Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Modern Serfs

"People who work for free are far hungrier than anybody who has a salary, so they're going to outperform, they're going to try to please, they're going to be creative." — Kelly Fallis, chief executive of Remote Stylist.
The above quote comes from this article in Fortune which asks if unpaid jobs are the new normal. Dear god, I hope not. I could be mistaken, but I thought slavery was outlawed.

Yeah, I understand that some college grads will take internships in the hopes of receiving valuable training and "getting their foot in the door." That's fine, but of course, a person who can take such a non-paying job has to already be in some kind of financially stable position (like living with their parents, perhaps).

And while contemplating the article, I remembered that I had worked for free. A friend and I spent a couple of years designing and programming some mobile games. But then that's really not the same, is it? I was working independently in the hopes of pure profits at the end of the road (which never quite materialized).

If I ever had the balls to assume I could hire a staff of fifty to assist me -- without any pay -- hell, I'm sure I could have been way more successful. I could have turned out more products and sucked up all the profit for myself. But that's just not right. I believe the word is "exploitation."

But we are living in anti-labor times now. The Fortune article laments, yes really laments, that using unpaid labor isn't always legal:

Unfortunately for many employers hoping to use unpaid labor to advance their business goals, there are strict federal and state rules that workers must be paid the minimum wage and paid for overtime, and must abide by other provisions in the Fair Labor Standards Act, which applies to about 135 million people working for 7.3 million employers. The FLSA doesn't apply to companies with less than $500,000 in annual revenue unless they engage in interstate commerce -- which can be as little as accepting credit cards or placing phone calls to another state.

The FLSA is there for a reason. In many job sectors a lack of wage laws can create a race to the bottom with each company cutting worker compensation to compete with the other companies that have cut worker compensation. And in the corporate world, that means that every person willing and able to work for free is taking a job away from somebody who needs income.

But now let me make a confession of sorts. It's kind of funny really. Or sad. The last few months I've been working in a "virtual sweatshop." Yes, I've been pimping my human intelligence to Amazon Mechanical Turks. Mostly I've been writing short informative articles for content farmers. I've found the work mostly enjoyable and kind of challenging.

For example, I've written informational pitches for snowboard products, despite the fact that I've never snowboarded, skied or made fluffy snow angels. Talk about creative writing.

But it's not the low pay that makes me creative. And I'm certainly not motivated by hunger. In fact, I can't say I work particularly hard at these assignments. I have no illusions of my work landing me a "real job." For me, as a person with a disability, it's a simple case of accessibility. I browse some HITs (Human Intelligence Tasks), click a button, and have an assignment. No commute. No long hours. No job interviews. No coming face-to-face with people's prejudices.

The pay, however, is embarrassing. I could maybe live off of it... if I moved to Zimbabwe. One of my friends suggested that the turkers unionize. I think he was joking, but I'm not sure.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Neighborhood of Make-Believe

"The fight to stop funding PBS is getting ugly. The Republicans are spreading a rumor that Elmo was born in Kenya." — Andy Borowitz on Twitter.
With all the recent vindictive attempts to cut public funding for PBS and NPR, it's no wonder this video is making the blog rounds. Here is Mister Rogers in 1969 speaking in support of PBS to the United States Senate Subcommittee on Communications:

To me, the most amazing thing about this video is how the Senator starts our rather hostile, but is kind of disarmed by Fred Roger's calm tone and passion. I haven't seen this level of civility in a long time.

For the 30 years that Mister Rogers' Neighborhood aired on PBS, Fred Rogers demonstrated this kind of genuine respect and gentleness towards all people. He was the best neighbor ever. I have to wonder how his testimony would be received today?

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Freedom Packages

Jon Stewart and John Oliver explain why rebels in Libya get the help of hundreds of Tomahawk missiles while those in Bahrain are told, "hey, tone it down, will ya?"

