La Grippe

This flu thing–it frightens me. I live in a major population center. I’m already at war with my immune system. I have reason to be scared, a little.

But I won’t let people manipulate and exploit that fear, mine or anyone else’s. (No, not even you and your prosciutto monopoly, Rick.) This is too important and the consequences too great, both the consequences of panic and the consequences of feeling safe when we’re not.

So I read a little news and explanation, from reliable sources. I avoid speculation, my own and other people’s. I’m ruthless, perhaps even vicious, with rumors and misinformation. And when I’m threatening to think about it all too much, I sing a little Squirrel Nut Zippers to cut through the tension, albeit not as well as these folks.

La Grippe

There’s a full moon howling at the night….

Check It Out

While I’m off being disgustingly productive at the things people actually pay me for, I recommend test driving One More Asshole. It’s a newish blog, but if you’ve been reading the comments in the Sonoco thread here, you’re already familiar with the author, William, and probably impressed.

Do I agree with William on everything? Oh, hell, no. But he should be lots of fun to argue with.

Go read.

Ellison Arrested

It’s going to be another busy week, I’m afraid, but this I had to share:

U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., and four other members of Congress were arrested this morning in front of the Sudanese Embassy in Washington, D.C., as they protested the expulsion of aid groups in Darfur.

[…]

Before being led away in handcuffs during the mid-morning protest, Ellison said it’s wrong to deprive aid to what he called “the most vulnerable people on our planet.”

[…]

In prepared remarks he delivered at the embassy, Ellison said he situation Darfur “remains dire and the humanitarian situation has worsened since the March 4 expulsion of aid agencies.”

He added, “we implore all countries to demand that the Government of Sudan respect and protect human rights and put an end to the acts of atrocities and crimes against humanity in Darfur.”

How do I feel about it? I’ll let Max Sparber at Secrets of the City speak for me:

Mr. Ellison, I wanted to write you in regards to your arrest today, and I am sure I am just one of many to write. I am in your district, and I voted for you. I have always been pleased to have you a representative, and have felt you do good work and represent the interests of your constituents fairly and honestly. I was also pleased that Minnesota’s Fifth District was not bullied into being frightened of you as a candidate by endless reference to your religion and your relationships with others of your faith, and I think it has been very clear that you are in Congress representing everybody, not just Muslims.

But, before today, I have been satisfied with your work, but not been moved to write. I am writing because, with you taking such a public stand against the expulsion of the humanitarian workers from Darfur, I am no longer merely happy with your work as a Congressman; I am proud of you.

These are the kinds of things that a person who represents me, and who represents Minnesota, should be doing. In this one action today, symbolic though it largely is, Ellison has done more to improve this world than Michele Bachmann has done in the entire last month or, in fact, her entire tenure in office.

Atheists Talk–Sunsara Taylor

Sunara Taylor, Away With All Gods
Atheists Talk #0067, Sunday, April 26, 2009

Sunsara Taylor’s approach to freedom and liberty of thought includes a logical progression moving humanity from theocratic oppression to a socialist atheism. She has been touring campuses in support of Revolutionary Communist Party USA chair Bob Avakian’s book Away With All Gods! Unchaining the Mind and Radically Changing the World.

Minnesota Atheists secretary George Kane will be talking to Sunsara Taylor on Atheists Talk this Sunday, April 26th for what certainly should be a controversial show. We invite callers and e-mailers, as Sunsara has proven that she is not afraid to discuss her positions frankly and honestly with those who disagree with her. Exercise your freedom of speech. Question everything. It’s the atheist way!

“Atheists Talk” is produced by The Minnesota Atheists. Mike Haubrich, Director. Stephanie Zvan, Host.

Podcast Coming Soon!
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Listen to AM 950 KTNF on Sunday at 9 a.m. Central to hear Atheists Talk, produced by Minnesota Atheists. Stream live online. Call the studio at 952-946-6205 or email us at radio@mnatheists.org.

What Is an Editor?

For someone with a finely nuanced understanding of science journalism and writing, Bora Z of A Blog Around the Clock demonstrates a remarkably narrow view of what an editor does. True, it may not all be his fault. The notion that editors are little more than gatekeepers with red and blue pencils is widespread.

Of course, this point of view is most prevalent among people who have never worked with an editor. To find it in someone who has worked with academic editors and editors of the anthology he stewards is a bit surprising. I don’t know whether he’s never worked with a good editor (doubtful but sadly possible), hasn’t paid enough attention to the details of that interaction, or is glossing over the knowledge to make a point. Or, knowing Bora, maybe he’s just being provocative and waiting for someone to call him on it.

I’m calling him on it now, not just because I am an editor, but because I’ve had the privilege to work with some good ones.

As Quiche Moraine‘s editor, I’ve got a fairly long piece up over there today defending the vocation. There’s a bit of discussion going already, starting with a comment from Bora. Go check it out.

Quitters Blog

My blogroll is thoroughly in need of an update. One of my favorites is no more, another promising blog dropped off the face of the Earth after the election, and I have tons of stuff I’m following in my reader that isn’t on there.

However, rather than wait for me to have the time that will take, I’ll point you to DuWayne’s new blog now. If you’re not reading Traumatized By Truth already, you really should be. Even if you only read it occasionally, you know that he’s interested in the treatment of addiction (and in everything else). Recently, however, the topic got even more personal.

I really need to quit smoking. It’s not a “I want to quit,” because I honestly don’t. It’s not a “I should quit,” because that’s obvious, but has done nothing to make it happen before. I need to quit. I need to quit because my kids need me to quit – I really wish that I could say that this is the one that has pushed me over the edge, but to my shame, I would be lying. If that were all it took, I would have quit nearly eight years ago. My continued/improved health and well being requires that I quit – again, if that were enough, I would have quit years ago. What it boils down to now is simple economics. Because as important as the other reasons that I need to quit are, not having the funds to smoke is a pretty solid barrier to my continuing to smoke.

