Monday, October 26, 2015

Week of 10/26/2015

The Onus Needs To Actually Be On Us
A few weeks ago (as of this article’s posting) a rare thing happened here in Georgia.
The former managers of a peanut processing plant in Blakely, Georgia, were sentenced to prison for their roles in the outbreak of salmonella poisoning that killed nine people and sickened hundreds.  Two managers, Samuel Lightsey and Daniel Kilgore, each got three-to-six years in prison, while the company’s owner, Stewart Parnell, was sentenced to 28-years in prison, and his brother Michael, got twenty years.
Let me repeat that...
Two plant managers, the food broker, and the owner of the company, were each sent to prison for their roles in a salmonella outbreak that took lives and sent hundreds to the hospital.
You know, the place with the iron bars and the armed guards and where “don’t drop the soap” is not just a joke.
I point this out because there has been this trend for corporate entities to escape all accountability for their actions by simply paying a fine and making some mealy-mouthed promise of some future changes.  They step up in front of the cameras, they say “We’re sorry, mistakes were made, and we can only move forward to do better” and that’s it.  Then it’s business-as-usual for them as they wait for their bonuses for making so much money off the misery they created.
That’s what the banks did.  That’s what Wall Street did.  That’s what Big Oil does when they screw up.  That’s what Corporate America usually does when faced with this kind of “nuisance”.  They pay a fine, say “mistakes were made”, promise to do better next time, and then nothing is done until the next time.  And there usually is a next time.
And, yes, we can thank our former Attorney General for a lot of it!  Eric Holder allowed big corporations, especially the financial ones, to literally buy their way out of trouble under his watch by doing just that.  Even though his department had it in writing as a matter of policy that they needed to hold corporations to account for their actions, even if it risks crashing the whole economy, Holder and his people let the big money criminals buy their freedom in exchange for what would be essentially pocket change.
But not this time!  Not for the big-wigs of the now-defunct Peanut Corporation of America!  No, they really faced criminal charges, they really were found guilty, and they really were sentenced to prison.  They really were held to account for their actions.
And that is great news!  In fact, we need to see more of this going on!
Volkswagen got in hot water when it was revealed they put in a cheat for some of their cars so they would pass emissions tests.  Now the owners of those cars are stuck with vehicles that are illegal to drive, expensive to fix, and impossible to sell.  Meanwhile the CEO says “We’ve totally screwed up” (I kid you not, that’s what he really said) and then steps down with his golden parachute package intact.
Now, folks, we’re not talking about some “accident” or some manufacturing defect.  This was deliberate, intentional, and premeditated.  Someone had to actually come up with the process to defeat the emissions testing. Someone had to make the conscious decision to have them put in all those vehicles.  Someone had to give approval for these to be shipped, knowing that these vehicles violated state and federal laws!  These are all elements of criminal activity.
By all rights, there needs to be prison time for the people involved.  Executives need to be handcuffed and frog-marched in front of the media, and then join the peanut execs in the federal correctional system so they can play “don’t drop the soap” with hardened felons.
Sadly, I can see lawyers already writing up settlement papers, and executives practicing their “mistakes were made” speeches, and budgets being adjusted to account for the “fines” that they’ll pay in lieu of criminal charges.  Execs are already saying they “didn’t know” what was going on.  Only time will tell if our current Attorney General will be just like her failed predecessor.
Even worse, this is just the tip of the iceberg for the overall problem of accountability.
My stomach churns every time I hear some shyster say “mistakes were made”.  It churns because it means that people are once again deferring any kind of accountability for their actions.  “Mistakes were made” implies that bad things simply “happened” without any kind of human activity behind it.  “We’re not accepting any blame,” they say, “but we will admit that mistakes were made.”
Or, worse, they use some kind of false equivalent to negate those “mistakes”.
“Well, mistakes were made with the emissions, but at least we didn’t make an airbag that explodes like an anti-personnel mine.”  “Well, mistakes were made with our airbags, but at least we didn’t make a steering column that becomes a javelin on impact.”  “Well mistakes were made with our steering column, but at least we didn’t make a gas tank that explodes like a grenade on the slightest nudge.”
