Monthly Archives: April 2012

Kitten Meme

Kitten Meme

I don’t understand it .. but who’s above a bit of opportunism these days? We’ve got a kitten at our house. Here she is with a link to a few other photos, too.

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Wisconsin’s New Aristocracy Is On The Ballot – Forbes

Federal, state or even local governments cannot be driven out of business.  They gain their revenue forcibly through taxes.  As a result, there is no market limit to how much such unions can pirate from the public.

via Wisconsin’s New Aristocracy Is On The Ballot – Forbes.

Wisconsin's New Aristocracy Is On The Ballot - Forbes

Governments are funded by taxes ergo public sector unions are funded by taxes?  More lies today.  This time from our smug looking friend Peter Ferrara, former Reagan and Elder Bush collaborator.  I won’t spend much time on this since it’s fairly clear his claim is duplicitous, even to the labor-layperson such as myself.

While it’s true that governments do gain their revenue via taxation, that revenue is at zero risk of being pirated or pilfered by public sector unions.  I can’t even begin to grasp where M. Ferrara could draw such conclusions, beings that he’s a highly credible economic policy expert who “write[s] about new, cutting edge ideas regarding public policy, particularly concerning economics old, mis-leading, and divisive pro-business talking points intended to diminish organized labor’s power and drive up executive and shareholder [read 1%er] profits”.

Public-sector unions obtain funding the same way private-sector unions – whose rights to collective bargaining, Ferrara asserts, “are not at issue in Wisconsin” – do: they collect member dues.  Unless we count the wallets of private citizens who make a living working at government jobs as public coffers, there’s no bilking going on here at all.

The media discourse over supposedly corrupt, deleterious public sector unions is fraught with irony, as highlighted in this excellent piece excerpted below:

[W]hile unions can’t compel workers to fork over a penny for political campaigns, corporations can donate unlimited amounts of their shareholders’ equity to do so – they are, in fact, in the “unique position” to elect pliant lawmakers. “What the right-wing and the business community always try to portray is that you have these union bosses that are forcing helpless employees to give them money,” says Gold, “when the reality is that these are their members who chose to be in a union and then elected their officers democratically, in sharp contrast to corporations, none of whose officers are elected democratically unless you count shareholders voting at an annual meeting as a real democratic system.”

And conservatives have long held that voluntary donations to political campaigns are a high form of free speech. The double standard is clear– “money equals speech” unless it’s money freely donated by working people to advance their own economic interests.

Double-standards and duplicity abound while Wisconsonians follow democratically dictated recall protocol to elect the New Aristocracy (you read that right).

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EPA Official Says “Philosophy” Is To “Crucify” Oil And Gas Companies | RealClearPolitics

EPA Official Says “Philosophy” Is To “Crucify” Oil And Gas Companies | RealClearPolitics.

If you read the full text and apply context, what the hell is wrong with what Administrator Armendariz says?

[His enforcement philosophy is] kind of like how the Romans used to conquer little villages in the Mediterranean. They’d go into a little Turkish town somewhere, they’d find the first five guys they saw and they would crucify them. And then you know that town was really easy to manage for the next few years. And so you make examples out of people who are in this case not compliant with the law. Find people who are not compliant with the law, and you hit them as hard as you can and you make examples out of them, and there is a deterrent effect there. And, companies that are smart see that, they don’t want to play that game, and they decide at that point that it’s time to clean up. 

All in all, this snippet sure makes for a good headline about that SOCIALIST OBAMA REGIME but there’s really nothing to see here.  That is, unless you believe those poor, defenseless Oil & Gas companies require protection from the fiercely anti-Corporate, public-good-interested and incredibly powerful EPA.

Knowing that the EPA is astonishingly understaffed and apparently mired in a bureaucratic no-man’s-land where practical improvements in public health and safety are slowed and mitigated by pro-business and political team-player sentiments, I’m all for Administrator Armendariz’s crucifixion-deterrence model.  How about you?

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Union Station Stairs

Union Station Stairs

I’m really happy with this photo in a bridge-to-nowhere, stairs to existentialism sort of way.

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Who’s to Blame for Resentment of Immigrants?