I love the disclaimer at the end of that segment. Also check out the Odyssey Dawn piece where Jon points out that we're out of money and we can't simultaneously fire teachers and Tomahawk missiles.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Number One Eggs

Funny, but just yesterday I was looking over my blog -- laughing at decade old articles, vacuuming the dead links, important stuff like that -- when I noticed the seldom used post label "gross food." I've only used the label twice, starting with a 2008 blurb about a hamburger in can.

Wow, I really should get back to writing about gross food, at least when politics and environmental catastrophes start getting me down. And then today, as if the Internet read my mind, I find this on Boing Boing:

In Dongyang, has already formed such an old custom: the street vendors who sell eggs boy or lad boiled eggs to their own people, would mention a plastic bucket to a school boy to collect the urine.

Students long ago got used to this, one to three grade boys to urinate, they will align the plastic bucket outside the classroom. School teachers, but also acquiesced in such conduct, they will always remind the children during illness in the cold to the plastic bucket can not pee. The children all came to listen.

People who are not familiar with the situation should surprise: the boy with the boy in urine egg is boiled eggs, eggs in the spring of stalls selling all over the boy Dongyang streets. The boy a fifty-one eggs more expensive than ordinary eggs, can always sell out of stock.

Just in case you think the above quote is an instance of Babblefish run amok, here is another article written in proper English.

Yes really, in China, hard boiled eggs soaked in the urine of virgin boys is considered a great delicacy. The makers of these "virgin eggs" place plastic buckets outside elementary school classrooms and boys are reminded to pee in them. The urine is used to boil the eggs which are slightly cracked so the flavor can seep in. They "have the taste of Spring," or so they say.

This is obviously a cultural difference... no wait, it's totally gross. I wonder if this concoction was the actual inspiration for Dr. Seuss.

I do not like spring eggs in piss.
I will not eat them served like this.
I will not eat them soaked in urine.
I will not eat them with Martin Van Buren.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Team America

So I take it we just entered another war? U.S. forces, along with Britain, France, Canada and Italy, struck targets along the Libyan coast today calling it "Operation Odyssey Dawn." Apparently Gaddafi calls it an act of colonial, crusader aggression, but whatever.

I don't know what to think. I mean, I'm probably thinking the same thoughts I had exactly eight years ago when we invaded Iraq: I don't like war.

There must have been some time in U.S. history when wars were few and far between, but when we get them stacked one after another like this, we (the public) at least have the benefit of a little more skepticism, a little more wisdom, a little more sense of what questions we should be asking. I hope.

For example, do the Libyans want us to intervene in their country? In the lead up to the Iraq war, we were told we'd be greeted as liberators. Remember that? But the famous toppling of the statue of Saddam Hussein was completely staged psyops -- the people you see hanging around in that film footage are mostly members of the U.S. Marines and the international press.

But the Libyan uprising started without us. The blood was already flowing when the Libyans themselves begged the rest of the world for help. Doing nothing would be the same as supporting Gaddafi, who in case it must be said, is a rich, brutal dictator with a loyal army ready to kill with no restraint.

Despite that reality, the public hasn't been sold this war based on any fabricated fear factor. No lies about WMDs or fables about defending our own freedom. It seems to be about helping oppressed people. But the skeptic in me knows that aim has kind of been the most common justification for all our military action in the last 60 years.

Most of which haven't gone so well. Sitting around watching Gaddafi slaughter his people won't go so well either.

So the military action today is the first easy step. But then what? We can depose Gaddafi, but how do we identify all the other baddies? What stops them from becoming the new despots of a new Libya? And is it our responsibility to fix any new problems that arise? Do we then move on to Bahrain or Yemen? Or will we be satisfied as long as the Libyan oil keeps flowing?

I hope that, along with the new governments of Egypt and Tunisia, this is the start of a new more democratic Middle East. I hope this war isn't another painful blunder, and my god, I hope we have an exit strategy.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

State of Emergency

(via Fail Blog.)

Of course, I've been distressed over the situation in Japan and the ongoing crisis at the Fukushima nuclear power plant... but if I laugh at the above magazine cover, does that mean I go to hell?

