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You Kids Get Off My Lawn: Old Activist Edition

[ 90 ] June 14, 2014 |

Amy Merrick wrote a piece in The New Yorker about the terrible conditions in the sweatshops that make clothing for Forever 21, a department store focusing on low cost clothing for college-aged women. She wonders why the kids aren’t protesting Forever 21, suggesting the decline in labor unions and their own economic instability as reasons. I’ll get back to this in a minute because it’s problematic, but it then led to a more unfortunate Lindy West piece entitled “Why Don’t College Students Give a Shit About Sweatshops Anymore” that does little but compare today’s students unfavorably to her own activism in college.

But somehow, in the late ’90s, the anti-sweatshop movement managed to get a real brand going. “Not wearing clothes made by slave labor” was the “normcore” of 1999.

I wasn’t even a particularly consistent or well-informed young revolutionary, but for years I had a kneejerk aversion to anything too cheap to be true. Someone was paying a price for those clothes, somewhere. So I thrifted a lot, I avoided the big-name no-nos like GAP and Old Navy and Nike and Walmart, and I justified my few mainstream purchases with a combination of selective ignorance (I don’t know for sure that a child made these $30 jeans) and shruggy pragmatism (I can’t just not wear pants).

It was literally the least I could do; given my level of privilege, it was almost nothing at all. I was lucky to be able to choose where I shopped (plus, it wasn’t like GAP made clothes in my size anyway). I didn’t have a family to support or significant consequences if I exceeded my budget.

But my point is that I’m impressed, in retrospect, by how effective the messaging was in that moment. “Pay attention to where your clothes come from” somehow got through to me and every other dumb kid I knew. And, according to labor activists in 2014, that’s no longer the case.

These articles are not helpful for a number of reasons. First, they are another edition of “Why Don’t You Kids Fight the Power in the Exact Same Way I Did in College,” a line of lecturing pioneering by ex-60s radicals at least by the 1980s and something that many of you have probably run into at some point.

This reeks of romanticizing the past actions through a carefully remembered history that excludes the second problem with these articles. In 1999, there were some college aged students that cared about sweatshop labor. The majority of college students did not care. In 2014, there are some college aged students that care about sweatshop labor. The majority of college students do not care. Now, there were probably a few more students caring in 1999, but not only are college students working today on other issues that students weren’t fifteen years ago, but there are lots of students still fighting sweatshop labor. If anything, this has increased in the past year since the Rana Plaza collapse and sweatshop conditions have again returned to the nation’s attention. Plus let’s not forget why students turned away from this as a key issue–9/11 and the Iraq War turned their attention to American imperialism. Can’t just handwave this away. Students didn’t stop caring about sweatshops. They started caring about a horrible war.

Again, the third problem here, particularly with West’s piece (at least Merrick mentions it), is that there are actually a lot of great stuff going on in the anti-sweatshop movement. United Students Against Sweatshops is a vibrant organization with activists on a lot of campuses doing great work. I talked a bit about actions at USC this spring and other campuses are involved in a wide range of activities against sweatshop labor and exploitation. Sure, there should be more students involved–but it was the same in 1999.

The fourth problem here is that some of the strategies of 1999 West talks about favorably actually aren’t helpful. Telling people to buy second-hand clothing so they don’t support sweatshops does absolutely nothing to help workers. Plus it’s not scalable. Bangladeshi sweatshop labor activist Kalpona Akter has urged developed world activists not to boycott these factories because it just hurts the workers who need jobs. Cheap and easy feel-good activism does not solve problems, nor build solidarity with those fighting for a better life for themselves.

The fifth problem, and West at least nods at this, is that why are we demanding college students go protest for us? Do it yourself! We (including myself) can all do more to fight the terrible labor conditions in the products that we consume. A woman named Liz Parker started her own protest in front of the British chain Matalan because it wouldn’t sign onto a plant to compensate the victims of the Rana Plaza collapse. Everyone can do these things. Quit blaming college kids and go start your own protest.

