RSSCategory: Consumerism

More stuff = lower self-esteem

September 15, 2010 | By | 1 Reply More
More stuff = lower self-esteem

The Daily Galaxy reports on the inverse relationship between self-esteem and materialism:

Researchers have found that low self-esteem and materialism are not just a correlation, but also a causal relationship where low self esteem increases materialism, and materialism can also create low self-esteem. The also found that as self esteem increases, materialism decreases. . . . The paradox that findings such as these bring up, is that consumerism is good for the economy but bad for the individual.

The study announcing this finding was by Lan Nguyen Chaplin (University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign) and Deborah Roedder John (University of Minnesota), to appear in the Journal of Consumer Research.

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Is USDA Organic Certifiably Insane?

September 2, 2010 | By | Reply More
Is USDA Organic Certifiably Insane?

I saw a very brief and hurried post from ERV on ScienceBlogs. In it, she noted that organic farmers let their animals die from treatable diseases, because to do otherwise would deny them the valuable ‘organic’ label.

WTF?

In Europe, organic livestock MUST be treated humanely, and may receive therapeutic medication (including antibiotics) – to do otherwise is a complete denial of everything science and medicine has learned in the past three hundred years.

But, apparently, that’s what Organic means in the US!

As ERV says

‘Organic’ farmers? All concerned about their free-range, cage-free, at harmony with the Mother Goddess animals? They let their fucking animals die from treatable diseases, because if they treat them with even one dose of antibiotics, the animals are no longer ‘organic’.

She quotes Ronnie Cummins, National Director of the Organic Consumers Association

Allowing one-time therapeutic antibiotics is “a slippery slope”, and would “undermine consumer confidence in organics. It’s the same position [I have] as on human vaccines. They are dangerous, and that’s why I didn’t vaccinate my kid.”

Never mind the epic FAIL in Ronnie Cummin’s statement about the dangers of vaccines – that woo is worthy of a post all by itself! The issue is that animals are allowed to die, often painfully, from completely preventable and treatable diseases.

Why is this so?

ERV linked to her source (this article at the blog “In These Times”). According to that article,

Department of Agriculture (USDA) regulations defining organic standards mandate that if [a] calf had gotten one dose of antibiotics, even to save her life, she could never give organic milk—even after the two years it takes for her to become a milker, and even though neither she nor her milk would retain any trace of antibiotics.

So why would the USDA have such nonsensical standards for ‘organic’?

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Instant Rockstar and Instant Respect

August 27, 2010 | By | 8 Replies More
Instant Rockstar and Instant Respect

Now you don’t have to learn how to play the guitar. All you need to do is pretend that you can play guitar. At my neighborhood Walgreens, there is now a big display featuring Paper Jamz plastic and cardboard string-less guitars (electronic sensors pick up where your hands are). For only $25 ($15 extra if you want a separate amp made mostly out of cardboard), you can be an “Instant Rockstar.” I picked up one of these “guitars” to see whether I could feel like an “Instant Rockstar” right there in the aisles of Walgreens. I felt the glow of stardom for only a few seconds, because you can’t actually play Paper Jamz guitar like you can play a real guitar (I play the guitar professionally). You can’t play individual notes, you can’t play precise rhythms, the sound range is extremely limited, there are no dynamics and there is only one genre offered: distorted rock chords.

Each of these five models of “guitar” is loaded with only three songs. Once you master the three songs on one of the guitars, you’ll need to go back to Walgreens and pay $25 for a different model in order to play three more songs. Instead of real guitar lessons, just go to Rockstarz Academy.

The manufacturer of the Paper Jamz “guitar” tells you that you’d be wasting your time and money to buy a real guitar and learn how to play it. The Paper Jamz display actually includes a video promo with this opening line: “Why play an electric guitar when you can play Paper Jamz?” Why, indeed? I would offer one good reason why you might want to forgo the Paper Jamz “guitar.” When you play a fake guitar instead of a real guitar, you will get fake respect, instead of real respect. To paraphrase and expand the Paper Jamz motto, “Why live a real life when you can watch TV and pretend to be living a life?”

