"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

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).