Friday, June 29, 2007

I Promised Myself...

I promised myself that I would not give into the temptation of the damned (and I mean literally, hellfire and damnation style damned) 'osphere today because I really need to run some analysis and write a paper today. I am presenting it at a research group meeting next week and, therefore, would like to have something that shows a modicum of improvement over the previous draft.

However, speaking of drafts, I as over at Polyglot Conspiracy this morning checking out squires' post about (among other things), danah boyd's online essay about the class differences between MySpace and Facebook and how this might map onto a larger understanding of class in America. While I really want to write my thoughts on the essay, I really can't right now. But, the essay and squires' comments on the essay are well worth the read

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Pack up the Bags Honey, We're Heading to the City!

In the NYT today, there is an article quoting a United Nations Population Fund report predicting an explosion in the population of cities in the coming two decades and that, world-wide, the number of people living in cities will be greater than the number of people not living in cities. Among the more interesting findings is that cities, as a whole, take up approximately 2.8% of the Earth's land surface, and the report goes on to say: "This means that about 3.3 billion people occupy an area less than half the size of Australia."

Expecting the report to be a carefully worded diplomatic document calling on nations to make sure that policies protect all interested parties...yada, yada, yada, I was shocked to find the policy initiatives advocated by the report. It sounded like I was reading a David Harvey article. It was an utter condemnation of the private land system and the problems that it can cause for the poor (I quote it at length to give sense of the tone):

The problem is not so much the shortage of land or the number of poor urbanites, but rather their restricted access to serviced land and housing because of distorted land markets.

Servicing already settled areas costs more than pro­viding serviced land on unoccupied sites. Yet public authorities, pleading insufficient funds, seem to find smaller investments in ex post facto programmes more appealing than well-planned proactive policies. Much could be done to improve the situation, for instance, by enacting special legislation for the provision of adequately serviced land for low-income groups. Cities could finance urban development by taxing increases in land value resulting either from public investment in local urban infrastructure or services, or from the redefinition of land uses towards more profitable ones, such as changes from rural to urban or from residential to commercial uses.

The urban poor tend to be treated as if they were passive in the production and consumption of land, yet they have some capacity to pay for land, despite their low and unstable incomes. Indeed, the poor already pay very high prices for the housing they find through the informal market. This capacity to pay could be better mobilized through formal regulation and provision of plots of land.

Scarcity of land or financial resources is thus not the only obstacle to the implementation of sustainable policies. In a sense, poor people have to be protected from the abusive practices of developers who capitalize on services provided by the local communities or by the public sector. Political will, as well as managerial and technical capacities, are needed to identify, capture and properly invest available resources—including the resources of poor people themselves—into more equitable urban development.

I didn't have a chance to read the whole report, but it does go on to talk about these changes and the both the impact on global warming and the impact from global warming in terms of sea-level rise and the vulnerability to natural disaster. Surprisingly, one of the topics that the report does not appear to confront is the fact that concentrating poverty into areas in cities without water and sanitation facilities can lead to the outbreak of things like Multi-Drug Resistant TB and other diseases that have the opportunity to do all kinds of damage to the population, even if you live in one of the gated communities surrounding a favela, barrio or ghetto.

[Link to the full report]

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Labor, labor, labor: Article from the NYT about the Importance of Unions

I have been posting a lot about labor in the past couple of days, mostly having to do with the fact that the EFCA was up for a vote yesterday and the labor world has been abuzz. But, I will post at least one more because here is a must-read article from the NYT (via LabourStart) on EFCA vote yesterday. My favorite part was:

But if they don’t change the size of the economic pie, they do influence how it’s divvied up. All else equal, a union worker makes about 15 percent more per hour than a nonunion worker and also gets better benefits. So while there are many reasons inequality has increased over the last three decades — like technology and global trade — the decline of unions is certainly one of them.

David Leonhardt concludes that something needs to be done to crack down on anti-union tactics employed by corporations and that, while eliminating secret ballots might not be the best tactic, unionization is important to reduce the rampant inequality in our nation. As they say, well worth reading the whole article.

After the Employee Free Rights Act

Unfortunately, the Employee Free Choice Act has died in the Senate based on a 51-48 vote for cloture. The anti worker, Management Labor Lawyers, and corporations who like to destroy their worker's hopes at a better life should be happy. They have succeeded in making elections unfair, biased and wrought with fraud and intimidation all in the name of ensuring "fair elections." The AFL-CIO's response is to say that we are building momentum while the CtW blog response is a call-to-action telling workers that:

The next step, of course, is to work even harder through 2008 and get even bigger pro-worker majorities in Congress (and a pro-worker President in the White House), so that even that 60-vote requirement won't stand in the way of ensuring the right to join together in unions for workers across America.

