When satire becomes redundant
On the heels of Ted Nugent's Yes Men-like performance at the NRA convention, the idea that you can mock capitalism by pretending to channel the essence of its most aggresive practitioners takes another hit. In this interview between CNBC's Larry Kudlow and Steven Milloy of the Free Enterprise Action Fund, the notion that corporations have any responsibility to something larger than themselves is treated with the same disdain that people usually reserve for terrorism or the designated hitter.
KUDLOW: Yeah, listen, so corporate social responsibility, social investing and then, of course, this whole idea of stakeholders--businesses aren't run for stakeholders, which are left-wing community activists. Businesses are run for shareholders, aren't they?
Mr. MILLOY: That's absolutely true. And we are here to say that the Free Enterprise Action Fund is here to remind corporate managements that their business is business. Their business is not caving in to anti-business activists. They gotta keep their eye on that ball. We want to be able to support corporate--as investors, we want to be able to support corporate managers who are fighting the good fight and fighting anti-business activists. And for corporate managers who are caving in to anti-business activists, we're gonna come down on 'em like a ton of bricks.
That's right, Mr. Manager. Destroy a Nigerian tribal community. Use Chinese slave labor. Set up a foreign subsidiary to work in countries that finance terrorism. If you show the slightest bit of concern for your fellow man, we will punish you!
Not content to merely espouse amoral management, Kudlow and Milloy get into such a froth about "liberal activism" that they completely lose all perspective:
KUDLOW: One of your anecdotes in the paper--this is unbelievable to me--the Rainforest Action Network decides to crusade against the loan policies of JP Morgan; they want to give more money to Third World countries, more money to environmentalists, I suppose. Now the Rainforest Network hoodwinked a bunch of seven-year-old grammar-school kids from Fairfield County, Connecticut, to go down there and allegedly march. Now this to me is a new low and is really kind of a form of child abuse. But anyway, tell us the story.
Mr. MILLOY: Well, we call it ideological child abuse. Yes, the Rainforest Action Network took second-graders out of a public school, transported 'em downtown to Manhattan so that they could protest JP Morgan. And the reason they picked the second-graders from Fairfield, Connecticut, is that's--'cause--where the CEO of JP Morgan Chase, William Harrison, lives. That's one of the most scurrilous things. It's, as Terry Corcoran of the National Post called it, ideological child abuse.
Not when the children of Fairfield are in such peril.
This Month in New York City Critical Mass OR How Much Does It Cost the City to Run One of Those Police Copters All Night?
The cops here sure are getting all the mileage they can out of their RNC-funded, jacked-up mopeds. Have you seen these things? They're hilarious.
Tonight was my first critical mass ride since last summer, since before the Convention. I had no idea what a sad and intimidating mess it's become this year because of the whole paranoid round-up in August. Nobody has been spared the "permit required" hatchet since Cheney, et al, came to town; especially not a bunch of goofs who just want to ride their bikes around without getting clobbered by SUVs and cabs, myself included.
In the glory days, way back in the summer of 2004, people on bikes in New York City used to gather up in Union Square north on the last Friday of every month to wait for for the dude on the recumbent, towing a couple of speaker cabinents and a boom box in a trailer hooked to his bike to press play and make his way out on the street. That was as organized as it got. That guy usually started the show and the rest of us would follow, making our leisurely way through the streets of New York for an hour or two, inconveniencing traffic for a few minutes at a time, trying to demonstrate the power of the bike.
Nothing hugely lofty, but something I can get behind. I had a blast on those rides. We once even made our way through Times Square where a pretty good segment of the ride stopped, dismounted and held their bikes above their heads while the cops kept the cars back. It was a parade for simpler living and self-sufficiency. Plus whatever else you wanted to toss in: more bikes, less cars; no war for oil, whatever.
That's all on hold for the time being. Ever since the Convention, shit is way different. I missed the ride in March, but the rumor at Union Square tonight was that last month, the cops didn't even wait for the ride to start. They apparently surrounded the crowd with orange plastic netting and took to cutting their bikes loose from across the street, taking everything in their path into custody. I wasn't there, so I can't really speak to that. Maybe another author or somebody in the comments can fill us in on that one?