Sixth, and most important for those who are serious about thinking about how to create actual change as opposed to vague protests, is that the articles ignore why students focused on the creation of apparel for their own institutions and not random department stores–because they have leverage to do so. As students, college administrators have to at least pretend to listen to them and potentially respond. The students have a clear and targeted objective–getting their schools to agree to responsible sourcing. The implementation is always tricky, but the point is that it’s an achievable, clearly defined goal with an endpoint and a group of people in power who have to be at least somewhat accountable to them. It’s a strategic choice that makes sense.

If you want to go protest Forever 21, print off some flyers, stand in front of their stores, and pass them out until you get escorted off the premises. Call the media and let them know what you are going to do. Have a friend take pictures and put them on Facebook and Twitter. Don’t tell college students to do it. Do it yourself.

“Raise Your Hand If I Should Care About Your Opinion About Iraq. No, Put Your Hand Down Right Now, Senator McCain.”

[ 234 ] June 14, 2014 |

The people who promised us democracy! whiskey! sexy! protection from Saddam’s balsa wood drones of nuclear terror! cheap! from the Iraq War should never be listened to again:

But there are few people who understand Iraq less than the Republican politicians and pundits who are being sought out for their comments on the current situation.

As you watch the debate on this issue, you should remind yourself that the most prominent voices being heard are the very ones who brought us the Iraq War in the first place, who promised that everything was simple and the only question was whether we’d be “strong” and “decisive” enough — the same thing they’re saying today. They’re the ones who swore that Saddam was in cahoots with Al Qaeda, that he had a terrifying arsenal of weapons of mass destruction, that the war would be quick, easy and cheap, that since Iraq was a largely secular country we wouldn’t have to worry about sectarian conflict, and that democracy would spread throughout the region in short order, bringing peace and prosperity along with it.

We can start with the man on every TV producer and print reporter’s speed dial, John McCain. McCain does provide something important to journalists: whatever the issue of the moment is, he can be counted on to offer angry, bitter criticism of the Obama administration, giving the “balance” every story needs. The fact that he has never demonstrated the slightest bit of understanding of Iraq is no bar at all to being the most quoted person on the topic.

For context, here’s a nice roundup of some of the things McCain said when he was pushing to invade Iraq in the first place. When asked if Iraqis were going to greet us as liberators, he answered, “Absolutely.” He said, “Post-Saddam Hussein Iraq is going to be paid for by the Iraqis” with their oil wealth (the war ended up costing the American taxpayer upwards of $2 trillion). And my favorite: “There is not a history of clashes that are violent between Sunnis and Shias, so I think they can probably get along.”

In a world with properly functioning public discourse, these people would be too ashamed to show their faces in public; instead, they remain Respected Leaders.

Fortunately, warbloggers seem far less influential, but remain hilarious.  The man who gave us the internet’s equivalent of the Mission Accomplished speech is, for some reason, still saying things about Iraq:

OH, YEAH: Obama Talked About Iraq Today. We’ll do something, as soon as we decide what to do, but whatever it is it won’t be anything decisive. And this is all the Iraqis’ fault, and probably Bush’s.

Well, what do you know — through the use of sarcasm Reynolds has inadvertently said something true about Iraq, or at least attributed a true statement to Obama. Meanwhile, Reynolds’s ongoing preference for action that is “decisive” (with implicitly only killing people counting as “decisive”) to action that is wise shows that he, like most hack Iraq warmongers, has learned less than nothing. (Note: this post is even funnier when you remember Reynolds’s belief that people are skeptical about American claims about WMDs because of Barack Obama. I’ll never forgive him for giving that farcical speech to the UN in 2003!)

