Thursday, November 29, 2012

Scott Walters: The Wal-Marting of American Theater:

Instead of local arts organizations run by and staffed by artists whose lives are made within a specific community and whose artistic vision is informed by that community, Wal-Mart-style regional theaters and their big-box counterparts, the touring houses who sell Broadway remounts, import generic artists from NYC to do generic plays for a short run after which they depart never to be seen again, taking the community's money with them. This is the system being celebrated by Beth Leavel, as well as every theater instructor who dazzles their young charges with visions of Tony Awards. This is the system that monologist Mike Daisey dissected in How Theater Failed America.

Admittedly, only a fool would assert that New York City isn't currently the dominant city of the American theater, in the same way that Wal-Mart is the dominant retailer. But many would argue that Wal-Mart isn't good for America, and I would argue that neither is Wal-Mart theater. And like the business leaders and legislators who promote Wal-Mart as an economic engine bringing jobs to depressed areas despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, theater artists and educators who continue to promote this system are contributing to the homogenization of the American theater.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

33 Conspiracy Theories That Turned Out To Be True ~ RiseEarth:

The Church Committee is the common term referring to the United States Senate Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities, a U.S. Senate committee chaired by Senator Frank Church in 1975. A precursor to the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, the committee investigated intelligence gathering for illegality by the CIA and FBI after certain activities had been revealed by the Watergate affair.

The Committee uncovered, among many other things, that the CIA had violated its charter to perform only gathering of intelligence. For example, the assassinations of Allende in Chile and Mossadegh in Iran. Assassinations against Central and South American leaders and revolutionaries, as well as Africa, Middle East and East Asia. The list was tremendous. They even declassified a “Heart Attack Gun” the Agency had made for the use of killing someone without it being detected.

Cancer, car accidents, skiing accidents, suicide, boating accidents, heart attacks, and just plain being shot were common assassination methods. The hearings, although recorded in full in congressional record, the mainstream media and official policies, is still largely not taught in American schools on recent history. The American public still has no idea this was ever actually confirmed or even took place. It is common for people to still refer to any of these assassinations as a joke or made up conspiracy.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Hostess bankruptcy: What will happen to the recipes for Twinkies, Ho Hos, and Wonder Bread? - Slate Magazine:

Confectioners rarely patent their recipes, because applying with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office means publishing the ingredients and methods. The legal protection lasts only 20 years, after which time anyone can profit from the creation. Manufacturers instead guard their recipes as trade secrets, a status that isn’t time-limited. The company forces employees to sign nondisclosure agreements and sues rival manufacturers that extract their methods and formulas from workers. The companies that eventually buy Hostess brands will gain access to those trade secrets and the right to enforce the secrecy agreements. If, however, someone cracks the Twinkie recipe and manufactures an identical product under a different name—the brand names are protected by trademark—there’s very little the new owner will be able to do.

Candy companies go to extraordinary lengths to protect their recipes. In her essay “Trade Secrecy in Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory,” law professor Jeanne C. Fromer explains that the fictional Wonka’s lock-and-key approach to candy making isn’t far from reality. Companies store their recipes in safes. For many years, Mars, the company that makes Skittles, Snickers, and M&Ms, refused to reveal its president’s name. The company also builds its own machines and blindfolds visiting repairmen. No Hershey employees know the proportions of ingredients in the company’s chocolate bars.

'We own the whole widget': Unbowed, Mike Daisey returns to Joe's Pub | Capital New York:

He soaks up stories, binds them together and wrings them out again, producing critically-beloved monologues at a staggering clip—more than a dozen in the last 10 years alone. When a controversy earlier this year dented his reputation, he responded by doubling down, working harder and faster than he has in years. Whatever one thinks of Mike Daisey, the man is like nuclear fission: unstoppable and impossible to ignore.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Friday, November 23, 2012

Wal-Mart Workers Will Walk Off The Job On Black Friday: Gothamist:

A labor attorney with the firm Steptoe & Johnson told the CSM that the protesters are likely to withstand any challenges from Wal-Mart: "The bottom line here is that labor would not be talking about this strike on Black Friday if they were not well aware that there are ways to pull it off without violating the law. Labor holds the upper hand here so long as they are able to persuade a sufficient number of employees to participate to make the impact felt."

Wal-Mart employees are so underpaid that they are the number one reason behind the burgeoning role of food stamps in the country. Wal-Mart's CEO makes more money in one hour than nearly all of the chain's employees will earn in a year. A worker making $20 an hour told Allison Kilkenny that he and his better-paid peers are "required to be [Wal-Mart's] slaves," and cited an instance in which he loaded heavy boxes in sub-zero temperatures with an open wound to his leg because a supervisor didn't want the injury recorded.

Meanwhile, the chain has received more than $1.2 billion in tax breaks, grants, and land from the government to build its vast empire (not to mention the massive bribery scheme the company ran to corner the market in Mexico). The workers are striking for a raise of their minimum wage to $13, and for affordable health care, a better work schedule, and overall better working conditions.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

In Spielberg’s ‘Lincoln,’ Passive Black Characters -

But it’s disappointing that in a movie devoted to explaining the abolition of slavery in the United States, African-American characters do almost nothing but passively wait for white men to liberate them. For some 30 years, historians have been demonstrating that slaves were crucial agents in their emancipation; however imperfectly, Ken Burns’s 1990 documentary “The Civil War” brought aspects of that interpretation to the American public. Yet Mr. Spielberg’s “Lincoln” gives us only faithful servants, patiently waiting for the day of Jubilee.

