"Fire is motion / Work is repetition / This is my document / We are all all we've done / We are all all we've done / We are all all we've done / We are all all defenses."

- Cap'N Jazz, "Oh Messy Life," Analphabetapolothology

Saturday, December 15, 2012

i don't have the words to say how i feel right now

one of the things i'm most grateful for, and will cherish the rest of my life, is the last year - and how, for the first time in my life, i lived only an hour away from my Grandma and not a whole country apart. i went to visit her every weekend, and was always greeted with a big smile and a big hug and lots of food (always so much food!). i practiced my Chinese and was able, for the first time in 
my life, to have a real conversation with my Grandma, to understand stories she would tell me about my dad and my uncles when they were growing up, to hear her talk about the time they moved to SF together, to hear her talk about my Grandpa, to hear her talk about poetry and history and how she used to do Tai Chi in the park. to be able to tell her in my limited Mandarin that i love her, and that i think about her every day. and when it came time for me to move away, to tell her that i would miss her, but that i would call her when i got to Syracuse. and when i got to Syracuse, to call her on the phone every week and tell her i missed her and was looking forward to seeing her again soon. i still feel my Mandarin was never quite advanced enough to tell her how much i love her, or to understand all the wisdom she imparted to me. and one year will never be enough, but i'm so glad i had that time and spent it getting to know her. 我愛你奶奶.

Friday, March 23, 2012

living with respect for all animals

i have always been consistently and fervently pro-fauna. i'm not sure where this way of thinking and acting originated, but i've always tried to do my best not to harm other beings by my own existence. maybe it was learning about Native American and indigenous peoples and their practices of hunting, a way of life lost on us now, a way of honoring and respecting animals while still occasionally eating them (which is how i still justify eating meat on occasion - my understanding of being a "good" human is eating what i need, not being wasteful, and not consuming in excess. i definitely don't hunt for sport, and when i fish, i practice catch-and-release. i also limit or avoid pork, beef, and even chicken (those being the more "feeling" or sentient animals), sticking mostly to fish that i know are fresh water varieties that i could have fished myself, or that were farmed. of course, farm fisheries may have a host of their own ethical problems, but they seem far less terrible than the wide-cast nets they use to catch deep sea shrimp and bycatch. this is also how i justify wearing leather shoes and buying leather bags - because Native American tribes used "the whole" animal and didn't let anything go to waste. also, because leather shoes last longer and are probably better for the environment in the long-run than PVC/plastic shoes that come with cancer warnings and carry shorter use-lives). of course, if animals were hunted rather than "cultivated" in factories, the way they are now, i don't think i'd really have to make this justification. basically, i emulate a way of life that is pre-industrial and pre-modern convenience, the way i imagine life might have been like before we determined a way to industrialize everything, before humans became insane cancers on the environment and decided we owned everything. what might that be called, "transcendental-aspirational"? "a-world-without-humans ecological philosophy"? so, when i say i'm "pro-fauna," that's shorthand for me saying that i aspire to live in a way that respects animals and nature in a non-human-centered way.

so, i'm seriously stressed out right now because my workplace has discovered we have a mice problem, in that they are finding their way into drawers of people's desks and eating food. i was visited by some mice myself, i opened up my drawer and noticed some droppings and when i started cleaning out my drawer, discovered that a pack of flaxseed crackers in a thin plastic wrapper were broken into. clever buggers! i tossed the crackers and put everything else in plastic boxes, and haven't had a problem since. others in the office were so freaked out though, that they set up traps. a few hours later, people in the office were squealing and screaming at the sight of mice. here's what really bothers me about this:

1) these traps are possibly the worst thing ever. they're the sticky film traps, the kind you might use to trap flies, only this time, it's little furry mice, with tails, and whiskers. they get stuck on the film in the most helpless positions, their whiskers glued down, their bodies bent in unnatural positions, their tails whipping around, their paws stuck under their bellies. they squirm and blink for help. and everytime i go to check on them, my stomach fills with guilt and dread, because i feel like it's partially my fault, i irresponsibly stored my snacks andthey invited themselves to a small meal, and now they're suffering in the most terrible ways.

