Wednesday, March 30, 2005

my readers = thieving bastards

As we approach the end of March, I was checking my domain stats to see who all is visiting the site and why.

I was glad to see that, as with the last two months, my number of visitors is steadily increasing. And, as before, I'm simultaneously validated and embarassed by the search phrases which yield links to my site. For every "Senegalese music and politics" (hooray!) search string, there's also someone out there looking for "little girls fucking," or a completely baffling phrase like "simultaneous and sequential strategic thrusts starbucks."

And, obviously, I'll transfer the total current balance of my bank account to anyone who knows why somebody would open the Yahoo browser and type in the word "pantswetting." Unless it actually was Lawrence V. Jackson looking for help with a problem which may or may not be afflicting him due to the gross tonnage of asskicking his employer has received recently.

More to the point, I wanted to take a moment to let you all know that people are stealing my scholarship hardcore. After the blog, my analysis of Mozart K.332 is the most visited section of my website, with the other analytical essays close behind. I'm desperately hoping that some of these folks are from Yale and taking the same courses from the same professors that I was, so when the paper eventually gets read the prof. will be like:

"Wait a minute, that's the same dumbass, garbage idea Alek tried to pass off as legitimate...Hmmm, I better get to the bottom of this. Teaching Assistants! To the Subcontracted Batcave!"

Alright. Clearly I can't wrangle this post into cohesion.

Stop stealing my papers.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

lights out! Guerrilla Radio!!!

You remember that song?

"lights out/guerrilla radio/turn that shit up!"

That song knocked me on my ass. This post should be about how that song, and by extension, all of Rage Against The Machine's The Battle of Los Angeles knocked me on my ass, and why, but now that my salary's paid by hotel worker union dues instead of lawyers I have to stop slacking off at work.

In fact, I only mentioned it here because is crashing all over the place and I haven't been able to post in two days. So I was idly contemplating whether guerrilla blogging would work, and wondering if it'll could take off in Chiapas or Chechnya. They could pass recipes back and forth.

Regardless: I wanted to let my attentive readership know that while the quality of New Plastic Weblog will never waiver (see guarantee), the frequency will probably need to be scaled back to 3-4 posts per week.

I know, I know. Where will you get random, poorly-researched musings on what makes radio loud, or half-hearted reviews of live performances by bands about which the reviewer has already made up his mind? Not to mention, where will you get an unending stream of union-babble (which is like psycho-babble, but sweatshop free)?

The thing is, I have less time now that I'm working at Local 2, but I still feel (no disrespect to others in the blogosphere) that simply posting links to interesting current events isn't worth it. Y'all can read the news online yourselves. My position so far has been that if I don't plan to add something substantive to a current controversy/development, I won't post up a link about it. Of course, I like to keep my definition of "substantive" flexible enough to include unprovoked vicious personal attacks on people whose politics I dislike.

But never fear. Once I've got a decent sense of my work schedule I'll be ramping it back up to 5/week.

In the meantime, Jesse Jackson has embarked on his most recent bout of economy-sized shark jumping.

Mountain of medical science/due process, get out of his way.

Friday, March 25, 2005


They're coming. They must be reading my blog.

Oh, man.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

tired of taking it to the bridge?

Here are a few recommendations of bizarre but rewarding music that is most likely off your radar. This post was inspired by my recent exposure to "The Most Unwanted Song" (described below). People with a healthy and/or nerdy interest in music will enjoy these.

Negativeland - Dispepsi. I never listened much to Negativeland, I think because their deliberate efforts to provoke copyright litigation seemed contrived. But the truth is I ignored them into I heard Dispepsi yesterday, which was awesome. It's a sound-collage on the subject of Cola Wars, marketing, consumerism, and market greed, set to music and interspersed with original songs. Incredible richness of archived sound footage from commercials, talk-radio, news broadcasts, and interviews, as well as internal memos from Pepsi marketing. Hilarious, thought-provoking, sad, angry. Serious background work went into this album, and it shows. Plus it's pretty groovy.

Komar & Melamid (w/Dave Soldier) - The Most Wanted Song/The Most Unwanted Song. You might have heard about this on This American Life, but in essence: two guys did an online poll of likes and dislikes in music, then composed the Most Wanted and Most Unwanted song. The most wanted song, incorporating as it does every one of the elements that people like (moderate tempo, volume, smooth instrumentation, lovey-dovey lyrics, etc.), is fucking awful. The Most Unwanted Song, however, is a wonderful achievement and unbearably hilarious. I'm not kidding, it's physically impossible not to laugh when an operatic soprano (opera hate) begins kicking rhymes (rap hate) about being a cowboy. And, of course, since it's the Most Unwanted Song it's also over 20 minutes long. The precise moment when I fell on the ground uncontrollably weeping from hilarity was when the kids singing holiday songs scream out the following: "Ramadan, Ramadan, lots of praying but no BREAKFAST!" That is an actual lyric.

John Oswald - Plunderphonics. You can't buy a new John Oswald CD anywhere because he's been sued so many times that he now gives them away to avoid litigation. However, he graciously allows other small record labels to bootleg and release his albums, which are entirely constituted of uncleared, pre-released, recognizable sound material (albeit heavily manipulated). Dolly Parton sings "The Great Pretender" with a pitch-modulated male version of herself. Every grunt, growl, and scream from James Brown collide with hiphop samples of Brown, making a stuttery funk that pays tribute to the Bomb Squad and Eric B. while also presenting them with a biting critique of their parasitism. Michael Jackson's "Bad" becomes a Reichian phase pattern. And Carly Simon duels with Chocolate Starfish over who does a better version of "You're So Vain." Luckily, the gimmicks rarely get in the way of compositional craft, so Plunderphonics is anything but a novelty. It contains a great deal of humor (including the now-unfortunate Michael Jackson lyrical pastiche "your butt is/love"), but overall the mood is fairly serious. Get the "Plunderphonics 69" two-disc set if you can find it on Gemm or elsewhere.

