the facts from your worldview

no iPads in the Shanghai tea house

This one is going to be hard to tell without you actually going to some of the links I provide. I normally try to make my blog easy to follow without you having to go anywhere else. While telling you a story, and I try to tell you where I came up with the genesis of the idea – how I got to my way of thinking about it – but I still want you to be able to get the main idea without it being necessary to click on any of those sources.

In this case, you’ll get much more out of this if you listen to the source material.

A few months ago I heard a story on This American Life, a show which I’ve mentioned here before, and I was transfixed while listening to it. Maybe you’ve been so busy with other things and haven’t heard about Mike Daisey‘s monologue The Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs, in which he talks about the working conditions in Chinese factories where Apple products are assembled. You should hear the original program here, but I couldn’t embed that into the blogpost, so I’ve found footage of him stating his main points elsewhere and want you to see for yourself what he says:

It’s intriguing what he’s saying, isn’t it? Although I hear some people grousing about Apple’s success, for the most part I hear only what a great company it is and how happy their customers are. Truly happy. It’s a success story unlike the world has ever seen. Right?

But isn’t there even a little part of you that hears Mike Daisey state his case, and thinks to yourself, ‘I knew something wasn’t right. No company could be that successful and not have unfair practices.

If you didn’t actually click on the This American Life link, I’d highly recommend it. It’s compelling radio and what I want to say really relies on the emotions that one potentially has when hearing of the plight of those Chinese factory workers. It’s not nice.

Ok, did you hear it? Was I right? That was emotionally exhausting, wasn’t it?

Well, I have some uncomfortable news for you. Mike Daisey made some of the stuff up. Not all of it, and the main thrust of his point might even have some merit. It seems like it must. Nevertheless, he hemmed and hawed when confronted with it, but the truth has slowly emerged that he played fast and loose with the facts.

This is actually the part I wanted to get to. I went into all that detail, so you could hear the folks at This American Life invite him back to give him an Oprah-and-James Frey dressing down. That’s a misrepresentation. The show’s host, Ira Glass, is actually very compassionate and candid with Mike Daisey, but you can tell he’s seething. There are more pregnant pauses than William Shatner at a Star Trek Convention.

The buildup to the second episode of This American Life was intense. I read about it all the way over here in the German press. It’s news when someone fabricates such a story…even if that’s not how Mike Daisey presents it. He still disputes that it was a fabrication. A difference of worldview as he calls it at one point.

I’ll leave my own pregnant pause at the very thought of that one.

*waits*

Here’s the retraction of the story. It’s admirable that the programme took such care in the way this was done. Like I say, I think you can hear the fury in Ira Glass‘s voice. It’s not as if he hides his frustration, but some people get very terse when they’re upset. Mr Glass seems to be just such a person.

And the already-mentioned lengthy and noticeable pauses. Those are excruciating.

update: I found a clip on Soundcloud that plays the most painful moments of the whole thing. Here it is:

http://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=http%3A%2F%2Fapi.soundcloud.com%2Ftracks%2F40345507&show_artwork=true

Mike Daisey dances around the truth…avoids it with all he has, parses a few sentences that would make a contract lawyer blush, and then leaves in disgrace only to make a later appointment, in which he makes a double-fisted attempt to go back and continue perpetuating his charade.

second update: a friend who read this pointed me to one of Mike Daisey‘s most recent performances of not just The Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs, but a bit of Daisey’s agony when it came to this scandal, as well. He goes into detail about his career up to this point and what exactly led up to his self-created ordeal. Here that is:

http://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=http%3A%2F%2Fapi.soundcloud.com%2Ftracks%2F40425132&show_artwork=true

Here’s the funny thing, though. His point is muddled and questionable. His method deserved to be mocked, and his ethics are not to be excused. However, he makes an important case.

That doesn’t seem right, does it? If he’s disgraced and sent packing back to his falsely-labelled stage show, how can he simultaneously be right? Those two things are mutually exclusive.  You can’t have both.

Really? You can’t? Why the hell not?

Before the retraction, when many people still thought this was a factually honourable story, I discussed this at length with several business people I know in my daily life. One in particular is the head of a production factory in a highly successful German company.

His response to the allegations in the original story was essentially, ‘Yes, so what? There is, in fact, modern slavery. Many places in the world have labour practices that’d make you cringe. Possibly even embarrass you to be a part of humanity.

Then he and I both turned back to our respective Apple products. Distracted by the shiny buttons and lulled into a false sense of superiority.