Amotz Zahavi made it clear that in order to be reliable, a signal means to be expensive. If you want lots of respect, then, go practice hard so that you really learn how to play the guitar, and then come back and impress people by playing real songs. Paying $25 and then banging on a piece of plastic and cardboard isn’t going to get you much respect, unless your audience consists of three-year-olds. Then again, I’m probably missing the point because massive numbers of Americans are under the delusion that reality is the way they desire it to be, rather than the way it actually is. Buying a cardboard guitar can bring instant respect to many teenagers because they believe it can.

We are a society that craves instant respect. We show off our gadgets and toys to the have-nots for instant respect. We join the military so we can carry guns, wear uniforms and blow things up in order to get instant respect, even though we’ve floundered through life until then. We celebrate family tragedies, sickness and addictions because these bring us respect as high-ranking victims. We strive to shake hands with Hollywood and sports celebrities, because this brings us instant respect. We become fans of professional sports teams in the hopes that they will win their championship, which seems to bring us respect.

I hope that everybody buying a Paper Jamz guitar really takes the time to impress their friends by “playing the guitar” before they lose all interest in “playing” the three songs programmed into their “guitar.” I’m not denying that this gadget is technologically impressive or that it could be fun for a small child. But within a few months after buying a Paper Jamz guitar, this gadget will undoubtedly end up in the back of the closet, and it will eventually be tossed into a landfill with all the other gadgets we buy in our attempts to gain instant respect.

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Arms race

August 15, 2010 | By | Reply More
Arms race

This web page reminded me of the ongoing arms race between cheaters and cheaters of cheaters.

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Whose oil spill was it?

August 11, 2010 | By | Reply More
Whose oil spill was it?

The Editors at Scientific American have reminded us that oil users (and that includes all of us) are pushing the big oil companies into taking the drilling risks they take:

[I]f we expect oil companies to manage risk better, then society as a whole needs to do the same. The market forces that encouraged BP to take ill-considered risks are largely of our own creation, as stockholders, consumers and citizens. The hodgepodge of subsidies that masquerades as our current national energy policy invites disaster; it fails to grapple with the urgent need to stop wasting energy and start encouraging clean sources. Every day we still need 85 million barrels of oil—the equivalent of more than 25 Ixtoc spills—to keep the wheels of our society turning.

If you do the math, you’ll see that 85 million barrels of oil equals 3,570,000,000 gallons per day. That equals 148,750,000 gallons per hour, 2,479,166 gallons per minute, and 41,319 gallons per second. Americans are currently using an amount of oil that makes us staggeringly dependent on a dwindling natural resource that is mostly imported. And most of that imported oil is sending huge quantities of American dollars to regimes whose interests run counter to American interests.

Our oil dependence should thus be seen as a major risk to our national security. We could slash this usage dramatically with reasonable conservation measures. But politicians believe that it is suicide to ask Americans for any form of sacrifice, even when national security depends on it.

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Capitalism under the microscope

August 3, 2010 | By | 1 Reply More
Capitalism under the microscope

Annie Leonard has passionately researched and written a book she titles: The Story of Stuff: How Our Obsession with the Stuff Is Trashing the Planet, Our Communities, and Our Health-and a Vision for Change (2010).

I haven’t yet finished her book, although I’d like to post on one point she strongly makes early on, a point that is the elephant in the room regarding most discussions of the American way of life. It is a topic not far from the hearts of the many free market fundamentalists out there. The topic is whether it’s time to put capitalism under the microscope. Here’s what Leonard has to say:

[There is no doubt we will reach the planet’s carrying capacity; we’re heading in that direction now…. a big part of the problem we face today is that our dominant economic system values growth as a goal unto itself, above all else. That’s why we use the gross to metric product, or GDP as a standard measure of success….

