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HBO Green Lights Men & Capitalism

Tuesday, April 29th, 2014 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg

Warning: Not Safe for Work (profanity)

In his new HBO series Silicon Valley, Mike Judge turns his cutting sarcasm on the wunderkind of Silicon Valley, issuing awesome commentary on 21st century masculinity.

Thomas Middleditch portrays Richard Hendricks, a developer who creates a miracle algorithm with revolutionary file compression capabilities. He is the anti-Don Draper: a skinny, nervous twenty-something dressed in cargo pants and a hoodie; Hendricks is the lost member of the Big Bang Theory click. He lives with two other computer geeks in “the incubator,” a house owned by the overtly obnoxious yet humorous Erlich Bachmann (hysterically portrayed by T.J. Miller), whose app, Aviato, has turned him into one of the many tech venture capitalists in Palo Alto. 

Hendricks turns down a 10 million dollar offer from his tech guru boss Gavin Belson, owner of the fictional Google-ripoff “Hooli,” who is anxious to purchase the miracle algorithm. Instead, Hendricks elects to accept eccentric investor Peter Gregory’s offer of $200,000 for 5% of his start-up company, Pied Piper. It’s the best argument for capitalism and small business being made on television today. In electing to start his own business instead of running with the cash, Hendricks inspires his fellow nerds and is forced into maturity. Within the first three episodes he transitions from panic attacks to developing a business plan and entering his first series of negotiations.

With his 1999 hit Office Space, Judge issued a powerful statement about the death of masculinity in the corporate world. With Silicon Valley, his declaration is refined into a statement about how the free market can be used to empower men — primarily nerdy white guys and the Asians who hang with them. In the first episode, Hendricks declares:

Look guys, for thousands of years, guys like us have gotten the sh*t kicked out of us. But now, for the first time, we are living in an era where we can be in charge and build empires. We could be the Vikings of our day.

Judge also takes sharp jabs at the men who propagate corporate culture. Hooli’s Gavin Belson is a “global”-minded laughable yuppie with a Messiah complex who is “committed to social justice” and keeps a “guru” around to remind him how wonderful and unique he is. “If we can make your audio and video files smaller, we can make cancer smaller,” he proclaims as he races to compete with Pied Piper’s formidable nerds.

It will be interesting to see how women are treated within the show. In episode 3, Bachmann (who wears a shirt that reads “I know H.T.M.L.: How To Meet Ladies”) orders up an exotic dancer as a “gift” to reward the Pied Piper crew. The guys retreat to the kitchen, anxious to avoid an awkward scene. The one guy who she manages to trap declares his love for her, and is later found hanging out at the dancer’s home… playing video games with her children.

The series is peppered with Judge’s raunchy humor, but unlike Family Guy it is relatively sparse and works to advance instead of interrupt the story. The Big Bang Theory may have ushered in the era of the nerd, but Silicon Valley is taking America’s love affair with geeky guys and masculinity to a newer, deeper, and much-needed level of respect.

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Rolling Stone, Privately Traded Company, Advocates Millennials Share the Wealth

Thursday, January 9th, 2014 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg

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My  colleague Walter Hudson recently ripped into the ignorance of Jesse A. Meyerson’s  Occupy-hipster treatise, “Five Economic Reforms Millennials Should Be Fighting For.” The article was published in Rolling Stone magazine, the flagship publication of Wenner Media, a privately owned company. To clarify: ”Privately held companies are not required to file financial disclosure documents with government regulators such as the SEC, so detailed financials usually are not readily available to the public.”

In other words, the publisher of the magazine that prints articles informing readers they should advocate for:

  • “Job guarantees” through the non-profit (i.e. taxpayer funded) sector
  • A “universal basic income” funded through (taxpayer-based) Social Security
  • The creation of a “simple land-value tax”
  • A taxpayer-funded “sovereign wealth fund”
  • Taxpayer-funded state-owned public banks

doesn’t need to tell you one darn thing about the amount of taxes they do (or don’t) pay. Who knows? Wenner Media might just qualify as one of Meyerson’s despised “megacorporations”. The fact that the company’s co-founder, Rolling Stone publisher Jann Wenner, is worth a cool $700 million makes you think twice, unless you’re some twentysomething hack who has a proclivity for overusing the word “blow.” Did the editors have to cut out his Beavis and Butthead-like chuckles from the text? No wonder the guy is advocating for a government-funded job watering that fern in his Williamsburg apartment (or, as he prefers to call it, “urban farming”); the only reason he managed to swing a writing gig is because he’s a glorified mouthpiece for the same yuppie political hucksters he claims to be fighting against. That’s right, Meyerson’s a Tool for the Machine. Huh-huh-huh, I said tool.

