Odds and Ends Vol 17

Odds and EndsI’ve got to make this quick. I worked most of the day editing an article about computer hackers. It was kind of interesting and I took some real crap writing and turned it into something that wasn’t bad. This is, of course, the greatest success that an editor can have. But as it is, I’m kind of behind on giving love to Frankly Curious. And it is Sunday as I write this, so there isn’t a whole lot to write about.

Back in Odds and Ends Vol 15, I labeled it “Cool Images Edition.” But that now seems the way that these things are going to be from now on. And I have a whole bunch to post today. So let’s get started.

Opium Dreams

I’ve been hired to write the introduction to the re-release of Claude Farrère short story collection, Black Opium. In doing some research, I came upon this quite dazzling picture called, Opium Dreams. It is a photo manipulation by Kassandra. I think it is the best illustration I have ever seen of what it is like to sleep while under the influence of opioids. I’m going to assume that the little creatures below ground are dormice. And they are working away, even though the young woman is asleep. That’s very true. It’s like the wheels (or dormice) are continuing to work away. The opioids do not provide good sleep. But in addition to being insightful, this is such a gorgeous image:

Opium Dreams - Kassandra

Right after Christopher Lee died, I got a hankering to watch, The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes. The main story is about Holmes falling in love with a woman who turns out to be a Russian spy. They had been traveling together undercover as Mr and Mrs Ashdown. At the end of the film, Holmes makes a deal to allow her to return home. But then, many months later, Holmes’ brother Mycroft sent him a letter informing him that the spy was caught by the Japanese government and executed. But it ends with, “It might interest you to know that she had been living in Japan these past months under the name Mrs Ashdown.” It’s very poignant. But you all know what a softy I am about this kind of stuff.

Here are my best efforts to combine the letter, which were panned and so required my meager skills in PhotoShop.

Sherlock Holmes Letter 1
Sherlock Holmes Letter 2

The Stewart Children

This one came from The Daily Show, but I have no recollection when or in what context. Clearly, Jon Stewart is making fun of his height. Martha Stewart is not that tall, but she is taller than Jon Stewart — and me.

The Stewart Children

Squab Story

Clearly, this is from Real Time With Bill Maher. I assume it is about the news that ISIS had banned pigeon breading because their genitals were offensive. This is just weird, because pigeons don’t have genitals the way we do. They have cloacae and so don’t bread like humans at all. Whatever. The main thing is: a pigeon in a burka. It’s hilarious. Pigeons are generally hilarious. I love pigeons.

Pigeon in a Burka

Political Signs for White People

This one showed up on Google+. Usually, political signs have to be pithy. But often we white folk have to have things made very clear to us. This woman stepped up to the plate admirably.

Black Lives Matter -- For White People

That’s it for today. If you like this kind of stuff, you might want to check out Ted McLaughlin’s blog, Job’s Anger. Every night, around midnight Texas time, he posts about ten things. Some of them are analysis and he provides great visualizations of recent polling data. But most of it is cartoons and other visually interesting things. I have him in my RSS feed, so it’s nice each evening to have all of this stuff come in. Check it out.

The Best Candidate vs the Lesser Evil

Matt TaibbiMatt Taibbi totally nailed the danger of Donald Trump last week, In the Age of Trump, Will Democrats Sell Out More, Or Less? There are a lot of liberals who like the idea of the Republican Party getting so insane that they are unelectable. I’ve never been one. It is still going to depend upon the voters. And if they are not careful, the Democratic Party will do what seems to come naturally: move to the right. As Taibbi put it, “History shows that if the Republican Party pushes further in the direction of brainless nativism and economic reaction, the Democrats will probably follow right behind them.”

This is what the New Democrats were all about. If you believe that the country really did move rapidly to the right in the 1970s and 1980s, then the idea of moving the Democrats to the right was a good idea. But that is a misreading of history. What’s more, the New Democrats embraced social liberalism — the only kind of liberalism that a case could be made against. Now there are reasons for this; the New Democrats were funded by a bunch of economic conservatives. And there will always be a lot more money to be made pushing economic conservatism.

