09.30.10

Guitar Center: Made in China

Posted in Made in China, Rock 'n' Roll, Stumble and Fail at 12:42 pm by George Smith

The new Guitar Center shopper arrived in the mail this week.

I get them regularly. Three years ago the thing was filled with offers indulging the stupid dilettante with money — boutique goods made by US brand manufacturers who had outsourced their everyman stuff to China. (Or maybe not so stupid person investing in a piece of ugly furniture they believe will appreciate significantly in value simply because it is ostentatious, rare and preposterous. Unlike off-shored guitars, which never gain in value, winding up at pawnshops and worth less than a case of decent beer to the seller.)

But lately the shopper has taken on a bit of a desperate quality.

In 2007, I wrote:

Which brings us to the extreme high-end of the American custom market, where often mediocre instruments attain intelligence-insulting pricing, indicating the total extinction of common sense and the middle class.


American relic guitar luthiers could give Eddie van Halen a precise replica of his 1977 axe, complete with cigarette burn marks, ugly sticky tape, lousy but freakishly unique paint job and power drill holes.

In the Summer edition of DD’s Guitar Center catalog it is said, “Ed has partnered with Fender to bring you the Edward van Halen Frankenstein replica guitar — a faithful reproduction of one of the world’s most recognizable instruments. The red, black and white body … has been put through an aging process to replicate the original, down to every last scratch, ding and cigarette burn.”

List price: $25,000.

New guitars allegedly “worth” $25,000 dollars are never played where other people hear them. And DD never wants to meet someone who would pay such money. Neither does he wish to meet scary Eddie van Halen, who probably wouldn’t have even paid one thousand dollars in the late-Seventies for any electric guitar.


Instead of saving to send your layabout parasite of a kid to college, get a Gibson Jimmy Page Doubleneck relic reissue, cheap at $8,000. Or splurge for a Paul Reed Smith Doubleneck Dragon, $32,000. You know you deserve it.

Outside of these extravagances, almost all the merchandise in Guitar Center was either made in China or Indonesia.

Consider that for a moment.

The business of rock ‘n’ roll instrumentation was built on a foundation of American made guitars and amplifiers. Period.

In 2010, all of the original American companies have the bulk of their brand name goods made in China. And China, despite the beliefs of Tom Friedman, does not rock. Ain’t no more rock in China than there’s blues in Sarah Palin.

Essentially, all the brand American companies — if they didn’t go out of business — turned themselves into custom shops for the high end. Except for the company that was always a custom shop for the high end — Mesa Engineering.

Can you believe the odious craftsmen at Fender responsible for the $25,000 Eddie van Halen guitar were actually revered a couple years ago? It tells you all you need to know about economics in present day America.

However, in the October 2010 Guitar Center shopper, almost all the goods shown are made by slave labor in China.

You have your Epiphone Guitars, used-to-be American factory made, now down market Gibsons made in China. (Sometimes Korea, a few years ago.)

You have your $119 Fender “Strat” — made you know where. Fender amplifiers, all made in China, except for one tube model at the high end of the range.

One could go on and on, page after page after page of stuff invented here for middle class Americans, made by middle class Americans, now all gone to China.

Paradoxically, the shopper features an interview with country music mega-star Keith Urban. Urban chats about his collection of vintage US-made guitars and amplifiers. Some of them were lost in the Nashville flood, he says.

It’s a pity. The cognitive dissonance.

Guitar Center employees, who are all rock musicians, probably make a little above minimum wage plus commissions.

What they think about working amidst the $4000 custom Gibson Les Pauls (plus the $9000 Gibson double-neck, the $4000 Gibson jumbo acoustic, and the $1200 Fender P-Bass) they can’t afford is unknown.

One wonders, for a moment, what the worker discounts are like.


