An American Christmas Story (continued)

Posted in Stumble and Fail at 11:44 am by George Smith

Pine View Farm tips me to the “Actual War on Christmas,” not the regular Fox News sitzkrieg.

From wire news:

For freelance Santas, this holiday season has been more “no, no, no,” than “ho, ho, ho.” Bookings have declined as paying $125 an hour for Santa to visit a holiday party has become an unaffordable luxury. It’s the second year of declining parties and events, Santas say.

“This year has been a bust as far as making any money,” said McTavish, a retired firefighter who co-owns a landscaping business with his son. “I’ve booked nothing. Usually there’s always something for Christmas Eve, but I don’t even have that.”

In addition to knowing which children have been bad or good, the modern-day Santa also hears which families don’t have enough money for presents.

It’s worth reminding that not a single big Wall Street name has been strung up over the affairs which landed us here. But that they just enjoyed their best year ever and the president guaranteed they’d get their tax cuts.

Previously, from An American Christmas Story.

Do go to Pine View Farm. The Funny or Die embed is not to be missed.

Cult of EMP Crazy: US civilization threatened by START

Posted in Crazy Weapons, Imminent Catastrophe at 10:41 am by George Smith


The Cult of Electromagnetic Pulse Crazy will use any right wing political handle to advance its agenda. Currently, it’s ratification of the START treaty.

Yes, a treaty which is aimed at controlling and curbing nuclear proliferation and reducing the weapons, in the hands of the Cult, does no such thing.

In fact, just the opposite. It threatens US civilization because it allegedly has a negative effect on the building of unlimited ballistic missile defenses which are, of course, needed to protect US civilization from a catastrophic end brought about by electromagnetic pulse attack, launched by terrorists who have obtained a nuclear weapon.

But new START is designed to get us back into Russia and the business of monitoring and securing nuclear weapons so that this is less likely.

If you think about this presentation too much, the rickety quality begins to make your head hurt.

But that’s not the point. The idea is to repeat the meretricious argument so many times it becomes an embedded truth.

And while electromagnetic pulse doom hasn’t developed a significant constituency clamoring for protection from it, the model used to to try and establish it is the same as has been used to embed other myths (often called “zombie lies”) — like massive growth by the US government while everyone else was taking the chop or that global warming is a hoax.

The issue of an electromagnetic pulse ending US civilization is much more fringe. It’s good for weekly television shows and movies but not cut from the same universally appealing cloth as other popular zombie myths. However, the lack of enthusiasm for it, as compared to others, among the right has definitely impeded the effort to make it a more shared story.

And it is also not as energizing as the dose of good old spite calling for blocking of START ratification because the Republican Party is furious over the repeal of DADT and any other legislation passed in the lame-duck session. And, of course, because it’s part of the strategy to destroy the president.

In any case, the head cheerleader for this obscure meme is, as usual, the Heritage Foundation.

In the past, I’ve described Heritage in this manner:

Heritage … mentioned last week, is a propaganda organ for the pushing of far right policy dressed up as scholarship.

It gathers various suspect ideas — that healthcare reform must be defeated, that the welfare class is getting too much in entitlements and undeserved stuff, that the rich are being taxed too much, that gays are assaulting the precious institution of marriage, that global warming, while no longer a cruel hoax, if dealt with will result in diminished US business, poorness for the wealthy and a much weakened military, that poor people who aren’t white are unjustly sopping up national treasure that could be spent on missile defense, a project which spreads freedom around the world, that the auto-industry bailout and cash-for-clunkers took money away from freedom-ensuring missile defense, etc — and employs its stable of bought-and-paid-for experts to craft pieces which exhort readers on the excellence of such beliefs.

A snapshot from Heritage’s website today:

Breaking wind: Vulnerable. End of the world. Armageddon.


The Charlatan

Posted in Stumble and Fail at 3:00 pm by George Smith

Surf out to BagNews for two photo essays on Glenn Beck’s trip to Wilmington, Ohio.

