Did Mike Daisey Lie?

Les Nessman and Johnny Fever in the studio
Ira Glass posing with Johnny Fever.

No.  I don’t believe he did.

Did Blood Diamond lie? Does that fact that it’s fiction make it any less true?

Daisey’s theatrical performances are precisely that, but that doesn’t make the issues he raises any less valid.  He’s a performance artist, not a journalist.  Remember when Bailey got in trouble on that episode of WKRP In Cincinnati for reading that story about the butterfly on-air?  Les Nessman was all beside himself because the story wasn’t true.  But it wasn’t a story, was it? It was a poem.  And poems can be true without being true.  Stories can be true even if they’re not.

If Daisey presented everything in his production as factual down to the last detail, I’d probably take a different position on this.  But he is an artist, and artists need to be able to render the truth via facsimile and proximity.  And that’s for the sake of the truth and all with ears to hear it.   There may never have been a Prodigal Son, but that story’s still true, isn’t it?

The New York Times Exposes Apple, Foxconn, and the 2 Percent

Tim Cook, Apple COO, in january 2009, after Ma...
Tim, you can fix this in an instant. Stop subsidizing the human cost of your devices.

In this case, the 2 percent refers to this:

Fortunately for the bottom line, the touch-screen hungry public doesn’t seem to mind: “In a national survey conducted by The New York Times in November, 56 percent of respondents said they couldn’t think of anything negative about Apple. Fourteen percent said the worst thing about the company was that its products were too expensive. Just 2 percent mentioned overseas labor practices.”

So, 2 percent of people responding to that November survey had the dangerous conditions in the Apple production line on their radar.  Hopefully, that’s starting to change. Unfortunately, conditions on the ground in China aren’t.  Read the NYT‘s huge, detailed portrait of these conditions, published yesterday, here.  Thanks to New York Magazine for the heads up.  Thanks to Mike Daisey for putting this on America’s moral agenda.  We’ve been talking about it here for over a year.  When I wrote an open letter to Apple CEO Tim Cook on The Huffington Post after Steve Jobs’ passing, I didn’t know that one of Cook’s former gigs at Apple was “guy in charge of finding the cheapest production lines possible” and “guy who found Foxconn.”  Still, Tim, the challenge stands.  Change Apple’s ethics abroad, and create your own Apple legacy now.

Tim Cook’s Apple Legacy Can Be Written Now

Steve Jobs at the WWDC 07
Image via Wikipedia

Like many of you, I was very, very upset when I learned of Steve Jobs’ passing.   He was a technological and commercial visionary in an era that lacked many great leaders.  In lieu of trusted political, religious, and economic pioneers, Jobs became something of our proxy president, a stand-in prime minister always pointing to the future not only of his industry, but of what his industry enabled: radical departures and improvements in the ways we form, execute and share ideas, art, and change.  In some ways, his work has always been about some of the most human parts of humanness; his devices wouldn’t have made a difference if we haven’t always craved better ways to make and tell our stories.  Imagine a Jobs at NASA, at EPA, at the UN.  Imagine a Jobs in Congress.  Imagine the broadening that leaders  like Jobs might bring to our political stories, to our narratives of justice, war, and peace.  This is why the news of his death found me having to sit down and say “godd-mn.”

For all of the accolades, we were reminded in the hours following Jobs’ passing that so many of the devices he invented and brought to market have been and are still being produced by companies like FoxConn in places like Shenzhen, China, in conditions that most of us should find deplorable.   In the Venn diagram of activism and portable devices, almost all of us land in a damning place of overlap: churches, social justice agencies, occupiers of Wall Street…whether we’re Macs or PCs, iOses or Androids, we’re all part of the human rights crisis Mike Daisey brings to light in the link above.  Bill Gates is part of it.  Larry Page is part of it.  Steve Jobs was and Apple is a part of it.  Tim Cook, Apple’s new CEO, is part of it.

Tim, in the weeks and months to come, more will be written about Steve Jobs and his Apple legacy than about the war in Burma, the plight of the American homeless or the injustices endured by workers in the very factories where your amazing products are produced.  It’s not too early to begin thinking about your own Apple legacy.  End the relationship with FoxConn until conditions there are safe and just.  Make Apple a B-Corp.  Stun the world.  Again.

