Various Observations about Pizza Rat

Black Rat Eating With Its HandsWhen I first heard about Pizza Rat, I figured that people would hate it because it was a rat in the subway. But apparently, they like it. They see it as something like that ant in the Frank Sinatra song, “High Hopes.” Plus, a dirty rat tail tends to make it look like it has fur on it, and I’ve always thought that people’s biggest problem with rats is their tails. Because rats are actually quite charming looking. They aren’t much different from squirrels and chipmunks. But the fact that the pizza is about five times the size of the rat doubtless helps too.

There is a bit of controversy going on with all this, You Love Pizza Rat. You Don’t Own Pizza Rat. Jukin Media found the footage long before it went viral and acquired the rights to it. That’s what the company does, and even though I have major problems with our copyright system, I don’t see anything wrong with this. But like most companies, Jukin keeps close tabs on its intellectual property. So when people posted the video on Facebook, Jukin had it taken down.

I’m not on Facebook, so I didn’t know it worked this way. But apparently, instead of just embedding YouTube videos, they have their own system. That’s so they can monetize the videos instead of letting Google get the money. In the past, Jukin hadn’t been able to effectively combat this, but they can now. Again: copyright — meh. The entire capitalist system is not working as it should. But the issue here isn’t between Jukin and people who want to share Pizza Rat with their grandparents. It is about Jukin and Facebook, and as usual, Facebook sucks. I don’t seriously think that it is a problem to attach advertising to the Pizza Rat video, and the money should go to those who were smart enough to see it would be big.

In another article, Margarita Noriega wrote, Pizza Rat: New York City’s Infamous Rodent, Explained. But most of the article is about why the little rat dropped the slice of pizza. A lot of people seem to be wondering. This truly boggles my mind. It drops the pizza as soon as it notices the guy holding the camera. It hides, looking for the opportunity to return to the pizza slice. That’s why this 14 seconds are so annoying. Why happened next? The rat appears to be ready to retrieve the pizza once the coast is clear.

Rats are great animals. They are relatively smart and tend to be friendly. (But don’t approach wild rats!) What’s more, they are incredibly social animals that work for the betterment of all their rat neighbors. Imagine if Martin Shkreli or Carly Fiorina were rats: they would take that piece of pizza, hide it, and eat it all themselves. But Pizza Rat, if it did eventually get that pizza, would share it with the other rats. Ayn Rand ranted for decades that altruism didn’t exist. Well, among Ayn Rand and her friends, that might have been true. In the corporate boardroom — including at Jukin Media — that might be true. But in the subway, among the rats, there is altrusim. I hope that Pizza Rat succeeded.

See Also

Rats Are Great Pets
Rats Exonerated for Black Death

What Institution Does the Pope Represent Again?

Matt TaibbiTo me the Church is just a giant evil transnational corporation operating on a dreary business model, one that nurtures debilitating guilt feelings in its followers and then offers to make them go away temporarily in exchange for donations. I realize the Church does some nice things with the money it raises and that other people have a different opinion, but this is my experience…

Meanwhile Francis chugs along as the head of one of the most socially regressive organizations on earth, doing nothing to take on the Church’s indefensible stances on things like birth control, gay rights, discrimination against women, celibacy and countless other issues. He claims the moral authority to reform global capitalism, but he’s somehow not ready to tell teenagers it’s okay to masturbate, which seems bizarre.

People have such impassioned political fights over the pope because everyone wants the endorsement of the guy closest to God. But what if he’s not closer to God, and is just a guy in a funny hat? Doesn’t that make all this fuss and controversy ridiculous? It seems strange that it’s the year 2015, and we still can’t say that out loud.

—Matt Taibbi
Why Do We Care Whose Side the Pope Is On?

Why GOP Can Shutdown the Government

Ted CruzMartin Longman wrote a very good article last week, Ted Cruz to Push It Real Good. It’s all about the upcoming government shutdown. To my surprise, there are actually some Republicans in the House, called the Main Street Partnership, who are pushing back publicly on the idea. They point out that it is really bad for the economy — which happens to be right. But the Ted Cruz wing of the party thinks they have to shut down the government, because the Republican base is restless. To support this idea, check out this amazing stat: “Survey data released by the Pew Research Center over the summer showed that positive views of the GOP among Republicans declined by an astonishing 18 percentage points since January.”

Longman’s claim is that the Republican Party is in a catch-22. Appealing to the base will necessarily offend everyone else. His advice, “But, as a rule, when you’re in a hole…” That’s certainly true. The problem at this point is that the GOP has made far too many promises. They are now in control of Congress. They told the whole nation that things were going to change. But of course, they haven’t. The base was hoping for a big showdown with the president. Instead, it has managed to get only two bills passed that Obama vetoed: one about the Keystone XL Pipeline and another minor bill trying to micromanage the NLRB. Not exactly exciting stuff.

Under a Republican, the rich get a bigger slice of the pie, but a smaller pie.

But I wonder if the Republican Party could stop now even if it wanted to. As it is, I doubt that Donald Trump would be leading in the Republican presidential primary if the party had had its way. But instead, it is all the conservative media sources that have allowed him to become a big deal. This is a classic case of “live by the sword and die by the sword.” People tend to say that the Republican Party has created a monster in its base. But it isn’t the base. If the base weren’t told every day on Fox News that the country was going to hell, it would get in line with the Republican Party.

That’s the true catch-22 here. Because if the GOP doesn’t have Fox News, what does it have? My experience in talking to conservatives is that they don’t know what to think beyond, “America good!” Fox News manages to get them riled up about the most ridiculous stuff in the world. But it also keeps them focused on the thing that Republican elites care most about: tax cuts. Most conservatives I know want to see taxes raised on the rich. If it weren’t for the conservative commentators talking about this stuff, keeping taxes low on the rich would be as politically relevant as whether we should continue to fund the military.

