Tuesday, July 25, 2006

A Note To My Three Readers: This Blog Is So Over

This is going to be the last post on The Shape Of Blogs To Come for a while. No, the blog did not turn into a book deal, the wet-dream of every blogger. Rather, I am leaving the country for a year and while it would probably be possible to keep posting, it would only serve as a distraction. As Sammy Sosa might say, this blog has been very, very good to me. In a year from now I hope to return to updating the site, so visit back in June 2007, maybe even for a new and improved version. Until then, I have set up a travel blog for my year abroad, The Year Of Living (Not So) Dangerously. Hypothetically, I will be writting and posting pictures, but I cannot promise any sort of frequency. Peace, Steve.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Colbert and The NLRB

Stephen Colbert's show is no secret these days and it is undoubtably one of the best things going on television. This clip demonstrates one of the many reasons why I love the Colbert report: he seems to keep on eye on labor issues. In fact, he pays more attention to them than the mainstream media.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

American Writes From Beruit

You can read a letter written from Lebanon by Michael Provence, a Middle East Historian from UC San Diego, and posted on the Cleveland Peace Action website. He writes:

I just talked to one of janitors who walked to work from the other side of town where the bombing has been most intense. He said every 5 minutes for the last four nights the f-16s have dropped bombs on their neighborhood. Buildings all around him have been flattened. The obvious intention is to punish and terrorize the entire country, and there is no actual policy or goal behind the destruction. Any travel, even around the city, is impossible since the overpasses, bridges, and under city road ways have been destroyed. This represents 15 years of Lebanese post-war infrastructural reconstruction, which the Israelis have destroyed nearly totally in four days.
The whole business is laced with absurdity and lies. The Israelis say they want their two captured soldiers and they want to root out Hizballah. They claim the destruction of the infrastructure is designed to limit the movement of the captured soldiers. But the soldiers may be held 1.5 km from the border and the IDF would never be able to find and release them by military action. Everyone knows this. They still have not tried to move into Lebanon by land, since the political cost of another land invasion of Lebanon makes every Israeli politician piss his pants. Hizballah controls the south and represents approximately 40% of the Lebanese population and gains additional support with every Israeli bomb. Bombing from the air is cost free in domestic political terms as the Americans have shown.
If you called your congressman to call for ceasefire yesterday, please call again today.

The Numerology of Blogging

Sometimes one can't help but wonder the use in reading about the world around. For example, sitting here thinking about lord knows what might happen next in Lebanon or having a quiet moment of contemplation over the victims of Indonesia's latest tsunami feels important, my attempt to engage the real concerns of the world. More often than not, however, it turns into a futile ritual of acknowledging the world around you without ever gaining the opportunity to do anything about it, with the connection between you and these events to be perhaps only imagined. As Hegel writes, "Reading the newspaper in early morning is a kind of realistic morning prayer. One orients one's attitude against the world and toward God [in one case], or toward that which the world is [in the other]. The former gives the same security as the latter, in that one knows where one stands." Which is not to say that I do not subscribe to this ritual. By having a blog, it would seem obvious that I am convinced that print media, in its various forms, is not a neutral recorder but an active shaper of reality.

All this reflection is written so that I can describe a five minute period last night where this ritual and some kind of action came together without my trying at all. First, The Jakarta Post runs a story about child workers being exploited in shoe factories. At that same moment, I am in the middle of ordering some shoes from No Sweat Apparel, union-made shoes with full disclosure of working conditions. And where are those shoes manufactured? Jakarta, Indonesia. Not only that, to bring the connection back to print media, a portion of the sales goes to support LabourStart, a most excellent listserv. It was as if the mondernist Gods of media and technology aligned themselves, letting me know my daily rituals were being acknowledged. And don't bother me with your concept of "coincidence."

Within this ritual is another potential futility, "responsible consumerism." Indeed, only a wealthy Westerner (me) could convince themselves that consumption and using their credit card are truly righteous acts. Dont get me wrong, I think we should all buy fair trade coffee, sweat free clothing, and environmentally sustainable products. However, theoretically, I can't say I honestly believe that consumption can determine the mode of production and there many limits to what fair trade can accomplish. Or, in other words, the way I read Marx is that consumption my be part of the cycle of production, but they are not two equal sides of the same coin. Which is why, to put it mildly, American Apparel ain't the vanguard to the revolution, but just another undemocratic, union-busting company.

Thus, the question is left in the air, what exactly did I do last night? Was that engaging the world? Was it purely ritual? Just a more intellectual form of entertainment?

[Update, 7/18]: As it turns out, the shoes I was trying to buy are out of stock until August.

