Are You Dumber Than a Toddler?

The automotive-industrial complex is banking on the answer to that question being “Yes,” and it is doing what it takes to make sure it stays that way.

On Sesame Street, they used to do “One of These Things is Not Like the Others.” Well, take a gander at that diagram up there, which comes from the website of the National Ethanol Vehicle Coalition — i.e., the car corporations and the corporate corn farmers.

See anything missing?

Hint #1: It’s the exact thing that “e85 fuel” is supposedly going to free “us” from.

Hint #2: Do corn plants pop up like weeds, and also spontaneously grow, harvest, transport, mill, and distill themselves?

Hint #3: The masters of our investors-first society are counting on training you to keep flunking this test.

If you haven’t already seen it, take a look at the new wave of “from gas-friendly to gas-free” advertising from General Motors (click through to page 2 in the “Chevrolet” sub-section and look at “Chevy Fuel Solutions”) . The anti-schooling, the planned implantation of fundamental ignorance — it’s a classic big business marketing strategy (shift the context + “look over there, not here”), but it has never been more appalling or dangerous to humanity.

Hint #4:

rig

The Other Waterboarding

How they drink More news from the sick-ass “cause marketing” front:

Over a billion people in the world are lucky if they are able to drink from fetid puddles, and the “water crisis” is projected to continue rapidly worsening.

This, of course, is a consequence of the plague of extreme poverty and rapid consequent population growth that capitalism has created and proven incapable of solving.

So, how do our beloved corporate marketers react when they catch wind of the human consequences?

Listen to Peter Thum explain the transcendent effect:

I spent a lot of time around people who didn’t have access to clean drinking water. Following that, I consulted on a project in the bottled-water industry, and I realized that there was an opportunity to create a brand that people really cared about.

Yes, friends, a worldwide scourge that kills more people than AIDs and engenders untold misery leads, in the corporate capitalist world, to a new marketing opportunity!

And where is this opportunity? Is the main activity of the new “brand” going to be passing out free super-straws like the one above?

Are you kidding? Where’s the cash in that?

what ethos?Instead, what the lucky billion dying of thirst in the Third World are going to get from this new corporate marketing effort is the privilege of having Americans buy Ethos, a new brand of — you guessed it — water bottled in plastic and sold in the US for $1.85!

The basic financial math of this wondrous breakthrough in human care and concern? Mr. Thum and his co-founder of Ethos recently sold their new “brand” to the Starbucks corporation, which has now cut Pepsico in on this “cause marketing” action, for $8 million. Their “goal” — not their promise — is to donate $10 million to some unspecified lucky folks among those billion thirsty beneficiaries by 2010.

Yet, since only a nickel from each sale goes in that fund, that means there must be 200 million new bottles of Ethos sold in order for this “goal” to obtain.

And, even as it increased the cash flows to long-suffering Starbucks and Pepsico shareholders, what would that alleged $10 million provide for 1 billion people? A penny apiece.

Who would ever argue that the co-founders of this jubilee might not deserve their $4-million payments (plus forthcoming dividends from retained shares) for creating such a wondrous, efficient, and eco-friendly arrangement?

The Genesis of Nine-Dollar Anti-Perspirant

secret with a secret The Procter & Gamble corporation has recently introduced “Secret Clinical Strength” anti-perspirant, which retails for $8.99.

This capitalist’s wet dream is a microcosm of big business marketing’s essential wastefulness and fraudulence:

Marketing Research: This blatantly undemanded and unneeded product undoubtedly had its origins in weaknesses and fears P&G marketers discovered, at great labor and expense, in focus groups.

Public Relations: After discovering these trivial fears and weaknesses, P&G launched a fake “non-profit foundation” to medicalize the fear of excessive sweating. This “foundation” is the International Hyperhidrosis Society, launched in 2004 with a budget of $945,000 and headed by one of P&G’s former marketing consultants.

And, hey, campers! Guess which product has just won the IHHS’s very first “Seal of Recognition”?