Ran in to this today on an internetting tangent:

Dear Singaporeans,

Sign our Support  Singaporeans First petition here:-

http://www.change.org/petitions/support-singaporeans-first

Stop this relentless foreigner influx!

Spread the word around and stay united as one Voice!

Singapore for Singaporeans!

Gilbert Goh

Petition Organiser

The familiar tone from an unfamiliar setting got my wheels turning.  All good, progressive liberals firmly understand that harsh immigration policies are discriminatory and inhumane — it’s one of our axioms, right?  Why shouldn’t people move freely across arbitrary borders in order to better their lives?  The jingoistic chauvinism so often wrapped up in anti-immigrant sentiment tends to strike us progs as thinly-veiled instances of self-interest or, much worse, racism.  That’s a fair snapshot of the party-line, I think, but what are the deeper implications of globalized resentment for non-native workers?

We know there are heated immigration battles in Arizona (and all across America), Norway (tragically), FranceGermany, and, recently,  even temperate Sweden.  Immigration presents us with an issue that’s been hatched from within the globalization incubator.  Here in the US, the debate over Arizona’s specific flavor of nativism is about to be granted forum at America’s most hallowed venue, SCOTUS.

This surely isn’t a phenomenon that’s unique to America and it can’t be as simple as the bigots vs. brown-skin argument we’re force-fed in the media, right?  Sure that’s some of it, but the anger over a declining standard of living has to be primary.  Who’s the real Scooby-Doo villain here, once we’ve removed all the masks?

While the animus directed towards individuals who, by legal or illegal means, enter this and other countries to live and work and build lives is widespread, we see very little acrimony for the legal persons providing the incentive for the behavior of said immigrants — the corporate employers who actively recruit and hire these people to displace the local population’s workforce.  Immigrants provide the corporate executives at factory farms, manufacturers, service providers, and any number of other businesses across the globe with two very valuable assets: 1) the cheap labor that’s characteristic of a legally unprotected class and 2) a deflection of the resentment over their treatment of local workers.

To explain #2 above, when a local population is presented with what amounts to an underclass of others who don’t possess full legal protection, aren’t always fully taxed on income, and have a varied level of voice with the national government it becomes instinctive that their wages would remain flat or even decrease.  A new environment of wage competition is plain to all; how could they expect higher wages when the _____ others are here to take their jobs?

Why isn’t there more debate in this direction?  Why don’t we start asking these multi-national corporations why, all across the globe, they’ve spent decades playing an unprotected underclass against locals, creating hatred, derision, and deadening human dignity in every market they enter?  Could it be that a few of these very MNC’s control most of the interests in our global corporate media?  I really couldn’t say.  I’m just hopeful all the misguided disparagement for immigrant groups finds a truer target one of these days.

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Surowiecki on Joblessness

Surowiecki says there’s no end in sight…

Comforting, in light of yesterday’s post on my vocational situation.  A good read, nonetheless.  I’m not sure I agree that America has yet to experience hysteresis.  It’s a scary thought.  It seems we’re about 25,000,000 jobs short of paying our tab.

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The Feeling of Joblessness

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eAGUuCGx1es%5D

Political Theory is Philosophy’s slightly less awkward cousin so I guess I shouldn’t be surprised.

On a Monday morning just a few weeks ago I set off on my auroral commute — just like any other weekday — headed to a job that I had held for almost a year.  Being that it was a sales/recruiting job, it felt like I had been there for quite some time.  I shared a commute with my lovely girlfriend (who I still sometimes walk to the train) and, that day, we fought our way through the same Chicago Transit Authority crowds that we had come to know.  We found a little enclave in a corner of the train-car, as far out of the way of the foot traffic as we could, until it was time for us to disembark at separate Chicago-Loop stops.

After getting off, I wove my way through the Wacker Drive Corridor construction and reached the 30-story high-rise that housed my office.  The dull, all-glass skyscraper failed to inspire as it had so many other mornings.  I flashed my daily smile at the concierge, breathed my usual sigh as I waited on the elevator, and popped out my iPod headphones, as was my custom, as I walked through the door of my office suite.

And everything went according to plan — according to the routine that become my understanding of waking week-life — until just after I took my seat and fired up my desktop.