That's all for now. I can burn some of this stuff for anyone who wants. Review of last night's Rainer Maria/Minipop show coming up tomorrow or the next day.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

together again, for the very first time

here are some folks that, had they worked together, would have made wonderful music. Note: these are all artists that could, based on time period, geography, etc. have realistically collaborated (or could still). Please hit me back with your own in the comments section. Or, if you're shy, you can just email your additions to me. Soon as I get them, I'll just post them up here along with your full name and my general thoughts on your personality, physical appearance, etc.

Kate Bush/David Byrne
Rachel's/Leonard Cohen
DJ Spooky/Bernard Parmegiani
Laurie Anderson/Greenwood bros. (Radiohead)
Morton Feldman/Sun Ra

and my alltime hail mary nothing-on-the-line backcourt dying wish request:

George Gershwin/Dave Tarras

Man, how tight would that have been? Only in dreams.

(p.s. I just finalized the boycott organizing details, so I start my new job with UNITE-HERE this coming Monday. Here's more info on what I'll be doing)

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

From Fiddler on the Roof to Beatbox in the Hood

From Fiddler on the Roof to blah blah blah blah. Any panel discussion that starts with "From Fiddler on the Roof to..." inevitably ends up like a Shabas dinner when you were ten -- boring, irrelevant babble from old people punctuated by moments of keen, unbearable embarassment.

That certainly covers much of the panel I attended last night at the JCCSF (same title as post), but luckily it had a few wonderful moments too. The guests were Theodore Bikel, Hankus Netsky, Jewlia Eisenberg, and DJ SoCalled (who one old lady, in a moment of surreal hilarity, referred to as "DJ" like it was his first name).

Like many panels I've attended, the people on stage were smarter than anyone else who spoke, and should have been left, unmoderated and unquestioned, to their own devices. Instead they had to struggle through incoherent questions and badly-parsed cliches just to say something interesting. I wish I'd brought a notebook because Netsky and SoCalled actually built a decent dialogue on their divergent aims regarding musical reconstruction. A few things that did stick with me:

- Theodore Bikel saying that Fiddler on the Roof is great theatre, but it's still a "substitute schtetl," which many (Jewish and not) use to assuage their guilt or fulfill their quota of Jewish awareness. He called it "paying someone to Jew for you," which sounds more bitter out of context than it was intended. He believes that Fiddler can be an excellent starting point, inspiration, or confirmation in the journey of Jewish experience, but it "better not be the endpoint."

- Hankus Netsky decrying the dismissal of Jewish arts in contemporary Academia, and the relegation of music to the back burner in Yiddish theatre specifically.

- SoCalled reminding the audience that Copeland and Bernstein are "wonderful Jewish American composers...who wrote like white people."

- SoCalled objecting to the label of "Jewish hiphop," not because it pigeonholed him, but because it misunderstood the nature of hiphop music. This was a perfect comment (roughly quoted): "Hiphop is about representing who you are. I'm Jewish, and that has come to heavily inform the hiphop that I make, but it's still hiphop. It's time for the ghetto to end."

What was missing from the talk, but what presumably gets said quite a bit, is the remarkable tool hiphop has contributed to the American Jewish struggle for identity. As last night's introductory monologue from Aaron Davidman (of Traveling Jewish Theater) observed, our religion is about wrestling with ourselves and God. The ability of hiphop (through sampling, wordplay, and cultural association) to continuously re-engage history fits perfectly into the ongoing metaphysical Wrestlemania that defines our religion. SoCalled tried to explain why it made such a natural match, and why it should not be dismissed, but there was too much Bikel-related asskissing nostalgia for that point to get through. Not to say he doesn't deserve it. But SoCalled and others are right to warn the older generation that the next wave of Jews need something besides Tevye to hold onto.

Oh, also. Buy all of SoCalled's albums, because, instead of falling prey to all the gimmicks you might expect, they kick total ass.

Monday, March 21, 2005

I'll change my name to Waspy McKillThoseGuys

That is, if I want to get on a jury around here.

A prosecutor revealed last week that, apparently, it may have been standard practice to exclude Jews and black women from juries on cases involving capital punishment. Your first question might be:

"Yo, that sounds a little multiculturally questionable, but if the effective purpose of jury selection is to give both sides an equal shot at building a receptive jury, how come it's wrong for prosecutors to challenge jurors they think are likely to sympathize with the defense?"

Well, I hope that's not your first question. Because in the courtroom, like in the classroom, workplace, and lunch counter, discrimination based on race or religion is (at least nominally) prohibited by law. And in all of these arenas it's often tough to provide evidence of discrimination, so explicit public testimony from a prosecutor makes a nice change.

Needless to say, the issue has created an enormous amount of turmoil. But there's one question which hasn't been widely addressed, as far as I can see. I won't speak on black women, but are Jews actually less likely to support the death penalty? From the extensive public opinion research I've done so far (to my foreign readership, that's pronounced "Google"), Jews seem to be roughly in line with national trends on capital punishment. I wish I could say different of my people, but hell, it's not like that's a first for me.

So I wondered why prosecutors would stick with this formula if the polls don't bear it out. Geographical difference undoubtedly affect jury selection techniques. Also, it may be that the strength of opinion (i.e. how much they care) makes more of a difference than the basic for/against.

Anybody out there know more about this? Hit me with some comments.

Friday, March 18, 2005

i can't escape

I know people are sick of reading about this damn corporation, but they're just getting their ass kicked so hard that my manhood requires me to post about it.