While I would hope that a stronger pro-labor majority in 2008 will be the turning point for lowering barriers to democratically joining a union, I don't believe that it is going to be the kind of overwhelming groundswell that is going to be necessary to change the reality on the ground. I am not sure that I have the answers to what would be the ideal strategy, but I have a couple of ideas for turning support for strengthining workers' voices through collective action.

  • First, the AFL-CIO and Change to Win federations need to do a better job letting the public know why change is immediately necessary. While this campaign had better coordination and publicity among more "general" progressive/liberal supporters, building a kind of solid coordinated campaign needed to be stronger.

  • Second, I don't believe that the next step is supporting candidates in 2008. I believe that this is important, but I think that the AFL-CIO/CtW federations need to take a strong stand on other employment legislation. This includes vigorously supporting the legislation proposed by Sens. Clinton (D-NY), Kennedy (D-MA), Mikulski (D-MD) and Harkin (D-IA) and Rep. Miller (D-CA 7) in the House to amend existing fair-pay acts to prevent another decision like Ledbetter decision by the Supreme Court. Worker's interests are advanced both by expanding membership in federations and by making the United States workplaces better environments for workers.

  • Third, workers need to be empowered in some way to see this as a fight in which they can be involved. Why not build on some of the momentum from this campaign and try and turn some vulnerable right-to-exploit states (like Colorado or Kentucky) through ballot initiatives. A strong campaign in which people feel invested is the best way to build a political base. Furthermore, as we have seen from the minimum-wage legislation, the momentum built from the states can build into federal legislation.

  • Finally, can we please, please, please, please, pleeeeeaaase (pretty please, with sugar and cherries and whipped cream on top) come up with a better message? Standing on the "workers don't need elections" is instant death. There are reasons why it is important to get card-check. The elections are corrupt and unenforceable. The endless legal battles and repeated infractions of the NLRA make the democratic decision to form a collective voice impossible. Explaining why this system is corrupt and needs to be overhauled to an American public which supports union rights is necessary; doing it in such a way that rhetorically doesn't sound like you are opposed to elections is vital.

I hope that the AFL-CIO/CtW makes good on their collective promise to build a stronger culture of organizing and not wait for our lobbyists to collect co-sponsors on the Hill and actually puts some money and effort behind changing laws on the ground state-by-state.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

AFL-CIO/CtW Split on Immigration

There is an interesting article in the NYT today about the split between the AFL-CIO and three of the Change to Win unions over the immigration bill before Congress. Although the article is painfully brief and seems more intent on describing a split within labor than actually dissecting why it might be that there are differences within labor, it brings up an interesting point: is the guest-worker program bad for workers who want to form unions to make their lives better, or is it good for them?

Let me preface my response by saying that I know painfully little about this particular immigration bill. I have skimmed the AFL-CIO Executive Council's statement on immigration reform. They cite three basic things that need to change:

  1. The outsourcing of jobs to other countries. This sounds like the standard AFL-CIO protectionist line, but at least they have the root of the cause underlying causes correct: policies like NAFTA which absolutely restrict the movement of labor while allowing (almost) complete mobility of capital creates a disadvantageous situation from the perspective of workers to the benefit of multi-national corporations.

  2. Gaming of the current immigration system by corporations. Currently, the only agency responsible for overseeing the proper treatment of undocumented workers is the NLRB. Undocumented workers have no recourse to fair treatment and, thus, corporations use this to their advantage to strike fear into their workers meaning that workers have everything to lose — their job, income, residency, etc. — while the corporations can simply write off any penalties as a "cost of doing business."

  3. The creation of a guest-worker program create a second-class citizenry in the United States. Here, the AFL-CIO aruges that:
    Guestworker programs are bad public policy and operate to the detriment of workers, in the both the public and private sector, and of working families in the U.S. The abuses suffered by workers in the first such program, the post World-War II Bracero program, are well documented. The negative effects of the modern versions of the “guestworker” construct—such as the H1-B and H2-B programs—are all too evident today. Workers around the country are witnessing the transformation of formerly well-paying, permanent jobs into temporary jobs with little or no benefits, which employers are staffing with vulnerable foreign workers who have no real enforceable rights through the guestworker programs. These modern programs have had a major and substantial detrimental effect on important sectors of our economy.

    Essentially, the AFL-CIO is looking at the macro-economic picture and looking at high supply driving down demand, and, thus, the value of labor to corporations. As the NYT article points out, labor was behind Democratic efforts to get the number of guest-worker visas halved.

