Sunday, October 9, 2011

OWS Must Avoid Democratic Cooptation! A New Social Movement? Funny You Should Say That About the "Meritorius" Jobs ("Apple . . . Very Totalitarian Outfit")

The demonstrators on Wall Street and those at almost 500-plus other OccupyEverythingUSA local groups have been told that they must have a demand or a set of certain issues that will define their mission if they want to be taken seriously by the connected, in-crowd that Paul Krugman has designated (and I cheer on) the Very Serious People (VSP). These are the Powers That Be (PTB) who define what is valid news (like the unquestionable rationality of continuing to throw billions at the US-created wars overseas and tax breaks for the rich, who might one day create a job or two) and what is ephemera.

The wisdom of needing to quantify the demonstrators' demands or important issues into a few well-chosen words may be the best way for these Wall Street insiders to dismiss the gravity of the concerns of those who have been irremediably damaged by the Wall Street Ravengers. And it's a seriously good gambit. If you want to dismiss the concerns of this raggle-taggle group of miscreants and old hippies.

As a part of OccupyGreensboro and through my own research, I've gleaned that this attitude may be the "black spot" that quickly leads to the defeat of our goals and the death of this new social movement. I'm sure none of these serious, reasonable people have that in mind.

And I know that OccupyGreensboro has already decided not to fall into their trap.

Occupy Wall Street is Bigger Than Goldman Sachs

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Below is another great video from Yves Smith at Naked Capitalism about the financial crisis in which Goldman Sachs played such a prominent part. Michael Hudson has a great explanation for why OccupyWallSteet does not need to focus its demands: the OWS is bigger than any single demand.
The Real News does not get it yet, but it soon will.

See the video here.

Michael Smith of Stop Me Before I Vote Again has got me dead on about speaking too well of Steve Jobs now that he's dead. Not that he wasn't a visionary (of cool ideas hopefully destined to make him rich if he were able to bully people enough or offer them enough money or fame to finish unpleasant tasks) or driven (like a mad sociopath) or overwhelmingly confident of his vision (like Mussolini) of ultimate success in every venture he undertook.

I thought the Apple (Crapple, as it was called by real developers) products were just a hair better than the Microbad, er . . . Microbrained, alternative (as the public never wanted to take the trouble to learn to use any of the much better, but less marketed, superior products available). Both contained tons of hidden files, obsolete metaprogramming and lots of trash (probably an overload of early security miniprograms that never worked efficiently) in the code that made them huge and difficult to operate in any type of trouble-free minimal systems environment. (Anyone had a crash lately?) The worst part (as a computer consultant - meaning customers only call when it doesn't work) was that Apple could not be tweaked (like Microsoft was constantly ad nauseam, ad infinitum) and it never offered software updates that corrected its problems without cost. They only wanted you to pay for the upgrade that might fix the problems you had already paid for.

As to his ethical/business practices (and personal standards regarding his early relationship with Bay Area painter Chrisann Brennan, who for two years, reared their daughter on welfare while Jobs denied paternity and loudly claimed to all bystanders that he was sterile), well, there weren't many. He later acknowledged her as his child and established a relationship with her as a teenager after having three more children. So, there's that.

Oh yes, I forgot to mention that he became the lover of Joan Baez, supposedly because she had been involved with Bob Dylan, who was a god to Jobs. Knowledgeable sources have suggested that he decided not to marry her because her age (41) would not have been conducive to extended child bearing possibilities. His sterility seemed to have been more a morality judgment than a physical one.

Were you aware that Jobs eliminated all corporate philanthropy programs after returning to the company in triumph in 1997? So much for giving thanks! Just like any upstanding, earth-loving environmentalist should. (/snark)

And, of course, there's that use of child labor to build iphones, ipods and MACs, but no worries. They've got the problem identified. On the plus side, their standards are "much more robust" than others in the industry. (/snark)

Apple (AAPL) has disclosed that child labor was used in three supplier factories last year to build iPhones, iPods and Macintosh computers. The new report, designed to highlight its strong workplace standards, comes amid greater scrutiny of the working conditions at Apple's suppliers, particularly in Asia. Last year, a worker at Apple's massive Taiwanese supplier Foxconn jumped from his high-rise apartment after being beaten by guards during an investigation into a stolen iPhone prototype. And recently, at another Foxconn factory, this one in China, a Reuters employee was beaten by guards after photographing the facility.

Apple's report, entitled Supplier Responsibility, found 17 "core violations," including using underage labor and falsifying records. Apple's supplier standards program is much more robust than those found in the rest of the tech industry, and the company uses the results of its audits to pressure its suppliers to improve. Last year, the company said it terminated one repeat offender. Airing one's dirty laundry is laudable, but Apple should expect criticism when child labor and other workplace violations are found.