2) mice are very easily and humanely preventable. if you store food more securely (glass jars, plastic storage boxes with high sides and slippery surfaces) and dispose of food properly, you won't have a mice problem. also, peppermint oil is a nice-smelling, easily available, cheap, and harmless alternative to traps. there are also catch-and-release style traps that allow mice to be transported to more mice-friendly places (there is a large field right behind our office building - if they were released there and people got rid of their poorly stored snacks, we wouldn't have a problem).

3) "every animal serves a purpose." my co-worker and cubicle neighbor said that when we were talking and i thought that was really wise and something very few people realize or think about. mice eat the crumbs and tiny scraps that drop behind the desk in those little crevices that are too small to be cleaned, or easily forgotten. they don't actively go after your food unless you aren't smart enough to seal or protect it better. mice would never hurt you or bite you, because they are far more scared of you than you are of them. this idea that "every animal serves a purpose" is important because it gets at the reason why i adopt a "pro-fauna" approach, and also why this sometimes results in an "anti-human" way of thinking: so few humans realize the importance of coexisting with animals. furthermore, this is in direct correlation a direct cause of most humans' belief that they own everything. "it's our office building/kitchen/pantry/food so we have a right to kill creatures that intrude into our space!" actually, the field/forest/farmland that was destroyed so you could build your office building/condo/neighbhorhood was here first, so the animals you displaced kinda have a right to mess up your comfortable little existence if they can, so suck it.

all this to say i am really stressed out from debating what to do about the mice traps in the office (should i free the mice? what if i mangle them when trying to get them free from the sticky paper? should i sabotage the traps or try to throw them away before mice get caught in them and thereby cause my company to endlessly pour resources into traps? should i try to kill the mice humanely, before HR or whoever comes by to collect the traps and just "throw them away" to die slow deaths? should i start setting human traps in retaliation? - debilitating laxative in the coffee pot was my first inclination, but i'm open to suggestions). i still want to live my life in a "pro-fauna" way, but it means, in this case, talking to a lot of stubbornly cruel and human-centric people.

Monday, March 19, 2012

when the truth becomes a lie

Mike Daisey, a story-teller/monologist who was recently featured on This American Life criticizing Apple and "exposing" their seemingly atrocious labor practices, has now been publicly exposed (also on This American Life) as a "liar." it turns out that Daisey fabricated a majority of the vivid and extremely personal stories he shares in his one-act, The Agony and The Ecstasy of Steve Jobs. (and Ira Glass is ostensibly pissed!!)

while this perhaps causes some Mac enthusiasts to rejoice, i am personally unswayed. and while i believe in the importance of journalistic integrity, i also hate to see a well-meaning story-teller publicly (albeit gently and rightfully) skewered at the hands of Ira Glass. the thing is, while it is now clear that some of what Daisey said was not 100% true or accurate, in the sense that it did not happen in the perfect story, movie-like way he describes in his monologue, there were essences and bases of truth in what he said. and while i was initially somewhat upset with Mike Daisey for seemingly misleading lots of people, i think the work he did was extremely important, if only because he personified and made tangible/personal the human injustice problems underlying the manufacture of our first-world luxuries. he exposed and made visible the human factor that is sacrificed at the altar of Commodity. granted, the details of Daisey's stories were tweaked and altered to achieve maximum impact, but sometimes the greater "truth" is best achieved thru some tactful lying. this brings to mind the chapter of Tim O'Brien's The Things They Carried in which he describes the difference between "truth" and "story-truth" and how sometimes you have to build compelling stories around a truth to give the truth even more truth. in both cases, the "truth" being served justifies some lying, wouldn't you agree?