From today’s business section:

In one of their final actions before returning to the campaign in their districts, members of House voted 348 to 79, with dozens of Republicans joining in support, for a bill that would open the way for the US to slap tariffs on Chinese goods … But the bill faces an uncertain future in the Senate …

But major business groups representing a diverse array of trades — including cattle ranchers, Los Angeles freight forwarders and Wall Street firms — lined up against the bill, saying it would do more harm than good for economic growth and job creation.

Turning back the clock is impossible. But smashing Fender and Gibson’s Chinese-made imports with tariffs would be a very good thing, if only from the perspective of boosting mental health. It would cause these firms, and their competitors, discomfort. Such discomfort would be great right now, particularly if sending even more things to Asia wouldn’t soothe it, for what were quintessentially US firms which had, long ago, been dedicated to quality musical instruments made by Americans for the same.

Their CEOs might consider banding together with others to go before Congress to lobby for better pay, a living wage for their potential consumers.

I won’t hold my breath waiting for that to happen.

In the front section of the newspaper, defeated by GOP filibuster, a rider on the tax cut legislation: “A bill to punish firms that send US jobs overseas was blocked …”

And on the Opinion page, this gem:

Income inequality [in China] is another major concern [to the Chinese]. Cities and provinces have raised the legal minimum wage. In Guanghzhou, for example, it’s now [$164] a month …

“Marvelous,” as Dirty Harry Clint Eastwood used to say.


Related: The $180 blues harp. Everyman instrument gets upgraded to Swiss watch status symbol.

Catching up with Nugent

Posted in Extremism, Ted Nugent at 9:07 am by George Smith

Ted Nugent’s latest column in the WaTimes, more on trying to build his speaking engagements at Tea Party events. It’s unoriginal standard Tea Party cant, concocted by the wealthy men backing the movement: Give tax cuts to the rich, get rid of the IRS in favor of the Fair Tax, end all taxing of corporations, kill Social Security because it’s “a Ponzi scheme.”

Freeze all government hiring except for the military. Cut federal government by 25 percent at once, which would seemingly mean eliminating the Dept. of Education as well as other things most Americans take for granted.

It’s only startling in its degree of bootlicking for the interests of the most wealthy. The only thing not in it is some utterance like “Taxation eats the seed corn of freedom and democracy.”

It’s here.

More interesting is Ted’s appearance on a show called Deer and Deer Hunting.

Uploaded to YouTube, I’ve taken the only segment worth viewing.

Nugent’s misdemeanor conviction for deer baiting has rattled him. The hosts of the show, if one watches all the segments, never actually make him address it, though.

However, at one point Nugent does begin ranting about regulations. “We have to attack the game laws,” he begins. Seconds later he’s complaining about blue law preventing hunting on Sunday in eleven states, that it is unethical, anti-freedom, anti-goodwill and indecent.

Nugent continues that when he was a kid in Michigan, four counties prevented his hunting on Sundays. And he only had the weekend to hunt, being at school, so 50 percent of his time to do it was lost.

DD had to laugh. Having grown up in the heart of deer country in Pennsylvania, all the kids who hunted simply didn’t come to school on the first days of hunting season. Their parents were all right with it. So was the school.

After decreeing that Sunday prohibitions on hunting must go, Nugent then sputters on angrily about “spilled corn.” This is in reference to his deer-baiting conviction. He nearly blows a spoke over it.

Only the finest employees will make his supercars

Posted in Culture of Lickspittle at 8:11 am by George Smith

Quote of the day from yesterday’s business section, on the kinds of employees Elon Musk will use to make his super electric cars for the wealthy and not-quite-as wealthy in Fremont, CA:

“We hire professional athletes, in a sense,” said Arnon Geshuri, Tesla’s vice president for human resources. “We want people who can do multiple things, who are good at working in teams, and collaborating. We’re looking for excellence, drive and ambition. That’s the common DNA.”

[Put out of your mind for a moment the long-standing practice, in business stories, wherein leaders from various US companies, from small to gigantic, go on repetitively about how only the most excellent are allowed on the payroll.]

Professional athletes. That means they’ll have to be good at cheating, mindless bragging, taking performance-boosting drugs, and routinely committing felony crime. That’s in the DNA, too.