This is not mere nit-picking. Mr. Spielberg’s “Lincoln” helps perpetuate the notion that African Americans have offered little of substance to their own liberation. While the film largely avoids the noxious stereotypes of subservient African-Americans for which movies like “Gone With the Wind” have become notorious, it reinforces, even if inadvertently, the outdated assumption that white men are the primary movers of history and the main sources of social progress.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

CNET has ranked my imagination as one of the Tech Turkeys of 2012, in one of those BuzzFeed-style roundups journalism sites use to troll for clicks these days.

Setting style aside, it's interesting to look at what they actually say.


There are only two stories in the TAL retraction that this is referring to: one is about the worker I spoke with who had a maimed hand, and the other was my account of speaking with workers at the gates of Foxconn.

No one disputes that I spoke with a worker with a damaged hand at the labor meetings I went to. What was disputed was that he had been injured working at Foxconn.

Is his story less heartbreaking because we aren't sure which kind of machinery mauled his hand, after which he received no medical support, healed incorrectly, and then was fired from his job after being too slow?

Similarly, no one disputes that I met with workers at the gates of Foxconn, nor does anyone contest the facts of what that work is like in terms of its incredibly long hours, monotony, and conditions.

Is it less heartbreaking because the girl may have been two years older? Three years? How do we rate our empathy?

At what point do we blame the worker? At the moment they are an adult in our eyes? At the moment the clock strikes, at the second they are legal to work in the country they live in, is the story then about how they should have known better, because they are, after all, adults?

Of course, some would say that what makes the story not heartbreaking is my perfidy—since they do not trust me as a narrator.

On the surface this makes sense. But the encounter with the worker with the damaged hand has been fact checked, and the details that remain aren't contested. Even if they were, it's an open book that hideous injuries like these are incredibly common throughout the SEZ. And there are mountains of evidence which make clear what it is like to be a worker at Foxconn.

What is most likely is that clinging to the idea that I am untrustworthy is a convenient excuse for people who would rather not think about something like their labor.

Here is a succinct web graphic about this very idea:


I won't comment on the overall sentiment of this graphic, beyond the obvious: that Gene Wilder was a genius.

The CNET piece ends with:


This is rich.

First, to some degree I'm sympathetic. In my apology I specifically talked about my concerns for hard-working labor journalists where my work may have made their jobs more difficult. That was a real and valid concern.

It's also clear, eight months on, that, thankfully, this turned out to be bullshit.

People don't have a problem believing the conditions in Foxconn and across the Special Economic Zone—they've been amply documented for years and years by NGOs and journalists.

If there's been a gap, it hasn't ever been believability. It's been empathy.

And chief among those not caring are the journalists—those in the tech industry, and those who edit and control what stories get inches coming from foreign correspondents.

The energy and attention the TAL retraction threw on the already blazing fire about Apple only heightened the scrutiny—and in the light it is now clear that Foxconn uses forced labor, still uses child labor, and shows few signs of sincere reform. The mountain of evidence was tall before I ever showed up, and now it's even taller—as I say in AGONY/ECSTASY, the idea that this was even ever "news" is ludicrous. We always knew.

Having now spoken with workers rights organizations who work directly on these issues, it is clear that today they are in a far different and better place than they were a year ago—one director told me they were fifteen or twenty years ahead. They have access to new visibility, new fundraising opportunities, to a whole new level that was impossible before.

Chinese labor has been talked about on Saturday Night Live, and in the presidential debates. When is the last time a labor issue of any kind asserted itself in the popular culture?

Everyone knows who Foxconn is now, and Apple's complicity with them. And given that they've been now caught, after pledging reforms, to still using child labor and forced student labor, the shoe still sadly fits perfectly.

Engadget did live updates of riots at Foxconn, culling data from Weibo. CNET itself sent Jay Greene to Shenzhen and beyond to do serious journalism. On the mainstream side, now that editors can see that there is interest in heat in Chinese labor, there has been a huge jump in the number of stories about conditions in China.

The funny thing is that CNET's comment is a double-edged sword. It can be pointed at me, certainly—in their belief, I forced the journalists to work at least twice as hard.

In a world where we believe in the myth of objective journalism and the perfectly informed public, that does sound like a bummer. No one wants to make the purveyors of truth have to work any harder—after all, without them we wouldn't know what to think.

But in the universe of the actual, in light of historical inequities in labor reporting, making journalists work harder to actually get stories about labor in front of the eyes of the public doesn't sound like that terrible a charge.

And if you accept that on its face—when were they going to work this hard? And where was the empathy going to come from, that makes a story leap from the pages to actually resonate? After all, this has happened before—Apple responded to labor issues when people were writing stories about them back in 2006. When there was nothing but journalism alone, the story rose up and died without breaking the surface of our consciousness.