Packaging: While blitzing the public with claims about its alleged concern for the environment, P&G’s wondrous new anti-perspirant also speaks volumes about the huge percentage of corporate packaging that literally serves no purpose beyond marketing trickery. As Advertising Age for March 3 reports:

Most marketers have tales to tell about ingenious ways they’ve saved the planet by reducing packaging.

So why is the hottest segment in deodorants sold in paper cartons that never existed until about a year ago and seem to serve little purpose?

It’s all about justifying that $7 [sic] and up for “clinical strength” antiperspirants, which cost more than double the $2 or $3 for a regular stick of antiperspirant.

“It would appear that the outer carton signals the idea of clinical, high-performance products,” said Kevin Havelock, president of Unilever U.S. A P&G spokesman said: “It serves as the extra real estate to get [consumers] the information we think they need.”

It’s worked well. The Secret product racked up $46.6 million in sales through the 52 weeks ended Jan. 27, according to IRI, and accounted for all of P&G’s 3.1-point share gain.

Unilever’s Degree and P&G’s Gillette followed with their own versions. P&G then rolled an Old Spice clinical product in February. All in boxes.

But all those boxes take a toll. The Dogwood Alliance recently reported that 25% of trees cut down in the Southeastern U.S. each year are for product packaging.

Facebook Never Forgets

The second-most-emailed story today on nytimes.com is a report on the near impossibility of taking your personal data back from Facebook, the website that allows unwitting registrants to post bits of verbal and visual swag about themselves in exchange for letting Facebook “harvest” extremely precise and commercially valuable information about the users.

Turns out, once you walk into this trap, your data have no way to get out.

Are you a member of Facebook.com? You may have a lifetime contract.

Some users have discovered that it is nearly impossible to remove themselves entirely from Facebook, setting off a fresh round of concern over the popular social network’s use of personal data.

While the Web site offers users the option to deactivate their accounts, Facebook servers keep copies of the information in those accounts indefinitely. Indeed, many users who have contacted Facebook to request that their accounts be deleted have not succeeded in erasing their records from the network.

“It’s like the Hotel California,” said Nipon Das, 34, a director at a biotechnology consulting firm in Manhattan, who tried unsuccessfully to delete his account this fall. “You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave.”

It took Mr. Das about two months and several e-mail exchanges with Facebook’s customer service representatives to erase most of his information from the site, which finally occurred after he sent an e-mail threatening legal action. But even after that, a reporter was able to find Mr. Das’s empty profile on Facebook and successfully sent him an e-mail message through the network.

The Times reporter explains the reason:

Tensions remain between making a profit and alienating Facebook’s users, who the company says total about 64 million worldwide (MySpace has an estimated 110 million monthly active users).

The network is still trying to find a way to monetize its popularity, mostly by allowing marketers access to its wealth of demographic and behavioral information. The retention of old accounts on Facebook’s servers seems like another effort to hold onto — and provide its ad partners with — as much demographic information as possible.

As usual, the whole scam is cloaked in layers of dishonesty:

Facebook’s Web site does not inform departing users that they must delete information from their account in order to close it fully — meaning that they may unwittingly leave anything from e-mail addresses to credit card numbers sitting on Facebook servers.

And if you doubt the immense importance of this whole shebang to our overclass and its big business marketing juggernaut of behavioral and technological dictatorship, consider the fact that none other than Microsoft has already paid the creeps who own and run Facebook a quarter-billion dollars — for a mere 1.6% share!

Draw your own conclusions, but I will say this again: If our out-of-control overclass and its political representatives hadn’t been keeping the FTC in an induced coma over the past several decades, this kind of fraud and theft would be punished. As it stands, it’s all treated as a simple matter of “personal responsibility” — for those at the bottom only, as always, of course.

One hears the voices of mega-over-privilege tittering out from the “third homes” of the world: “Let them eat cookies, and caveat double-emptor! Forever.”

