Conspicuous Consumption

Three somewhat related subtopics here:  Food, Wal-Mart, and Food

Why Turkey?

I’ve got a beef with having two holidays that seem to mandate the eating of what is typically a dry, somewhat tasteless fowl as the main event.  How did this happen?

History 1:

In 2001, about 272 million turkeys were raised. The National Turkey Federation estimates that 46 million of those turkeys were eaten at Thanksgiving, 22 million at Christmas and 19 million at Easter.

History 2:

There is no real evidence that turkey was served at the Pilgrim’s first thanksgiving, but through ages it became an indispensable part of the Thanksgiving tradition. The tradition of turkey is rooted in the ‘History Of Plymouth Plantation’, written by William Bradford some 22 years after the actual celebration.

History 3:

Turkey is often regarded as the usual Christmas meal but appeared on the menu only around 1650 after European colonization of North America. It was introduced to Europe by Sebastian Cabot on his return from the New World. The bird got its name after merchants from Turkey made it a popular dish. Prior to this Swan, Goose, Peacock or Boar were associated with the Christmas feast.

A wild bird, native to America, was taken back to Europe and became “a popular dish at banquets held by the French nobility”.  The wild turkey is then rediscovered by the Pilgrims, who had also brought domesticated turkeys from Europe, essentially creating the double-shot of turkey.

I still don’t know how it happened.  But I bet the holiday meal would be different if all the above had all been about cattle.  Or even the venison served at the first Thanksgiving.


Big Spender

The AlterNet story Mad In The USA includes this:

Giant retail chains like Wal-Mart, Target, and Home Depot, have been muscling large manufacturers to move their factories overseas, primarily to China.  With more than nine percent of U.S. retail sales and a third of the market for numerous products from dog food to diapers, what Wal-Mart says, goes.  The company does so much business in China that it ranks as the country’s 8th largest trading partner, ahead of Britain and Russia.

And a 11/23 LA Times article on Wal-Mart includes the following:

  • Wal-Mart has 2,966 U.S. stores, with global sales of $244.5 billion and $8,039 million in net income.  That’s nearly four times the sales of the fourth largest retailer, Kroger, and twice the sales of the second largest, France’s Carrefour Group.
  • 4% of the growth in the U.S. economy’s productivity from 1995 to 1999 was due to Wal-Mart alone.  It also forced competitors to be more efficient, driving the nation’s productivity even higher.
  • They are 8% of the nonautomotive, nonrestaurant sales in the U.S.
  • On average Wal-Mart’s wage-and-benefit package is $10 an hour less than those offered by unionized supermarkets.
  • One vendor moved his production to China where workers earn 25¢ compared with $13 in Chicago.

Ahead of Russia and Britain?  8% of sales?  Wow.  That’s a lot of political / economic muscle.

Oh yeah, this ties in from all the food that was bought and the ongoing supermarket strike.


Speaking of Meat

Every year, Americans consume on average 60 hot dogs.  When I eat them, it’s usually two dogs; just keeping up means having them slightly more frequently than every other week.  My intake may be falling below average, which is a surprise because I’m mostly a carnivore.

A historical note from a page about hamburgers:


Sausages produced in Frankfurt, Germany, were introduced to American tastes in St. Louis, Missouri, during the 1880s.  Harry Stevens popularized frankfurter sales at the Polo Grounds baseball park in New York City.  The term “hot dog” was coined by cartoonist T. A. Dorgan in 1906.

England Visit

A Daily Show With Jon Stewart reran with this opening:

“We begin tonight with national security � an issue President Bush has emphasized here at home and is utterly disrupting across the Atlantic.  Tomorrow the president flies to England for a three-day state visit with coalition partner Tony Blair.  In preparation, British officials are stepping up security measures and putting more police on the streets than at any time since the end of World War II in anticipation of possible violence.  Remember, this is England… our ally [very long pause] � I guess all the cops and troops are there to make sure things don’t get too friendly.  … British Intelligence services have even taken the step of raising England’s terror alert level to ‘severe general’, which is � I hate the metric system � I think it is orange.” �Jon Stewart

Here are a couple of other good comments on the subject, all from Working For Change – Quote of the Day:

“President Bush and Queen Elizabeth have a lot in common — they both came into power without being elected.” �David Letterman

“President Bush says his visit to England is going so well, if time permits, he wants to visit the United Kingdom and Great Britain as well.” �Jay Leno

An Opus

The Good News:  Opus, by Berkeley Breathed (Bloom County, Outland), is back in black.  Black and white, like a penguin should be.  It’s in the LA Times, so I’ll get to see it on Sundays.
The Bad News:  There’s no digital edition; it’s going to be in the newspapers only.