Forget the fact that the guy who thinks we have an unemployment problem because available jobs are “menial” and “boring” is also the same guy who believes putting every adult on an auto-pay system will actually improve individual well-being, stimulate the economy, and spark a cultural renaissance in “painting murals.” You can’t reason with stupid. You can only laugh at the irony of a Marxist hippie ideology being parroted in a magazine created by a Marxist hippie that has become a pathetic homage to ideas so dense and ridiculous that their owners, like Jann Wenner, long ago left them in the dustbin to pursue successful truths, like capitalism, the free market, and the ability to own private corporations.

Congratulations, kid, you’ve been duped. But at least Mr. Wenner and the 30% of Rolling Stone readers whose income exceeds $100,000 a year were kind enough to redistribute some of their money your way.

Working sure feels good, doesn’t it?

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Tearing Down the Joneses: Fostering Envy Over Wealth Distribution

Thursday, November 7th, 2013 - by Walter Hudson

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PJTV’s Bill Whittle uses a great illustration that I’m about to shamelessly rip off. Imagine that you work in an office, occupying one of many cubicles. One afternoon, the boss calls you into his office and tells you that you’ve done such an incredible job that the company has decided to provide you with a $5,000 bonus. In that moment, how would you feel? Pretty darn good, right? Your day just got $5000 brighter! Your mind might go straight to what you could do with the money, the vacation you could take, the bills you could pay, the possible boost to your savings or investment accounts. You’d probably swell with pride at the recognition you’ve earned and head out to tell a friend and co-worker the great news. He would listen intently, then smile and tell you that he and everyone else earned a bonus too — only theirs is $10,000.

Now how do you feel? What only a moment prior was overflowing joy and celebration instantly metastasizes into something wholly different. You actually feel worse than you did before getting an extra $5000. Instead of thinking about what you can do with the money you got, you think of what you could have done with the money everyone else got. From a dark place, you acknowledge that you’d rather see no one receive a bonus — including yourself — than see others get more than you.

There’s something about the human heart which fosters such envy, an emotion so powerful that it can drive us to work against our own interests in pursuit of equity. It’s better that everyone get the same, even if the same is nothing, than for some people to get more than others. So that dark corner of our heart proclaims.

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The Ten Worst Purveyors of Antisemitism Worldwide, # 7: The Golden Dawn Party

Sunday, October 20th, 2013 - by P. David Hornik

PJ-Golden Dawn1

Check out the previous installments in this ongoing series:

#10: David Irving

#9: Roger Waters

#7: Recep Tayyip Erdoğan

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The good news is that since September 28 the Greek government has been cracking down on Golden Dawn, the neo-Nazi movement that won almost 7 percent of the popular vote in spring 2012 and, ending up with 18 parliamentary seats, became Greece’s third strongest party.

On September 17, an antifascist rapper named Pavlos Fissas (aka Killah P.) was stabbed to death in Athens, allegedly by a Golden Dawn activist. Earlier attacks, including at least one fatal one on an immigrant, were also ascribed to Golden Dawn.

On September 28, Greek police arrested Golden Dawn’s leader, Nikolaos Michaloliakos, and other top party members on charges of running a criminal organization. Michaloliakos and two other deputies are now in jail awaiting trial. Meanwhile the Greek parliament has voted to strip six more Golden Dawn MPs of their immunity.

While the Greek constitution doesn’t allow political parties to be banned, the parliament also appears set to cut Golden Dawn’s state funding.

So much for the good news.

The bad news is that, first, Golden Dawn remains popular. It was scoring as high as 14 percent in opinion polls before the rapper’s stabbing, and since then has gone back down to about 7 percent. Whether or not that’s just a temporary dip is not yet known.

And second, as long claimed and as Financial Times confirms, one of Golden Dawn’s strongholds in the country is none other than the police:

[Golden Dawn] has penetrated the country’s police force, set up caches of heavy weapons in remote locations and trained its recruits to carry out brutal attacks against immigrants and political opponents, according to the country’s top security official.