I really don’t know where the Republican Party goes from here. My best guess is that they don’t go anywhere. Most people don’t pay enough attention to politics for it to matter. If China’s economy tanks and it takes down the rest of the world, the Republicans will probably do great in the 2016 election. It’s certainly the case that while the 2013 government shutdown was bad for the economy, it wasn’t bad for the Republicans in the election just a year later. And let’s face it: the power elite in this country know they have nothing to fear from the Democrats. Maybe their taxes will go up a tiny amount — that’s about it. At worst, having Democrats in power just means treading water until the Republicans get control and give the power elite everything it wants.

So maybe it’s not a catch-22 after all. Maybe we are all too focused on the short game. It doesn’t matter what happens to this week, or this year, or even this decade. And don’t forget: the power elite have done great under Obama. Under a Republican, they get a bigger slice of the pie, but a smaller pie. It may be that they support the Republicans just to keep the Democrats from doing anything that would hurt them.

Do Republicans Just Not Care About Facts?!

Kevin DrumIs it just me or do Republicans really not care at all about being anything close to correct about what they rant about? On Tuesday, Jeb Bush had an opinion piece in The Wall Street Journal, How I’ll Slash the Regulation Tax. He wrote, “To understand what is wrong with the regulatory culture of the US under President Obama, consider this alarming statistic: today, according to the World Bank — not exactly a right-wing think tank — the US ranks 46th in the world in terms of ease of starting a business.”

As a long time micro-businessman, let me respond: what a crock! The regulatory problems with running a business are all about state and local laws. I’m particularly annoyed by inventory taxes here in California. They really should be set up so that, for example, computer refurbishers can keep a small amount of hardware around without having to keep track of it for tax purposes. For people like me, this isn’t about the money — which is negligible — but about the hassle of it. There are other things too, like the fact that you can hardly move a block without the sales tax rate changing. There is much else, but none of it has to do with the federal government — much less President Obama.

Jeb BushI’m not surprised that Bush doesn’t know about this kind of thing. The way business works at the bottom rungs of the economy really is hidden from the likes of Bush and Trump. There are millions of little businesses around the US and they don’t have much to do with the way that business is taught in school or practiced in the Fortune 500 companies. It’s a hell of a lot more like Bob’s Burgers. Maybe Bush should spend some time watching that show — he might learn a thing or two.

But it turns out that Jeb Bush was just being deceptive. If you look at the actual World Bank rankings, you will find the following table. You will have to click on it to read it. But what it shows is the top ten countries where it is easiest to do business. There are ten factors listed that go into this. The overall ranking of the US is 7th. All Bush did was find the subcategories where the US did the worst and talk about that. It’s just despicable behavior.

World Bank Economy Rankings

Kevin Drum did a bit of a deep dive into the subject and he noted a few things. For really large economies, the World Bank just looked at two cities. In the case of the US: New York City and Los Angeles. They aren’t exactly representative, but okay — that’s good to know. But then Drum compared the US versus New Zealand, which ranks first on “stating a business.” It turns out that in New Zealand you can start a business in a half of a day, but it takes four days in the US. This isn’t actually starting a business, of course, “It’s solely about registering a new business.” In other words, the most trivial part of starting a new business.

But I thought that Drum’s conclusion was particularly important, “As for the outrageous regulations he promises to repeal on Day One, this would mostly just benefit big campaign donors, not the yeoman entrepreneurs he claims to be sticking up for.” Of course! Because Jeb Bush isn’t interested in people starting new businesses; he’s interested in allowing profitable existing businesses to make even more money. There’s a name for what Bush promises: crony capitalism.

Anniversary Post: Soviet Nuclear False Alarm

Stanislav PetrovOn this day in 1983, the Soviet nuclear false alarm incident occurred. But in order to understand it, we have to take a step back to 1 September of that same year. Just three and a half weeks earlier, the Soviet Union had shot down Korean Air Lines Flight 007, which strayed into its prohibited airspace. The Soviets claimed that the flight incursion was meant to test their defenses (a claim very similar to that made by the Clockers). But understandably, no one in the west really believed that.

So on 26 September, when the Soviet nuclear early warning system detects two ballistic missile launches from the US, the generally twitchy Soviet Union could easily believe that we had decided to start a war. Luckily, the officer on duty at that time was Stanislav Petrov. The first detection was of a single missile. Petrov thought that it must be a computer error for two reasons. First, it made no sense for the US to launch a single missile. Second, there had been concerns about the detection system. So he waited. Then another detection came in — this time of four missile launches. He again did nothing. And in so doing probably saved the world. (It turned out to be an unusual reflection of the sun off clouds.)

Of course, not everyone was quite so thrilled with his actions in the Soviet Union at that time. And I think about how some people here in the US would think about someone working for our military doing the same thing. I don’t think it would go well. Look at Chelsea Manning — who critics claim (1) didn’t release any information we didn’t already know; and (2) should be shot for treason. There are a lot of people who really do think it is better to destroy the world than to disobey orders.

The whole thing reminds me of a kind of communal Sword of Damocles. But instead of sword hanging over the leader, there are swords hanging everywhere. It doesn’t require anyone actively cutting the threads; it just takes an accident. The rational thing is not to hang swords over everyone’s heads. But things that are obvious to individuals and even small groups are beyond the means of whole countries. “So what if we do develop this Solanite bomb? We’d be even a stronger nation than now!” Ed Wood got that one right.