Archive | October, 2009

Big Business, workers, and regulation

26 Oct

There is one god in capitalism, profit. This god is extremely powerful because it is fueled by a constant driving force, human greed. In some political circles, “regulation” is a four letter word, an inherently evil concept put in place to inhibit people from making money.

In pure free market capitalism the needs of the people are outweighed by what is most profitable. All concerns about safety and ethics are secondary to the power of the dollar. This is where regulation comes in. At the heart of government regulation is not some sinister plot to keep people from making more money, but to protect people from abuses by business to their health and security.

Sure it might be more profitable for a business to dump pollutants into a near by river instead of paying to properly dispose of them, but doing so would hurt the people living near that business.  One could counter “well, a business that does that would hurt its profit because the people in that area wouldn’t buy from them.” While this is a nice theoretical mechanism to protect people, reality shows that this is not the case. If big businesses actually cared about polluting the environment, we wouldn’t need the Environmental Protection Agency. Yet big businesses continue in harmful practices in the pursuit of profit, and so the EPA is a very busy agency.

Regulation doesn’t just protect the environment people live in from business, it protects people’s livelihoods and the economy. Everyone is painfully aware of the recent and devastating recession. People love to go on and on about the bail out, and how horrible it is. While I also hate the bailout and wished the banks and companies were just allowed to fail, the real villain here is deregulation.

Take the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act for example. This act, pushed through by 3 republicans in 1999, repealed the Glass-Steagall Act of 1933. The Glass-Steagall Act put up a wall that kept investment banks separate from commercial banks, separate from insurance firms, etc. Without this protective legislation, banks from one field took over institutions from another, like Citibank taking over Travelers Group Insurance to create a super hybrid company, Citigroup. These institutions then spread their tentacles into every financial nook and cranny in the quest for more and more profit, and in the process became “too big to fail”. If they went down, they would take down everyone else with them.

The Glass-Steagall regulation was designed to keep catastrophes like this from happening. Also, take the Commodity Futures Modernization Act of 2000. This act made it possible for companies to engage in extremely risky practices like “credit default swaps” and “collateralize debt obligations”, free from the watchful eye of regulators. Companies could now make their balance sheets look good, even though they were engaging in very dangerous deals.

Unfortunately, we all now know the consequences of this type of deregulation. Without the safeguards in place, nothing was stopping businesses from making a buck, regardless of the risk and potential danger to society. In the end, wall street imploded and millions of people on main street who had nothing to do with this payed the price with their jobs and investments.

The last thing I wanted to touch on was workers. Keep in mind that profit is god. Reducing the price to operate a business means you make more profit. One of the most costly expenditures for a business is personnel. For a factory, the ideal worker is a robot. A robot can preform a task much faster than a human worker, it can often do it better, and best of all, they don’t get tired and you don’t have you pay them wages.

Robots, however, have a high one time price when you buy them, and then you have to maintain them. (Altogether this is still more cost effective than hiring workers) The next best thing to robots are slaves. Slaves also have a maintenance cost, but they work for free until they die. Unfortunately for big businesses, government regulation prohibits slavery.

Given these two realities, the next best thing a big business can do to minimize overhead is to try and make their workers as near to slaves as possible. The more you can work them, and the less you have to pay them the better. Whatever you do, don’t let them organize unions and try to improve their conditions.

There was an old theory by Ferdinand Lassalle in the 19th century called “Subsistence theory of wages“. The idea was to pay workers the bare minimum they need to survive. This way they wouldn’t breed uncontrollably, and the labor force along with wages would be kept in check. This theory has long been debunked, and labor unions have made a real difference in passing regulations to improve people’s lives, however, many of the sinister motives behind this theory remain.

To many big companies the worker is a commodity. In the US we have labor laws that regulate businesses when it comes to wages, working environment, etc. These regulations protect the people working in a company from abuses, and attempts to insure that they can afford to live. This in turn raises the overhead cost for businesses employing American workers. In turn, businesses outsource their jobs overseas to countries where there are fewer or no regulations to protect employees.

Here they can pay workers subsistence wages and work them to exhaustion. Businesses can afford to run sweatshop conditions in these countries given the high population of the work force and thus high demand for employment. (There is a website here where you can put in your zipcode and see what local companies are outsourcing jobs from your town overseas)

Without these regulations protecting American workers there would be sweatshops in the US. Corporate interests in the America actively work to try and weaken protective regulation and unions in an effort to make the American worker more like sweatshop workers. I honestly don’t know how we’re going to be able to protect the American worker and his/her job when so many people are willing to do the same work overseas for a fraction of the price, while at the same time being bared from unionizing for better living conditions.

Other big businesses have found even more ways to make money off of their workers through “dead peasant” insurance policies. Companies like Dow Chemical, Procter & Gamble, Wal-Mart, Walt Disney take out life insurance plans on their employees, only to cash in on them when their employee dies. Most of the time the employee doesn’t even know their company has this policy out on them. These company owned insurance policies make up 20% of all life insurance sold each year.

Just some thoughts.

