MonthNovember 2012

Medical Tourism In Juarez, The Murder Capital Of the World

Josh Ellis, aka Red State Soundsystem, went to the so-called murder capital of the world, Juarez, Mexico, to get his teeth fixed and lived to tell about it:

The dentist is a taciturn son of a bitch who doesn’t speak much English and he has a device in his hand that looks, in my peripheral vision, like a steel bar with a sharp screw on one side and a thumb dial on the other. He’s going to screw this thing into my ruined back molar like a drywall anchor and rip the tooth out of my skull.

He jabs in another long, sharp needle full of anesthetic. After two and a half hours in the chair — during which time an oral surgeon has removed my upper wisdom teeth by sawing them into pieces and pulling them out through my gum — my face is pretty much numb from my cheekbones to my Adam’s apple. But I still feel the jab, which worries me.

It worries me a lot more, a second later, when he puts his little drywall anchor to the top of my tooth and begins screwing it in. My head is filled with white-hot agony. I yelp and he pulls back. “What?” he says in English. “Pain?”

“Fuck! Yes, there’s pain, Jesus fucking Christ, goddamnit,” I snarl.

So he hits me with the needle again and tries the screw: it still hurts as bad as before, and I scream again. But after those two and a half hours, I just want this over with. “Fuck it, man,” I mutter through lips that feel like they’re constructed of inner-tubes. “Let’s do this thing.”

Of course, what neither of us knows yet is that the dentist is pushing the needle straight into an infected part of my gum, and the infection is immediately soaking up the anesthetic. He might as well be injecting me with sugar water.

Oblivious, he bores in. And that’s when I start screaming for real.

Full Story: Huffington Post: Getting My Uninsured Teeth Pulled In Mexico’s Most Notorious Border Town

The HuffPo article is an abridged version of a longer e-book he’s written. You can buy it the Amazon Kindle version or in a couple other formats.

See also: see my interview with him My interview with Josh about his music.

Higgs Boson Discovery May Not Be So Exciting After All

From the Guardian a couple weeks ago:

Scientists working at the Large Hadron Collider have found no evidence that the new particle discovered earlier this year is anything but the simplest – and most boring – variety of Higgs boson.

Staff at Cern, the particle physics lab near Geneva, celebrated in July after they found what looked like the elusive boson amid the debris of scores of high-energy collisions inside the huge machine.

At the time, preliminary results from the two main experiments, Atlas and CMS, hinted that the particle might be something more exciting than the singular beast originally described in equations nearly 50 years ago. A more exotic Higgs could pave the way to a profound new understanding of nature.

But fresh data released by both teams at a conference in Kyoto today show that – so far at least – there is nothing peculiar about the particle’s behaviour. The results do not completely rule out a more exotic Higgs particle, though. Some versions would look so much like the so-called Standard Model Higgs boson they could take years to identify.

Full Story: The Guardian: Higgs particle looks like a bog Standard Model boson, say scientists

Previously: New Particle Resembling Long-Sought Higgs Boson Uncovered at Large Hadron Collider

Buddhism and Post-Structuralism

Christopher Vitale has been writing essays comparing Buddhism and, for want of a better term, post-structuralism. I don’t feel like I know enough about either subject to know how well he does.

Here’s a bit from the first in the series:

Meditation, then, is practice in separation from narratives and images which we have felt determine some aspect of who or what aspects of ourselves and/or our world are. As each thing comes by in our mind, we separate from it. I’m thinking that thought, but I am not that, it doesn’t bind me, I’m free from it, I can separate from it. I feel that emotion, and yet, it doesn’t control me, it is a part of me, I acknowledge it, I see it as caused by its contexts, but I am free to choose to dive into it and explore it, or let it fade, because I’m not that. I’m rather, a principle of infinite negativity, to use a Hegelian term, a site of infinite creativity. I am only limited by my relation to my contexts, and I can alter this through action, by making the world a better place, a freer place.

And this desire to free the world doesn’t mean doing what we think is best for it, to control it. Rather, it means to try to help the world free itself from its own chains, its own illusion of the necessity of the narratives and images, the essences, which imprison it. It is to want the world to self-actualize, on its own terms. A good therapist wants this both for themselves and their clients. This is what a Buddhist means by compassion.

Full Story: Networkologies: Wrestling with the World in Virtual Reality: A Deleuzian, Anti-Essentialist, Relational Reading of Classical Buddhism as the Radical Practice of Freedom and Desire

See also: Defending Post-Modern Theory (As Always) by Adam Rothstein.

