American Brands Victims of Globalization

With the Citizens United Supreme Court ruling, billionaires and international conglomerates can pour money into U.S. political campaigns with no disclosure requirements.  Thanks to the high court, it’s never been easier to buy an election.  And there’s nothing to stop a foreign government  from getting in on the fun.  Now I didn’t much like the ruling, but we live in a day and age when corporations reign supreme, not the people, or governments.  We are governed by an international corporate ruling class. China holds a good chunk of U.S. debt – something in the order of 800 billion, an alarming statistic.  But none of this should come as any surprise.  We are an outsourced nation.  Not only have our jobs gone overseas, so too have iconic American brands.   Say it ain’t so but it is.

What do Gerber baby food and Purina cat chow have in common?  You may be surprised to know that the Gerber baby is not American – he may not even speak English – in fact, it is quite possible he is trilingual, or will be by the time he learns to speak because he’s Swiss.  And so too is Purina cat chow.  And get this.  Gerber is owned by the pharmaceutical company Novartis. Strange.  Who’d have known?

And I bet you didn’t know that the Brits own Ben and Jerry’s, Vaseline and the Good Humor Popsicle brand too.  They do. It’s probably Good Humour by now.  Actually the British-Dutch Unilever company owns these iconic American brands – a company better known for Lifebuoy soap.

The Japanese have gone on a U.S. feeding frenzy snapping up Firestone Tire and of all things 7-Eleven.  I’m not big on Firestone after millions of their tires were recalled back in 2000 for essentially disintegrating at high speeds.  Not exactly the kind of performance one would expect from a tire.  Nor am I big on 7-Eleven.  They remind me of those gas station quicky marts that sell all kinds of crap at inflated prices.  And their stores are too brightly colored – like Burger King, designed to get you in and out as quickly as possible.  You don’t shop in these places really.  The only thing I respect 7-Elevens for are slurpies.  I’ve read that 7-Elevens in Japan don’t even sell them.  Now that is just plain wrong.

I am not anti globalization.  Nor am I xenophobic – if I were, I doubt I’d be able to spell the word.  That said, I do want to draw your attention to one final insult to American pride.  Brace yourself.  Car and Driver magazine is now owned by the French. What car have the French built that inspired the admiration of the world?  Ok, maybe the Fiat Panda.  I’ll give you that.  Alright and the funky Citroen, the one that looks straight out of the Jetsons and also that VW bug knockoff.  But other than those?

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The Social Network

I finally got around to seeing The Social Network.  I don’t know how many people have seen the movie, but I would venture to guess far fewer than there are members of Facebook, once called The Facebook.  There were only about 20 movie goers in the theater on the Sunday evening I attended.  The truth of the matter is that The Social Network, the movie about the beginnings of Facebook, is just an ok flick.  Sure, it had good acting and smart dialogue. And I got a kick out of seeing Cambridge and Harvard Square on film because I’ve been there a million times but the movie might have been better as a documentary – even a mocumentary.  There were certainly some stereotypes of the Harvard community on exhibit from the nerdy socially inept beer drinking geeks, including the Facebook inventer, Mark Zuckerberg, played by Jessie Eisenberg, to the wealthy arrogant rowing twin fraternity brothers who may have made it to Harvard via privilege and legacy and not perfect SATs.  And the filmmaker takes a jab at the elitist secret Harvard “Final” clubs, not Finals clubs as Zuckerberg points out to his friend, Erica Albright, played by Rooney Mara, the girlfriend he lost; the one he never had, and the one for whom Facebook was launched. The same girl who tried to excuse herself from the date gone bad by saying that she needed to go study only to be told by Zuckerberg that she didn’t need to study because she goes to BU.  The same Mark Zuckerberg who is told by a young female lawyer that he is not an asshole, but just tries too hard to be one.

It’s odd to think of the origins of Facebook as a prank to get even for a rejection. In fact, that Facebook has any roots at all is a strange thought.  For me, Facebook has just always been around – kind of like TV and computers. That some Harvard geek invented or perhaps even “stole” it from some others at Harvard who had the idea first, but not the technical know how to create it is kind of a letdown.  It makes Facebook seem not so cool in the end.  And if you’ve seen the movie, you understand the reference to coolness. Maybe there was a time when Facebook was really cutting edge fresh and cool, but I think that time has long passed.

My favorite part of the movie came at the end when Zuckerberg friend requests Erica, the woman who started it all.  He just sits at the computer hitting refresh over and over again.