Doesn’t seem to be helping the auto industry, does it?
But it doesn’t stop there.  The same game is played with politics, with education, with the military, with organized religion, with pretty much any organization where nobody wants to own up to their faults, but they all want to be recognized for the successes.  They all say the same thing, “mistakes were made”, and they all dance around accountability, but still reap the benefits.
Let’s get brutally honest here... if we’re truly serious about not letting history repeat itself, and if we really do want to learn from our failures, then we have to actually hold groups accountable, both in success and in failure.  It’s damnably hypocritical for any group to argue that they deserve the same rights and privileges as individuals when they aren’t held to same standards as individuals.
One of the old scares of Halloween is when sick individuals would put razor blades in apples and inject poison in candy bars and then hand them out to kids.  A lot of the stories were just myths, but at least one instance from the 1950’s was true.  Now if an individual does it, it’s considered a crime.  But if a corporation does something like that, they should not be allowed to get away with saying “mistakes were made”, especially when the “mistake” was not accidental.
We saw this with one company.  One company was held to account for their actions.  Now we need to see it applied to all the others.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Week of 10/19/2015

The Death Of Playboy
The end of 2015 will mark a sad passing for thousands of readers, including this commentator.
It will mark the end of Playboy Magazine as we all know it.
Playboy Magazine started in 1953 with its first centerfold being the legendary Marilyn Monroe, seen in a way that only fans wished they could see her.
For over sixty years, Playboy Magazine provided readers with a balanced mix of intelligence and beauty.  Intelligence in the articles and interviews and fictional stories, and beauty in the form of beautiful women presented as the girls-next-door that readers only wished were living next door.
And, yes, these beautiful women were naked.  They didn’t always show “everything”, certainly not for the first two decades, but as the Sexual Revolution continued, the “lines” were slowly dropped, along with the modesty.
It wasn’t without resistance, of course.  Hypersensitive and hypocritical housewives, self-righteous ministers, corrupt politicians, fascist police officials all tried to shut Playboy down.  Students at my alma matter, Saint Anselm College, actually did a book burning in the 1960’s to supposedly “rid the community” of Playboy Magazine.  There were not one but two special commissions under two different presidents to try to shut down Playboy Magazine.  They all failed.  Every single one of them failed.
Not even a stroke by founder Hugh Hefner could stop the magazine from giving readers that balance of intelligence and beauty. 
And now all of that is about to end.  The Playboy Magazine that we grew up with, that our fathers and grandfathers read, the one that inspired iconic clubs and launched the careers of models and actresses, not to mention the whole James Bond “007” franchise, and served as muses for soldiers from the Vietnam War to the Iraq War, is about to die.
And its murderer goes by the name of Scott Flanders.
Don’t get me wrong, there will be a publication named “Playboy Magazine” that will still be published in 2016.  It will still use the same iconic rabbit-head logo.  It will still have articles and interviews and models that they will dub “Playmates”.
But it won’t be the same magazine we all knew and grew up with, because it won’t have the nudity.
Mister Flanders thinks that he can “rebrand” Playboy by getting rid of the nudity as a way to keep the publication on the shelves and keep people reading it.  He’s far from the first to suggest that asinine idea, but he is the one that somehow convinced Hefner to go along with it.
His rationality, though, is far from sane.
“You're now one click away from every sex act imaginable for free,” he said. “And so it’s just passé at this juncture.”
Excuse me?  You’re blaming this on the Internet?
I can go to the corner grocery store and buy wine for $3.  Does that mean that Moet should stop producing champagne?  I can make soda at home.  Does that mean that Coca-Cola should stop making it?  I can make cappuccino at home.  Does that mean that Starbucks should just go out of business?
But somehow, because people can view sex online for free, you think that it justifies you removing high-quality photos featuring beautiful women in various forms of undress from a print publication that has been doing so since 1963.
