Clegg’s Excuse

The Wall Street journal has been running stories on how Facebook ignores its own research findings about the many harms of its inherently dangerous products.

Sir Nick Clegg, former British Vice-PM and currently Facebook’s VP for Global Affairs and Communications, has just issued the official Facebook retort. Here it is:

Sir Nick isn’t stupid. So you have to wonder how he sleeps at night.

It’s also fascinating how effects that are really quite simple, if admittedly embarrassing, become “complex issues” in such minds. It sounds like Sir Nick genuinely believes this gigantically convenient interpretive shift.

In any event, this is a prime example of a big business using its own research as a vehicle to deny, rather than respect, elementary truths — even when these truths encompass matters of life and death for very large numbers of people.

This tactic is certainly not an anomaly in the corporate world.

Sports and Racism

For all the talk about “culture,” it’s still pretty rare that the stuff actually gets studied with any care. In this vein, the brouhaha about racist football fans in England revealing themselves seems like a bit of a microcosm.

The team manager says “It’s just not what we stand for.”

Well, what all do you stand for, sir? It’s not sufficient to pick and choose. You have to own up to the whole package.

As Chomsky always says, for all the positive aspects of sports, it remains true that part of the effect of being a sports fan is strong irrational attachment. From a power-elite perspective, there’s more than a little beauty in having huge swaths of your underlying population give themselves over to that.

As for race, one aspect of the more recent formulations of racism is the hypothesis that those whom we call “black” are mentally and morally inferior yet athletically superior. Hence, one major irony of the cessation of white-supremacist segregation in sports is that the subsequent diversity burnishes this neo-classical racist assertion.

And, for once, this English thing might provide a small bit of consolation for those of us laboring under the ultra-capitalism of the American Way of Life. At least here, our sports loyalties are mostly tied to somewhat harmless collectivities — mostly schools, colleges, and the businesses known as “teams” or “franchises.” For all the importance of public enterprise, sports + nations is not better than this.

Consider the Peanut Butter Jar

In an age when product containers can easily and almost costlessly be shaped at the whim of their issuers, why does peanut butter continue to come in tall jars rather than squat tubs?

A corporate PR department would surely assert that it’s because that’s what people are used to and expect.

That, of course, is 99% horse feathers.

The real reason is salable waste, aka planned osolescence.

Tall, narrow containers make it needlessly difficult to use all the sticky, amorphous gels residing in them. This structural difficulty, in turn, leads to a small but meaningful amount of the peanut butter being throw away, rather than used. It means, on average, people buy the next jar of peanut butter a day earlier than they would if the stuff came in a short, wide tub that permitted easy access to the last portions.

If you have been around big-brand peanut butter lately, you’ll know that this point stands double. Nationally advertised peanut butter jars are not just tall cylinders, but, within that form, are fairly riddled with flanges and recesses that heighten the difficulty of using the last spoonfuls. Why?

Again, there’s only one plausible answer — the obvious one: Corporate capitalist product planners want us to throw away some of what they know we want and need.

Interestingly, this very example was apparently central to the career of Brooks Stevens, the industrial designer who first publicly enunciated/acknowledged the concept of “planned obsolescence.” Here is how Stevens, near the end of his life, explained his early entry into a field in which he eventually became a superstar:

Peanut-butter and jelly sandwiches inspired one of Brooks Stevens’s simplest and most ubiquitous designs.

“I loved peanut-butter and jelly sandwiches,” Mr. Stevens says. But the jars the peanut butter came in were tall with small caps. “I could never get the peanut butter out of the shoulders of the jar.”

“So I squared up the jar,” he recalls. “And then I made the opening the full diameter of the width of the jar, so that it was a big circle and had a big cap. Then you could get it all out of there.”

The obvious question for Stevens was why he stopped there. Why not go from jar to tub?

The answer was inherent in the job description of the modern corporate capitalist product engineer:

[The industrial designer] has to be a salesman, an engineer, a manufacturer — in the sense of knowledgeable about process and materials — and an artist, and in that order.

-Brooks Stevens to The Chroncile of Higher Education, September 16, 1992

It bears repeating, and remembering: Salesman, then engineer…in that order.

Fusion and Fission

The next phase of the “electric vehicles” haloware operation is apparently going to lead to a big build-out of charging stations.

Unsurprisingly, the stations are being planned as nodes for further communicating to “shoppers at retail and essential business locations– seconds before they select a brand.” As interfaces for big business marketing operations (including advertising and data scraping), that is.

The image above, from one of the aspiring installers, is fascinating at several levels. Where, for starters, are the actual automobiles? There’s one way across the scene, curiously NOT being charged.

More fundamentally, this depiction shows a society whose cultural planners have no intention of offering up anything but more of the same, come Hell and/or high water.

Shop til you drop, babies!

Frederick Douglass in Your Kitchen

“Power concedes nothing.” So observed Frederick Douglass in an 1857 speech, 30 years before Lord Acton’s famous riff on the point.

The point applies at all levels of applied power, too.

Very probably, we presently live in the early stages of a world-historic ecological crisis requiring a collective acknowledgement that the teenage fantasy of endless wealth accumulation can’t work. I order to save civilization, we will have to make huge changes in our main institutional priorities. The way we design and make products will have to be very seriously altered.

Soon. Like yesterday.

Meanwhile, despite this, per Douglass, power concedes nothing:

Behold Lasso, the (supposedly) forthcoming kitchen appliance for sorting and packaging your recycling!

Here is how Engadget describes this dishwasher-sized machine’s ideal operation:

The still-in-development Lasso will have a vertical slot or tray for depositing items. A series of cameras and sensors will then analyse the packaging and decide if it’s recyclable. No good? Then the object will be returned to you, rather like a vending machine spitting out change. Otherwise, the material will be steam-cleaned to remove leftover food, grease, dirt and labels. Finally, it will be ground down and placed in a dedicated compartment at the bottom of the Lasso. When one or all of these boxes are full, you’ll use a smartphone app to organize a kerbside collection. A driver can then pick it up…

Yes, nothing could possibly break in that chain, could it?

Meanwhile, the entire scam here presumes continuing purchaser ignorance about the severe limitations of recycling.

As social order that permits its runaway elite to continue to pursue endless commercialism and commodification is not long for this planet. Yet, here we see it — redoubling, as always.

Power, remember, concedes nothing.