Category Archives: Capitalism

The door to freedom is on the left

Not since V for Vendetta has a message come across as well for popular culture. Why Snowpiercer is not in the same U.S. theaters with Edge of Tomorrow tells you something about the capitalism that meets its match in Bong Joon-ho’s hands. It’s no accident that the door to freedom is on the left.


More Lies about Education

The President of Arizona State University seems to be more interested in publicity than education or the truth.  Michael Crow landed media attention by forming a 21st-century Axis alliance with Starbucks.  The cover story consisted of this narrative: people who cannot afford a college education on the low salaries paid at Starbucks would be helped out by Starbucks and ASU, and they could obtain university degrees that might not have been available otherwise.  “It turns out Starbucks isn’t contributing any upfront scholarship money to an online college degree program it introduced this week.”

Let’s imagine what might have happened. Michael Crow, whose last name tells you a great deal, wanted to bolster ASU’s profile again.  The usual means of becoming, over the course of the years, a great university were rejected in favor of a quick hit, a parasitical publicity release that would gain immediate attention. Crow perhaps needed a name to attach to the scheme.  Maybe Google was busy or Gucci executives were focusing on the World Cup in Brazil.  Starbucks came through, offering its name recognition and global clout.  That’s what ASU needed, not the truth.  No one wanted to say that Crow had prostituted ASU in a deal where the partner did not even have to put out (a dime, i.e., the hourly wage of Starbucks’ employees).  Oh, wait — that last parenthetical statement is a lie, but now you are accustomed to those, thanks, according to the news report, to Michael Crow and Starbucks. At a great university, you would learn that “lying” is a synonym for “entrepreneurial.”

Creative Commons photo provided by Noel WorliThe genuine narrative (four paragraphs from the bottom of the AP story) uttered by Starbucks’ spokesperson Laurel Harper is that Starbucks would simply encourage employees interested in higher education to go into debt (Pell grants) to achieve their goal.

The Nate Silver Generation?

He said he wanted his attack to be more effective than Adam Lanza‘s shooting rampage at Sandy Hook Elementary.

photo of Foster the People album

A Poverty of Possibilities among the Rich

photo of money - Creative Commons

With an Ivy League education, and years of association with some of the brightest people in Washington, D.C., Tim Geithner is still unable to think of any alternative to what happened in 2008.  He missed one of the lessons of It’s A Wonderful Life, which is that people’s money/labor is theirs, and that the bank is a place where collective wealth exists, and can be used for collective good.  In other words, the achievement of the James Stewart character in the film is to show the viewer how to live without banks and bankers, whose interests have little to do with Bedford Falls.  Geithner has convinced himself, in a grand gesture of rationalization, that no alternative existed, and still does not.

It’s like the power grid. You have to make sure the lights stay on, because if the lights go out, then you face the damage like what you saw in the Great Depression or It’s a Wonderful Life. More people lose their jobs, more people lose their businesses, lose their homes, their savings, and they’re devastated. There is not way to avoid those outcomes or protect people against those outcomes, unless you keep the lights on. That requires doing things that are terribly unfair and look deeply offensive. It looks like you are rewarding the arsonist or protecting people from their mistakes, but there is no alternative.
— Geithner in The Wall Street Journal‘s Money Issue (June 2014)

Slavoj Žižek indicates the same problem is at work with Thomas Piketty’s new book on capitalism. The capitalists don’t know how to do without capitalism.  They are incapable of Hegelian negation.  “[Piketty] accepts, as a good Keynesian, that capitalism is ultimately the only game in town; all alternatives ended up in fiasco, so we have to keep it.”

What’s worse about Geithner is that he knew what he did looked “like the opposite of what makes sense.”  It’s a Wonderful Life, on a most superficial reading, shows neighbors rescuing a neighbor, friends helping friends, townspeople pulling together for a person in trouble.  Those are alternatives that do not make sense to readers of The Wall Street Journal and to Tim Geithner. They cannot leave important financial decisions up to common people who cannot comprehend why anyone would say it’s utterly plausible to do what is “terribly unfair.”


Prestigious Institutions where Education is second to Revenue

You’re not there to get an education, though they tell you that. You’re there to make revenue for the college. You’re there to put fans in the seats. You’re there to bring prestige to the university by winning games.
—  Rashad McCants, former UNC – Chapel Hill basketball player

Yes, “they” will tell you that. “They” are the people at universities who will not acknowledge the truth that revenue drives decisions, not whether students receive an education.  I do not know where on the list education is, but it is unlikely in the top four or five. Prestige, as in the film by that title, is a magic show.  You think you are seeing education at public universities, but it’s a trick, sleight of hand, maybe mirrors, illusion. Prestige is like “The Mansion” section of The Wall Street Journal, where people define themselves, their success, by whether they have a private plane in their garage instead of a car. It looks like a tangible thing. Others see it. “They” tell you owning a private jet means you’ve made it.  They say you’re winning the game of life, as if the sayings of Charlie Sheen were part of a philosophical guidebook.

