iPods, China, WoW, Suicide, and Explosions

There’s a good chance you own a Foxconn product. They make stuff for Apple, HP, Dell, Nintendo, Microsoft, Intel Cisco, and other hi-tech giants. If you’ve never heard of them, don’t feel bad.

But listen up.

In 2010 there was a rash of suicides at Foxconn plants in China. Workers were jumping off factory and dormitory roofs. An article in Wired from 2010 describes leisurely hour-long lunches and concludes that “those unskilled laborers who get jobs at Foxconn are the luckiest”. But a 2006 study by the Daily Mail paints a very different picture of work conditions at Foxconn.

‘We have to work too hard and I am always tired. It’s like being in the army. They make us stand still for hours. If we move we are punished by being made to stand still for longer. […] We have to work overtime if we are told to and can only go back to the dormitories when our boss gives us permission,’ says Zang Lan. ‘If they ask for overtime we must do it. After working 15 hours until 11.30pm, we feel so tired.’

The Hong Kong advocacy group Students and Scholars Against Corporate Misbehavior (SACOM) has been following the situation at Foxconn factories for a while. When the suicides got big press attention, Apple said it would demand changes and make sure that Foxconn changed, as they promised to do. But according to SACOM, Apple and Foxconn have failed to keep their promises.

Apparently the only thing Foxconn did was put up nets, so that workers physically could not jump off the buildings.

And then there was the explosion at a Foxconn factory in Chengdu last week. When I first saw the headlines about this incident, I was amazed by how worried everyone was that iPad production might be slowed. “What will it mean for Apple stock?” one news report asked. “Will there be enough iPads for Christmas?” asked another.

It wasn’t until I dug to the bottom of the second article that I learned that three workers had died. How twisted is that? The news doesn’t even want to talk about the dead workers until after we soothe the fears of stock traders and consumption trend-watchers.

Then I found the Make IT Fair campaign, of which SACOM is a member organization, and it said that the explosion was the result of gross negligence on the part of Foxconn.

In March and April, SACOM conducted investigations at Foxconn’s plants in Chengdu. The work safety in both northern and southern campuses is alarming.

During my research, I learned about a 2008 law in China that made some tiny little changes to make workers’ lives better in that country. Guess who lobbied against it? Wal-Mart and other corporations, including Google, UPS, Microsoft, Nike, AT&T, and Intel, through the American Chamber of Commerce in Shanghai.

China’s proposed legislation will not eliminate its labor problems. The law will not provide Chinese workers with the right to independent trade unions with leaders of their own choosing and the right to strike. But foreign corporations are attacking the legislation not because it provides workers too little protection but because it provides them too much.

But wait, there’s more! Today I came across this fun article, about prisoners in China. It features an interview with Liu Dali, who served over two years in a Chinese work camp for “‘illegally petitioning’ federal authorities about corruption in his local government”. So after spending a full day digging trenches and carving chopsticks, how did the guards help him relax?

They made him farm gold.

The scheme, a practice referred to among gamers as “gold farming,” required some 300 prisoners at the Jixi labor camp to gather currency (usually by repeating monotonous tasks) in multiplayer games such as World of Warcraft, which the guards then hawked online for cash.

I’ve always viewed the concept of gold-farming as repugnant, but I read a defense of it somewhere recently. (“I have a busy work life. I want the best sword but I don’t have time to quest for it. It’s better than lots of other jobs in China!”) Just remember this, if you decide to buy that +3 Plate Mail on WoW: It may be lacquered with the blood of a Chinese political prisoner.


Annie Leonard is my favorite internet person right now. Her Story of Stuff series is excellent and entertaining. Apropos of the above, here’s The Story of Electronics.

Today I’m listening to: Brother Ali!

This is Wisconsin

Two quick pics right after I took Tito for a walk. Lovely green plants dealing with a bit of April snow.

That is all. Also: Portal 2 is really fun so far.

It’s Pronounced “Nucular”

Many thanks to DemocracyNow! for bringing on Ralph Nader to explain — loudly but succinctly — why nuclear power is so dumb.

Why are we playing Russian roulette with the American people for nuclear plants whose principal objective is simply to boil water and produce steam? This is technological insanity. It presents national security problems, for every nuclear plant is a prime target. It affects our civil liberties. It endangers our workers. It is an industry that cannot be financed by Wall Street because it’s too risky. Wall Street demands 100 percent taxpayer guarantees for any nuclear plant.

Business > Labor (Contributions)

Yesterday the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign released a report which shows that in the most recent election cycle, big business spent $12 for every $1 spent by unions.

So much for the ability of labor to buy elected officials who will do their bidding!