Whether you like how we got here or not, I'm asking—if there had been nothing else, would we even be where we are now?
What's Happenin': Winter, 2012-13:

The wintertime lineup of artists in Hancher Auditorium’s Visiting Artists Series concludes with the University of Iowa’s February 21 through 23 residency with the hilarious, fiercely intelligent monologuist Mike Daisey, who has been described by Metro magazine thusly: “He’s the History Channel, the best of public radio, and the most entertaining guy at the bar, but much, much better.” Despite being a bit peeved that the author of that rave has obviously never seen me at a bar, I’ll continue with this piece, but only because Hancher’s winter schedule is so darned impressive.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Saturday, November 17, 2012

The Twinkie: an indestructible icon of American capitalism | Mike Daisey | Comment is free |

Friday, Hostess, the seminal American bakery, announced it was declaring a final bankruptcy. It ceased production immediately, and as its halls went silent across the nation, you could hear Americans realizing this was the end of the Hostess Fruit Pie, which has nothing resembling fruit in it, and is only a pie if you have a drunken and scandalous definition of "pie".

So, too, would pass the Devil Dogs, the Ding Dongs, the Funny Bones, and most mysteriously something called "Chocodiles", which I could Google to determine what it actually is, but I am happiest believing is a chocolate-cakey crocodile filled with a slightly sweet frosting made from Elmer's glue, soap, and human tears.

But nothing aroused our pathos like the loss of the Twinkie.

All day long, the scribes of the internet, chained to their iPads with absurdly expensive keyboards, sat in coffee shops in fashionable neighborhoods and thought about what this meant. Hostess gone? This icon, this emblem … you could hear the great wheel spinning and spinning.

And maybe, this was a magical moment in a sense – few times in our history have we yet seen the triumph of branding so complete. Because despite this outrage and despair, beneath the nostalgia and sadness, there are no actual humans who like Twinkies.

Let us be clear, there are millions who respond to the word. Twinkie. And we have its brand associations buried deep in our hippocampus, thrumming and pulsing up against our midbrain. We remember that scene in Ghostbusters when the hypothetical giant Twinkie of ectoplasm would engulf the city, we remember eating them in our youth and in our shameful moments …

But what is interesting is that no one actually likes them.

Not Quite Convergent: Apple, Mike Daisey's artistic liberties, and the moral ethic:

But I was finally (finally!) heartened in the closing minutes of the TAL piece. Why? In Ira's discussions with Charles Duhigg - one of the original authors of the NY Times investigative piece about Apple's labor practices and author of the book "The Power of Habit" - Charles gets right at the point that Mike tries so hard to get at: people should care that their buying practices have far-reaching impacts. He asks:

"Do you feel comfortable knowing that that iPhones and iPads and, and other products could be manufactured in less harsh conditions, but that these harsh conditions (in factories and societies worldwide) exist and perpetuate because of an economy that you are supporting with your dollars?"

and, in response to his own question says:

"You are actually one of the reasons why it exists. If you made different choices, if you demanded different conditions, if you demanded that other people...enjoy the same work protections that you yourself enjoy, then those conditions would be different overseas."

I can only hope that listeners of TAL and those summarizing the episode in the wider media catch this last, critical piece in today's show.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Sir Ian McKellen: there will be no more British acting greats - Telegraph:

Britain will produce no more actors of the calibre of Dame Judi Dench or Sir Derek Jacobi because repertory theatre has died out, according to Sir Ian McKellen.

Sir Ian said he would not have the career he has today without a grounding in regional rep. The current crop of actors, who go straight into television and film roles or appear in the occasional stage production, do not have the same experience.

“The situation is desperate. There are no [resident] companies in this country - not even the National Theatre has one. There’s a desert,” he said.

“The danger’s going to be that the current generation of actors won’t develop into good middle-aged performers because they won’t have been able to live from their work.

“The strength of British theatre should be that these actors in their middle years know what they’re doing and are good at it. Not rich, not famous, but making a living.”
Hello All,

This Monday's show,
MY BIG BREAK, is completely sold out. I'm writing today to announce our next monologue:



This December 10th we explore the power of storms on every level—from the hurricane that tore through our city and the work of thousands making recovery possible, to what it meant to live in a city divided by darkness, and how for many the struggle hasn't ended. More than a news story, we'll endeavor to wrestle with what storms mean—as a harbinger of the future, as a dramatic illustration of our blindness to class, and even as a moment when it can feel like our direction is changing. Expect both the ridiculous and the heroic in equal measure, a survey of our waterfronts large and small, an accounting of the power of tides, and a night of shared stories. Fill your bathtub. Check your batteries. Sit tight.

Everything we make for this performance will be donated to Sandy relief with Occupy Sandy.

Tickets for this one-night show go on sale this
WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 21st at 1 PM. You can purchase them then at

I hope you can join us.

Finally, I'm performing tomorrow, Saturday, as part of a fantastic all-day event called
If You Should Ever Happen To Find Yourself In SOLITARY.

Solitary Web

I'll be speaking alongside Tony Kushner, the Yes Men, and a remarkable convocation of artists and thinkers about how we imagine we would cope with solitary confinement...

...and then actual survivors of years of solitary confinement will speak, and we'll get a glimpse of how little our imaginings can contain the truth. We'll also hear from experts about the philosophical, legal, and human rights implications of our current addiction to solitary confinement.

It's free and open to the public--I can't imagine a more interesting, compelling, public event for a Saturday in New York. You can find all the details

Be seeing you,


Thursday, November 15, 2012

Planting Seeds of Inspiration: ‘I done good!’ « Woman Wielding Words:

This semester I’ve been teaching a course called Studies in Drama at Bryant University; a University that is mostly known as a business school, but has been expanding its liberal arts offerings. This is a 300 level course taught through the Literary and Cultural Studies Department that fulfills an LCS requirement that all students need to graduate.