And don’t think for a minute, Mister Flanders, that somehow Playboy helped make the Internet what it is today!  Playboy was not a part of the ACLU v. Reno decision from 1996 that gave the Internet the fullest protection under the First Amendment.  I know this, sir, because I was one of the 70,000-plus plaintiffs in that lawsuit that included big corporations like IBM and Apple and Microsoft and Intel, but did not include any of the adult publications. 
By the way, you’re welcome for that legal victory.  Playboy may not have been a part of that lawsuit, but the philosophy that originally guided that magazine and helped mold the Sexual Revolution helped open the doors that you and your other Big Corporate friends have been meticulously shutting for these past few years.  It was the Playboy with the nudity and the philosophy that said it was okay that inspired people to push the limits and to keep the doors open that you and your Big Corporate friends are shutting.
That is what you have murdered, Mister Scott Flanders.  And it sickens me to know that you’re able to get away with it.
Let’s get brutally honest here... what Mister Flanders is doing is killing the very thing that made Playboy what it is.  Playboy Magazine succeeded because of its balance.  Because it sold itself as a magazine for men that appealed to both sides of a man’s mind.  And now that you’re killing that part, Mister Flanders, what does that make Playboy into?  Just another boring publication.
If we wanted skin-free images, we would’ve stuck with fitness magazines and Sports Illustrated.  We even would’ve been buying the women’s magazines since they show what you’re covering up.
It’s insulting that ESPN’s magazine will be showing more than Playboy after December.  It’s insulting that we can see more of Kim Kardashian in a half-dozen publications than we ever did in Playboy and now ever will.  It’s damnably insulting that the Playboy Magazines in other nations will continue to show nudity while the home publication that started it all won’t.
“Passe”, sir?  No, it’s media gentrification.  It’s an asinine appeal to a supposed most-common-denominator by making it as generic as possible and hoping people will still flock to it.
Pretty much every new online advance has been hit with this kind of censorship.  Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, YouTube have all been censored.  Google and Apple stores have apps that are skin-free.  You can have the Playboy bunny... as a wallpaper or some countdown clock... or in non-nude images and videos.  Mister Flanders and the rest of Big Corporate have been cock-blocking the world one app at a time.
You want nudity?  You have to pay for it.  If you have a credit card, that is.  And you won’t find it in the online stores.  You’ll have to search for it.  And if you want it “for free”, then you have to deal with ads and pop-ups and the continual threat of malware that infect your computer like an STD.  Oh, you’ll pay for it, one way or another.
Playboy used to have a website that reflected the magazine.  I was invited to serve as one of the Alpha testers for that website, and one of the things that I complimented the administrators on was their ability to reflect everything that the magazine stood for in that website.  Sadly, the Cyber Club was sold out to some third-party group and remade into a something that barely reflects what the magazine used to stand for.
Playboy used to have a subscription TV channel that reflected the magazine.  Sadly, that was sold off as well and now only exists in name and logo.  Anything connected to the magazine has been replaced or pushed aside, and, after this year, it will have almost nothing in common with the publication except for that name and logo.
Take away the very thing that a brand represents and what do you have?  Just an empty image.  You have a shell, a sham, a fraud.  That is what Playboy Magazine will be after 2015.  A fraud with a rabbit-head logo.
I will not be supporting the fraud that will call itself “Playboy Magazine” next year.  My long-running subscription will run out and as long as Mister Flanders and his ilk are in charge of so much as a paper clip for that publication, they will not get my money.  I will mourn what Playboy used to be, and I will curse the imposter that will be put in its place.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Week of 10/12/2015

The NBC series “The Blacklist” is one of those interesting shows, mostly because you see James Spader pretty much owning any scene that he’s in.  He’s the villain-to-end-all-villains, and he’s giving the FBI all the secret cheat codes that the bad guys have been using since forever to stay one step ahead of the good guys.
In the premiere for the show’s third season, we are introduced to the “Troll Farmer”.  He’s a cyberspace specialist in diversions, employing a network of computer specialists and other support characters that generate realistic misinformation to divert public attention (not to mention law enforcement) from what is really happening.  He uses his skills and people to create thousands of false locations of our main characters – who are currently fugitives from the FBI – and also spreading phony stories to confuse the masses so Spader’s character can leave the District of Columbia.