But now let's discuss the real emergency, at least as the Republicans see it: House GOP Declares Emergency ... Over NPR Funding. Yeah, all because that little prick O'Keefe taped (and edited!) one video of one NPR employee not taking bribes while describing the teabaggers in quite accurate terms.

Another stupid and misguided thing the Republicans are fervently working on is cuts to the U.S. solar industry. Yeah, so solar power facilities are a million times safer, cleaner and simpler to operate than nuclear power plants, so Republicans say "let's cut funding to solar power!" At the exact moment in history when we should be investing in clean renewable energy sources, Republicans want to play childish games.

Speaking of which, the new Pokemon game is pretty cool.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Pi Day

Father: What did you learn in school today?

Son: Umm... pi r 2

Father: No, son, pie are round. Cornbread are squared.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Shaking the World

I was watching late night TV on Thursday when the EAS warnings started coming in. It was not a test. A tsunami was coming and it even had an arrival time.

I live quite a few miles in from the California coast, but my nephew and his pregnant wife rent a little Santa Cruz bungalow. In retrospect, I should have sent them a text message or something, but they're okay now. As a precaution, they were evacuated in the early morning hours.

Which of course is nothing compared to the awful hell the Japanese are going through. First, a 9.0 megathrust quake hit, violently shaking quake-prepared skyscrapers, altering the earth's spin, and generating a tsunami that swept away Japanese cities.

And like a long distance kiss across the ocean, the tsunami visited California. No matter what your spiritual beliefs, nobody can deny that we are all connected. What the earth does, and what we do to it, and how it responds to our behavior connects us all, at least in a purely terrestrial sense.

But in a whole different sense, I've found it extremely difficult to watch their suffering because I know it could have been us -- me, my family, friends, everybody I know. It's a long-standing joke that when parts of the Golden State fall into the ocean, those of us further inland will have beach front property. Not so funny now -- now that half the town of Minamisanriku is missing.

And yet Japan was more prepared than probably any other country in the world. They made a $1 billion investment in a high-tech earthquake warning system that gave people a few seconds warning. Every second counts if it means time to get under a table or stop heavy machinery. I want this system in California, but our Congress critters are so bloody idiotic and short-sighted that they want to cut funding for the tsunami warning systems that worked so well!

But even the Japanese government, who seem to take every conceivable step to protect their citizens, couldn't make disaster-proof nuclear power plants. As I'm writing this, I'm reading about the second reactor explosion at Fukushima Daini nuclear power plant. This whole thing must feel like the end of the world to them.

There's not much we can do right now, but donate.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Dropping the Pretense

It's not about the budget. I'm talking about Wisconsin, of course, where Republicans just ended a three week stalemate by passing a standalone bill that strips public unions of almost all collective bargaining rights.

Basically, Wisconsin Republicans redefined the union-busting portions of the budget bill as non-budgetary, so they could vote on it without the Democrats being there.

But then Governor Scott Walker contradicted the whole process by saying, "In order to move the state forward, I applaud the legislature's action today to stand up to the status quo and take a step in the right direction to balance the budget and reform government." So was it a budget bill or not? Sounds shady either way.

But here's a Wisconsin Senator confirming that union busting isn't about, never was about, balancing the budget:

It's about winning elections by yanking support away from Democrats. But if they have to resort to such guileless, underhanded moves, are they going to win much of anything? It's quite obvious they hate democracy and ignore the law.

And you know, none of this fixes the economy one iota. It's Gov. Walker dicking around with people's lives while pretending he's the new Reagan.

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Conservatives Hate NPR

"Step one: act like gun-toting racists. Step two: catch NPR exec on tape acknowledging reality of step one. Step three: scandal!" — Tom Tomorrow on Twitter.
This NPR "scandal" keeps popping up in my Google news headlines, so I guess this means the MSM hasn't yet learned to ignore the lying, video splicing, misogynistic accused felon also known as James O'Keefe.

O'Keefe is behind this latest ruse where Ron Schiller, NPR's senior vice president for fundraising, was secretly videotaped conversing with actors posing as members of the fictitious Muslim Action Education Center.