furthermore, the "truth" in this situation is arguably subjective and particularly difficult to determine. as someone who works in a chinese manufacturing company, very similar to ones that work for Apple and FoxConn, i have seen the way these internal audits are run. i've also seen how things in the company are done, from concealing misdeeds, to ensuring "outsiders" don't see the true operations of the company. i would not be at all surprised if it turned out Daisey's translator was paid off by someone from FoxConn to make adjustments to her story. she might even feel some fear in being complicit in Daisey's takedown of FoxConn and Apple. furthermore, i'm struck by how strange and very messed up it is to hear multiple American journalists working somewhat hard to justify the working conditions in China, basically to the effect of "oh, it's China, and they do stuff like that there. we can't compare working conditions there to America, that just wouldn't be 'fair.'" statements like these, by Americans working really hard to justify a shitty system of labor and economics that makes profit and products on the backs of unprotected and un-unionized foreign workers, make me extremely angry all over again, and make me realize just how important Mike Daisey's work was, and make me sad that now it may be forever discredited for being a "lie." it's clear, from hearing so many Americans rushing to defend Apple in the wake of the original story and even more fervently after its retraction, that the problem with America and capitalism and all of its conveniences, is that products such as the iphone are an entity more real than the workers who make them. this is a serious problem. Daisey's stories were important, because they forced us to care about something we previously took for granted. we'd never before thought to ask ourselves who the person behind our iphones/ipads/ipods was, never thought to question the existence and practices of the supply chain that supplies an endless number of goods to enable our very convenient, modern lives, and never thought to question our own place in that economic ecosystem and the moral implications of such a passive stance. the really sad thing is that now that Daisey has come forward for fabricating his story, 

when i listen to the retraction episode, i'm struck by how badly Mike Daisey wanted his American audience to feel something, to feel empathy for the Chinese factory workers, to feel some sense of consumer conscience and responsibility and feel incited to change. even if he achieved this in a deceitful way, is it so bad he tried to get us all to feel something, and do something about it?

even if the details of Daisey's story are not completely true, the truth underlying his story is, and that has yet to change; the working conditions at Chinese factories such as FoxConn are not fair, and the subpar working conditions continue to be condoned and widely practiced because companies like Apple have not yet taken adequate action to prevent and stop them, and because American customers have yet to express their demands for change.

what follows is an excerpt from the end of the retraction episode i find particularly pertinent: 

Ira Glass: But to get to the normative question that’s kind of underlying all the reporting and all the discussion of this, the thing that we all want to know when we hear this is like, “Wait, should I feel bad about this?” As somebody who owns these products, should I feel bad? […]

Charles Duhigg: Let me pose the argument that people have posed to me about why you should feel bad, and you can make of it what you will.
 And that argument is there were times in this nation when we had harsh working conditions as part of our economic development. We decided as a nation that that was unacceptable. We passed laws in order to prevent those harsh working conditions from ever being inflicted on American workers again.
And what has happened today is that rather than exporting that standard of life, which is within our capacity to do, we have exported harsh working conditions to another nation.
So should you feel bad that someone is working 12 to 24 hours a day in order to produce the iPhone that you’re carrying in your pocket? […] Should you feel bad about that? I don’t know, that’s for you to judge, but I think the the way to pose that question is… do you feel comfortable knowing that iPhones and iPads and other products could be manufactured in less harsh conditions, but that these harsh conditions perpetuate because of an economy that you are […] supporting with your dollars. […] You’re not only the direct beneficiary [of those harsh conditions]; you are actually one of the reasons why it exists. If you made different choices, if you demanded different conditions, if you demanded that other people enjoy the same work protections that you yourself enjoy, then those conditions would be different overseas.
Ira Glass and Charles Duhigg of the NY Times, discussing working conditions in Apple factories in China [from This American Life’s recent episode, in which they discover Mike Daisey fabricated parts of his story on working conditions in FoxConn factories in Shenzen, China].

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

living, will

death has been on my mind a lot lately. well, more than usual. ever since i was a kid, i've lived in fear of death, lived in fear of that great expanse of unknown beyond my last breath, in fear of my parents' death, haunted by the sudden passing of friends and family gone too soon. who was it that said life is just the act of dying? or "the day we are born we begin to die"? i hate to think of my life as a shadow negative of this inevitability, but there can be no denying it. i think learning to live is in many ways learning how to die.

