Monday, March 14, 2011

This is why I stayed up late tonight? Dang it.


These are my reactions to the following opinion piece which I realized, in hindsight, was posted by Fox News to get its more conservative readers all up in arms.  And sorry for the red font.  It's a bit hard to read.  Below here, the white text is the original opinion piece.  The flashy, angry-looking red text in italics is me.
First of all, I’m not writing this because I’m anti-union - but my comments here do make it seem so.  I’m not pro-unions, I’m not anti-union.  The fact is that I’m not educated enough to get into a heated debate about unions, Wisconsin, etc.  But what I am fully qualified to do is sarcastically pick out points of a hastily-written article that throws around glaring generalities and in general contributes more to the mountain of crap coming out of the media than it does to the balanced debate its author pretends to crave.  Give us some facts or some intelligent, well-written, opinion pieces.  This stuff is making our brains rot.
If you’re cheering on Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s decision to destroy both democracy and working families by ramming through anti-union legislation backed by big business, shame on you! I’m sick of unions being vilified by conservative commentators and voters alike who, in fact, have very directly and tangibly benefited from unionization.
In the 1920s, before the peak of the union movement, income inequality and wealth distribution in America reached dangerous proportions. Incomes for the nation as a whole were barely keeping pace with inflation while incomes for the top 1% of Americans skyrocketed up seventy-five percent. Unions, along with a host of New Deal era accomplishments, helped drastically turn this tide. 
In 1955, when the American Federation of Labor and the Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) was formed, Republican President Eisenhower praised the newly combined labor federation and unions in general for achieving economic prosperity for all.

It was widely accepted that following an era in which the robber barons recklessly abused workers in order to extract maximum wealth, unions were the way working class Americans could fight back together for rights, benefits and fair wages.
Tonight’s homework:  In what ways did the American economy, and ultimately many of the U.S.’s current citizens, benefit from the robber barons?  Author, if your enemies are saying nobody’s ever benefited from unions, indeed they are wrong.  But just because something brings benefits doesn’t mean it’s just that simple.

Which is why big business -- and big business-backed politicians like Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker -- have worked so hard to destroy unions ever since. Do you really think big business gives a damn about “our economy” or “your jobs”? Come on. They care about their bottom line. That’s what businesses do. Unions care about workers.  Only 50% true.  “Big” business does care about the economy.  So Author you are incorrect there.  But you are correct in that “big business” does care about the bottom line over its workers.  If you want to throw out 5 sentences and be done with the paragraph, I’ll humor the scope of your paragraph’s argument.  And the scope of your paragraph’s argument is the fragments I remember from Introductory Economics in college.  Businesses don’t care about workers because workers care about themselves and because businesses aren’t workers.  It’s called self-interest.  If Business X is so terrible, the workers will go work for Business Y. That’s still self-interest. (I think we’re in macro here, not micro...that is, not every John Doe’s individual situation is that simple, but in aggregate that's basically what happens.)  So in summary, yeah, no shit.  Businesses care about profits.  What’s your next bombshell? 

Unions raise the wages of workers by roughly 20% and raise total compensation, including both wage and benefits after union dues are deducted, by twenty-eight percent. The effect is even greater for low- and middle-wage workers and those without a college degree.   That sounds fantastic.  I would love a 20% wage raise and 28% raise in total compensation.  What’s the bad news?

Unionized workers are significantly more likely than non-union workers to get paid leave, employer-provided health insurance and employer-provided pension plans (in fact, up to 54% more likely). And unionized workers receive 26% more vacation time and 14% more paid leave.  This is starting to sound familiar.  You mean if I order now through this special TV offer, not only do I get a 28% rise in total comp. but I also am more likely to get paid leave, employer-paid health care, and a pension?  AND more vacation and 14% more paid leave?  (Didn’t you already say paid leave?) 

What’s not to like about that?  Not a damn thing!  Where do I sign?

But here’s the kicker: Even if you’re not in a union, unions help you. There’s an old bumper sticker that reads, “Like your weekend? Thank a union!” A bigger bumper sticker might read, “Like your weekend, your 40-hour work week, your workers compensation program, your employee benefits, your minimum wage, your safety standards on the job? Thank a union.”  The implication seems to be that unions are behind the scenes preserving all this stuff for us with sword and shield in hand, and if tomorrow unions were totally abolished we’d all be back to working 80 hours a week in dimly-lit textile mills.  The market is different than it was in Upton Sinclair’s day.  I agree some industries still need fair employee representation to prevent mistreatment, but for Heaven’s sake, can we stop with the murky references to working conditions that haven’t been widespread in the USA for many decades?