This time, I could tell people were uneasy. Things started early, close to 6:30. Someone involved in the NYC bike scene who'd been arrested spoke; he said some 50-odd people this year alone have been hauled in during critical mass. Can't remember his name, sorry. Normal Siegel spoke for while, condeming the city and its draconian policing since the RNC. And of course, Reverend Billy did his thing.
They wrapped up around 7, when the ride was supposed to start. Nobody did anything but mill. At this point, I'd guess there were at least 50 cops in the immediate vicinity. Only a handful right close to where the speeches were, but on my way in, I saw a few different groups congregating on the outskirts.
The word came through the crowd that a ride was leaving from Tompkins Square Park and people filtered out on their way to that one, or elsewhere, I'm not entirely sure. 20 minutes passed and still nothing. Then, from the east side of 14th street, a half dozen people came by on their bikes yelling for the ride to start. The crowd slowly moved off the plaza at Union Square South and headed down University, the wrong way. This wasn't the first sign, but it was a pretty good one that this was going to be not so much a fun ride as a ride to avoid the cops. Whatever critical mass does to mess with the cars, it never goes the wrong way down a street. Following the flow of traffic is a pretty crucial part of the critical mass thing; the whole idea is we're a vaild form of transport and we just need to be taken seriously.
Anyway, it was a very small crowd. Maybe 50-75 bikers, which is literally nothing in comparison to the rides of last summer, which were easily in the high hundreds, if not thousands at times. And nothing leisurely about it. We were riding to avoid the cops, who were on us after a matter of maybe a dozen blocks. There's something not a bit creepy about looking back over your shoulder to see 20 visor-shielded police on mopeds right on your tail.
We took a circuitous route through the West Village -- to shake them off our trail? I have no idea -- and made our way back up Hudson, only to have them come shooting out in a kind of Smokey and the Bear roadblock move from Perry or Charles Street, whichever goes east to west, to cut us off. Some people went through; others took to the sidestreets. I made it all the way up 8th Ave into the high teens before I backed off when I saw the vans and cruisers swarming in. I personally saw 4 people arrested and their bikes thrown in the trunks of cars.
Meanwhile, apparently other rides had formed from Union Square and were making their way toward Washington Square. The few of us left still hanging around headed that way. We met up with whichever ride it was at this point and followed it. I hung pretty far back because I didn't have any interest in having my bike stolen by the cops (and the word is you don't ever get it back) on the weekend of the 5 Boro Tour. I got to ride with the plainclothes cops at the back, who, in a crowd full of rail-thin single-speed kids, are gonna tend to stand out.
I lost track of where the ride had gone when it left Broadway. I assumed it was going east and I only had to follow the police helicopter to figure that out. Oh, did I mention that? Yeah, they had a helicopter following us the entire time, circling Union Square well before any rides started. I finally made it over to Avenue A and 6th street around 8:30, which for all intents and purposes is where the night and the rides came to an end.
More people were arrested; I don't know how many. A rumor went around that one of them was a writer for the Times. He had some credentials around his neck, but that's all I can say for sure. The last guy to go was getting a pretty good-sized crowd behind him, yelling at the cops to let him free and not to steal his bike. At this point, an ABC 7 news van had arrived (I didn't catch the 11 o'clock, but a cursory glance at their website give me a murder, a stalking, a 9-year-old getting stabbed, and tree killing beatle eggs. No critical mass.)
More milling, more yelling. Eventually, the moped cops showed up, along with their friends from the riot division and a healthy cavalcade of vans full of beat cops. I would guess, at ten to 9 o'clock, on the corner of A and 6th, there had to have been 100 cops, if not 150. All for the sake of -- at that point -- maybe 40 riders. Maybe. Who had had their fill of running from the fuzz for the day and were pretty content to yell at the police and not much more. Did I mention the helicopter? They were still busy overhead. Now, I'm not up on my subscription to Modern Policing but I'm going to take a guess that this one was a little bit in the overkill.
I don't really know how to sum up. That was it. Everybody dispersed. I went and drank some beer. It was sad. Sad and mind-blowingly frustrating. Critical mass is a good thing. I have a really hard time understanding how a once-a-month ride can possibly be a bad thing, let alone warrant as massive a law enforcement display as the one I saw tonight. Over what? A permit? After years of peacful riding? This ride marked the 12th anniversary of critical mass in New York and what a shit way to do it, people. I don't need to get into the Republican administration and Bloomberg's ass-kissing and the RNC protestors and the dirty pier and all that. We all know about that. Just remember this next time you're thinking, "Goddamn, was that a shitty time," because that time is very much this time. It's a time when you could literally be arrested just for riding your bike on the street. Seriously. It's really come to that. I hope to see you all on the 27th, because while we may not be able to ride for free right now, they're not ever going to shut us down.
