Saturday, December 31, 2011
Cult of Mac reports that in February of this year, bad publicity was at an all-time high surrounding the conditions and suicides at the Chinese factory Foxconn, Apple’s largest supplier. Apple Co-Founder Steve Wozniak was apparently moved to tears by the story as told by Mike Daisey when he saw the show, and urged Tim Cook, Apple’s Acting CEO to see it as well, saying “I will never be the same after seeing that show.” [Full disclosure: this list was created on two Macbooks, with some side research on one iPad, after tweeting to one another via two iPhones.]
We’re not surprised by Wozniak’s reaction to Daisey’s performance. Daisey has appeared on a number of 2011 lists across North America, and for the New York Times list of Cleverest Theatrical Moments a category was created for “most remarkable storyteller who isn’t Mike Daisey”. Daisey was a definite influence on our co-production of You Should Have Stayed Home at SummerWorks this summer, and we hope he’ll come to Toronto soon.
Friday, December 30, 2011
Do people still suffer from periods of boredom even with computers, smart phones and tablets to occupy them endlessly? There’s also television, of course, which in homes of many Americans is on twenty-four hours a day, making it harder and harder to find a quiet place to sit and think. Even neighborhood bars, the old refuge of introspective loners, now have huge TV screens alternating between sports and chatter to divert them from their thoughts. As soon as college students are out of class, cell phones, and iPods materialize in their hands, requiring full concentration and making them instantly oblivious of their surroundings. I imagine Romeo and Juliet would send text messages to each other today as they strolled around Verona, though I find it hard to picture Hamlet advising Ophelia to betake herself to a nunnery.
These and other thoughts came to me as I sat in a dark house for three days in the aftermath of Hurricane Irene. Being without lights and water is a fairly common experience for those of us who live in rural areas on roads lined with old trees. Every major rainstorm or snowstorm is almost certain to bring down the lines, which, because of the relative scarcity of population, are a low priority for the power company to fix. We use oil lamps and most often candles, so our evenings around the dining room table resemble séances. We sit with our heads bowed as if trying to summon spirits, while in truth struggling to see what’s on our dinner plates. Being temporarily unable to use the technology we’ve grown dependent on to inform ourselves about the rest of the world, communicate with others, and pass the time, is a reminder of our alarming dependence on them. “Nights are so boring!” my neighbors kept repeating. Our days were not much better, with overcast skies that made it even difficult to read indoors. All of this reminded me of the days of my youth when my family, like so many others, lived in a monastic solitude when the weather was bad, since we had no television. It wasn’t in church, but on dark autumn days and winter nights that I had an inkling of what they meant when they spoke about eternity. Everyone read in order to escape boredom. I had friends so addicted to books, their parents were convinced they were going crazy with so many strange stories and ideas running like fever through their brains, not to mention becoming hard of hearing, after failing to perform the simplest household chores like letting the cat out.
Thursday, December 29, 2011
Wednesday, December 28, 2011
But it’s an impossible role in an impossible movie that has no reason for being other than as another pop-culture palliative for a trauma it can’t bear to face. In truth, “Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close” isn’t about Sept. 11. It’s about the impulse to drain that day of its specificity and turn it into yet another wellspring of generic emotions: sadness, loneliness, happiness. This is how kitsch works. It exploits familiar images, be they puppies or babies — or, as in the case of this movie, the twin towers — and tries to make us feel good, even virtuous, simply about feeling. And, yes, you may cry, but when tears are milked as they are here, the truer response should be rage.
Tuesday, December 27, 2011
The Big Lie - The Daily Beast:
I had my doubts from the beginning. A few months after I started to work downtown, I ran into an old friend from college and before, a man later to become one of New York’s most esteemed writers and editors.
“So,” he asked, “how do you like what you’re doing now?”
“I like it quite a lot,” I said. And this was true: these were new frontiers for me, the pace was lively, the money was good enough ($6,500 a year), and there was so much to learn. But there was one aspect of Wall Street that I found morally confusing if not distasteful: “There’s one thing that bothers me, though. It’s this: on the one hand the New York Stock Exchange has sent its president, the estimable G. Keith Funston, out into the countryside, supported by an expensive, extensive advertising campaign, to exhort the proletariat to Own your share of America! As if buying 50 shares of IBM or GM in 1961 is as much of a civic duty as buying a $100 war bond in 1943.”
I then added, “But here’s the thing. At the same time as Funston’s out there doing his thing, if you ask any veteran Wall Street pro how the Street works, the first thing he’ll tell you is: The public is always wrong. Always.” I paused to let that sink in, then confessed, “I have to tell you, I have trouble squaring that circle.”
The government has been using its secrecy system in absurd ways for decades, but 2011 was particularly egregious. Here are a few examples:
Government report concludes the government classified 77 million documents in 2010, a 40% increase on the year before. The number of people with security clearances exceeded 4.2. million, more people than the city of Los Angeles.
Government tells Air Force families, including their kids, it’s illegal to read WikiLeaks. The month before, the Air Force barred its service members fighting abroad from reading the New York Times—the country’s Paper of Record.
Lawyers for Guantanamo detainees were barred from reading the WikiLeaks Guantanamo files, despite their contents being plastered on the front page of the New York Times.
President Obama refuses to say the words “drone” or “C.I.A” despite the C.I.A. drone program being on the front pages of the nation’s newspapers every day.
Monday, December 26, 2011
Saturday, December 24, 2011
What most users don’t know is that the new features being introduced are all centered around increasing the value of Facebook to advertisers, to the point where Facebook representatives have been selling the idea that Timeline is actually about re-conceptualizing users around their consumer preferences, or as they put it, “brands are now an essential part of people’s identities.”
The name itself is cleverly designed to conceal the fact that your profile no longer arranges information chronologically. Yes, things are laid out by year and by month. But, when it comes to what’s displayed to your social circle at any given time, other metrics, including direct payments to Facebook itself, will now influence the ranking and placement of stories. This payola will be a crucial part of the graph rank, the new metric for placement that the social network uses to determine what appears on your profile.
Friday, December 23, 2011
American autoworkers are constantly told that high-wage work is an unsustainable relic in the face of a hyper-competitive, globalized marketplace. Apostles of neo-liberal economic theory — both in the public and private sectors — have stressed the message that worker adaptation is necessary to survive. Indeed, Steven Rattner, President Obama’s “car czar” during the restructuring of General Motors and Chrysler in early 2009, spoke last week of his regret that the federal government had not required the United Auto workers to take a wage cut at that time to enhance the competitiveness of those companies, comments similar to those he made in a recently published book (after the outcry created by last week’s remarks, Rattner yesterday backed away from them, though reiterating his view that more “shared sacrifice” would have bolstered American competitiveness).
Governments, too, the globalists have contended, should not think that markets can or should be controlled. As Remapping Debate reported earlier this year in an article about the role of large consulting firms in the promotion of the notion that national policy can and must allow global capital a free hand, McKinsey & Co. was already arguing back in 1994 that “a national government has no choice but to move forward to embrace the global capital market unless it wants to harm its own citizens, its economy and its own purposes.”
But the case of German automakers — BMW, Daimler, and Volkswagen — tells a different story. Each company produces vehicles not only in Germany, but also in “transplant” factories in the U.S. The former are characterized by high wages and high union membership; the U.S. plants pay lower wages and are located in so-called “right-to-work” (anti-union) states.
It turns out that “inevitability” has nothing to do with the differing conditions; the salient difference is that, in Germany, the automakers operate within an environment that precludes a race to the bottom; in the U.S., they operate within an environment that encourages such a race.
Thursday, December 22, 2011
Promoting a book is . . . well, good holy hell, it's just insane. It's so much fun, and it makes you completely mentally ill. Try talking about yourself non-stop for two months, taking breaks only to switch time zones by plane, train, or automobile, and you've got the idea. It's more overwhelming than I ever would have imagined. After nearly a month on the road, I flew home with about 16 hours to kill before I was scheduled to read at Elliott Bay Book Company. During my time away, I had been on two continents, oscillating between anxiety and exhilaration, enjoying too little sleep and too much of the kind of diet I consume while traveling (whatever protein I can find to avoid passing out; red wine & coffee) and now I arrived at Elliott Bay hoping I would at least remember the name of my own book and my own self, should anyone ask me.
Wednesday, December 21, 2011
It takes confidence to sit in front of an audience, armed with a few pages of notes and one glass of water, wearing clothes you may have slept in, using your rubbery face as your primary prop, to discuss warmly but ultimately damningly, for nearly two hours, a man you never met. A man thought of as a rare contemporary hero. A man who died five weeks earlier. What gives Mike Daisey, a veteran monologist, the confidence and endurance to perform The Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs daily is, I suspect, justice. The jumpy, chilling, riotous monologue has the expected: scenes from the life of Steve Jobs and Apple; hilarious set pieces about Daisey’s technology geekishness. But its heart lies in Daisey’s disillusionment from his “religion” of Apple after years researching how Apple products are made, most upsettingly by interviewing workers outside the Shenzhen, China factory of Foxconn, a major manufacturer of Apple products. Daisey witnessed the company that produced his objects of identity be ruthlessly indifferent to the lives of the workers making them. His indictment is personal, directed at Jobs, but it leaves no one innocent. After the performance, I needed to run an errand, to buy a toaster. But the stores—buying and selling—sickened me. Toast would have to wait.
Monday, December 19, 2011
Friday, December 16, 2011
Louis C.K.: This is pre-mortem.
AVC: Does it worry you when things seem to be going too well?
LCK: Not at all. I expect there to be a cycle and to be back out on the street again at some point. That’s the nature of it. The good thing about living that cycle a lot, like I have, is that you survive the downside, and make use of the downside, so you don’t fear it anymore. I’m not worried about that. I’m enjoying the work while I get it right now. This is really great, and I have high hopes for [Louie], but not expectations. [Laughs.] Actually, in this case, I do, but I’ve had high expectations before, and so much of it isn’t up to me that I’m just enjoying the work. If I lose any of the stuff I’m getting right now, I’ve always got the road. Stand-up makes you so autonomous and self-sufficient that it really helps with that part of show business.
AVC: You have complete control.
LCK: I can go out on the road. I can make money. I can do what I do in its purest form without asking anybody for permission. You can’t cancel my stand-up tours. It’s impossible. There’s too many separate bosses. There is no “bosses.” I rent these theaters now. When I worked the clubs, it was very different. Pretty much you needed to please the Improvs, but if I get cancelled, I can put together a stand-up tour and go on the road and continue generating. I don’t worry that way anymore. I don’t know what it’s like to be an actor, where if your show gets cancelled, really you’re just a bum. [Laughs.] It must be really awful. You can’t go out and do a little acting, you know what I mean? If I’m not on tour, I can run down to the comedy club and do a little stand-up. If you’re an actor, you can’t go—I guess there’s forms of it.
Saturday, December 10, 2011
Friday, December 09, 2011
Bloomberg insisted that there was no media blackout during the early morning raid: "We didn't keep anybody from reporting, you just had to stand to the side. You don't have a right as a press person to stand in the way just in the interest of getting the story...the police [showed] amazing restraint. This is the greatest police department in the world. The number of times police fire their weapons here is so much less than any other police department."
We reported at the time of the raid that an NPR reporter, a New York Times reporter, and a City Councilmember were all arrested. A New York Post reporter was allegedly put in a "choke hold" by the police, an NBC reporter's press pass was reportedly confiscated, and some reporters and protesters were hit with pepper spray during skirmishes with police after the eviction. Bloomberg claimed at the time that reporters were only asked to "stand to the side"—it may have been literally true, but many reporters said the "side" in this case was so far away from the park that reporting the eviction in any serious way proved seriously difficult.
Later, the Society of Professional Journalists condemned the city's actions and said the Mayor's efforts insinuated what "would seem to be a strategic decision to cloak potentially volatile police activity from the public."
Thursday, December 08, 2011
"Time to stop occupying and start doing!" someone threw at me recently on Facebook.
With all due respect and even acknowledging Occupy Seattle's flaws, I call bullshit: Occupying is doing. And there's more than one way to Occupy: If you didn't like the ragtag Westlake occupation and you don't like the SCCC increasingly homeless-encampment occupation (which, hey, if you don't like it, your chief problem shouldn't be with Occupy but with homelessness), so what? These two Occupy Seattles already were different from each other, and the next incarnation has yet to be written. It looks like Occupy Seattle's days are numbered at SCCC, but I believe the tactic of physical occupation of spaces still has plenty of life in it.
It also has inspiring history in Seattle.
Wednesday, December 07, 2011
In a "remember me, three years ago?" speech in Kansas yesterday, President Obama told the crowd, "This country succeeds when everyone gets a fair shot, when everyone does their fair share and when everyone plays by the same rules." A new report [pdf] from the non-profit organization Public Campaign shows that 30 of the country's largest corporations—including GE, Wells Fargo, Verizon, and Fed Ex—paid more to lobby Congress from 2008 through 2010 than they did in federal income taxes. What country was the president referring to?
Of the 30 companies, only one actually paid any federal income taxes: FedEx.
Tuesday, December 06, 2011
Mike Daisey stood up around midnight. “On the subway up to the show,” Daisey mused he had no idea of how many people he would be performing for. He confessed he had no idea what he was getting into. “And I’m delighted you’re here,” he explained, with a humble gentleness, as the crowd cheered. He immediately established a rapport with the crowd. To hold a space really is about connecting with the crowd and hearing what they need, what are their concerns, etc. . “Its an amazing thing to try to hold a space. Cause that’s what we do in the theater, we hold spaces. But one of the tricks they never tell you is, to not hold it at all, but to give it back to the people, to give it back to the audience. They are the source, the thought, the source. You don’t do anything. You take what you are given, you mediate that and give it back to them.” His monologue really was a highpoint. In a way, he was talking about what Talen was talking about, the links between audience and self, community and city, the collective experience of stories, dreams, unconscious desires, reflections on the tragicomic continuum of human experience, all of which is necessary to truly say we are living democratically. It was that contract of experience which produced Kusher in Times Square out of the AIDS crisis.
Monday, December 05, 2011
“People say the economy has problems,” Mr. Carvey said in a robotic, high-pitched whine in an Oval Office address. “Try telling it to that guy out there in Oregon who is working on that thing, doing it, going round and round in the whole area out there.”
Most of Mr. Carvey’s sketches were solitary speeches delivered at a desk, with no gimmicks and relatively few jokes. The humor was rooted in character. What made Mr. Carvey such a thrillingly adventurous and funny performer is that he kept pushing his cartoonish character in more flamboyant directions.
His elaborate hand gestures became so ornamental that they looked like something out of Peking Opera. As he refined the character, his language grew vaguer and vaguer, an evolution that was actually an articulate comment on the decline of clarity in political rhetoric. Sentences turned into fragments, then words turned into mumblings. “Not going to do it” became “na ga da.” It was so outlandish that it appeared less scathing than it actually was. Mr. Bush, who appeared on the show, seemed genuinely to like it.
Perhaps the most powerful moment came just before midnight on Friday when Mike Daisey, the monologist and author who is currently appearing in "The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs" at the Public Theater, delivered an impassioned speech about consumerism, Mayor Bloomberg and Occupy Wall Street. An enormous crowd of people formed as he took the stage.
"I'm very sympathetic to the desire to not only have there be protests, but also protests that incorporate an artistic movement and incorporate the skills of the artistic community," Daisey told The Huffington Post on Saturday between performances of his show at the Public. "And I think that it's a really exciting thing to see the arts become civically and politically engaged. I'm just intensely interested in all of it."
"I think it's an important moment for people to stand up," Daisey continued. "There's a huge number of people in New York who profess belief systems that coincide with or overlap with the concerns of the protesters, but they don't feel sufficiently stirred yet to go and have a conversation. And if they want to have a conversation, if people want to talk about the nature of equality and the lack of equality in this country, and if they want to talk about economic power and about corporatism, this is a platform to talk about those things. They're all topics that I've been talking about for years in my monologues."
"I think it's a really crucial time, and the more and more people sort of stand on the sidelines, gawking, the more they are going to find that they're on the wrong side of history."
Sunday, December 04, 2011
Imagine you walked into a bank, applied for a personal line of credit, and filled out all the paperwork claiming to have no debts and an income of $200,000 per year. The bank, based on these representations, extended you the line of credit. Then, three years later, after fighting disclosure all the way, you were forced by a court to tell the truth: At the time you made the statements to the bank, you actually were unemployed, you had a $1 million mortgage on your house on which you had failed to make payments for six months, and you hadn’t paid even the minimum on your credit-card bills for three months. Do you think the bank would just say: Never mind, don’t worry about it? Of course not. Whether or not you had paid back the personal line of credit, three FBI agents would be at your door within hours.
Yet this is exactly what the major American banks have done to the public. During the deepest, darkest period of the financial cataclysm, the CEOs of major banks maintained in statements to the public, to the market at large, and to their own shareholders that the banks were in good financial shape, didn’t want to take TARP funds, and that the regulatory framework governing our banking system should not be altered. Trust us, they said. Yet, unknown to the public and the Congress, these same banks had been borrowing massive amounts from the government to remain afloat. The total numbers are staggering: $7.7 trillion of credit—one-half of the GDP of the entire nation. $460 billion was lent to J.P. Morgan, Bank of America, Citibank, Wells Fargo, Goldman Sachs, and Morgan Stanley alone—without anybody other than a few select officials at the Fed and the Treasury knowing. This was perhaps the single most massive allocation of capital from public to private hands in our history, and nobody was told. This was not TARP: This was secret Fed lending. And although it has since been repaid, it is clear why the banks didn’t want us to know about it: They didn’t want to admit the magnitude of their financial distress.
The Swiss government commissioned a study on the impact of copyright-infringing downloading. The independent study concluded that downloaders use the money they spend to buy more legitimate entertainment products. So they've concluded to maintain Switzerland's extant copyright law, which makes downloading for personal use legal. It's a rare victory for evidence-based policy in a world dominated by shrill assertions of lost jobs and revenue, backed by funny-number "statistics" from industry-commissioned researchers.
Saturday, December 03, 2011
The Dark Side of Enlightenment:
Joyce says that the initial audience reactions were enthusiastic but befuddled—people didn't know what it was, but they knew that they liked it. That makes sense—A Pale and Lovely Place can be simultaneously, confoundingly savage and charming. Sometimes the text is menacing and the delivery is light, as in the story of the huckster chasing a lost little boy down an alleyway. Sometimes the text is light but the delivery is menacing: "So just remember, boys and girls, you're important—and everybody wants to be your special, special friend!"
It's not all about Christianity, Faust, and the Devil. Sometimes, Joyce's description of the Covenant sounds like a promise of enlightenment in the language of yoga, Buddhism, and the other bits of Asian theology that have floated across the Pacific and into America's culture of self-improvement. In one passage, Joyce tells us that we "often confuse desire with reality" and cheerfully suggests an exercise to release us from the chains of "desire's bondage":
For the children in tonight's audience, I encourage you to try this at home. Find a friend or nearby family member, and ask them to lie prostrate on a bed of nails or sharp glass shards. Then begin to lightly pound on their back with a hammer or some similarly heavy, blunt object. As they scream or cry, imagine some thing or person you truly desire, especially a desire that may be difficult or impossible to attain—true happiness, for example, or a full head of real hair—and hold that vision in your mind, mingling it and mixing it with the screams of your beloved friend or family member. This type of activity is guaranteed by the Covenant to rid you of the desire forever.
A Pale and Lovely Place is something to be befuddled by and enthusiastic about, a short but intense trip through the moral looking-glass, where it's hard to tell the good from the evil.
Friday, December 02, 2011
But othey don't. Suppliers are notorious for faking pay records and gaming the inspectors. And Apple's track record makes clear that conditions are not safe and just.
Cook also boasts that Apple offers free continuing education programs at factories in China, saying that "more than 60,000 workers have enrolled in classes to learn business, entrepreneurial skills or English." But are they earning more money? Working fewer hours? Safer?
See the problem here? Apple and other companies are measuring their actions, and not their impact. There's a big difference between the two. It's reason why we don't know whether the people who make the iPad are better or worse off than those who make an HP printer or a Microsoft XBox.
"Companies report on their activities -- audits conducted, training delivered -- but don't tell us what impact that effort has achieved for workers," Dan says. "As a result, while companies are getting better at reporting on their activities, we don't have a meaningful way to compare one company to another." We'd know more if companies reported on the wages that workers are paid, the number of workplace injuries, turnover rates, environmental discharges and the like.
On December 2, 2011 New York artists will introduce tourists and New Yorkers going to Broadway shows or shopping themselves into debt to the idea of occupation as creative resistance with non-stop free performances. Occupy Broadway will set up in a privately owned public space (POPS) near Times Square, turning once blandified space into a space for cultural production.
“The city created privately owned public spaces for the people, in exchange for bonus height and bulk in these spaces,” notes Benjamin Shepard, co-author of The Beach Beneath the Streets. “As State Judge Stallman made clear last week, the people have a right to be in these spaces 24 hours a day.”
In recent weeks, there has been a push to tramp on our rights to public assembly, public space and by extension democracy itself. In response, Occupy Broadway joins a global struggle using occupation as a form of creative resistance. Occupations are spreading around the world and around New York City, even uotown. Bloomberg Beware, you take our park, Now Liberty Park is everywhere! In a time when downtown theaters are rapidly losing their spaces, being turned into high-end fashion stores, Occupy Broadway is a symbolic attempt to regain the space of theatre as an accessible, popular art form, bringing it back to where it all started - in a public space, for the common citizen.
I refused to participate as a performer because what I anticipated would be a few hours of creative labor, a meal, and the chance to network with like-minded colleagues turned out to be an unfairly remunerated job. I was expected to lie naked and speechless on a slowly rotating table, starting from before guests arrived and lasting until after they left (a total of nearly four hours). I was expected to ignore (by staying in what Abramovic refers to as "performance mode") any potential physical or verbal harassment while performing. I was expected to commit to fifteen hours of rehearsal time, and sign a Non-Disclosure Agreement stating that if I spoke to anyone about what happened in the audition I was liable for being sued by Bounce Events, Marketing, Inc., the event’s producer, for a sum of $1 million dollars plus attorney fees.