The quote about the wonderfulness sought in Tesla employees is in-line with the empty culture of boasting which surrounds the company.

Elon Musk is the guy who’s the great symbol of America, a businessman propped up by US energy grants, making an electric car only celebrities can drive. And another — to be made by the ‘professional athlete-like’ workers mentioned above — about half the price, but still on the drawing board. And slated to be made in numbers that qualify the business as a boutique, a much glorified version of Fender’s Custom Shop or the place that makes $180 harmonicas in Rockford, Illinois, in the shell of the old Ingersoll plant.

In Iron Man 2, the DVD came out this week, Musk makes a cameo telling Tony Stark he wants to do “an electric jet.”

It’s supposed to be a flattering moment. I’d suggest Musk, instead of being the modern Tony Stark, is a little more like Justin Hammer than comfortable.


Related:

So-called ‘real-life’ Iron Man suit (it’s not even close, but that hasn’t stopped the arms manufacturer, Raytheon, from saying so), which has been on every tech show in creation over the last few years.

09.29.10

Hot Jobs: For those who get erections from cluster bombs

Posted in Crazy Weapons, War On Terror, Why the World Doesn't Need US at 2:08 pm by George Smith

Here’s a story, straight from Popular Mechanics, written by and for guys who get hard-ons thinking about machines that blow foreigners up, preferably those smaller, darker and poorer.

Featured prominently on Google News, which was probably paid to display it, here are the great quotes:

How small can air-to-ground weapons get? Air Force officials are publicly suggesting the development of 1-pound munitions that could kill an individual in a crowded area without harming innocents standing nearby.

So, guys, you go stand right next to the wooden target on the test range, then. Any takers? Thought not.

[The small flying cluster bomb/anti-tank mine] spins like a maple seed as it descends, scanning the area for its targets using laser and infrared sensors.

Like a maple seed. I bet the p.r. person at Textron who came up with that description got a raise.

The 9-foot torpedo, petite enough to be carried by unmanned submarines and drone helicopters, is currently under development at Penn State University, in association with the Naval Undersea Warfare Center.

Petite. A 9-foot torpedo is petite. Who could write such s—? Someone not to be invited over for drinks and barbecue, that’s for sure.

Now, if you know some androids who throw parties where they eat bags of arsenic and roofing nails for kicks …

The work of that segment of the economy unhurt by the Great Recession. If you were in the business of making petite torpedoes and anti-tank mines that spin like maple seeds, things have been great.

Stumble & Fail — the EP

Posted in Census, Imminent Catastrophe, Rock 'n' Roll, Stumble and Fail at 8:34 am by George Smith


Did he watch it on his gadget?

1. Bedbugs
2. Census Man Stomp
3. Mean Old Future
4. Tom Friedman Blooz


Now, if you want, an EP teaser for US of Fail, a little brother — Stumble & Fail.

Download, burn to CD, print the cover art, larger version here.


Reading material for whilst listening

As the recession shook Americans’ confidence last year, new figures show that weddings for people 18 and older dropped to the lowest point in over a hundred years.

A broad array of new Census Bureau data released Tuesday documents the far-reaching impact of a business slump that experts say technically ended in June 2009: a surging demand for food stamps, considerably fewer homeowners and people doubling up in housing to save money.

The government revealed that the income gap between the richest and poorest Americans grew last year by the largest margin ever, stark evidence of the impact the long recession starting in 2007 has had in upending lives and putting the young at greater risk.

The top-earning 20 percent of Americans — those making more than $100,000 each year — received 49.4 percent of all income generated in the U.S., compared with the 3.4 percent earned by the bottom 20 percent of wage-earners who fell below the poverty line, according to the newly released Census figures.

A different measure, the international Gini index, found U.S. income inequality at its highest level since the Census Bureau began tracking household income in 1967. The U.S. also has the greatest disparity among Western industrialized nations.