But that’s not all.

Unions set a standard that even non-unionized workplaces have to follow. For example, a high school graduate who works in a field that is only 25% unionized earns 5% more than similar workers in less unionized industries. Wouldn’t you take a 5% raise right now?  What does “similar workers” mean?   What’s the “a field” the high school grad works in?  How much less unionized are the other industries?  Author, there are too many unknowns in this paragraph to believe it couldn’t have been built by data hand-picked by you.  I could use your same data set and write a paragraph that is equally true and totally opposite.  Crack a statistics book.  But by the way yes, I would take a 5% raise right now.

And no, workers who get good salaries and benefits aren’t taking money out of your pocket. They’re taking it from CEO salaries and bonuses. The top five big banks on Wall Street set aside $89.54 billion for bonuses last year --- only a 2.8% decline from the previous year, even though profits were down four percent. In other words, even with lower profits, big business across the country can afford to pay executives a small fortune. They can easily afford to pay decent wage and benefits to average workers.  And she’s holding the Ace of Spades:  Wall Street bonuses.  I’m skipping this paragraph.

The same is true for public sector employees. States across the country have been slashing wages and benefits for teachers and other public servants in order to give obscene tax breaks to big business and the super-rich. Note that in Wisconsin, 60% of corporations making more than $1 million per year in revenues pay zero taxes. Zero.  The situation is oh-so-not-as-simple as your first two sentences suggest.  I don’t even know how to support my last statement there, I just know that it’s true.  There is so much wrongly attributed causation in this article I could punch a kitten. 

Anti-union oligarchs literally want to take money from working people and put it in the pockets of the super-rich. If you’re against that, find a union and join it.  Misused “literally” the same way a middle-schooler would.  Skipping this paragraph.

For the record, unions primarily target large industries and employers so the “this hurts small business” argument is nothing but a distraction. Plus, if a small business is paying such abysmal wages that the unionization of the industry pushes the small business to also raise pay, good --- they shouldn’t have been so low in the first place.  This paragraph is less littered with the stuff that makes the article a pure opinion (i.e. no more worth listening to than the opinion of the guy who coughed in my face on the subway this morning).  Author, if you expanded on this type of writing I would be very interested to read.

And also for the record, many of the talking heads who rail against unions are, in fact, union members. So what?  My wife was part of a union and was not what I’d call “a big fan.”  Most every television and radio show host, for instance, belongs to the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists. They may resent having to be in structures to which they’re so ideologically opposed (oh, they do), but the fact is that their good wages and benefits and working conditions were won and are preserved by their union.  I’m not sure how this fits into or advances your thesis. 

And when these same talking heads suggest that we don’t need unions to level the economic playing field, that plenty of poor people grow up to be rich, most of the examples they cite are union members, too. 
Baseball players who rose from the ghetto to the major league? It wasn’t until they unionized that baseball players got rich. 
Actors? Unionized, including recent Oscar winner actress Natalie Portman who thanked the Screen Actors Guild union for making sure she got an education and was protected as a child actor.  Statistically speaking, nobody (how many significant digits are we talking?) becomes a famous baseball player or famous actress.  Nobody.  So find different examples or pass the microphone.  Also, Author, do we really believe there’s not a legion of once child actors out there who are chewed up and spit out in many ways by the industry?  That’s good about Natalie Portman, it really is.  But again you take one example and let it imply more than what is likely true.

Anti-union policies hurt all workers. The average worker in a so-called “Right-to-Work” state that hinders unionization makes $5,538 per year less than workers in free bargaining states. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, workplace death rates are 52.9% higher in “Right-to-Work” states than free bargaining states. “Right-to-Work” states have higher rates of poverty, higher infant mortality rates and lower percentages of residents with health insurance.  How about taxes?  Other items affecting cost of living?  Cost of doing business in general?  Author, do you want to explore any of that?  Oh, that’s right, you only have a few paragraphs.  So let’s keep with the emotional appeals.  I just have to spit out though, that Right-to-Work states also have more hurricanes and tornadoes.  And it’s also a bit hotter on average in Right-to-Work states.  So moderation of high temperatures and extreme weather events is another few points for unions.

