tom moody

Archive for the ‘around the web’ Category

get ready for work hardening, seniors

"Haircut" is a classic Ring Lardner short story employing an unreliable narrator. A barber describes his swell chum who the reader quickly determines is a complete ingrate. Wired magazine (intentionally -- I think*) uses this device in its recent article Meet the CamperForce, Amazon's Nomadic Retiree Army. Written in a perky, upbeat style, it describes the grimmest of circumstances: a man works his way up the ladder at McDonald’s, retires at 60, loses his savings to shaky investments, and spends his twilight years in a soul-deadening Amazon warehouse job.

And not just by himself: there is a small army of elderly camper nomads in the outbacks of Nevada, Tennessee, Texas, and other states (cheerfully called "workampers" in the article) who are being exploited by Jeff Bezos in the same manner. Their aging bodies aren't accustomed to 10 hour days schlepping consumer goods around the inside of a warehouse so Amazon begins their (seasonal) work cycle with "a period of half-days called 'work hardening,' meant to help newcomers adapt to the physical stress of the job."

Amazon makes arrangements with existing trailer courts to provide space for the "CamperForce," as Amazon calls these itinerants. In the off-season they camp elsewhere: on public land, in the desert... Wired describes the loving, friendly communities of seniors in rickety, leaky RVs, who have all found each other in their post-retirement estrangement from US consumer society (the term Hooverville is not used). As Naked Capitalism commenter Off the Street put it:

Divide and conquer springs to mind. Hard to resist the societal tides as one piece of jetsam. Given the low savings of most Americans, there is an oversupply of potential workamperserfs to depress wages through their remaining nasty, brutish and shortish lives. If there are silver linings, then those may be through human connections, less need for a wired or credit-driven world and more appreciation of what people once had. Who knew that the Mad Max movies were destined to become instruction manuals? What other movies are in the works now ;p

*The tone of Wired's article is difficult to pin down. The essay isn't original to the magazine; it's a teaser from an upcoming book from a major publishing house. Is the author naive, or passive aggressive? Consider this line: "Many of the freshly arrived Camper­Force workers were curious and strangely excited to work alongside the robots that threatened to replace them." Is the author afraid to speak critically of Amazon's brutal labor practices? Is she being constrained to speak by her publisher? The "Haircut" style makes the article less palatable than if she simply took a stand.

- tom moody

October 5th, 2017 at 2:22 pm

Posted in around the web, books

the pivot to jpegs

The ideal online world is slow, contemplative, ad-free, and revenue-neutral. You read a text and think about it; you look at a picture and save it to your drive for future study; you click a link and music plays; you watch a TV episode, mull it over, and perhaps watch another episode tomorrow.

In the real online world you receive content from "platforms" chock full of ads and interactive bells and whistles. For information, instruction, and entertainment, you watch videos. You are encouraged to "binge."

If you inhabit anything close to the "ideal" scenario above, this Columbia Journalism Review article The Secret Cost of Pivoting to Video may seem like pure babble: 1200 words of intense jargon and industryspeak, meaningful only in the context of a few nanoseconds of history. Nevertheless it's worth a read. Apparently a significant number of online publishers fired writers and switched to video because Facebook lured them with the promise of ad dollars. They lost money because (i) Facebook was "likely" pulling a "bait and switch" to get them to pay to search-optimize their own product (an accusation carefully hedged by CJR) and (ii) many of the publishers lacked the skills to make "good" videos (defined by CJR as "addictive, bright, and fast"). Fascinating. Or not.

Meanwhile, in the slow lane, bloggers are giving themselves extended unpaid vacations and pivoting to jpegs.

- tom moody

September 28th, 2017 at 7:52 am

angela nagle, simon reynolds on rightwing transgression (but what about bullying by the left?)

My years on dump.fm (from which I'm still recovering) saw a constant meme-play tug-of-war between left and right attitudes. Which was better, to shock the left or to be the left?