Satoko Fujii New Trio

[ 7 ] June 13, 2014 |

I was lucky enough to see my college roommate play bass in the Satoko Fujii New Trio +1 tonight at Firehouse 12 in New Haven. If you are fans of jazz and noise and are in New York, Washington, the Bay Area, Seattle, or Vancouver, you should definitely check them out in the coming week or two on this North American tour. They are playing the Vision Festival tomorrow in New York, which is where I would be if I were in New York regardless of having a friend in the band. Here is a clip of the Trio without tonight’s speical guest. It includes the drummer beating on a chair.

Satoko Fujii, piano
Todd Nicholson, bass
Takashi Itani, drums, chair hitting.

Game 5

[ 83 ] June 13, 2014 |

At this point, this classic deserves an open thread.  If there’s a World Cup game remotely as exciting as this one, I promise to spend 3 hours watching Marty St. Louis’s Game 6 double OT winner in the 2004 finals on a constant loop for 24 hours.  (Note: I am the exclusive judge of this competition.)

Far be it from me to disagree with the wisdom of FIFA, the IOC, and Gary Bettman as applied to the regular season, but I’m going to continue to claim that it would not be better if this game was suddenly ended to have a penalty shot contest to determine the winner.

…congrats to the Kings; great team.  (What odds could you have gotten on them when they were down 3-0 against San Jose?) Is Darryl Sutter a HOF coach?  He’s certainly close.

Katie Surrence: Hedwig and the Angry Inch

[ 27 ] June 13, 2014 |

We’re pleased to offer this post from longtime friend of LGM Katie Surrence. I have been impressed by her views of the legitimate thee-yater since she saw through the ludicrously overrated Spring Awakening, and she writes interestingly about many other topics as well. Give her a a nice LGM welcome and hopefully we will see her work again! –SL

Hello all!

I’d like to introduce myself: I’m a friend of Scott L.’s from past blogging-related program activities. He reads my informal Facebook accounts of the plays I see in NYC, where I live, and he invited me to write some guest posts for LGM about theater, and possibly other things that occur to me (I work in psychology/neuroscience and might be tempted to cover that beat). I was both flattered and nervous—I don’t have the kind of formal education that would qualify me to write about theater the way SEK does for film and television. But I was also excited about the opportunity to explore my values about what makes good theater, and when I see a show I love, to be able to have a small part in promoting it. Some warnings: I obviously can’t cover theater around the country! But even if you don’t live in NYC, I hope it might be interesting to read about shows that might have touring productions or what you might want to see if you visit. I’m going to have a strong bias toward musicals, because that’s what I best love to go see. I won’t be able to be opening-night timely; I’m a time- and cash-poor student/researcher and sometimes don’t see shows till far into their run.

I at least have a news hook for my first review! Hedwig and the Angry Inch just won a bunch of Tonys, and Neil Patrick Harris took home Best Actor in a Musical. I never saw the original Hedwig on stage, but I’m a fan of the movie, and in many ways it was hard to avoid having a good time. I saw a 10 pm Saturday show, dressed up in a very short poofy pink dress and very tall pink heels and mouthed all the words with a crowd that also eating it up just as much. Someone—I guess John Cameron Mitchell? He has the only credit for the book—wrote updated patter for Hedwig that in my abundant goodwill for the show I laughed at even as I recognized how cheap it was (Hedwig is playing at the Belasco Theater after the close of the ill-fated run of Hurt Locker: The Musical). I wished many times that we were at a concert instead of a theater performance so I could move around, dance, even sometimes sing along.