The primary target of Taibbi’s article is the recent Politico article by Barney Frank, Why Progressives Shouldn’t Support Bernie. It was an unfortunate display. Frank claimed that Bernie Sanders couldn’t win the general election. There is exactly zero evidence of that. As I talk about all the time, if the economy collapsed next year, Donald Trump would have little difficulty winning the general election. And conversely, if the economy continues to grow through 2016, and Bernie Sanders is the Democratic presidential candidate, he will win. I still don’t really understand why it is that everyone thinks presidential politics is so very personal. It isn’t.

The core of Frank’s argument is that the Democrats are going to need lots of money to beat the Republicans. Again: this just isn’t true. I’m with Bruce Bartlett on this issue. Clearly: candidates need a critical mass of funding. But the vast majority of the money spent in these high profile elections is just wasted. A good example of this is 2010 race for California governor. Meg Whitman had vastly more money than Jerry Brown, yet she lost by 13 percentage points. And it certainly seems that under most circumstances, the winning candidate gets more money because the funders see that the candidate is going to win. Regardless, we shouldn’t encourage this kind of corruption. And thinking that Sanders can’t win because he isn’t going to be able to raise a billion dollars just feeds into that.

Taibbi pointed out that this “move to the right” and “choose the electable lesser evil” nonsense has a long history with very predictable arguments. And the biggest part of that argument is that people like Hillary Clinton are actually true liberals inside. The argument goes that she is just “pragmatic.” Well, I believe that to some extent. The problem is that being “pragmatic” tends to become a habit. Clinton has now publicly supported a $12 minimum wage. But if she had gotten through the whole campaign without endorsing that, it would likely have stayed buried deep in her liberal heart where she keeps all the other things that “sure would be nice in a perfect world…”

Ultimately, I no longer look at elections as events. Certainly I think it will be terrible for the nation if a Republican becomes president in 2016. But the big issue over the last 40 years has been that the entire playing field of politics has moved to the right. Now on trade agreements, the only thing the parties disagree about are the exact details of the deals. Obama isn’t against these deals — he just wants to make them a little less worse for the American worker. On the minimum wage, now we have to listen to large numbers of people in the Republican Party claiming that we should have no minimum wage at all. And both parties are obsessed with job killing policies like low inflation and strong dollar.

Our only hope — and it is not much of one — is that the people pay attention and force our leaders to do what is right. Bernie Sanders is a good choice for us. But I even think that Hillary Clinton could be good if we force her to be. But if we can’t even manage to vote for the candidate we really agree with, how are we going to hold candidates accountable afterward?

H-1B Visas Are a Scam to Keep Wages Low

VisaH-1B visas allow high tech companies to hire foreign workers when they just can’t find “qualified workers.” And I’ve been writing about this for a very long time, because it is a total scam. But in saying this, I don’t mean to put down the people who work under H-1B visas. I’ve worked with many of them and they are generally quite competent and I’ve considered a number of them friends. But H-1B visas are a scam for the high tech industry. They hurt high tech workers in America. And above all, they hurt the people working under them because they end up being limited kinds of slaves.

Michael Hiltzik wrote a great article over the weekend, Tech Industry’s Persistent Claim of Worker Shortage May Be Phony. He’s far to careful to come right out and say it, thus we get “may be” instead of “is.” Because there is no doubt. But I only say that because I’ve worked in the field and I’ve seen it firsthand. But it isn’t hard to understand. There are incentives in this situation. And it is a hell of a lot easier to push the government to allow a flood of high tech talent into the country than it is to raise wages.

You may remember the big conspiracy to keep down wages in Silicon Valley. It was headed by every idiot’s idea of an entrepreneur, Steve Jobs. He didn’t like that other companies like Google were stealing his employees. So rather than do what one would in an actual free market, he went to Google and other companies, and made a secret deal that they wouldn’t hire each other’s employees. Problem solved! But that shows you that high tech is no kind of bastion of liberality. Those guys are just as cut-throat and anti-competition as George Pullman.

Hiltzik highlighted a great example of just how disingenuous these people are:

Alice Tornquist, a Washington lobbyist for the high-tech firm Qualcomm, took the stage at a recent Qualcomm-underwritten conference to remind her audience that companies like hers face a dire shortage of university graduates in engineering. The urgent remedy she advocated was to raise the cap on visas for foreign-born engineers.