Sharron Angle’s Obtuse Angle

Here are my responses to some of Sharron Angle’s views expressed during the senate debate in Nevada with Speaker Harry Reid:

Angle: …we haven’t secured the borders, and enforced the laws. Senator Reid talks about comprehensive immigration law but really what he’s talking about is something that didn’t work in 1986. I’m a great fan of Ronald Reagan’s, but he had it wrong when he gave amnesty in 1986. We need to first secure the borders.

Me:  First the amnesty in question was called the Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) and it gave amnesty for immigrants who could prove that they had been living and working in the States continuously for 10 years or more with a clean record and had to demonstrate proficiency in English and American Civics before they could qualify for Temporary Residency.  They also had to pay for this and were not fast tracked to citizenship.  They had to wait at the back of the line.  It was the best thing Ronald Reagan ever did and the only thing he got right.

As to the borders, many immigrants cross because corporate America wants cheap exploitable labor.  By securing borders, we will effectively take away the profit margin of many businesses.  Not that I am for exploitation, but Angle’s argument to essentially keep cheap labor out, will hurt the very private sector she so deeply supports.

On jobs, she said that it was not her duty to help create jobs, but rather simply to create policies so that the private sector will create jobs.  This is also her view on health insurance companies.  She argues that there should be no regulations whatsoever on insurance companies and no coverage mandates.  In effect, she’s saying that the government role is not to protect the people, but rather to protect and subsidize the business class to maximize corporate profits.  She is a corporate welfarist.

When asked who she admires on the Supreme Court, past or present here is what she had to say:

Angle:  I admire Clarence Thomas because he understands his, uh, constitutional boundaries as a judge in the Supreme Court, and that’s what we need. We need justices that will sit on the Supreme Court and do their duty constitutionally, not legislate from the bench.

I would not have confirmed Elena Kagan or Sonia Sotomayor, and that reason is because neither one of them understand the Constitution and have said that they would vote against things like our Second Amendment rights. Those are things that are dear to us as Americans. We know that our founding fathers wanted Supreme Court judges who would stand up for our Constitution – a Constitution that was created for we the people to be free.

Me:  No legislation from the bench?  What was Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission?  Clearly a partisan ruling to grant additional rights to conglomerates and billionaires to influence our elections.  As to the second amendment, it does not grant citizens a right to bear arms, but rather the right to a well-regulated militia, like our armed forces.  No Supreme Court justice is calling for a full out ban on guns.  But I think the sane among them, some conservatives included, would support a ban on certain types of weapons that are appropriate for use in wars, not for hunting and self-defense.    What civilized person would support private ownership of assault weapons, sawed off shotguns, bazookas, and machine guns? Hey, if you don’t support any form of government regulation or oversight, why not favor the legalization of crime and all drug use.

American Chopper

This is the third installment of a 10 part review on American reality shows.

I’m not into motorcycles – never have been.  Choppers are kind of cool though.  When I think of a chopper, I’m reminded of the classic 60’s film, Easy Rider.  Despite the coolness of a chopper, I never intended to get hooked on a show about a bike shop that makes custom choppers.  Like many successful reality shows, the appeal of  American Chopper for me anyway is not the bike building so much as the interaction between the people who make them, especially the stars of the show, the owner, Paul Teutul, Sr. and his two sons; one a builder himself, Paul Teutul, Jr. and Mikey, a budding comic and artist whose role is comic relief.

Paul Senior or just Senior as he’s called in the shop is a legendary chopper builder who grew Orange County Choppers into a successful business.  He’s a body builder who looks strikingly similar to Hulk Hogan.  A lot of what airs on the show is Senior yelling and criticizing his son Junior for not working hard enough or long enough.  The constant carping wears on Junior who fires back with barbed quips.  The two seem to be in constant competition.  In fact, the latest series is called Senior vs. Junior: American Chopper.  The other guys in the shop mostly stay out of it all, but occasionally play along.  All enjoy a good practical joke.

Anyone into motorcycles might find the fabricating interesting – from custom made handle bars, exhaust pipes and gas tanks to the artistic detailing on all the bike components.    The bikes are generally commissioned by businesses but sometimes donated or built to support charity causes and unveiled at the end of each episode to great fanfare.  Overall, the process of building and unveiling is a compelling and entertaining experience. But it is the human drama that unfolds between the three stars that is the most fascinating to watch.  At times, their interactions are intense, even disturbing.  But there are lighter moments, that are quite often hilarious.  American Chopper, a real family, a real business and real good show – the real deal.