Being a blogger, and the kind of guy who wants to help others, he’s started a new blog, Quitters Blog. Being smart about quitting, he doesn’t want to do it alone.

Would there be any interest from my ex-smoking readers, as well as those who are trying to or who are planning on quitting, in a blog project for you (and me) to post about our experience? I would love to throw up another blog around here and allow you all to post – with team posting privileges for those who want them.

[…]

And actually, I should also note that though I’ve gotten out of the habit since I resurrected this blog, I am all about having guest posters. I will be somewhat selective about what I post and will admit that my reasons may be pretty arbitrary, but I am all about hearing from you, if you want to post. I do recommend that you ask me before you write the post, so you don’t end up writing something that I don’t really want – but I really do like the idea of getting some other voices up around here and outside of comments. Finally, please don’t assume that because you disagree with me on something, that I won’t be willing to post your views – there are some things that I just won’t, but that is not a common restriction for me.

So if you’ve got anything to add on the topic, head on over and tell him so.

How to Get Your Employees to Unionize

DeLoach said the downturn in the economy started for Sonoco in the second half of 2007 and the company doesn’t expect to see significant improvement in the global economy until the end of 2009.

Cost-cutting measures aimed at positioning the company to better respond to market conditions included closing about 15 manufacturing plants, reducing hours for some employees and eliminating more than 700 positions globally, he said.

“Also, in 2009, we are deferring all wage increases for salaried and hourly employees and temporarily suspending the company’s matching contributions for those employees participating in the company’s 401(K) plan,” DeLoach said. “These actions, while very difficult, are necessary so that we can remain competitive in a dramatically changing marketplace.

Sounds like a familiar story right now, doesn’t it? Company in trouble turns to employees for operational savings. There’s just one little problem.

Sonoco produced record sales and its second-best base earnings performance ever in 2008, despite the global economic crisis, the company’s chairman, president and chief executive officer told shareholders at their annual meeting Wednesday.

[…]

Because of economic conditions, the board decided to keep the quarterly dividend payout at the same level that it was in 2008, DeLoach said, but the board remains committed to its long-term policy of increasing dividends when business conditions allow.

For the year 2008, cash generated from operations totaled $379 million, and while that was down 15 percent from the previous year largely because of changes in working capital, cash flow in 2008 ranked as the third highest in company history, DeLoach said.

By year’s end, Sonoco’s total debt had declined to $690 million versus $850 million at the end of 2007, he said.

[…]

Since 2000, the company has returned more than $1 billion in cash to shareholders in the form of dividends and share repurchases, he said.

“Few companies can match the 84 consecutive years that Sonoco has paid dividends to its shareholders,” he said.

Yes, that’s from the same article. I’ve mentioned elsewhere that the key to keeping your employees from organizing is treating them fairly. How fair do you think Sonoco’s employees will find it that their pay and benefits are cut in a time of prosperity, while the shareholders, who contribute nothing to the success of the company, not only saw no decrease in their dividend but were considered for an increase?

The next time someone tells you that values are to blame for our screwed up economy, feel free to agree with them. Just make sure you point out it’s the corporate values that are at fault.

Ellison on the Middle East

I’ve spent all evening editing, which, as much as I love it, requires that I put my own voice on hold for a bit. While I work on getting that back, I recommend reading two articles from the MinnPost about how my representative, Keith Ellison, is navigating Middle East policy. As the first Muslim in Congress, he faces some additional pressures, but I think he’s doing a good job in general.

In an event in March, sponsored by the American-Arab Anti Discrimination Committee, Ellison talked to the group about the suffering he saw on his trip to both Gaza and — he pointed out with emphasis — Sderot. He repeatedly called for an opening of the crossings into Gaza and for a halt to Israel’s settlement expansion, statements that received loud cheers from the audience.

At the same time, Ellison ducked questions from the audience about issuing sanctions against Israel. Instead, he urged the group to “put on the shoes of the person who is Jewish…a person dealing with 2,000 years of perceived stigmatism.”

He doesn’t have an enviable position, but who among the people actually trying to address these problems does?

Harmony and Subversion

Most people my age grew up with parents who listened to the Beatles. I didn’t, and it shaped me in some interesting ways. The most obvious is that I don’t care much for the Beatles. I do appreciate that they were great songwriters, but I usually find anyone else’s arrangements of their songs more interesting than theirs.

The band that most closely took the place in my life that the Beatles filled in friends’ lives was the Chad Mitchell Trio (later the Mitchell Trio). They instilled a love of minor-key melodies in me while impairing my sense of pitch for years with the harmonies on songs like this:

Four Strong Winds

But we’ve been through that a hundred times or more.

They were very political and used both compassion and satire to make their points, sometimes subtly, sometimes not. The material they chose pointed out the hypocrisies on both sides of the political fence.

The Battle Hymn Of The Republic Brought Down to Day

Our might is marching on.

The Draft Dodger Rag

I hate Chou En Lai, and I hope he dies…

They sang about civil rights and the realities of war, commercialization and commodification, political corruption and assassination, global paternalism, history and, of course, love. Understanding what they were singing about was right up there with figuring out Doonesbury for getting myself a political education. They sang songs in several languages. They worked with excellent musicians but never let making beautiful music get in the way of making great songs.

Yeah, knowing the Chad Mitchell Trio is about half of understanding my approach to music and a healthy chunk of understanding my approach to life.