Walmart paid $11 million today to settle an impending civil immigration case involving the use of "illegal" immigrant workers. This was a no-brainer, since Walmart has been the subject of a four-year federal investigation for using the workers in the first place, not paying them or covering their injury insurance, and...wait for it...LOCKING THEM INSIDE THE STORES DURING THE NIGHT-SHIFT. This is actually a more common practice than you'd think, but the Wal-Mart suit helped bring this hazardous and degrading "anti-theft technique" to light.

As always, though, when Walmart loses it tends to still win. In this case, the $11 million settlement is the largest civil immigration settlement to date, but Wal-mart avoided any criminal charges on the issue.

Eh. Regardless, this settlement demonstrates again why the legal battle against Wal-Mart will form such a crucial part of the overall Wal-Mart campaign. We need a sea change in public perception of Wal-Mart, a wholesale recognition and condemnation of the enormous gap between what America's largest employer preaches and what it practices. High profile suits, while of course providing justice for Wal-Mart's victims, also bring the continuing injustices -- and our willing dismissal of them -- into stark relief. So even when cases like this don't present us with a complete win, they set the framework for an ongoing fight and bring us a few steps closer to the inevitable reckoning.

So to speak. I enjoy talking about the Wal-Mart campaign in Messianic terms.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Otherside, Invisible Cities, etc. 3/16 at 12 Galaxies

Though the show itself had its ups and downs, it’s been almost two months since I’ve seen some live music so I remained completely content throughout. Plus, 12 Galaxies (on Mission St. in San Francisco) has Full Sail on tap.

The venue is bizarre, to say the least. It’s sort of like seeing a show in an Iroquois longhouse, if you can imagine. The shape doesn’t adversely affect the sound in any serious way, but it creates a feeling of emptiness even with a good-sized audience. Given that it was a Wednesday night four-act show starting at 9PM, the crowd was decent. Had my girlfriend not been under the weather I would have had someone to talk to, but nice folks were all around.

Okay, music. The opener, Habit Forming, did an excellent job of completely weirding everyone out. I had a blast imagining them as the band for Peewee’s Playhouse – a position in which they would have excelled. They’re a local dance-rock outfit with vague funk and metal leanings, and no discernible self-awareness. The highlights were a fragmented song-cycle dedicated to Josie Wales and an absurd, jerkily dance-able cover of Slayer’s “Angel of Death.” As usual, I was much more interested in hearing other people play Slayer than in listening to the actual albums themselves.

Fastpass, the second band, burned through about twelve uptempo indie screamers, a la The Thermals or the Get Up Kids of a few years ago. I can’t offer a lot of comment here because this particular indie subgenre tends to leave me lukewarm. Great to bounce around to, difficult to remember afterwards.

The main reason I went to the show was to see The Invisible Cities live, since their album has been in non-stop rotation at work and at home for the last month or so. Like I said before, this band has a huge talent and tons of potential. The live show covered all the same emotional territory as the album, and I was glad to experience in person the unique moments of reckless joy, doubt, humor and quiet resignation that made Watertown so special. The absence of some of my favorite cuts was mitigated by a run-through of what seemed like a newish song, “A Squared Plus B Squared.” It’s about triangles, among other things, so awesomeness immediately followed. Anyway, reviews (even informal ones) make it nearly impossible to communicate the nature of the music, so I’ll again fall back on the tired old mainstay of accessible-but-still-slightly-insiderist comparison. Ahem: The Invisible Cities sound roughly akin to a mixture of Exile in Guyville, Life’s Too Good by the Sugarcubes, and Yo La Tengo’s mid-nineties LP, Painful. If that doesn’t explain it, I guess I’m not surprised because writing it certainly made no sense. Anyway – buy the CD and do your best not to completely adore it, I dare you.

As for The Otherside, when they started playing I went to The Otherside of the room, where the bar is. I liked the band fine, but the sound system wasn’t doing any favors for their particular brand of dark, jagged alterna-rock. Plus by then it was 12:45AM and I had to get home. You can find some of their stuff here, which sounds considerably better than it did last night. This will sound strange coming from someone who worships Mahler and Nine Inch Nails, but The Otherside came across as altogether too serious for my taste.

That's all. I hate writing reviews, but I desperately want people to listen to new music. Speaking of which, look forward to upcoming reviews of Corey Harris, The Decemberists, and Toychestra. (I'm really excited about Toychestra)

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Walmart breathes a sigh of relief

While "we," collectively, are still most definitely coming for their ass, it will probably be a little while before I enter that fight myself. Instead, I'll be helping these guys in their fight for decent jobs and respect at work.

Yup, starting at the end of this month I'll be re-joining my friends at UNITE HERE as a boycott coordinator in the Bay Area. I'm sad to leave Leonard Carder, but it was time for me to stop working for the people's law firm and start working for the people directly.

Which isn't to say that Wal-mart doesn't need to get their show bumrushed. (help with the reference for my mom, and josh).

For one thing, they're arguing that the enormous sexual discrimination suit against them cannot be adjudicated nationally because it will violate their constitutional right to defend each individual claim. Excuse me while I vomit into my shoes. First of all, they're wrong. If this constitutional protection applied to class actions then they wouldn't exist, since class actions are specifically intended, where issues of common law and fact apply to a large group, to avoid adjudication of all the individual claims. Wal-mart, having failed to prevent class certification, is simply attacking it from another angle. And they will lose.

However, that doesn't mean they'll necessarily lose the case. Since Wal-Mart's promotion system is unregulated and informal, proving discrimination in promotions will be more difficult for the plaintiffs. But Wal-Mart women will get justice one way or another.

Anyway, wish me luck taking on the hotels. And thanks for all the recent encouragement. Keep on reading!

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

The Norton Anthology of Total B.S.

