Oct 27, 2006

Starbucks Exploits Migrant Workers! [LINK]

From "Help Restore a Costa Rican Rainforest," a pamphlet produced by the Earthwatch Institute and Starbucks Coffee, in whose retail stores it is distributed:

Earthwatch Institute shares Starbucks [sic] commitment to help preserve our earth's precious natural resources and believes the best way to do this is to directly involve people from various backgrounds, including scientists, educators, businesses, and the general public in global field research. By placing people in the field to actively participate and assist scientists in their work, Earthwatch Institute is promoting sustainable conservation of our natural resources and cultural heritage....

The year 2006 marks the third year Starbucks has extended this excursion to customers, and the results have been highly successful. From clearing weed, digging dirt and planting trees to celebrating with local families, customers have had the opportunity to contribute positively to the environment while learning about another culture and making new friends. We're excited by what we've accomplished but there is more work to be done, so Starbucks is committed to continue supporting this worthwhile conservation effort....

These expeditions offer an unequaled opportunity for personal enrichment. If selected, you'll work closely with scientists and a local cooperative of farmers to conduct a pioneering forest restoration experiment. Based out of Agua Buena, Costa Rica, where less than 10 percent of the original forest remains, teams will plant trees in experimental plots, measure seedlings, work on seed predation and monitor birds to help determine the success of the ongoing restoration effort.

As an active member of the research team, you'll provide hands-on assistance and gather scientific data and evidence to stop a critical environmental problem. You'll challenge yourself -- body, mind and spirit -- for science and conservation, living as field researchers live, eating what field researchers eat, and working like field researchers work.

You'll experience the scientists' enthusiasm and passion for their subject, and share in the team's accomplishments. The fact that you'll be doing physically demanding work on steep slopes will make the experience more relevant.

The only special skills or experience needed for this physically challenging expedition are a passion for the environment and the desire to learn and work hard with others.

If you should happen to be interested in participating and want to know what sort of people you'll share the experience with, Starbucks has helpfully posted a letter of feedback from Rebecca Galvez, one of the 2006 participants. An excerpt:
Finally, I want Starbucks and Earthwatch to know that from this experience, I have learned that creating a more sustainable life is the only way to truly respect oneself and in turn, outwardly respect our environment. I have always been one to watch the effects of modern ways by recycling and re-using whenever possible. However, my experience in Costa Rica, talking with my homestay family, coffee farmers and the Starbucks agroecologists, I have learned that the effort to make the world more environment friendly is a concerted group effort. Humans are truly no different than other animals on this Earth. Each much strive to do its part to preserve its species and aid other species to be the caretakers of our planet.
Say whaaaa?

"Holding the white student as a standard of comparison" [LINK]

Any standard favors one group over another, so why have 'em at all?

"Words matter," says Mary Conner, and increasing MCAS requirements raises issues that are "complex and intertwined." One of the "problems" Ms. Conner identifies is that by raising the bar we are "once again holding the white student as a standard of comparison." If words do indeed matter, can we dispense with such pointless racial rhetoric? It's equally valid to say that we are holding forth Asian and Jewish students as standard-bearers at the expense of whites as a whole, since they score higher.
If there is a "problem" with MCAS, it is that we need to admit there is an optimum rate of failure. If we raise standards impossibly high, nobody graduates. If we dispense with standards, nobody learns except by accident. Somewhere in there is the sweet spot.

Oct 22, 2006

Patents on Tax Reduction Strategies [LINK]

The International Herald Tribune reports that there are 50 patents on file for tax reduction strategies, with more pending. A financial firm sued the chairman of Aetna for using what it claims to be its own strategy to reduce taxes.

(via TechDirt)

Oct 17, 2006

"Forcing their moral convictions"... [LINK]

In addition, it seems presumptuous to call gay rights the "last great civil rights chapter in modern American history," since that necessarily excludes subsequent marginalized groups. My letter to the Globe:

It seems rather obtuse for Abby Collier to cite Gerry Studds on the "fight for gay and lesbian equality," while in the same letter she criticizes conservative Republicans for "forcing their moral convictions" on the rest of us. Recall that Studds was censured by Congress after forcing his own brand of morality on an teenage staff member.