The ‘no digital’ news comes from a Washington Post interview.

U.S. Troops

“Today was Veteran’s Day, a day to honor those brave Americans who have fought to defend our country � or in our president’s case, a day to freak them out.  President Bush commemorated Veteran’s Day by attending a ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery, then signing the National Cemetery Expansion Act, which basically establishes new burial grounds for veterans.  So happy Veteran’s Day � we wanted to give you health insurance but …” �Jon Stewart

To summarize:
Nov. 11 – Bush signs bill that creates new cemetery space for vets.
Nov. 15 – Monthly Iraq fatalities are climbing back to the pre-end-of-the-war rate.
Nov. 22 – The U.S. military will have 100,000 troops in Iraq until 2006.


Powell's Chemical Equation

Powell described his killer schedule in an interview Thursday with Abdul Rahman Al-Rashed, a reporter for a London-based Saudi newspaper. “So do you use sleeping tablets to organize yourself?” Al-Rashed asked.

“Yes. Well, I wouldn’t call them that,” Powell said. “They’re a wonderful medication — not medication. How would you call it? They’re called Ambien, which is very good. You don’t use Ambien? Everybody here uses Ambien.”

Just what does ‘Everyone Here’ mean? Everyone in the US? Or in the White House?

From the Washington Post.  The U.S. Embassy transcript shows the same thing.  What a Rush.  (Couldn’t resist that one.)

Money & Influence

They Rule, has interactive maps that show how companies are connected through their board members.  Go to: Load map, ‘then eye of the rich’ for a nice overview of corporate ties.  Another good one is ‘!7 most powerful!’ which is self-described as:

These are the seven most connected people in the Fortune 100.  Together the 6 men and 1 woman are on the boards of 26 companies!

When you’re done with that, – (“Your guide to the money in U.S. elections”) shows who gave and who got contributions.  So far the largest contributor to Pres. Bush is Merrill Lynch at $364,000, although other financial institutions are close behind.  Merrill has contributed $652,760 to this election cycle, 87% to Republicans

For the 2002 elections, over $964 million was raised for House and Senate races.  I guess that’s one way to keep the economy going.

U.S. Overpaying Halliburton for Gas

It’s old news, but some may have missed it. First a few lines from the story, then links for those who want to read more.

As of Oct. 19, Halliburton had imported 61.3 million gallons of gasoline from Kuwait into Iraq, and the company was paid $162.5 million for an average price of $2.65 a gallon, Waxman (D-CA) and Dingell (D-MI) wrote.

“The $2.65 per gallon is grossly excessive,” they said. “Experts we consulted stated that the total price for buying and transporting gasoline into Iraq should be less than $1.00 per gallon.”

The U.S. government was then selling this gasoline inside Iraq for just four to 15 cents a gallon, subsidizing over 95 percent of the cost of gasoline consumed by Iraqis, they said.

Washington Post
The Boston Globe

Petals Around the Rose

I was introduced to this game over the weekend and it left me stumped.  At the time, I blamed the beer and moved on to something else.  Not having solved it was still nagging at me today, so off to the internet to find some online versions.  No, it wasn’t the beer; I still couldn’t figure it out.  But these were the best websites:

It’s simple to play: just roll the dice and guess the answer.  The interactive versions will tell you if you are correct.  Repeat until solved.  I only wasted a couple of hours before I got it.

The Meatrix

It’s about the evils of corporate farming, but the concept is so funny I have to put it up anyway.  Think I’ll go fry some bacon.

Enter the Meatrix

RIAA Claims Music On Car Radios Meant Only For Original Vehicle Owner

The Recording Industry Association of America announced today it would be expanding its crackdown on copyright infringement by suing family members, hitchhikers and carpoolers.  Full story

While that story is a joke, it reminded me of a true one.  Finland’s Supreme Court has ruled taxi drivers must pay royalty fees if they play music in their car while a customer is in the backseat.  No kidding.