At the same time, it seems like the three Change to Win unions backing this bill — the SEIU, UNITE HERE, and United Farm Workers — are making the same argument that the AFL-CIO is making. While there is no formal statement of policy similar to the AFL-CIO Executive Council statement (probably stemming from the fact that the CtW has very little cohesion, even on this issue the Teamsters are splitting from the federation as it seems they are wont to do), the letter to Arlen Specter and Patrick Leahy from CtW chair Anna Burger is probably the closest thing to the AFL-CIO statement. Both unions are asking for the same things: a full path to citizenship, preventing guest-worker programs to turn into a second-class citizenry, and, most importantly, an avenue for workers to become full citizens of the country.

One could argue that these are really different arguments wrapped in the same veneer of PR double-speak, but I actually believe that the two positions, contrary to the coverage by the NYT are not that dissimilar. What I believe is different is the general goal of the two groups. On the one hand, the AFL-CIO sees the globalization of capital flows without the attendant globalization of labor flows as the essential problem. Their solution, however, would only seem to exacerbate the situation. Mandating that immigrants become citizens of the United States reveals the essentially protectionist argument; while the AFL-CIO is willing to concede that all laborers should have exactly the same protections as long as they reside in the United States. Instead, what the AFL-CIO needs to be doing is making it possible to organize multinational unions and bring protections through the very mechanisms that tie workers together. Currently organizing labor action internationally illegally, so the AFL-CIO says this is an impediment to organizing. If I have my labor history correct, striking itself was illegal before the success of the AFL, the CIO and Wobblies in the 1930s (among others, I am sure).

On the other hand, SEIU, UNITE HERE and the UFW are accepting the guest-worker program essentially, I believe, because it lessens one of the greatest impediments to organizing in the low-wage service sector: the problem of documentation. Employers such as SWIFT use the threat of deportation and ICE crackdowns as a threat against joining unions. And, why are the low-wage service sector jobs so terrible? Because they don't have the ability to collective organize and demand more from their employers. People talk about the glory of manufacturing jobs, but they were looked at with just as much disdain as current service jobs are. They aren't better jobs because they are more "manly" or because they involve machines and big parts; they are better jobs because the UAW, USW, UMWA, and other manufacturing unions fought hard to make those good jobs. The service-sector unions believe that the guest worker program will reduce the barrier of fear and lower the threshold for workers to talk to each other and act collectively to better their lives and working conditions. Of course this, too, comes at a cost: the service sector unions must be willing to accept the potentially terrible conditions that get placed on this guest-worker program which could turn it into a new racist Bracero program designed to undercut costs of all labor in the United States while simultaneously making it virtually impossible for workers to organize.

This problem, like that of trade (which I have discussed previously) is one which is virtually inescapable because the kinds of institutions and policies that we are using as tools to deal with this issue are outdated to the kind of problem that we confront. Both the AFL-CIO and the service-sector unions are confronting the problem with old tactics: the AFL-CIO gave up its anti-immigrant protectionist stance to form a pro-immigrant protectionist stance while the service-sector unions are willing to compromise to eliminate one of the obstacles of organizing with the leap of faith that it will be a step towards larger policy changes. Without organizing across national lines and only using legislation as a piece of a strategy rather than the entire strategy itself, these projects cannot have the kind of positive and sustained impact either the AFL-CIO or the service sector wants. Until labor confronts the issues that are presented by the international flow of capital with a sustained and effective campaign to assert workers' rights in that flow, we are doomed to be sticking our thumbs in the dikes of globalization.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Best Campaign Slogan. Ever.

Yesterday, I joined E. and members of UNITE HERE in the NY Pride parade. We received much applause and thumbs-up as we went down the street under signs that said, "" I swear, that has to be the best campaign sign, ever. Sleep With The Right People is a partnership between the LBGT community (including Pride at Work) and UNITE HERE, including the Hotel Workers Rising campaign (which also has a great slogan: Lifting one another above the poverty line).

It was a very interesting event that was both uplifting and sad. It was great to see how much support there is for things as basic as recognizing partnerships or for TBLG couples to be able to adopt children; but it is also sad recognizing how little will there is, politically, for such systematic change. The moment of silence an hour into the parade was a stark reminder of the reality of our current world. Calling attention to the discrimination against TBLG folks is, I guess, the first step in making sure that moment of silence becomes increasingly less of a contemporary and more of a historical issue.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Blogging Labor

Realizing that Dave had a great suggestion of trying to compile a list of current union blogs, I was thinking of ways that might not be so time consuming to follow/find new links.

So, I introduce, to you, the "Latest Labor Blog Posts" feature on my sidebar. It is built off of a feed from Google's Blog Search and is not extremely fancy. I am hoping to try and mess around with the search string a little more to see what kinds of results I can get back. I imagine that this one is going to be dominated by the "institutional" blogs like AFL-CIO Weblog. I hope you enjoy!