That question comes up (not in those exact words) in Simon Reynolds' post today discussing Angela Nagle's book Kill All Normies: Online Culture Wars From 4Chan And Tumblr To Trump And The Alt-Right (alt-right is a Clinton term but we'll let it go since everyone seems to think they know what it means). (FYI, Nagle discusses ideas similar to those in her book in a recent Baffler essay.)

Reynolds notes that Nagle references his 1995 book The Sex Revolts (co-authored with Joy Press). Here's what he has to say today about that book and how it relates to the current situation:

Nagle references The Sex Revolts a couple of times during her thesis. That book is a bit of an orphan in the oeuvre, indeed there have been quite long periods when I've completely forgotten that Joy and I ever wrote it. While I can't quite reconstruct the head that came up with the over-arching thesis on which the thing is scaffolded and which I'm not certain stands up anymore (that was the peak / swan-song of my infatuation with French theory), whenever I've looked back at a specific portion or patch of it - the stuff on grunge, or Siouxsie, or the whole section on psychedelia - it still seems on the money.

Probably the sharpest part is the stuff that relates to Nagle's book, which is the early chapter dissecting the masculinism of all the immediate precursors to rock rebellion - the Beats, the Angry Young Men, James Dean, Ken Kesey, et al - during which we bring up "Momism", a concept coined by Philip Wiley in his 1942 book Generation of Vipers. Wylie identified a form of new American decadence in the growth of consumerism, mass media entertainment like radio, and suburbia, which he linked to matriarchy and domesticity: American virility, the frontier style of rugged martial masculinity on which the nation was founded, was being smothered by over-mothering, comfort and niceness. The Sex Revolts mentions Robert Bly's Iron Man as a modern-day, therapeutically tinged and New Age-y resurgence of the Momism critique, a sort of Jung Thug manifesto. But, published in 1995, our book was a year too early for Chuck Palahniuk's Fight Club: angry young men reacting against metrosexual consumerism and sensitivity, a creeping decadence weakening from within.

Fight Club was the book that coined the term "snowflake," and the novel has proved to be a prophetic parable. The ugly contorted face of anti-Momism today is the paranoid impatience with political correctness, safe spaces, trigger warning -- the new proprieties that are felt as intolerable constraints, restrictions on the male right to spite. Underlying it all is the crisis of masculinity that doesn't know what its for anymore, in a demilitarized and post-industrial era. Hence the fixation on guns, on rapacious extraction industries like coal and the removal of protections for Mother Earth, on macho posturing foreign policy - surrogates and displacements for an eroding and increasingly irrelevant style of manhood.

Left-bullying has also grown increasingly macho -- from the virtual stoning of Ryder Ripps a couple of years ago to the nazi-punching video craze -- but it will be a while before a book is written about that. It's too complicated. Angela Nagle sort-of-covers it in Kill the Normies: as Reynolds notes, its thesis "asserts that there is a commonality of psychology in the desire-to-shock, whether manifested on the far right or far left of the political-cultural spectrum." But the nazi-punchers and the Ripps mobbers aren't out to shock. They think they are noble. The shock Nagle is talking about is old-left transgression against the Man -- beatniks not bathing, etc. -- which morphed in the late '70s punk era into "Nuke the Whales" events, the patrician humor of P. J. O'Rourke and other affronts to left-wing pieties. 4Chan is a slightly nastier version of that. (The first time I heard the phrase "politically correct" was in the late '80s. Reverend Ivan Stang of the Church of the Subgenius used it to describe "off limits" humor as dictated by the left -- yet being from Dallas he hated right-wing sanctimony just as much or more.)

- tom moody

September 21st, 2017 at 2:05 pm

Posted in around the web, books

left reactions to Clinton's book of blame; end of "Trump insurgency"

Reviews from the left side of the dial of Hillary Clinton's book Wha' Happened? have not been kind.

Jeffrey St. Clair:

What Happened is a sordid book, petulant and spiteful. It made me feel queasy and dirty while reading it, like the whole 25-year-long experience of Clintonism itself. By the end, I got the sense that its sleazy torrent of invective and blame-mongering was more an attempt to console the frail psyche of the author rather than to repair her shattered image to any readership the book might find. In the years to come, What Happened will prove much more valuable as documentary evidence for psycho-historians than political scientists.

