Friday, June 29, 2007

Cost-Cutting in the Internet Age

There's a difference between pro-business and pro-corporation. The recent Supreme Court decision on wholesale prices clearly falls in the area of pro-corporation. By removing the price minimum ban on wholesalers, the Supreme Court has opened the door to a dramatic increase of prices for consumers. While I do not think that this will happen any time soon I do think you will start to see luxury goods rise in price as well as less necessary items. But to make it clear, the court decision allows for something that hasn't been allowed since the beginning of the last century. Wholesalers are now allowed to set a certain price minimum on their goods. In other words, a wholesaler can tell a retailer that they cannot sell the wholesaler's goods at less than a certain price. Wholesale prices are traditionally much less than retail, that's just the way it works. In the jewelry business we have the term 'triple keystone', meaning that retail prices are triple that of wholesale prices. With the recent rise of precious metal prices the wholesale price rose as well causing the retail price to rise correspondingly. That's the way it works between wholesale and retail. So any push by wholesalers to raise their minimum price will have an effect on the retailer, who is just as concerned with their profit margin as the wholesaler is. Unfortunately, the effect of the wholesaler focusing too much attention on their profit margin will cause the retailer to either raise their prices thus losing customers, or accept a smaller profit margin thus placing the business at risk of closing. Now for internet business the risk is smaller as they are able to reduce their costs through efficiency and coordination. But for the traditional small business owner with a storefront and inventory even a small increase of their wholesale goods can have a serious effect. What this means is that the place you buy your flowers, gas, picture frames, and knick-knack furniture all face the potential of devastating rises in their cost of doing business, which will in turn affect the customers. In other words, removing the price minimum ban is a terrible idea that benefits only the largest of retailers and the wholesalers. This is what I mean by pro-corporation.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Money often costs too much.

Money often costs too much. - Ralph Waldo Emerson

Because I like giving peanuts to the monkey(s) in Jordan's brain, I want to talk about today's Supreme Court decision in Leegin Creative Leather Products v . PSKS (06-480), which did away with the 96 year old antitrust precedent prohibiting minimum price setting between manufacturers and retailers, and what that means for the voting, consuming, and deeply in debt public...

It sounds like to me that the Court just permitted manufacturers to require that their goods be sold at a (presumably higher) minimum price, in order for a retailer to sell their product(s). Consumers have enjoyed antitrust protections, against this very behavior, in this country for almost a century. What is the Court doing? Why?

Is it because our politicians/lobbyists like to encourage consumer debt, credit card debts, bank and mortgage debt? Because those shackles tie us to our crappy service-industry jobs and crap wages, so that there's nothing for us to do but work 50 hour weeks and sit in front of our televisions, watching commercials for more $*&% to buy on credit, from the very same people who in essence are running our country?

Sounds like fascism to me...

I guess I was starting to have some sort of thought (or maybe I'm about to sneeze?), but due to the half gallon of dayquil i have consumed today, I'm afraid I'm about to go horizontal. I am interested to see if anyone (Jordan?) wants to comment here...


Will v Cunningham

Setback for the Censors - George Will, WaPo

As an addendum to Emily's post on the recent Supreme Court case concerning campaign ads comes George Will, bastion of all things in old conservativism. Naturally, Will takes an opposing view, arguing that the McCain-Feingold bill suppresses free speech by preventing normal organized citizens from putting up a political ad when it was so close to an election. I'm going to cut in the middle of the Gordian knot here and say that both Will and Emily are right in a very distinct way. While Will does have a point that the McCain-Feingold bill does limit free speech when it comes to campaign advertising, I think Emily makes the more salient point about the influence of non-normal citizens in campaign advertising. Will is examining a very narrow circumstance of where the McCain-Feingold bill does not succeed in leveling the playing field of campaign finance. And yet, the larger point here is the continued assumption that money equals speech. If it is true that the Constitution bans any serious abridgment of our right to free and open speech as well as granting us equal opportunity (as it does in the 14th amendment) then one cannot say that money equals speech. Such a formulation defies the idea of equal access and opportunity. Simple because a group can raise the money to put up a campaign ad does not mean they have a greater right to speech than a group that cannot raise the money. It simply doesn't make sense in theory and makes absolutely no sense in practice.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Passion as Vitrol

"Take LeSage, for instance--my friend, my employer, my Rose of Madison Avenue. You think it was his ego that got him in television? Like hell it was! He has no ego any more--if ever he had one. He's split it up into hobbies. He has at least three hobbies that I know of--and they all have to do with a big, ten-thousand-dollar workroom in his basement, full of power tools and vises and God knows what else. Nobody who's really using his ego, his real ego, has any time for any goddam hobbies." Zooey Glass, Franny and Zooey.

