Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Plane Avoidance

The colossal suckiness of air travel is well-documented. Not having boarded an airplane since October, and faced with the task of boarding four to six of them in the coming month, I would like to extol my experience in the past six months of NOT flying. A more accurate statement than "I hate flying" would be, "I truly appreciate and enjoy not flying."

It's not that I have not been traveling. I have been, and I love it. I revel in the prospect of boarding trains, cars, bikes, vespas, ferries. I like exploring new places with my own two feet. I'm sure I could even grow to love scooters.

There have not been horrible business trips to avoid, either. My last flight was to Rome, my recent trips were to places I really like, and my anticipated trips are to exciting places. I will even get to stay in these places for more than 12 hours - and while one trip is a business trip, it is a place I've never been before that I hear is pretty sweet. No, I am not here to praise a hiatus in crappy destinations.

My glee in avoiding planes is pretty simple. I really enjoy not having to worry about getting to a bus station three hours early. I delight in not being more than a few feet off the ground for more than a few minutes at a time on a train. I also love that my car smells exactly like I want it to, and that I get fresh air with the windows down in the taxi, and that when I walk, I can spin around, spread my arms out, do a dance routine with my umbrella and use all the space I need.

If there were a way to take anything but an airplane anywhere, at anytime, I would take it. For places more than 5 hours by train, my recommendation is that we give stimulus money to one of Bruce Wayne's start-ups to study the composition of Queen Frostine's magic wand, from Candyland. That wand was fantastic.

From this point forward, though, I shall suck it up like the rest of air-traveling America. They still have free meals on planes ... I think ...

How are we coming along on that wand?

Friday, March 27, 2009

Andy Stern is Still (Power) Hungry

The caption that was posted along with this picture is too funny to not pass along, "Where's me bank?" (On the left is John Wilhelm, former president of the union HERE and current Hospitality Division president of UNITE HERE; on the right is Bruce Raynor, former president of UNITE and current president of UNITE HERE; and on Raynor's shoulder is a leprechaun version of Andy Stern, president of SEIU.)

For those of you who might not know the context of this picture and why I find it hilarious, let me try to give the short version of the ongoing saga at UNITE HERE. Basically the short version, UNITE — the former union of textile workers — and HERE — the former union of hotel and foodservice employees — merged to form a single union, UNITE HERE. The merger was precipitated by the fact that HERE had been very successful at organizing members but was burning through cash while UNITE's membership had been declining but was flush with money because the union is the owner of Amalgamated Bank. All was good while the two presidents, Bruce Raynor (UNITE) and John Wilhelm (HERE)were getting along. Then, they stopped agreeing, supposedly Wilhem wasn't allowing Raynor to head the union alone but Raynor was outvoted since at least 60% of UNITE HERE members were from former HERE locals. Anyway, Raynor started talking about a "divorce" (no, literally, with all of the normative assumptions that go along with it) and the two have been trash-talking each other in the press (for the longer version see here).

Well, it turns out that in the divorce there was really a lover in the wings. Andy Stern, the obnoxious president of SEIU wants both unions to join SEIU thereby increasing his own personal power, which it seems, is all that Andy Stern is interested in. Over the past month, the former UNITE locals resigned from the UNITE HERE, and this past weekend formed a new union, Workers United. The nascent union lasted all of a day before they affiliated with Stern's SEIU with a new agreement that essentially lets SEIU raid the sectors remaining under the former HERE's jurisdiction.

It seems like Andy Stern's sole goal in life is to gain more power for himself, make his organization bigger, and be seen hobnobbing with important people (for example). He sees himself as a modern-day John L. Lewis, but in reality he is a corporate-style thug who can't even be bothered to cover the corporate double-speak when busting the union of SEIU employees.[1]

[1] Please note that this post is solely my (Mike's) opinion by observing events in the labor movement for the past three years. Given his style, it would make complete sense why he wants to get his grubby hands on the only union-owned bank in the country.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

And The Cover Is Two Women Licking A Cone

"That's the great thing about blogging! You don't have to do something better, you just get to criticize other people!" -Mike 3550

And with that, I bring you a rant. This Rolling Stone "100 Agents of Change" list list had some major flaws. (h/t to JL) I suspect some of it had to do with the fact that we feel we have to have a number in the multiples of ten. 100 most change-agenty! 50 most beautiful (People)! 500 best-performing companies (Fortune)! So some lists get inflated. Also, it's Rolling Stone, so it caters to the limited attention span, and, on occasion, the rollingly stoned. I would have cut at least a) Michael Moore, b) Radiohead, c) Arne Duncan, and d) Nick Denton - because they haven't done anything a) that changed anything, b) recent, c) yet and d) unusual. #79 Neil Young had someone convert his car into a hybrid and then talked shit about GM. Really, Rolling Stone? The governator rings up at #61. The only thing he's changed is my opinion of the California electorate.

