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.

The 80/20 Rule And The Civil War To Come

The often-perceptive folks at the Economist have uncovered a link between polygamy and violence. If you read it through, you can learn some stuff that you might now know — I certainly didn’t know it. Turns out that a lot of terrorist/paramilitary organizations recruit members by promising them access to women and/or access to the tools they will need to acquire women in explicitly polygamous societies. It also appears that young men are rendered more susceptible to participation in terrorist organizations if their personal circumstances deny them access to women.

The prime example cited by the Economist is South Sudan, which gained its independence just five years ago and which has been the target of a comprehensive but indifferently successful campaign on the part of China to mold it into a satellite state for purposes of resource exploitation. Some dudes in South Sudan have a hundred wives. Some have two. Some just have one. And the vast majority have no wives at all. As you’d expect, South Sudan’s involuntarily-celibate crew has little to no interest in preserving the current political situation. They’re willing to do anything from cattle poaching to mass murder to outright political revolution if it gives them a chance at getting laid.

In other words, South Sudan is a place where 20% of the guys are getting 80% of the action, leaving 80% of the men disaffected, angry, and ready for trouble. Does this sound familiar? Maybe just a little bit?

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The Five Million Dollar Mattress Man

A reader sends this in, regarding the bizarre multi-million-dollar world of mattress-website referrals and their accompanying lawsuits. It certainly makes Electrek’s quarter-million or so in Tesla freebies and/or cash seem small potatoes indeed — and if anything could make the incestuous and thoroughly seedy world of automotive journalism look half-decent by contrast it would be a world where a couple that met on ChristianMingle can rate mattresses based on how good they are for sex. Check it out.

How, And Why, The Germans Were Better

It’s odd to consider, but it’s true: The Confederate States of America were conquered by the Union before the modern state of Germany was brought into existence. When Otto von Bismarck created the German political entity, my alma mater (Miami University in Oxford, Ohio) was already more than fifty years old. Of course, there had been various unified German tribes and regions since the time of Julius Caesar, but the German state that went to war in 1914 was a younger institution than the band Aerosmith is today.

Also odd to consider, and equally true: Germany in its current form won’t see a Bicentennial. Forty percent of five-year-olds in Germany have a “migrant background”. Ten percent of the country is African or Middle Eastern today, a figure that will more than double in the next ten years and then double again in the decade following. The new Germans are overwhelmingly young and male. It’s not a migration so much as it is an invasion by brute force, and one that will have longer-lasting consequences than William the Conqueror’s trip across the Channel. By the time my son is my age, Germany will be Islamic and any vestiges of its two-thousand-plus-year ethnic past will be of concern chiefly to the historians among us.

What killed Germany — or for that matter, Western Europe as a whole? There are many legitimate places to point a finger, from the adoption of pleasure-seeking atheism as a national religion to the pernicious influence of modern media. Still, I think the loss of more than eight million young men in the two World Wars had a lot to do with Germany’s eventual collapse. Those conflicts killed the best and bravest Germans, leaving the rear-echelon types to father the next generation.

The agenda-based and staggeringly ignorant modern curriculum likes to paint those Germans as goose-stepping Nazis, when in fact the average soldier of the Wehrmacht viewed the Party with the same distant indifference that a modern American solider might apply to Antifa or the Oathkeepers. They were not political. Instead, they were a fighting force with virtually no equal in ancient or modern history — a fact conveniently discarded nowadays, but one that should be remembered by all of us with German heritage.

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“The Leftovers” And The Two Percent World

Warning: contains spoilers for the series finale of “The Leftovers”.

HBO’s “The Leftovers” is in the vanguard of what is currently called “peak TV”, although “peak” does not necessarily mean “good”. Perhaps the phrase simply reflects the fact that we have more TV than ever to watch, all of it available through on-demand streaming services to fill those still, small gaps between extended work hours, helicopter parenting, and mandatory attendance of religious services at the glass-walled Crystal Cathedrals of public exercise. As our modern lives become increasingly leached of any purpose whatsoever, we demand that television serve as a meaning multivitamin, a significance supplement, swallowed once a week so we have something to talk about over the pagan sacrament of overpriced restaurant food.