Did you pick up on the key words there? Business students, 300 level, requirement.

Knowing that I might have a reluctant group, I decided to try and make the course relevant to their interests as well as my own. Since I could design the course as I saw fit, I decided to focus on “theatre as a tool of cultural expression, political engagement, and social change.” (From my syllabus). The first thing I had them read was The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs by Mike Daisey, which is a somewhat controversial monologue/play that questions the ethics of Apple, Steve Jobs, and the use of Chinese workers to build Apple products. What better play to intrigue the interest of business majors?

The Last Time that Congress Got Scared About Privacy and Surveillance : The New Yorker:

Will the scandal surrounding David Petraeus, General John Allen, Paula Broadwell, Jill Kelley, and a shirtless F.B.I. agent turn into the same sort of eureka moment that Congress experienced when Bork was, as the saying now goes, “borked”? Although the lustful portion of the Petraeus scandal is hardly disappearing—who else will be drawn into it, and when will we read the e-mails?—attention is turning toward the apparent ease with which the F.B.I. accessed the electronic communication of Petraeus, Broadwell, Kelley, and Allen. The exact circumstances of how the F.B.I. got its hands on all this material remains to be revealed—for instance, whether search warrants were obtained for everything—but the bottom line appears to be that the F.B.I. accessed a vast array of private information and seriously harmed the careers of at least Petraeus and Broadwell without, as of yet, filing a criminal complaint against anybody. As the law professor and privacy expert James Grimmelmann tweeted the other day, “The scandal isn’t what’s illegal; the scandal is what’s legal (or what the FBI thinks is legal).”

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Before MacHomer Ends After 17 Years, an Interview with the Guy Bringing MacBeth and the The Simpsons Together in Dallas - Dallas - Arts - The Mixmaster:

Solo shows are making a big comeback right now in the theater world. Are you Mike Daisey lite?

Mike Daisey sits at a table and just talks. I think I'm more akin to Spalding Gray. I'm not a stand-up comic either. I'm more of a performer. I literally play dozens or sometimes 100 characters onstage. People forget there's one person onstage. They think they're watching a Halloween episode of The Simpsons.

Look, I've never met Rick Miller or seen his work. I'm not going to rip on him—he's been doing the same show for seventeen years (SEVENTEEN YEARS!) so he has a hard enough row to hoe.

But if you're a professional solo performer and think all I do is sit at a table and "just talk"…well, I don't think you're watching too carefully.

Even weirder—if you think that's what I do, but then draw a distinction for Spalding…well, I just have no idea how anyone squares that circle so it makes any sense.

I suspect Rick has never actually seen my work. I'm going to
ask him.
Did the Surveillance State Get Hit By Friendly Fire? : The New Yorker:

Last March, in a speech he delivered at a gathering orchestrated by In-Q-Tel, the venture-capital incubator of the Central Intelligence Agency, David Petraeus, the Agency’s director, had occasion to ruminate on “the utter transparency of the digital world.” Contemporary spooks faced both challenges and opportunities in a universe of “big data,” but he had faith in the “diabolical creativity” of the wizards at Langley: “Our technical capabilities often exceed what you see in Tom Cruise movies.” In the digital environment of the twenty-first century, Petraeus announced, “We have to rethink our notions of identity and secrecy.”

For those of us who have been less bullish about the prospects of radical transparency, the serialized revelations that have unfolded since Friday—when Petraeus, who left the military as a four-star general, resigned from the C.I.A. because of an affair—are, to say the least, honeyed with irony. In the decade following September 11, 2001, the national-security establishment in this country devised a surveillance apparatus of genuinely diabolical creativity—a cross-hatch of legal and technical innovations that (in theory, at any rate) could furnish law enforcement and intelligence with a high-definition early-warning system on potential terror events. What it’s delivered, instead, is the tawdry, dismaying, and wildly entertaining spectacle that ensues when the national-security establishment inadvertently turns that surveillance apparatus on itself.

Windows 8 Mastermind Had to Leave Microsoft Because He Was Too Much Like Steve Jobs - Technology - The Atlantic Wire:

Steve Sinofsky, the guy behind Windows 8 and once touted as a possible successor to Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, left the company yesterday because of his prickliness, even though he got things done, a source tells The New York Times's Nick Wingfield. "His abrasive style was a source of discord within the company," Wingfield writes after speaking with "a person briefed on the situation who was not authorized to speak publicly about it." That was a theory floated by Bloomberg Businessweek's Ashley Vance as well, who blamed his "often prickly nature" for the move. This nature sounds a lot like another notoriously jerky executive: Steve Jobs. Like Jobs, his abrasiveness helped him get things done. "Sinofsky is known inside and outside the company as a guy who got things done and done his way," wrote CNET's Jay Greene. He was admired for his "effectiveness," adds Wingfield. He spearheaded the entire overhaul of the Windows operating system, ushering in Windows 8 this fall, for example. So, as someone who was often cited as next in line for the CEO position, it's a bit surprising that his ability to deliver didn't outweigh his harsh personality. It worked out that way for Jobs, so why not him?

Well, unfortunately, Sinofsky wasn't in charge of the whole show. A boss can act evil as long as he gets things done. Sinfosky wasn't the head of it all, at least not yet. The "tipping point" for his departure came after a number of "run-ins" with Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer and other unnamed company leaders, says Wingfield after speaking with "several current and former Microsoft executives who declined to be named discussing internal matters." Some of those "run-ins" include not getting more apps for the Windows app store. (An issue the bloggers noted when the operating system came out.) And also getting the company in trouble with European regulators, resulting in a fine for the company.

