Ryan L. Cole reflects on the persona that led Bruce Springsteen to fame and fortune:

His 1973 debut album, Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J., and its follow-ups, The Wild, The Innocent & The E Street Shuffle (also 1973), and Born to Run (1975), featured songs about Jersey boardwalks, open roads, slamming screen doors, and other assorted bits of romanticized American life, written with a verbosity that would make Bob Dylan tip a leopard-skin pillbox hat … . But around the time of his fourth LP, Darkness on the Edge of Town (1978) … the songs increasingly turned to blue-collar angst, and the singer was progressively positioned as the culmination of rock ’n’ roll: Elvis Presley with a social conscience.

Springsteen embraced the imagery, iconography, and gestures of the genre. He threw on a leather jacket, sculpted his sideburns, and posed broodingly in Corvettes and Cadillacs. Then he name-checked John Steinbeck and Flannery O’Connor, sang of American decay and inequality, and rebuffed Ronald Reagan, whose reelection campaign had the nerve to assume that “Born in the USA”—a gloomy song about a homeless Vietnam veteran dolled up with a misleadingly anthemic chorus and sold with imagery of Springsteen draped in Old Glory—was actually a statement of patriotism. Which is not to say that Springsteen isn’t a patriot. It’s just that he articulates progressivism’s brand of national pride: America is noble in theory, nightmarish in reality; cool around the edges, but rotten to the core.

Previous Dish on Springsteen here.

The End Is High

Nov 28 2014 @ 7:25pm

Tom Angell points out an international agricultural effort to preserve weed after the apocalypse:

By preserving genetic material in an insulated, underground facility, the Svalbard Global Seed Vault hopes to guard against the permanent loss of plants that humanity relies on for food and medicine. According to a Marijuana.com analysis of Svalbard’s database, there are 21,500 cannabis seeds being held for safekeeping in the vault. That’s more weed seeds than there are asparagus, blueberry or raspberry seeds stored at the facility. There are more marijuana genetics in the “Doomsday Seed Vault” than there are for artichoke, cranberry and pear combined. …

The vault’s location, about 800 miles from the North Pole, was selected because of its permafrost and lack of tectonic activity. That means the seeds will stay cold even in the event of a power failure, and the bunker they’re contained in is unlikely to be cracked open by an earthquake or volcanic eruption. And, because it’s located 430 feet above sea level, the facility will stay dry even if global climate change causes the ice caps to melt.

Keating flags some odd news out of China, which is planning to do away with its 2,600-year-old state monopoly on table salt:

The salt monopoly began during in the Qi state on the Shandong peninsula around the seventh century BC and may have been the first ever state-controlled monopoly. During the third century BC, the Chinese imperial state sold salt at a markup, effectively levying a tax used to pay troops and, perhaps, the early stages of the Great Wall of China.

Several centuries, dynasties, and revolutions later, the world’s oldest monopoly is still in place. Under the policy’s current incarnation, the China National Salt Industry Corp. designates who is authorized to produce salt and is the only entity allowed to sell it to consumers. These consumers often pay three to four times more than what the CNSIC does. The new plan will liberalize the industry and scrap price controls starting in 2016.

Some Chinese netizens, Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian observes, are concerned that opening the salt market will just lead to more food safety scandals:

Read On

The Moral Case Against Zoos, Ctd

Nov 28 2014 @ 5:23pm

Mayor Sahin visits  the baboon rejected by its biological mother

Chelsea Wald reflects on Benjamin Wallace Wells’s argument:

[H]ow can we justify keeping animals in zoos? Wallace-Wells asks. His conclusion is that we can’t, and that we won’t continue to try for much longer. I’m not sure I agree. But there are certainly bits and pieces of zoos that could be handed over to technology. The educational aspect of zoos would be relatively easy to make virtual. And since zoo animals don’t really act as they would in nature (even when they’re not psychotic), it’s hard to argue that zoos can convey much about the animals other than how they look. And while many zoos attempt to share a lot of material about conservation, it’s not clear how much of that is getting through to visitors. Certainly, technology that connects people to animals in the wild could reveal far more about the animals’s actual behaviors as well as the need for conservation. If kids just want to see an animal up close, they can go to a farm or get a pet.

But we do lose something, if we lose physical zoos.

Read On

Mental Health Break

Nov 28 2014 @ 4:20pm

When Black Friday gets dark – real dark:

More Private, Less Of A Dick

Nov 28 2014 @ 3:36pm

Pamela Stewart, a former private investigator, describes how moral qualms led her out of the profession:

I talked to a few friends in the industry this week and asked if they were considering using drones. They are excited about the possibility. Legislation doesn’t keep pace with technology, so there are grey areas in that blue sky. A private investigator cannot observe you in any place you have a reasonable expectation of privacy, but that doesn’t mean they won’t try. Years ago, a colleague followed a subject to a nudist colony and got video of the subject and others playing volleyball. Everyone in the office watched that video. …

Most of the people who do this work don’t care about you or your privacy. Most of the people being surveilled don’t know how to protect their personal information. And most of investigating bodies don’t care. You are just data. And even if you are doing nothing wrong, you’re just collateral damage in the search for the “truth.”