But the fact that I would really rather have been dancing around and interacting more with the people around me rather than watching the show very closely is also a sign of what was wrong with the show. I’m a dissenter on the merits of Neil Patrick Harris’s performance. John Cameron Mitchell’s Hedwig shows you how she’s suffered. He plays depressed convincingly, sympathetically, and charismatically even while singing an uptempo rock song like “Wig in a Box”. And he gives her intelligence and irony, warmth and creative spark that she wouldn’t let be trapped behind the wall of sadness—you can see it breaking out over the course of the song. NPH’s Hedwig doesn’t let you see that she’s suffered at all. It’s a common remark about the Hedwig revival that it was originally a cabaret show, and it’s better designed for small venues, but I don’t think that was the only problem. A great stage performer should be able to make a huge theater into an intimate space. But NPH doesn’t give the audience pain or soul. His Hedwig is cold underneath a heavy mask of makeup. She’s funny and campy, but she never seems vulnerable. Hedwig abuses her bandmate and husband, Yitzhak (played in the revival by Lena Hall), and in the absence of a sense of her vulnerability, she just comes off as a bully. JCM is sexy as Hedwig, partly as a result of that intelligence and vulnerability, partly physical grace, and partly delicate oddball beauty. NPH didn’t have any real heat; his glam femme was a little stiff and awkward. I wondered if that was a deliberate choice, but if so I don’t think I liked it. I like Hedwig as brilliant in her role. He even looked wrong. He’s too cut to play Hedwig, who was presumably was not spending hours in the gym during her supermarket checkout/rocker-in-training years. That let him climb and leap impressively about the stage, but it was also yet another way he couldn’t bring vulnerability to the character. Lena Hall was a bright spot in the show, and in spite of having 10% of NPH’s time in the spotlight, she had more charisma and feeling. I did get a little piece of feeling from him at the very end, when he strips to his underwear, sheds his wig, and walks downstage, no longer stomping about, now supple in his movements, bending his body like a reed, singing, “You’re shining/Like the brightest star/A transmission/On the midnight radio.” But it wasn’t one of those shows that sneaks up on you at the end. It wasn’t enough for me to make her a character I cared about.

This video of NPH performing “Sugar Daddy” at the Tonys illustrates all the problems I saw. Of course this particular example is a little unfair: “Sugar Daddy” is supposed to be a big, silly, sexy number, but it’s what there is in video, and I still think it’s telling that even with the intimacy of close-ups, NPH is basically expressionless, athletic but awkward, pushing himself a little robotically through a routine: I must give lapdance … to Sting! The casting of Andrew Rannells has just been announced for the extended run. Maybe he’ll bring some heart back to the role.

Last Hired, First Fired

[ 21 ] June 13, 2014 |

Not surprising in the least that economic hardship exacerbates racial bias. Good to gain greater understanding of how this occurs.

Friday Night Creature Feature: Minion Israel

[ 50 ] June 13, 2014 |

Thanks to beloved LGM weirdo herr doktor bimler for the idea for tonight’s creature feature. If you haven’t yet made friends with herr doktor, do so immediately. He’s as quick-witted as he is smart (which is very x infinity). Just–for god’s sake–do not let him show him his etchings…or anything else for that matter.

Anyway, some of you may have seen the movie “Megamind,” and thought to yourself “That Minion sure is cute; I wish he could be kinda sorta be embodied by real-life fish.”  Well, wish no more. Go to your nearest pet store and adopt your own Macropinna:


Macropinna microstoma is a deep sea fish that has a transparent head so delicate it cannot be brought to the surface. So we may only observe its cartoonish, oddly-cute visage in its natural habitat. I know that I’ve ribbed Mother Nature in previous posts, but I gotta give her props now. Granted,  this fish looks like something that might be the result of a sexy, sexy union of “Finding Nemo” and “Tim and Eric Awesome Show,” but dammit, I give her “A” for effort and creativity. It’s just a really cute fish when all is said and done.

Is Rape Victim A “Coveted Status?” (SPOILER: No.)

[ 150 ] June 13, 2014 |

You may recall syndicated columnist William F. George asserting that being a rape victim is a “coveted status that confers privileges.” Amanda Ruggeri explains why Will’s sinecure should have been given to skin care consultant Rowena many years ago.