[Update, 7/19]: As a reader points out, the article I link to in reference to the anti-union activities by American Apparel was written by Stephen Wishart, a researcher for UNITE-HERE. As such, he does not represent the disinterested observer so valued by professional journalism. However, I do not believe this rules him out as valuable source on the issue.

One of the objections to American Apparel is that, to put it simply, there is more to a movement for workers' power than humane conditions and wages somewhat above what the labor market will provide, though they are important. The difference between a project like Sweat X and American Apparel is that the goal of Sweat X is to eventaully turn the enterprise into a workers co-operative. It is the attempts to account for both distributional and non-distributional issues that would constitute a complete workers movement. The fact that American Apparel was required to settle with the NLRB over anti-union activity (which does not necessarily constitute guilt) suggests to many that this is not so much a democratic movement than a company selling to a niche market. After all, any democratic workplace would allow for the organization of employees, even if it goes against the perogative of management.

For further reading, here are some articles. There are a number of interesting discussions about AA's relationship to unions, whether AA's merely selling a niche market, and issues of sexism in AA's advertisements. This does not imply that I accept each and every criticism of AA as being fair, but I also don't think it should be given a free pass because of its "sweat-free" status. Of course, in the end, it's still a lot better than buying clothes made in sweatshops.

- Columbia News Service
- In These Times
- Newshour Online
- Washington Square News
- Clean Clothes Connection
- SF Chronicle
- AA's Response In The Nation

Monday, July 17, 2006

NY Times Editorial Board Takes Righteous Stand....In Retrospect

Let's have a round of applause for the New York Times editorial board's recent editorial "The Real Agenda," which would have been pretty insightful had it been written four years ago. The opening paragraph reads "It is only now, nearly five years after Sept. 11, that the full picture of the Bush administration’s response to the terror attacks is becoming clear. Much of it, we can see now, had far less to do with fighting Osama bin Laden than with expanding presidential power." One could only hope this was written with feelings of shame for having let the public down, but with "only now" part, it seems they are actually telling us it took five years to see this coming. They end by declaring that "Congress has shirked its duty to correct this out of fear of being painted as pro-terrorist at election time." If Congress has been shirking its duty in the past five years, what might we say the mainstream media has been doing in that same period of time?

A Note From The Underground: Anarchists Make Poor Listeners

The other night, I was at a social gathering with some self-proclaimed anarchists or, to be exact, self-proclaimed "post-structural anarchists." What they meant by this, I'm not real sure, but they certainly said it with a straight face. Don't get me wrong, I do have some notion of what post-structural anarchism means and, in fact, I think it raises interesting questions and attempts to take on the more honest portrayal of power. What I did not understand is how these anarchists could speak of post-structural anarchism the way a highly religious person may speak of their life philosophy, as if it served as a guiding force leading their every action towards an undoubtable greater good. I could not grasp how a philosphy that is compelling exactly because it refuses the naive and easy answers of anti-authority, punk rock anarchism could spoken of as if it provided all the answers and extinguished all doubt from their voices.

Now, I knew that Mr. T, the most egregious of the offenders, is a well read guy very interested in Foucault. Thus, he is also probably interested in the role of discourse in shaping the world, a highly ironic fact given his own style of conversation: self-righteous monologue. Would it be too much to ask to democratize conversation? By this I mean simply that a good first step to liberatory discourse might be to let someone get a word in every once in a while. To make the progress easier, I'll even suggest leaving as a second step the more radical notion of also listening to what other people are saying.

Sitting there listening to this guy go on about dominance and discourse, the overwhelming hypocrisy of his self-righteous pontificating made me really re-consider who I see as my allies. And as the stories rolled out about talking to Todd May, marching through Tower City with a red flag, or the FBI following him around, it quickly become clear that these stories were (1) largely tied to a fantasy based perception of reality and (2) told entirely with the purpose of self aggrandizement.

In the end, the only respite I could find from this non-sense was stepping outside the apartment entirely. That night, my liberation from oppression was going to come from some much enjoyed silence and fresh air shared with a good friend, the beauty of coming back down to earth.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Visa On My Mind.....

As I sit here, waiting to hear back from an unresponsive consulate about my visa to Indonesia, I can definitely relate to these Indonesian students who are being left out of the Math Olympiad because the Indonesian government failed to get them visas. With the acception of the ESPN televised spelling-bee, what I can not relate to is a country where a major newspaper considers standout math students national news.
[Update]: finally got my visa, relief ensues.