I quote Salinger here not to bump my literary cred but to make a point about passions and the idea of following one's bliss. Most people here the phrase "follow your bliss" and think of some neo-mystic and all too fake guru promising enlightenment and happiness if you would just buy this book and associated dvds. Of course I take a different view. I wouldn't have said anything if I didn't think following my bliss was important. But the phrase is misunderstood. Salinger, through the voice of Zooey Glass, gets it though. Hobbies are excuses to avoid ever having to pursue your passions. As Joseph Campbell said (the originator of the phrase "follow your bliss") to pursue your passions is like walking on the edge of a sword. Yes, you may fail, you may fail horribly. But what else are you going to do? You can live like LeSage, filling your time with hobbies whenever you are off work. You can watch your television, play games, drink, practice yoga, meditation and martial arts. There are thousands of ways you can spend your time to keep the boredom at bay. But none of that, not a single one, matters if it doesn't push you along your chosen path.
Sometimes you need the trivial and banal. There's a sense of catharsis, of cleansing when you engage in activities that ultimately don't matter. Every action you take does not have to hold a purpose. Yet hobbies are an illusion of purposeful action. That's the trick of hobbies. The real ego can't allow for hobbies to distract. If what you purposefully do in your spare time does not build toward the realization of your bliss then you are simply masturbating. And as masturbation is compared to sex, hobbies grant only a brief reprieve from the emotional need to purse something, anything.
I don't believe that we are born with a purpose, at least not all of us. Existence itself is not a purpose. And I also believe that we get the life we have right now only once. Whatever happens after we die we get this life just once. So if we are not intrinsically imbued with a purpose and we only get this existence once then why not do something with it? We get to choose our own purpose and we damn well better choose a purpose that makes us happy. Yes, not all of us get to fulfill our chosen purpose, not all of us get to be happy. That's life, so be it. But to surrender yourself to the soul-sucking experience of hobbies, never making the attempt to follow your bliss at all? I can't handle that.
Don't aspire for anything and don't aspire to be anything. You are either doing it or you are not. If the entirety of your existence is based around the jobs you have and your life is based around the time that you are not at your job and not sleeping then what the hell are you doing? As I said, hobbies are an excuse. They are a blatant attempt to run as fast as you can from acknowledging that you are wasting your fucking time.

Your Money or Your Vote

To comment on Miss Information's post below on the recent Supreme Court rulings, I want to note that one of the biggest mistakes the court has made in the last few decades was ruling that money equals speech. Any effort to reform campaign finance is going to run against this idea. I personally don't believe that money equals speech primarily on the basis that free speech is inherently about the equal access to speech. Yet for the vast majority of Americans we do not have the monies necessary to put up a political ad, provide serious funding to a political candidate or buy the services of a lobbyist to argue our case to a representative. While we do have our ability to vote and make our voices heard through polling we have little recourse beyond that. Unless we actively organize every time an issue of concern to us arose we have little chance of affecting the votes of our representatives. For a lot of people, myself included, such constant protesting is unfeasible and unrealistic, which the more cynical representatives count on.
Such is not the case for corporations, particularly those that have an agenda that requires the services of a representative or senator. Corporations, with their large piles of liquid cash, can easily buy air time to run political ads, offer large campaign contributions or hire a literal army of lobbyists to push their wants and desires before Congress. To make the argument that money equals speech is to say that some people or organizations have more access to speech than others. More importantly, those with more money have greater access to speech and thus have a greater chance of having their voice heard. This is not to argue that there is some grand corporate conspiracy to lock out the voice of the average American (although that is entirely possible) but simply to point out the logical inconsistency between our Constitutionally protected ideas and how the Supreme Court shapes the limits of those ideas. I think that such rulings as money equals speech run counter to our idea of equal opportunity and access, allowing corporations to hold greater rights than that of the individual. This is a fundamental flaw that I do not see going away until the composition of the court changes, and not just in a left/right division.

money, so they say…

Jordan Jordan threatened my kneecaps with a tire iron so I have agreed to guest-blog on this fine syndicated publication, The Oddity Odyssey. I also do something like blogging over at Miss Information. All of it’s true, none of it’s relevant.

Since I was made an offer I couldn’t refuse gladly agreed to blog on the interplay between corporations and politics in the US, I’d like to begin with a rant on the recent Supreme Court decision in the case of Federal Election Commission v. Wisconsin Right to Life and McCain v. Wisconsin Right to Life, 06-969 (full-text .pdf of decision is here).

There is one phrase in the majority opinion that I’d like to briefly discuss, in which Justice Roberts, writing for the court, rules that only those advertisements that are paid for by corporations during the pre-election period and are “susceptible of no reasonable interpretation other than as an appeal to vote for or against a specific candidate” may be kept off the air. I’m still reviewing the entire decision, but this makes me wonder – shouldn’t any platform issue, political issue, etc. be construed as an appeal for a particular candidate? I mean, arent we supposed to understand what these candidates represent, what they stand for and shouldnt it be blatantly obvious to any “reasonable” person which candidate(s) these corporations’ monies are promoting in an advertisement?