Nikos Dendias, minister of public order and civil protection…has assigned the police antiterrorism unit to probe the party’s allegedly criminal activities…. But another reason for taking the investigation away from the regular police force is that it has been infiltrated by Golden Dawn. Some police officers in districts with sizeable immigrant populations have gone beyond colluding with local neo-Nazis to set up political cells within their units, Mr. Dendias said.

…The move to crack down on Golden Dawn follows an escalation of violent incidents in recent months. Analysts say attacks became more frequent because of police foot-dragging over making arrests of Golden Dawn sympathisers and reluctance by politicians to take a strong stand against it.

Indeed, the bad news.

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Juan Williams Suggests Buying Off Republicans with Campaign Donations to End Stalemate

Monday, October 14th, 2013 - by Paula Bolyard

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Yesterday, on Fox News Sunday, Juan Williams said he thinks he knows how to end the ongoing gridlock over the partial shutdown of the federal government and the debt ceiling. Williams said the business community should get involved, suggesting that strategic campaign donations could persuade moderate Republicans — like Susan Collins and John Boehner — to “be reasonable.”

Republicans are imploding and what they have — and I think is really key — it’s not just the markets, it’s the business community that needs to reassert itself inside the Republican Party, so that people like Susan Collins, people even like potentially John Boehner, could see that there’s some political powers from money that comes forth to Republican moderates in this fight and that people want him to be reasonable and not simply listen to the far right wing that right now is dominating the Republican Party and driving them over the cliff [emphasis added].

So has Williams finally seen the light on the 1st Amendment? Because just a few months ago he was blaming the Supreme Court — and the Citizens United decision — for the IRS targeting of conservative groups. He complained that the court’s decision unleashed unlimited “dark money” contributions to influence elections:

The calculating, big money players have long wanted to keep their donations secret. Citizens United allowed them to give all the money they wanted without having their names attached to it. … They don’t want to deal with the public fall-out of being seen as a puppet master pulling the strings of the politician they helped elect with their contributions. They don’t want to be seen as supporting corporate welfare or the gutting of labor and environmental regulations or any other unpopular causes that will line their corporate coffers.

Are we to believe that Williams now wants corporate “puppet masters” to pull some strings with “dark money” donations to keep the “far right wing” from driving the Republican Party over the cliff — out of the goodness of his heart?

Why, the man is a veritable Karl Rove — get him a white board!

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When Two Publishing Giants Merge They Become Even More Incompetent

Thursday, August 8th, 2013 - by Sarah Hoyt
Amy Fleischer's redesign of the logo for Penguin's 75th anniversary and their reissue of Frankenstein

Look out, they’ve created a monster!

They apparently start/continue committing Acts of Random Penguin.

I thought I was inured to the craziness that is traditional publishing. Until I found this:

Penguin’s insane policy on electronic galleys for authors.

What kind of organization would make authors pay for electronic images of their own covers? After all, this is an image that can ONLY be used to promote your book. But Penguin Random House wants to charge $300 for that image. They wish to be compensated for their design work, they say. Apparently getting around 94% of the take on a paperback is not enough.

Then there is the insanity – which has been going on for a long time – that they wish you to pay for a PDF of the electronic copy of their book. These are often demanded by foreign agents, but the house wants you to pay hundreds of dollars (and in my time with them, it was thousands) for it, thereby impeding foreign sales.

On top of all, Penguin also refuses to send free electronic reading copies to reviewers and other promoters.

Perhaps it is the old way of doing things. Or perhaps it is that they can’t stand to let go of control over promotion, even though they’ve actually stopped promoting most authors.

Or perhaps they’ve forgotten that they – not the author – get the lion’s share of the profit?

When Penguin and Random House, two of the largest publishing houses in New York City, merged, most people were hesitant what to think. Some of my colleagues talked of how the bigger organization allowed for cuts in staffing and publicity could be consolidated and…

And I remembered working for both houses. One of these houses is the one that sent me on a book tour for the Magical Shakespeare Trilogy a year after the last book had come out – which for traditional publishing purposes meant it was useless, since stores weren’t going to restock books they’d already sent back – without any promotional materials, over my birthday, with two weeks notice and… wait for it… when another of their departments had already taken the books out of print.

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New Robocop to Resume Original’s Satire

Friday, July 26th, 2013 - by Walter Hudson

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Hey, kids! Here comes another franchise reboot no one wanted. Robocop returns in 2014 taking new form played by The Killing’s Joel Kinnaman.