Monday, July 10, 2006

More News For The Continually Narrowing Demographic

The high honor of Scene Magazine band of the month has been bestowed on Kent band Beaten Awake. Wait, did I say "Kent band," I meant to say "Kent supergroup," according to the Scene article, which came out of the ashes of the "college town's great '90s boom of bands such as Party of Helicopters, the Man I Fell in Love With, Harriet the Spy, and Six Parts Seven." Indeed, the Kent economy largely ran on the boom of Donut Friends Records and these bands for a while and until Beaten Awake's forming, many people remained out of work.

Don't get me wrong, I am not questioning that all those bands aren't completely rad or that Beaten Awake isn't equally cool. They are sweet and I've spent plenty of time listening to them; however, superlatives of any kind are hard for a Kentite to take seriously. Expect celebration in the streets when their album is released this fall and a parade when they return from their west coast show with the Black Keys. K-town!

Saturday, July 08, 2006

World Cup, Racism, and....Go France!

Going into the World Cup there was a lot of talk about racism in European football and an equal common reaction that such reports are overblown. This story by Dave Zirin on Jean-Marie Le Pen's views on the French Soccer team is a reminder that those concerns are not far fetched. According to the article "Le Pen decried France's multi- ethnic team as unrepresentative of French society, saying that France 'cannot recognize itself in the national side,' and 'maybe the coach exaggerated the proportion of players of color and should have been a bit more careful.'" Particularly galling for Le Pen is that France's two most notable players are Zenidine Zidane (Algerian born) and Thierry Henry (black). Such a position is no surprise from as notorious a racist as Le Pen, but those same people who said stories on racism were overblown often also said that no one would dare do such a thing on the grandest stage in football, but that is exactly what happened when France heard monkey chants in their game against Spain. That's the same Spanish team whose coach made racist remarks a couple years ago to his team to inspire them to stop Thierry Henry and still has his job. So, it tires me to hear people downplay racism in football. There is already enough latent racism in professional sports, how much more obvious does it have to be before it is considered an issue.

Also, if I might add a personal anecdote...I am sitting in a bar in the Domican Republic, quietly rooting for Angola as a I watch their first round match against England among a large group of English fans. Things were tense for the English side, until a late goal to put them ahead, and there was a man at the bar who called any English player who turned over the ball a "wanker." However, when Aaron Lennon turns over the ball, what does this man call him? Under his breathe and to no one in particular, he whispers "fucking ape." As you might have guessed, Aaron Lennon is black. So, to reinterate, I don't want to hear that racism in football is a non-issue.

I'm rooting for France in tomorrow's World Cup final, though not as some sort of stand for racial justice. Rather, the story of Zidane winning a World Cup as he retires from international play is just too good and I think Thierry Henry is overly criticized. After all, he has 3 goals in 6 games, which puts him high on the scoring leader board and he created the PK the Zidane scored on to win the semi-final. Hopefully he can break through against Italy's robut defense.

[7/12/06]: Former Italian government minister says "that the Italians had vanquished a French team that was comprised of 'Negroes, communists and Moslems'", while swastikas show up around Rome during the World Cup celebrations.

Friday, July 07, 2006

My Distaste for Cristiano Ronaldo In Stick Figures

Anyone who has discussed this year's World Cup with me has found it takes very little to bring out my disgust with the Portugal side, usually attached to some sort of explitive. This piece of graphic design genius (thanks to normblog) sums up perfectly my dislike for Portugal's "all flash and no substance" style of play. Though, to be fair, they will be playing for third place on Saturday while most other teams have been home for weeks.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

How Do I Get These Blood and Sweat Stains Out of My IPod?

It looks like that IPod I plan on getting for my birthday, like most anything, is manufactured under dubious conditions. The IPod factory in Shenzhen, China is reported to be making its workers put in well over the legal number overtime hours in China's labor laws. A report in a British news paper says that in the factory of 200,000, the workers, mostly women, live in dormitories prohibiting visitors and are required to work 15 hours a day earning only £27 or US$50 a month.

Shenzhen, also known as the Overnight City, is a city that functions entirely on these kinds of factories. It's called the Overnight City because it was created out of very little when Deng Xiaoping declared it a special economic zone about 25 years ago. Its is bizarre to think of a city entirely created outside any flow of history but instead on the perogative of one man. Based on Peter Hessler's description of it in his new book, Oracle Bones: A Journey Between China's Past and China's Present, it sounds like a very surreal place.