“Although our industry and other high-tech industries have grown exponentially,” Tornquist said, “our immigration system has failed to keep pace.” The nation’s outdated limits and “convoluted green-card process,” she said, had left firms like hers “hampered in hiring the talent that they need.”

What Tornquist didn’t mention was that Qualcomm may then have had more engineers than it needed: Only a few weeks after her June 2 talk, the San Diego company announced that it would cut its workforce, of whom two-thirds are engineers, by 15%, or nearly 5,000 people.

Even after this was pointed out, Qualcomm claims that it really does need those H-1B visas, because it “continues to have open positions in specific areas.” I have no doubt that is true. Because pretty much every business in the world has certain employees that they really, really want. For example, right now I would love to have access to a top quality researcher who I could pay a dollar an hour to. And that’s the thing with Qualcomm. Is it setting up programs to encourage people to go into these high demand areas? Of course not. It just wants to use it as an excuse — a way to keep wages down here at home.

Skills Gap - Click for Whole CartoonHiltzik interviewed Michael Teitelbaum, author of, Falling Behind? Boom, Bust, and the Global Race for Scientific Talent. It argues that our need for STEM employees (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) is just a myth. And of course it is. When have businesses ever not complained that the workers were not good enough and that they were paid too much? Never. That’s why most rich people today earned their money off the back of the government.

Now the high tech industry is lobbying to more than double the number of H-1B visas — from 85,000 to 195,000. And it will probably get them. After all, there is no high tech union around that is going to lobby on the other side. Congress always talks about creating jobs, but here is an idea that will do something like destroy 100,000 jobs. That’s because the companies will replace existing jobs that clearly have Americans who can do them. But it isn’t hard to manipulate the law. But it will increase profits and income inequality. So hooray?

Morning Music: Bossa Nova Baby

Bossa Nova BabyI hope I’ve been clear that these silly Elvis songs are in no way bad. In fact, thus far, I’ve loved every one of them. And today’s is no exception. But before we get to that, let’s talk about the film, Fun in Acapulco. It involves Elvis losing his job in an exotic location so that he has to take a job singing in a club, but it all works out and he leaves with the girl. I told you the title of the movie, because that description works for basically every Elvis movie.

But there is something special about this film. Elvis did all of his acting in the US because he was banned in Mexico. In 1957, Elvis was quoted as saying that he didn’t like Mexico and would rather kiss three African American women than one Mexican woman. Such was Elvis’ talent that he could offend two groups of people in a single sentence. But this apparently caused there to be groups of young people who were pro-Elvis and anti-Elvis. And at the premieres of a couple of his films, there were fights between the two sides. In one case almost a hundred people were arrested. So Elvis wasn’t allowed in the country and his films were banned. But the film crew was able to shoot everything but Elvis in the film and then stick him into the middle of it afterwards.

The song is “Bossa Nova Baby” by the great Leiber and Stoller. And the performance is wonderful. That bigot sure can sing and dance!

Anniversary Post: Air Traffic Controllers Fired

Air Traffic Controllers StrikeOn this day in 1981, Ronald Reagan fired 11,345 striking workers of the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization. In addition to being a terrible thing in itself, it marked open season on labor unions. Labor laws have pretty much not been enforced since then. It’s been a bit better under Democrats — but certainly not good.

There are those in the labor movement who welcome the coming of “right to work” laws. They think it may be what it takes to create a new kind of union — one that is backed by workers and takes care of their needs. Personally, I don’t see how the current status quo stops unions from re-imagining themselves. What’s more, it is hard not to see that unions haven’t been part of the problem.

Exhibit A in this regard is the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization itself. In the 1980 election, it endorsed Ronald Reagan. Now, it is true that Reagan had given the union some support during the Carter administration in its fight with the FAA. But did they really think that Reagan was a friend of any union?! It’s ridiculous on its face. And the union gave Reagan a great gift: allowing him to fire so many people all at once. What a big man! No one would ever question him again!

None of this means that I think the air traffic controllers should have been fired. Reagan was going to win that election regardless. But it does show that the union didn’t understand who its friends were. And that’s sad. I continue to wonder how it is that the power elite have managed to convince the workers of this nation that unions are somehow bad.

Regardless, it was a sad day 34 years ago.