I want to say I am done. I helped many people get the information they needed to make decisions about their lives or their businesses, but in doing so I devalued myself. While focusing my camera on others, I blurred my own definition of right and wrong. I was a licensed liar and a snoop. It’s a judgmental, and soul-destroying world. From now on, I’ll stick to reading Raymond Chandler and sign off with the words I used in every investigation report: “Surveillance discontinued.”

The View From Your Window

Nov 28 2014 @ 3:01pm


Chicago, Illinois, 3.20 pm

Cultish Consumerism

Nov 28 2014 @ 2:36pm

Derek Thompson notes that “many of the most successful new brands have been looking to an unusual but powerful source of inspiration – religious cults”:

Cults like the Moonies are built on the paradox that we feel most like ourselves when we’re part of a group, says Douglas Atkin, the global head of community at the room-sharing company Airbnb, and the author of the 2004 book The Culting of Brands: Turning Your Customers Into True Believers. “The common belief is that people join cults to conform,” Atkin wrote. “Actually, the very opposite is true. They join to become more individual.”

A number of Bay Area companies have come to incorporate this insight into their marketing strategies.

Read On

A Poem For Friday

Nov 28 2014 @ 1:40pm


“Known to Be Left” by Sharon Olds:

If I pass a mirror, I turn away,
I do not want to look at her,
and she does not want to be seen. Sometimes
I don’t see exactly how to go on doing this.
Often, when I feel that way,
within a few minutes I am crying, remembering
his body, or an area of it,
his backside often, a part of him
just right now to think of, luscious, not too
detailed, and his back turned toward me.
After tears, the chest is less sore,
as if some goddess of humanness
within us has caressed us with a gush of tenderness.
I guess that’s how people go on, without
knowing how. I am so ashamed
before my friends—to be known to be left
by the one who supposedly knew me best,
each hour is a room of shame, and I am
swimming, swimming, holding my head up,
smiling, joking, ashamed, ashamed,
like being naked with the clothed, or being
a child, having to try to behave
while hating the terms of your life. In me now
there’s a being of sheer hate, like an angel
of hate. On the badminton lawn, she got
her one shot, pure as an arrow,
while through the eyelets of my blouse the no-see-ums
bit the flesh no one seems now
to care to touch. In the mirror, the torso
looks like a pinup hives martyr,
or a cream pitcher speckled with henbit and pussy-paws,
full of the milk of human kindness
and unkindness, and no one is lining up to drink.
But look! I am starting to give him up!
I believe he is not coming back. Something
has died, inside me, believing that,
like the death of a crone in one twin bed
as a child is born in the other. Have faith,
old heart. What is living, anyway,
but dying.

(From Stag’s Leap: Poems by Sharon Olds, copyright © 2012 by Sharon Olds. Used by permission of Alfred A. Knopf, an imprint of the Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. Photo by Dave Walker)

Thoughts On Affirmative Action

Nov 28 2014 @ 12:59pm

Freddie has a long post, in which he expresses exasperation at my opposition to racial discrimination against Asian-American students in the Ivy League. His core point is that without affirmative action, and the punishment of Asian-Americans for their race, there would be far lower proportions of black and Latino students in college, and that therefore ending it is grotesquely irresponsible if you care about “racial economic equality” in America. Above all, I am talking in “abstractions”, while I seem oblivious to the human tragedy of black and Latino students being shut out of college.

Some of our disagreements are structural. Freddie, for example, writes:

This whole debate depends on a flatly bogus notion of what college is, or what our country is. There is no such thing as meritocracy. There has never been anything resembling meritocracy.

In contrast, I think that the establishment of standardized testing in the post-war years – together with the GI bill – was a huge step forward for meritocracy in America. Millions of people who previously were unable to go to college had sudden access to education for the first time in American history. The SAT liberated millions from the grueling fates of their parents. The huge increase in the numbers of women in colleges and the workforce also powered more meritocracy – as more competition in a labor force will tend to do. Both of these changes were huge gains for meritocracy in America. Is this a perfect system? Of course not. It’s increasingly compromised by extreme economic inequality and all the corruptions it entails. Nepotism, racism, and sexism also play a big part, as they will in every human society, in frustrating the goal of equal opportunity. We have a flawed and imperfect meritocracy (when in history has there ever been anything else?). But the idea that there “has never been anything resembling meritocracy” in America is hyperbole.

Freddie says I operate in abstractions, rather than human beings. But I am defending real human beings who often come from poor immigrant families and who have worked hard and scored high grades and are then denied a place at college solely because of the color of their skin. That human experience is a terrible one to inflict in a meritocracy. I’m baffled why many are so comfortable with this ugly fact or feel no sympathy for the plight of those treated by Harvard today the way Jews were in the 1920s. Freddie argues that this is defensible because it is a benign and well-meaning form of racism. But racism has always been defended as benign and well-meant, hasn’t it? Shouldn’t we be a teensy bit skeptical about such claims?

But if I oppose affirmative action, what would I do to mitigate racial economic inequality? Plenty of things, actually – and none of them requiring race discrimination.

Read On