Given that, I see and raise the ridiculousness that is the fact that only 13 women made the cut. How about Michelle Obama? Isn't she changing the way we see the role of the first lady? Hillary Clinton made enormous strides to show us how close we are to having a female president. How about fewer pop and internet darlings and more artists and scientists? Cindy Sherman comes to mind. Unlike Michael Moore, Sherman has produced something in the last four years.

Also let's add more people who live in other countries and/or who aren't white. #76 Wafaa Al-Sadr is a great example of the type of awesome person that could be featured in this kind of article. LeBron James and Taylor Swift get enough media attention, let's feature people who are doing some good in the world.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

AIG, Publisher's Clearinghouse Style

I like this idea from NPR science correspondent, Joe Palca for what to do about the AIG bonuses:

Here's what you do. Announce that the money will be handed out at a public function. Then, print the checks on those oversize posters like they do for the Publisher's Clearinghouse Sweepstakes, so you can see the name of the lucky winner and the amount they received from 100 yards away. Anyone who wants the money has to come up on stage and have his or her picture taken with an irate Timothy Geithner.

I'm guessing many would decide it wasn't worth it. And for those who do, well, at least they'll have provided us with a little entertainment.

I also don't buy the line from the NYT columnist Andrew Sorkin that we (the U.S. taxpayers) need to hold our noses and pay out these bonuses because upholding contracts is too important of a value to abandon, no matter how morally righteous it might feel, “If you think this economy is a mess now, imagine what it would look like if the business community started to worry that the government would start abrogating contracts left and right.” Of course, Sorkin goes on to say that the “auto industry unions are facing a similar issue — but the big difference is that there is a negotiation; no one is unilaterally tearing up contracts.” But, that is what happened; as a condition to get the bailout money to save their jobs, the UAW was required to give concessions — and the compensation that they had negotiated and agreed to was severely diminished. It seems that when Congress says “Everyone needs a haircut,” I guess for some that means a trim, and for others a complete shave.

And, speaking of unions, I had the same question as Josh Marshall at TPM, “Where's Labor?” I mean this seems form-fit to read into a narrative about corporate excess: while AIG is “contractually obligated” to pay these dipshits that ran the entire world economy into the ground, UAW workers were forced to concede a significant portion of their salaries, benefits, and pensions (which, are bound by the contractual obligation under federal labor law) before the Big Three could get a fraction of what AIG has received from the federal government. From what I could tell, the AFL-CIO blog has nothing and the Change to Win Connect blog has a completely convoluted post about signing a petition for the Employee Free Choice Act to stop AIG. Granted, EFCA would be a huge shot in the arm for labor and I think that it should pass, but this seems like the most clear-cut moral case that labor could make right now, and it is virtually silent on the issue or tries to fit it into a completely different pre-made frame.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Lost Generation

This ad has a little bit too much of a "suck-up" element to it and it will take me a long time to forgive the AARP for their support of the Medicare Part D plan, but I thought that it was clever. Also, having sat through enough meetings listening to aging baby-boomers regale me with tales of how progressive they were in the '60s and what's wrong with my generation, it's pleasant to see something optimistic.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

I Hope "Diversion" Means "Interesting" and not "Distracting"

It's really depressing when you hear a story on the radio related to what you study and, when you go to the website to find out more information it is listed under the "Diversions" section of the news agency's website.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

How Timely and Depressing

Tonight, E. and I watched Roger and Me, Michael Moore's first documentary about the trials of Flint, Michigan as General Motors started closing down the plants that the city had, for so long, relied upon. Given the time that I spent less than an hour away from Flint, I am ashamed to say that I have neither visited the town nor ever watched Roger and Me before tonight. The movie is really depressing — and it's meant to be so. The tragedy of what happened in Flint is really catastrophic. Moore's documentary is filmed as the slow trainwreck unfolds, everyone waiting for their next day of reckoning getting laid off two, three, or four times from different GM plants.