Underage Labor

"Apple discovered three facilities that had previously hired 15-year-old workers in countries where the minimum age for employment is 16," Apple said. "Across the three facilities, our auditors found records of 11 workers who had been hired prior to reaching the legal age, although the workers were no longer underage or no longer in active employment at the time of our audit."

In the review of 102 factories around the world, Apple also discovered three cases of "falsified records," including one designed to conceal child labor violations: "One facility attempted to conceal evidence of historical cases of underage labor," the company said. "Two other facilities presented falsified records that concealed evidence of violations of Apple's Code regarding working hours and days of rest."

In one case, Apple said it terminated its relationship with a supplier that had been caught falsifying records in 2008, only to do the same thing the next year. "When Apple investigated further, we uncovered additional records and conducted worker interviews that revealed excessive working hours and seven days of continuous work," Apple said. "When confronted with this information, the facility provided Apple with accurate timecards. Based on the repeat core violation and inadequate actions, Apple is terminating all business with this facility."

"Noncompliance" With Labor Standards

The report contained other startling disclosures, including dozens of cases in which suppliers were found to be noncompliant with numerous labor standards. For example, at 60 facilities, the company "found records that indicated workers had exceeded weekly work-hour limits more than 50 percent of the time. Similarly, at 65 facilities, more than half of the records we reviewed indicated that workers had worked more than six consecutive days at least once per month."

"At 48 of the facilities audited, we found that overtime wages had been calculated improperly, resulting in underpayment of overtime wages," Apple said. "At 24 facilities, our auditors found that workers had been paid less than minimum wage for regular working hours."

The child labor and other violations were discovered as part of an annual on-site audit of suppliers in China, Taiwan, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, South Korea, the Czech Republic, Philippines and the U.S. The company did not specify where the violations occurred.

Apple is to be commended for its robust supplier practices audit. The real question is whether the company will use its influence to push even more aggressively for improved conditions. Merely identifying the problem is not enough.

See full article from DailyFinance.
Jobs was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, about which he never revealed all the facts and on occasion claimed to be in remission or cured, seven years before he died. He also received a liver transplant during this time from a facility that allowed him to jump ahead of those already in line. The New York Times published an article based on an off-the-record phone conversation with Jobs, noting that:

While his health problems amounted to a good deal more than 'a common bug,' they weren't life-threatening and he doesn't have a recurrence of cancer.
Nothing was allowed to get in the way of the PR Job necessary for the almost fatally-determined Jobs to triumph over his adversaries and promote the coolest toys on earth. He died with that toy knowledge, thus he won that competition.

And as for those who make the case for outright MAC hatred (and I really love this guy):

Unless you have been walking around with your eyes closed, and your head encased in a block of concrete, with a blindfold tied round it, in the dark - unless you have been doing that, you surely can't have failed to notice the current Apple Macintosh campaign starring David Mitchell and Robert Webb, which has taken over magazines, newspapers and the internet in a series of brutal coordinated attacks aimed at causing massive loss of resistance.

While I don't have anything against shameless promotion per se (after all, within these very brackets I'm promoting my own BBC4 show, which starts tonight at 10pm), there is something infuriating about this particular blitz. In the ads, Webb plays a Mac while Mitchell adopts the mantle of a PC. We know this because they say so right at the start of the ad.
"Hello, I'm a Mac," says Webb.

"And I'm a PC," adds Mitchell.

They then perform a small comic vignette aimed at highlighting the differences between the two computers. So in one, the PC has a "nasty virus" that makes him sneeze like a plague victim; in another, he keeps freezing up and having to reboot. This is a subtle way of saying PCs are unreliable. Mitchell, incidentally, is wearing a nerdy, conservative suit throughout, while Webb is dressed in laid-back contemporary casual wear. This is a subtle way of saying Macs are cool.

The ads are adapted from a near-identical American campaign - the only difference is the use of Mitchell and Webb. They are a logical choice in one sense (everyone likes them), but a curious choice in another, since they are best known for the television series Peep Show - probably the best sitcom of the past five years - in which Mitchell plays a repressed, neurotic underdog, and Webb plays a selfish, self-regarding poseur. So when you see the ads, you think, "PCs are a bit rubbish yet ultimately lovable, whereas Macs are just smug, preening tossers." In other words, it is a devastatingly accurate campaign.

I hate Macs. I have always hated Macs. I hate people who use Macs. I even hate people who don't use Macs but sometimes wish they did. Macs are glorified Fisher-Price activity centres for adults; computers for scaredy cats too nervous to learn how proper computers work; computers for people who earnestly believe in feng shui.

PCs are the ramshackle computers of the people. You can build your own from scratch, then customise it into oblivion. Sometimes you have to slap it to make it work properly, just like the Tardis (Doctor Who, incidentally, would definitely use a PC). PCs have charm; Macs ooze pretension. When I sit down to use a Mac, the first thing I think is, "I hate Macs", and then I think, "Why has this rubbish aspirational ornament only got one mouse button?"