Are we so blind that we really do not see the corporations behind the curtain?

Apparently so, and it would seem that the Supreme Court would like to keep it that way by continuing to find exceptions and protections for financial contributions to campaigns by corporations and private interests. With this "free speech" decision, the Court has continued it's trend and handed our government to private interests and corporations, on a silver platter, then called it a constitutional right!

As usual, John Stewart puts it well...

Guest-Blogging, Or Why We Matter

For the next week I have invited a friend of mine, Emily Cunningham, to guest-blog about the nexus of politics and corporations. Actually, there's a bet I plan to win, but you get the idea. She's almost as opinionated as I am and has a tendency to take unusual and intriguing views. When I first proposed the idea to her she immediately grasped on a plan to write about the influence of corporations in modern politics, something that I have thus far neglected. I will continue to blog as I normally do (i.e., erratically and rant-like) and any comments I have about Emily's posts will appear as separate posts with links to the commented posts. I hope to keep her around for the occasional specialty of the week but for the moment we will see what kind of brilliance she can put on for us. So welcome, Emily.

Power Lying in the Streets

Rioting in Iran - Andrew Sullivan

Comforting news for the revolutionary in me. There are enough dissidents in Iran to overthrow the regime. The problem is getting them to act in unison. Here's to hoping...

Monday, June 25, 2007

Black Devil Disco Club

Black Devil Disco Club - Pitchfork

I found a track by this group on Hot Chip's DJ Kicks comp that I purchases Saturday. Spent as much time as I could tracking down tracks by this group and another defunct group called Gramme. While the track "Like U" by Gramme is brilliant in it's strangely prescient electro-rock stylings, it's the back story behind Black Devil Disco Club that gets me. The music is excellent, whether it was done in 1979 as is claimed or done in the last five years. Supposedly, the original e.p. was kept secret for nearly twenty years until dug up by one of the guys from the Chemical Brothers and sampled in one of their tracks. After seeing a series of vinyl pressings, the tracks finally hit last year in the form of a six-song e.p. It's all a big mystery really, which only add to the haunted aura of the music, stripped down (or futuristic depending on your time frame) and the production is actually pretty good for what is supposed to be a self-produced, small-time act. Any fan of the Knife (of which I have only a partial liking) should listen to this group and hunt down as many tracks as you can. I love it, I love the story and I love the way the name rolls off your tongue. Bands should have names like this more often. It points you in a direction and kicks you when you look.

The Meditative Mind Concentrate - Science Blog

And twice in one day we have an article that promotes the benefits of meditation.

Intelligent Design Not So Intelligent

UK Gov boots intelligent design back into 'religious' margins - The Register

The greatest obstacle intelligent design faced in gaining acceptance is the ability to test it. The whole 'black box' aspect of intelligent design is the kicker. It's not that you can't falsify results. It's that you can't even explain the process fully. While the current Darwinist iteration of evolution doesn't explain everything the fact remains that one day either it will explain everything about evolution or a new theory will come along to explain more. Intelligent design does offer a full and robust explanation but the problem is you can't examine all the steps. There are moments in the process where you simply say, "the intelligent designer did it," and leave it at that. That's not science as it is traditionally understood and practiced. You have to explain everything and every step along the way. That was intelligent design's failure.


Putting feelings into words produces therapeutic effects in the brain - Science Blog

All along I've been touting the benefits of meditation and here we have a scientific study proving me right once again. The point of mindful meditation is not to arrive at a solution to a problem but merely to examine a particular aspect of yourself, whether physical or psychological. Putting words to a psychological state is important as it allows you to place it in the realm of logic. Language is inherently logical, which is why it cannot capture everything about the world, yet it does provide us a means to express things about the world. Psychological states are all the more troublesome for language as language only works in public. If you simply exist with your emotions without expressing them then you only have a tacit understanding of those emotions. Once you place those emotions in the public space by putting them to words you have a frame of reference that allows you to examine and understand the emotions. When I meditate I will move from focus on breathing to a particular issue in my mind, whether as banal as politics or as personal as who I am. I'm not looking for answers, simply the effort to concentrate on a particular topic. I tend to feel clear-minded afterwards, even if it's only a ten-minute session. I've actually gone two hours before, which was a bit of a mind-bender.