Rating:  A-

Pawn Stars

It’s hard to imagine pawn brokers as stars, but on the History Channel, they are – that is on the show, Pawn Stars. I’ve never been to a pawn shop before, but have peered into the window of one to find a depressing array of used furniture, musical instruments and bad art. I really had no interest in watching a show about the typical workday of a pawn broker so I kept passing Pawn Stars up when channel surfing until one day. I don’t know why I tuned in, but I did, and I have to say the show caught my attention. It wasn’t so much the transactions that intrigued me, compelling as they were, you know, a guy brings in some rare Pete Rose baseball cards and they turn out to be a fakes and so on. What the show really has going for it are the pawn brokers themselves whose business the show chronicles. I have to say, they are entertaining – funny, sarcastic, unpredictable, silly and always educational. It’s a cross between Antiques Roadshow, All in the Family and Street Customs.  What characters! There’s the “Old Man” who started the business, his son Rick and his son, Corey, “Big Hoss” along with family friend Chumlee, who plays the part of the store clown.  Corey and Chumlee are forever making mistakes – buying stuff at inflated prices that could never sell, like a hot air ballon and a power kite they got tangled up in telephone wires.  One of my favorite blunders was when Rick acquired a Dylan album and asked Chumlee to find Dylan in Vegas and have him sign it.  Chumlee miraculously ran into Dylan and had him sign it to Chumlee.  Rick was furious when he found out, because he would not be able to sell the record with a personalized autograph, and in disgust gifted the LP to Chumlee, to Chumlee’s great delight.

Maybe some of the scenes are staged, but they are fun to watch. And occasionally people bring stuff in that the Pawn Stars have professionally appraised by their expert friends who shed light on the items, which sometimes have significant historical value, unlike most of what is picked up on American Pickers.  Fun show.

Rating: A-

Second in a multi-part series of reviews about American reality shows.

O’Donnell vs Coons

Did you see the debate between Christine O’Donnell and Chris Coons?  Oh my.  It reminded me a little of the debate between Biden, then a senator from Delaware and Sarah Palin.  Christine O’Donnell even looks like Sarah Palin.  No winking though in this debate, but there were some eye-popping moments, like when O’Donnell told Coons that his time was up and when she skirted the question of her beliefs on evolution. She said her beliefs didn’t matter – that the teaching of creationism as an equal theory to evolution should be a local decision, which means of course she doesn’t believe in science.

She says, “it is the constitution that I will defend  and it is by the constitution that I will make all of my decisions, and that will be the standard-bearer for every piece of legislation that I will vote on.”  Where in the constitution does it say that local school districts have the right to teach a religious creation myth alongside a scientific theory in public schools?  It doesn’t.  However, the constitution does prohibit laws that establish religion – known as the establishment clause which was clarified by Jefferson to mean that government and religion should not mix – that they should remain separate.

Allowing creationism to be taught in public schools is not only unconstitutional, it creates a slippery slope.  If you teach the Judeo-Christian creation myth from the bible, you would need to give equal time to the thousands of creation myths the world over.  And who is qualified to teach them?  The science teacher?

O’Donnell called Coons a Marxist for an article he wrote where he jokingly referred to himself as a bearded Marxist.  He replied that he had never been anything other than a “clean shaven Capitalist”.  I am no Marxist, but clean shaven Capitalist does not inspire trust.  I would have liked to hear him say “clean shaven Capitalist with a social conscience.”  But you know, if he had, people would have construed that – or Fox News anyway – would have used that to fear monger.  They’d label him a Socialist.  And the terms Marxism, Socialism, Capitalism, Nihilism, Fascism have lost their meaning because they’ve been bandied about so recklessly in the media and used in propagandistic ways;  hallow rhetoric to steal a phrase from Ms. O’Donnell.

One of the better moments in the debate came when Wolfe Blitzer asked her to be specific about the cuts she would make and to please not just say waste, fraud and abuse.  She said she would “cancel the unspent stimulus bill and put a freeze on non-discretionary – on discretionary spending and put a hiring freeze on nonsecurity personnel and then of course, when we talk about government spending, we’ve got to talk about waste, fraud and abuse”.  She talked a little about Medicaid waste and “schoolhouse pork” and then attacked Coons for raising taxes and cutting policemen pay.  She dodged the question, spoke in very general terms and attacked Coons.