All right. Are you ready? I’m going to say it: this critique of economic growth is a critique of many aspects of capitalism as it functions in the world today. There. I said the word: “capitalism.” It’s the Economic-System-That-Must-Not-Be-Named.

When writing the film script of The Story of Stuff, my intent was to describe what I saw in my years on the trail of trash, visiting factories and dumps and learning about how things are made, use, and thrown away around the world. I certainly didn’t sit down and figure out how to explain the flaws of capitalism. It was trash, not economics, that was originally on my mind. So at first it took me by surprise that some commentators called the film “an ecological critique of capitalism” or “anti-capitalist.”… it turns out that a hard look at how we make and use and throwaway Stuff reveals some pretty deep problems caused by core functions of a specific economic system called capitalism. There’s no way around it: capitalism, as it currently functions, is just not sustainable….

Yet, in the United States, were still hesitant to broach this unmentionable subject, fearful of being labeled unpatriotic, unrealistic, or insane. Elsewhere in the world, there’s a widespread recognition that some aspects of capitalism aren’t working well for the majority of the world’s people or for the planet; people talk about it openly….

Can we put capitalism on the table and talk about it with the same intellectual rigor that we welcome for other topics? Can we examine the failures of capitalism without falling into generations-old stereotypes and without being accused of being un-American? Refusing to talk about it doesn’t make the problems disappear. I believe the best way to honor our country is to point out when it’s going astray, instead of sitting here silently as many economic, environmental, and social indices worsen. Now would be a good time to start looking at what we could do differently, and what we could do better….

The belief that infinite economic growth is the best strategy for making a better world has become like a secular religion in which all our politicians, economists, and media participate; it is seldom debated, since everyone is supposed to just accept it as true.

Why are so few people willing to challenge, or even critically discuss, an economic model that so clearly isn’t serving the planet and the majority of its people. I think one reason is that the economic model is nearly invisible to us. … [W]e tend to forget that were viewing the world through the paradigm, like it’s a pair of contact lenses…. before we can change a paradigm, we need to identify it as a paradigm rather than assume it is truth.

[Starting at page xviii]

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Net Neutrality: The first amendment issue of our time?

July 27, 2010 | By | 1 Reply More
Net Neutrality: The first amendment issue of our time?

Please watch Senator Al Franken explaining why Net Neutrality is one of the most important issues of our time:

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Debtors’ Prison Still A Reality?

July 19, 2010 | By | 4 Replies More
Debtors’ Prison Still A Reality?

According to a recent article by Chris Serres at the Minnesota Star Tribune, courts still order debtors to go to jail when they can’t afford to pay a judgment.

Not only are the national media largely unaware of this phenomenon, but The New Yorker published an article last April that characterizes debtors’ prisons as a pre-20th Century institution, and describes the America as a refuge for debtors.

As many as two out of every three Europeans who came to the American colonies were debtors on arrival. Some colonies were, basically, debtors’ asylums. By the seventeen-sixties, sympathy for debtors had attached itself to the patriot cause.

Jill Lepore of The New Yorker goes on to describe how American treatment of debt has evolved to allow bankruptcy and why this is a good thing.

Debtors’ prison was abolished, and bankruptcy law was liberalized, because Americans came to see that most people who fall into debt are victims of the business cycle, and not of fate or divine retribution.

Even Wikipedia describes debtors’ prisons as a thing of the past, or at least an unconstitutional one, according to this 2009 New York Times editorial, “The New Debtors’ Prisons.”

20th Century Debtors’ Prison

Times have changed. To be sure, most Americans who are deep in credit card debt do not have bench warrants issued for their arrest. However, in Illinois, Indiana and other states, a person who’s gotten a judgment entered against them can miss a court date and find themselves being hounded by the police.

What about the argument that defendants may owe the money they are being sued for, and should have gone to court? Perhaps the threat of jail is the only way to make them appear in court.