P.S. It also shouldn't bring back results from the assholes at Union "Facts" either as to prevent the list being clogged by bullshit and to prevent embarrassing episodes.

Union Subtlety

Jon Stewart thinks that Democrats shouldn't be open about the importance of joining unions... He thinks we need "code words". FF to 3:20 in the video although the part about Obama ringtones is pretty f'ing hilarious.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

The New Class Struggle

For those of you who have missed my witty blog posts (yeah, yeah, I know &mdash what witty posts), it has been a work-filled, blog-free week. I have buried my head in the books in order to try and finish a draft of a paper by next Tuesday. The upside is that I have had a chance to read some really good material on the changing nature of the city; the bad is that I have neglected you, dear readers. It also means that I don't have much more to talk about than what I have learned about the changing nature of urban life.

I noted, that I was reading Richard Florida's Rise of the Creative Class: And How It's Transforming Work, Leisure, Community and Everyday Life". In Rise of the Creative Class, Florida tracks what he perceives to be a fundamentally important shift in the nature of class relations following the changes from a manufacturing to an information economy. While this is a tried-and-true topic, Florida's concentration on the nature of work in the new economy itself provides a novel analysis that leads to interesting conclusions on the implications of this change in work on the transformation of understanding class as an analytical category. In doing this, he is part business-school professor and part modern-day Karl Marx calling for a class consciousness of the new "creative class."

His analysis is based largely on large-scale datasets from the Information Week annual salary survey data and the Occupational and Employment Statistics Survey from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In addition, he cites interviews with members of the creative class, but does not describe the method for these interviews, which constitutes one of the greatest weaknesses of the book.

Based on this analysis, he argues that the shift from the old manufacturing-based economy to the contemporary economy is due to a rise in the importance of creativity and, thus, calls this economy the "Creative Economy" which was created when

Bohemian values met the Protestant work ethic head-on, and the two did more than survive the collision. They morphed into a new work ethic—the creative ethos—steeped in the cultivation of creativity. People from software developers to circut designers could now work as creative people, coming and going virtually as they pleased, taking breaks to excersice, working to baring rock music if they so desired. p. 207

The tension that Florida sets up throughout the book is the dichotomy between "organizational" culture versus "creative" culture. The former crushes the soul of workers, both blue collar line workers and the white collar Man in the Grey Flannel Suit. Because of the nature of work in the creative economy, Florida argues, different patterns of work are necessary and people in this new economy need to be able to express this creativity. This means that corporations need to provide amenities more than salary, cities need to provide the kind of cultural nourishment necessary for this new class of creative workers and workers themselves need to adapt to rules of the new economy. Working for a single corporation is no longer the norm partly because of layoffs and mistrust in companies, but mostly because workers want to express their own creativity and therefore look for different projects.

Although there are interesting discussions discounting conservative hand-wringing over hedonistic culture and implications for organizational culture of companies, I am most interested in his understanding of the changing nature of community due to the "rise of the creative class." He argues that the new class has much less of a tie to traditional mechanisms of social capital such as community groups, labor unions the Rotary Club, etc. in favor of less organized modes of community offered by bars, restaurants and other places creative people can meet and build informal ties to each other. According to Florida, they seek out diverse communities that are often signified by the acceptance of the TBLG community the same way that people, when selecting to work, choose companies that offer domestic partner benefits, even if they, themselves are not a gay man or lesbian woman. But, adapting to these new kinds of lifestyles driven by the new economic conditions of a transformed work environment for the creative class leads to the need for new models of community. As Florida says,

Strong communities, not any institution within them, are the key to social cohesion.

Unfortunately, Florida does little to provide insight into building this community. His conclusion on the nature of cities and communities is that cities need to invest in this new class of workers and and he channels Marx to argue that

being newly emergent, the Creative Class does not yet have an awareness of itself, as a class, needed. p. 315 [emph. in original]

He argues that a new kind of politics will be needed in order to provide things like healthcare that were once provided by employers but now, with the increased fluidity of careers, needs to be portable and national, if not international. He argues that something like a union would be good, but that this new class is too disparate to be able to be organized. And, besides, organization is the natural enemy of creativity and must, therefore, be quashed on its own. Florida acknowledges that the challenges facing the creative class require organization, even if they are new models of organizing. Unfortunately, he provides no guidance in ways that bottom-up solutions could be developed.