The new take looks to resume the original’s political satire by leveraging concern over domestic spying and the use of drone technology by law enforcement. In retrospect, the original film deserves a lot of credit for anticipating the modern convergence of military technology and domestic law enforcement. The Verge reports:

“We are more and more in a country where Robocop is relevant. You will see robots in wars,” said Jose Padilha, the film’s director. “The first film saw it way back then. Now we have more knowledge and we know it’s coming true. First we are going to use machines abroad, then we are going to use machines at home.”

Despite retaining many of the themes established in the 1987 film, the reboot will depart from the original on many key plot points. IGN shares the details:

In this RoboCop, police officer Alex Murphy (Kinnaman) isn’t killed by a ruthless outlaw and his henchmen, In fact, he’s not killed at all. He’s gravely injured by a car bomb that leaves him massively burned all over his body. In order to “save ” him — and give OmniCorp their cyborg lawman they’ve been desiring — Omni scientist Dr. Norton (Gary Oldman) essentially amputates Alex’s body from the neck down and rebuilds him as, yes, RoboCop. (They keep Alex’s right hand as a humanizing element for when RoboCop shakes hands with people.)

There were several scenes with OmniCorp CEO Raymond Sellars (Keaton), a believer in his products and what they can do for the world who makes his decisions not so much out of being a villain as because he’s decided it’s simply the best option available for his business and what he thinks it can provide. Keaton described Sellars as an antagonist rather than as a villain.

Readers may recall that Omni Consumer Products senior president Dick Jones, played with relish by the irrepressible Ronnie Cox, was the ultimate villain in the original. As he and director Paul Verhoeven also did in Total Recall, Cox created one of the greatest caricatures of corporate villainy put to film.

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Greed Is Good: The Villainy of the On-Screen Capitalist

Thursday, May 30th, 2013 - by Walter Hudson
ferengi-whip

Star Trek’s “capitalist” Ferengi, how Hollywood views business.

Having written for some weeks now on the villainous archetypes found in our entertainment culture and how they both express and influence our philosophy, I now come to a personal favorite: the cliché of the corporate villain. The greedy, unscrupulous capitalist stands so well established that the introduction of a successful businessperson in our stories elicits animus just short of audible hissing. As with the black-hatted, silent film villain twirling his mustache, or the masked burglar wearing white and black stripes while holding a bag bearing a dollar sign, we know immediately upon beholding a well-dressed corporate executive that he is not to be trusted.

Much as The Princess Bride’s Vizzini abused the word “inconceivable,” far too many of our storytellers wield “capitalism” haphazardly. It does not mean what they think it means.

To explore this point further, let us first consider a few of the myriad examples of how capitalists in general and corporations in particular are portrayed on screen. No such listing would be complete or even adequate without mention of Wall Street’s Gordon Gekko, orator of the infamous “greed is good” speech. Gekko flaunted his villainy as a badge of honor. His sole and unapologetic purpose was to make money, with the secondary but no less coveted objective of making more than anyone else. He didn’t care how he did it either. If blowing out a company and laying off hundreds or thousands of workers would turn a more certain profit than keeping its doors open, he pulled the trigger without a second thought.

Lex Luthor, arch-nemesis of Superman, evolved into a corporate villain over the franchise’s many years and several iterations. Luthor began life in fiction as a mad scientist, an embodiment of fears surrounding the nuclear age and discovery run rampant. In Richard Donner’s 1978 film, Gene Hackman portrayed Luthor as a scientific genius who proudly applied his talent to crime. The decade of Ronald Reagan saw Luthor reimagined as the chief executive officer of LexCorp. He was provided with more realistic motivations, coveting the Man of Steel’s power while fostering a xenophobic fervor to protect humanity from an alien. Luthor was even elected to become president of the United States in the comics, expanding his villainy to include the corporatism later reviled by both the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street.

Then came Star Trek’s Ferengi, a troll-like species of “Yankee traders” introduced in The Next Generation and more fully explored in Deep Space Nine. There may be no more egregious example of a “capitalist” strawman in all of entertainment history. The Ferengi were obnoxiously unreputable, cheating in their dealings with such regularity that their political leader saw the discovery of a wormhole leading to the another part of the galaxy as an incomparable opportunity to get one over on new life and new civilizations. Quark, a Ferengi bartender and regular on Deep Space Nine, proselytized exploitation and demeaned those around him who fairly traded value for value – or worse, expressed generosity.