Reporters from The New York Times and The Federal Trade Commission have found that the collection industry is in dire need of repair, and cited numerous, ubiquitous problems. Some of these problems are startling. To wit:

[More . . . ]

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Christian Rock and the Banality of The Market

July 16, 2010 | By | 14 Replies More
Christian Rock and the Banality of The Market

Personal gripe time. This is one of those instances where I believe The Market is a hydrocephalic moron and people who put their undying faith in get what they deserve.

Shortly after the 4th of July just past, a St. Louis radio station changed hands. KFUO 99.1 FM had, for sixty-plus years, been our commercial classical station. Before the first Gulf War, our local NPR affiliate, KWMU, was largely a classical music broadcaster, but after that first foray into Mid east adventurism they became pretty much All Talk All Day. Mind you, I like some of what they offer—Fresh Air, Talk of the Nation, Diane Rheem—but I am a lover of music. My youth, in regards to radio, was all about music. I cannot tolerate most of Talk Radio, especially the right wing stuff, but I’m not overly fond of the left wing blatherings, either. Give me a good solid news show twice a day and then fill the airwaves with music.

This has become a subject of nostalgia for me, because for the most part the music scene on radio has devolved into mind-numbing banality and repetition. Catering to The Market has the net result of leavening out at the lowest common denominator, so instead of fascinating, new, or just first-rate music, we get the cuts that will appeal to the greatest number of whatever demographic a given station thinks it’s playing to.

After KWMU went All Talk, little by little I began listening to KFUO. They did not do as good a job, overall, as KWMU—I am a firm believer in airing complete works, so when I am offered A Movement of a symphony or what have you I am turned off; I want the whole damn thing or don’t bother (this is also true of other genres as well: I once got into a shouting match with a DJ over his insistence of playing the three-minute version of an Emerson, Lake & Palmer track that, in its fullness, ran to twelve minutes, and he demanded to know who wanted to listen to all that synthesizer soloing, to which I replied “people who like ELP, you moron!” Needless to say, I lost that one, but I resent the whole assumption that the attention span of people will never exceed five minutes—if you assume that and that’s all you give them, you train them to have short attention spans)—but it was classical music, and I find myself, aging that I am, more and more indulging in that genre (if genre it is) out of sheer boredom and impatience with most other forms. At least, on the radio.

So KFUO became my car station. (At home I listen to albums. I would eliminate DJs and commercials if I could. Playing my own discs, I can.)

Due to the demands of The Market, the impatience of shareholders, etc etc, management at KFUO—the Lutheran Church, basically—sold the station. It is now Joy 99, playing contemporary Christian pop…stuff.

I’ve attempted to listen to some of it, but I find it unremittingly boring. And I am pissed. Where can I now go on the radio to get classical music? Well, KWMU has taken advantage of the new high definition broadcast tech to split itself into multiple channels and has one dedicated to classical music. But I can’t get that in the car. Can’t get at home on my stereo, either, unless I buy new equipment, which is a source of resentment as well. We live in an age where if one does not have the latest, most up-to-date Thingie, at a cost of X hundred dollars per widget, one cannot partake of the goodies available—and the media changes often enough that buying new Thingies is now every couple, three years.

Pardon my expression—Fuck That! This is the Microsoft model taken to extremes. It is a form of class division, based on tech-savvy and money. You don’t have to pass laws to keep the so-called Unwashed out of the Club, you just have to make sure they can’t afford the newest Thingie.

Ahem. Excuse me, that was paranoid of me. I have no reason to believe this is intentional. This is The Market, in all its lobotomized asininity.