Contemplating the Continental Breakup

the idea of Europe

I’ve thought quite a bit about how I’d introduce this topic. It’s complicated and nearly impenetrable. Notice I didn’t say impossible. But many Europeans I talk to don’t know where to begin.

Or they’re so overwhelmed with the whole thing that they shy away from even trying to start. Many people simply don’t want to talk about it.

That’s why I was pleased to hear Ira Glass turn his NPR radio show This American Life over to the people at Planet Money, who would very succinctly and understandably explain the European debt crisis.

They ask the question that many people in the US and around the world have been asking themselves since this situation exploded: Do I really need to be concerned about this? Like the story itself, the answer is more complicated than you might think.

Here’s the podcast:

I know it’s nearly an hour, but the whole situation is explained rather well. Go back, click on the link, and let the story wash over you. It is quite impressively made.

The most telling part of the whole piece happens between 27:50 and 29:40. The guy working in the Greek Statistics Office says that the newly-elected government informed the citizenry, ‘The deficit is closer to 13% not 6% (what was stated by an earlier administration),’ The male journalist’s voice explains that the money had been lent to Greece, ‘…based upon very specific information, and suddenly that information turned out to be very, very wrong. And they wanted to know, “How did this happen?”.

Then the female journalist’s voice goes on:

‘And see, it’s a little hard to answer that question. The Greek politicians explained, “The last guys – they lied to you. It was never 6%. We are telling you the truth. The truth is 13%.” (my note: always be wary when anyone says outright, “We are telling you the truth.”)

But when you ask the people at the government’s statistics office – the very people who came up with the numbers – …they say things like this: “Everyone here in Greece said, ‘What number is this? It’s outrageous.'” Instead of the Greek Statistic Office saying, “We messed up. Here’s what went wrong. Here exactly is how we’re going to win back your trust and make sure it never happens again.” 

No. Instead, the workers just kinda shrugged their shoulders. The government worker says, “Nobody knows.” ‘

The female journalist challenges him abruptly, ‘But you guys work in the statistics office…you’re the first people who would know that, because you work here.’He answers, ‘The people here who worked about this matter said, “We did our job very correctly.”‘

That’s part of the story right there. The people who made the mistakes were human and neither want to point fingers at their colleagues nor admit that they actually did anything wrong.

But now here I am. How do I even begin talking about all of it? Well, what’s most interesting to me is the stereotypes and cultural pitfalls that’re inherent in the whole thing. When they were doing the planning to bring Greece into the Euro, no-one wanted to offend the newcomers. Everyone in the room probably knew that the figures (for Greece‘s application to join the Euro) didn’t add up, but everyone’s feelings had to be taken into account.

 

When I was talking to some of my German acquaintances about this, I started by saying something like, ‘The impression is that the vast majority of Greeks make a game of not having to pay their taxes.’

‘No! That’s not an impression-that’s a fact,’ the German said. ‘The fact is that both middle class and even higher class people there do everything to avoid paying taxes.’ Here’s the thing. Here’s the crux of the matter.

Can you imagine paying your taxes fastidiously and then finding out that you’re paying for an untenable situation in other countries? That even if you dump money into that situation, the other countries’ systems will continue to go on as they did before?

The conclusion at the end of the podcast seemed to be that Germany should try being more like other countries. Or be somehow grateful that it has to bail out the others. It’s sort of a weird conclusion, but I think the Germans might be more willing to accept such a plan if it appeared it would even work.

Just because I live here doesn’t mean that I’m going to argue the German perspective. When I don’t agree with a policy or the direction things are going, then I say something. But all the way through this crisis the conventional wisdom is that in the end the Germans are going to pay. The fact that they’ve dragged their heels or questioned whether paying would do any good whatsoever has been met with outrage. Which is also rather curious.

The other thing here is that it’s easy sitting outside of the situation to assume you know what the players should do. The Hatfields and McCoys look ridiculous unless you actually are either a Hatfield or a McCoy.

What’s difficult for someone outside of Germany to comprehend is the blowback that’d occur if the German government were to accept the demands of other European countries to continue to throw money at the problem without stipulations. Without somehow believing that they were somehow setting up a system that’d make sure this didn’t happen again.

Does anyone (except for those on the fringe of Europe) really believe the Common Currency is going to dissolve? It might be talked about theoretically, but the vast majority of people I talk to can’t even comprehend the failure of the grand experiment that is Europe.

And strangely enough…even with the crisis and the cultural differences and all the other problems that are thrown about in the papers and on the television political shows…even with all of that, I tend to agree with my friends who say ‘How could there not be a Europe?’

How indeed.