Dear Music Industry: I Can Draw Diagonal Lines, Too

Okay, so the music industry is suing LimeWire. Sue away, Lars Ulrich, sue away. You should, I guess.  But you have to admit that this image, supposedly showing how much dough the biz has lost since the creation of Napster, is pretty convenient:

Isn’t it amazing that projected sales based on historic growth show none of the, er, historical plateauing you expect from any healthy graph and in fact see as having occurred here many times pre-Napsters and then NEVER AGAIN IF NAPSTER HADN’T HAPPENED.

Please.

Guess what, MusicTown?  Even if Generation Y hadn’t happened, and even if the youngest members of Generation X kept buying music instead of (okay) stealing it in college, the economic still would have gone in the crapper at least twice since then.  You’re not really saying that incing Napster early would have stopped the dotcom bubble burst or the downturn after 9/11 or the mortgage crisis, are you?

And remember how you abandoned all the Baby Boomers once you got your hands on their kids’ allowance?  Remember how you stopped producing Adult Contemporary, remember how you colluded with radio stations and sales tracking companies?  Remember how you gave us post-grunge? You’re saying that would not have happened?  Are you saying MTV and Vh1 would have kept showing your ready-made commercials instead of banking easy cash from reality shows and nostalgia trips (which ironically tended to feature the very artists you’d stopped promoting)?  For real?

Music Industry, you can do so much better than this.  Throw in some downward trends to make this graph realistic. I’m disappointed in you, frankly.

Napster or no Napster, there’s no way I buy seven albums this year, friends.  Radio is free, dynamic, and serendipitous.  I do iTunes, but almost only when I have gift cards. Last album I bought?  Neil Young Live at Massey Hall (digital download).  Before that?  No Line on the Horizon, physical copy.  Both were excellent choices and lived up to the album mystique.  But I knew that beforehand. Buying albums from new acts is, like, seriously committing.  I don’t know.  Though now that I think of it, I did buy a Taize album for someone for Christmas, and that was a good call.

Sales graph shenanigans aside, what do you think?  Are albums (even digital ones) obsolete?  Has Steve Jobs (not Napster) really killed the music business like His Royal Joveness says?

Why Pay Even This Much?: Murdoch and Jobs Set to Launch “The Daily”

Like you don't go here every single time.

You might know that News Corp. is set to launch “The Daily”, its much-anticipated (because everyone says so) daily iPad newspaper project next week.  According to Cutline, Steve Jobs will be joining Rupert Murdoch for the big event.

As Courtney Boyd Meyers notes at The Next Web: “‘The Daily’ is expected to cost .99 per issue and will implement a new ‘push’ subscription feature from iTunes that automatically bills customers on a weekly or monthly basis, with a new edition delivered to your iPad each morning.”

I have one very basic question.  Are you willing to pay .99 a day for content you can get elsewhere for free?  Sure, “The Daily”‘s content is exclusive according to a passing definition, but this only matters if you believe that people will pay to read “Daily” writers instead of their analogs on free news sites and marquee free niche and general interest blogs. While it’s true that the who and how of written content have been reasons for preferring one print publication over another, the same rules don’t apply when deciding what might compel you to buy a print magazine or paper instead of finding comparable web treatments of the same issues, trends, and interests .  If online (largely free) content is killing print, why should people pay for “The Daily”?  I won’t discount the pull of novelty and the excitement people muster about having the latest new thing, even if that thing is ephemeral (not to mention ethereal).  And I haven’t forgotten how the experts said “no one will pay .99 for a song” and how all of those experts were wrong.  I also haven’t forgotten that no one I personally knew was saying that, that most people wanted a cheap, easy, legal way to get songs online. There was a need, and Steve Jobs filled it.

I don’t know anyone who feels badly about reading free online content instead of plunking down subscription fees or cover prices for print.  It’s been said so much, but the rising (really, already risen) culture of consumers expects this kind of content to be widely available and largely free.  $30 a month for a newspaper, even a really cool, Steve Jobs-enabled one, doesn’t feel like a solution to anything.  It’s neat that creative people built the device and creative people of a whole different skill-set are using it for what will be, I’m sure, an intuitive and even beautiful publication.  But unless the endgame is the movement of all relevant content everywhere behind a handful of corporate pay walls…well, actually, that doesn’t even matter because it can’t ever happen as long as the net is neutral.  Crap.  I told you penmanship was the engine of democracy.

In any case, in 2011, most people have a daily newspaper they can read across all of their devices, and it even includes super-localized updates about the people they care most about. It can be custom-tailored, with very little effort, to their specific interests.  It’s free. It’s huge. It’s Facebook.