Serving the Servants - Matt Yglesias

Unlike Mr. Yglesias, I think we are coming to a point in our history where a form of conscription is almost necessary. But like Matt, I do think that we need to expand the idea of what conscription would include. Yet the way I think of it is not in terms of rebuilding our armed forces or providing enough bodies for agencies like Child Protective Services and homeland security. I think of it as a means of adjusting the country's attitude toward college and the expectations of our post-grade school teens and twenty-somethings. I believe we should have a 'gap year' between high school and college where teens are allowed to experience the world in a non-academic fashion. I also believe that conscription would take a mass of teens and give them a sense of what is possible for their lives. Conscription does not have to focus solely on military service. Instead we could easily fill the ranks of civil organizations and agencies that commonly suffer from understaffing. CPS is a glaring example of where we need far more people than we get, even if those people are there just to do office work. Police forces, border patrols, emergency services, there's a whole host of public service jobs out there that desperately need more people. Sure, there's a good portion of the conscription classes that would opt for military services, but with a population of our size we would still have plenty of teens left over to fill the ranks of civil service.
I would not be opposed to putting my future children through conscription, nor am I opposed to doing it myself. Say two years for military service or four years for civil service. Such an arrangement would put a lot of post-high school kids in college when they are around 21 to 23. It will have put them through an experience where they must display responsibility right after spending a year without any serious responsibility. It would raise the value of a high school education since a good number of kids wouldn't go on to college afterwards while providing those who do go on to college with the money and attitude to make it through successfully. Certainly there are those kids who will not do well in conscription, just as there are kids who don't do well in college or life in general. We can do what we can for them but at some point either they get it or they don't. But still, I think that conscription would offer the post-high school kids with an opportunity to get their feet wet without pushing them into the world defenseless and unprepared. Particularly for those kids who don't go on to college and never intended to, conscription would offer them the chance to learn about the possibilities. I like the idea and I think there are practical ways of implementing it, even in today's political climate.

The Soul of Drugs

Pharoahe Monch: Desire - Pitchfork

I don't agree with everything Kanye West says nor do I think he is as great as he thinks he is. Still, there's something to be said for socially relevant hip-hop in today's world. Monch seems to believe in the same ideals as someone like Common does. I know it isn't pop rap but I do think that the more artists like Common, Pharoahe and the Roots promote a social conscious the more rap listeners will pay attention. To shift the culture of hip-hop away from the glorification of drugs, sex and money will take as much time and effort as it did with rock. Today we have rock artists who write in a far greater range than previous, but that came after the Rolling Stones, Iggy and the Stooges, Bon Jovi and Oasis. Even still we have acts that romanticize the rock-n-roll lifestyle but it's done in a far more self-conscious fashion. Hip hop will get there too and artists like Kanye will help bring it there. And the thing is, we still need that dirtiness romanticized drug use, sex and money provides for catharsis and to remind us what is possible and the repercussions of such activities.

Recording the Falsehoods

A Law Unto Himself - Andrew Sullivan

It's unsurprising that Vice President Cheney has taken it upon himself to expand the powers of the executive branch but the argument that neither the president or the vice president belong to the executive branch belies a fundamental misunderstanding of our system. I don't honestly believe that VP Cheney does not know which branch of government he belongs to. Of course he does, but that he is willing to make such an argument is all the more frightening with that knowledge. I sincerely doubt that VP Cheney will take this as far as it can go since impeachment becomes an all too real option but he does want to stall as long as possible. If no new law or court ruling is made about the matter of executive branch papers then other presidents in the future still have the option of making this argument. Unless the argument is knocked down in court or through legislation then the informal assumption of presidential prerogative remains. I do believe in the necessity of keeping some information away from the public for the sake of clear advice and national security. At the same time, I do believe that maintaining records is necessary for later scholars to pour over and examine.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Obscure R.E.M. Reference

My mind is powered by love and anger. I have yet to figure out how to use love.
I'm right and you're wrong so shut up and listen.
Peoples is Peoples.
Society and the individual both run on inertia.
Politics is morality without morality.
Everything is connected and that is entirely irrelevant to the point.
Information is the fundamental element of the world.
Seven Kings ruled Rome and we know next to nothing about them.
I like puppies, but I like kittens more.
Books are my shelter and my weapon.
Time is optional.
I'm not going to dumb myself down. I'm going to raise you up.
Great things happen because we say they happen.
History free of bias is impossible, but history free of facts is all too real.
The body must remain as fit as the mind for both to work properly.
Objective advice means seeing the subjective mind.
I like to smoke and stare at things. Sometimes what I stare at bursts into flames.
Anti-depressants are the only thing keeping me from serious, unconscionable acts of violence.
The physical universe makes no sense, which makes absolute sense.
The rebel is preferable to the revolutionary.
Nietzsche is Nietzsche.
I am not deep and profound. I am simple and clear.
The agony of love is only one part of the experience.
You only get this life once so you might as well be happy.
I frequently experience déjà vu.
Man is a social animal who doesn't play well with others.
Blogs are the coffeehouses of the 21st century. I'm waiting for the Even-More-Glorious Revolution.
The electric gods of the 19th century will come back for us.
The nuclear gods of the 20th century are in our closets.
I always have something important to say before I speak.