Poor Coons kept saying things like – “there’s so much to respond to” and “one minute may not be enough” to try to deal with O’Donnell’s spread strategy which is a debaters term for making many rapid fire arguments to try to overwhelm the opponent and keep him on the defensive.  The problem was that she was not terribly coherent.  She had the talking points memorized but fell flat when off script.

Winner:  Coons

American Pickers

This is the first  in a multi-part installment on American reality TV shows.

American Pickers. Two guys, Mike and Frank, go around in a Volvo van picking through dusty barns, and “sketch” buildings on the back roads of America looking for anything they might be able to buy and resell for a profit. Mike specializes in old motorcycles, mopeds and bicycles; Frank looks for old advertisement pieces, signs, toys and oil cans.  They meet a lot of interesting characters on the road who are themselves collectors, pickers or hoarders. On each episode, they buy about a dozen items and have a few of them professionally appraised. Usually, the profit margin is negligible – maybe $100 bucks per thing bought – and that’s if they can sell it, which I presume they try to do over the Internet.  The guys joke around a lot with each other and their business associate, Danielle, who tends the store, supplies the pick leads and wants nothing more than to go out on a pick with the “boys”, which she eventually does.  It’s an entertaining and educational show, but what’s missing is that rare, priceless find – something of national importance – a museum piece.   I guess that’s what keeps them going, and what keeps me watching.  And the show is picking up steam.  Both Mike and Frank recently appeared on Late Night with David Letterman.  Rating:  B

See below for other reviews of reality type shows:

Pawn Stars

Chopped

Swamp People

American Chopper

Street Customs

Hell’s Kitchen

Chopped

MasterChef

Chasing Classic Cars

Mecum Auto Auction

Records Of My Life

  1. Stevie Wonder – Innervisions.  The second album I ever purchased.  Elton John Rock of the Westies was the first.   I played this record every morning before school and every afternoon after school.  Some of the best songs ever written are on it: “Too High”, “Living for the City”, “Golden Lady”, “Don’t You Worry ’bout a Thing”.
  2. Jeff Beck – Blow by Blow.  “Cause We’ve Ended as Lovers”, a Stevie Wonder composition and “Diamond Dust” are two of the dreamiest guitar explorations on record along with Frank Zappa’s “Watermelon in Easter Hay”.
  3. Genesis – Seconds Out.  Almost like a greatest hits live.  Peter Gabriel had left the band by this time and one of the founding members Phil Collins had taken over the vocals.  The group never sounded better.   The sonics on this recording are to die for.  One to crank up.  This is not to say I disliked the band with Gabriel, don’t get me wrong.  I almost listed the Lamb Lies Down On Broadway.  And at one time, I owned every Genesis album from the first through Abacab. I really dig their early stuff – Trespass, Foxtrot, Selling England by the Pound, but sort of lost interest after Duke.
  4. Pink Floyd – Dark Side Of The Moon.  Mind altering.  When I think back to the days of my youth, my mind begins to play this record.
  5. John McLaughlin – Electric Guitarist.  The world’s fastest guitarist said Guitar Player magazine of John McLaughlin.  Curious, I went out and bought this album and it blew my mind.  After all these years, it’s still never far from my turntable.
  6. The Beatles – The White Album.  I saved up for this with paper route money.  It was my prized possession, but Revolution 9 scared the crap out of me.
  7. Brian Eno – Ambient 1: Music For Airports.  Just that.  Ambient.  Helped me relax and focus as a young graduate student in Texas many years ago.
  8. Nick Drake – Five Leaves Left.  My dad turned me on to Nick Drake.  I loved the music, but didn’t fully appreciate Nick’s talents until later in life.  One of those genius types of posthumous fame like Van Gogh, writer John Kennedy-Toole and the photographer Mike Disfarmer.
  9. Yes – Tales From Topographic Oceans.  My friend Hank turned me onto this one.  It was addictive.  After I played it hundreds of times, I couldn’t get it out of my head for about a year – it was like a musical loop in my brain.  I can still retrieve it and spin most of it from memory.
  10. Pat Metheny Group – Offramp.  Some of the best guitar synthesizer solos ever recorded.  Are You Going With Me? is one of my favorite Mays/Metheny compositions.
  11. R.E.M. – Reckoning. I was a student DJ at KUAF in Fayetteville, Arkansas when I heard R.E.M. for the first time.  It was “Radio Free Europe”, off their debut album Murmur,  a song in heavy rotation at the station that grabbed me. I think the album should have been called Mumble because I couldn’t understand a word Michael Stipe sang.  No matter, I’ve been a fan of the band from the beginning.
  12. Weather Report – Black Market.  Jaco and Wayne Shorter, two of my favorite musicians.  Jaco was in his prime; Wayne still is.
  13. Miles Davis – In A Silent Way.  I just play it over and over and over and over and over again.  I never tire of it.  I still play it a lot.  Hypnotic.
  14. Marvin Gaye – What’s Going On.  As relevant today as ever.
  15. The Durutti Column – Valuable Passages.  This was my go to record when I felt down.  It didn’t cheer me up much, but did help me through some rough times.  Comfortably depressing.
  16. John Coltrane – A Love Supreme.  Intense.  Beautiful. Searching. Spiritual.  A Natural High.
  17. Jobim – Wave.  My friend once told me this was the kind of music her elderly parents listened to, and I was thinking they must be the hippest parents on the planet.  This is groovin stuff.  Smiling Good and so is life.
  18. Paul Motian Band – Psalm.  This was my introduction to Bill Frisell.  And wow, the dude was playing the music backwards on the guitar somehow – like it came out that way.  Trip out wild and strangely melodic.
  19. Joni Mitchell – Court and Spark.  What a fantastic musician and poet.  Someone said in a documentary that Joni had a thing for strange chords – Joni chords.  If you know her music well, you’ll understand. I like all of her stuff but Court and Spark stands out for me.  Some great hits on this 1974 album- “Help Me” , “Free Man In Paris” but my favorite tune  is “People’s Party”.   One of the best records of the mid 70’s.
  20. Santana – Welcome.  Spiritual.  Full of Hope.  Really warm and inviting sound.  I’m always going back for more.
  21. Bill Evans – Waltz For Debby.  In my opinion, the best live jazz recording ever.  Recorded at the Village Vanguard in the early 60’s.  And let me tell you, you are there.