Friday, June 30, 2006

Book Recommendation: "Everyman" by Philip Roth

I finished up Philip Roth's latest novel, Everyman, real quick the other day, since it clocks in at under 200 pages. Unlike Roth's previous works, such as American Pastoral, in which he takes on both the personal narrative and the societal narrative, he limits the scope of this book to the phenonomology of humanity's coming to grips with aging and death. This is a refreshing change from the just off The Plot Against America, in which Roth may have over stepped even his own cabailities by trying to mix the personal with inventing his own fictive societal narrative. Instead, he accepts a setting and character biography reassuringly familiar to any Roth readers, so they can focus on his main characters relationship with and subjection to his body. In explaining his Everyman character's perspective on death, Roth could very well be describing what he was trying to do with this novel: "No hocus-pocus about death and God or obsolete fantasies about heaven for him. There was only our bodies, born tolive and die in terms decided by the bodies that had lived and died before us. If he could be said to have located a philosophical niche for himself, that was it- he'd come upon it early and intuitvely, and however elemental, that was the whole of it. Should he ever write an autobiography, he'd call it The Life and Death of a Male Body."

I must admit, I did not expect to like "Everyman" after hearing what it was about. As a continually healthy 23 year old and notorious ageist, I have no patience in my personal life for the constant talk of doctors appointments, failing body parts, death of classmates, and the other forms of sheer catharsis found in the coversations of the old. But, as Roth discusses, it is because I have yet had to realize the facticity of human body nor I have faced its betrayal. It would certainly be interesting to see how I like this novel decades from now (hopefully not sooner), when I have had to come to grips with these issues.

[P.S.]: So, after writing this post, I read this great quote from a Guardian interview of Philip Roth which makes me certain he would be disgusted with blog posts about his book: "I would be wonderful with a 100-year moratorium on literature talk, if you shut down all literature departments, close the book reviews, ban the critics. The readers should be alone with the books, and if anyone dared to say anything about them, they would be shot or imprisoned right on the spot. Yes, shot. A 100-year moratorium on insufferable literary talk."

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

You're No Rock'n'Roll Fun

If you check out the official Sleater-Kinney website you can read some pretty big news, Sleater-Kinney is breaking up. The statement says "After eleven years as a band, Sleater-Kinney have decided to go on indefinite hiatus. The upcoming summer shows will be our last. As of now, there are no plans for future tours or recordings."

Obviously, Sleater-Kinney was an awesome band and that makes this news enough. It's bigger news for me as an individual music listener, because they were one of the few active bands from my youthful formative years of musical listening, when musical tastes become developed and teenagers become attached to bands in a way that we never can as we get older. Not only were they still "active," they were still putting our awesome records, their last album The Woods being the best thing they had done since 1999's The Hot Rock.

They had a pretty good stretch of being an awesome band though. So, whose coming with me to the 2010 reunion tour?

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Watching "Last Days": Now I'm Bored And Old

Speaking of final days, I recenlty saw Gus Van Sant's Last Days, his "Not About Kurt Cobain" movie. Call me a philistine, but I have found Van Sant's last two films (of the "Death Trilogy") simply boring. I did not enjoy Elephant, but at least that film had some moments of emotional weight. This "tribute" consisted of two hours of watching an actor dressed as Kurt Cobain stumble around, inaudibly mumbling to himself and interacting with no one. I'll spoil the ending and tell you that "Not Kurt Cobain" dies. The problem is that, besides the obvious Cobain costume, Van Sant gives us no reason to care what happens to this zombie of a character. The only bit of dialogue worth a damn, a speech about a performer "dying of misadventure," is given to the private detective hired by the "Not Courtney Love." Besides that, my favorite scene was when "Not Kurt Cobain" makes maceroni and cheese, but that was only because I was hungry at the time.

Movie Recommendation: Sophie Scholl - The Finals Days

I recently watched and enjoyed Sophie Scholl - The Final Days, which tells the true story of a students group's attempt at dissent against the Nazi regime in 1943 and their subsequent trail for high treason.

My favorite part of the movie was that the acting, plotting, dialogue, everything was perfectly understated. Where other movies would have turned Sophie Scholl into an over the top martyr, here she was a composed, strong, and conscientious woman whose action and convictions speak for themselves. This was coupled with the performance was Julia Jentsch that was perfectly restrained. Perhaps the dialogue avoided cliche and over-dramatization because it was based on historical records, but the filmmakers need to be given credit for maintaining that focus, not being distracted by backstory or attempts at larger historical narrative. It is fitting because the Scholls actions were simple and ineffective, yet courageous and significant. The movies expresses this perfectly by giving the viewer straight forward visuals and plot, while each exchange between characters holds the weight of everything that is going on in Europe at the time.