Here is one of Schiller's "scandalous" comments about teabaggers: "Xenophobic, I mean basically they are; they believe in sort of white, middle-America gun-toting. I mean, it's scary. They're seriously racist, racist people."

Funny because that's what I've been saying all along. Wow, he's an elitist liberal just like me, but I didn't know that being caught in the act could cause such a stir.

Let's be clear that nothing illegal happened in this setup. This fact gets buried at the bottom of all these stories, but when the pair of actors wanted to give $5 million to NPR, Schiller refused to take it.

However, he did make some dumb moves. Number one was going to lunch with two unknown men from an unknown activist group. Dumb.

And then Schiller made a comment that will haunt NPR for years. He said NPR "would be better off in the long run without federal funding." This is counter to what the organization believes.

But who would take this off-comment during a shitty prank seriously anyway? The GOP of course. They've destroyed ACORN already and now, with purely political motivation, they're out to get Planned Parenthood, PBS and NPR -- the last two because, you know, real journalism is warfare and they don't want any of that.

Ron Schiller resigned from NPR today. He can be thankful for one thing though. At least O'Keefe didn't invite him onto his dildo boat.

Monday, March 07, 2011

Them's The Breaks

This chart from the Center for American Progress shows 10 safety-net programs facing huge cutbacks versus the tax breaks for the wealthy that face no cuts at all.

I just got finished watching Jon Stewart interview Rand Paul (here's the link). But all I gather is that trickle-down theory is as popular as ever, and Republicans have a whole lot of sympathy for the wealthy.

See those proposed cuts for supplemental nutrition for poor families, LIHEAP, and community health centers? Cutting those programs will directly harm the elderly, poor and disabled. Hey Palin, I think I found those death panels, and your Republican pals are the directors.

Thursday, March 03, 2011

The Petty Party

This is the stuff that boils my blood. The Republicans in Congress, led by John Boehner, have really put their pettiness on parade:

Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

The story I had not previously heard about was the nixing of the Green Initiative program in the Congress cafeteria, replacing biodegradable tableware with plastic and styrofoam. That's not just thumbing your nose at Democrats, that's thumbing your nose at the environment and the future.

The many aspects of the greening program reduced energy and water consumption in Capitol buildings by 23 percent and 32 percent, respectively. But uh-oh! The composting portion of the program cost $475,000. Well... that ought to fix the budget.

But here's the part of the story that feels like a kick in the head, the new environmentally-unfriendly products in the Congress cafeteria are being provided by Koch Industries.

The only thing Boehner does well is take care of his billionaire friends.

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Funeral Rights

We can call it a reaffirmation of the First Amendment, but just because it’s legal doesn’t mean it’s right.

I'm talking, of course, about the U.S. Supreme Court's decision that those shitheads at the Westboro Baptist church can protest at military funerals.

I totally agree that speech should not be restricted just because it's offensive. The whole reason for the First Amendment is to protect offensive speech. Nobody needs a First Amendment to protect mundane speech.

But my God, Fred Phelps and his hateful little family of rainbow sign-making lawyers disgust me. Shortly after the Supreme Court announced this ruling, a leader of the Westboro church said they will now "quadruple" the number of funeral protests. Well, I hope the counter-protesters can septuple their efforts with their angel wing shields.

However, how is this ruling compatible with the "free speech zones" used at political gatherings? Remember how these secluded zones, surrounded by chain-link fence, would be setup half a mile from anywhere George W. Bush was speaking? Remember how the Secret Service instructed local police to use the zones to quarantine anybody who disagreed with Bush?

Much Orwellian rationale has been offered as explanation for these zones, but it's censorship pure and simple -- keep political protesters out of sight of the MSM so their message doesn't get out.

I guess our country is very "selective" about supporting the First Amendment.

However, it's nice to know I can protest at burials. Now I'm dreaming up creative sign slogans as I'm patiently waiting for a Phelps family funeral to attend.