Three states — New York, Connecticut and Texas — and the District of Columbia had the largest gaps in rich and poor, disparities that exceeded the national average. Similar income gaps were evident in large cities such as New York, Miami, Los Angeles, Boston and Atlanta, home to both highly paid financial and high-tech jobs as well as clusters of poorer immigrant and minority residents. — AP

09.28.10

Great cyberweapon or cyberfizzle?

Posted in Crazy Weapons, Cyberterrorism at 3:36 pm by George Smith

On Stuxnet, yes, I’ve seen the stories.

But do go to the site of the German researcher propagating its central thesis, Ralph Langner.

Langner’s discussion is an interesting one and often compelling.

But “hack of the century” is the type of overused phrase that won’t get you a lot of mileage in circles not inclined to believe absolutely everything published about global malware. Or cyberwar.

Langner knows the technical side and makes a reasonable argument
as to the amount of effort put into the Stuxnet bug. He argues that it was created by a national intelligence/defense program. And the obvious insinuation for this story is Israel, although other countries are not ruled out.

However, the discussion goes a bit to far — understandably, in linking circumstantial news — that Iran’s nuclear program has progressed slower than expected — and Stuxnet.

There is no proof that anything went bang or failed catastrophically in a nuclear reactor or even a a centrifuge cascade. Other equally or more plausible explanations exist for any perceived slow down, if there is one, in an Iranian nuclear weapons program.

Still, if one takes the broad leap and grants that a virtual effect of some kind was achieved, Stuxnet still has had an indiscernible effect to everyone not already in on the story.

Years ago, I said publicly that I thought governments would try to write malware and pursue cyberwar. I had no real idea how long ago until I started digging up some old digital news records.

It was all the way back in 1995.

At the time, it was for a Voice of America news broadcast, and this is what I said, something I’ve repeated from time to time in many other discussions:

“George Smith is skeptical that offensive military operations will work very well in cyberspace.

“For years, Mr. Smith has been writing a newsletter on computer break-ins . . . He says Pentagon officials are overstating the danger from computer hackers and intruders.

“Nevertheless, [Smith] expects the United States and many other nations to try to create ‘cyber-attack’ forces: ‘I think it is likely that people will try, I think it is unlikely they will have any impact.’

“Mr. Smith says armies in Bosnia and the Gulf War faced computer problems, including viruses. He says they coped with them in much the same way they coped with flat tires on vehicles, or worn out parts on aircraft.

“[Smith] said] the idea that small groups of people, armed only with keyboards, could seriously hurt a powerful military force belongs in Hollywood — not the battlefield.”

To this I’d only add that the lack of substantial proof of success in offensive malware operations won’t stop anyone in the business of insisting just the opposite.

However, Iran’s nuclear program also won’t be stopped by a piece of malware aimed at controller software in its factories.

And the liabilities of employing something like Stuxnet are now fairly obvious.

The most glaring being that such a thing is immediately seized upon and pulled apart by the worldwide distributed network of computer security researchers. And second, that even granting for a moment that it was designed to be directed at Iran, the intelligence requirements for it to be solely limited to that were still way too great to limit its spread to that country.

Wrote David Sanger at the New York Times over the weekend:

Stuxnet, which was first publicly identified several months ago, is aimed solely at industrial equipment made by Siemens that controls oil pipelines, electric utilities, nuclear facilities and other large industrial sites. While it is not clear that Iran was the main target — the infection has also been reported in Indonesia, Pakistan, India and elsewhere — a disproportionate number of computers inside Iran appear to have been struck, according to reports by computer security monitors.

Another ramification is the identification of the ioriginating country. If the country of origin is already an international pariah, then it doesn’t matter if Stuxnet is pinned on such a nation.

As a thought experiment, assume for a minute that Stuxnet is a part of a US program, not Israel’s.

In terms of national security and unilateral action, everyone already thinks the US acts rashly and can be reliably depended upon to behave with little regard for others.

At this point, there’s no longer much of a downside to using something like Stuxnet.

