenie in real time? That is the point?

He began by showing them a sequence of provocative cartoon drawings.

When the pictures were shown, the machines registered the subject's brainwaves as they reacted strongly to the images before them. This was to be expected.

Far less easy to explain was the fact that in many cases, these dramatic patterns began to register a few seconds before each of the pictures were even flashed up.

It was as though Dr Hartwell's case studies were somehow seeing into the future, and detecting when the next shocking image would be shown next.
But can he get it into distribution channels before Feb. 27th?
*via thisonesplace

Monday, February 14, 2005

For Val: Where love lies

Let's not kid ourselves: everyone hates translations. The evidence is everywhere in the history of literature.

Cervantes wrote that reading a translation was "like looking at the Flanders tapestries from behind: although you can see the basic shapes, they are so filled with threads that you cannot fathom their original luster."

Goethe took issue with translators themselves, whom he likened to "enthusiastic matchmakers singing the praises of some half-naked young beauty: they awaken in us an irresistible urge to see the real thing with our own eyes."

Gide observed that the translator was "a horseman who tries to put his steed through paces for which it is not built."

Madame de Lafayette equated the translator with "a lackey whose mistress sends him to pay someone a compliment; whatever she said politely, he renders rude."

And Milan Kundera sketched a portrait of the translator as good-natured dope, the shaggy dog of letters panting at his author's heels:

I meet my translator, a man who knows no Czech.
--Then how did you translate it?
--With my heart.
And he pulls a photo of me from his wallet. He was so congenial that I actually believed it was possible to translate by some telepathy of the heart.
Wyatt Mason, behind the New Republic's wall of money.

Friday, February 11, 2005

Where in "media" might we find this question:

To what extent will the intersection of intellectual property fascism* and ownership society triumphalism (Responsibility, Liberty, Prosperity) produce the visibility of and (pragmatic engagement in) the friction of USian class interests?

*via Kombinat!

Thursday, February 10, 2005

blogg duh vine

I have the nerve to dress this way, and expect you'll send me money. Demo.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

An emancipation proclamation for the Oooooonership Society (that will drive red statists bananas)

This NPR story describes a transforming insight in Montana that deserves wider dissemination.

In nuce: Some employers (not just the usual suspects: Wal-Mart, Costco, Kmart, e.g.) stay competitive by paying so little they drive some employees to seek help from the government. Their Wal-Martian bonanzas leave room for some to qualify for publicly-subsidized healthcare and housing.

A state bill would tax retailers on gross receipts above $20 million a year unless they pay full timers something approaching a living wage.

Right now, says one legislator, "Their employment practices are shifting costs on the rest of us."

Retailers would be exempt from the new tax so long as they pay each full-time employee $22,000 a year including benefits, as long as at least 3/4 of their workers are indeed full time.

Large surprise: business organizations are opposed. We compassionate their screams.

The current USian Middle Class Dystopic bottom line goes like this: the retailers' bottom line business model drives the costs of survivability from employers to public support funded by the rest of us, at a time when Ooooooooonership society ideologues aim to eliminate major building blocks of public support while supporting business models that send work to China or Medicaid, and workers and their families to the Dumpster.

An "actual" Ownership Society might consider holding employers responsible for enabling their workers to belong to it.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Havana with eyes

Sunday, February 06, 2005

and what's more

Lord knows I don't want to revisit the blog vs journo yadda yet again. But Mr. BlindTangerineJones said something in a comment that merits a further something.

He said:
The real challenge for journalists--as opposed to news and content managers, which is not a job title self-respecting journalists generally wind up holding--is to tap into the ten gazillion bloggers writing about the ten gazillion things they saw with their own eyes that we didn't have a photographer at.

Which I will translate loosely to mean, blogs are best treated as primary sources - that can be used, as other primary sources are, by journos.

So, a blog can be a primary source.

Journalism is not primary, because it is mediated. It works on and with primary sources to produce something like news. When it works at all.

But journalism then turns to artifact. A real USian newspaper, like the one that I am subject to in my locality, will offer ads for glamorous $14.5 million homes on one side of a page. On the flip side: images of people coping with giant piles of garbage where they live.

The artifact, the journalistic object, is not journalism, though it might claim to "contain" it. The artifact has itself become a primary source that can be reflectively analyzed by, well, blogeurs among others.

So there's the play (I refuse to say dialectic). Journos use blogs, but because they (institutional media) are part of a corporate for-profit production process geared to popular consumption, their work enters the fabric of consumer artifice, phantasmagoric desire, and in turn become the subject of a new dimension of reflection via blogs. Then of course Journos can write about that.

Note: it is no longer the "content" of journalism that is the subject, once journalism has been tranformed into an object of reflection. (That would simply be public affairs blogging, which is by and large a minor subset of discursive onanism, as BTJ suggests.) No, it is journalism now taking on the status of primary source within an analytical or reflective mode in which it will be explored as everything but what it purports to be, i.e., a representation of reality.

This restless exchange, in which each mode, blog/journo, in turn exists first as primary source for, then as discourse mediated by, the other might have something to do with the evident inability to close off the question of their uneasy relationship, regardless of valiant efforts to do so.

Real Estate Axiom #1

(from a Florida real estate brokerage site)

Whatever the housing one needs, wherever you are, you are always buying this house, (starting from the low $000,000,000's).

Thursday, February 03, 2005

all that you can be

I was talking with my friend Charlie today. He's given his time to many a cause over eight decades -- WW II vet, teacher, union organizer, Bloomsday fundraiser, protector of environments, counselor for those who don't understand their legal rights, and much more I'm sure I don't know about.

I asked him how he got things done, because he always seems to get things done. He said he learned how to do this in the military. It seems he was stationed at Fort Dix in the 40's, and his bride, Lola, was in New York, having just given birth to their daughter. A promised furlough was unexpectedly cancelled for the whole troop -- Charlie had been postponing other chances to get off base in order to use this one to see his new daughter. He asked to see the commanding officer, who he says was an utter incompetent (perhaps like Philip Ober's character in From Here to Eternity).

At that time, Charlie was the guy doing a lot of the paperwork for the CO, having the education, know-how, wits, etc., to get it done.

When he asked why his furlough was cancelled, the CO had no answer. Charlie remembers himself saying, "Well, I'm going anyway. Would you like me to draw up my court martial papers before I leave, or when I come back?"

He got his furlough. And since then, whenever a cause worth fighting for has come along, Charlie fights, and almost always wins.