The standard-bearer for “peak TV” is probably “Game Of Thrones,” that increasingly moronic and banal combination of softcore porn and a Medieval Times restaurant, but there are better and more interesting choices farther down your Netflix list. My long-time readers know how fond I was of David Simon’s Treme, the flawed but heartfelt tribute to New Orleans and its music. It didn’t last very long, unfortunately.

The only things that “The Leftovers” has in common with “Treme” are low ratings and a deliberately truncated run, but I’ve been a fan of the show over the last three seasons and it’s the only television program that I’ve bothered to watch away from my elliptical machine. This past Sunday’s series finale has been lauded for the elegance of its plotting and execution, but what I admired about it was this: the finale was absolutely, unfailingly true to the show’s oft-disguised but never abandoned central concept of narcissistic injury.

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A Boy’s Life

I walked out of E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial not giving much of a shit about the stupid rubber alien with the glowing finger. That was just the plot. Even at the age of ten I could tell that the plot of that movie was entirely irrelevant to the film’s true message, which had sweet F.A. to do with aliens. In this case, the medium was the message, that medium being perfectly captured by E.T.’s working title of A Boy’s Life.

The world of A Boy’s Life was alien to me in ways that had nothing to do with waddling creatures or spaceships. I had grown up in tree-thick communities, hoary with snow then hot with decomposing leaves, short sightlines and old houses. Though I’d left Brooklyn a full thirty-five years before the wannabes and the jerkoff Gawkerites arrived, I’d seen early in life that New Yorkers never looked up. There is no vista to see. Your vision is blocked on all sides. This was as true in the dignified decay of Upper Arlington, Ohio as it had been in Columbia, MD and everywhere else.

The world of E.T. was something else entirely. It was barren, bare, the open California sky above and the naked dirt to all sides. The homes squatted close to the ground. Until I saw that movie and really looked at it, I’d never considered that perhaps the sun of the East Coast was fettered by humidity and the omnipresent deciduous canopy above. When Danger Girl came here from New Mexico three years ago, she confessed that the rolling, absurdly fertile Ohio landsdcape made her paranoid, claustrophobic. Surrounded by living things.

And, of course, you had the BMX bikes, Ceppie Maes and Bob Haro making Kuwahara famous. There was so much freedom to be had out there. In Ohio my peers and I were relentlessly tracked and oppressed by intact family units and a neighborhood that considered discipline to be a distributed service, like the French Resistance always three steps too slow or stupid to outwit the Wehrmacht. Out in the amorphous amalgamation of Spielberg’s ur-Cali, the kids ran free, their divorced mothers out pursuing their own pleasure every night and abandoning their progeny to a sort of benign anarchy full of D&D games and unsupervised insanity. The very fact that these kids could hide a being from another planet in their house for days at a time… my mother would have discovered E.T. three hours after he touched down. Max.

I longed for that California the way Huck Finn yearned for the Territory. My BMX friends went without me, moved to Westminster and other places to live the dream. I put my head down and went to school instead. There are people I could blame for that decision but it would be weak of me to do so. The choice was mine. I didn’t acquire a genuine working knowledge of California until I was in my late thirties. Nowadays I know most of the state’s racetracks and backroads pretty well. I’ve probably spent a hundred days of my life in the Golden State, from San Diego to Eureka and points north.

No matter what I do as an adult, however, when it comes to that idealized California childhood I will forever be an outsider, a cargo-cult native of a backwards island worshiping a Coke bottle. Which brings me to the story I’d like to share with you: the life of a modern Californian boy, told by someone who understands the San Fernando Valley the way I understand the side streets and forested paths of central Ohio.

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