Eton College

Eton College

In Louie C.K.’s television show, he has written a scene between himself and his daughter. It’s a scene you won’t find mentioned in The Wall Street Journal or quoted by a public university president or chancellor.

Daughter (D): Why does she get one and not me? It’s not fair.

Louis (L): You’re never gonna get the same things as other people. It’s never gonna be equal. It’s not gonna happen ever in your life, so you must learn that now, okay?
Listen — the only time you should look in your neighbor’s bowl is to make sure that they have enough. You don’t look in your neighbor’s bowl to see if you have as much as them.

Oprah wins in Texas

A few years back, in the infamous beef defamation case, Oprah was accused of taking the meat out of Texas, but now Texas has done that all by itself. Texas is taking the meat out of its educational system.  How to improve those graduation rates?  Take the hard stuff out of the curriculum and reduce the number of those mandatory tests.

Image from Idiocracy

Thought-coins in the Fountain of Non-Edification

Educators More Important Than Wall Street Execs

photo of crime signSometimes those of us in education grow weary of the escalation of Wall Street compensation while educators’ pay remains stagnant or declines. One might draw the conclusion that the world values Wall Street types more than academic types, and we know that cannot be so. Now we have the evidence from The New York Times. Beverly L. Hall, a district superintendent in the Atlanta school system, drew the attention of prosecutors who decided she is worth a $7.5 million bond, while back in New York City Michael S. Steinberg, worker at SACS Capital Advisors who made tens of millions trading “investments,” was released from custody on a mere $3 million bail.  Now Ms. Hall allegedly hauled in over half a million dollars over several years from her activities, and prosecutors consider her worth (by bail and bond standards) over twice as much as Mr. Steinberg. Let’s not miss this chance to highlight a shift in society’s appreciation of what educators do.

P.S. Note that neither of these people has seen her or his day in court, and it might be time to roll out the bromide: each is innocent until proven guilty.

The Cloud of Unknowing Revisited

The Cloud is another way to make people property-less. Capitalism does not want you to have property. Rather than have a DVD or a piece of music or a book, capitalism will lure you into the Cloud, where all the property is elsewhere, and you are permitted to have a virtual relationship with that property. However, the property is owned by someone else who does not live anywhere near you.  The owner will stream it to you — for a fee. The owner will allow you to store things in the Cloud — for a fee. The owner will allow you to access the data in the Cloud — for a fee. But after you pay the fee, you have no object, no property, no-thing.  No Used Stream Store will open up on the town square, the way there is a secondary market for books, for example.

All of this signals a future you might not enjoy. Sounds like an empty future, a dark future, full of clouds.

You might be interested in the interview with Jaron Lanier.

The problem with our cloud software right now is that it does tend to be run by the person with the biggest computer on the network, and serve certain interests more than others. It’s not an honest broker. We are constantly running into a situation where a company like Google is saying: we are being the honest broker. Of course that is ridiculous because they are a commercial concern.

“The Silent Rage of a Thousand Romneys”

West's unspoken dream? First Class woman on lifeboat while others perish?

West’s unspoken dream? First Class women on lifeboats while others perish?

The phrase of the day comes from an article posted last night by Lindy West, and it is: “the silent rage of 1,000 Romneys.”  The joie de bitterness in West’s post is admirable, as is her talent for writing in the contemporary mode.  Since reading West’s piece, I wonder whether the amount of silent rage ought forevermore to be measured in something called Romneys, in the way Roentgens are the units for a particular kind of gamma rays.  Or, the way “Southpark” turned the Couric into a worldwide measurement standard.

While it’s always pleasant to witness the privileged complain about their privileges, it is hard to swallow the lengths this article goes to underscore what it claims is the real problem, viz., the mistreatment of women. Rather than focusing on the ever-increasing gentrification of airline travel, to the point that some airlines recently reduced leg room in coach to give those in Business and First Class more room to re-enact Busby Berkeley musical numbers, West’s article presupposes a legitimacy to non-egalitarian travel (did people learn nothing from Cameron’s Titanic?), as if there is no issue with the operation of blatant class biases at the airport and elsewhere.  I am not disputing the colorful examples West cites to support her point about First Class males elbowing First Class women out of the way in the scramble to arrive first for the pre-flight martinis, but it seems that the focus on gender utterly ignores the larger picture. Why isn’t West writing that almost everyone else from the metaphorical cheap seats ought to feel “the silent rage of 1,000 Romneys” about a democracy that demonstrates frequently that it does not believe in equality?