This is simple. Not as simple as the construction of your arguments. The vast majority of Americans think it’s wrong that 400 obscenely (I really thought you’d have gone with “gloriously” here.  But “obscenely” is good too.) rich people hold more wealth and power than the assets of 155 million ordinary Americans combined. Why? Because it is wrong.  In many cases it is wrong.  In many other cases, it is because those people did something that none of the rest of us did, or they did something and had a little bit of luck that the rest of us didn’t have.  They’re not all silver spoon babies up there!  Can we get off that please?
Such monstrous inequality and lack of opportunity for ordinary Americans is not a sign that capitalism is broken but a sign that our economy and politics have been rigged to work for the very few at the top. And since the same few rich people and big businesses at the top make most of the political contributions in our country, politicians are woefully skittish to challenge their greed.   Lots of buzz words, and not even the obvious (and expected, after this article’s language) mention of exceptions such as Warren Buffet, Bill Gates.  Our economy has been rigged to work for Bill Gates in the sense that it devoured the products Microsoft sells because it needed them.  Our economy has also been rigged to work for Warren Buffet in the sense that it provided the opportunity for a man to pore over financial reports and make smart buys and sells on market mispricings.  He probably did some other stuff too but I never read about that stuff.  Surely you don’t believe his opportunities were “rigged” by a bunch of cigar-smoking suits in some mahogany-laden office in Washington?  
And that's why the final reason to thank a union, the organized voice -- and yes, political money, too -- large enough to stand up to the otherwise-unchecked disastrous power of big businesses that care nothing about you or our economy and care only about their profit. That’s not what America is about. Another paragraph that Author should have expanded upon. 
That's why we let people vote to join unions, to stand up together for working Americans and to fulfill the vision of freedom and equality for which our nation was founded. -- Just like we let people vote anti-democratic, anti-working families politicians out of office.  Sounds like she wrote when she was angry….. just like I did!  J  Dang, I think Fox News accomplished its goal.  Argh…polarization sells I guess.
Sally Kohn is a community organizer and political commentator. She is the Founder and Chief Education Officer of the Movement Vision Lab.
Gary Larson is some guy, and his opinion matters as little as less than Sally Kohn's.  (edit made after reading Sally Kohn's bio)

Sunday, January 02, 2011

Hulu ad fail

Leslie-Ann and I noticed a particularly poor layout on one of Hulu's ads.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

things that are redundant

ATM machine
RPM per minute (also "RPMs" is weird)
please RSVP

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Targeted advertising

With all the stuff Facebook probably knows about me... you'd think the ads they show me would be related to something I am interested in.

Or at least in English.  oh wait OMG shoes!

Friday, October 29, 2010

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Priorities

Just some of my deep thoughts.  I think I'll go to bed now.






Wednesday, October 20, 2010

I feel like you already know how it ends.

The title says it all.  Wall Street's evil.  Big bad money-loving suits parading around making fools of normal people while they sail around on their yachts and snort cocaine.

Inside Job.

Barney Frank and Matt Damon?  The usual suspects.  Another John Doe's opinion article gets turned into a sensational piece of crap.  The makers of the movie make a ton of money, Michael Moore gets an erection, and everybody goes on with their lives not really having learned anything.

Too soon?

Every once in a while, 2 months or so, I take part in a favorite activity of mine:

1)  go to trailers.apple.com
2)  watch everything

I am in the middle of that activity tonight and have been EXTREMELY disappointed.

So a few years ago I drove from Charlotte to Greensboro to do what I normally did every other week:  spend a weekend with my family and girlfriend (now "wife"....still weird to say it).

Me:  What do you want to do tonight?
LA:  Let's see a movie.
Me:  Grand.  What film or theatre wish you we patronize?
LA:  All Hallow's Eve is nigh.  Let's see a scary movie.

By this point in my relationship I have learned a couple things:

1)  Leslie-Ann loves scary movies
2)  When LA wants to see a scary movie, my night ends up being crappy BECAUSE...
3)  ...scary movies don't exist anymore.

So we pick a movie.  Some Swedish movie in Swedish with subtitles.  "Lat den ratte komma in" or "Let the Right One In".  It's a vampire movie.  We go.  Kids chatter and giggle in the back before the movie starts.  I'm annoyed.  The movie starts.  The kids immediately get interested and don't speak the rest of the movie.