Gale Norton and I have something in common. We both did something stupid yesterday. Though sick with flu, I stayed up way too late reading Daredevil comics from the mid-eighties period, when Frank Miller took full creative control and it started getting good.

Gale Norton, meanwhile, embarassed herself in the national press, at the worst possible time. Her editorial, wincingly titled "Call of the Mild," describes all the technological advances that will allow energy companies to drill huge holes in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge while leaving "no significant impact." Perhaps she felt it was well-timed, since Nicholas Kristof just pronounced environmentalism dead in the same paper, and Americans (ever fickle on this issue) don't seem to want oil companies drilling in ANWR at the moment. But her argument is weak, and rather than pushing hard on the foreign-oil dependence (which seems the only likely argument to win the public over) Gail Norton chose to try to convince us that extracting many billions of oil barrels will have no significant environmental impact. The consequences of transporting the oil alone are impossible to accurately gauge, and certainly cannot be guaranteed to have no significant impact, not to mention the exploratory drilling, waste management, risk of contamination.

But there are a few more insidious problems with Norton's direction in this debate, some of which were addressed by today's NYT editorial.

As the NYT points out, the possible yield from ANWR is, at best, only a tiny percentage of our growing oil consumption. Norton implies that drilling ANWR will solve, or at least begin to solve, the problem of foreign oil dependence and consumption growth, but she embeds an enormous lie between the following sentences:

As part of a comprehensive energy strategy of promoting conservation and reducing dependence on foreign oil, we must increase our energy production here at home. The 1002 area is potentially the largest untapped source of oil and gas on American soil

So, first, Norton implies that "increased energy production here at home" refers exclusively to oil. This, of course, is false. Clean and renewable energy stand to increase our energy production far beyond the capacity of a new oil source, with little to no environmental impact. Clean energy doesn't have a strong lobby yet, but that's another matter. Second, Norton implies that our foreign oil dependence is due to a lack of "tapped" resources, rather than to a lack of resources altogether combined with exponential consumption growth. ANWR may be the "largest untapped source" in the country, but that actually says nothing at all about the problem.

The NYT also rightly observes that Norton's aggressive campaign to sell the public on arctic drilling reveals the "shallowness" of Bush's energy plan, particularly its myopic focus on increasing immediate oil supply. While simply condemning this focus as "wrong" is a good start, I think it's worth making perfectly clear why the Bush strategy focuses so hard on increased domestic supply. Domestic energy companies have an enormous influence on politics and campaign finance, and they want to bid on new, lucrative development projects like drilling ANWR. Right now, the oil industry wields a little more power in Washington than bio-diesel advocates, so they're probably gonna get their way on this one. Don't get me wrong, I totally think that Bush is stupid enough to ignore both science and economics, and decide that ANWR oil will actually provide singlehanded solution to the supply problem, but his stupidity has never prevented him from figuring out which side of the bread contains butter.

All things considered I think Norton and Bush will have a tough time convincing the public that ANWR can be safely drilled. However, they're much more likely to be able to convince the public that we don't give a shit about the arctic caribou, especially when placed in the context of skyrocketing prices at the pump. So keep your eyes peeled for more bad science and worse economics from Gale and friends. You'll be able to recognize them because they'll be introduced with awful, awful literary puns.

Monday, March 14, 2005

Little Darlin', I feel that ice is slowly melting

Or, in our case, "Little Darlin', I feel that fog is failing to burn off so I can see two fucking feet in front of my car."

That's San Francisco.

I won't be contributing anything useful to the blogosphere today, so please take the time you would have used groaning in displeasure or imagining me naked (I don't know all that much about my readership) to visit my links.

You'll find an impassioned and fairly eloquent rant on how the Democratic Party does take black voters for granted over at Little Wild Bouquet.

Anna Burger, Secretary-Treasurer of SEIU, discusses women leaders in the labor movement, the Illinois family care workers union election, and the urgent need for childcare at Unite to Win.

And, Marten & Faye are about to get a new apartment over at Questionable Content, which is a poor substitute for them getting straight freaky in the back of the coffeeshop, but will have to do.

Oh also, Zach is vainly defending his choice of Sarah Michelle Gellar's heaving bosom over plot depth and good writing, so Six Feet Under fans may want to weigh in on my side. Buffy fans, continue pasting glow-in-the-dark decals onto your shower curtain to make it look "spooky."

Friday, March 11, 2005

wal-mart obsession

I know I post about this a lot, but hey. You knew who I was when you married me.

We had a conversation today, on the way back from the hearing, which posed some difficult questions. I won't relate it all, but I'll just summarize the train of thought we were following, and why it took us to a tricky strategic juncture.

1) It's a given that the fight against Wal-mart is about more than organizing workers, and people besides unions have a clear stake in its result. Moreover, just as unions have played a critical role in the fight to prevent store openings, collective bargaining agreements will probably succeed in part through coalition- building with neighborhood, environmental, and consumer groups.

2) This coalition structure poses a problem. Unions primarily oppose Wal-mart development because the jobs are undercompensated, non-union jobs. If we had collective bargaining agreements with Wal-mart, the labor movement would be supporting their development efforts. That's how we do our thing. But won't that be selling out our coalition allies, who care about open space, sprawl, traffic, and the danger to small businesses?

3) Well, heck. We could just be magnanimous and stay out of it, and let the other groups bar Wal-mart development on their own. After all, there's plenty of Wal-mart shops open already. We can just organize those, right?

4) Oops, no. Two problems. First of all, our support for Wal-mart developments is the carrot, and sand-bagging them with zoning laws & rulings is the stick. Take away the carrot and we won't get too many contracts. Second of all, the zoning laws vary from place to place, and places where we can get a toe-hold in the zoning boards are few and far between. Plus, it's easier to organize right from the beginning instead of going into an existing shop. Either way, we're not going to give up a hundreds of new members that easily.