Paul Street:

Wow. This is the thanks that the Hillary Clinton has for Sanders’ energetic and self-effacing efforts to save her sorry, vapid, sold-out, and uninspiring political career. After everything Bernie did for her, after all the exhausting campaign stops he made for her, she still has the sneering sociopathic audacity to lay her abject failure partly at Sanders’ feet. [italics Street's --tm]

Caitlin Johnstone (a Green voter) doesn't actually review the book but contributes a fine, foul-mouthed rant:

As we all know, nobody actually wants Hillary Clinton to keep talking. Nobody, if they’re really honest with themselves, wants her to keep coming back, smearing Bernie Sanders, shitting on progressives, and blaming every living vertebrate not named Hillary Rodham Clinton for her loss in the 2016 election. Even her most ardent supporters are secretly wishing she’d just shut the fuck up and go away at this point so they could stop cleaning up after her and working overtime to spin her bullshit into something vaguely positive.

So why doesn’t she? Why does she keep coming back in, doing interviews, attacking the left, embarrassing her supporters and relitigating a primary election she’d do well to let the world forget? I think I know why.

Johnstone thinks that, having demonized Trump beyond all bounds of civilized imagination during the campaign, Clinton has to keep up the drumbeat now:

In opting for this risky gamble of telling Democrats that something uniquely horrible would happen if Trump won, and then losing, Hillary Clinton was forced into a position where she had to either (A) tell America that everything was going to be okay, thereby admitting that much of what her people had been saying about Trump was a lie, or (B) let the fear persist and try to avoid getting blamed for it. She opted for B.

That seems a bit baroque but this part of Johnstone's rant has the ring of truth:

America was spoonfed a boatload of lies in order to force the election of what the US oligarchs perceived as a more reliable pro-establishment candidate to protect their assets... [Yet] after all the fearmongering and freakouts, we’ve seen conclusively that Trump is essentially a Republican Obama, who was himself essentially a Democratic George W. Bush...

It's too early to say what Trump might have in store for us but he certainly seems to have been brought to heel by the military. The few anti-interventionist noises he made in the campaign will soon be a distant memory.

- tom moody

September 19th, 2017 at 6:46 pm

Posted in around the web, books

harvard study: americans rely on the mainstream media to tell them whether a politician is honest

The Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University has published a study analyzing the role of right wing activists in shaping narratives picked up by the mainstream media in the 2016 election. One of these was the Clinton Foundation corruption story. From the Chapter "Dynamics of Network Propaganda: Clinton Foundation Case Study":

The critical lesson of this chapter of the Clinton Foundation story is that the manipulation was not a result of Facebook fake news or of the fragmentation of public discourse. Precisely because the majority of Americans do not get their news from Facebook or from the right-wing media ecosystem, it was necessary for the actors on the right -- Bannon and Schweitzer through GAI, Breitbart, Fox, the Daily Caller, and Judicial Watch -- to frame a story that was attractive enough for mainstream media to cover, and to cause mainstream voters to doubt Hillary Clinton’s integrity. There simply are not enough voters who get their news largely from the right-wing media ecosystem to win an election. Right-wing media must harness broader parts of the ecosystem to achieve their strategic goals. In this case, they kept the story alive with several distinct media “hits”—the release of a book while offering careful “exclusive” access to major newspapers; a film; multiple releases of email dumps; and responses by political actors to these media events (from the congressional representatives’ letter to the IRS to Donald Trump’s public statements). Right-wing media succeeded in pushing the Clinton Foundation to the front of the public agenda precisely at the moment when Clinton would have been anticipated to (and indeed did) receive her biggest bounce in the polls: immediately after the Democratic convention.

