Diamonds Are Forever Worthless

Diamonds are for suckers. They always were. Thirty-five years ago, you could buy two books that explained, without the slightest bit of hyperbole or misdirection, how an absurdly secretive cartel and a cooperative mass media turned an easily-duplicated stone with primarily industrial worth into an indispensable signifier of middle-class success.

As fate would have it, I read one of those books right before getting engaged, and I took absolutely seriously. As a consequence, my first wife’s engagement ring was a quarter-carat pawn-shop special, just a bit under $250 after tax. To her credit, my bride didn’t complain too much, even as our friends and acquaintances went to the altar with a full carat or even the two-carat honker that a friend’s sister received from a construction worker in the midst of a boomtown year.

“The bigger the ring, the shorter the marriage,” I laughed, and I wasn’t wrong. I was also correct about just how worthless a used diamond ring is. By the time we officially divorced fifteen years later, some of our friends had already managed to buy, and sell, a second set of rings.

Right around then, my girlfriend of the time suggested out of nowhere that $15,000 would be a nice number for the engagement ring she expected me to put on her finger. “You have to be kidding,” I replied.

“But I’ve seen you spend that much on a guitar,” she snapped.

“Yeah, and I could sell that guitar for something more than a nickel on the dollar.” Alas, the engagement never came to pass. The current Mrs. Baruth wears an heirloom from a deceased relative on her left hand, while I rotate through an ad hoc collection of titanium and silicone rings designed to be lost in a set of gloves or at a skatepark without sorrow. I feel good about this. Diamond engagement rings are a scam.

Yet most Americans, if pressed, will admit that they believe at least somewhat in the value of a “natural” diamond. That belief is on the way to being utterly shattered.

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Introducing… The 633CSXi (Or is that the X6 3.3?)

From the fertile mind of automotive sketch and Photoshop artist Zykotec comes this decidedly retro take on BMW’s infatuation with the CR-V form factor. I’m feeling a bit of Princess in the overall look, but I also think it’s a dramatic improvement over the current X6. Most importantly, it looks vaguely depressed, just like the original 6-Series did. What say you, dear readers? Would you smash?

Facebook Is Making You Fat

Hey there! Do you need another reason to quit Facebook? Not a problem. It turns out that people who quit Facebook experience lower cortisol levels after just five days. Cortisol, for those of you who don’t receive the daily email updates from LIVESTRONG, is the “fight or flight” stress hormone. One of the side effects associated with high cortisol levels: extra fat creation, especially belly fat.

I wish I could tell you that I’ve gotten thinner since quitting Facebook. It ain’t necessarily so. I do feel mentally healthier, however. I’m kind of looking forward to the day where I don’t write for a living any more. I’ll delete all my accounts everywhere and disappear like Salinger or Bobby Fischer. The only difference is that nobody’s going to come looking for me. They will still be glued to their phones.

I Thought You Said We Were Climbing Aboard The Peace Train

I don’t know if this is a metaphor, a call to action, or just a series of unconnected events, but… When I picked Spike The Accord up from his previous home in Birmingham, I thought I smelled something odd. More than odd. Just plain bad. It was a relief to fire Spike up and get a whiff of that 103-octane unleaded. Although it was seventy-two perfect degrees outside, I didn’t roll my windows down until I was fifty miles north of the city.

At the time, I put it down to being tired/irritable/oversensitive. Turns out that I wasn’t the only person to think that there is something rotten in Birmingham.

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Down And Out In The Magic Kingdom

No, I’m not talking about the book of that title by nerdist writer Cory Doctorow, although there are some fascinating ideas in said book that are gradually manifesting in real life — most notably, the idea of Whuffie. I’m talking about people who spend their day smiling for children and spend their evenings struggling to find a meal or lodging. People who play princesses or wizards at Disneyland but who are powerless to break the spell of their own poverty.

The New York Times just did a piece about poverty-stricken workers at Disney’s California resort. (The link is an archive link, because fuck the Times, fuck their transparent agenda, and fuck their puppetmaster Carlos Slim.) The most damming part: “According to the report, 15 percent of employees who responded to the survey said they have received food stamps or visited a food bank.”