this has become more pressing lately. when my Uncle Tony passed away ... spring of 2009, my entire foundation was rocked. it was one of my first years truly living away from home - out of college, working my first real-life, "grown-up" job as a teacher in a public middle school in south central - and i got the news in the middle of a school day, maybe it was even a wednesday. this was the thing i'd always feared, my entire life: leaving home and being away and alone and having to truly assume adulthood when i'd only previously been playing the part. acting like an "adult" in front of a room of insane and belligerent special ed 6th graders, while your entire understanding of reality and space/time is being torn asunder around you is truly an initiation into "adulthood" by means of trial by fire. i have never wanted to punch an eleven-year-old special needs child so much in my entire life.

that first experience of death, trying to understand the definitiveness, the finalness, the never-again-ness, changed me. it ripped the fabric of logic and reason, made my persistent daily wants and needs and desires seem cruel, selfish, terrible. i disgusted myself, felt disgusted at other people, at my/our insistence on living. my hunger pangs, my exhaustion, my cravings for warmth or kindness or whatever were just constant reminders of my own body's persistent fight to stay alive, to feed itself, to rest, to recover. all this pained and aggravated me, since it was also a reminder that these were things my uncle once did, and now won't.

the day after i heard the news, i remember, i emerged from my dark room, where i'd spent the majority of the day [which makes me think the news might have occurred closer to a weekend, or that i was still doing this - violently weeping - several days after the fact] on my bed in a fetal position, my body pinched in on itself in a full-body sob, weeping uncontrollably and relentlessly, and walked outside to get some fresh air (again, the body's urge to do what it needs to survive; in this case, getting some air and sunlight and resuming an upright, healthy posture). the sight of seagulls flying above the palm trees overhead, the sun shining in an almost cloudless sky, the onslaught of terrifying LA rush-hour traffic - all seemed to be terrible, disrespectful, indignant external reminders that life goes on; this day is, in all other respects, just like any other.


i have been reading Joan Didion's The Year of Magical Thinking, a birthday gift from my brother this past year. i don't remember how i came to hear about this book, but one day at work i was reading about different psychological phenomena, and "magical thinking" was mentioned, and the book's premise interested me, and since i've spent some part of the last year reading "award-winning" books, i asked for it for christmas. it has been... an informative book. well-researched and well-written, definitely, and interesting, although i hesitate to say "pleasurable," since of all the effects it has had on me, it's probably inspired an even deeper and more paranoid ideation with death, the "act" of dying, and living.

one of the ideas from Didion's book that's really stuck is the idea that the dying person can foretell their death, even in cases accidental or sudden. "Only the dying man can tell how much time he has left." this is, in some ways, a comfort, especially to those who have lost a loved one in tragic accidents, to know that perhaps they knew their time was coming. but, in my case, it's been a terrible fear-enhancer. suddenly, things my parents or friends do, like tell me they love me in an exceptional way, or giving me an important document, seem like portents of doom. and i know that's a terrible thing, like, the prime example of letting fear of death control your life and thoughts. i know it is the mark of a coward to live in constant fear of death, but, here i am. and what to do?

naturally, the thing to do is to prepare. this constant, unebbing thought that "we all know when our time has come" has, of course, come to make me think that perhaps i am about to die. (and even as i write this, i wonder to myself, will typing it make it even more true? will uttering this aloud make it come true, or stave it off?) does the fact that i persist on this notion indicate that i am nearing death, that this book and this idea, given to me so recently, is relevant for a reason, that reason being that something terrible is about to happen? i can't help wondering these things, even though i know it makes me crazy.

last month, my partner Ben lost his younger brother Andrew in a terrible accident. he had been living abroad for nearly 2 years, travelling and teaching in China and Taiwan. he was on a ten-day bike journey around the island of Taiwan, during his 2-week Chinese New Year holiday, when he was struck by an old man driving a van. Andrew died. (typing that still hurts, because it hasn't yet felt real. typing that feels like betrayal, like i've given up hope Andrew can still come back, like i've turned my back on him because i've accepted this reality, even though my mind and heart (and Andrew) live now in a reality separate from what that sentence means). in the days and weeks following, friends and family who knew Andrew have been grappling to understand what happened. friends received Christmas cards from him just days after the accident. i looked back on our exchanges, scrutinized emails, trying to examine them for clues that Andrew, in some way, knew. Andrew and i spoke via email just days before it happened, and i talked to him about visiting Taiwan in the summer, with Ben, and he replied that he was so excited for us to come, he couldn't wait to show us around. the day before the accident, i wanted to post something on his Facebook, commenting on one of his pictures, saying something about how he looked so much like his dad. i didn't, i hesitated and then decided not to, because i wasn't sure how he'd respond or take the comment. i wonder now, if i'd posted it, if he would have paused in the morning to read and respond, and would have thus been a minute or two behind on the road when the van swerved off and hit him where he was, without the comment.