Instead, he tends to focus on the top-down policy changes made by politicians. And, these conclusions are problematic on several fronts. First, his "gay index" is highly problematic. This is an argument made elsewhere, and, as I say there, I think is actually the result of his rhetoric more than his actual analysis. The second implication is that the kinds of policies that he is advocating have the effect of increasing inequality. I honestly believe that he does not intend for this to happen, in fact one of his calls to the new class is to overcome inequality between the working and service sector and the new "creative class", but the problem is that his rhetoric is very imprecise. While his conversational style makes the book engaging, it also betrays some of the more careful language of traditional academic books and can lead to problematic policy implications. For instance, the Michigan Cool Cities program has directed money towards projects that don't address the need of better educational systems and skill-building among youth to become part of the creative class towards projects that are, in essence, more tax breaks in an attempt to potentially draw this creative class from elsewhere. Lastly, I am troubled by his lack of attention to what happens to the service and working classes in this shifting economy. At several points throughout the book, Florida points to the need to understand that there are, as one section is titled "New Divides" (p. 281), in class structures. But these epiphanies often come at the end of chapters and are quite literally written as afterthoughts that are tacked to the end of sections, chapters and the book. What solutions does Florida have, for someplace like Detroit, to grow the prospect of a creative class rather than scurrying about chasing after the existing creative industries and professionals?

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Mental Health Parity

Although I am not a policy wonk about healthcare like some friends are, there is one piece that I feel like I know enough about to be truly concerned. Mental health parity is something that I believed in and had hoped hope to fight for through GEO's next contract and is a practice that I find deeply troubling. For those of you who don't know, mental health can be legally treated different than other kinds of health in employer-provided healthcare benefits including things like caps on the number of visits, lack of coverage for "chronic" conditions and limits on in-patient care that would be unthinkable for (almost) any kind of physical health condition. If you would like to know more about it, I suggest reading the material at Mental Health America and National Alliance on Mental Illness.

One of the lasting legacies that Paul Wellstone left was an effort to combat this discrimination as he proposed legislation that would make mental health discrimination illegal. Now, the Senate has cleared this legislation through committee but the bill, which now bears Wellstone's name, needs to clear three committees in the House and be approved by the full membership of both Chambers (oh, yeah, and get signed by our the President). I have included a link in the sidebar if you want to contact your legislators (particularly those in the House) to pass this legislation (or, click here). For more details on the legislation itself, you can find information at the Wellstone Action or Mental Health America websites.

My (Not So) Inner Nerd

Combing the internets doing "research" I happened across a couple of interesting sites relating to sociological research. That is, if you find questions of statistical reasoning and organizational behavior interesting.

What? You don't find those interesting? Can't say I am too surprised. However, for a great take on the statistical absurdity of Republican presidential primary polls, see this article at Slate.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

A New Ronald Reagan?

I was going to write something about Fred Thompson being compared as the next Ronald Reagan and how faulty that comparison is. However, Richard Cohen at the Washington Post has been there, and done that.

Watching the video from Fred Thompson's appearance on Jay Leno last night, something else impressed me about Thompson. The man is so much more measured and thoughtful than any of the current Republican nominees. In response to Leno's question about Iran, Thompson responds:

Iran's a difficult problem, and, you have to have all of the facts before you make a final decision about it. We've got a lot of friends among the Iranian people. The Iranian economy is in bad shape. If we handle it right, and use our intelligence services and our propaganda possibilities correctly, part of that problem might take care of itself, so let's not get ahead of ourselves on that.

While I may disagree with the ways in which he would "use our intelligence services and our propoganda possibilities," this is an incredibly measured response that really looks at the issue itself and doesn't buy into the cheap one-liner. Compare this to Mitt Romney's ignorance about basic facts on Iraq, Rudi Giuliani's revisionist 9/11, and even John McCain, who is by all accounts the foremost of all the candidates on foreign policy is making light of bombing Iran. Of course Thompson has the benefit of not actually being in the race and not having to demean himself by hand-raising straw polls, as he points out, but the amazingly stark contrast between his position and all of the other Republican candidates (except Ron Paul), is noticeable.

What I find interesting is that there is a similar movement afoot in the Democratic party to get Al Gore to run. On their website, the folks at Draft Gore call Al Gore "The Conscience of the Democratic Party" in no small part because he is eloquent and intelligent and, except for his concern about global warming, is not really an activist-type politician. I discussed this more in relation to Eugene Robinson's column.

I don't think that Thompson and Gore are the same and are, in fact, less alike than Thompson is from Reagan; but, what I do think is that Cohen, or even Robinson, glaze over the underlying sense from the strength of these two candidates. People are tired of politics, not for politics' sake — Al Gore has certainly been talking about politics little "p" and big "P" the past couple of years, but the deeply partisan "horse-race" politics reported by CNN, FoxNews, MSNBC, NYT, etc. The left wants President Bartlet and the right wants D.A. Arthur Branch. Why? Because these are the consummate thoughtful, intelligent decision-makers who put the country and law in front of themselves; I mean, Aaron Spelling and Dick Wolf created the characters precisely because that is what people want in their elected leaders — and is also precisely why they are fictional.