It portrays part of his book tour for “Broke,” part of his “America’s First Christman,” a one-man stage show.

I just saw the latter excerpted on Fox. It’s hard to stomach — from Beck masquerading as a Santa pointedly making jokes in a German accent to his wandering the stage in a red union suit.

Beck’s use of Wilmington is drily summed up by the BagNews journalists:

There is something disconcerting about a book called “Broke” being aggressively sold to people who are, by a writer who isn’t.

The BagNews photo essays are here and here.

On Beck’s Fox News show he’s spun the story of his trip to Wilmington as one in which all that is needed to overcome extreme hardship — crushing unemployment — is prayer and determined self-reliance.

But the celebrity meal opportunity is $500/head.


Cult of EMP Crazy: Like zombie movie

Posted in Crazy Weapons at 3:20 pm by George Smith

DD watched AMC’s The Walking Dead.

It was slightly better than average television, some episodes turned over to what seemed like interminable do-nothing-ism until zombies were thrown into a scene.

I’ll get to why I mentioned it up top in a minute.

Today’s bit on the Cult of Electromagnetic Pulse Crazy takes you out to a newspaper article, one in a school of many devoted to the eternal flogging of William Forstchen’s One Second After.

All Cult of EMP Crazy stories must center on the end-of-US-civilization meme. Without it, you cannot proceed with the narrative/argument on why something must be done.

In this, they’re very much like zombie movies.

Apocalypse descends, intrepid bands of stragglers try to survive the vicious hordes from the cities.

It doesn’t take much imagination to see the corollary.

Since we’ve been warned about zombies so many times and seen what they can do, wouldn’t it be prudent to begin hardening our infrastructure and augmenting our emergency supplies to survive them now?

Alas, it never works out that way.

From a Macon newspaper:

As one would expect, the cities are the most dangerous areas. As food runs out, desperation forces many to turn to consuming the flesh of their fellow men. The most brutal, bloodthirsty lost souls of society don’t just do so to survive, but choose to wholeheartedly embrace cannibalism.

The zombies fat and lazy urban dwellers storm out of the cities, coming for the new survivalists’ stuff. And their flesh!

Congressional nuisance Roscoe Bartlett makes an appearance, described in 2005:

“[Preparing for zombies electromagnetic pulse attack] has no constituency. It has no support. Maybe if we can raise public awareness, the public will finally demand that some solutions be made before it happens.”

Rare Earth Epic Fail

Posted in Made in China at 1:54 pm by George Smith

DD went to Target to pick up sundries yesterday. Stopping by the electronics department, I noticed the $72.50 made-in-China electric guitar and amp kit in a cardboard box.

Everything in the electronic department was made in China. And the components of electric guitars, amplifiers and batteries use what are called rare earth metals.

Yesterday, the Dept. of Energy released a comprehensive report on moving toward a “Critical Materials Strategy.”

One graph from it tells you everything you need to know.

The rare earths are distributed widely across the globe. And there are supplies in the United States. But during the GWB administration, mining of rare earths in the US didn’t just crater. It died! Kaput!

While mining in China and other nations took off.

Although the DoE report does not explicitly state it, the historical picture painted is one in which US business abandoned rare earth mining. Simply because it was easier and better for the bottom line to get the underpriced stuff from China and other countries for all the electronic kit they now have made overseas.

And that shortsightedness and singular inattention to the big picture has set up a problem with potentially strategic implications for the United States. Because utilization of rare earths is also critical in clean energy innovation. And so while such things are advancing elsewhere, again most notably in China, here the story is one of lassitude and the now held-to-be-stupid view that things would be just peachy if we let that country make everything for the consumer society.

And this is why the good people at DoE have furnished this report.

The US has been able to somewhat diversify its draw of rare earths from the world market. But the control of the trade by China and its withholding of materials for its own markets has created a visible negative for this country.