Andrew kept a bucket list, or as he called it, a "to-do list." he didn't want to be an old man looking back at his life with regret. did he know? even if his to-live list wasn't a premonition, he understood that life is precious and fragile and not to be wasted - a profoundly inspiring wisdom borne from an acknowledgment of death; Andrew knew how to live. this is what i want for myself and for my fear of death, a greater appreciation and predilection for living.

Andrew's bucket list was a physical list he checked off and added to. i love that, i love that there are documents that speak to his life and his goals. now that we've lost Andrew (where did you go?) these documents - to-do-lists, journals, emails, blog posts, Facebook - are what we have left, what we can return to. this is my document.*

these days, we are all susceptible to getting lost in the daily grind, on focusing on ends rather than means, and thinking about a distant future rather than enjoying the present. i think living in the constant shadow of death can mean reclaiming life, and i intend to do that.

*i wrote previously about maintaining an e-life thru internet documents here, on my very first blog.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

spunk (n), definition:

how fuckin' fun and cute is Robyn in this? i think it's even better than the music video because girl can sing.

and when she does her somersault and tries to slide her feet up on the floor but can't because she's wearing gigantic rubber soles? my heart melted a little bit for her. *girl crush*

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

alone in the wilderness

i'm tired of all the sturm und drang associated with valentine's day. suddenly it becomes especially important to be with someone and examine your life in the context of being successfully paired off. is it ok for some people to want to be alone? what if that is what makes them happy? i think that's ok, and it's not just because i'm feeling particularly alone today.

this is probably not the best place for these kinds of thoughts, since it's so public and all, but that's also why it's perfect. aren't we all just lonely strangers screaming out into the dark to be comforted by our own echoes?

i think my partner/fiance/best friend/confidant and i have ... separated? broken up? had a falling out? what is the right phrase to use? "separated" doesn't quite make sense, since we've been apart (living on two coasts) for so long. "broken up" sounds stupid and juvenile (and thus, i realize, perfect), and "a falling out" doesn't seem to recognize the gravity of the situation. it's more than just a silly quarrel, it seems, even though that's how it started (how did it start? i can't trace the beginning, maybe it was all the way in the beginning), and now i feel seismically jolted out of what feels like the imagined reality of the last 5 years.

5 years is not a long time, but also a very long time. 5 years is 20% of my life, long enough to preserve vestiges of college, to encompass my first two "real-life' jobs, to contextualize my last 3 moves, to transition me from feeling young and indomitable and awesome to feeling old, insecure, scared and bewildered. 5 years is long enough to change what you believed about life, love, your future, goals, and the meaning of life. it's long enough to cultivate a fragile trust in another person, to believe that you really found an extension of yourself in a stranger, to start to think of life in the context of a dependable togetherness.

here is how crazy love is: you meet someone, a complete and utter stranger, and you actually tell them all the deep, dark, most terrible secrets you'd never even had the courage to utter aloud to yourself. you dance like an idiot in your underwear. you talk about your grossest, most humiliating bodily (mal)functions. you can honestly talk for the first time about your childhood, your parents, your fears and desires. you learn to cook better, you travel, you stay up late and sleep in, you go grocery shopping, you throw dinner parties, you protest in the streets, you dance, you sing karaoke badly. you devour life. you do things you would never have imagined doing, and you do silly inane things and find yourself enjoying them with a new sense of thrill. you feel yourself growing in ways you never thought possible, and the whole time, in total naked view of another person, a stranger.