Grow thicker skin

26 Oct

Every child is born with enemies. There are people in this world who will dislike you for every conceivable aspect of you. Born in America? There are people who will dislike you for that. Born in Mexico? There are people who will dislike you for that too. People will dislike you for the color of your skin, the clothes you wear, the friends you have, the games you play, where you went to school, what your parents do for a living, the car you drive, everything.

I once read an easy 2 step guide for being offended. Step 1, have an opinion, Step 2, post that opinion on the internet. One of the sad things about the internet is that it opens you up to all kinds of people who will attack you for just about anything. Sometimes your mere existence will irate them. This can be really hard for thin skinned people, people who are care about what other people think about them. I’m having this problem. Often I get really mean comments left on my blog. Comments that don’t make any constructed arguments, just attempts to attack and degrade me.

While I delete these comments, they often sour my day and I’m left hurt and thinking about them for the rest of the evening. I know I should ignore these people, but it’s just hard.

I got to talk to christians today

21 Oct

A little while ago I talked about a “skeptic’s group” hosted at my college by the Lynchburg Christian Fellowship in this kinda irate post. The entire day I was extremely nervous, not because I wasn’t sure in my reasoning or arguments, but because I hate confrontation.

I came up with a list of questions and walked into the place with my stomach in knots expecting a fight. The group consisted of myself, the pastor and his friend, an agnostic girl who was curious about christianity and helped organize this, and another guy who’s having a little trouble figuring everything out.

To my surprise, the place was much more relaxed than I thought it would be. I don’t think they figured out I wasn’t a believer into about 40 minutes into the session. Even after that they seemed pretty nice. If anyone is wondering, no I didn’t get converted :-p Not in the least. I think the best thing I took away from it was being able to interact in a friendly way with people who I completely disagree. Most of the interactions I have with christians, well, talking with them about religion, is on the internet, and that changes he discussion a little.

The main problem I had was that they kept deflecting my questions and not answering them. The pastor kept talking about how “well logic might say X, but we can’t really go with logic here”….. Logic is wrong? Really? <sigh>

Men and Feminism?

19 Oct

Today I went to a talk on rhetoric and literature which turned into a very fascinating conversation on feminism and pop culture. The room had around 20-25 people in it, and I was 1 of 3-4 men present. The entire time feminism was being discussed I was very nervous and uneasy.

I felt this way for a number of reasons. For one, being a male, I felt like the historical “bad guy” for feminism. For centuries men have oppressed women all over the planet. They’ve beaten them, raped them, denied them economic and educational opportunities, barred them from political power, and treated them merely as objects that existed solely for their pleasure.

I had this all over my head; I was ashamed and disgusted by the way men have treated women in the past. While I sat there quietly, unsure of my place in this discussion, I could not help but think how I was not those men, how I wanted to help. But how? How can I as a man help feminists? Is that even a valid question to ask? I don’t want to imply that women need my help as a man.

All I know is that I want to be part of the solution. That statement, however, assumes that I even have a part. As obvious as this may sound, a lot of feminism is strictly women only. This “minority space” is just somewhere I can’t go as a white male. It’s important that women have this private space to themselves to be able to exchange ideas and experiences. So then that begs the question “what spaces within feminism are not minority spaces, and can men be apart of them?”

All of these questions and then further questions about the assumptions behind the original questions paralyzed me in that room. Here I was, a willing ally yet a member of the old enemy, but so unsure of everything that I couldn’t talk. I didn’t, I don’t, want them to look at me like the enemy. The only thing I could manage to do to try and stave off those assumptions was to raise my hand and express my lament at the video game industry being a bastion for misogyny.

I tried to convey my displeasure with the unrealistic and extremely sexist way women are portrayed in most video games. I tried feebly to mention some of the points I made in this post about sexism in games. How I can count strong, competent female main characters on one hand, how most women in games suffer from the “women and refrigerators” syndrome, or “white man saves the day” scenarios, and how millions of young boys are growing up with these twisted views of women.

After I managed to get that out without tripping over my anxiety too badly I felt a little better. At least now I hoped they would see that I was aware, and making an effort, and was not to be thought of as the enemy.

It’s only now while writing this that I realize the whole “as the enemy” thing can be misconstrued as “man hating feminist”.  I assure you that’s not what I mean. I realize that it is important to choose my words carefully. There are so many assumptions that I used to take for granted, I can easily see how other men could be intimidated.

I had all these questions but I didn’t want to ask anyone at the talk. Not only was I not sure if it was the right time to ask, but I wasn’t sure if I could ask in the first place. I do know that it’s bad for men to go on feminist forums and post “I don’t understand X, so teach me!” It’s not the job of the women on those sites to take the time out of their day to teach you when you should go do the research yourself. My problem is not on the concepts and theories, but where I fit into it all. To add to my confusion there is controversy on both sides of this question as well. Some want men out all together, others want to include them on some things.

I would imagine that if feminism’s goals are going to stick, then the behaviors and assumptions of the men perpetuating the problems are going to have to be addressed. That will require women to engage with men on some level to try and deal with these problems. I just don’t know what part I can play in that engagement, or in engagement with other men on the issues.