Spader’s character then “rewards” the “Troll Farmer” by turning him over to the FBI, especially after being told that his services were no longer “available”.  One more name on the “Blacklist” crossed off.
It’s an interesting concept, and I have to wonder if we haven’t been plagued by the real thing.
We turn on the TV and we are subjected to the biggest routine con game in the world.  We hear endless chatter about people who want to be the next President of the United States and we’re barraged with speculation and fraud and presented numbers in lieu of actual physical votes.  We hear about who is “leading” in some contest that has no basis whatsoever to actual elections, as if somehow the former could replace the latter.  We hear about who is running, who might run, who is leading, who isn’t leading, and who could be dropping out before a single actual real live human vote could ever be cast.
We hear about this family of mostly women and some men (and one in between) who are in the media constantly because... well there really is no reason why they are in the media.  Sure, one of them is famous because he/she was a former Olympic champion, and one of them got our attention because she likes showing off her curvy body, but everyone else in the bunch really have no reason to be in the limelight.
But do you know what we don’t hear about?  We don’t hear about the economy and how things have been tough for the vast majority of us ever since the Great Recession.  We don’t hear how the Federal Reserve has been keeping interest rates at near-zero since 2009 and why they haven’t raised those rates even though Wall Street has been begging and pleading for them to do that.
Then again, we haven’t heard the dreaded “R” word in the media either... but it is out there in the news.  It’s being mentioned in the financial sections, as people are looking ahead and seeing nothing but the times getting worse instead of better.
There’s little talk about all of the corporations announcing layoffs.  There’s little mention of McDonald’s closing stores.  We hear that gas prices are... or were... dropping, but we’re not hearing too much about the oil companies cancelling projects and laying people off because the price of oil (not to be confused with the price of gas) is dropping thanks to the oil shale glut in America and the oil glut in China.
Speaking of China, does anyone even remotely think that their economic downturn can somehow happen in a vacuum and not have an effect on American finances?  Or, for that matter, the already-depressed economy in European countries like Greece?
But, hey, how about that Taylor Swift?  Isn’t she just a wonderful young lady?
Political gridlock is abundant, especially in light of the recent insurrection within the ranks of the GOP.  The GOP and their continual campaign of legislative sabotage keep pushing deadlines back further and further.  They claim to hate making deals, but they leave themselves in a position where they have no choice but to strike bargains that they then turn around and condemn at the top of their lungs like the spoiled children that they are.  It makes for great re-election drama, but the consequences of these brinksmanship games are never talked about.
But... hey, did you hear about what some presidential wannabe said about the Holocaust and gun control?
And it’s not just a national thing.  Local news seems to have a short attention span as well.  The editorials are full of so-called “conservatives” who love to talk about being against taxes and complain about Washington, but somehow the local taxes still go up.  They complain about the heavy-handed tyranny of Washington, but they justify the local police chief or sheriff in their demand for exponential increases in budgets so they can get body armor and military vehicles.  Street repairs or expansion or changes are planned and budgeted and then strangely forgotten, only to pop up again a couple of years later as something that “needs” to be done.  Endless talk is wasted praising “small businesses”, but you don’t hear about the slow creep of “We Buy Gold” stores and title pawn shops and little churches that don’t pay taxes. You also don’t hear, for that matter, about all of those promising stores and restaurants that suddenly close their doors.
But, hey, did you see who was crowned homecoming queen?  And how about that church gathering?  Wasn’t that just precious?
Let’s get brutally honest here... the idea of a “Troll Farmer” isn’t just a fictional character on TV.  It’s standard operating procedure for the powers-that-be to keep the masses distracted so they won’t see just how screwed we all are and how much more screwed we’re about to be.
Think about it... if more people knew about the coming recession, do you think they’d be standing in line for the newest Apple product?  Do you think they’d be getting new credit cards or buying new vehicles?
The thing is... thanks to the Internet, this stuff isn’t completely hidden.  It’s there if you know where to look.  The troll famers of the real world can only distract us for so long, and only for as long as we choose to be distracted.
So the real question is, why are we so willing to be the crop?