Even if a national program were to execute something so poorly the backfire would sweep over the originating country’s civilian systems. (That’s certainly progress, of sorts.)

It would just be yet another example of some team or some agency thinking, perhaps reasonably, that it’s godly and beyond reach.

And we’ve already had a few of those.

Bruce Ivins and the lack of professional diligence at Fort Detrick, in the world of real things as opposed to virtual, coming to mind.

Stuxnet as a super cyber weapon is a hot, sexy story. The hype behind it is predictable, even logical. Paradoxically, one of the famous journalists usually the first to exaggerate such things — John Markoff of the New York Times — gave it, what was for him, a mild reception.

Markoff’s second paragraph, from the 27th:

The most striking aspect of the fast-spreading malicious computer program — which has turned up in industrial programs around the world and which Iran said had appeared in the computers of workers in its nuclear project — may not have been how sophisticated it was, but rather how sloppy its creators were in letting a specifically aimed attack scatter randomly around the globe.

All of the old anti-virus programmers, as far back as the late Eighties and Nineties, would have told anyone the same. In fact, they told stories like it about various computer viruses many times, the only difference being the wherewithal didn’t yet exist to aim them roughly over a global network.

In essence, once a piece of replicating malware is released into the world, no matter how “smart” (that being a relatively elastic term) its creator(s), it’s effectively liable to wind up where least expected, no matter how exactingly programmed.

If we get back to nuclear fuel cycles and national bomb programs for a moment, it should be remembered that uranium can be enriched, and an atom bomb made, entirely without the use of Siemens software and globally networked computers.

Entire libraries of books exist on the matter.

And people who have devoted professional careers to the study of nuclear proliferation can give entire classes on what can go wrong inside a bomb program. Without ever getting to software problems and malware. There are many things in the material world which can effect the progress of a bomb-making program, not the least of which are easily understood hurdles like inexperience, subpar skills and interference with access to essentials and properly engineered machinery.

In August, prior to Stuxnet news, the Times reported:

It is unclear whether the problems that Iran has had enriching uranium are the result of poor centrifuge design, difficulty obtaining components or accelerated Western efforts to sabotage the nuclear program …

For most of this year, Iran has added relatively few centrifuges — the machines that spin uranium at supersonic speed, enriching it — to its main plant at Natanz. Only about half of those installed are operating, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency. So far, Iran has produced about 5,730 pounds, enough, with considerable additional enrichment, to produce roughly two weapons.

The public explanation by American officials is that the centrifuges are inefficient and subject to regular breakdowns. And while Iranian officials have talked about installing more advanced models that would be more efficient and reliable, only a few have been installed.

“Either they don’t have the machines, or they have real questions about their technical competence,” Mr. Samore said.

Some of Iran’s enrichment problems appear to have external origins. Sanctions have made it more difficult for Iran to obtain precision parts and specialty metals.

Any of these explanations are as likely, perhaps even greatly moreso, than Stuxnet.


keys: cyberwar, cybersecurity, cyberterrorism, cybersabotage

Update: Some typos corrected.

There’s an industry for that?

Posted in Stumble and Fail, War On Terror at 1:37 pm by George Smith

Tom Friedman, high button upper-class boob and two-time Pulitzer winner, with another unintentionally laughable quote from his Sunday column on the miraculous $45,000 electric car from China:

I was recently at a Washington Nationals baseball game. While waiting for a hot dog, I overheard the conversation behind me. A management consultant for a big national firm was telling his colleagues that his job was to “market products to the Department of Homeland Security.” I thought to myself: “Oh, my! Inventing studies about terrorist threats and selling them to the U.S. government, is that an industry now?”

We’re out of balance — the balance between security and prosperity. We need to be in a race with China, not just Al Qaeda. Let’s start with electric cars.

Anyway, Friedman needs a pat on the back. He was one of the pundits who contributed to the private sector security industry boom after 9/11.