What struck us both is how eery it was to watch this film as the entire country looks like it might be on the precipice heading towards a similar fate as that of Flint. In fact, I was listening to a story on the Marketplace podcast last week about money that states and local jurisdictions received to stablize neighborhoods. In many places, this means providing money to fix foreclosed homes and get them on the market so that they don't bring down the property values of the surrounding homes (which would then cause more mortgage-holders to be underwater, thus fueling the housing mess further); but, sadly, in Detroit (and, presumably, Flint) this money is not going to fix up homes — it's going to demolishing them. It's really sad that the best hope that places like that have to stabilize communities is by destroying them.

Perhaps what rung out most clearly in my mind listening to this tonight is how many rich people, many GM executives, were telling the poor workers of Flint to pick themselves up by their bootstraps and start over. Several had comments about lazy people on welfare and a couple had the attitude of, "Well this is the way capitalism works..." I wonder how many of them are now executives at GM, a company that might go under no matter how much they borrow from the U.S. Treasury, are going to be singing the same tune now. As E. presciently pointed out, I think that the rules are going to change about what the government and corporations should do for people now that it is their job on the line. In the end, we were wondering if there was any way that we could help former workers like those from Flint and those going through similar situations now. We couldn't come up with anything large but thought of a couple that we might start as we try to figure out the best way that might be able to help. If anyone has any ideas, let us know.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Racial Discrimination Video from ABC News Show

Today, the blog of journal Sociology Compass had a post about an episode of the ABC News show What Would You Do?. The premise of What Would You Do? is kind of social-psychology 101 meets "Candid Camera" by secretly recording people's reactions to either social breaches or unexpected situations. In this episode, a real estate agent made obviously racist remarks to first a black couple then an Arab couple during an open house. The agent and the two couples were actors and the goal was to see what the other homeseekers at the open house would do when hearing these comments. Although they show many stepping in, many also did not. And, those who did, did so in different ways: some confronted the agent directly, some talked to the agent and apologized to the couple (they felt that the agent had maligned their community with her behavior) but it seemed like most just went to the couple and told them that they should ignore the real estate agent.

Unfortunately, the agent's actions are all too common in the United States. Despite talk of a "post-racial" America with the election of Obama, it is a fact that this kind of discrimination continues. The problem with only exposing racism in this light is that it often hides the more hidden aspects of "institutional" racism that can't be called out in person, but must be confronted institutionally. The producers of What Would You Do? actually ended up accidentally capturing this kind of racism on a previous episode. A group of white teenagers (actors) were trashing a car in a public park to see what people passing by the scene would do. During this segment, the host, John Quiñones, explains that three calls were placed to 911: the first was about the vandalism, the second two were to report two suspicious black men in another car who "looked like they were getting ready to rob something." It turns out, the black men were the family members of another set of black teenage actors (used in a later segment to see if the race of the vandals mattered for the way that passers-by reacted; it did) who were sleeping in the car waiting for their kids to be done. In the last part of that segment, talking to the black teenagers, he highlights the fact that is the most prominent experience from the day that sticks out in their minds.

The show is a little pedantic for me, I can't imagine watching more than the few clips relating to things I'm interested in (there is another episode looking at the experience of Latino day laborers). But, I think that it would be really great as a teaching tool to show students and could lead to an interesting discussion. Also, Sociology Compass has a teaching guide on housing discrimination and racial residential segregation by Robert Adelman and James Clark Gocker. Also, another great resource — also produced by ABC News — is Diane Sawyers' 1991 Prime Time Live episode, "True Colors", described here (I couldn't find the video online) used an "audit study" method to show on camera some discrimination both blacks and women face getting loans, purchasing cars, and renting apartments.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Not the Typical American Consumer

In a post today, the NY Times blog City Room has a story about people cutting their cable and just watching things on the internet or using Netflix. As it turns out, E. and I did this just this week — and I have to say, standing in line at TimeWarner to return our cable box was one of the more pleasant experiences that I have had with TimeWarner. So far, we are pretty happy with the decision and I find myself with plenty to keep myself entertained. I guess that makes us far from the typical American (not that surprising, I guess):

“There’s an endless fascination in talking about these people, but it’s a little more of the urban myth,” said Craig Moffett, who follows the cable industry at Sanford Bernstein. “The reality is there isn’t enough content on the Web to satisfy the average American consumer.”

(Although one has to wonder how there is less content on the Web than on cable television).