so how do you reconcile yourself with losing something like that? it doesn't make much sense, do you grieve? blame yourself? get angry and upset at the other person for wasting your best years and treating you so cruelly in the final moments? maybe? or maybe you feel nothing at all, and this is what surprises you most. everything becomes a sort of dullness. the sharp sting of sadness, the bite of sudden loneliness, the burn of anger and the urge to fight, these were things that made sense before but now you can't even seem to muster them. it's like your heart burned so brightly and is now just burnt out. and it may burn that way again, but always in a lesser way. Said the Gramophone said it best when they wrote:
Every time you stop loving someone, your heart loses some of its blush. It vanishes. It's cancelled. & you wonder which of your feelings you'll no longer have the capacity to feel again. How much less am I, today, than I was yesterday? [from here]

Monday, January 23, 2012

alight on a rooftop with me, and let's nestle together and cast our gaze on the stars

lyrics for Andrew Bird's "Night Sky" (transcribed by me, as i listened to the mp3 below)

sound is a wave, like a wave on the ocean
plays the ocean like a violin
pushing and pulling from shore to shore
biggest melody you never heard before

if i were the night sky (x2)
here's my lullaby
lullaby to the eve bye
if i were the night sky

verse 1:
what if we hadn't been born at the same time
what if you were 75 and i were 9
and i come visit you
bring you cookies in an old folks' home
would you be there alone?
when the late summer lightning fires off in your arms
will i remember to breathe?
you know i never will
if i could convince you that i mean you no harm
just wanna show you how not to need (/leave?)

what if i were the night sky?
here's my lullaby
lullaby to the eve bye
if i were the night

verse 2:
what if we hadn't been each other at the same time?
would you tell me all the stories from when you're young and in your prime
will i rock you to sleep
would you tell me all the secrets you don't need to keep
would i still miss you?
oh would you then
had been mine


[download mp3]

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

This American Life examines a Chinese life on the assembly line


what does it mean for something, everything to be “made in china?”
fascinating/horrifying revelations of the factories and working conditions in china that make all the shit you take for granted.

Shenzhen is a city without history. The people who live there will tell you that, because 31 years ago Shenzhen was a small town. It had little reed huts, little reed walkways between the huts. The men would fish in the late afternoon. I hear it was lovely. Today Shenzhen is a city of 14 million people. It is larger than New York City. Depending on how you count it, it's the third largest city in all of China. It is the place where almost all of your crap comes from.

And the most amazing thing is, almost no one in America knows its name. Isn't that remarkable that there's a city where almost all of our crap comes from, and no one knows its name? I mean, we think we do know where our crap comes from. We're not ignorant. We think our crap comes from China, right? Kind of a generalized way. China.
But it doesn't come from China. It comes from Shenzhen. It's a city. It's a place.
Shenzhen looks like Blade Runner threw up on itself. LEDs, neon, and 15-story-high video walls covered in ugly Chinese advertising. It's everything they promised us the future would be.
[...]31 years ago, when Deng Xiaoping carved this area off from the rest of China with a big red pen, he said, this will be the special economic zone. And he made a deal with the corporations. He said listen, use our people. Do whatever you want to our people. Just give us a modern China. And the corporations took that deal, and they squeezed and they squeezed. And what they got was the Shenzhen we find today.
i find it important to emphasize, that my absolute horror and disgust in reading this is less directed at the Chinese government and the Chinese leaders or even at the Chinese corporate heads who allow this condone this sick, sick operation (though, of course, they are fault here as well). what horrifies me and disgusts me most is actually the fact that American people are totally ok with/ ignorant of / willfully ignorant about it. we condone this kind of human rights abuse, because we want our crap to be cheaper, and we always want more of it.