The latest issue of The New York Review of Books takes on Malcom Gladwell's Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking. I didn't have to read the review. Just reading the title of the book was enough to tell me it was probably a smartly written but insufficiently supported exposition of a clearly erroneous premise.
After reading the review, one can only hope that it will act as the final straw to turn the critical tide against this book and send it to the remainder bin.
You're the doctor!
The Los Angeles Times reports on a new study that appears in the Journal of the American Medical Association:
In an unusual experiment in which actresses posed as patients, doctors were five times more likely to write them prescriptions after the patients inquired about a specific antidepressant, Paxil. The actresses pretended to have a mild form of depression, a condition that does not require antidepressants...
"When patients ask for a drug, they tend to get a drug regardless of whether it is appropriate for them," said Joel Weissman, a health policy expert at Harvard Medical School who was not involved in the research.
A few years ago, after seeing a GP who recommended numerous drugs to me that I had no immediate need for, I started collecting prescriptions (with no intention of ever filling them). I think I got four from that doctor and three from the specialist he referred me to. A year later, I had stash of 10-12; if I kept at it, I thought it would make a nice art project, but then I realized that I'm not an artist, and didn't want to keep seeing sheep for doctors.
Ted Nugent: performance artist
Maybe you saw the announcement that Stamps.com is once again offering civilians the opportunity to make their own bona fide postage stamps. The new terms are so restrictive that pretty much anything you'd want to see on a stamp is forbidden, and gaming the system can set you up for a lawsuit. Some pranksters will no doubt try to subvert the Stamps.com policy anyway, but I'd say Michael Hernandez de Luna has a better approach: cut out the middle man. De Luna and other stamp artists have been creating satirical stamps and sending them through the mail for years. In fact, I just got one a few weeks ago on a postcard for a group show that de Luna curated, Axis of Evil: The Secret History of Sin.
This is, of course, illegal. In fact, one of the galleries hosting Axis of Evil received a visit from the Secret Service. Around post offices in Chicago, de Luna is notorious and he's seen a decided drop in the number of fake stamps he is able to get through. But so far, de Luna has more or less ignored visits from the secret service -- not to mention postal authorities and the feds -- and kept doing what he's doing. Why he hasn't gotten in trouble after all these years is a mystery, but I suspect that the powers that be may not want to spend too much energy going after someone who uses the mail for art, particularly since prosecuting would not only cost more than its worth but would ultimately publicize the practice it aims to prohibit.
After all, making a fake postage stamp is easy these days, thanks to cheap publishing technologies. And many postal workers are overworked humans who appreciate a good joke like the rest of us. I got an email from a postal worker a couple of years ago regarding de Luna's work:
I see hundreds of thousands of letters canceled every night in automated cancelling machines. There are things that one can do to fool this machinery into thinking a real stamp has been placed on the letter. You may not be aware, but the postal service has a LONG tradition of treating it's workers poorly, so that even if a lot of workers saw fake stamps, they probably wouldn't even mention it to a supervisor. In fact, I'm sure that if some workers saw fake stamps, they would probably be VERY interested in making sure they got cancelled as though they were real stamps, and would possibly even show a few co-workers.
By the way, if you're interested in learning more about the history of stamp art -- and viewing some hilarious examples -- check out The Stamp Art & Postal History of Michael Thompson & Michael Hernandez de Luna (BadPress Books). (Powells | Amazon)
De Luna is looking for a gallery willing to host Axis of Evil in New York. Any interested parties can contact me and I'll put you in touch.
I have postulated the existence of a dazzling new concept
This is big news.
So, everyone's familiar with the concept of "wuv", right? The emotion related to "love" but more commonly praticed by bunnies, little pudgy naked babies/angels, and other cute things? As in a small, treacly cute figure with extended arms saying "I wuv you this much."
Okay, since we all get the concept of "wuv," now consider this:
My girlfriend Sally thinks "wust" can best be thought of as what the woman on the cover of a romance novel is feeling; I think it may also have something to do with plushies and furophiles feel. Either way, once again I've managed to creep myself out.