American Conservative: Raise The Minimum Wage

The American Conservative, a magazine founded by Pat Buchanan, is running a report calling for an increase of the minimum wage to $10-$12 an hour, nation wide. The report wasn’t written by the magazine’s own staffers, it’s a report from written and originally published by a think tank called The New America Foundation, which I’ve generally associated more with progressive causes than conservatism.

Full Story: The American Conservative: Raising American Wages…by Raising American Wages

I won’t go into the paper itself here, though I worry that small businesses might not be able to absorb that sort of brunt increase in wages, and I’m hardly a fiscal conservative. What’s interesting to me is this particle edge of the right that seems to be coming around to much of what the left has been saying for some time now (it reminds me of seeing liberals end up as conservatives during the Clinton years and following 9/11).

American Conservative has published a few other pieces that veer into this territory over the past few years, including an article saying that Hispanics don’t commit more crimes than whites, one on the revolt of the rich and the co-architect of Reagonomics Bruce Bartlett’s article disavowing Reagonomics, saying that Paul Krugman was right and that the Republican Party has lost touch with reality.

Previously:

New York City Fast Food Workers Go On Strike, Demand $15 An Hour

Who Makes More: A McDonalds Manager Or a Skilled Machinist?

New York City Fast Food Workers Go On Strike, Demand $15 An Hour

Salon reports on a worker walk-out at McDonalds and chains such as Burger King, Domino’s, KFC, Taco Bell, Wendy’s and Papa John’s in New York City. The workers, organized by New York Communities for Change, are demanding a raise to $15 an hour. Strikes are also being organized in Chicago, organized by Workers Organizing Committee of Chicago. This follows Black Friday strikes at Wal-Marts across the nation.

The article reports the huge challenges that these workers face in bring about change in their working conditions, but notes some interesting trends happening here:

The New York and Chicago campaigns evoke two strategies that have been long debated but infrequently attempted in U.S. labor. First, “minority unionism”: mobilizing workers to take dramatic actions and make demands on management prior to showing support from the majority of employees. Second, “geographic organizing”: collaboration between multiple unions to organize workers at several employers and win public support for raising a region’s standards through unionization. This campaign is also the latest example in which community-based organizing groups, which unions have long leaned on to drum up support for workers, are playing a major role in directly organizing workers to win union recognition.

Full Story: Salon: In rare strike, NYC fast-food workers walk out

Long Interview With Douglas Rushkoff On Present Shock

Douglas Rushkoff talks about Present Shock, quantification and more. Here’s a quote a I liked:

“Quantifying the entirety of reality isn’t as much of a problem as accepting that data set as reality. What happens is we lose awareness of access to all the nooks and crannies that haven’t been quantified.”

The Conversation: Douglas Rushkoff

Who Makes More: A McDonalds Manager Or a Skilled Machinist?

Adam Davidson writes for the New York Times:

Throughout the campaign, President Obama lamented the so-called skills gap and referenced a study claiming that nearly 80 percent of manufacturers have jobs they can’t fill. Mitt Romney made similar claims. The National Association of Manufacturers estimates that there are roughly 600,000 jobs available for whoever has the right set of advanced skills.

Eric Isbister, the C.E.O. of GenMet, a metal-fabricating manufacturer outside Milwaukee, told me that he would hire as many skilled workers as show up at his door. Last year, he received 1,051 applications and found only 25 people who were qualified. He hired all of them, but soon had to fire 15. Part of Isbister’s pickiness, he says, comes from an avoidance of workers with experience in a “union-type job.” Isbister, after all, doesn’t abide by strict work rules and $30-an-hour salaries. At GenMet, the starting pay is $10 an hour. Those with an associate degree can make $15, which can rise to $18 an hour after several years of good performance. From what I understand, a new shift manager at a nearby McDonald’s can earn around $14 an hour.

The secret behind this skills gap is that it’s not a skills gap at all. I spoke to several other factory managers who also confessed that they had a hard time recruiting in-demand workers for $10-an-hour jobs. “It’s hard not to break out laughing,” says Mark Price, a labor economist at the Keystone Research Center, referring to manufacturers complaining about the shortage of skilled workers. “If there’s a skill shortage, there has to be rises in wages,” he says. “It’s basic economics.” After all, according to supply and demand, a shortage of workers with valuable skills should push wages up. Yet according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of skilled jobs has fallen and so have their wages.