Two major assumptions are made in the Harvard Study: (i) that Hillary Clinton is an honest person and (ii) "narratives" regarding her dishonesty emanated only from the right wing. Yet one doesn't have to be a rabid partisan to be offended by the Clintons' cash haul from speaking fees and supposed charitable donations. Many on the left were repulsed by the scale of the solicitation and it was a factor driving support for Bernie Sanders. Also, many Americans remembered the weasel words Clinton used to justify her Iraq War vote, both at the time of the vote and after the failure of the invasion. The Berkman Klein Center assumes "mainstream voters" must read something in the Washington Post to believe it; they can't suss it out for themselves. "Out of touch elite" doesn't begin to describe the authors of the study. At the same time, the authors seem incapable of making a moral judgment as straightforward as "$250,000 speaking fees = political access = corruption."

- tom moody

September 14th, 2017 at 5:02 pm

Posted in around the web

fred willard and the HRC book of excuses

The indefatigable Hillary Clinton wrote a book! 512 pages of excuses for her election failure -- should be a fun read.
You might not know she was a fan of the movie A Mighty Wind, but in any case, here's Fred Willard with the title for her book: [YouTube clip]

(Fred explains the book title and other catchphrases: [slightly longer YouTube clip])

- tom moody

September 14th, 2017 at 1:55 pm

Posted in around the web

profile in courage

Blogger-turned-mainstream-pundit Josh Marshall writes a long editorial alternately excoriating and sucking up to [Eric Schmidt's company] in the wake of the Barry Lynn defenestration. Apparently he doesn't know that this person named Snowden and certain other critics demonstrated that [Eric Schmidt's company] crossed the "evil" line quite some time ago. Thus TPM, Marshall's magazine, is still dependent on ad revenues and email services from [Eric Schmidt's company]. From the concluding paragraph:

So we will keep using all of [Eric Schmidt's company]’s gizmos and services and keep cashing their checks. Hopefully, they won’t see this post and get mad.

He's joking but not really. Even if you don't take their money or use their cruddy email, they can punish you by denigrating your search cred. Some blogs won't even mention [Eric Schmidt's company] by name. Is this bad? Yes.

- tom moody

September 3rd, 2017 at 7:52 am

zucker-eyeballs valuation

Those hoping that Facebook might actually die have assumed it would happen because "the kids" moved to another platform, as happened with MySpace. Ten years later, here we all are...
Financial pundit Mark St. Cyr thinks it might happen for a different reason -- advertiser disillusionment. He compares turn-of-the-millennium AOL with present-day Zuckerland and sees many similarities on the ad-oversell front.

Facebook is, for all intents and purposes, an advertising tool for advertisers only. It derives nearly all its revenue from advertisers. i.e., If there’s no advertisers buying on Facebook – there’s no Facebook. Regardless of how many free “users” sign up.

Pretty simple construct, but imperative to truly contemplate because it’s not that FB provides anything that people truly need. It’s just an outlet connecting eyeballs. And it is those “eyeballs” which are the product. And as soon as advertisers begin regarding 2 Billion eyeballs as being not worth more than two-red-cents, because nobody is buying? That’s when $Billion dollar valuations begin to plummet.

"Plummet" is a word that looks nice in proximity to "Facebook." Hey, we can dream, can't we?

- tom moody

August 30th, 2017 at 1:27 pm

internet meta-scholarship: "Karadar.it"

Wikipedia's entry on French composer Hector Berlioz contains a footnote (note 16) to support the statement that Berlioz's parents "disapproved" of his abandonment of medical studies in favor of music.

The footnote link takes the reader to a Wayback Machine-archived page on Berlioz from Karadar.it, a quasi-encyclopedic entry with no sources given.

What is Karadar.it? A website formerly run by the Karadar Bertoldi Ensemble, a piano and violin duo based in Italy. A bio of the violinist, Sibylle Karadar, appears on another site.

At least one critic satirically complained that Karadar.it was scraping content on classical music from all over the web and passing it off as original. See Brief Outline of How to Steal, by Karadar

Karadar.it eventually migrated content to Karadar.com. Karadar.it is now a parked domain with a fake blog in Italian; Karadar.com is a portal page for people interested in auto accessories ("car radar" -- get it?).

- tom moody

August 28th, 2017 at 8:26 am

obit

lake

- tom moody

August 19th, 2017 at 5:02 pm

Posted in around the web