(Broadcast) Flag Burning

Some friends have been contemplating the question of how much longer there be anything worth viewing on “free” TV.  The question was inspired by a Business Week article about new technology like TiVo that allows you to easily skip commercials.  People using TiVo can record their favorite show, and even while the show is being recorded, watch it and skip the ads.

The answer to how much longer (assuming, of course, there’s anything worth watching now) is:  for a long time.  Why?  DTV.  Of course, there’s a ‘but’.

The government’s plan for digital television (DTV) broadcasting targets the end of analog broadcasting by 2006.  So far, so good.  You’ll have to buy some new equipment, but it will probably be time for a TV upgrade before 2007 anyway.  (Especially when the HDTV quality DVDs start coming out.  Oh yeah, did I mention that your DVDs will soon be obsolete?  But that topic is for another time.)

Okay:  new equipment, better picture.  Good stuff.  But what about the Pirates?  People can’t be trusted to not redistribute this high-quality signal.  Enter the “broadcast flag”.

Having failed in the Congress, the content industry has pushed the FCC to mandate the broadcast flag.  (Tech TV has an overview of the broadcast flag.)  Basically, it controls whether digital content can go through a gatekeeper, and there will be a gatekeeper on every digital device.

The broadcast flag can keep a show from being recorded by TiVo type equipment.  On the one side of their mouths, they say there are no plans for it to be used on regular broadcast TV shows.  On the other side they say that they need the protection to keep shows from being redistributed.

To read more about the flag, check out Jonathan Krim�s piece in the Washington Post.


McMerriam-Webster’s dictionary added “McJob”, then removed it from some versions due to pressure from McDonald’s. The following articles are all lifted from BoingBoing.

Original article:

McDonald’s should get a dictionary and look up “trademark”
McDonald’s misunderstands the nature of dictionaries: that is, to observe the language as she is spoken and document her. McDonald’s is up in arms over Merriam-Webster’s inclusion of “McJob” in its current edition. Naturally, McD’s has trumped up a completely groundless trademark claim to back this up. Trademarks don’t let you control how people speak — they only allow you to stop other commerical outfits from confusing your customers; certainly, they don’t give you the power to stop the reporting of the fact that English speakers use “McJob” to describe a crappy job.

Walt Riker, a spokesman for McDonald’s, said the Oak Brook, Illinois-based fast-food giant also is concerned that “McJob” closely resembles McJOBS, the company’s training program for mentally and physically challenged people.

“McJOBS is trademarked and we’ve notified them that legally that’s an issue for us as well,” Riker said.

(Note: Every time I post here about trademarks, I get a flurry of emails from people patiently “explaining” to me that you need to sue everyone who utters your trademark or risk losing it; without covering ground I’ve run over before, suffice it to say that this is wrong, and it’s a fairy tale that trademark lawyers scare their clients with in order to drum up more business, and I don’t care if your in-house counsel or nephew-in-law-school swore it was true, it’s not. Really.) Link
posted by Cory Doctorow at 1:45:19 AM permanent link to this entry

Update 11/11:

Merriam-Webster 0wnz0red by McDonald’s
McDictionary Jonas sez, “It appears that dictionary producer Merriam-Webster’s has yielded under pressure from McDonald’s. Yesterday, the word ‘McJobs’ disappeared from their web site’s page with “new” words in the new edition. I have links to the google-cached version with the word still there – and a pdf-print of it – , and to the ‘cleansed’ page (and the code).” Link Terry sent a letter to the dictionarians and got this back: “You’ll be glad to know that we have not removed the entry for McJob from Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, Eleventh Edition (which is available on-line by subscription at Although we did alter some marketing text on our main Web site that quoted the entry, the dictionary itself remains unchanged.”

posted by Cory Doctorow at 3:32:01 AM permanent link to this entry

Update 11/11, #2:

Merriam-Webster stands its McGround
Despite having taken down its Web defintion of McJob, Merriam-Webster has now publicly announced that it will not remove McJob from the print and pay-for-click versions of the dictionary.

“For more that 17 years ‘McJob’ has been used as we are defining it in a broad range of publications,” the company said, citing everything from The New York Times and Rolling Stone to newspapers in South Africa and Australia.

posted by Cory Doctorow at 11:56:21 PM permanent link to this entry

Electronic Voting Machines

Has the 2004 election already been decided?  Some believe that it has, due to difficulties with electronic voting.  Early audits showed that the machines consistently gave republicans the edge when there were errors.

