Friday, March 27, 2009

The Cost of Efficiency

Kevin Carson has a good post at C4SS laying out how the supposed efficiencies of industrial capitalism actually end up costing consumers. It reminds me of a point Paul Roberts makes in The End of Food, where he cites a study suggesting that, even if you value your own labor at a pretty high wage rate, it's impossible to figure a cost for home canning vegetables that comes anywhere close to what you pay in a grocery store. The markup to cover packaging, advertising, distribution and all the other overhead is something like 400%.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Frustrations With Consumer Capitalism

It always annoys me when I can conceive of a product that I would gladly pay for, but I can't seem to find anyone who makes it.

For example, when my old cell phone died, I wanted to replace it with a similar "bar" (as opposed to flip) model, but with a few more up-to-date features like Bluetooth and support for mp3 ringtones (i.e., only two years out of date instead of six). But such a device did not appear to exist, at least not among the couple dozen of phone models offered by my provider.

Similarly, after I left my favorite winter hat at the opera, I embarked on a months-long, and ongoing, quest to find a replacement in a similar vein. This out-of-stock item is the closest I've found, though the one I lost was this completely non-stretchy wool felt that I really liked.

I've temporarily suspended my search for a basket and metal chainguard that will work on my blue bike.

The latest of these frustrations derives from the idea that I should get a table-top radio so I can listen to Mets games this summer. I had some idea in mind about the kind of radio I'd want, and what I read about this model sounded good at first. Some more investigation left me disappointed, though: the reception is apparently no good, the components are cheap and poorly assembled, and the advertised impressive sound quality is evidently reliant on the kinds of trickery used to make Bose products sound deceptively good.

The Tivoli Model One definitely seems like it's supposed to appeal to people who like the idea of a simple, elegant device that does a limited number of things well. But then instead of actually being such a product, it instead conveys those values through its visual aesthetic, and then relies on cognitive dissonance to convince consumers that they're satisfied with it.

Anyway, I've probably spent too much time on this topic (though not nearly as much time as I've wasted looking for felt caps on the internet), but I do think it's an interesting way that capitalism fails consumers on a pretty regular basis. The markets for many types of products are flooded with virtually indistinguishable offerings that change capriciously in response to fads and trends without ever responding to the needs and desires of sizable minorities of consumers. The result being that large numbers of people are constantly underwhelmed by many of the products in their lives for reasons that should have been easily corrected.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Why Oh Why Can't We Have a Better Press Corps?

Heard this on the radio yesterday morning. The Takeaway's correspondent, Todd Zwillich, who reports for an organization called Capitol News Connection, is completely clueless on what card check even is...he's clearly heard the phrase "secret ballot" connected to the debate, so he tosses that out and then bullshits from there.

He seriously sounds like a student who got called on when he hadn't done the reading ("card's all about who checks your card"), ending up getting the Republican and Democratic positions on the issue completely reversed. Hilarious. And nobody corrects him or explains what the debate actually is. Do they even know?

No transcript, but listen to the audio at the link and fast forward to around 7:20.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Puckish NY Times Headline Writer

Talking about Rush Limbaugh flapping over his rolls seems more like the Post's style.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009


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Monday, March 2, 2009

Who Let the Dolls Out

I started catching my ass up on Dollhouse, because I'm a dork like that. I am not really up on the reviews, but the ones I've read have been fairly negative, non-committal at best. My impression is that reviewers were expecting a little more of a specific condemnation of the prostitution-like aspects of the Dollhouse business model. Not perceiving it, they conclude that the show condones prostitution, or exploits it for the audience's titillation.

The criticism is partially correct in that, at least so far, Dollhouse has refrained from a portrayal of the sexual exploitation of the "Actives" as uniquely immoral. Which is not to say that their situation is shown as anything other than horrific. But the horror stems from denying them their personalities and memories, with sexual exploitation being merely a facet of their dehumanization: brainwashing someone into a willing assassin is as violent an act as brainwashing her into a prostitute. Viewers and reviewers who want the sexual abuse identified as especially heinous violations are missing the point.

This is a theme that Joss had begun exploring in the final televised season of Buffy, where the expectations of the duties of the Slayer, imposed from without upon a young woman without her consent, echo the expectations society has for all women from the day they are born. Dollhouse extends the (uncontroversial) theme of women's ownership of their own bodies along the lines of feminism's broader critique of capitalism, with the idea that all humans should have a right to their own minds as well.

Flashbacks have hinted that Echo, at least, began working for Dollhouse willingly, though doubtless with the understanding that she had no other viable options given her circumstances (still unknown). The horror of her employment's reality makes clear that such a selling of one's soul is illegitimate in its essence, and does violence to the subject's humanity.

Others participating in Echo's dehumanization are tainted and dehumanized as well, as demonstrated by the head of security's obvious contempt for the Actives. Even a sympathetic character, like Echo's Watcherhandler Langton, is faced with the impossible choice of either abandoning his charge to a potentially less caring successor or staying to lend legitimacy to the enterprise. In this way capitalism sorts everyone into those who are irrelevant and those who are complicit, the only other option being (going out on a limb here in a prediction for where the narrative's headed) to bring down the system itself.

Anyway, I expect that reviewers who find themselves turned off by the value system implied by Dollhouse are picking up on two quite real themes: an absence of any specific objection to sexual prostitution in the context of more general and horrifying violence, and tension resulting from trying to square feminist-humanist values with the inhuman excesses of capitalism. A reviewer operating from a worldview in which sexual violence is uniquely vile, not because of its denial of humanity, but because of its power to sully and impart shame on its victims; and in which capitalism is a force of individual freedom rather than its enemy; is going to be understandably disconcerted by a narrative that does not share or opposes those values.