5) So, assuming the organizing component of the Wal-mart fight starts to succeed, or succeeds beyond our dreams, there'll be some thorny coalition issues that will continue. And getting that second contract won't be half as easy without the community behind it.

6) Here's where I take some consolation. If the coalition is strong, and smart, they'll recognize that it's an all-or-nothing proposition. Wal-mart will need to meet everyone's conditions in order to develop, at which point the only unsatisfied folks will be those that won't tolerate Wal-mart under any conditions. In my opinion, that's an unrealistic proposition even in our best dreams, and those folks were going to get sold out no matter what. Also, it is possible for unions to broaden their objectives to include open-space preservation and small-business support. It may not happen at the beginning, but I wouldn't be surprised to see those kinds of deals as the campaign continues.

That is, of course, assuming that Wal-Mart doesn't continue whipping us to smithereens like they have been.

An attorney at my firm wrote her thesis on using zoning law to bar Wal-mart, so I'm looking forward to reading that and learning more about the ins and outs of this. I know you're on the edge of your seat.

we win

We won class certification on the Best Buy case this morning. I worked on this case for about five weeks, reading all their material, preparing summaries, studying the arguments, and eventually putting it all together for filing -- so I had some personal stake. The real winners, of course, are the 900 Best Buy assistant managers in California who'll now get their day in court.

We had a dumptruck full of legal arguments as to why assistant managers were improperly classified as exempt workers (and thus required to work overtime without compensation), and my job was to take those arguments and match them with the evidence gathered during discovery to produce a credible, substantiated claim. I know that sounds dry, but it makes a lot of difference.

In fact, if I'm being honest, I don't think the evidence was unequivocally on our side. The opposition's argument, that 900 people in dozens of different stores could not possibly perform the exact same tasks in the same proportion, had a lot of merit. Now I'm all for slapping Best Buy with a class action lawsuit and kicking them around a little, especially if it builds precedent for future class-actions against big-box retail, but I'm not entirely sure that class certification makes sense for this case. Bear in mind, I don't have much experience on this topic, so I'll defer to the judge, but I'm just saying that it seems to me like it could have easily gone the other way. This ruling wasn't a sure thing. The truth is we probably won in large part because we put the best case together, and the other side did some stupid stuff that hurt them throughout.

Which, incidentally, makes me all the more proud, because I know that the force of our arguments carried through despite evidentiary inconsistencies, and my research was feeding into that directly.

Poking some holes in a big retail chain felt good.
Yup. I'll have some more of that.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

vehicular predestination

Given the ubiquitous "What Would Jesus Drive?" bumper stickers here in the Bay Area, I started wondering whether St. Peter takes what you drive seriously when he's figuring out where to put you. I personally am a firm believer in vehicular predestination, at least in so far as it extends to people whose car purchases ought to damn them forever.

What Would Jesus Drive? A Honda Insight, obviously, or one of those electric cars that look like lacquered rejects from the soapbox derby. But the question of "What Jesus Wouldn't Drive" has been left open for biblical scholars like myself to interpret. So, here's a list of vehicles you might own, and what kind of time they'll be buying you once you're gone.

Hummer - This is easy. You're going to hell, which for you will consist of endlessly driving through a concrete tunnel that gets narrower and narrower, with the wretched squeal of metal on concrete your eternal company.

Pickup trucks (w/union sticker) - "Welcome, IBEW/Carpenters/UA/ILWU member, to the kingdom of heaven. Enjoy the woodshop."

Pickup trucks (evidence of mud and/or lumber) - St. Peter will probably send you back down to sign a union card.

Pickup trucks (parked in Manhattan townhouse lots) - Hell.

SUVs - "SUV hell." (Like regular hell, but hotter and more hopeless)

Station wagons - "Welcome to Yosemite Valley, conscious consumer. You'll be spending the rest of time in this earthly paradise, with no cares or obligations. Here's some gorp."

Toyota Rav4 - The home-made bumper sticker of my highschool classmate Andy Hentz put this more eloquently than I ever could. It was a two line poem, which read: "You drive Rav4/I hate you." God feels roughly the same way.

Harley Davidson et al - You will go to purgatory and drink a gallon of motor oil for every time you needlessly revved your engine at 4:00AM. That ought to take you right up till J-Day.

Segway - Heaven obviously, but you have to roll yourself around on that ridiculous thing until the second coming, so it's a "six of one" kind of deal.

Bicycle - "It must come as a surprise to be denied entrance at the pearly gates, Lance, but the truth is it doesn't matter how many times you overcome cancer or win the Tour de France. You voted Republican. Now go stand on the X."


Tuesday, March 08, 2005

the blogoshield

Sometime this week a Superior Court judge in Santa Clara will rule on whether California's Shield Law -- which protects journalists from being held in contempt for refusing to honor a subpoena of unpublished information, like sources -- applies to blog journalists.

A few bloggers published some information about unreleased Apple products and are now being sued for the sources who may have leaked the information.

Blah blah, I could care less about Apple's guarded secrets ("it's another, smaller, weirder version of the iPod!!!"), but obviously this case matters in the current media climate, where web logs have emerged as an unrivaled source for hidden news and investigative journalism. So, denying them journalistic protection would constitute a serious threat to the principles of free press.

See, here in California we decided that the protected existence of free press was more critical to the health and welfare of our democracy and our society than the ability of courts to successfully subpoena unpublished notes and sources. It's something of an arbitrary trade-off, but the expectation is that journalists will use that protection to make sure the public receives an accurate and balanced picture of the world in which they live. The Shield Law protects a journalist, and not a fence for stolen goods, because society and its lawmakers have deemed the information worth protecting in the case of the former and not the latter.