More on the CA Tenure Case

[ 143 ] June 13, 2014 |

A few more links on the awful CA tenure decision from earlier this week:

  • If you don’t believe me, believe Orin Kerr.  The opinion has nothing but a gaping void where the evidence needed to establish the proposition that the CA tenure rules are a net negative for poor districts needs to be.
  • Or, you could believe Noah Feldman: “The court’s two-part reasoning was thin to the point of being emaciated.”
  • Rick Kahlenberg observes that segregation, not tenure rules, is driving unequal educational outcomes.

It’s Like, How Much Dumber Could An Anti-ACA Argument From The Nominal Left Be? The Answer Is: None. None More Dumb.

[ 91 ] June 13, 2014 |

Lambert Strether can always be counted on to provide anti-ACA arguments whose incoherence go to 11.  After a discussion of how the Medicaid expansion sucks because some companies might make money from providing health coverage to people (as opposed to the awesome old days, when insurance companies made money by not providing coverage to people, only they would have spontaneously combusted without the ACA because these profits don’t actually count or something,) we get this eternal classic of muddled thinking:

Below — and check me, readers, this part has numbers — we see 1.7 million applicants in limbo + 2 million accounts with “discrepancies” = 3.7 million, and 3.2 million / 8 million = 46% of 2014′s ObamaCare surge have screwed up Medicaid accounts. Of course, the Republicans can’t hold hearings on this, let alone run a Dukakis-style “competence” campaign because (a) even they couldn’t handle the hypocrisy of denying Medicaid to their own citizens while alos exposing how poorly the administration handled expanding it, and (b) they would rather wank about repeal anyhow, to throw red meat to their base and because markets (see Profits, supra). Anyhow, ObamaCare’s their plan.

The first sentence is problematic enough. Yes, there are some bureaucratic delays, something that is unprecedented in the history of government, and I blame Barack Obama, who we can safely assume is the governor of all the relevant states. Plus, you’ll note from his sources that his numbers are greatly overstated; nothing like 3.7 million people are actually going to go without access to health care even temporarily. I also note that if Lambert’s preferred policy of “do nothing until single-payer can get 60 votes in the Senate long after we’re all dead” was implemented, approximately 0% of these people would get medical insurance; this is OK because, as we’ve already established, better millions of people go uninsured than anyone make a dollar insuring them, very progressive. But it’s the argument starting with the second sentence where things get really good.  Republicans won’t hold hearings on this because:

  • Republicans would be hypocrites for wanting Medicaid coverage to be better implemented, since Republican statehouses generally aren’t accepting the Medicaid expansion at all.  (Admittedly, as Lambert has already informed us, for this we must blame Barack Obama for inventing the concept of judicial review.)
  • Also, Republicans actually want to talk about repeal, because the ACA is actually about profits for business.  (But, wait, why aren’t they accepting the Medicaid expansion?  I was just told that this was nothing but a massive payoff for insurance interests? I think the lines of communication between Lambert’s sentences have been cut off.)
  • And, finally, Republicans won’t hold hearings because…the ACA is the “Republican plan.”  We know this because of the 0 Republicans who voted for the ACA, the fact that the Republican health care plan in the 12 years they controlled the House of Representatives was “nothing,” and because…as conceded in point a) Republicans have steadfastly refused to implement a core provision of the ACA after they mounted a successful legal challenge to it.  Can’t see any flaws in this logic!

Arguments against passing the ACA from the ostensible left are inevitably terrible, but at least generally they can keep the plainly self-refuting arguments that are ludicrously charitable to the Republican Party they’re perfectly happy to have run the country in different paragraphs.  Going from “of course Republicans hate the Medicaid expansion” to “the Medicaid expansion is the Republican plan” in two sentences takes things to a whole different level.  Anyway, if only Hillary Clinton had been around to sign Hillary Clinton’s health care plan rather than Barack Obama signing it we wouldn’t have had any of these problems.