Specifically, in touting the Iraq War and letting us all know that every once in a while the US had to smash a country in the Middle East for the sake of sending the message: Suck on this!”

And ever since the country has had a booming business infrastructure for finding various new and old menaces, even if they either don’t or barely exist.

If this is actually news to Friedman, and not a failed joke, it’s because he’s spent his time marveling at the above-ground plastic mine business in China. Among other wonderful things.

In today’s Los Angeles Times, semi-related news came from a business story on Northrop firing 500 by the end of the year.

One of the few sectors of the economy where jobs have been very durable during the Great Recession has been national security. A 500 person lay-off at Northrop does not so much show that it has had an equal effect on defense. But rather that the scale of the collapse of the economy for the middle class and the subsequent debt the government has taken on are finally causing relatively minor cutbacks — with respect to the rest of the country — in that sector.

The Los Angeles Times writes:

The cutbacks are the latest to hit the aerospace industry amid concerns about the ballooning deficit.

After growing by double digits every year since the 2001 terrorist attacks, defense spending is expected to rise only about 1 percent annually over the next five years …

Lockheed Martin Corp., the nation’s largest defense contractor said earlier this month that about 25 percent of its executives opted for a voluntary retirement program to cut costs as defense spending slows. More than 600 vice presidents and directors applied …

Six hundred vice presidents and directors. That’s nice.


In blog related news, even the Marines get bedbugs. They are so without pity.

See here.

All You Need to Know About Bedbugs

Posted in Rock 'n' Roll, Stumble and Fail at 7:27 am by George Smith

Throw the bedbug plague in with all the other signs of national decay. With transience in housing now part of the national structure due to the Great Recession, it’s provided bedbugs with a superhighway to new digs everywhere.

Los Angeles and Pasadena are no exceptions.

All you need to know about bedbugs, in song for US of Fail, knocked off by your host.

Bedbugshere.

Bedbugs

The things crawl in
The things crawl out
The bedbugs prance across your snout
The neighbors have all come and gone
But something else is always home
Spray some Raid around the bed
So to bedbugs you are not fed

Bedbugs are always free!
Ha-ha-ha-ha-ha

Spray some Raid on your nightshirt
It looks better than bedbug dirt
If you detect a sudden itch
There’s always more, it’s just a —–
If you tell of bedbug bite
No friends or presents will come at night
Bedbugs tell of social justice
There ain’t none

Bedbugs are always free!
Ha-ha-ha-ha-ha

Bedbugs bed bedbugs
x4


Previously — about bedbugs.

09.27.10

Music for Monday

Posted in Phlogiston, Rock 'n' Roll at 9:19 am by George Smith


Good news, lads! Good news! Et cetera.

I always liked Hee-Haw and Pfft You Were Gone. Not so much, though, when it morphed into an excuse for celebrity spittle.

That’s why no link to the anthology video, which is on Yahoo. It gets old quick. (It’s easy to Google.)

My version, from US of Fail, done as a bit of a gospel hymn.
Who actually wrote the tune seems up in the air.

Pfft You Were Gone here.

Jobs booming for the parasite economy

Posted in Stumble and Fail at 8:30 am by George Smith

The usual laugh-out-loud Yahoo/Investopedia article on Hot Jobs!

Number one on Monster: Lawyers need more secretaries and process workers!

Number two: And the best paying, jobs in the financial sector, the people who caused the mess but who have also benefited the most greatly from it. They can buy the $180 harmonica and the 99 cent Harmonica app for their iPhones!

At the bottom, with the poorest wages: Bed pan technicians, people to clear away the tubes and waste in hospitals, job security for those who hook up the oxygen and insert thermometers in the anus. Even though the work is hard and takes dedication, it’s not well compensated. If the person you’re married to has a job in it, too, you can probably get by. Or else it’s four or five buddies in the one or two bedroom apartment.

Read read all about it here. Extra!

Other booming job opportunities: Engineers for making flying robot assassins, executives for selling arms to nations in the Middle East, border patrol — sadly, the latter pays the least.

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