People don't consider bloggers journalists because lots of them are crackpots. Unfortunately, so are lots of "legitimate" journalists who receive protection from the Shield law simply because they're employed by something that at least refers to itself as a news-gathering organization. But the Shield Law covers any "publisher, editor, reporter, or other person connected with or employed unpon a newspaper, magazine, or other periodical publication, or by a press association or wire service," as well as any "radio or television news reporter or other person connected with or employed by a radio or television station." There's nothing here that explicitly exempts crackpots, bad journalists, or even one-person self-published operations.

Another faulty assumption at work here is that since the technology opens up "journalism" to anyone, the bloggers' credibility and integrity must unavoidably suffer. This is also unsupported, and what's more, if credibility and integrity were at issue in the Shield law, then it would simply explode from subjectivity. Not to mention the fact that "journalism," as defined as the periodic public dispersal of gathered information, has always been open to anyone.

So, it's up to the court to figure out whether blogs fit the tradition mold of news-gathering organizations. The Chronicle article suggests that one criterion might be the exercise of editorial control, though that seems a little vague to me. Perhaps the assumption here is that editors are the people who intervene on the public's behalf, ensuring the accuracy and balance of the information. Maybe I need to learn more about this, but unless news editors sign some contract with the FCC to check their sources, I don't see why they would qualify as gatekeepers of journalistic integrity.

It's probably worth noting that the trade-off I'm describing is theoretical, and won't likely be the main bone of contention in the Apple case. The judge seems poised to either rule against the Shield Law itself, position this case as one of the allowable exceptions to it, or decide that it does not apply to blogs. If he chooses the third option, simple "reporter's privilege" will not help the bloggers because their evidence certainly goes to the heart of the matter. I dunno.

I personally am not likely to be sued for my sources anytime soon. I'd have to be, y'know, a journalist for that to happen. If it does, though, the detailed legal argument above will, I'm confident, provide me with a blogoShield so strong it'll make our missile defense system look like oh wait never mind.

Monday, March 07, 2005

arnold gets his ass beat by a bunch of girls

More or less.

For 10 years members of the California Nurses Association -- who are incredible and will stomp you into the dirt if you fuck with them -- lobbied for a nurse-to-patient staffing ratio in California hospitals, and in January of last year they won. For every six patients, one nurse. This was under our Totally-Recalled former Gov. Gray Davis. Then Schwartzenegger came in and used an executive order to implement emergency regulation, effectively preventing the ratio from being enforced, as well as guaranteeing that it would not drop to 5:1 in January 2005 as expected. It didn't help that Schwartzenegger publicly reffered to nurses as "special interests" while dismissing them. Oakland Children's Hospital Nurse Martha Kuhl told Newsweek: "I spent my day treating kids with cancer. I guess you could call that my special interest."

So the CNA sued, and for the last two months they have been targeting Schwartzenegger in force. Last Friday, Judge Judy Holzer Hersher issued an injunction against the emergency regulation, and told Arnold that instead of appealing he should just go sit in the back of the class and babble incoherently about steroids like an idiot. It's possible I was reading between the lines a little there.

Three significant things:

1) Patients and nurses are safer. More staff means less overworked nurses, better hospital security, safer medical procedures, etc. Incidentally, less overworked nurses means less turnover, so the sustainability of the job may begin to alleviate current nursing shortages.

2) This union knows how to put a militant legislative campaign together. There are all kinds of lessons here, including effective public targeting and an excellent message campaign.

3) Schwartzenegger is getting weaker. His efforts to subvert the legislature are now pissing off plenty of folks besides Sacramento lawmakers. Groups like the CNA are becoming a backbone in what will be a difficult effort to unseat this guy in November. Nurses, firefighters, teachers -- they can sway California pretty hard when they want to, especially when they coordinate a sophisticated media campaign.

I'm dying to see this guy eat it, so the topic of him eating it will likely come up again on the New Plastic Weblog.

Don't eff with the CNA.

Say you miss me too

I had to do some heavy wrangling, but I've resolved all my server trouble for the next year, I hope. Needless to say, the problems were in fact...


But who cares now? I'm up and running, and best of all, I can resume regular updates to the original New Plastic Music website, which has gone long-neglected due to a complex combination of factors.

For people interested in the internal complexities of minority students and financial aid reform, we're all waiting on Julie Gonzales (also known as Julie C) to post up her controversial response to the Yale sit-in. I've taken the liberty of presenting a few onomatapoetic chicken noises over at her blog, and I'd encourage you to do the same.

I'll be back.

Friday, March 04, 2005

radio trivia

This issue came up recently, and only today did I bother to find the answer to one of the oldest mysteries of teenage life.

Why do songs sound better on the radio?

Anyone out there with a working knowledge of audio processing already knows the answer to this. Those with a defective knowledge of audio processing, like me, have probably developed a complex and ultimately stupid set of explanations for what is essentially a simple I did.

You all know what I'm talking about. That song you loved in Junior High (for me it was "Today," by the Smashing Pumpkins) that always sounded wrong except when it was blasting over your favorite crappy alternative station.

Why do songs sound better over the radio?

The answer is, predictably, corporate greed and a hatred of music. That's my answer to everything, by the way.

Okay, so let's look at the relevant institutional actors.

1) Record Companies - How do they primarily market their music (at least the audible component)? Radio, MTV, Retail listening stations. Above all, they want it to be LOUD. Because, God forbid, the song/video that came before might do more damage to their target demographic's ear canal, and they'd lose the sale. So they pressure record producers to compress, compress, compress. Compression is an artificial way to make music louder by amplifying all the audio material and slicing off the very loudest bits, eliminating the quiet parts and making the whole thing sound louder. They're pre-tailoring it for car radios, listening stations, or any other medium that requires the music to punch through a lot of ambient noise.