Darkest of Days

11 Oct

So the other day I bought Darkest of Days on Steam after watching Yahtzee’s review of it on Zero Punctuation. As a senior history major in college this game intrigued me greatly. One of my favorite things about this game is the fact that it is at times a muzzle loading FPS. You shoot your musket and then you have to wait a few seconds before you fire again while your character goes through the reloading steps. Given, the steps are sped up so you can fire again in about 2 seconds, but still.

The other thing I enjoyed about this game is being put in the middle of big battles. Usually in other FPS you’re a solo tank running around doing things alone, but in this game you’re put on the front lines with a bunch of other soldiers. One of the best examples of this is when you fight in the corn field of Antietam. You move up in line with the rest of the Union soldiers and you exchange a few volleys with the confederates before having to run.

The other very cool thing about the game is how every so often you’re given modern weapons and told to have at it with the enemy. At one point you have to turn back a WWI German advance and you’re handed a laser guided rocket launcher.

As for technical gripes, the first thing I found out was just how hard it was to control your player with the mouse and keyboard. I constantly found myself sliding my mouse over to look in another direction, only to find that I didn’t turn as much as I wanted, and I had to pick up my mouse, move it back to the other side, put it down, and slide it again every time I wanted to look further to the left or the right. After about half and hour of this I got fed up and went to get an xbox 360 controller.

I then found that I couldn’t easily map the controls on the xbox controller to my liking. I tried to copy the Halo controls of COD controls but no luck. It took me a while to retrain myself not to accidentally throw a grenade when I was trying to switch weapons.

The last technical complaint is with the sound. You literally cannot hear an NPC if you are not looking at them, so you better have subtitles on.

Perhaps the biggest complaint I have with the game is a moral one. The people you are working for don’t want to change history. Their goal is to keep history exactly like it happened. Dr. Kroell, the founder of KronoteK, the time travel company, even says “Who am I to play God?”. This all pissed me off royally.

As someone who studies history, I know history is shit. Almost the entire history of mankind is written in blood and suffering. Who are you to play God? That implies that God wanted history to turn out the way it has, which is extremely fucked up. And if you look at history, horrible shit happens to everyone, all religions, which either means that there really is no god, or if there is, he LOVES to see blood and suffering, no matter what your faith.

Dr. Kroell says that all this blood and suffering is supposed to teach us a lesson. This is an insulting and condescending answer that I have encountered before. So all those people who died painful and gruesome deaths in history did so to teach you a lesson? Fuck no. Any decent human being would want to go back and stop all that bad shit from happening.

It’s funny that they claim to be such stifflers for keeping history in tact. One of the final battles has me running around spraying bullets all over Pompeii before it is covered in ash. I leave a trail of dead future soldiers and bullets. Who’s going to pick all that stuff up? Archaeologists in 18th and 19th centuries….

No, you can’t kill your children

10 Oct

Two parents just let their 11 year old daughter die of diabetes. The judge gave them 6 months in jail and 10 years probation….. I don’t know about you, but this makes me furious. What did these parents do to help their child? They prayed. Prayed to their non existent god and the child died because instead of getting her medical treatment, they did nothing.

Parents should not be allowed to withhold life saving medical treatment from their children. I don’t care what your religion is, the child is below the age of making rational judgments, and therefore should not be put to death because of the parent’s beliefs. “Oh, but they’re good people!” No! They are not! They murdered their daughter in the name of cave man myths!

This girl had her entire life before her, she had so much potential, but all that will never be realized because her parents made the decision to let her die rather than go to a hospital where doctors could have saved her life. And the girl had no choice in this….

Quit trying to fucking convert me!

9 Oct

I received this letter today in my college e-mail:

We all have questions about God, whether you believe in Him or not. We

all feel the need to believe in something greater than us at times,

don’t we? We may not admit it because we’re scared, or have no way to

actually get to know this ‘greater being.’ So, it’s about time that we

get all of us skeptics together and chat!

If you’re interested in learning more about God, or if you just have

some questions that have been bothering you for a while – come on over

and ask away!!!

LCF will be hosting a ‘Skeptic Group’ discussion session on

Wednesday’s from 4pm until around 5pm starting October 21st. We will

be meeting in the basement of the Spiritual Life House (directly

behind Schewel). Philip Watkins, the LCF Pastor, will be answering

any and all questions that the group may have. It can be something as

simple as “Who’s Jesus?” or as complex as “Why should I believe in

something that forces me to change my lifestyle?” Discussion will be

solely based on questions, so bring your inquisitive side!

Bring my inquisitive side my ass. I fucking hate these people. This whole meeting is aimed at trying to convert Atheists over to their brand of christianity. Oh yeah, I’m going to go. I’m going to go and defend myself. “What evidence do you have to support your god and not Zeus?” “Why will your god never heal amputees?” Etc…. How upset would you think they’d be if I sent out an e-mail about an event seeking to convert christians to Atheists? As pissed as I am now, I’m going to try and go in there calmly with cold hard questions that I know they can’t answer. I want them to see I can be as happy and confident in my lack of faith as they are with their faith.

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