Or maybe the era of mean bosses has ended? Scott Forstall, the man behind Apple's iPhone operating system, also had this kind of rapport with people, an often cited reason for his recent departure from the company. (In that case: Underlings rejoice.)

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Locals Walk the Trenches After Sandy | theloop:

Let me explain, this was not your typical day of providing home health aid. The project buildings are still without electricity! The hallways are completely dark and there is stagnant sea water still in the buildings. It is COLD! The elevators don’t work and you must climb cold, dark stairwells with only a small flashlight. The smell of gas is overpowering as remaining residents use stove top flames to try to get warm. The wonderful people I met had simple requests for hot food and more water. They asked over and over “when would help be coming, why had they been forgotten”. I monitored blood pressures and assessed blood sugars – but felt helpless when I couldn’t offer refills of medications or insulin. Most of residents were elderly or disabled – some immobile or wheelchair bound. There were infant babies wrapped in blankets with coughs and no way to get warm. I spent most of the day lugging buckets and cases of water up numerous dark stairwells. I gave hugs and listened to stories from lonely, disenfranchised individuals who just want to be heard.

I write this not to place blame but merely to bear witness to those we seem to have forgotten – AGAIN! What these residents need URGENTLY is electricity! I know the challenges are numerous and complicated, but where are the massive generators which might power a building? Why do we allow this to happen to our fellow man?? I will return again tomorrow and probably the day after that……

Will The Right's Fever Break? Ctd - The Dish | By Andrew Sullivan - The Daily Beast:

Yes, I watched for Schadenfreude purposes. These charlatans and money-grubbers have turned the broad tradition of Anglo-American conservatism into Southern Fried Fanaticism - and I wanted to see them crackle in their batter. They have replaced empirical doubt with unerring faith in an ideology that had its moment over thirty years ago and is barely relevant to the world we now live in. That faith has been cynically fused with fundamentalist religion to make it virtually impossible for the GOP to accept that women are the majority of voters in this country, that gay couples are equal to straight ones, that 11 million illegal immigrants simply cannot be expected to "self-deport" en masse by a regime of terrifying policing, that war is a last and not a first resort, that the debt we have is primarily a function of two things: George W. Bush's presidency and the economic collapse his term ended with.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Daniel Marans: Occupy Sandy Volunteer Sounds Alarm on 'Humanitarian Crisis,' Near-Complete Absence of Government Aid in Coney Island Projects:

Friday is Moed's fifth day volunteering with Occupy Sandy, an ad hoc hurricane relief group formed by former Occupy Wall Street activists. Moed, an architect from Brooklyn's Clinton Hill neighborhood, goes door to door in the 30-40 public housing buildings in the Coney Island neighborhood of Brooklyn to distribute food, water and supplies, and help address sanitation and medical needs. The projects in Coney Island remain without power, and often without water and necessities in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. Accounts of these conditions have been corroborated in the New York Daily News.

Moed says all of the supermarkets on Coney Island have been flooded or looted.

The result is what Moed describes as a "humanitarian crisis." Sick or older people may be vulnerable to death without heat, or food and water.

Moed routinely meets elderly residents who have been trapped alone in their dark, cold apartments since the storm hit. The elevators often do not work, and residents willing to brave the stairwells face darkness, human waste, and even crime.

"Just three hours ago I was speaking with seniors for whom I was the first person they talked to since the storm," Moed says. "I asked someone if I could use their bathroom and they told me they were going in a bucket. It was a 70-80 year-old woman. And not only do they have to shit in a bucket, they have to bring it down the stairs themselves."

Moed also describes meeting children who had gone several days without food, and a mother who ran out of her asthma medication.

Whatever response there has been from the government -- city, state, or federal -- or the Red Cross, Moed says their presence in and around the Coney Island projects is non-existent, inadequate, or counterproductive. FEMA has set up a solitary aid trailer on what Moed calls the "sexy area" of Coney Island -- near the famous amusement park and Nathan's -- which was not hit very hard. It awaits people seeking help, when those who most need it are stranded in high-rise buildings a few blocks away.

Yesterday I went to see Mike Daisey perform his new monologue American Utopias. Man, it’s too bad it was his last show in Chicago. I found it totally inspiring and totally hilarious. Among the hilarious moments were: a story about a Disney Character Breakfast he attended with his family, an embarrassing moment on Bloomberg radio where he revealed a truth about the billionmayor of New York, and a contemplation on all the naked men who populate Burning Man.

My favorite moments, though, were some of the not-so-funnies. He talked about the moment when he walked around the corner and see Cinderlla’s castle in the Magic Kingdom, and how that moment was so meaningful that it’s hard to describe it in words.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

The American Scholar: Upper Middle Brow - William Deresiewicz:

Call it upper middle brow. The new form is infinitely subtler than Midcult. It is post- rather than pre-ironic, its sentimentality hidden by a veil of cool. It is edgy, clever, knowing, stylish, and formally inventive. It is Jonathan Lethem, Wes Anderson, Lost in Translation, Girls, Stewart/Colbert, The New Yorker, This American Life and the whole empire of quirk, and the films that should have won the Oscars (the films you’re not sure whether to call films or movies).