2) Radio stations - The FCC gives them 200MHz of bandwidth, and what they can get out of it largely determines their ability to attract an audience. So, they're also worshipping the gods of LOUD, and they also compress. They sacrifice dynamic range for a punch in the gut, because they want to wrench your attention towards whatever music they're playing (same theory for the loudness of TV advertisements). The compression fetish is even more common amongst "oldies" and "mix" stations, because they need all their songs to sound the same. In order to make "Heard it Through the Grapevine" sound as loud and present as "Genie in a Bottle" (just kill me now), they need compression. Also radio stations understand that, for the most part, their broadcasts are projected over crappy speakers. Multi-band compression will boost the bass to adjust for tinny-ness, while putting the whole, squashed mess into a comfortable, non-squawk range for your TV speakers and dentist's office.

3) Artists & producers - They want to sell their records, and they need (1) and (2) to do it. This is a no-brainer.

So it's a symbiotic relationship. Albums are mastered 10 times and polished to achieve that gut-punch no matter what. Stations pick music that is already pre-compressed, or will sound good when squashed to hell.

The result? On one hand, music with dynamic range gets distorted or is never made in the first place. On the other, everything that does get played comes out flat and LOUD. If you wonder why some people tell you that "rock all sounds the same nowadays," that might be the reason. Personally, I think the disgust directed towards Top 40 radio for its homogeneity comes partly from the compression fetish.

Does music sound better on the radio? On objective, audiophile terms, it actually sounds worse. But it all depends what you like.

Wow, that was more boring than I thought.

For some reason, this topic had an air of mystique and nostalgia when I thought about it in my head. Not so much now.

Okay folks, move along, nothing to see here.

wow, mom!

(that's what i wrote on the top of my high-school graduation cap)

My mother has submitted her two cents on the old Summers issue.
Here it is:

This here is "hi mom," one of those most
likely to disagree with Alek on this subject. But I find
Alek's reasoning quite reasonable, and I too found the
transcript enlightening. It struck me that Summers was
right on the money when he talked about childcare and

But I would add 2 things to Alek's argument. As president
of a coeducational university, his first thought, even in
a private conference, should be his effect on his students.
His comments can not be anything but chilling to ambivalent
or self-doubtful women thinking about the sciences.
For that alone, he should be tossed out. Second, he should
have made the point about biology in exactly the opposite way.
He should have said: IF research shows any biological
differences, then the only question is how can we make use
of those differences to expand science and bring particular
creative contributions of women into it. But IF research shows
those biological differences to be minimal, then the only
question is how we can provide reasonable accommodation to
overcome whatever obstacles they present and put everyone
on a level playing field. Making biological statements with
no sense of history is, to me, a history teacher, offensive.
The relevant history here is, for example, Title IX. Women can
not play sports like men for biological reasons. But when you
give them equal resources for developing athletics, they
improve exponentially and also create a new genre of sports
which becomes in many cases much more interesting to audiences
and which develops the sport itself. Enough said!


Thursday, March 03, 2005


Attached hereto is the complete and unedited text of a junk email I received this morning.

tin congressman doorknob aaa annotate dumb bach cain stickpin project curvaceous addressograph denizen committed chess affront enunciable offensive cutout adenoma bye australite jehovah valeur through merrimack delicacy invaluable cayuga crabapple calumet barnard collusion snort gallonage cognac auspicious negligee cosmetic albright

What is the funniest possible sentence that can be grammatically constructed using only the words above? (extra points for using both "Albright" and "curvaceous" together)

"smoke on your pipe and put that in"

My organizing colleagues at Yale saw some substantial movement on financial aid reform following their sit-in last week.

Starting next year, Yale will eliminate the parental contribution for families making less than 45,000, increase funding for international students, and improve their recruitment effort in low-income areas.

As usual, Yale administrators denied any connection between the last few months of intensive campus pressure and the recent changes. But I'd invite you to compare the announced changes with the platform ratified by the Yale Undergraduate Organizing Committee and backed up by over 1,000 students. You may see some similarities.

Obviously, the pressure created by reforms at Harvard and Princeton also contributed to the move, but no-one should ever dismiss the power of Yale exceptionalism, even within the Ivy League. As in the past, Yale could have made a half-hearted effort at closing the gap so as to not appear completely inactive. But the changes proposed today, though still incomplete, are more comprehensive than any others in recent memory.

We can thank the bravery and disciplined organizing of Yale students for that. As my good friend Abbey would say, those little guys are on fire with passionate love. We'll see more from them on this and other issues, I'm sure.

(by the way, the title of this post is directed at all you West Side Story fans out there -- my feelings on musicals range from vague disgust to outright horror, but WSS is an exception)

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

To Robert Reich: Watch out for that shark on your way over it

I always suspected that this guy was closet DLC...or maybe not so closet. I haven't read his book or any of his statements as Labor Secretary, just what he's said and written since then.

Robert Reich's Monday editorial, entitled "Don't Blame Walmart," is a piece of cowardly, rhetorical hackitude. And I would know.

You can find more comments from Josh over at Little Wild Bouquet, but I think he went too easy our vertically-challenged friend, so I'm gonna toss my two cents in the ring.

Reich's editorial puts forth three central claims:

1) We should not blame Wal-mart, because "isn't Wal-Mart really being punished for our sins?" The American economy is a "Faustian bargain" that pits our consumer desires against our sense of social responsibility, and the former wins out more often than not.

2) "The only way for the workers or citizens in us to trump the consumers in us is through laws and regulations that make our purchases a social choice as well as a personal one."

3) Instead of "going to battle," we need a "sensible public debate" about ways to balance out our consumer desires with our conscience.