Oct 13, 2006

Birthday Blues [LINK]

A British insurance company has forbidden staff members from circulating birthday cards. Since people often write in joking references to the perils of getting older, the company was concerned the cards might be the subject of age-discrimination lawsuits.

Oct 12, 2006

Diversity, bad? [LINK]

A study by Harvard political scientist Robert Putnam concludes that the more diverse a community is, the more likely its residents are to fear contact with each other and thus be alienated from local civic institutions.

While I understand the study is meant to quantify drawbacks to immigration, and while I broadly appreciate efforts to question sanctified liberal axioms, that conclusion strikes me as short-sighted if it doesn't account for the effect of assimilation.

Think of how all sorts of different immigrant groups were jammed together in urban slums in places like NYC around the beginning of the 20th century. In the short term there was gang violence and large-scale corruption resulting from competition over which group would rig the political process to its advantage. But in the long run, being forced to confront other ethnic groups forced them to adapt to each other.

For example, if you drive through Cambridge you're likely to see signs for the "Irish Painting" company on one block, and "Scotland Painting" on another. In the not-too-distant past, that might have occasioned a massive brawl. Why is that virtually unheard of today? My reflexive answer would be that the diversity brought on by immigration resulted in long-term social cohesion and relative tranquility. Nowadays there's much less of a tendency to consider people in terms of their ethnicity, perhaps because America is uniquely a nation of immigrants.

I understand this pro-diversity argument resembles the logic universities use to uphold affirmative action: that being forced to confront people you're unfamiliar with results in a superior education. Still, I think that's different issue for a couple of reasons. First, there's a difference between the largely spontaneous way ethnic neighborhoods form and the calculated mix universities use to achieve diversity, which requires a conscious, state-sanctioned party actively discriminating against applicants with higher academic qualifications. Second, the focus on affirmative action's overall educational benefits comes at the expense of attention to its negative effects on previously excluded groups: e.g., the high college dropout rate of Blacks and Latinos that contradicts their far higher acceptance rate.

Oct 11, 2006

Society's Rear-View Mirror [LINK]

From a short theater review by Alexis Soloski in the Village Voice, October 10, 2006:

This two-character play imagining a conversation between Henry Kissinger and Richard M. Nixon on the eve of Nixon's resignation, originally debuted in 1996. It must have echoed investigations into Clintonian improprieties. The current revival, which reunites director Jim Simpson with actors Gerry Bamman and Steve Mellor, resonates with a lack of confidence in the current presidency and calls for Donald Rumsfeld's resignation.... In one scene, Nixon imitates Brezhnev; in another he demands that the reluctant Kissinger play the role of Mao -- in Chinese. They also consider concocting one last international crisis that Nixon could solve and thus exit a hero.

Oct 5, 2006

"Like the records of strange, coercive lab experiments" [LINK]

A brief notice in the October 5 Village Voice details some of the things you might have to do to be a performance artist these days:

Lindman has fabricated metal contraptions that stretch and squash her face into various contortions, recalling A Clockwork Orange's Alex clamped in his re-education chair with eyelids pinned open by thin reeds of steel. The videos of her endurance tests (she remained in each pose for an hour) were cut into short chunks, which she then made partially transparent and layered on top of one another, compressing each ordeal into a one-minute clip. Flared ears pinned down by magnetic bolts and lips pulled open, exposing teeth that recede like a skull's, remain in focus, while the rest of her face and shoulders waver in fleshy, blinking blurs; the segments flow by like the records of strange, coercive lab experiments. Adults warn kids not to make ugly faces or they might freeze that way; Lindman viscerally connects human expression -- that alchemy of thought, emotion, and desire -- to the pieces of meat that give it form.