think about how amazingly, completely backwards and effed up this is:
As a creature of the First World, I expect a factory making complex electronics will have the sound of machinery, but in a place where the cost of labor is effectively zero, anything that can be made by hand is made by hand. No matter how complex your electronics are, they are assembled by thousands and thousands of tiny little fingers working in concert. And in those vast spaces, the only sound is the sound of bodies in constant, unending motion.
modern technology has advanced to such a degree that we (Americans) assume most things  everything is made by machines, even the relatively simpler things that used to be made by hand, like sweaters, and books, even our food. most people probably think we live in the mechanized future, where handcrafted things are a luxury, a long-lost artifact of history and ancient cultures and the pioneers. so in an age of inconceivably advanced technology, where the machines get smaller and more complex and powerful year after year, you would expect these machines to also be borne from the labor and precision of machines. but, in fact, Mr. Disney tells us, they are assembled by hand, millions of precise hands, working repetitively in an unending mechanical whir. and, in fact, these millions of tiny hands are actually cheaper and more expendable than those big machines.

what makes that such a perverse and deplorable realization is compounded by the fact that those big expensive machines are what put people in America out of work. and here is where i get really angry: in America, where we have labor laws and unions and it's illegal to pay your workers nothing and have them work endless days, the big corporations figured it's actually cheaper and better for business to bring in those big machines. that's what happened in the coal industry, and the automobile industry, and many other industries: human labor got replaced with non-stop, wageless, liability-free machines. other corporations, who couldn't use machines (such as computer manufacturers, i guess), shipped the jobs overseas, to China and India, where they could get human hands to build their products and still get paid next to nothing.

and the really terrible thing is, that China's and India's wages keep dropping year after year, to "stay competitive" with one another in the international market for jobs. so you see, this is a compounding problem that grows worse year after year, with no foreseeable end, because the trend in dropping prices of tech products comes at the price of workers' wages and working conditions.

but, slave labor does not necessarily have to exist in order for these markets to exist. if American companies, such as Apple, commit to fair labor practices (as Apple just did, in joining the FLA), they set the standard for business practices around the world. if American companies demand ethical practices from their suppliers and partners, businesses and employers around the world will change to meet the demand. American companies and American consumers need to demand and expect better.

Monday, January 09, 2012

the dangerous cunning of internet scams

over the holidays, i was at home in kentucky eating lunch with my family, when we got a phone call. my brother, being the most spry of us at the table, jumped up and answered the phone. my brother, also being the most patient/naive of us at the table, listened to the automated message long enough to hear that whoever just called us had put us on hold, to wait for "the next available agent." my mom immediately grabbed the phone from him and hung up. everyone at the table chided him, "when you get calls from telemarketers, just hang up!"

but, this was one of several similar calls we'd gotten this week. at another point during the holidays, we got a call from "American Express" which i thought was a telemarketing call, so i hung up, but then i remembered that credit card companies sometimes make courtesy calls when strange or suspicious spending occurs on a credit card (i'm grateful to my credit card EVERY single time this happens, even the one time it was for $70 of groceries at Safeway). so, it being the holidays, i had a twinge of concern in the back of my mind and asked if my parents had checked their credit card activity lately. my mom, being a somewhat paranoid and worrisome person, immediately checked her wallet and my dad's wallet and freaked out that one of their AmEx cards was missing. she called American Express back to talk to someone to see if something suspicious had happened on their card because one was missing. 10 minutes later, we found the card (at the bottom of a purse or briefcase) and AmEx informed us they hadn't made a call to us in the last half hour.

but, because of this earlier incident, in which a potential telemarketing scam could have also been a potential credit-related courtesy call, my mom's curiosity was more piqued than it would otherwise be, and she called the-place-that-put-us-on-hold back and asked them who they were, why they called us, and if it was such an important matter, why they put us on hold. the person on the line then continued to inform her that i owed $400+ in debt to a hospital in LA for a visit occurring nearly 2 years ago. my mom was incredulous at first, then angry, argumentative, and lastly, she asked me if i knew anything about this. i thought it was preposterous, i had a string of freak medical emergencies about 2 years ago for a work-related health injury, but i had paid all my medical bills up front, out of pocket. i also had two different sets of insurance, my own medical insurance and workers' comp. so to have an outstanding debt of this size from over two years ago, and not hear anything about it until now, seemed wildly suspicious. worse, the man on the phone threatened that the issue had to be resolved TODAY.