A couple hours later it is probably one of the best movies I have ever seen.  Definitely one of the best guesses I've ever been part of.  It was released in a limited-sort-of-way in the U.S., being from Sweden and mostly not cared about here.  But easily better than 99% of movies I've seen in theaters.  A vampire movie with nobody jumping out and scaring you, but true tension throughout.  Something I have been hoping for every time LA suggested "a scary movie":  something actually scary.

It covered all the best vampire myths, and "realistically" too.  It even covered some I hadn't really known about -- a vampire can't enter someone else's place (or any room?  i dunno) unless he is invited to come in.  Hence "Let the Right One In".

I'll stop here and just say... if any of you ever check www.rottentomatoes.com (movie reviews) to check out whether you should see a movie, you'll know there are Critics reviews and Audience reviews.  If you don't know that website, just Google "Rotten Tomatoes" + your favorite movie.  Ratings are submitted by two groups:  professional (by some definition) critics, and audience members (Joes the Plumber).  Chances are, when you check your favorite movie on rottentomatoes.com, 1 of 2 things will happen.  One, either the yuppie Critic assholes will think terrible and rate it 37% while normal Audience folks will all agree it's amazing and rate it 85%, thus confirming that you are a down-to-Earth person who loves to be entertained by great movies that artsy douchebags don't understand.  (85% is a VERY good rating on rottentomatoes.com from either group by the way....just check whatever famous movies you can think of.)  OR....... Two, the cultured, educated film Critics will think your favorite movie is amazing, the quintessence of fine cinema and rate it 87%, while the Audience commoner morons will rate it 20% and claim they wish I'd played The Hangover drinking game again instead of watching this gay shit."

So the point is, often the Critics and Audience reviews oppose each other (classic high-brow vs. low-brow actually) .... and each moviegoer has his or her own method of checking whether to see a movie.  "I trust the critics and not the audience reviews"   or   vice versa.

Take a look at this.  It's the highest I've ever seen on Rotten Tomatoes without looking for something higher.  I've looked up "greatest vampire movies" lists and this movie is constantly seen in the top 2 or at least 5....usually behind Nosferatu, which is some very old movie about vampires which can't really be discussed right now.  I've never seen it and I'm sure it's a classic.  Probably the classic vampire movie.

Anyway, finally I can leave you to digest all that text I just spent so much time typing above.... and finally get to the point of this post.  The movie (don't read the whole Wikipedia unless you've seen the movie...otherwise it's totally boring) was released in 2008.  And GUESS WHAT.  There's a remake coming out!!!!!  In English!!!!  THANK GODDDDDDDDDD  I hate reading subtitles!!!!!!

Now, to be fair..  I showed this movie (the Swedish one) to my parents and they were a bit underwhelmed to say the least.  Whereas Leslie-Ann and I thought this movie was amazing, scary, beautiful, thought-provoking, mysterious.....my mom's first reaction was "weird."  And my dad didn't say much of anything.  So I'm not sure what he thought actually.  But my point here is the movie obviously is not something everybody will love.  Just like I think that somebody's favorite band is a piece of crap, somebody thinks this movie is a piece of crap.  And that's fine.  But my issue is, do we really need a remake (1) of a great movie (by 95% of viewers' standards) (2) three years after it was originally released?

Damn people.

I wouldn't be surprised if more people in the U.S. go to see the new version "Let Me In" than saw the Swedish version "Let the Right One." (...aside from the possibility it will be more widely released than the Swedish version)  Some will even go home thinking the movie was awesome and never know about the Swedish gem that lies a few mouse clicks away (from purchase or download or Netflix, whatever you're into).

The new movie might be great.  It could even be better (not likely, but possible) than the Swedish version.  And more important for some, it could be more faithful to the book than the Swedish version.  But let my personal preferences step in for a sec and let me say:  who cares?

It's...sort of.... like somebody stepping in front of Van Gogh's self-portrait (you know...that one) at a museum and showing how he drew a charcoal of himself with slit wrists.  Nobody cares, somebody already did it, and not only did somebody already do it better, but everyone already recognizes the first one as a masterpiece.  Call it what you want..... copying, reinterpreting, reinventing the wheel, being a douche.  There's just really no good way to come out with a remake of a movie from 2008 that had legions of critics and normal folks raving about it.... with the appearance of "doing an English version."  How 'bout you just wait 40 years and then give it a try.

I'll probably see the new movie if I have a chance.  But only because the first version was so amazing, and really just to see whether I should come back and delete this post.