The upper middle brow possesses excellence, intelligence, and integrity. It is genuinely good work (as well as being most of what I read or look at myself). The problem is it always lets us off the hook. Like Midcult, it is ultimately designed to flatter its audience, approving our feelings and reinforcing our prejudices. It stays within the bounds of what we already believe, affirms the enlightened opinions we absorb every day in the quality media, the educated bromides we trade on Facebook. It doesn’t tell us anything we don’t already know, doesn’t seek to disturb—the definition of a true avant-garde—our fundamental view of ourselves, or society, or the world. (Think, by contrast, of some truly disruptive works: The Wire, Blood Meridian, almost anything by J. M. Coetzee.)

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Thursday, November 08, 2012

Dying of the White: Requiem for the 2012 Election:

Across America today, conservatives, many of them white and old, are wondering what went wrong. How did a black guy with a Muslim name beat his aged wealthy opponent and his opponent's exciting young running mate—again? There are a host of missteps one can point to in Romney's campaign, of course: his inability to articulate any real economic plans, his unwillingness to be fully transparent about his own finances, the time he was caught calling half the country lazy takers to a room full of other millionaires. All of that stuff and more certainly didn't help Romney during his bid for the White House. But if you'll allow me to take a step back and speak in blunter terms, what happened last night is this: The brown people and the black people and the women handed the white men's asses to them as unsentimentally as white men have bought and sold and manipulated America for centuries now. Welcome to the future.

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Microsoft Surface: Why is the new tablet so much worse than the iPad? - Slate Magazine:

But the Surface ends up proving the wisdom of Apple’s limitations. The iPad may not allow you to do everything, but Apple has made sure that it’s great at what it can do. The Surface, by contrast, will let you do everything you want. The problem is that you’ll have no fun doing it.
In Praise of the Hashtag -

These constructions all tend toward the particular — a sardonic twist to the tweet. But the hashtag can also be a joke about itself, as when the HBO wunderkind Lena Dunham tweets, “What’s my place in it all? #questionsevenmymomcantanswer.” Part of the joke is that her hashtag is so elaborate, so concatenated, that no one else wouldever conceive of using it. It’s a metajoke about metadata — a bit like setting up an entire hanging file just to store a single Post-it.

The hashtag ethos has also been adopted beyond Twitter. Noted Twitterer Kanye West popularized the phrase “hashtag rap” a few years ago, to describe a hip-hop rhyme scheme that’s been around longer than Twitter but echoes the way the hashtag compresses comparisons. In his 2009 hit “Forever,” the rapper Drake sings, “Swimming in the money, come and find me — Nemo/If I was at the club you know I balled — chemo.” If the metaphor serves to dispense with the simile’s “like” or “as” — “Your face is a summer’s day” rather than “Your face is like a summer’s day” — then the hashtag strips the line down even further: “Your face. #summerday.”

Monday, November 05, 2012

NYU to Feature Tony Kushner, Mike Daisey, Joshua Foer, and More in All-Day “Solitary: Wry Fancies and Stark Realities,” Nov. 17:

New York University will host “Solitary: Wry Fancies and Stark Realities,” an all-day affair featuring playwright Tony Kushner, monologist Mike Daisey, author Joshua Foer (“Moonwalking with Einstein), and more, on Sat., Nov. 17, 10:45 a.m.-8:30 p.m. at NYU’s Cantor Film Center (36 East 8th Street/between University Place and Greene Street).

The event, co-sponsored by the New York Institute for the Humanities at NYU and the Institute for Public Knowledge at NYU, is free and open to the public. Call 212.998.2101 for more information. Admission is on a first-come, first-served basis. Subways: A, C, E, D, F (West 4th Street); 6 (Astor Place); N, R (8th Street).

The United States has become one of the most frequent and extensive practitioners of solitary confinement anywhere in the world and at any time in history. According to Solitary Watch, “far from a last resort used for the ‘worst of the worst,’ solitary confinement has become a control strategy of first resort in many prisons and jails.”

The event will include eminent individuals from a variety of disciplines (Kushner, Foer, film and sound editor Walter Murch, artist and photographer Catherine Chalmers, and others) imagining how they might endeavor to keep from going crazy were they ever to find themselves condemned to such a terrible fate.

These perspectives will be complemented by individuals who actually have spent time extended periods of time in solitary confinement: Breyten Breytenbach, the renowned Afrikaner poet and painter who spent seven years in South African prisons for his anti-apartheid activities; Tim Blunk, who spent seven years in solitary for exposing an FBI sting operation while serving thirteen years in prison for his role in the Resistance Conspiracy Case; Robert Hillary King, the only freed member of the Angola 3, a former Black Panther who spent 29 of his 31 years at Louisiana’s notorious Angola prison in solitary confinement; and Shane Bauer, one of the three Americans hikers captured and held last year on the Iranian border, who spent four months in solitary before his eventual release.

The day will conclude with speakers discussing the philosophical, human rights, and legal implications of solitary confinement in the United States today: Lisa Guenther, a philosopher from Vanderbilt University and author of the forthcoming Social Death and its Afterlives: A Critical Phenomenolgy of Solitary Confinement; Juan Mendez, the human rights lawyer who himself suffered a harrowing stint in solitary during the Dirty Wars in his Argentine homeland; and Scarlet Kim, a co-author of the New York Civil Liberties Union’s recent report “Boxed In: The True Cost of Extreme Isolation in New York’s Prisons.”