The main companies (Diebold and ES&S count 80% of the votes in the country) are heavily tied to key republicans.  What follows are a few links for more information.  (It’s surprising how many links are dead when doing a Google search for Diebold ownership.  Were they taken off the air?)

  • One central location for this information is at Verified Voting.  They also have links to the Bev Harris book (Black Box Voting, in pdf format) which is based on the material that started a lot of the questions.  Buzzflash has an interview with Bev.  It is probably the shortest read that covers most of the ground.  (Harris’ website was shut down by Diebold.)
  • Uncertified software may have been installed on electronic voting machines used in one California county during the recent recall election, so California is halting the certification process for new voting machines manufactured by Diebold Election Systems.
    Link to article
  • In the past few months, the computer- security community has been increasingly vocal on the problems of DRE [direct recording electronic] terminals. �I think the risk [of a stolen election] is extremely high,� says David Dill, a Stanford computer scientist.
    Link to article
  • “I need some answers! Our department is being audited by the County. I have been waiting for someone to give me an explanation as to why Precinct 216 gave Al Gore a minus 16022 [votes] when it was uploaded. Will someone please explain this so that I have the information to give the auditor instead of standing here ‘looking dumb’.”
    Link to leaked Diebold memos
  • Swarthmore students posted an email archive showing some problems with Diebold�s proprietary e-voting software engineering on the website of their student group.  Diebold then threatened Smith and Pavlosky with a suit for copyright infringement and successfully squelched the emails.
    Link to article and links
  • Diebold, manufacturer of election equipment, has issued a Cease and desist notice to the upstream provider of San Francisco Indymedia for having links to mirrors of a leaked internal Diebold memo. More than just a case of a leak, Diebold has been raising a lot of questions about the fairness and security of elections in the United States.  The key here is that they don’t even have the information on their site, just a link to it.
    Link to article.  (Reminiscent of the illegality of posting links to the DeCSS code.)
  • New touchscreen voting machines caused problems last night in the suburbs of Washington D.C.. Several machines failed and had to be rebooted, and nine were actually removed from the site, repaired, and returned, in violation of election laws. The machines also failed to report their results correctly due to network problems.
    Link to article
  • Volusia County Memos Disclose Election 2000 Vote Fraud. Gore’s count had dropped by 16,000 votes, while an obscure Socialist candidate had picked up 10,000–all because of a single precinct with only 600 voters.”
    Link to article
  • DIEBOLD ELECTION SYSTEMS has brandished lawyers’ threats to take down that pesky citizens activist website
    Link to article
  • Even more info that covers history in this area here.

Of course, this whole thing started for me with a BoingBoing link:

swarthmore�s weakness, swarthmore students� strength

So Diebold has hit new lows. After threatening anyone who posts information necessary to evaluate the claimed failure of their vote-counting machine, apparently Swarthmore is now caving to DMCA threats by forcing students to shut down mirror sites. Just the strategy for a company that�s trying to convince the world that they can be trusted with vote counting.

Here is more on the subject from the EFF, which is doing defense for some of those accused by Diebold.  It was taken from their newsletter:

ISP Rejects Diebold Copyright Claims Against News Website

EFF Defends Right to Publish Links to Electronic Voting Memos

San Francisco – Defending the right to link to controversial information about flaws in electronic voting systems, EFF announced this week that it will defend an Internet Service Provider (ISP) and a news website publisher against claims of indirect copyright infringement from the electronic voting machines’ manufacturer.

“What topic could be more important to our democracy than discussions about the mechanics and legitimacy of electronic voting systems now being introduced nationwide?” said EFF Staff Attorney Wendy Seltzer. “EFF won’t stand by as corporations like Diebold chill important online debate by churning out legal notices to ISPs that usually just take down legitimate content rather than face the legal risk.”

For the full release:

Cease-and-desist letter sent by Diebold to OPG:

Security researchers discover huge flaws in e-voting system:

Chilling Effects Clearinghouse on DMCA safe harbor provisions:

I managed to avoid politics for a while, but the notes were getting too long to not publish.

Late Night Shows, On Average

In the ‘too much time on their hands’ category, this guy is a qualifier.  He recorded and combined 64 nights worth of Conan, Leno & Letterman into three videos that run concurrently.

Each show definitely has its own style.