Sunday, September 25, 2016

Stuck in the past

It's funny, but any way you look at our choices this election, we're looking backwards.

Teh Donald, obviously, wants to take us back to a time when white people ran the show. His argument is that everything worked well before Those Uppity Others started shoving their oars in, degrading the country economically, militarily and morally. To be clear, this is a fantasy on so many levels, I don't have space or time to go into the details. Even so, this is the fantasy that Republicans, and the far right in particular, have told themselves since Reagan rode this story to the Oval Office.

HRC talks about moving forward, about progression and progressiveness. Yet the values she espouses are rooted in her own past. I happen to subscribe to a lot of these values, since they happen to result in the most people being treated as, well, people rather than, say, diseased freaks or chattel. Nevertheless, her campaign essentially has defined itself as the only defense against the regression demanded by the far right. Guard what we have achieved, is the essence of her message. That, if you think about it, is an essentially conservative, backwards-looking message.

Moreover, HRC's actual campaign strategy is almost comically backwards-looking. It is as conventional as President Obama's suits. Sure, she has the trappings of modernity in terms of social media, but she clearly only groks their forms, not their substance. Amazingly, Teh Donald is the one who truly has figured out how to exploit social media's reach. He's no technological innovator, but he is, for better or (far more likely) worse, a cultural one. HRC communicates like a non-human primate holds a tool — awkwardly. Teh Donald, by comparison, is a self-taught craftsman.

If HRC loses, it will be because she hewed to a conservative vision (by Democratic standards) and campaign style that failed to resonate with or galvanize enough of the public.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Oh Lord, is hating Guy Fieri passé?

Scott Timberg's Salon piece is "The Fieri-ssance is here: Sorry, Anthony Bourdain — it's no longer cool to hate on Guy Fieri".

Please, say it ain't so.

Timberg cites a few recent unironic, laudatory pieces about the frosted dude, and takes a whack at explaining the putative new trend:

So what’s going on here? Critical opinion follows a pretty predictable path. There’s only so much abuse even an obnoxious celebrity can take before someone jumps to his or her defense. In some cases, it’s a manifestation of the American urge against snobbery and in favor of underdogs. In other situations (such as when people defend The Eagles), it’s purely opportunistic. When it comes to Fieri, he is also benefiting from the long-practiced tendency of men’s magazines to champion reviled figures for being tougher, cruder, ruder and more ruggedly individual than all those prissy doubters around them.
Okay, first, let's call Timberg's piece what it is: clickbait. I fell for it. Yet I don't feel completely duped: the piece isn't as fluffy as most clickbait I've seen.

That said, Timberg's wrong on a few counts. First, a few non-hating pieces do not a trend make. Second, in no way can Fieri be considered an "underdog": Food Network is so dominated by his shows that it plausibly could be rebranded the Fieri Network. Third, of the adjectives that come to mind if I'm forced to think of him, "tough", "rude" and "rugged" (or even "ruggedly individual") are nowhere to be found. "Dumb as a post" springs effortlessly to mind, though. Worse, people emulate his party-hearty posing. Every moment he's on TV saps our collective intelligence.

Do you love Fieri? Congratulations, you have an entire cable channel catering to you. I'm still going to loathe the sight and sound of him.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Give Trump the respect he deserves

Per The Hollywood Reporter's account of Teh Donald's recent remarks on a TV show I will not mention: "If [Hillary Clinton] treats me with respect [in the upcoming debates], I will treat her with respect."

Teh Donald degrades and debases any language he speaks. It's my great misfortune that it happens to be English, albeit at a fourth-grade level.

Donnie, you have no idea what "respect" is. You only know it secondhand, as something other people get. You have spent your whole life grasping for it, under the mistaken impression that with enough money you could buy it.

If you were twenty, I'd sincerely and wholeheartedly pity you. I do pity you, in fact, just not very much, because you're seventy and you damned well ought to have learned what the rest of us figure out as children — that respect is earned, and it starts by treating others with respect. You didn't learn, because you're well-off and narcissistic beyond belief — pathologically so, in fact. You are so self-absorbed and so indifferent to truth or honor or decency or empathy that you can't even grasp what I'm talking about.