In the short term, the DoE report notes our country can take advantage of rare earth mines starting up in Canada and Australia.

Both nations support successful mining of strategic materials.

And a rare earth mine in California is said to poised to begin operation in 2012. After it stopped in 2002.

“The United States is too reliant on China for minerals crucial to new clean energy technologies, making the American economy vulnerable to shortages of materials needed for a range of green products — from compact fluorescent light bulbs to electric cars to giant wind turbines,” read a New York Times business story on the DoE report yesterday.

“[The] report presents a fairly gloomy assessment of the United States’ ability to wean itself from Chinese imports,” it continued. “For as long as the next 15 years, the supplies of at least five minerals that come almost exclusively from China will remain as vulnerable to disruption as they are absolutely vital to the manufacture of small yet powerful electric motors, energy-efficient compact fluorescent bulbs and other clean energy technologies, the report said.”

Look at the DoE graph again. US mining of rare earths shuffled off into the oblivion right at the height of the so-called war on terror. Funding counter-terror and war, good! Keeping your critical industries for strategic materials needed for jobs and innovation — eh, not so much.

That’s real leadership!

Here’s a picture, included in the New York Times piece, of a Chinese worker hauling a sack of dirt/rare earths.

Which only emphasizes the stupidity involved in killing the industry in the United States even more.

The New York Times piece is here.

The Department of Energy’s Critical Materials Strategy is here.


Conflating WikiLeaks and Cyberwar

Posted in Culture of Lickspittle, Cyberterrorism at 1:10 pm by George Smith

Fox News network “experts” and pundits, as well as others in the mainstream media, have been very busy conflating WikiLeaks with cyberwar. They do this while willfully ignoring the obvious — that if WikiLeaks were actually conducting a cyberwar against the US, then the newspapers also publishing its materials are doing the same.

And that when Michael Moore went on MSNBC last night to say he was offering his servers to WikiLeaks if they were needed, then he was also lining up to conduct it against this country.

So a Sunday opinion piece in the Philadelphia Inquirer, brought to my attention by Pine View Farm, is typical in its stupefying quality.

In a more intelligent world, one where critical thinking and rigor were valued, its writer, Trudy Rubin, would be someone to be ridiculed. Not someone empowered to blurt whatever received wisdom has been placed in front of her during the past week.

Rubin begins (try not to laugh):

WikiLeaks has woken Americans up to the concept of “cyberwar.”

“Cyberanarchists” are attacking the websites of multinational companies that cut off services to WikiLeaks after it published classified State Department cables.

What follows is a push for Richard Clarke’s last book on cyberwar, now a bit stale in sales terms.

DD covered it, most notably here and here.

Rubin also delivers the standard Clarke argument, now well over ten years old in the public domain, that our enemies — hackers, terrorists, nation states — will strike across the Internet, blowing things up, turning other things off. Airplanes will fall from the sky, pipelines won’t pipe, and the most recent addition (gasp!) — banks will fail as Wall Street is struck.

The latter is so attractive as a meme, let’s savor it again. Banks will fail. Wall Street will get hit.

And what, exactly, would be wrong with that, all things considered?

And this is how the WikiLeaks document dump has been transformed into a cyberattack on the United States.

Any real or potential threat against the aims and desires, or business conducted as usual by big American agencies, is deemed to be evidence of a global attack, something that needs to be met with vigorous force, hysteria and advertising. As well as increasing levels of stupidity and hostility.

At which point the American government chooses not to lead, but to pander, either by being reactionary, unthinking and always willing to find ways to quickly toss taxpayer dollars into businesses which return very little in basic value to the middle class.

“Air Force Blocks Sites That Posted Secret Cables,” reads one headline in the New York Times today.

Incidentally, Clarke’s appearance in Philadelphia was part of his usual peddling, this at a speech/seminar for the locals.