JUST SAY NO TO EVERYTHING

I have never been to a tea party rally, nor do I plan to attend one, but if I ever do, I’ll bring my camera and notebook and a couple of signs.  One would be END CORPORATE WELFARE and the other, STOP FLUORIDATION.

I imagine the signs would generate a lot of debate.  I might even be slapped around with tea bags for demanding that big business stop begging for subsidies and tax breaks.  I’d be branded a socialist for daring to interfere with free market capitalism. The key word here is free, and not free to you and me.  Corporate loopholes guarantee a free market where the business class have free reign.

My STOP FLUORIDATION sign might win some supporters and keep me from being forcibly removed from the rally.  Now, I’m really not against fluoride being added to the public water supply – the sign is simply my admissions ticket to the rally.  I’m actually not a big fan of tooth decay; never have been.  But apparently, there are people out there who don’t mind occasional tooth rot.

Fluoride is as American as apple pie, or so I thought.  I was surprised to learn that only 61% of Americans have access to a fluoridated public water supply.   Some communities have sufficient quantities of naturally occurring fluoride in their groundwater and don’t need more.  Other communities though, have flat out rejected fluoridation schemes for a number of reasons including perceived health risks, the costs associated with its implementation and for the reason that toothpaste is sufficient to fend off tooth decay.  But by far the most interesting objections focus on conspiracy theories that link fluoridation schemes to government plots to stupidify the population to facilitate mind control.  Extreme elements of the tea party might find a way to blame Obama, or Obama’s father, or argue that because Obama has not stopped fluoridation projects, this is evidence of his socialist tendencies. “Obama is trying to take away our right to tooth decay…live free or die,” they’d say.  “What do we want?  TOOTH DECAY.  When do we want it?  RIGHT NOW.  I can see the poster of a water bottle (which by the way would not likely have any fluoride in it) with a picture of Obama wearing a white oxford shirt with a hammer and sickle emblem on the front pocket.

Just so you know, if you thought you were getting fluoride in your bottled water, think again.  Almost all commercial spring water contains no added fluoride, though you can find some premium waters that do.  If you drink bottled water and do not have access to fluoridated water, you’d better brush your teeth six times a day and whatever you do, stay away from Mountain Dew.

For those of you against fluoridation, might I suggest also protesting the addition of chlorine to pool water, preservatives and flavor enhancers to food like salt, which might be iodized (oh, no!).  And take a stand against the sinister DEET chemical in bug repellent.  And say no to seat belts and vaccinations because the founding fathers would not have had it any other way.  Well, except maybe John Adams who knew a thing or two about disease prevention.