luckily, my mom was in a hurry to go to yoga and told him he'd have to wait, and then just hung up. we didn't hear from them again. until a week later. they sent a letter to my house, which i didn't read or see because i wasn't home when my mom got it, but it freaked her out. from what i can tell though, from her reading it to me on skype, is that there are no details regarding the visit, what services or procedures incurred the debt, or even who the doctor(s) was/were that i saw. the letter said i had 30 days to write back to dispute it, otherwise they would assume i acknowledge a debt was owed and they would pursue it.

well, this afternoon, while i was sitting in the sun enjoying a post-lunch break with some reading, i received another call. again, the man on the phone was insistent that i needed to resolve the issue today. i told him, firmly, that i would not be doing ANYTHING today, i would not admit debt, would not resolve to pay them, would not speak to them further, until i obtained written documentation from them and the hospital with more details about the supposed outstanding bills and until they could tell me specifically where the charges were coming from. they couldn't even tell me what date the visit(s) occurred. the man on the phone said he wasn't a doctor and could not provide that information. i asked to speak to his manager, was put on hold for 10 minutes, and then i hung up because i thought it was ridiculous. they called me back another ten minutes later, but left no messages when i didn't answer.

this angers me so much because what the man on the phone is telling me is that the hospital i saw in LA "sold" my and others' medical files and bills to the collection agency he represents. isn't this a violation of HIPAA and patient confidentiality acts? if some third party company does in fact have access to my information (such as address, phone number) and was sold that information, i am pretty sure i have firm grounds to sue. 

well, i looked up their number online and found that others had received similar (unwarranted) phone calls and had filed complaints, indicating some suspicious, scammy behavior. i also called my insurance and workers comp representatives right away, and received notice from them that what this company is doing is ILLEGAL. according to my workers comp agent, discussions of debt or bills directly with patients (at least as it pertains to workers comp cases) is illegal, they should always go directly to insurance first. also, i should have received fair warning of this, even if i did not pay something, rather than hearing about it suddenly two years later.

my biggest problem with this is the predatory nature in which these kinds of calls are being placed. without having to do more than mention "debt" "collection" "credit report" in one sentence, they made my parents draw their own conclusions with a lack of evidence or data and had them fearing for their financial security. they immediately feared for their ruined credit scores, having all their assets seized, legal troubles that could easily be disappeared with a quick $400 payoff. this is the scary nature of scams these days: scammers can easily get you to leap to conclusions and be under their thumb, because the economy is so scary right now, everyone's trying to stay out of debt, and everyday people feel powerless and ill-prepared to challenge even the most dubious of financial crises or disputes. my parents thoughts immediately turned to "it will be easier to pay this now while it's still early than to try to delay it and incur litigation fees or penalties." but where's the proof? also, resolving a financial dispute over the phone immediately seems very strange to me.

furthermore, scams of this nature erode our sense of security and foster paranoia - how can we distinguish between a real scam and a legitimate call from my credit card or hospital? how will i know when i actually owe money and when i'm being taken for a ride? (answer: always keep really detailed and careful records of all your medical-related bills and large purchases, always make sure you pay on time - and keep records of debt repayment - and keep a rolodex of people at each agency or organization you use services from and their customer service lines. NEVER take anyone's word for it that you owe money and didn't know about it).

if you are similarly the victim of dubious medical bill-related calls, here is what you should do: tell them they should contact your insurance (but DO NOT provide any insurance phone numbers or plan data) and if they contact you further tell them their actions are illegal and you will report them to an accountability agency. then see if you can have their numbers blocked from your phone.

the point of this post is: in today's increasingly confusing and difficult to navigate digital world, information and misinformation are equally abundant and equally dangerous. scammers know that a lot of people are paranoid right now about issues related to money, and many don't know how to differentiate between legitimate companies and scams (for example: my dad opened a spam email from "Amazon" telling him my brother had purchased a $500 laptop computer, and then forwarded it to my whole family asking who bought the computer, before i told him to delete it immediately and not click any of the links because it was spam. you don't see a lot of "Nigerian prince" emails any more, all the spam is masked as notifications from companies you actually use - Viagara and Rolex being perhaps exceptions to the rule).