“Clarke also recommended a bigger government commitment to cyberresearch and an effort to craft an international accord banning cyberattacks on civilian institutions such as banks,” concludes Rubin.

Heavens, yes, we gotta protect the banks from cyberwar — like that promised by Assange for the new year. After all, look how much they’ve done for us.


Posted in Stumble and Fail at 11:03 am by George Smith

In Europe, when the people get hosed for reparations because of financial crisis brought on by bankers, you get this:

Thousands of Greeks took to the streets of the capital on Wednesday for a protest against a fresh wave of austerity measures which was marred by violence as a general strike brought international travel and public services to a standstill.

The walkout — Greece’s seventh general strike this year — grounded flights, kept ferries in ports, halted train services and shut down government offices and schools while leaving hospitals to operate on emergency staffing and causing a news blackout as journalists joined the action. Public transport was operating for most of the day to enable Athenians to attend demonstrations in the city center.

Here, social protest is the Tea Party — fucked up white people arguing for tax breaks for the wealthiest and who blame the economic mess on too many people of color getting mortgages they didn’t deserve.

I have a friend who thinks there’s still some type of social conscience in this country, like that which brought about the end of the Vietnam war.

He’s dead wrong.

Here we have one entire television network and a good part of the media focusing on what needs to be done about Julian Assange and WikiLeaks. They want the government to be more secret. And to put a hit on him in England.

And, of course, there’s also the social protest movement on how corporate America needs more jacking off from the Obama administration.


Gold-leaf guitar: Fender Gilded Age Musical Instruments

Posted in Made in China, Rock 'n' Roll at 11:37 am by George Smith

Having riffed on the fact that iconic rock music instrument makers in the US have turned themselves into artisan businesses for the plutonomy, news of Fender’s gold leaf guitar for Prince fits right in.

From today’s paper edition of the LA Times (no link):

“Prince told his friends at Fender that he’d had a dream in which he played a gold Stratocaster … he wanted something special and asked if such a guitar could be made. Fender execs turned to their Custom Shop in Corona, where master guitar builders specialize in delivering unique instruments, for superstar musicians, as well as bankers, lawyers, employees of Goldman Sachs and Wall Street men who helicopter in from the Hamptons amateurs with the desire and the money for something out of the ordinary.

In this case, Fender execs gave the assignment to Yurly Shishlov, a Russian born guitar maker. Coincidentally, only about a week earlier during a tour of the Custom Shop, Fender execs stopped at Shishkov’s work station and asked about the gold-leafing process he was working on for another customer’s order.

For the plutocrats, there’s gold-leafing. For everyone else, including you, there’s China.

The rest of the article is filled with twaddle about how allegedly difficult it is to exquisitely finish a Stratocaster in gilt.

The Times reports Prince’s gold-leafed Strat will be played on his East Coast tour, then auctioned off for charity.

That’s nice.


FBI requests extension of National Academy of Sciences report on its anthrax methodology

Posted in Bioterrorism at 9:24 am by George Smith

From the New York Times:

The Federal Bureau of Investigation has requested a last-minute delay in the release of a report on the bureau’s anthrax investigation by the National Academy of Sciences, prompting a congressman to say that the bureau “may be seeking to try to steer or otherwise pressure” the academy’s scientific panel “to reach a conclusion desired by the bureau.”

That Congressman would be Rush Holt of New Jersey, who along with Roscoe Bartlett, is a core anthrax-denier in Congress.

The uptick here is that NAS will be critical of the FBI’s science. And the bureau must obviously know it. But the NAS will also not exonerate Bruce Ivins.

Since the FBI’s conclusions were built on circumstantial evidence, not all of which involved the hard science used in analysis of the mailed anthrax it … will probably leave things as they are now.

Although the analysis of the FBI’s scientific rigor won’t be pretty, knowing the way science operates, the NAS report will most probably conservatively stop short of condemning it.