You lie, you malign, you mock and you demean as casually as you breathe. You feign outrage when you're proved to be a liar, a bigot, a cheat, and an ignoramus.

And you prate of respect?

Donnie, kiss my ass.

Oh wait, you consider that respect. (Hey, Jimmy Fallon, how's the air down there?)

Hmm, how to give you the respect you deserve in a way you'll understand?

Oh, I know!

Go fuck yourself.

Friday, September 16, 2016

The unfunny Fallon-Trump follies

Okay, it's unfair for me to call Teh Donald's appearance on Jimmy Fallon's show unfunny since I didn't see it. On the other hand, I share the opinion of Slate's Willa Paskin:
Fallon was working from an old, outdated script, one that misses both the moral and the mortal threat of this year’s election. Twitter exploded with criticism of Fallon from the left, viewers furious that, by acting as if this election is like past elections, Fallon was normalizing Trump’s bigotry, xenophobia and lies.

Any appearance that gives Trump free rein to charm without challenging him, goes this argument, establishes a false equivalence between Trump and previous Republican candidates—as well as between Trump and Clinton. Trump is not just another candidate and despite structural incentives to treat him as such, doing so has a moral valence, even if it is only intended to have entertainment value.

Fallon relies on there being room for we're-all-human-beings humor between the political parties. What he and his staff ignored is just how toxic Teh Donald is to a good half of the country (and I'm deeply saddened it's not a lot more). The people who reject Trump don't reject him as an ordinary politician: we reject him as a cancer on the body politic.

Fallon is the last guy in these fraught times who should tread anywhere near the intersection of politics and comedy. He comes off as a sycophantic tool, which kind of dents his aw-shucks nice guy persona.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Wells Fargo and corporate responsibility

Wells Fargo employees were caught opening accounts and issuing credit cards in their customers' names without those customers' consent. The bank has been fined $185 million and over 5,000 employees have been fired as a result.

Let me observe that the numbers are a little weird. $185 million is a good-sized lottery jackpot, but it's barely a scratch in terms of what a profitable financial institution the size of Wells makes. A fine ten times that amount would have made a bigger impression on both Wells and the public.

On the other hand, at least 5,300 people were canned. That's a huge number. Usually an ethical breach is confined to one person, or a single division with an amoral leader. What does it say about Wells that so many people were deemed guilty of nakedly illegal behavior?

Employees have complained that they were under intense pressure to sell more services to existing customers, and the only way to satisfy management was to resort to the blatant fakery for which Wells is now apologizing. (The New York Times featured a banner ad for Wells on both the home page and the page for the article on the scandal. I didn't click on it but I've no doubt it leads to some kind of damage-control statement.)

The Times piece is inclined to make excuses for Wells, citing regulators' concern that "the bank lacked the necessary controls and oversight of its employees" and quoting one analyst who claimed, “It is way out of character for one of the cleanest banks around.... It’s a head-scratcher why so many employees felt comfortable crossing the line.”

It's not a head-scratcher at all! They crossed the line because their managers made the company's priorities crystal-clear: sell or bust. Only someone completely lost in the financial services industry's distorted picture of itself could be puzzled by what happened.

As for internal controls, those are for catching lone miscreants among a population of basically honest workers. Wholesale fraud is too big for controls to, well, control. It's too easy to bypass controls when so damned many people want to subvert them.

Canning over 5,000 people says that there's something deeply rotten in Wells' corporate culture. Yet I haven't heard that any members of Wells' executive management team were among those fired.

Why not? Are we supposed to believe that upper management was not responsible for the company's culture, that they didn't set the tone?

When the guys at the bottom are under such intense pressure, the fat asses at the top are applying that pressure.

The fine is too small and nobody who really counts has been fired (or is looking at jail time). This story had better not be over.