Rather than organize my thoughts, which I regret I don't have time to do, I'm going to just lay out a handful of points which Reich has either fumbled, dismissed, or ignored altogether. Crotchety bastards will want to turn their set up now.

- First of all, assuming that we want any change from this system at all, Reich should know that "sensible public debate" isn't likely to bring it about. Neither, as Reich rightly observes, is "going to battle," but here he has misinterpreted the motives of Wal-mart's opposition. Maybe some folks out there want to shoot Wal-mart in Reno just to watch it die, but I'd assume that most of the community and labor activists fighting big-box retail are doing so to demonstrate that they're willing to put their strength behind the principles they believe in. Wal-mart is targeting their community, and not the other way around. People in Inglewood and Queens and Jonquiere are just standing up for themselves.

- Reich's dichotomy of consumer and citizen need not be as stark as he's drawn it. The idea of a foregone conclusion in the consumer vs. conscience struggle, fixable only by government intervention, is selling all of us short. Reich might remain faithful to while his local bookstore closes its doors, but that just means he's a lazy, fair-weather activist. Just because he (and the majority of Americans) do not make socially-conscious consumer choices doesn't mean they're incapable of doing so. Reich's point was that even he, Clinton's Labor Secretary who knows better, can't win against his consumer demons. Well, all that proves is that he's a wuss, and it's yet more embarassing because unlike most of the people he claims to represent, he does know better.

- "The only way for the workers or citizens in us to trump the consumers in us is through laws and regulations that make our purchases a social choice as well as a personal one." The ONLY way? You've got to be kidding. Okay, even forgiving the fact that Reich shows no knowledge of current organizing, you'd think a Labor Secretary would have some knowledge of American history, which demonstrates over and over that the power of boycotts, strikes, and public pressure campaigns can bring business to its knees, or at least to the bargaining table. Government regulation, meanwhile, has given us free-trade zones and a labor law so toothless it has to feed itself through a straw. I'm not saying we don't need legislative reform, but it'll take organizing strength to get it proposed, passed, enforced, at which point it'll probably still suck and we'll need organizing strength to preserve our rights anyway. So we might as well start building it, since Reich saying "he would support" certain reforms doesn't really do much for the 1.3 million current Wal-mart employees.

- Has Reich actually looked at Wal-mart's labor and economic practices? Matching consumer demand for cheap products may justify a lot of cost-cutting, but Wal-mart is a little out of the ordinary. I think we're within our rights to "blame" them, considering that they systematically discriminate against women, constantly use illegal anti-union techniques, and use their leverage to secure ridiculous tax and zoning agreements that can drive local economies into extinction. Consumers may be largely ignorant, but nowhere in our social contract did we label those practices as acceptable in a free market.

- Reich's column pre-supposes a perfect transparency of information for consumers which, needless to say, does not exist in America. Most of our economy relies on an elaborate process of masking and misdirection. So much so, that the uncomfortable truths of, say, meat-packing and Kathy Lee Gifford, become a point-of-sale joke instead of a legitimate consumer issue. "It says made it Honduras. Some poor kid probably sewed it with his teeth. Ha ha ha ha ha." We need a massive educational effort, not a "sensible public debate", to combat these effects.

- Reich assumes that shopping at Wal-Mart is a conscious decision, in order to justify his claim that consumer desires are to blame for the ills of big-box retail and other corporate greed. Maybe it's a conscious decision for him, or for me, but a significant amount of Wal-Mart customers don't get to choose between Wal-Mart and expensive U.S.-made or fair-trade products. Many people shop there, and, for that matter, work there, because of economic need. Without an organized effort to reveal the effects of Wal-Mart on workers, families, and communities, the only information available to Wal-Mart customers is the price. So of course they pick it, especially if they have no choice. That's not greed, it's necessity, and thus no justification for laying the blame entirely on the consumer's doorstep.

- Finally, Reich's implicit argument is that we are somehow pre-disposed towards personal greed. Hence, the harmful effects of Wal-Mart are a result of our mortal sin. As I said, that's quite an insult to humanity. Certainly we're pre-disposed to laziness and dismissal, and these are serious sins, but not of such a magnitude that they absolve everyone else involved. That is why cultivating awareness and agitating for change -- which involves "blaming Wal-Mart," among other things -- represent a critical part of the struggle to take responsibility for the welfare of our communities and bring justice to all corners of our society.

So, I'm all for a national dialogue on consumer responsibility. I just don't want Robert Reich leading it.

He can stand on a chair in the back.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

a little internat'l development humor

Okay, I know I promised that I wouldn't just regurgitate current events via newslinks. But, like my father says each time he breaks one of his many promises not to send me shit he cut out of the newspaper, this is just too good to ignore.

The content of today's NYT article on possible successors to Wolfensohn at the World Bank is, in and of itself, scary and depressing. But the Times managed to slip in two one-liners which I thought were, in context, hilarious.

With this appointment, President Bush will have a chance to name his own person to lead the World Bank. (By tradition, the United States names the head of the bank while Europe names the director of the International Monetary Fund; all the countries left out of the process would like that tradition changed.

Wait, other countries don't like that setup? No kidding.

And, inserted as an afterthought in the article's final sentence:

Ms. Fiorina would also add a touch of glamour to the post, since she is probably the only candidate famous enough to be known in business circles by her first name, Carly.

As the assistant secretary of state for East Asia and later United States Ambassador to Indonesia, Mr. Wolfowitz did oversee policy covering the developing world. But neither Mr. Wolfowitz nor Ms. Fiorina is an expert in development.

This makes sense, right? When it comes to the highest decision-maker in a Bretton Woods institution, you want someone with first-name recognition, like Oprah. Or Liberace.

And, as the article points out, being an "expert in development" shouldn't be particularly important for the leader of the World Bank, anyway.