Interview with Henry Rollins on his "Capitalism" Tour - Arts Desk:

Do you know who Mike Daisey is?


Well, he’s a spoken-word performer who got into trouble because he made up a few pieces of a hit nonfiction show he had about the working conditions in the Chinese factories where Apple products are made. I wanted to ask your feelings on that, because you use a lot of hyperbole and exaggeration onstage. What you and Daisey do is not exactly the same, but you’re someone who, like him, takes trips to places he knows much of his audience has not seen and comes back and talks about what he experienced there. You both seem to want your audiences to be more conscious of America’s place in the world. I understand that oral storytelling is a format where it’s more difficult to cite things than it is in writing, but is that something you think about—when it’s okay to exaggerate and when it isn’t?

Of course. When I use hyperbole, which is every second, I try to make it exceedingly obvious. When you’re drilling down on the real hardcore facts, I take that very seriously, and I expect someone to go and fact-check it. I’m not trying to pull the wool. I’m someone under a fair deal of scrutiny. But when you’re yelling and making people laugh, obviously you’re putting it on. That’s what you do. It’s fun.

I’ve been telling stories about when I did a bunch of documentaries for National Geographic last year. In one of them, I jump on the back of an alligator in southern Florida. This cameraman and I used to bug each other all day just to kind of get through the day. In the story, I have him saying, “Get him, get him!” That didn’t happen; he was busy filming me. But I think it’s fairly obvious he wasn’t yelling at the alligator to bite me in the head.

Other places, I don’t have any need to do anything like that. When you go to see some of these places, the truth is just fine. Also, I usually have a camera with me, so I’m taking photos of it. Later in my notes, when I’m trying to describe the place, I go back to the photos and try to get a good, accurate description.

Sunday, November 04, 2012

George Saunders: I Was Ayn Rand's Lover : The New Yorker:

Not many people know this, but I was once Ayn Rand’s lover. That’s right. The year was 1974. I was a fresh-faced seventeen-year-old, she was a prominent international author—and we were lovers. By “lovers” I mean: we were constantly raping each other. Well, first there’d be a long speech. Usually by her. Then we’d gaze deeply at one another, and our souls would begin speaking the only language a man and a woman ever need: the language of mutual self-benefit. Each grasped, in the unflinching gaze of the other, a silent acknowledgment of the nobility of man, especially as manifested in work, the work that purified the soul the way steel is purified in the smelter. That sort of thing.

Philip Elmer-DeWitt's latest blog post for CNN Money shows a video of the opening of Shenzhen's first official Apple Store in Shenzhen, China. It is accompanied by this:

In Mike Daisey's description of the factory town in Southeast China where tens of millions of Apple devices are assembled, the first functioning iPad a Foxconn worker ever saw was the one the visitor from America showed him.

Elmer-DeWitt offers it up as a kind of Nelsonesque
HAHA moment—oh, that Mike Daisey! He got *so* many things wrong! Thank goodness we finally got rid of him so that real journalists could tell you THE TRUTH.

Elmer-DeWitt neglects to mention that my trip to China was in May of 2010, just two months after the iPad was introduced, and before it was even available in China. *Everyone* I encountered there had never seen an iPad—I used mine like a golden ticket, and started many conversations with lots of people by allowing them to play with mine.

More to the point: years after I had been in China, when
Nightline went in February of 2012, nearly two years after I had been there, they easily found workers at Foxconn who had never touched a working iPad before. In fact, here is a picture of Bill Weir with Zhou Xiaoying on the factory floor.


Some in the tech industry still don't want to understand that when I constructed the first version of my monologue I didn't fabricate out of thin air—I went to China, traveled to these areas, and supplemented what I could see with a decade's worth of NGO reports, interviews with labor scholars in Hong Kong, and every piece of writing I could find on the subject.

I told a story about a worker experiencing wonder at seeing an iPad because I spoke to person after person who had expressed precisely that wonder to me.

The fact is that even right now many workers at Foxconn have probably probably still never touched an iPad other than the PR stunt the FLA pulled by having them fill out multiple-choice surveys as a substitute for real labor interviews. This is the kind of methodology that led to the FLA declaring that problems at Foxconn were all being solved ahead of schedule just weeks before we learned that Foxconn was still using both
forced student labor and child labor.

Here's where we get to the interesting line between fact and fiction. DeWitt's piece is titled:

Video: Foxconn's factory workers get an Apple Store

Makes sense—it's catchy, counterintuitive, and should garner some hits. It's also fact checkable—after all, the store is in Shenzhen, right? And that is where Foxconn has workers, right?

Except, like many works of journalism, it absolutely fact checks, and is absolutely wrong.

A Foxconn factory worker would have to spend months of their salary to buy an iPad. Months. The idea that this Apple store exists for the factory workers is a perverse joke.

The fact is that the core of Shenzhen is in many ways much more modern than New York—it was built from the ground up in thirty years, and has every amenity we can dream of in our high-tech age. Then, outside the central areas is the factory zone, which is where factories like Foxconn's exist…and, as I and many others have pointed out before, factories that are even more unsavory than Foxconn's as you move down the food chain.

Ironically, if Elmer-DeWitt didn't understand how Shenzhen works in this regard, he could have garnered it from my monologue. I go to some pains to describe the history of Shenzhen in brief, explicating the relationship between the core and the factory zone and their relationship.