What is not so fictional, however, is the mess that our country is in. We have a disaster in Iraq, a dismal world opinion, a global climate problem, millions of uninsured citizens, personal and national debt problems and a failing infrastructure that is going to need serious investment in the next twenty years. Al Gore to the left and Fred Thompson to the right have created themselves (both, I should say through the use of Hollywood), to be the characters that we all create in our minds and recreate (through those Hollywood images) to put their face on those characters so that we imagine them as type-cast for the role of President. I'm not exactly sure what this postmodern mirror means in terms of real politics, policies or the health of our country, but looking at the field I can honestly say that we could do a lot worse than Al Gore and Fred Thompson as the race in 2008.

Friday, June 8, 2007

Absolutely Astounding

These pictures by photographer Chris Jordan are amazing... I am only going to copy one series here, but the whole thing is well worth a look.

Cell Phones, 2007

Depicts 426,000 cell phones, equal to the number of cell phones retired in the US every day.

Partial zoom:

Detail at actual size:

Check out the rest of them!

More Attorney-General Corruption - No, Not That Attorney General

It appears that, along with the suspension of basic civil liberties and wrong-headedness about the "War on Terror", the U.S. and Britain share corrupt attorneys general. The Guardian reported that the attorney general of Britain, Lord Peter Goldsmith knew of bribes being paid by the corporation BAE to Bush family friend, Prince Bandar of Saudi Arabia, but that Lord Goldsmith intentionally misled an international anti-corruption agency, the OECD.

What is more, Britain claimed not to let the OECD know about the payments because of "national security" concerns. Now, what, might you ask, are these "national security" concerns that would prevent the government of Britain admitting that they are paying off the royal family of Saudi Arabia? I'll let Tony Blair explain:

Standing beside George Bush, a close family friend of former US ambassador Prince Bandar, Mr Blair said it would have "wrecked" the relationship with Saudi Arabia if he had allowed investigations to go on. "This investigation, if it had gone ahead, would have involved the most serious allegations and investigation being made of the Saudi royal family," he said.

"My job is to give advice as to whether that is a sensible thing in circumstances where I don't believe the investigation would have led to anywhere except to the complete wreckage of a vital interest to our country."

Yes, that is right &mdash "national security" now includes protecting information about bribes paid to the Saudi royal family. I thought that we were in this entire war to advance freedom and democracy to the Middle East? So "national security" is used to protect a monarchy in the Middle East for no other reason than we don't want to embarrass the Crown Prince by creating an uproar because British tax dollars are going to pay into the sultan's slush fund.

Of course, Prince Bandar, in a statement to The Guardian, has denied that these were bribes, and through his "London solicitors", Herbert Smith says:

Whilst Prince Bandar was an authorised signatory on the accounts any monies paid out of those accounts were exclusively for purposes approved by MODA.

This is the exact problem in dealing with royal families and not democracies: The prince can withdraw money, by himself, anytime he wants to!!!.

What also truly amazes me about this second article in The Guardian is how careful they are to document exactly what they did in order to get Prince Bandar's statement and the editorial decisions that were made regarding the decision to go to print without any statement by the prince. To me, this is an amazing contrast to the way that I imagine American newspapers would handle the same situation. I imagine that the American media, whether the NYT or Fox News, would impugn the credibility of any person who dared challenge their authority and sensationalize the fact that they were criticized. Rather, The Guardian is simply matter of fact: we asked for a statement from this person on this occasion, that person on another occasion, informed the prince this is what we were going to do in order to give him one more chance and then we made the decision to go to print for x, y and z reasons. And, after he released a statement, we printed it and explained why the allegations made in it against our paper were false, using the evidence cited. Amazing.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

On Hipsters and Yuppies

I am sure that many of you could guess that coming to New York has been, in many ways, a huge culture shock. I am not one of those midwesterners that came to New York and was shocked by everything in the city; I mean, I did grow up outside of D.C. and I study cities for heaven's sake[1]. I think that one of the most surprising things that I have found is the hipster culture. Now, this is something that I knew existed (because Ann Arbor tries its best to be a miniature New York), but as is true with most things about culture shock, one can intellectually know that something exists and, yet, still not be prepared for the living with it on a daily basis.

Luckily, the New York magazine Time Out which, as far as I can tell is marketed to the young, urban professional that doesn't want to be considered a "yuppie" but probably is one, has done a feature issue on hipsters. The folks at TONY (get it: Time Out New York, how hip &mdash err, I mean &mdash not hip of them) are even kind enough to provide a quiz: What's your hipster dirtbag quotient? They provide this so that their readers can find out if they are a hipster and warn: "Imagine the horror. You've cheered this issue only to discover you're one of them. Find out."