I’ve never personally visited Disneyland, although Danger Girl has been there many times. I’ve probably been to Disney World in Florida a dozen times, starting when I was six or seven years old and including a trip I took there with DG a while back so I could see the places she worked when she was an intern with the company. I’m not sure I’ll go back now. Disney is an obscenely profitable firm that espouses a variety of social-justice causes, up to and including rotting the Star Wars Universe from within via the mandatory inclusion of Mary Suewalkers. That’s fine — but to talk the SJW talk without walking the social justice walk seems a little too much even for me to accept.

A few weeks ago, when I was with my son in California, we looked at the cost of a ticket to Disneyland. It was $135 per day. A hundred and thirty-five dollars. To walk around in a place where young women are paid eleven bucks an hour to smile at my boy then go “home” to a car parked by the side of the road with homemade curtains drawn around the windows. It’s a hell of a business model, and it must thrill the investors, but it stinks to high heaven. Something is rotten in the Magic Kingdom.

Go Ahead, Take The Banana

My long-departed (from my house, not from this earth) first wife had a lot of suggestions for me during our marriage: Stop skipping work! Don’t leave stuff all over the kitchen! Quit buying things you don’t need! Tucked in among those absolutely ridiculous ideas, however, was a rather brilliant one. She thought I should write a book called Self-Service Nation about the bizarre lengths to which modern corporations will go in order to offload labor from employees to customers. I told her I’d get around to it as soon as I cleaned up the kitchen, which never happened.

Too late now, of course. We now expect as a matter of course that we will be self-servicing much of our interaction with everybody from Wells Fargo to Kroger to Google to the airlines, via Byzantine web forms with unique logins and mandatory 12-character passwords that expire every afternoon at 3:01. We understand that when we call for help that we will be forced to navigate through a deliberately confusing touch-tone questionnaire in which the penalty for making a single mistake is to be disconnected and pressing the “O” key out of frustration results in a snippy-sounding recording of a stoned Valley Girl saying, “Hmmm… I didn’t get that.” Bitch, of course you didn’t get that! You’re not real!

They promised us that service and retail work would replace the factory jobs that were sent to China, but the minute people got uppity about wanting to earn the inflation-adjusted equivalent of 1968’s minimum wage the corporate cash taps get opened and all of a sudden an insane amount of money is being spent on machines to replace those service and retail jobs. The most obvious and obnoxious example: the self-checkout machines at grocery stores and Wal-Marts across the country, which cost about $20,000 per lane and last five years, thus theoretically saving money over the $60,000 per year it would cost to staff a checkout lane sixteen hours per day.

The numbers really work. You could arguably have $250,000 worth of additional theft and shortages over that five-year period and still come up ahead compared to a human cashier. That’s about $150 a day of theft that you can just wink at.

Well, if recent reports are any indication, there’s a lot of winking going on.

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Z for Zegna

My father was an Armani man, but his thirtysomething son was a Zegna dude. Since the turn of the millennium the majority of the suits and sportcoats I’ve purchased and owned have been from Ermenegildo Zegna’s ready-to-wear line, most of them being made from whatever “Trofeo” grade wool looked most outrageous at the moment. Just last year I bought what will likely be my final pair of Zegna coats; the future for me is mostly Hickey Freeman on the low end and Richard Anderson on the high.

Like the nice folks at Rolex, the Zegna family has managed to put a relatively upscale and reasonably exclusive face on a company that moves a whole lotta product. Rolex makes over a million watches a year; Zegna is the largest upscale fashion brand with boutiques across the globe and a vertically-integrated manufacturing operation that does Armani and other brands behind the scenes. It’s all relative, of course. Rolex did $4.7 billion worth of sales last year and Zegna did a quarter of that. Still, it takes quite a few $11,000 watches or $3500 sportcoats to make those numbers.

Those of you who gag at the idea of paying motorcycle prices for machine-made suits might want to read the new Grailed piece on the history of Zegna. It’s impressive, to say the least. The company has never deviated from its vision. More importantly, in an era where most “luxury brands” are mere tentacles of LVMH or Richemont, the man who runs Ermenegildo Zegna today is named after the founder, who happens to be his grandfather. The company controls production from sheep to showroom floor. I’ll also say that they make a hell of a product. Eleven years ago I managed to fall out of a moving car while doing something remarkably stupid. I landed on my back and elbows, which were covered by a 1997-era Zegna standard-issue tweed coat. The impact was strong enough to scrape my skin beneath the clothes, but the Zegna coat remained intact and I wore it for another five years before misplacing it due to alcohol consumption at a press event. Try doing that with your Chinese sportcoat, why dontcha?