Pandora’s Hidden Box

Friends of mine recently gushed about their adoration of www.pandora.com, a new internet radio station that intelligently adapts what it plays based on what you tell it you like.

Based on their swooning endorsement and on the greatness of the idea of intelligently adapting internet radio, I went to the Pandora site to try it out.

Upon arrival, you get the very distinct impression that you are at a site run by computer geeks who simply love you and love music. Both the site’s tone and the nerdy, non-commercial-sounding name of its parent organization — the Music Genome Project — make Pandora seem for all the world like it’s an open-source, not-for profit labor of such love. (This strategic mis-impression is crucially replicated on Wikipedia, by the way.)

But guess what? This bubble quickly pops, if you know your stuff: In reality, Pandora is quite the opposite of what it presents itself to be. In reality, it is nothing more than a gigantic marketing Trojan Horse that uses the above impression plus an utterly shameless lie to insert itself onto your computer, and thereby into your life and your marketing profile.

Here’s the Big Lie:

“At Pandora, we have a single mission: To play music you’ll love – and nothing else.”

Bullshit! Bullshit! Bullshit! This is simply utterly, utterly knowingly and calculatingly false. Wrong. As big a lie as there is anywhere.

Pandora’s actual purpose — the one that’s certainly both the real core of the business plan and the topic of every board meeting — is to be found, with a bit of digging and a knowledge of what big business marketing is and how it works, buried in the pandora.com fine print:

In other words, truth be told, what pandora.com REALLY is is three things:

1. A website that trades you song recommendations in exchange for your name, address, and email address (and, hence, the ability, via other marketing databases, to know all about you and your demographic characteristics) and a huge amount of unique, detailed, and extremely commercially valuable data about the inter-relationship of tastes and personal traits among people who share your particular demography and social statuses.

2. A website that attempts to deny that it has any “backside” interest in the rich marketing data it gathers about your “demographic” with your active but (unless you read and contemplate the true — and unexplained-by-Pandora — meaning of the “privacy statement” where they admit the truth) uninformed cooperation.

3. A business that undoubtedly makes heaps of cash selling its oh-so-cleverly “harvested” and essentially stolen demographic and psychographic data to other corporations, which are themselves seeking to hone their own marketing campaigns by better “targeting” you for future manipulations and frauds.

[Note: The assurances about “individually identifiable information” arereally beside the point.  Corporate capitalists are interested in teaching themselves to better manipulate groups like yours, not in stealing your identity.]

Behind its closed doors, Pandora, in other words, does indeed have a single mission and nothing else — to dishonestly exploit your passion for music and your use of the internet for its own investors’ personal gain.

If the FTC hadn’t been kept in a coma for the last 30 years, the blatant gulf between Pandora’s “about”-page “single mission — and nothing else” promise and its actual design and operation would be quickly and harshly punished. At a minimum, Pandora’s investors would have to tell you what kind of box you are about to open…

Meanwhile, I urge everybody to avoid this scam. If you have a Pandora account, close it and send them a message of protest. Until somebody with principles offers a not-for-profit version of this thing, keep finding your own new songs. Above all, don’t give our overclass a free gift of more ammunition for running its decrepit dictatorship over what products we make and use. The Earth is, as they say, “in the balance.”

Four Questions for the Sick

I sometimes teach a college course on the topic of race. One of the assignments I give students is to go home and discuss our readings with family and friends. Very often, the white students report back that, in response, they encounter immediate and heated tirades from white friends or relatives. “I am so sick and tired of hearing about race!,” comes the retort. “Why don’t people stop trying to force this junk on us?”

When this happens, I suggest to my students that they note how very remarkable this extremely common reaction really is. Until the last few decades, very few white people had ever entertained the notion that race was anything but what white supremacists have always claimed it is — a simple observation of deep, biological, intellectual differences between rankable human appearance groups. Now, in the first or second post-Jim Crow generation of whites, many white folks are convinced they are “sick of hearing about race!”

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