Afterwards, I couldn't help but wonder what is it about movies set in Nazi Germany that they can continually be released to awards and acclaim, yet the public's interest in the topic seems inexhaustible. This includes myself, since last year I saw Downfall and thought it was excellent as well. I might venture to say I enjoyed these latest films more because they were German productions that offer a fresh and more complex perspective than American viewers are used to. Stephen Holdman's review in the NYTimes says "In a climate of national debate in the United States about the overriding of certain civil liberties to fight terrorism, the movie looks back on a worst possible scenario in which such liberties were taken away. It raises an unspoken question: could it happen here?" Yeah, maybe that is an issue in the movie. Any observant American viewer will feel the connection when Sophie's interrogator chastises her for not supporting the troops. Not that this kind of self-examination is avoidable or unhealthy, but it is an odd tendency to turn the film into a commentary on one's own situation. After all, this film just as easily connects to Tiananamen Square in 1989, Kent State on May 4th, the reformasi movement in Indonesia, or any number of other moments of student protest in history. Perhaps that is why these movies continue to be interesting. However, considering this is a German produced film about German history, it seems more likely to me that the filmmakers did not give much thought the politics of contemporary America.

That said, I think the film is worth your time. You can watch the trailer here and, if you are in northeast Ohio, see it here.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

New Mountain Goats Song.....

.......because I know you can't wait. It's called "Woke Up New."

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Good News For A Very Narrow Demographic

Epitonic.com is back up and active after a year and a half hiatus. Back in the day, this site was the spot for anyone looking for mp3s of defunct bands on Gravity Records or any other hardcore bands too obscure to have decent websites. That was relevent in the 90's, but these days every kid who has ever played guitar in his bedroom has a myspace page, so it will be interesting to see what they do with the site now. If nothing else, the website serves as some kind of monument to the time of late-90s "screamo," as it is now called (and here you thought you were just listening to punk rock). If you go to the "radio/genre" section they even have some presumptuous walkthroughs of different genres, so now you can finally put "Graduated From Math Rock 101" on your resume.

In vaguely related news, thanks to the aforementioned myspace.com, I noticed that The "New" Terror Class has reunited in Portland, OR as The Terror Class. As their description aptly puts it, "we cover lots of songs you won't know unless you lived in Kent Ohio ten years ago."

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

A Quick Request for E-Activism: Close the SOA

This week, Congress is voting on an amendment to close the School of the Americas, now known as Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation. You can send a letter to your member of Congress using the School of the Americas Watch website here and it will only take you a couple clicks. SOA Watch expects a close vote. The amendment, introduced by Rep. McGovern (MA) has 133 co-sponsors, and the issue has had close votes before.

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Isreali Academic Boycott

The largest higher education lecturers union in England passed a resolution recommending its members boycott Isreali academics and institutions that do not publicly oppose Isreali policy in the occupied territories. While I understand the sentiment (of opposing the Israli occupation), this seems counter-productive and not well delivered, as this letter published in The Guardian articulates. It would seem to me a far more sensible policy would have been a resolution denouncing the occupation and a call for universities to sell all stock in companies related to the Isreali occupation, along the lines of other divestment campaigns in higher education.

Beyond the questionable effectiveness of such a boycott (would it have any effect at all?), it seems a litte self-righteous and unacademic. Wouldn't these British academics feel bullied if they could only lecture in other parts of the world if they had to sign an oath of being against the US/UK invasion of Iraq or making some formal apology for British colonialism? Or what about censoring any academics coming from US universities with research ties to the US military? There goes your Noam Chomsky lecture series. Isn't this boycott also forsaking an ideal of the academy, open dialogue and debate? And strategically, aren't you alienating a potentially sympahtic Israeli demographic, whose positions are likely more nuanced than "yes or no" on the occupation?

I can appreciate the acknowledgement that academics, like anything else, is political and it is important for academics to examine their roles within institutions that ultimately support imperialism, war, or exploitation. I think this resolution, however, is poorly constructed policy.

Monday, May 29, 2006

US Marines in Haditha

"One Haditha victim was an elderly man, close to 80 years old, killed in his wheelchair as he appeared to be holding a Koran, according to the United States defense official...An elderly woman was also killed, as were a mother and a child who were "in what appeared to be a prayer position," the official said." (NYTimes, May 29th)

The details of the civilian killings by US Marines in Haditha speak for themselves, but another interesting detail you will find at the end of the article is that some victims claim to have recieved $2,500 in compensation from US military officials. If true, as Rep. John Murtha points out, this would suggest a cover up that goes up the chain of command well past the Marines who fired the shots. Something tells me this story isn't going away anytime soon....