Full Story: New York Times: Skills Don’t Pay the Bills

Good comment from someone on Hacker News:

I think it is important to note that the fast-food jobs with comparable pay are low level managerial positions, not entry level ones. You can start working for minimum wage at a fast-food job without any previous experience and/or skills. These jobs require very little training, and allow employees to add value almost immediately (and well before promotion to the $15-$20 an hour positions).

Contrast this to the skilled manufacturing jobs which require up front experience. Though many blue collar fields offer entry-level positions with on the job training, apprenticeships, and opportunity for advancement, this doesn’t appear to be common practice in manufacturing. Why not? I think the main reason is that it is very hard for a low skill worker to add value to a manufacturing company. There aren’t any comparable entry-level positions that allow the employee to learn while still being productive.

Because of this, hiring an unskilled employee for the purpose of training them is a huge risk, since it requires a significant investment. And since this industry is already very unstable with razor-thin margins, it’s not something many employers seem willing to do, which is unfortunate.

So maybe the solution is coming up with better training programs, so that manufacturers can hire new employees without taking on such large risks?

Other commenters discuss the paths from low-skilled labor to high skilled careers within a company that have been followed in the past. Are those days truly gone?

Previously: Even (Relatively) Low-Skilled Jobs Are Going Unfilled

New Peter “Sleazy” Christopherson Track In Honor Of The 2nd Anniversary Of His Death

Boing Boing has released a preview of the forthcoming two album release by ex-Throbbing Gristle members Chris Carter, Peter ‘Sleazy’ Christopherson and Cosey Fanni Tutti (aka XTG) in honor the 2nd anniversary of Christopherson’s death. Desertshore/The Final Report will be released tomorrow on Industrial Records.

You can listen to the track on Boing Boing.

On Misogyny in Industrial Music

And speaking of deflecting criticism through irony, Nadya Lev has written a long, thoughtful piece on misogyny in industrial music:

The “cinematic reference” argument seems to be a common tactic in deflecting criticism. Thomas Rainer has used the filmic term “sexploitation” to describe Nachtmahr, and Throat Full of Glass music video director, Chad Michael Ward, wrote to Coilhouse stating that “the video, conceived by both the band and myself, is a send-up of 1970s grindhouse/exploitation films, where men were thugs and women were whores; in other words caricatures, not entirely unlike the noir films of the 1930s that I also love dearly.” In reality, the “it’s an homage to grindhouse” defense is so common that it’s becoming a cliche. Here’s the thing: when Tarantino revived the grindhouse genre, it was with clever, self-aware, satirical, intelligent scripts that actually told new stories that were relevant to our time. The Bride is one of the most celebrated bad-ass film icons out there. Similarly, today’s burlesque movement revives the noir glamour of the 30s with a DIY, feminist sensibility. Contrasted to that, what collective story does the combination of these industrial music videos tell?

Full Story: On Misogyny in Industrial Music

Here’s the comment I left:

“If satire isn’t interpreted as satire, but as a sincere expression of belief, doesn’t mean that the artist has to condescend to explain it and hold the listener’s hand.”

The question of the artist’s responsibility for people not getting a piece of work is a sticky one. People completely missing the point of satire has been a thing for a long, long time. The movie Joe [1] comes to mind, but it was hardly the first.

Similarly, to what degree can an artist be criticized for utterly failing at satire? If Combachrist has been at this for as long as he has, and no one gets the joke, is that a failure as an artist on his part? (joblowcritic’s point about Laichach is particularly relevant here).

There has been a rash of movies over the past few years that claim to be satire or criticism of media violence, violence against women, etc. but simply devolve into being an embodiment of what they intended to satirize — to such a degree that it’s questionable whether the film makers ever really intended to do satire or whether that was all just a cover (Sucker Punch for example).

Combachrist and Nachtmahr have fallen into the same realm. Is this stuff *really* earnest parody, or cover for the opportunity to do whatever they want without criticism? Did it start out as parody, but at some point start feeling a bit too comfortable?

One big difference between these guys and Laibach is that, to the best of my knowledge, Laibach never used their aesthetics of fascism schtick as an excuse to, say, make a video about torturing Jews or beating women or whatever. That’s the problem I have with films like Sucker Punch, Crank and that whole family of neo-grindhouse films as well. There just isn’t a big enough difference between the real thing and the satire.

[1] http://www.inthesetimes.com/article/3013/

A Brief History of Geotrauma or: The Invention of Negarestani

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