The Next American Civil War, Like The Last One, Is Blue Vs. Grey

Last week, one of our readers suggested that I read “I Can Tolerate Anything Except The Outgroup”, a long and detailed post by psychiatrist Scott Alexannder on his Slate Star Codex site. You’re encouraged to read the whole thing if you have time — it’s about 10,000 words — but if you don’t I’ll boil out the three critical parts for you in bite-sized portions. They are:

0. Tribal America
1. Never A Coward Where The Muezzin Calls
2. Just A Touch Of Grey

I will also do something that Mr. Alexander does not do, and that is: attempt to pinpoint the reason for our transition from communities to tribes.

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‘Squirting Hot Dogs On Ketchup And Mustard’ : Products From The Chinese Cloud

This is a story I’ve told before, but I will tell it again here. More than a decade ago, I sat across a restaurant table from a gorgeous woman in her late twenties. She had weaponized her beauty for the corporate world, wrapping her luscious figure in a beige Ann-Taylor-ish suit and pulling her hair back into a demure ponytail that let her perfectly symmetrical face shine through its light touches of makeup that cost a small fortune because it didn’t look like makeup. She was my handler/recruiter/counselor for technical assignments. Of the one hundred and ten dollars per hour paid by our client for my “engagement” onsite , forty-three and a half went to me in a grudging acknowledgement that there had to actually be a pair of boots on the ground after the post-coital euphoria of a successful sale had faded. The rest went to her and the despicable organization that she represented in much the same way that a fresh-faced and flawless carved goddess might adorn the bow of a rotting pirate ship.

As we listlessly chewed through a seventy-dollar lunch, I complained to her that the company had silently and seamlessly transitioned over the previous six years from gainfully employing two hundred four-eyed American citizen-nerds to ruthlessly exploiting a mix of approximately eighty percent overseas workers and twenty percent people like me who were still too stubborn to get the message and walk away. “It’s not sustainable,” I snapped. “What separates our company from any of the other body shops? What’s to stop some of these people from starting their own companies and undercutting us?” She considered this for a long moment, then she smiled in a way that caused a passing waiter to stumble over his own feet.

“Oh, Jack,” she laughed, the glass of sparkling water halfway to her perfect lips, “the company will be fine. You see, the talent in this business is… well, it’s like a commodity. No offense meant.”

“None taken,” I replied through a clenched jaw.

“The quality of the product isn’t that important. It’s the connections, the human factor, the long-term relationships that we maintain with our clients. That’s not something that a bunch of … overseas resources… could ever duplicate.” And I immediately thought of a bastardized couplet:

No matter what happens, we have got
The perfect white corpo-hookers, and they have not

Shortly afterwards, the company made plans to go public and thus make its two founders ultra-rich rather than merely rich. But they waited just a moment too long. Their high-end clients were swept away by IBM Global Services, whose reps were even better-looking and also had the advantage of being able to seductively whisper the long-venerated industry phrase: “No one ever got fired for choosing IBM.” On the low end, they were overwhelmed by a tide of Indian-owned-and-operated consulting firms that could speak the native language used by the “talent” and, increasingly, the managers of that talent. They are still in business today, but if you look at their website you will see that their “success stories” are old and their management team is tired and their “talent” consists of cast-offs. And the stunning young woman who told me that she was irreplaceable and I was not? Long gone.

The moral of the story here is simple: If your product is generic, you will not survive permanently on marketing alone. As you’ll see below, however, nobody ever thinks that it applies to them — until it’s too late.

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Anticipation Of A New Comic Book’s Arrival, The

The author currently known as “Vox Day” has linked to us in the past, so we’re returning the favor. Click the image above to order his new “alt-right” comic book. I will admit that my personal history with comic books began and ended with the Transformers comics thirty-four years ago, but I know that they are important to a lot of people and I think Vox is doing a public service here by offering an alternative to obsese GI Joe. And if you haven’t read SJWs Always Lie, it’s worth a look. Note that both the image and the link above are part of Riverside Green’s Amazon Affiliate program. The purpose of this program is to raise enough money to buy a blimp so I can use one of my domain names to make a very certain type of pornography. Thanks, as always, for reading — and I will award Worthless Internet Points to the first reader who recognizes the allusion being made in the title.