Suspicion of the bureau will remain strong. A good deal of news will be generated. All the critics of the anthrax investigation will get their say once again. There will be more talk about silicon. And there will be more cries to clear Ivins. The FBI will hold its position and the investigation will remain closed. The cycle will continue.

These things were all already baked into the cake when the NAS was commissioned to do its report.

More from the NY Times:

Dr. Ivins killed himself in 2008 and was never criminally charged. Some of his colleagues at the Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases say they do not believe he was guilty. The F.B.I. had already paid another former Army scientist, Steven J. Hatfill, a settlement worth $4.6 million to drop a lawsuit saying the bureau had falsely accused him of being the anthrax mailer.

E. William Colglazier, the academy’s executive officer, said the F.B.I.’s request was a surprise and came after the bureau saw the panel’s peer-reviewed final report, which was scheduled for release in November. He said that the committee’s 15 members, top scientists who serve as volunteers, were “exhausted,” but that the panel had agreed to extend the study and consider revising the report in return for an additional fee, probably about $50,000, beyond the $879,550 the F.B.I. has already paid for the study.

Dr. Colglazier declined to say if the report was critical of the F.B.I.’s work but said it was “very direct.” The report sticks to science and does not offer an opinion on whether Dr. Ivins carried out the anthrax attacks, he said.

In September, the Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress, agreed to conduct its own review of the F.B.I.’s anthrax investigation, with a broader approach that also covers security measures at biolabs.

The Times story is here.


An American Christmas Story

Posted in Stumble and Fail at 10:02 am by George Smith

I was at a late afternoon Christmas party in Pasadena yesterday when I was told a classically 2010 American tale.

The fellow to the left of me was talking about his job. He worked at the big Miller brewery in southern California, west on the superhighway out of Pasadena to Irwindale. It’s a classic joint. Like all breweries, you can smell the fermentation when you drive by.

He informed the room that Miller’s development plan was to downsize/fire 50 percent of the employees at the place.

I was astonished. Beer, like pizza, one would think to be virtually recession proof. Only if you kill off a population do you cut overall consumption of alcohol.

And the biology and thermodynamics of fermentation has not been changed by innovation in hundreds of years. It can’t be done. Beer-making is immutable. You cannot make it more efficient through the application of technology aimed at efficiency and downsizing.

So I asked the man what was the reasoning behind this, since beer-making can’t be revolutionized.

He said that management had figured out that if you had two people who did jobs with overlap, you could fire one of them, award half their salary to the retained worker, and make the person still employed do twice the work. And the leftovers would jump at that.

He added that this made more profit for the shareholders and company heads.

I had nothing more to say. I wanted to ask, “But didn’t that destroy the morale of everyone at the brewery?”

However, it seemed best to remain silent. It was a Christmas party, after all.

“SABMiller plc (SAB.L) and Molson Coors Brewing Company (NYSE: TAP; TSX) today reported MillerCoors underlying earnings grew at a double digit rate driven by strong cost management and net pricing, which were offset by soft volumes due to a sluggish U.S. beer market in the third quarter ended September 30, 2010,” reads a press release from November here.

“MillerCoors third quarter underlying net income, excluding special items increased 36.7 percent to $334 million versus the prior year comparable quarter last year.”

Miller, like every beer, sells itself as true blue collar. It’s typified by the slew of ads featuring the chunky delivery truck man, often affronted or being made queasy by things encountered on his route. Like finding himself being sent to a hockey barn being used by the bluebloods for a dog beauty show.

When you see this from now on it’ll be the guys in the Miller work uniforms making you ‘queasy.’

The story that Miller’s plan was to fire half of its blue collar employees in Irwindale for the sake of the shareholders really puts a dent in the way I see the advertising. And the product.

It shows the company doesn’t give even the slightest shit about the people who its product is sold to. Miller beer might as well be plastic drawstring garbage bags.

Before yesterday I used to think that beer-making was a job one might take pride in. How stupid.

Happy Christmas and God bless us, every one!

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