My manager — a nervous woman with a tendency towards awkwardness — asked how my weekend had been.  The question, in itself, wasn’t too far out of the ordinary.  Maybe it was a little too personally interested for her personality but I could bear that.  It was the desperate tone she had phrased the question in that unnerved me.

I said my weekend had been fine, thanks, and went about the task of logging in to the database.  Just as I clicked ENTER to log my username and password in to our database I heard that uneasy tone in the manager’s voice float over the divider between our cubicles:

“Matt, let’s head to the conference room for a moment…”

Ok.  This can’t be good.  Why would we go to the conference room?  I’m out of a job.  It was almost instantly and intuitively understood.  My thoughts were short, panicked, and syncopated.  I looked down at my feet and the dirt-colored-florescent-light-bathed corporate carpet as we both walked across the office to a cramped conference room at the corner of the office.

“Am I being fired?” I asked as we each took our seats.

No answer from my manager.  She simply and curtly said her boss would be in shortly to explain the situation.  I remember thinking how unwieldy the whole sequence felt.  We sat in uncomfortable silence for about a minute while we waited for her boss, the director, to join.

The director joined and the conversation went as you’d expect it did.  It was clear that I had worked hard and my contributions were appreciated.  I had done a good job and this was just a symptom of the numbers.  The proper facial expressions were made so that it was understood that this was an uncomfortable and unpleasant arrangement but it was something that just had to be done.

The manager and director were “kind” enough to offer a few moments for me to clean out my desk provided that I would give them my key card and head home.

I can recall the walk back to my cubicle, under that dropped ceiling and those unflattering panel lights that had hung above my head for so many days; I did my best to avoid eye contact with now-former co-workers.  I was so embarrassed my skin was crawling — should I just forget getting my things and get out of there?  No.  I wanted to sit and think this through for a moment.

A friend from the office walked me to the train.  The walk was surreal and my mind was muddied with a cacophony of thoughts and feelings that were difficult to discern from one-another. In a way, I was free from the mundane repetition of my line of work but the economic uncertainty and the lack of security that came along were terrifying.  What struck me the most was the stark severance from routine.

I had been Sisyphus with a clear, concrete rock and a well defined hill and, for hundreds of days, I had quietly rolled that rock to the pinnacle and then watched it fall to the other side.  My sense of self was rolled up in to that endeavor and now… who I was and what I would do felt, in a very real way, unclear.

So, I went home and took a survey of my life, my employability, the job market (which, like all the living-breathing, I knew to be grim), my resume, and I reflected.

I read that a Record 1.2 Million People Dropped Out of the Labor Force in December of 2011, culminating in a 30 year low for the Labor Force Participation Rate.  It was disconcerting to read that 1 in 2 Recent Grads Under 25 are unemployed or underemployed (I’m a fairly recent grad not much older than 25).  As someone with substantial student loan debt, I was discouraged to see that, if nothing is done, Interest Rates on much of our $1 Trillion Student Loan Debt will double soon, too.

So, what would I do?  How would I fill my time?  Determine who I was?  Things looked bleak.  I can say that, personally, I’ve been very lucky to have emotionally supportive loved ones.  I’ve spent more time with hobbies, set a goal of 3+ job applications a day, gone on a slew of interviews, read as much as I can, and been more active here at Frustrated Hypocrite – and I was interested to find that starting a blog has been heralded as one of the 10 Things You Need To Do during unemployment.

As time has passed and the interviews have trickled in, much of my anxiety over joblessness has faded away.  Still, in reading about the state of unemployment, I think the blow to our sense of selves is an under-examined symptom of job-separation.  Sure, it’s often said that we are not what we do, but in a consumer-oriented, statist society where we are defined by what we buy, and we work longer hours than ever before, does that old axiom ring true?

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First Cup of Coffee: The Ought and the Is…

I’m unemployed right now (I’ve got a post upcoming re: what it means to be unemployed during the Great Recession Era) so, while my joblessness lasts, a few mornings each week I’ll try and write a quick response to something I’ve read over my “first cup of coffee”.