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Beating Back the Nazi ‘Sickness’

Thursday, May 2nd, 2013 - by Walter Hudson

Before “modern warfare,” we shot Nazis.

Before the Call of Duty franchise took on the subtitle Modern Warfare, it arguably reigned as the pinnacle of the World War II genre. While other first-person shooter games like those in the popular Tom Clancy series — including hit franchises like Ghost Recon and Rainbow Six – offered players the ability to engage in simulated modern warfare, for much of video game history the default setting for a run-and-gun, first-person shooter was World War II.

Many factors contributed to the period’s popularity as a setting for video-game violence. Chief among them march the jackbooted villains of the era, the Nazis. No one feels bad after shooting a Nazi. In fact, their evil proves so incontestable and absolute that killing them fulfills a profound sense of justice. No doubt that moral certitude contributed to their proliferation throughout gaming. Killing Nazis invites no controversy, leaving game developers with one less thing to worry about.

While the nature of Nazi evil may seem self-evident, the recent anniversary of the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C., provided an occasion to demonstrate that even former United States presidents can miss the mark. The local CBS affiliate reports:

Washington has many monuments and memorials that offer something special for visitors from around the world, “but the Holocaust memorial will be our conscience,” [President] Clinton said.

Since the museum opened 20 years ago, the world has made huge scientific discoveries, including the sequencing of the human genome, which proved humans are 99.5 percent genetically the same, Clinton said.

“Every non age-related difference … is contained in one half of 1 percent of our genetic makeup, but every one of us spends too much time on that half a percent,” Clinton said. “That makes us vulnerable to the fever, the sickness that the Nazis gave to the Germans. That sickness is very alive across the world today.”

The report does not include any specific examples of what Clinton diagnoses as the Nazi “sickness.” However, we may fairly assume he was referring to any intolerance of human diversity.

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2 New Books About Overcoming Bloody Tyrants and Corrupt Corporations

Thursday, April 18th, 2013 - by Dave Swindle

Additional Books mentioned in post:

Blood of Tyrants: George Washington & the Forging of the Presidency

The Death of Corporate Reputation: How Integrity Has Been Destroyed on Wall Street

Life Inc.: How Corporatism Conquered the World, And How We Can Take it Back

An Army of Davids: How Markets and Technology Empower Ordinary People to Beat Big Media, Big Government, and Other Goliaths

A History of the American People

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Click here for the rules of Season 1 of the 13 Weeks Radical Reading Regimen.

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9 Reasons to Dump Your Corporate Gym for a Family Gym

Saturday, March 2nd, 2013 - by Megan Fox

The joy of children also comes with the horrors of what motherhood does to the body. Trying to recapture some semblance of my former self, I joined a few fancy corporate gyms with salons and spas and pretty associates selling banana-choco-gluten-free $12 shakes, but I never achieved the results I wanted. It turns out that quitting was the answer. I finally discovered how to get fit and have a great time doing it. I joined a family-owned, martial arts gym. The following truths will convince you to ditch your corporate gym membership in favor of a much better option that actually produces results while improving every area of your life.

9. “Do you believe in love at first sight or do I have to walk by you again?”

A simple Google search on “picking up girls” will lead to hundreds of smarmy articles advising men on how to hook up at the gym. This particular sentiment — from someone claiming to be a gentleman — sums it up about perfectly:

Utilized properly, the gym is one of the finest hunting grounds for the well prepared cocksman.

Wow. Where to begin? If you’re 20 and this is the kind of thing you’re into, I’d say that guy is right. Big corporate gyms with lots of young, dumb girls would be a good place for a sexual predator to stalk his kill. However, when you’re a married mom or dad, this is not the kind of environment that will encourage your marriage. Further, it’s uncomfortable to feel as if you are being sized up by people who refer to themselves as “cocksmen.” It’s also disconcerting trying to avoid that one guy who stalks you with his eyes when you’re trying to use that embarrassing machine where you pretend to strangle someone with your thighs. Awkward.

A small, family-owned gym that caters to both children and adults has a totally different vibe for more mature members with the goal of family fitness. Many people don’t know that most martial arts programs have cardio classes and training for adults. My family belongs to Randori Jiu-Jitsu, where we can take a variety of classes like jiu-jitsu, kickboxing, boxing, judo, karate, mixed martial arts, and conditioning and strength training all without a nightclub atmosphere or threat of venereal disease.

Is this a workout or a slow dance?

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