Back for a moment to the new KFUO. It is boring. (I am beginning to recognize a pattern. Christian pop sounds somewhat to mainly Country. The southern lilt to the vocals, the excessively forced emotional warbling, twisting notes through laryngeal gymnastics for no reason other than to make use of a single chord for a few moments longer. Never mind the lyrics—I didn’t have a problem with groups like Creed, at least not initially: the music was interesting, the lyrics showed a modicum of ingenuity—just the American Idol approach to hyped emotionalism as substitute for actual content. But I really cannot abide dull music. Even when, initially, this stuff sounds like they’re getting down with some passion, it’s really just arrangement and playing with the compression. The simplest chords, the over-reliance on melody—almost always in major keys—and the deemphasizing of anything that might distract from the primary message of the lyric content. Now, KFUO, having been a Lutheran station, played a great deal of sacred music. Most of which was GLORIOUS. Beautiful, sonorous, majestic, interesting! Composed by musicians who saw no reason to muffle their strengths, but put what they had into such compositions because the music itself was a form of worship, an offering to what they believed, honest and unhampered passion. Modern Christian rock seems to do everything it can to apologize for being rock. Of course, there’s a reason for this, since a good deal of what these folks espouse is a typical American attitude that sensuality is an enemy to faith, and let’s face it, rock is all about sensuality. So, too, is jazz, perhaps even more so, which may be why one hears almost no Christian jazz.) Boring is inexcusable, I don’t care what cause it is in the name of.

Somehow some one or more “consultant” companies told the new owners that this will attract a larger market share than what KFUO had been doing. For all I know, they’re right. I have little faith in the taste of the masses, as a mass. Most of the people I have ever known as casual acquaintances have exhibited appalling taste in the arts. You have to be aware to be sensitive to nuance, to passion, to genuine merit, and it seems that most people move through life barely conscious of their surroundings.

(I once had the most frustrating interchange with a woman at a party who kept complaining that everything I was putting on the stereo was “depressing.” Her word. Depressing. What was I playing? Flim and the BBs, Grover Washington, McCoy Tyner, things like that. I couldn’t figure it out until she demanded, somewhat drunkenly,”Where’s the singing?” Unless there was singing, it was depressing. Of course, by singing she didn’t mean opera, she meant anything she could sing along to. This was more music as sport than art.)

So after a couple of weeks of listening the all this strained pseudo-music sung by earnest C & W types against the most singularly undifferentiated backgrounds, I am officially peeved. I’d like my classical music back, please. I don’t care about demographics. There are dozens of other stations where one can hear similarly banal excrescence, albeit possibly without the juvenile nonsense worship lyrics. KFUO served an audience that is now not served at all, and I can’t help wondering if this is at least partly propagandistic. That this is as much an effort to force a single voice onto the airwaves, driving out the specialist, minority voices, as it is to maximum returns on investment.

Of course, that would be a bit paranoid, wouldn’t it?

Except that over forty years of listening to radio I can’t help but notice that every instance of a station or a show that reached a bit higher, took a chance on quality, played the unexpected or occasionally controversial—all those stations were, one by one, taken over and dragged back down into the stew pot of “popular taste” at expense of anything genuinely challenging or interesting. Regardless of genre. Mediocrity is the hallmark of the largest market share.

Of course this is just me expressing the idle-time thoughts in my head as I simmer in resentment over another source of something worthwhile going the way of the proverbial dodo. There really isn’t a plot of this sort.

There doesn’t need to be, though. Does there? The Market, the “invisible hand (or ear)” will do it for us.

Sometimes something is worth preserving just because it is good, whether it sells well or not. I think most people would agree with that. Where the breakdown comes is in the lack of appreciation of how those good things will inevitably fade away unless we stop praying at the temple of The Market. In that respect, the advent of a “new” Christian Contemporary radio station is deliciously ironic, as clearly someone thinks that Christianity is a marketable commodity and will command market share. The moneylenders have a cozy home in the temple these days, in the American version of Christianity, in which the hallmark of god’s love is a positive bank balance and a healthy hedge fund.

I can hear the protest, “Well, it must be good if it sells well!”

Pet rocks sold incredibly well. So did shares in Enron.

On the other hand, maybe I’m just annoyed at seeing something I found special axed in the name of the bottom line. Again.

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