Friday, May 25, 2007

Sort of helps our image?

The LA Times reported earlier this week on gang members entering the building trades to gain a secure economic future. It's a fairly run-of-the-mill human interest story, as they go, but a great primer for anyone trying to understand how some unions allowed their industry power to evaporate, and how they've responded.

There's some important subtext here as well. On the positive side, the story offers excellent evidence of how the fight to win and maintain high labor standards isn't about greed -- it's about opportunity, and those opportunities can create real change in peoples' lives. I wish the story had been a little more upfront about the fact that the non-union contractors who were eating up the jobs were also paying low wages with no benefits & protections. So the building trades' efforts to regain some of that share of the workforce, while perhaps motivated by self-interest, does drive the standard up and make the jobs available to gang members and undocumented workers good ones...which in turn can help strengthen and stabilize communities.

On the negative side, the article glosses over the fact that non-union contractors and the existence of a poor, available workforce were not shocking surprises to the building trades or anyone associated with the LA construction industry. The switch from 80% union density to 20% was not some magical, overnight occurrence impossible to predict or combat. It happened because the building trades were unable or unwilling to organize the workforce and the employers that flooded the industry. The article suggests that racial issues and insularity may have played a part, but I think complacency is probably more to blame than anything else. What's remarkable is the degree to which some unions will tolerate having their industry power and density stripped from them, as long as what's left of their piece of the pie still feeds their existing membership fairly well. When they get down to around 20% density (or perhaps much sooner) they start to see a real erosion of standards and loss of guaranteed security for their own membership.

If you're paying monthly dues to an organization and have authorized it as your exclusive bargaining agent, you'd hope for a little more foresight. I'm happy to say that this erosion hasn't taken place to the same degree in every sector -- due to a combination of circumstance, foresight, and outright resistance. Others have responded aggressively and are making small gains. But you'd be hard-pressed to find a union that hasn't struggled with density problems in some form.

baseball? world bank?

What will Richard Levin's next career be? I always hoped he'd end up the baseball commissioner, under the rationale that a PC neo-liberal economist with no real sympathy or sensitivity to the damage done by market "failures" couldn't do too much damage in the MLB. Head of the World Bank is exactly the kind of position where Mr. Levin's impractical and dehumanized economic views would produce terrible outcomes while appearing (as at Yale) to be progressive in the economic sense.

I respect Levin as a theorist, in so far as his work (what I've read of it) takes a considered and methodical approach to navigating the intersections of political philosophy and economic reality. But his concept of what we're doing on this planet leaves a lot to be desired, which is why his version of democracy -- and, for that matter, his interpretation of what actually constitutes market economics -- differs so significantly from people like me. Being a such a careful thinker, I don't believe he ignores the pervasive and destructive influence of capital and the complicity of the state in ceding control. I think he accepts, perhaps welcomes the situation we're in, and constructs his ideas about markets and society with our current situation as a given.

Anyway, that doesn't make him much different than any of his many, many compatriots in the Academy or the international development community, but nevertheless I'm hoping that, to score PR points, Bush may appoint someone less loyal with more of a humanitarian record. Or, as I said before, I'd pretty much settle for someone with actual development experience. A lot to ask, though.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007


A few additions to the sidebar:

Joe Mathlete Explains Todays Marmaduke: Pretty self-explanatory. Hilariously funny and sarcastic, though.

The Fart Party: Written and drawn by Julia Wertz, also known as the cute lady who works at Cafe Abir, our old coffeeshop. The Fart Party is like what you dream a minicomic will be.

Classical Convert: Totally entertaining diary/web resource of a guy about my age who discovered "classical" music a few years ago and is evangelizing like crazy. It gives a terrific look into how and why people from our generation can connect with a whole range of music not easily available or legible to us. I enjoy it particularly for its lack of concern about how one is "supposed" to approach the Western classical cannon. He treats Beethoven and Berg like college radio treats new bands, which ends up refreshing and insightful.

Malcolm Gladwell: I was pretty hesitant to put this up here, what with Gladwell having delivered a keynote speech on the other side of the San Francisco Hilton picket line last year, but the truth is he's a brilliant, accessible writer and I read pretty much all his stuff, so...

Wired editor Chris Anderson's Long Tail Blog, which elaborates on the subject of his book. I haven't read the book, but I did read his early article and I read the blog, know. Reading this blog is extremely reassuring for people with phobias about the consolidation of culture industries. It's not so reassuring for people with phobias about cultural greyout. I have both, so it's a mixed bag, but fascinating., homepage of the Edge Foundation, which is dedicated to blowing your mind. Not good if you're feeling particularly politically sensitive, since with few exceptions these folks are above all that. And the influence of Richard Dawkins also makes it a fairly hostile environment for religious thought, though not for spiritual ideas. I arrived at this site via their World Question Center, which is endlessly enlightening, frustrating, and entertaining in equal measure.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Five (Easy) Pieces part 5

Parmegiani - La Creation du Monde

Don't buy this. I don't even know why I'm recommending it, except to bring a close to this preposterous exercise. Okay, maybe you should buy it. There's absolutely no other way to hear it, and people should hear it, because it's unlike anything humans ever really experience. It's sort of an amoeba's-eye view of geological time, from the first intercellular communications through World War III. Maybe not. If you want to read my actual, considered opinion on this utterly remarkable piece, you can. Recording available online from my beloved Aquarius Records here.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Five (Easy) Pieces part 4

Steve Reich. Really any of his pieces will do, you almost can't go wrong here if you like rhythm, timbre, harmony -- basically if you enjoy anything related to the process of hearing sounds you will like his work. Some of Reich's work is more formalist, like the tape pieces and the counterpoint compositions, and some is pretty sprawling (You Are Variations, City Life, Desert Music). Music for 18 Musicians or Music for Mallet Instruments, Voices and Organ both offer good starting places. Then you can look back towards the instrumental phase pieces or forward to Different Trains, which has my vote as the greatest composition after WWII.

If all you've heard of "minimalism" is Phillip Glass, you might feel overwhelmed by its inhumanity, its clinical disregard for physiology and sense. Steve Reich will disabuse you of that right away.

This is the recording you want of
Music for 18 Musicians, and here's a great recording of Music for Mallet Instruments, Voices and Organ.

Different Trains, Kronos recorded the undisputed benchmark.