I never call Shenzhen a "factory town" any more than I've ever described the production lines at Foxconn as "Dickensian"—these are all projections from our Western experiences, as we grasp for ways to talk about what's happening, and call on reference points we know. I wouldn't have said either of those things both because they aren't true, and because they would also be lazy, weak writing.

What's most curious is how a person as smart as Elmer-DeWitt, whom I've known for a few years, could engage in this kind of title and Twitter baiting.

More and more tech writers are finally telling stories from China, like
Jay Greene's excellent series for CNET—the time when we can be so ignorant about labor that we pretend this Apple Store is for factory workers is finally, mercifully, coming to an end.

Saturday, November 03, 2012

Can You Take Fact Checking Too Far? | Techdirt:

"the problem starts when journalists feel they have to pretend they're impartial"

A bigger problem results when the reader lacks multiple sources of various bias from which to look for corroborating details. Minuscule remnants of reality can usually be interpolated from multiple points of view accompanied with knowledge of the inherent bias.

Can You Take Fact Checking Too Far? | Techdirt:

Most of the problem starts when journalists feel they have to pretend they're impartial and "just presenting the facts"(as they're taught to in journalism school), instead of presenting their honest interpretation of the apparent facts.

This is something that's less than 100 years old - since the rise of "professional" journalism in the middle of the 20th century

If journalists were interested in truth, they wouldn't pretend impartiality (they’re human, of course they have opinions of their own). Instead they’d openly admit their viewpoint and let the reader judge their arguments.

There are still countless newspapers in the US with “Republican” or “Democrat” in their title. I suspect the relatively high esteem which journalists enjoy is a legacy from the era when these newspapers were founded.

Can You Take Fact Checking Too Far? | Techdirt:

Storytelling is a tool for entertainment, not journalism.

Then why do journalists always talk about telling the story?
Can You Take Fact Checking Too Far? | Techdirt:

A smart audience would recognize everything is "possibly non-factual."

A wise audience would recognize that most of the time, whether a story is true or not makes no difference at all.

But of course, it's the dumb audience that will complain when they are mistaken about such things, so they get the warnings.

Can You Take Fact Checking Too Far? | Techdirt:

But, as an avid TAL listener, in the past few weeks, I've noticed that they do seem to be going overboard with the fact checking. In episode 476 from a few weeks ago, there's a story of a teenager bitten by a shark and the aftermath (it's a somewhat horrifying story). And yet, in the middle of the story, there's a break where they admit that they could not confirm she was actually bitten by a shark -- and some think it was a different sea creature responsible. No one denies that she was attacked and bitten and came close to dying, in part through a series of mishaps. But they feel the need to fact check the possibility that it wasn't a shark. I'm not sure what that adds to the story (other than immediately making me think of Mike Daisey).

Then, in the very next episode, from last weekend, there's the hilarious story from comedian Molly Shannon, which I'd first heard on Marc Maron's (insanely brilliant) podcast, WTF, about how, as a kid, she and a friend -- with the active encouragement of Molly's father -- successfully stowed away on a flight from Cleveland to NYC. But at the very end... Glass chimes in to say that TAL fact checkers reached out to Molly's friend -- who had no idea Molly had told the story publicly, but who confirmed all the details in the story. Once again, all I could think of was... "Mike Daisey strikes again." The story is hilarious, whether or not it's true, and I wonder if it really needs fact checking.

Friday, November 02, 2012


About half the Point Pleasant boardwalk, the boardwalk of my youth and the place I still dream of when I dream of childhood, was destroyed. It's still unclear how they'll be able to rebuild. In all the drama I didn't realize until this morning what was lost, and for me this is gut wrenching. I planned to bring my children to this place, and it is so clear today how our actions may have helped to make that impossible.

Thursday, November 01, 2012

Here's Looking at You, Kid by Brendan Kiley - Seattle News - The Stranger, Seattle's Only Newspaper:

These are reasonable and serious concerns. Other police departments are already talking about using drones for mass surveillance—and even arming them. A police chief in Utah asked the Federal Aviation Administration for permission to fly a "nocturnal surveillance airship" over Ogden. (The FAA declined the request due to air-traffic concerns.) Sheriff Gregory Ahern of Alameda County, California, has angered residents with comments about using drones for "proactive policing." Earlier this year, a chief deputy in Montgomery County, Texas, said he was open to the idea of arming a drone with "impact rounds, chemical munition rounds, or a Taser." (During a test flight of the county's prospective drone that same month, it crashed into a heavily armed police vehicle.)
An alternate universe –

The Surface is partially for Microsoft’s world of denial: the world in which this store contains no elephants and Microsoft invented the silver store with the glass front and the glowing logo and blue shirts and white lanyards and these table layouts and the modern tablet and its magnetic power cable. In that world, this is a groundbreaking new tablet that you can finally use at work and leave your big creaky plastic Dell laptop behind when you go to the conference room to have a conference call on the starfish phone with all of the wires and dysfunctional communication.

But it’s also for people like that salesman who don’t agree with Apple’s choices: people who want to have more hardware options, more customization, more hackability, and fewer people saying “no” to what they can do on their devices.

Apple’s products say, “You can’t do that because we think it would suck.” Microsoft’s products say, “We’ll let you try to do anything on anything if you really want to, even if it sucks.”

People who dislike Apple’s approach or whose requirements are incompatible with it will always exist in great numbers, and the Surface is for them.