Mother Jones on drugs
The current issue of Mother Jones has a couple of good articles. Those who remain unconvinced of the dangers of mental health screening should read Medicating Aliah, which uses the story of a 13-year-old Texas girl as a hook for a larger story about psychiatric screening. Aliah Gleason was basically a pain in the ass at school, which led school officials to diagnose her with "oppositional disorder" and hand her over to psychiatrists. The psychiatrists, following state guidelilnes, tested her, deemed her suicidal, took her from her parents, dosed her with psychiatric meds, and committed her to an institution. If the New York screening program is anything like the ones in Texas and Pennsylvania, let's just say we're in trouble.
The other story focuses on David Graham, the Food and Drug Administration researcher who exposed a number of unsafe drugs, including Vioxx. Vioxx is estimated is to have killed tens of thousands of Americans; it is, as reporter Michael Scherer suggests, a pharmaceutical Vietnam. Graham is portrayed as a genuinely tragic hero in a regulatory charade wherein the FDA is funded by the very drugs it purports to evaluate. According to the story, nearly half of the FDA's $400 million drug evaluation budget is paid for by industry.
Reading this reminded me an old idea I had for a board game. I thought it'd be funny to make a game where players buy and sell various diseases and side effects, with the goal of eliminating all of their health problems. I haven't the foggiest idea how to make a proper game, but if any of you entrepreneurs out there think you could make this idea work, do let me know.
An Open Plea to the New York Post
Tuesday's Page Six had a feature that began
PETA is barking mad at Kelly Osbourne because she dyed her English bulldog, Piglet, hot pink using human hair dye.
This sentence is such an embarrassment of riches, I don't know where to begin. PETA is nuts; Kelly Osbourne is talentless; Piglet is a horrible name for an English bulldog - a dog with dignity - and dying it pink should be a capital crime.
But "barking mad"? I get it, New York Post, it is a story about a dog. If it were a rabbit, PETA would be 'hopping mad.' If it were a cat, they would be 'me-outraged.' If it were a turtle, they would be 'doing a slow burn.'
At the heart of the story is an accusation of animal abuse. Either it is a serious story and you should write a serious article, or, as I suspect, it is a mockable piece of non-news and you should get a real comedy writer to give PETA and Kelly Osbourne the skewerings they deserve.
Can email make you stupid?
For years, I've been complaining about my rapidly declining attention span. After reading a New York Times Magazine story last December, I thought it might be simple, age-related mental decay. But thanks to The Guardian, I can now blame another culprit: email.
The distractions of constant emails, text and phone messages are a greater threat to IQ and concentration than taking cannabis, according to a survey of befuddled volunteers.
Doziness, lethargy and an increasing inability to focus reached "startling" levels in the trials by 1,100 people, who also demonstrated that emails in particular have an addictive, drug-like grip...
UPDATE: Although I'm embarrassed to have been taken in by HP's press release, the underlying problem it describes is real, at least for yours truly. So I'm sticking by the regimen I wrote about earlier (below).
Granted, I blamed my internet use even before I knew these pointy heads could back me up. Booting up in the morning is my caffeine. My heartbeat quickens, my muscles tense when I go online. It takes about 20-30 minutes to root through my email; after that, I sit in front of the computer for up to 12 hours impulsively alternating between email, RSS feeds, the web, and design software. Like many people, I juggle tasks, and inbetween jugglings I check my email -- sometimes as often as once a minute. Usually, there is no rational reason to do this; I'm not expecting anything particularly important. Rather, I'm like the mice in those psychology experiments who robotically push the lever that they associate with a treat (long after their appetites are sated).
I used to get up in the morning, read, meditate (or something resembling meditation), and write for a couple of hours before going online. But in the past year or two, I haven't had the patience. From this day forth, however, I'm turning over a new leaf. I didn't make any New Year's resolutions this year so here are my resolutions four months late. From now on:
- I'll spend at least an hour in the morning reading or writing offline.
- After initially checking email, I'll close my email client and open it only every two hours
- Except in unusual circumstances (this one will be esp. tough when I'm on deadline), the computer will go off no later than 11:15 p.m.
...and that's probably enough reform for now. I'll let you know how it goes.