Losing that second mouse button feels like losing a limb. If the ads were really honest, Webb would be standing there with one arm, struggling to open a packet of peanuts while Mitchell effortlessly tore his apart with both hands. But then, if the ads were really honest, Webb would be dressed in unbelievably po-faced avant-garde clothing with a gigantic glowing apple on his back. And instead of conducting a proper conversation, he would be repeatedly congratulating himself for looking so cool, and banging on about how he was going to use his new laptop to write a novel, without ever getting round to doing it, like a mediocre idiot.

Cue 10 years of nasal bleating from Mac-likers who profess to like Macs not because they are fashionable, but because "they are just better".

Mac owners often sneer that kind of defence back at you when you mock their silly, posturing contraptions, because in doing so, you have inadvertently put your finger on the dark fear haunting their feeble, quivering soul - that in some sense, they are a superficial semi-person assembled from packaging; an infinitely sad, second-rate replicant who doesn't really know what they are doing here, but feels vaguely significant and creative each time they gaze at their sleek designer machine
. And the more deftly constructed and wittily argued their defence, the more terrified and wounded they secretly are.

Aside from crowing about sartorial differences, the adverts also make a big deal about PCs being associated with "work stuff" (Boo! Offices! Boo!), as opposed to Macs, which are apparently better at "fun stuff". How insecure is that? And how inaccurate? Better at "fun stuff", my arse.

The only way to have fun with a Mac is to poke its insufferable owner in the eye. For proof, stroll into any decent games shop and cast your eye over the exhaustive range of cutting-edge computer games available exclusively for the PC, then compare that with the sort of rubbish you get on the Mac. Myst, the most pompous and boring videogame of all time, a plodding, dismal "adventure" in which you wandered around solving tedious puzzles in a rubbish magic kingdom apparently modelled on pretentious album covers, originated on the Mac in 1993.
That same year, the first shoot-'em-up game, Doom, was released on the PC. This tells you all you will ever need to know about the Mac's relationship with "fun".
Ultimately the campaign's biggest flaw is that it perpetuates the notion that consumers somehow "define themselves" with the technology they choose. If you truly believe you need to pick a mobile phone that "says something" about your personality, don't bother. You don't have a personality. A mental illness, maybe - but not a personality. Of course, that hasn't stopped me slagging off Mac owners, with a series of sweeping generalisations, for the past 900 words, but that is what the ads do to PCs. Besides, that's what we PC owners are like - unreliable, idiosyncratic and gleefully unfair. And if you'll excuse me now, I feel an unexpected crash coming.
More unpleasant conversation about the dead (or vice versa) follows:

De Mortuis Nil Nisi Bonum...

By Michael J. Smith
Saturday October 8, 2011

From what is maybe my favorite book ever, Pale Fire:
This index card, this slender rubber band 
Which always forms, when dropped, an ampersand, 
Are found in Heaven by the newly dead 
Stored in its strongholds through the years....
I loathed Steve Jobs while he was alive. Now that he's newly dead, I have to stop. There's only a short list of people you're allowed to keep hating after they're dead; monsters on the level of Henry Kissinger and Woodrow Wilson. So my wish for Jobs - as it is for all of us - is that he find in heaven whatever he lost while he blundered his way - as we all do - more or less damagingly through the world.

That said . . .

I'm amazed, and rather dismayed, at the outpouring of sentimental hagiography his going hence has evoked. Apple is a very totalitarian outfit, specializing in a kind of hipster Fascism. It's a Pinkertonian enforcer of intellectual property, and a monopolizer of the distribution chain (think buyTunes, errm, iTunes). It runs brutal sweatshops in China. This is not a benign outfit; nor is it a friend to human liberty.

And yet NPR dribbled on all day yesterday - I was on the boat, so a captive audience - about Jobs as if he were Rousseau and William Blake and Mahatma Gandhi rolled into one.

Bill Gates must be so furious. He's just gotta know he's never going to get this treatment when his inodes get deallocated and re-linked to the free list. Five minutes of Jobs dead is cooler than a whole lifetime of grubby ill-barbered Gates alive. There's justice for you.

I remember, years ago, Jobs making a slighting reference to Microsoft, saying 'they have no taste'.

This struck me funny at the time, because I had just spent a couple of years working at a company (not Microsoft, I hasten to add) which paid me to take Apple computers apart and figure out how they worked under the hood. The hardware design was a joke; and the system software was as much a dog's breakfast as Microsoft's stuff was. Which is saying a lot. The difference was in the styling; even then, Apple products managed to look cooler, somehow. 

That slick laid-back suburban-California minimalist thing.

Perhaps the most over-the-top encomium Jobs got yesterday came from a somewhat unlikely source, Mike Bloomberg, who compared him to Einstein. This made me spit out a mouthful of cheap boat wine. Coco Chanel would have been a more appropriate point of reference.

Here's George with a final comment.

And, as usual, it's a doozy.

(I miss George!)

No comments: