Saturday, March 31, 2012

“Agony and Ecstasy” Version 2.0 - American Theatre – April 2012:

Courtney MacLean, whose Hacktor’s Collective will stage a similarly revised and remixed six-actor reading on April 13 at the Hack Factory in Minneapolis, put it this way to the Huffington Post: “The bottom line is that we should all consider the entire life-span of our purchases, from the hands that put the gadget together to the moment we unwrap it in our homes.”

For his part, Louisana’s Daigle marveled at Daisey’s “open source” tactics. “The way he’s released the script for other people to perform, but also tell their own stories around it, is very serendipitous. It ensures that this piece won’t disappear. Now you can make it the beginning of a conversation rather than the end result.”

MacLean agreed. “Daisey is asking us to think about where our devices come from, and now we, as audience and producers and fans, are being asked to think about where our theatrical pieces are coming from.”

Friday, March 30, 2012

The report on Foxconn from the Fair Labor Association came out late yesterday, reporting numerous labor violations at Foxconn.

Despite the front-page coverage of these revelations, the content of this report is not a surprise to anyone paying attention. Apple’s own supplier responsibility reports have routinely shown that there are severe, ongoing issues that they chose not to address--those reports go all the way back to 2006.

Here is Apple in 2006, from their own reports:

“Employees worked longer hours than permitted by our Code of Conduct, which limits normal workweeks to 60 hours and requires at least one day off each week…[Foxconn] has enacted a policy change to enforce the weekly overtime limits set by our Code of Conduct. The policy change has been communicated to supervisors and employees and a management system has been implemented to track compliance… Supervisors must receive approval from upper level management for any deviation.”

“We’ve engaged the services of Verité, an internationally recognized leader in workplace standards dedicated to ensuring that people around the world work under safe, fair and legal conditions. We are committed to ensuring compliance with our Code of Conduct and will complete audits of all final assembly suppliers in 2006… In cases where a supplier’s efforts in this area do not meet our expectations, their contracts will be terminated.”

Here is Apple in 2012, again from their own reports:

“We continue to address excessive work hours, and this has been a challenge throughout the history of our program…Apple limits factory working hours to a maximum of 60 work hours per week and requires at least one day of rest per seven days of work — except in emergencies or unusual circumstances…Reducing excessive overtime is a top priority for our Supplier Responsibility program in 2012…

“Apple is the first technology company to be admitted to the Fair Labor Association (FLA). The FLA has made incredible progress over the past decade to improve working conditions and protect workers… We will open our supply chain to an FLA auditing team. This team will measure our performance against the FLA’s own Workplace Code of Conduct…If a supplier is unwilling to change, we terminate our relationship.”

That’s six years with no change, other than that Verite was used as an outside monitor in 2006 to quell discussion, and now it is the Fair Labor Association's turn. It's useful to have someone to slap your hand when the world is looking.

This isn’t news. It isn't news that unions have faced overwhelming opposition at Foxconn, that management has intimidated workers into falsifying answers to investigators, that workers feel they are in an unsafe environment where half-constructed factories sometimes explode as they are pressed into overtime production making iPads. And that then, after a round of PR and warm assurances, a second factory explodes hours after Apple inspects inspection that lasts ten minutes.

The fact is that no survey was needed by the FLA to tell Apple that the rights of workers were being violated at Foxconn. Apple could have read its own reports, as well as the reports of SACOM, China Labor Watch, SOMO, and the accounts of many journalists who have written on the subject.

Today Apple and Foxconn are making bold promises. But this has happened before—they made similar promises in 2006, after Verite performed its auditing, and they promised that excessive overtime and abusive conditions would soon be a thing of the past.

What happened? Nothing happened.

The world turned its shoulder and went back to sleep. And as soon as the world wasn't looking, Apple and Foxconn kept doing nothing.

Apple's gestures today are good steps, if they are actually implemented. If Apple and Foxconn are held to account. If they have given up their old ways, embraced working with their workers, and this is their version of making amends and rectifying what they've done.

The wage increases tied to moving to legal working hours are vital, though it's appalling that Apple and Foxconn give themselves fifteen months to come into compliance with existing Chinese law, laws they know they've been willfully violating for years.

But here's something that is news.

If we knew all this—if the white papers and articles existing on these labor situations have been out for years and years—why is something happening now?

The answer is as clear as it is brutal: we didn't care.

Nothing is possible until people care.

We would do anything we can not to think about how all our things are made, not to think about the true cost of our world, not to admit that we are locked into an intimate embrace with an authoritarian government so that our way of life depends on millions of people never truly being free.

Until we jump that empathy gap, nothing is possible. Until we find a way to actually commit to that leap of imagination and feel that we are connected, we will do everything we can to deny it.

This story has always been larger than anyone—larger than my work, than Apple, than Foxconn. It belongs to all of us.
Chief Of Staff At DC V.A. Hospital Commutes To NYC To Be In GATZ With His Son: Gothamist:

GATZ, the inspired stage adaptation of The Great Gatsby created by groundbreaking theater company Elevator Repair Service, is back for a limited run at The Public Theater. As you may recall, not a single word of F. Scott Fitzgerald's masterpiece was cut for this adaptation, which lasts nearly seven hours, plus multiple intermissions and a leisurely dinner break. This radical approach to the text presents a rare opportunity to surf Fitzgerald's masterpiece in one continuous rolling wave, and it's enthralling.

Actor Scott Shepherd, who by now knows all 49,000 words of the novel by heart, has gotten most of the press for his uncanny mental acumen, but GATZ is an ensemble piece through and through, with precise and funny performances given by everyone on the team. The title role, for instance, is played by downtown theater regular Jim Fletcher (perhaps you saw him recently in The Early Plays), who brings an unconventional mix of menace and daffiness to the iconic part. As it happens, the role of Gatsby's father is played by Fletcher's real-life father Dr. Ross Fletcher, a non-actor who happens to be the Chief of Staff at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Washington, DC. Not exactly a lightweight.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Apple Supplier in China Pledges Big Labor Changes -

The shift comes after a far-ranging inspection by the Fair Labor Association, a monitoring group, found widespread problems — including numerous instances where Foxconn violated Chinese law and industry codes of conduct by having employees work more than 60 hours a week, sometimes for 11 or more days in a row.

The monitoring group, which in recent weeks surveyed more than 35,000 Foxconn employees and inspected three large facilities where Apple products are manufactured, also found that 43 percent of workers surveyed had experienced or witnessed accidents, and almost two-thirds said their compensation “does not meet their basic needs.” Many said that the unions available to them did “not provide true worker representation.”

Mike Check: A Few More Words on L'Affaire Daisey | The Nation:

I didn’t learn much in that straight sense from Agony—I’d read NGO and news reports about Foxconn before—and never thought that was the show’s main point, anyway. Not having seen the note in the program labeling the show nonfiction (though if I had, it might not have mattered), I also didn’t take it to be unvarnished. Daisey’s honed prose and his fine-tuned performance—the well-placed sudden shouts, the comic slow takes, the repeated, careful small gestures—all pointed to admirable artifice, which at the very least always frames the factual. Nonetheless, Daisey was trying to strike a bargain with the audience that he could not keep, as if he could deliver the veracity of Lawrence Wright’s The Human Scale and My Trip to Al Qaeda—elegantly wrought, staged lectures by a seasoned journalist with a personable presence, but little acting skill and not a sliver of Daisey’s kinesthetic command onstage. Daisey belongs more to the varied tradition of Wally Shawn’s The Fever, Spalding Gray’s Swimming to Cambodia and Holly Hughes’s Preaching to the Perverted, works that twine personal narratives around journeys of political discovery or entanglement.

There’s a longstanding joke about performance artists doing psychotherapy onstage, and it’s true of myriad bad cases. But the best performers—like Daisey—put the audience in the shrink’s chair in a different manner: they prime us to listen for emotional honesty above all. And that is the truth I responded to and admired in his show: Daisey’s own ecstasy and agony, his abiding romance with his gorgeous iStuff and his disgust with the injustice of its production, his—and our—urgent and frustrated desire to reconcile those feelings with action. Like many of his shows I’ve seen, Agony traces an experience of seduction and betrayal. This time, in more ways than one.
In a Fog
Doubting the Impossible: Mike Daisey, the Pragmatists, and Networked Ways of Knowing « Social Media Collective:

There’s a lot here to untangle, but what I want to focus on is this knotty question of “truth”. This is a huge simplification, but pragmatist philosophers (people like John Dewey, Charles Peirce, William James) essentially believed that truth—social truths, not stuff like 2+2=4—cannot live in the head of any one individual or system of knowledge. Essentially, the very idea of truth (what people understand to be a fact) is tightly linked to epistemology (how people come to know). Truth is what we find it impossible not to believe. It’s what our minds, hearts, friends, families, classes, races, ethics, ideologies, histories, and imagined futures demand that must believe, if we are to be functioning people in society. Truth is what makes us act, makes us do things in the world to achieve change. Truth isn’t a mirror of reality, it’s what we can’t doubt.

The pragmatists help us see three levels of truth in the whole Daisey debacle. The first—a mundane kind of level—is about the details of Daisey’s narrative. Did he talk to 3 people or 10 people? Did he talk with someone who had used n-hexane or not? Was the girl he talked to 12- or 13-years old? These details matter for sure. The second type is focused on what different genres have to say about truth. Is a theatre story that makes us feel something “true” because the emotions are real, regardless of their origin? Is a journalistic story “true” because we trust news organizations to follow fact-checking conventions that we might not understand first-hand, but that tradition, professional scrutiny and investigative reporting outcomes have convinced us are the gold standard of fact-based public storytelling? Do we trust Daisey more or less to influence our beliefs if we know which genres and traditions he’s using?

The third type of truth, though, is where pragmatists are the most helpful and where internet-based learning is trickiest: what do we want to do because of the story? What is it about the mix of emotion, evidence, argument, and narrative compels us to action – to believe something or do something? What do we want to be true? What do our social worlds make it hard for us to doubt? What makes us act because of—or in spite of—the story? Would we let ourselves believe that Daisey is telling us about a problem that does or doesn’t exist?

…My heart’s in Accra » The Passion of Mike Daisey: Journalism, Storytelling and the Ethics of Attention:

The “fact-check” turns into a discussion about whether it’s fair for the US to outsource labor to other countries without sending western labor standards abroad as well. This leads to the odd experience of Nicholas Kristof discussing an essay he wrote with his wife, Sherryl WuDunn – who’s from a part of China near Foxconn’s factory – that offers “Two Cheers for Sweatshops“. Kristof and WuDunn argue that the sweatshop era is a relatively brief one in a country’s economic development, and that the working conditions are significantly better than the alternative – rural poverty.

For me, this postscript was the most helpful part of the show. Mike’s story puts productively uncomfortable questions on the table: How much should we care about the people who make the devices we use? When we export jobs, do we have a responsibility to export our labor protections as well? What’s the balance between development and considerations of worker safety? Daisey’s story from Shenzen falls well short of journalistic standards for reporting. But in terms of provoking an interesting conversation on rich topics, it’s massively successful. Unfortunately, those rich conversations get eclipsed once the conversation turns into a question of whether Daisey falsified a story.

Golden light
Poet Adrienne Rich, 82, has died -

Selected for the National Medal for the Arts in 1997, the highest award given to artists, Rich refused it.

“The radical disparities of wealth and power in America are widening at a devastating rate,” she wrote in a letter addressed to then-President Clinton. “A president cannot meaningfully honor certain token artists while the people at large are so dishonored.”

Hustling the cloud: McDonald's hot spots and the internet jackals of the Apple Store | Capital New York:

This was the future a lot of dystopian sci-fi authors warned us about, where a private, profit-hungry corporation could make itself feel like Mom's house. I loved it. For the ridiculous amount of money Apple had raked in during its stellar iPod/iPhone decade, it was willing to let a few stragglers abuse their sample products, maintaining an aura of Californian liberality. All that was missing was a counter for dispensing sandals near the entrance, bowling alley-style.

On these weird late nights, actual Apple customers sat on bar stools near the Genius Bar, waiting like worried pet owners for their sick machines to come out from the back, fully restored. We, the internet jackals, never mingled with those credit card-wielding V.I.P.'s, but I figured any sensible abuser felt just as grateful toward the Apple true believers as I did. It was their insatiable lust for each new iThis or iThat which provided for us all. Both Steve Jobs and the booty-shake dude would be out in the cold without them.

In this one store, Jobs had given us a shimmering, utopian welfare state, where even those of us who would have had to sell blood to keep up with the iJoneses at least got to sample the glory.

night sea (frontpage explored)

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Now You Can Die Happy, Stephen Hando:

Mr. Hando has been being brilliant since Rm 608's early-'90s soap opera Shuddering Pines. He was brilliant again as the lead in Greek Active's mid-'90s King John and Printer's Devil Theater's late-'90s Free Will and Wanton Lust, and he is known in the biz as a uniquely gifted comic actor. What wasn't fully obvious before Torso is that he's an actor of unbelievable subtlety and range. He makes characters you could stare at forever.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

In the otherwise forgettable David Mamet movie STATE AND MAIN there’s a scene that has always stuck with me. It’s when Alec Baldwin’s character crashes a station wagon in the middle of the night in the center of the New England town where they are shooting their ill-fated film. He emerges from the wreck unscathed, and says,

“So. That happened.”

I think about this moment all the time, and it seems especially appropriate as this is the week Alec Baldwin told me to fuck myself on Twitter.

In some ways it isn’t appropriate at all—I don’t feel unscathed, and I’m very aware of the damage my actions have caused. But now that the media firestorm has passed, and I have made my apologies, both public and private, it’s time to get back to work.

Being humble before the work doesn’t mean running away, and it doesn’t mean folding when the chips are down. In fact, it means the opposite. It means opening your eyes, admitting your mistakes, and doing your job.

When THE AGONY AND ECSTASY OF STEVE JOBS is performed again in just a few days, it will have changed. It will have none of the material called into question on This American Life, and nothing in the piece will break the rules I have developed over years with my audiences.

I’m still refining and developing these changes, but I can tell you it involves cutting about six minutes from a two hour show. There will also be other changes. I’m probing every part of the show, making sure it reflects the complexities and human stories, while shining a light on the labor situation confirmed by numerous news organizations and human rights groups.

It’s a very different world now than it was when this piece was born. In 2010 almost no one in my audiences had ever heard of Foxconn, and most had never considered in a deep way where their devices came from or the circumstances of their creation. The fact that we are awake to these issues now is a massive change that can not be rolled back, and the show must respond to that as well.

Stories are living things. Every time the context of this show has changed—from the wake of Steve Jobs’ passing, to the New York Times’ devastating expose on Apple’s supply chain—it has required changes, and it has made the work stronger.

These have been some of the hardest weeks of my life, and I don’t know what the future holds. But I look forward to digging back in and using everything I’ve learned to do right by my audiences and my work.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Here is an excerpt from an interview I gave to Seattle radio host Luke Burbank about a year ago:

Burbank: “How do you reconcile telling a good story with also trying to get the facts right and when do you decide what is the more important goal?”

Daisey: “Oh, well you know what I’ve found over the years is that the facts are your friends, like if there’s ever a case where I’m telling the story and I find the facts are inconvenient, 9 times out of 10 it means I haven’t thought about the story deeply enough. I really believe in this because the world is more complex and more interesting than my imagination. So the world is full of really fascinating things. You have so many tools on stage as a storyteller. Like, any time you want something to happen, you don’t have to pretend it happened and lie, you can use a flight of fancy, you can say, ‘I imagine what this must look like.’ You can say anything and you can go in whatever direction you need to go, but be clear with the audience, but be clear with the audience that at one moment you’re reporting the truth as literally it happened, and another case you’re using hyperbole, and you just have to be really clear about when you’re using each tool. No, for me it’s not actually that hard if—and this is a big if—if you’re pretty scrupulous about not believing you know the story before you see it.”

Thanks to Chris Hayes for finding this exchange. I’m putting it out here because I think it very succinctly sums up the rules I have for myself about how I create my monologues, and in so doing, I think it also makes clear where I fell short in
The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs.

When I said onstage that I had personally experienced things I in fact did not, I failed to honor the contract I’d established with my audiences over many years and many shows. In doing so, I not only violated their trust, I also made art that didn't live up to what it should be.

This is not the place for me to try and explain my good intentions. We all know where the road paved with good intentions leads. In fact, I think it might lead to where I’m sitting right now.

I had an acting teacher, years ago, who always taught that the calling of an artist is to be humble before the work. He knew, I think, how easy it can be to lose one’s way.

I listened to a podcast of the discussion some of my colleagues had a few nights ago discussing “Truth in Theater”—and what a thing it was not to be there, to have been asked not to come, and what a strange feeling to know that it was my trespasses that had made the conversation necessary in the first place.

But also, what a gift: to just be able to sit and listen, and to hear these people I so respect discuss these issues with intelligence and humor, and to hear the civility they extended my way even when they took serious issue with some of the choices I have made.

It made me reflect upon how lucky I have been to call the theater my home all these years, the only place I can imagine this kind of discourse happening. It made me grateful for the great privilege it has been to be able to call myself a storyteller and to have audiences come and listen to what I have to say, to extend their trust to me. I am sorry I was careless with that trust. For this, I would like to apologize to my audiences.

And I would like to apologize to my colleagues in the theater, especially those who work in non-fiction and documentary fields. What you do is essential to our civic discourse. If I have made your path more difficult, or the truth of your work harder for audiences to discern, I am sorry.

I would also like to apologize to the journalists I gave interviews to in which I exaggerated my own experiences. In my drive to tell this story and have it be heard, I lost my grounding. Things came out of my mouth that just weren’t true, and over time, I couldn’t even hear the difference myself.

To human rights advocates and those who have been doing the hard work of bringing attention to these kinds of labor issues for years, if my failures have made your jobs harder, I apologize. If I had done my job properly, with the skills I have honed for years, I could have avoided this. Instead, I blinded myself, and lost sight of the people I wanted most to help.

I use the word “truth” a lot in my work. These words from the opening scene of
How Theater Failed America come to mind:

Some of you are hoping tonight that the rarest of things will happen: that someone is actually going to tell the truth.

That’s rare. That’s hen’s teeth.

You should know better.

And so should I. Because that’s what I’m looking for—every time I come back to this place, and all the places like it. Looking for the truth: that rare, random descent, like a feather across the back of your hand.

I speak about truth because it is what I aspire to. All my stories, even when I’ve fallen short, have been attempts to experience the truth with my audiences.

I am sorry for where I have failed. I will look closer, be more patient, and listen more clearly.

I will be humble before the work.


(You can read some thoughts on what's next for AGONY/ECSTASY here.)

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

I gave a talk last night in Georgetown, a day after closing the show, and I tried to address everything that has been going on.

You can listen to what I had to say here:

(You can read more about this here.)

Monday, March 19, 2012

“Reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated.” —another American monologist 

Many consider this week’s THIS AMERICAN LIFE episode one of the most painful they’ve ever listened to. In particular the segment with me is excruciating—four hours of grilling edited down to fifteen minutes. I thought the dead air was a nice touch, and finishing the episode with audio pulled out of context from my performance was masterful. 

That’s Ira’s choice, and it’s his show. He’s a storyteller within the context of radio journalism, and I am a storyteller in the theater. In the last forty-eight hours I have been equated with Stephen Glass, James Frey, and Greg Mortenson. Given the tenor of the condemnation, you would think I had concocted an elaborate, fanciful universe filled with furnaces in which babies are burned to make iPhone components, or that I never went to China, never stood outside the gates of Foxconn, never pretended to be a businessman to get inside of factories, never spoke to any workers. 

Especially galling is how many are gleefully eager to dance on my grave expressly so they can return to ignoring everything about the circumstances under which their devices are made. Given the tone, you would think I had fabulated an elaborate hoax, filled with astonishing horrors that no one had ever seen before. 

Except that we all know that isn’t true. 

There is nothing in this controversy that contests the facts in my work about the nature of Chinese manufacturing. Nothing. I think we all know if there was, Ira would have brought it up. 

You certainly don’t need to listen to me. Read the New York Times reporting. Listen to the NPR piece that ran just last week in which workers at an iPad plant go on record saying the plant was inspected by Apple just hours before it exploded, and that the inspection lasted all of ten minutes. 

If you think this story is bigger than that story, something is wrong with your priorities. 

If people want to use me as an excuse to return to denialism about the state of our manufacturing, about the shape of our world, they are doing that to themselves. 

To radio listeners: I apologized in this week’s episode to anyone who felt betrayed. I stand by that apology. But understand that if you felt something that connected you with where your devices come from—that is not a lie. That is art. That is human empathy, and it is real, and even if you curse my name I hope you’ll recognize that and continue reading, caring, and thinking. 

To my audiences: It’s you that I owe the most to. I want you all to know that I will not go silent—I will be making a full accounting of this work, shining a light through this monologue and telling the story of its origins, construction, and details. I believe the truth is vitally important. I continue to believe that. I believe that I will answer for the things I have done. I told Ira that story should always be subordinate to the truth, and I still believe that. Sometimes I fall short of that goal, but I will never stop trying to achieve it.

(Read more about this here.)

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Here's the audio from the prologue I delivered at this afternoon's performance.


More soon.

Friday, March 16, 2012

"This American Life" has raised questions about the adaptation of AGONY/ECSTASY we created for their program. Here is my response:

I stand by my work. My show is a theatrical piece whose goal is to create a human connection between our gorgeous devices and the brutal circumstances from which they emerge. It uses a combination of fact, memoir, and dramatic license to tell its story, and I believe it does so with integrity. Certainly, the comprehensive investigations undertaken by The New York Times and a number of labor rights groups to document conditions in electronics manufacturing would seem to bear this out. 

What I do is not journalism. The tools of the theater are not the same as the tools of journalism. For this reason, I regret that I allowed THIS AMERICAN LIFE to air an excerpt from my monologue. THIS AMERICAN LIFE is essentially a journalistic ­- not a theatrical ­- enterprise, and as such it operates under a different set of rules and expectations. But this is my only regret. I am proud that my work seems to have sparked a growing storm of attention and concern over the often appalling conditions under which many of the high-tech products we love so much are assembled in China.

(Read more about this situation here.)

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

iPad Workers: Plant Inspected Hours Before Blast : NPR:

Last week, NPR met with 25 workers injured in the Shanghai blast and they criticized safety at the plant and said Apple had inspected it just hours before the explosion.

...Liu says management told workers not to talk to the Apple inspectors, who spent 10 minutes in the area and then left. Liu says if he'd been allowed to speak, he would have told them this: "They could improve the environment somewhat, because the environment is too terrible."

Apple and Pegatron declined requests for interviews.

Thursday, March 08, 2012

The Moon 300112 [explored]
The Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs | PRI's The World:

Guo Ruiqiang worked for Chinese manufacturer Wintek, and has permanent nerve damage because of a toxic chemical he used to clean iPhone screens. He’s 29, and pretty down about the future—about finding work and someone to marry.

We reached him in his hometown of Xuchang in Henan Province and asked him, through a translator, what he would tell people just learning how their iPhones are made. He, like Daisey, thought that awareness was a start.

“I hope fans of Apple will know that the products they use require us to make a sacrifice,” he said.

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

My OpEd which ran in today's New York Daily News on the occasion of Apple's press announcement:

The human cost of that new iPad - NY Daily News

Apple will make one of its fabled announcements on Wednesday, and the tech world is buzzing. All of the elements are in place: The Yerba Buena Center in San Francisco has an enigmatic and colorful design stenciled across it, tech journalists are lining up like cattle to gawk, and soon we will all know about the latest version of the iPad, expected to make its debut.

There is a problem, however. At the same time as the tech world will celebrate Apple — even post-Steve Jobs Apple, run now by Tim Cook — with waves of hype, we have all just started to reckon with the fact that these devices are made overseas under brutal conditions that have led to documented deaths, chemical poisonings, collapses from exhaustion and more.

They are assembled by hand by workers putting in incredible hours, and by Apple’s own metrics, the conditions are in violation of labor laws in both China and the United States.

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

An Audience for Shenzhen: part two:

Prior to this sensational news story, the most significant coverage in US news outlets was the discussion in 2008 of a Shenzhen nightclub fire and Shenzhen overtaking Honk Kong as China’s innovation capital. Before 2008, the biggest story—which pales in comparison to either the 2008 or 2009 coverage—was the 2006 announcement that Apple would manufacture the new iPod at Foxconn in Shenzhen and the ensuing PR “problems” wherein Foxconn froze “assets includ[ing] apartments, a car and bank accounts” of Chinese reporters publishing articles about the working conditions in Foxconn factories.
The Fall of Steve Jobs (Again):

Oh there are a few heroes, Patagonia for one, but most corporations leave a lot to be desired when it comes to corporate responsibility and human rights. But Apple, well, they were supposed to be different. They were creating technology that would change the world – for the better right? Now I find Apple, the self-styled manufacturer of the elite, the future, built by the most famous humanist, well, they aren’t practicing what they polluted into our minds.It’s a shock we may never recover from.

I was in Haiti recently and was sitting around a table with a group of people who supported the same organization I did. As we were talking about the recession its causes, one person in particular interrupted me as I began to talk with “Well, what’s the most profitable company in America?”

And I looked at her and said, “Apple.”

And she looked aghast. “No it’s Exxon.”

I shook my head. “Apple surpassed it this quarter.”

The table got quiet. The only thing you heard were the dogs barking outside. And then incredibly people went back to bashing oil companies.


Today's award for most honest but also most deeply cynical piece of writing goes to
this Gizmodo post by Mat Honan. He manages to cop to the state of tech journalism as an endless parade of empty hackery, but doesn't show any insight into what it means, or even concern.

He writes:

Here is an anecdote: A major player in the consumer electronics industry had an event planned on Wednesday morning at the same time as Apple's announcement. It was a chance for an intimate group of technology journalists to meet with a C-level executive, and to walk away at the end of the meeting with unreleased products to review.

Journalists love this kind of gathering because, above all else, we are dicks; the chance to hector a top executive at one of the world's largest companies for not being Apple, in an intimate setting, surrounded by your equally unimpressed peers, and then walk out the door with unreleased products to review is what we love to do.

Nonetheless, [Redacted] had to reschedule its event due to lack of interest. Too many inky hacks pulled out to cover Apple instead. We, the Press would rather sit in a dark room, unable to ask tough questions or actually touch and test an Apple product, than do our job. We would rather serve as a gateway for Apple's live action press releases.

Refreshingly honest! But then, he turns it narcissistic:

And unless you accuse the media of being biased towards Apple products, you should have figured out by now that none of us even care. Who cares. Nobody cares. We are all so jaded and cynical that if cow shit brought in an audience, we would all be sitting in a pasture, DSLRs in hand, waiting breathlessly for the next patty to fall. Or at least, many of us would.

We cover what we cover because it's what you want us to cover. And as long as the audience comes in, we'll be there to receive you.

What a tired and pathetic excuse.

"We can't do anything else! You *make* us this way, you public! We're absolutely helpless to your insane whims! I would write real stories, I would, I''s just that the public demands so much garbage! I have to give them what they want!"

God, how technology could use some writers with some fucking guts.

It doesn't take guts to sit around puling and crying because the way you are spoon fed your stories doesn't always agree with your achey tummy. It takes guts to stand up and dig in and find the stories that need to be dragged out into the light, and the skill and savvy to do that with a smile and a wink, so you can keep getting the interviews you need to do your job.

So tomorrow, Apple will be heaving a dead goat off a truck for the vultures of the technology press to swoop in and feast on. And oh, how we will feast: ripping the meat from the bones with our sharp-witted beaks. Page views—and more importantly, unique visitors—will come rolling in, enough to fill our bellies and sate our appetites for the month. (I shall be guilty of this, just you wait.)

Oh, right. You could do something else—like, say, journalism—but that might require work, involve a degree of professional exposure to career risk, and isn't as easy as the cycle you're decrying in this article.

But. You. Could.

You just choose not to.

But Mr. Honan does have some words for me:

Insufferable gits will note that this thing has the sweat and blood of poorly paid workers smeared across its highly toxic components.

First: the devices aren't toxic. Apple goes to a lot of pains to leave the toxins in China. But hey, it's not like Mr. Honan is a technology journalist or anything—why sweat the details?

Second: thanks. If the choice is being on the side of those you find insufferable, versus the kind of burned-out, faux-deep "insightfulness" that comes from this kind of tin-plated world-weariness, I know what side I want to be on.

Just because you recognize that you're part of the problem doesn't buy anybody a pass.


Lance Baker rehearsing A Red Orchid Theatre's production of THE AGONY AND THE ECSTASY OF STEVE JOBS.
Student Loan Debt Delinquency Is Much Worse Than We Thought:

The new info here is that the FRBNY has taken a whack at calculating the true rate of delinquency of student loans, by screening out certain groups that throw off the numbers. Previously, about 14% of borrowers officially had past due loans. Surprise! The number is actually much higher:

We find that 27 percent of the borrowers have past due balances, while the adjusted proportion of outstanding student loan balances that is delinquent is 21 percent-much higher than the unadjusted rates of 14.4 percent and 10 percent, respectively

So more than one in four borrowers are effectively behind on their student loan payments, and more than one fifth of total student loan debt is effectively delinquent. Fortunately, education is priceless.

Whoever Stole the 'Elven Weapon' from a Princeton Student at Wawa, Please Return It:

Date: Mar 4, 2012 2:03 PM
Subject: Lost bow and two arrows

Dear Forbesians,

My roommate inexplicably left his handcrafted bow and a quiver of five arrows at the Wawa convenience store between 2 and 2:30 am last night, and returned at around 2:45 am to find the bow and two arrows stolen. He would like to remind the person responsible that this is a serious elven weapon and not a toy; and further that the hand of Mirkwood, though soft and manicured, shows no mercy. The items in question can be returned to room [REDACTED] with an apology letter written in runic script.


Monday, March 05, 2012

The Koch brothers are trying to seize control of the libertarian think tank Cato. - Slate Magazine:

On Friday afternoon, as the Washington offices of the Cato Institute were emptying out for the weekend, the libertarian think tank’s president sent an e-mail to all staff. The subject was the Koch brothers crisis.

“Catoites,” wrote Ed Crane, “You are all probably aware by now of the unfortunate development with Charles and David Koch. They are in the process of trying to take over the Cato Institute and, in my opinion, reduce it to a partisan adjunct to Americans for Prosperity, the activist GOP group they control.”

His fellow Catoites were waiting for this.

Do You Really Want to Send Rush Limbaugh a Message? Boycott His Local Advertisers | Slog:

AOL just became the eighth advertiser to pull its ads from Rush Limbaugh's nationally syndicated radio show, two days after the right-wing blowhard issued an insincere apology for repeatedly calling a young woman a "slut" and a "prostitute" for testifying in favor of insurance plans providing birth control.

But Limbaugh can afford to weather this storm. He essentially syndicates his own show, so it's not like he's going to fire himself, and he could eat his own weight in gold and still have plenty left over.

No, the real way to pressure Limbaugh is to go after the local stations that carry him, which are suffering little if any from the pull-out of these national advertisers. Local stations pay Limbaugh to carry his show, plus give him another five minutes of airtime for Limbaugh to run his own ads. These are the ads being pulled—the ones Limbaugh sells. But local stations don't see a dime of revenue from national ads. Instead, they make their coin from the 10 or so minutes of local ads they sell each hour.

From The Hood - Parabasis:

As StageGrade noted, the critical reaction to this play has been...well...difficult to pin down. I read through the reviews after I saw the show and I can't put my finger on exactly what happened. But they clearly didn't see the show I saw. Some of the criticisms are completely legit: the actors talk furiously fast and loose and in a southern accent/patois that is sometimes hard to decipher. To Katori's credit, there's no glossary or anything in the program. She just expects you to catch up. That's a good thing. But it seems to left some critics out in the cold. Even the critics who liked it seem to struggle with the play, comparing it to plays that it bears only the most superficial resemblance to...or rather, comparing Katori to playwrights that she bears a superficial resemblance to. I was glad to see that one critic mentioned The Lower Depths, which seems more apt. Another play leapt to my mind: The Cherry Orchard. Katori is giving us a snapshot of a world that's about to change, and probably not for the better, at least for the characters we see. In the face of looming, inevitable change and loss, they struggle to carry on. It's a pretty basic human story. And still powerful.

Sunday, March 04, 2012

Santorum Implicitly Concedes Need For Obamacare: Says His Special Needs Child Took Up Much Of His Income | ThinkProgress:

On Fox News Sunday this morning, Chris Wallace challenged Rick Santorum on why he’s given such a small percentage of his salary to charity (1.76 percent) compared to Mitt Romney (13.8 percent) and President Obama (14.2 percent). Santorum explained that he was unable to give because the costs of caring for his daughter Bella — who has a severe genetic disorder — were so high because they are not covered by his insurance:

Santorum has a million dollar income, and yet, still struggles to support the medical costs of his daughter.

By admitting that the health care system has created a financial burden for families, Santorum is essentially conceding the need for the Affordable Care Act. Even though he has repeatedly claimed that children like Bella would receive inferior treatment under “socialized medicine,” the ACA actually guarantees that insurance providers cannot use disabilities like Bella’s as an excuse to deny service, nor can they cap how much money is spent on an individual’s medical benefits. It also prevents insurers from denying or limiting benefits. Children of families that don’t have a million dollars would have a better chance of managing costs.

Wallace pointed out that Santorum didn’t give much to charity before Bella was born either. Given his continued opposition to health care reform, it seems Santorum favors a society where the rich can take care of their own and everyone else is left to struggle.

Saturday, March 03, 2012


I got called yesterday by Politico because Joe Biden said something stupid—he's still using Steve Jobs as his favorite example of "innovation" bringing jobs back to the heartland of America, despite the fact that the kind of jobs he's talking about are now in China, and aren't coming back. And if they do come, it won't be coming from Apple.

You can read the article

He's not the only one trying to salvage Apple's image lately—Apple is getting into the act as well. On Friday they tried to change the conversation away from their labor practices and the human rights abuses which have happened under their watch by emphasizing the jobs they have created across America.

They posted
this webpage, with this rather information-poor infographic:


First—this is kind of a transparent dodge, isn't it? This doesn't address anything about Apple's treatment of its workers—instead, it almost seems like a bribe: don't ask us to regulate or behave in an ethical manner, because we might stop providing these half million American jobs!

Second—man, that is a lot of jobs! I'm impressed.

I was under the impression that Apple was a small, lean company—half a million. That's amazing.

Oh, wait...what's that?


That's weird.

That almost sounds like the world's highest market cap company, the most profitable one in history, is going to do some ham-fisted gameplaying with statistics to get a number that looks really enormous by extrapolating from people who do their dry cleaning, deliver computers in trucks, things like that.

That's hard to believe, because the Apple of old was so good at press and statistical manipulation—Steve Jobs was an absolute master at this sort of thing. If Apple gave a number for something, you could be certain it said exactly what they wanted it to say.

But, this is today's Apple. And we've already watched
the debacle with the FLA unfold—Apple isn't controlling its narrative as artfully as it once did.

In fact, this looks like something Joe Biden would try.

I'm not going to go through all of the statistics; I will leave that as an exercise for someone else today. I'll just point out some broad points:

—Apple hired an outside group, Analysis Group, to get these numbers. Remember when Apple under Steve Jobs was so proud that they didn't uses polls and outside analysis groups? Yes, I remember that, too.

—Analysis Group, who I bet were paid handsomely for this "analysis", got 257,000 of the the jobs by applying "standard Type 1 employment multipliers". In other words—Apple's a big company, sure, but the specificity of this number is derived from thin air. It's not specific to Apple.

—The "app economy" is apparently responsible for 210,000 jobs. Of course, I don't doubt that some brand new jobs exist that would never have existed without iOS apps. On the other hand, in that alternate universe, these talented people would be developing for other companies. Their methodology? A study found that 466,000 jobs were added by iOS apps—no idea if that is accurate, report isn't linked or cited fully. Then they used keyword searching (!) to determine how many of the job listings mentioned Apple products...voila! Apple made every one of those jobs!

Seriously. I could have done that, from my desk, in a day or two.

It's a good thing I have a calling to my work, because if all I wanted was to make money off of Apple right now, I could probably get hired as a consultant with a group called "Even Better Analysis Group" and then just gin up the biggest possible number for that infographic.

I don't want to be negative, and I like being useful, so here are some amended versions of that infographic.


Derived from the numbers in Apple's own site, that is the number of employees Apple has in the US.

It's a perfectly respectable number. There's no need to gin up statistics to inflate it to being ten times this size.

Unless, of course, you're on the defensive, and feeling threatened, and using outside consultants and focus groups to do your thinking for you.

It does bear noting that the majority of those US jobs, 27,350 to be exact by Apple's numbers, are low-paying retail jobs working at Apple Stores that are not unionized, and have in fact fought organizing efforts. So if you're imagining that fifty thousand as movers and shakers who get to create the future...well, for people like that the numbers are more like this:


Why would Apple be trying to push this number up so high?

It's funny, because when economists and traders are doing analysis on Apple, they are very proud of the incredibly high earnings per employee number—Apple makes immense amounts of money per employee.

In fact, I have an infographic for that:


You can read about this statistic all you like

Things like this make me miss Steve Jobs.

You can certainly bet that if Steve Jobs were still running Apple, we wouldn't be where we are now—a month into the most serious PR crisis in Apple's history, and still no press conference.

Steve wouldn't have let numbers this dumb make their way up at Apple's site, numbers that clearly come from outside consultants that Apple is hoping will help salvage their image.

But Apple doesn't need any help to save itself.

It makes half a million in profit per employee.

If Apple decides to stop playing games and actually open its eyes, stop behaving childishly by trying to spin these problems away and actually engage, they can change the face of their manufacturing.

Apple has been a company with vision before. It's time for that to happen again.

Friday, March 02, 2012

This is a wonderful video for GATZ, the Elevator Repair Service's marvelous adaptation of THE GREAT GATSBY. It's a who's who of downtown theater, featuring myself reading Mr. Fitzgerald's wonderful words alongside Steve Martin, Frances McDormand, Suzan Lori-Parks, and many more.

See GATZ at the Public Theater. Tickets and info here.