CEO Compensation

[ 42 ] June 13, 2014 |

Lawrence Mishel and Alyssa Davis of the Economic Policy Institute released a report yesterday on CEO compensation. CEO’s are doing pretty well these days. The rest of us? Nope. The key findings:

Trends in CEO compensation last year:

Average CEO compensation was $15.2 million in 2013, using a comprehensive measure of CEO pay that covers CEOs of the top 350 U.S. firms and includes the value of stock options exercised in a given year, up 2.8 percent since 2012 and 21.7 percent since 2010.

Longer-term trends in CEO compensation:

From 1978 to 2013, CEO compensation, inflation-adjusted, increased 937 percent, a rise more than double stock market growth and substantially greater than the painfully slow 10.2 percent growth in a typical worker’s compensation over the same period.

The CEO-to-worker compensation ratio was 20-to-1 in 1965 and 29.9-to-1 in 1978, grew to 122.6-to-1 in 1995, peaked at 383.4-to-1 in 2000, and was 295.9-to-1 in 2013, far higher than it was in the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s, or 1990s.

If Facebook, which we exclude from our data due to its outlier high compensation numbers, were included in the sample, average CEO pay was $24.8 million in 2013, and the CEO-to-worker compensation ratio was 510.7-to-1.

Over the last three decades, CEO compensation grew far faster than that of other highly paid workers, those earning more than 99.9 percent of other wage earners. CEO compensation in 2012 was 4.75 times greater than that of the top 0.1 percent of wage earners, a ratio 1.5 higher than the 3.25 ratio that prevailed over the 1947–1979 period (this wage gain is equivalent to the wages of 1.5 high wage earners).

Also over the last three decades, CEO compensation increased further relative to other very high wage earners than the wages of college graduates grew relative to those of high school graduates.

That CEO pay grew far faster than pay of the top 0.1 percent of wage earners indicates that CEO compensation growth does not simply reflect the increased market value of highly paid professionals in a competitive market for skills (the “market for talent”) but reflects the presence of substantial rents embedded in executive pay (meaning CEO pay does not reflect greater productivity of executives). Consequently, if CEOs earned less or were taxed more, there would be no adverse impact on output or employment.

This will no doubt grow before next year’s report.

Let’s Ask Jenna

[ 192 ] June 13, 2014 |

Scrolling through my “Thin Veneer” thread, I found this comment:

One of the things that I want in a game is the option to play as a woman. I really want a female avatar as an option. I have been playing games since Everquest (I started after Velious, but, before Luclin) and I really want a female avatar. I can get a little picky on the art and animations, but, I, personally, prefer my female avatars more on the realistic side, rather than the wasp waisted, big boobed, sex on the hoof versions that I sometimes have to put up with as the only game in town.
I loved Portal.
A couple of the WoW human female animations really turned me off.
Aion was pretty.
I miss City of Heroes like crazy. I miss the character customization, and the pick up teams, and the running around with speed boost on.
There are good avatar options in The Secret World.
Wildstar is a bit over the top on the wasp waist look, but, I’ll put up with the aesthetic for the gameplay. I’m having fun so far.
My disclaimer is that I am BIASED on Titanfall. I have a friend at Respawn. However, I only ever barely glanced at first person shooters before this game and I love it. I love the movement, I love the HUGE robots, and I love the female avatars. The female pilots are armored up practically, just like the guys. There are just as many playable female pilot options as there are male options. They look like they have been fighting all day, not sitting around keeping their makeup pristine. They look like their job is to fight, rather than look pretty, and so I love them.
I live in a world where i am often reminded that part of my role as a woman is to be attractive. I appreciate a game where it is clear that the women are not there as eye candy.

A.)Loved the comment, because I’m not a gamer and it gives me insight into the gaming world and B.)It gave me the idea to do a gaming thread.


1.) What are your thoughts on the “Assassin’s Creed” dust-up?

2.) What are you looking for so far as diversity in avatars? Is this an issue for you or no?

3.) What are your favorite games to play? Do you enjoy them just because you enjoy them and/ or because you feel like you’re a welcome participant in its world?

4.) Which games do you think do the best job catering to a diverse player fanbase?

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