No joke, when I took this quiz, I was informed of the following:

What's a Moz?
We hate to be the ones that have to break this to you, but unless khaki-colored, baggy cargo pants, Yanni and a pleasant disposition come back into style, you're consigned to a life of unremarkable blandness. We're sorry.

Now, I could choose to be offended as I sit in my khaki-colored cargo shorts (no joke), but, then I decided that I am not going to be concerned about it because these people are soooooo far out of my league, I actually am not even cool enough to get the joke because I am actually sitting here typing and wondering, What exactly is a Moz? (any help in comments would be greatly appreciated) So, I guess that we have it, I am officially not cool enough for New York.

Wasting enough time on the internets, I do not have time to read the entire issue, I am lucky that I found this article first, because the author is kind enough to explain to me what a hipster is:

Under the guise of “irony,” hipsterism fetishizes the authentic and regurgitates it with a winking inauthenticity. Those 18-to-34-year-olds called hipsters have defanged, skinned and consumed the fringe movements of the postwar era—Beat, hippie, punk, even grunge. Hungry for more, and sick with the anxiety of influence, they feed as well from the trough of the uncool, turning white trash chic, and gouging the husks of long-expired subcultures—vaudeville, burlesque, cowboys and pirates.

Of course, hipsterism being originally, and still mostly, the province of whites (the pastiest of whites), its acolytes raid the cultural stores of every unmelted ethnicity in the pot. Similarly, they devour gay style: Witness the cultural burp known as metrosexuality. As the hipster ambles from the thrift store to a $100 haircut at Freemans Sporting Club, these aesthetics are assimilated—cannibalized—into a repertoire of meaninglessness, from which the hipster can construct an identity in the manner of a collage, or a shuffled playlist on an iPod.

I may just not be cool enough, but it seems (from the quiz, this one article, and the headlines of the other articles) like the entire TONY issue is devoted to this very irony. I mean, I think that what hipsters love to do most is make fun of other hipsters.

Hipster 1: [Affecting disaffected tone] I can't believe how many hipsters are moving into Greenpoint.

Hipster 2: [Nonchalantly] I know, pretty soon it is going to be exactly like Park Slope.

Hipster 1: Didn't you used to live in the Slope?

Hipster 2: Yeah, but that was sooooo four years ago before all the hipsters moved in.

So, in the end, like most postmodernists, the editors of TONY who pastich pastiche and find authenticity in nothing because everything is authentic. I find it truly frustrating at times and believe that all potential criticisms which the hipsters try and destabilize through irony are simply left intact like:

The hipster who keeps up with the antics of Hilton, Lohan and Spears does so sneeringly, and her knowingness introduces one degree of difference between herself and the Midwestern housewife who buys Us Weekly at the Wal-Mart checkout line.

On the other hand, I could live with no one but the urban professionals who swear that everyone is there to serve them and only them. If you want to know about this group of people in our neighborhood, for whom I have so much disdain I must refrain from writing because it would simply turn into a rant, listen/read this story from Marketplace about the changes that corner-store merchants have made to keep pace with the changing socio-demographics of the neighborhood. At the end, the final woman interviewed (who I can only guess shops at either the Park Slope Food Coop or at Wal-Mart says,

The fact that they have so many low-end products that totally don't appeal to us make me feel like they're like, in this transition of trying to serve two different populations of people.

How dare those store owners who have been able to put together a living in this neighborhood and trying to live the American dream sell those [gasp] low-end products! I mean, they need to decide &mdash poor people like them or rich people like us

Given the choice, give me the hipsters.

[1] I must also acknowledge that it is nice to actually live in a city, considering this fact. And, honestly, I think that I had much less culture shock moving from A2 to NYC than I did from Houston to A2. [return]

Monday, June 4, 2007

Google: Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Corporations

Back from vacation, I have spent most of today trying to get my "home office" (I know, so bourgeois!) in New York set up so that I can actually start getting some real work done. After talking to my committee member last week and spending the last week on a total vacation, I am ready to start tackling the world of statistics, racial residential segregation and gentrification research (for those who might be interested, I am reading Richard Florida's Rise of the Creative Class. I will let you know what I think when I finish).

In order to be at all productive three things needed to happen:

  1. I needed to clear off my desk so that I would have space to work. This, in turn required that:

  2. I put together all of my accounts because most of my desk was covered with old bills, unpaid bills, and an assortment of other types of information that either needed to be shredded or filed to that infamous "someplace safe". This "someplace safe" is generally someplace so safe that even I can't find it later using all of my skills of logical deduction. This, in turn, caused me to realize that:

  3. I should probably do something to try and organize my life in some way that is compatible with "telecommuting" six hundred miles to Ann Arbor.