Oct 3, 2006

Imagine no BS [LINK]

So there's a new documentary out about how the FBI kept a file on John Lennon during his residence in New York during the early '70s, and how the government tried to have him deported based on a 1968 drug charge. It all seems so ridiculous in hindsight, as exemplified by Ty Burr's dismissive piece in the Boston Globe. After all, how could anyone perceive the wonderful man who wrote "Imagine" and "Give Peace a Chance" as a threat? (To be fair, most people didn't hear "Sometime in New York City," Lennon's wretched 1972 album that brimmed with radical political agitprop. He actually wrote an ode to Angela Davis!)

The fact is that Lennon allied himself closely with groups who devoted themselves to violent political upheaval, and were thus richly deserving of FBI surveillance. People don't realize that the Black Panthers were effectively a criminal gang, involved in murder, extortion, narcotics, and prostitution, mainly in their hometown of Oakland. Consider that Lennon's pal Bobby Seale once punished a subordinate's failure to meet an editorial deadline by having her stripped and flogged. (Now there's a management practice the Boston Globe might consider adopting)

That's the very first thing that popped to mind when reading this review. When complaining of the FBI's misbehavior during the 1960s, you would typically start by noting its COINTELPRO program used to harass and neutralize the Black Panthers. Now it's Lennon. You don't hear much about the Black Panthers any more. Could it be that people read Hugh Pearson's book, The Shadow of the Panther, which detailed the group's pathologies? Or can we only relate to the misfortunes of celebrities these days?

UPDATE: a letter to the Globe also takes Lennon to task, making the same point as Elvis Costello: "Was it a millionaire who said imagine no possessions?"

Oct 2, 2006

The many uses of false consciousness [LINK]

In the wake of revelations that Rep. Mark Foley (R-FL) made sexual overtures to a teenaged male page, Andrew Sullivan takes the scandal as an object lesson on the dangers of being closeted:

What the closet does to people -- the hypocrisies it fosters, the pathologies it breeds -- is brutal.... What I do know is that the closet corrupts. The lies it requires and the compartmentalization it demands can lead people to places they never truly wanted to go.
No doubt about it: having to "live a lie" and conceal an important part of your identity can't be a happy state of affairs. But is Sullivan suggesting that an uncloseted gay man would be less likely to act on his urges towards younger boys? Is there any evidence on which to rest this assumption? Foley has been corrupted, therefore his being closeted is what corrupted him. Perhaps instead he started out corrupted, with a strong fixation on younger boys, closeting himself in an understandable effort to conceal or deny these urges.

And isn't it a little odd that Sullivan would so readily ascribe false consciousness to Foley? Suppose a fundamentalist Christian claimed gay men were misled by some force "to places they never truly wanted to go." Wouldn't that be identified as an expression of homophobia? Leave aside as irrelevant the special taboo against sex with minors. How is Foley's urge to have sex with a teenage boy any less real than to have sex with a grown man?

UPDATE: It occurs to me as well that Sullivan's logic mirrors the kind that became popular in the wake of the Catholic Church's pedophilia scandal: that the church's ban on female and married clergy was largely to blame for fostering an environment in which priests would prey upon children, overwhelmingly boys. While there may be valid arguments for liberalizing the clergy's membership requirements, to connect that argument to revelations of pedophilia is a non sequitur, and ironically homophobic at that. If only aspiring priests had access to girls, the logic goes, they wouldn't be gay. Furthermore, a revealed homosexual preference doesn't represent an innate personal characteristic central to one's identity, but is instead a highly malleable product of one's environment. In a slightly different context, them's fightin' words.
UPDATE, Pt. 2: speaking of non sequiturs, why did Foley check himself into an alcohol rehabilitation clinic following his resignation? Either he is engaging in an all-purpose redemptive act for public consumption, is suggesting alcoholism led him to pursue teenage boys, or he couldn't find a more appropriate rehab clinic for child molesters. Was it because "Alcoholics Anonymous" was listed under "A" in the yellow pages?