Modernity started from the dissatisfaction with the gulf between the is and the ought, the actual and the ideal; the solution suggested in the first wave was: to bring the ought to the is by lowering the ought, by conceiving of the ought as not making too high demands on men or as being in agreement with man’s most common and most powerful passion…

The quote above belongs to Leo Strauss and can be read, in full context, in his paper regarding the Decline of the West (The Three Waves of Modernity, 1959).  Strauss finds his answer to the problem of the gulf between ought and is in Rousseau’s notion of the General Will — a republicanism that requires that each man vet his own requirements of society by calling his will in to law.  The idea that only generalized wishes will result in law convinces Rousseau that the general, and not particular, is the just pursuit.  This whole exercise is the forebear to the Kantian notion of the categorical imperative which draws some powerful parallels to the Constitutional Law models that define the legal institutions in the United States.

So, getting to my point here, the quote prompted the following questions: 1) Does the “dissatisfaction with the gulf between the is and the ought” still exist today?  2) If so, has it ebbed in intensity or has it grown more apparent in our contemporary setting? 3) What does the situation on the ground have to do with Rousseau’s notion of the General Will.

1) I think this one is easy.  That dissatisfaction is certainly still present and it’s ubiquitous, too (answering question #2).  In fact, I’d argue that that phenomenon is a pre-cursor for the post-modern condition — the acquiescence to nihilism and the intentional obliviousness that’s followed.  Here’s where interesting little character-bits (e.g. the hipster-emphasis on cleverness over intelligence — you’re cool if you know lots about obscure bands but you’re a downer if you discuss pursuit of the good) emerge, I think.  And, regarding #3?  Rousseau’s General Will requires two human factors: reason and shame.  I’d venture a guess that, when faced with a century-long bout with the weight of nihilism, the erosion of faith, and a crisis of the good, the human store of both reason and shame have been depleted.  Rousseau’s General Will requires a sense of community that we no longer possess.  I’d be interested in thoughts…

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The True(r) Truth About ‘Girls’ and Race

I am a white, straight man who self-identifies as a lefty of sorts so take your cultural commentary from me at your own risk.  That said, here’s a quick thought about the whole Girls peccadillo (and some exposition as to why I see it as a minor phenomenon).

First I read that Girls might be bad for girlsthat it may have a debasing effect, and that the show may illustrate widespread feminine anxieties over the newfound responsibilities endemic to feminist liberation.  Now there’s an internet-meme-explosion over the show’s all-white cast (and a few problematic sarcastic responses from one of the show’s writers).  I say, so what?

So what, not because I’m upset over proclamations of the End of Men, because women have recently overtaken men as active participants in the American workforce, and, on average, they tend to dominate in academia, too.  While these trends are ugly for men — and I happen to be one — they certainly are just.  I’m just hopeful that, as the gender hegemony rightly dissipates and equity emerges, things don’t go so far that the sins of fathers are visited upon the sons of our future (but that’s another post altogether and an unfortunate symptom of all progressive group politics — there’s never an end to corrective measures, movements, or progress, it seems).

I say “so what” because what’s really happening here is people are getting up-in-arms over the cultural gravity of a television show.  A few words of advice: don’t allow your understanding of life, the universe, and everything to be informed by television.  Ever.

The entire thing — TV — is intentionally developed to produce profit and induce predictable consumer behavior.  The best possible outcome for advertisers is a monoculture and, because 72ish% of people self-identify as white in America, that’s the cultural identifier television shows are going to cater to in an effort to draw advertisers.

So much of the caterwauling over this incident has come from the fact that women seem to view the show as a program with promise — one that they relate to somehow — but they just wish that they related through the lens of diversity.  Another suggestion:  Capitalism is a system built upon temptation — if you find yourself tempted to support any product that negates your values, you’ll have to make a choice.  Either compromise your values or boycott the product — in this case, flip the channel.

It seems sophomoric to reverse roles here and cry out that those who made the art that offended made the wrong choice — they’re within their rights to portray whatever world they choose to, however they choose.  That’s how art works.  Sure, you’re free to offer commentary but the outrage is just a little overstated.  To top it all off, the complaint itself is just a little too oversimplistic, too.  No one seems the least bit upset that the characters are all from affluent families — where’s the class outrage?

And f*(# you all for getting me so riled up that I used the term “art” to describe television.

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