As you can imagine, this is something rather tedious and best left for people who actually like to do things like organize desks (this trait in people has often scared me, even in some of my closest friends). However, seeing as how I do not have a personal assistant, I need to do it myself. In the process, I was trying to figure out the relative merits of using Microsoft Outlook versus Google Calendar. I decided that I will probably end up using Google Calendar and Gmail, but I have two concerns. First, I always manage to lose important information every time I try and shift the system in the way that I do things, either digitally or physically. Second, I also have this concern that suddenly Google is going to decide that they are going to charge for everything that is currently free (for instance, this blog). My two very good friends that work for Google, they assure me that there is no way that this would happen &mdash maybe it is the socialist in me, but I always have my doubts when there is a pool of cash to be earned by corporations. No matter how benevolent they may be.

My concerns aside and with my conflicts of interest noted, I think that Google Calendar is really cool! (NB: and by saying that, you realize how not cool I am). It is awesome that you can have multiple calendars that show up on your own calendar so that you can see what is going on either with groups you are involved with or with friends, family, etc. For instance, E. and I used to have one of those large calendars that hung in our apartment; we were each to write down where we would be, what we would be doing, etc. That way, I could know if E. needed a ride or she could know if I was going to be late on a given evening (I don't know why I would ever have been late). Now, this calendar is a brilliant idea; but, given my comments earlier, you can probably guess how well I did writing in the most up-to-date information. Eventually, we scrapped it due to my lack of organizational ability. But, amazingly enough, the one thing that I have done fairly well is keep an electronic calendar. With Google Calendars, we can each see each other without having to create a shared file network between her computer and mine and everything else that is generally really shitty about Microsoft. Of course, that means overcoming E.'s fears that getting a Google account is one step short of Big Brother reading her e-mail (she is a much better person than I, with an even larger suspicion of corporations than mine).

Of course, that got me thinking about the ways that organizations can use these kinds of tools to reach more members, organize more effectively, share across time and distance, etc. But, I think that I will leave that for a later post. I hear Stata calling...

Friday, June 1, 2007

Braniacs for President (and Columnists) 2008!

To all three loyal readers out there, you may have noticed my hiatus. This past week, I flew to California to attend the wedding of a good friend from college and to spent some time with the parental units since I don't get to see them much seeing as how the entire continent divides us. I have been woefully oblivious of the news except for the Rosie/Elizabeth dust-up on The View (my mom watches the show and is, therefore, intrigued by this broohaha) and the lost whales in the San Fransisco Bay. I don't fault myself too much for being an un-knowledgeable citizen shirking my civil society responsibilities; after all, this is why there is vacation.

But, alas, vacations are not always truly vacations. In the process of waiting for one of my committee members to call me back about a paper that I am writing, I looked up what was going on in the world at the Washington Post. Luckily for me, today is Eugene Robinson's column in the post. For all of you who have never read his work, I believe that he is one of the smartest columnists in America and often writes about stories that other columnists ignore or writes about the more "common sense" angles of stories that other columnists treat as "horse-race" analyses.

Today, Robinson chose to write about the buzz surrounding Al Gore's run for office. Rather than focusing on Al Gore's weight as a factor about whether he would run, Robinson &mdash shock of all shocks &mdash decided to focus instead on his intelligence. I mean why would any one want to focus on that? Unfortunately, because intelligent people will have a difficult time getting elected:

Al Gore has been in town launching his new book, "The Assault on Reason," and you could have predicted the buzz: Is he about to jump into the race? What you probably wouldn't have predicted is the counter-buzz that Gore, poor fellow, is just too ostentatiously smart to be elected president.

While the entire column is worth the read, here is the part that I found particularly important:

Leave aside the question of whether Gore is even thinking about another presidential run, or how he would stack up against the other candidates. I'm making a more general point: One thing that should be clear to anyone who's been paying attention these past few years is that we need to go out and get ourselves the smartest president we can find. We need a brainiac president, a regular Mister or Miss Smarty-Pants. We need to elect the kid you hated in high school, the teacher's pet with perfect grades.

When I look at what the next president will have to deal with, I don't see much that can be solved with just a winning smile, a firm handshake and a ton of resolve. I see conundrums, dilemmas, quandaries, impasses, gnarly thickets of fateful possibility with no obvious way out. Iraq is the obvious place he or she will have to start; I want a president smart enough to figure out how to minimize the damage.

Huh, what an interesting concept...It would also seem to apply to columnists in the nation's papers of record &mdash too bad Eugene Robinson doesn't have the same notoriety as Maureen Dowd or Thomas Friedman.

UPDATE:While Maureen Dowd certainly deserves much criticism, I must also be fair and acknowledge that she has a very intellegent and well-written column [sub. required] this week on why President Bush can no longer be trusted on the war in Iraq.