Here They Come

Also: Did you hear about the new Red Dawn remake? They filmed it with Chinese invaders, but now they’re digitally changing the flags and insignias to be North Korean. (I guess the actors will all be the same, since of course Chinese people look identical to North Korean people.)

And why? Because this way the movie will do better in China.

Our anti-communist fears are being moderated in anti-communist propaganda so as to sell better in communist markets. I’m not insane!


Mario, as first-person shooter. Freddie Wong is a freaking genius.

Today I’m listening to: Dead Prez! (Apparently their new album is donate-ware.)

Adam and Afghanistan

Some of you have played the superb video game BioShock, about the libertarian fundamentalist guy who builds a city called Rapture under the sea. (The people there use a substance called Adam to enhance their physical abilities, and everything spirals out of control. The device at right is a replica made by a fan of the game, via Kotaku.)

Crazy idea, right? But wait — the guy who founded PayPal, Peter Thiel, thinks this is a really good idea! In a piece he wrote for Cato Unbound (because, you know, the Cato Institute is usually so restrained), he describes the three places we need to go in order to become truly free as money-lusting capitalists.

Because there are no truly free places left in our world, I suspect that the mode for escape must involve some sort of new and hitherto untried process that leads us to some undiscovered country[…].

Number one is cyberspace. Okay, fine. I guess. He started PayPal and it’s a pretty handy thing. I don’t understand how people can escape into cyberspace to evade the “unthinking demos” that are ruining the world, but whatever.

Number two is outer space. I swear to Jebus I’m not making this up. “We must redouble the efforts to commercialize space”, he advises. Can you imagine? Big satellites advertising McDonalds when you look up at the night sky. Sandals: The Moon. Woooo!

Number three is what he calls “seasteading”. That’s right — let’s build ourselves a Rapture! Seriously, read it for yourself.

To my mind, the questions about whether people will live there (answer: enough will) are secondary to the questions about whether seasteading technology is imminent. From my vantage point, the technology involved is more tentative than the Internet, but much more realistic than space travel. We may have reached the stage at which it is economically feasible, or where it soon will be feasible. It is a realistic risk, and for this reason I eagerly support this initiative.

I mean, wow. It’s not enough that he was worth $1.2 billion in 2008 (and probably more today). He needs to get away from those darn taxes that would pay for poor kids to get health care! Fascism! Glenn Beck is right!

This is the sort of people we have in mind when some of us radicals support the idea of taxing the rich. They have the money, people! They just refuse to share it with the rest of us. And they’re willing to flee into outer space, or beneath the ocean, in order to keep all their toys to themselves.


Nicholas Kristof wrote an interesting piece in the New York Times recently about our occupation of Afghanistan. I encourage you to read the whole thing.

The conventional wisdom is that education and development are impossible in insecure parts of Afghanistan that the Taliban control. That view is wrong.

An organization set up by Mr. Mortenson and a number of others are showing that it is quite possible to run schools in Taliban-controlled areas. I visited some of Mr. Mortenson’s schools, literacy centers and vocational training centers, and they survive the Taliban not because of military protection (which they eschew) but because local people feel “ownership” rather than “occupation.”

As I mentioned once upon a time, the difference between “war” and “occupation” is important, and it’s one with which we need to wrestle if we’re going to find a way to get out of there anytime soon. (Which we totally should!)

UPDATE: 60 Minutes reported recently on Mortenson’s activities and some of the questions around how truthful his claims are. Sheds some unsettling light on the claims he and others have made.


If you’ve never seen the Powers of Ten video, have a look. Sciencey coolness from 1977.

Today I’m listening to: Dam Funk!

Evil Clowns And Their Hideous Games

Do not play Heavy Rain. That game is atrocious! I vomited for twenty minutes after finishing it in less than 24 hours. There are plot holes the size of lunar craters, controlling the people is very difficult, and some of the dialogue is completely ludicrous.

And look at this Satanic Creature! Come away, Jason. He’s clearly evil. (Oh, wait. Jason’s deaf. I forgot!) You’ll get that joke if you played the game. (For more of me ranting about this stupid game, listen to next week’s podcast.)

Take Off, Eh, Sarah

Okay, let’s talk about evil clowns. Thanks to my buddy Matt (who flatteringly called me “The Palintologist”), I learned that America’s favorite living joke Sarah Palin recently gave a talk in Canada, where she dropped this bombshell about her early days in Alaska:

We used to hustle over the border for health care we received in Canada. And I think now, isn’t that ironic?

Yeah! (giggle) It is ironic. Some would prefer to call it a pathetic example of blatant hypocrisy, but “ironic” works too.

I also love this excerpt from and about a starstruck fan:

Stephanie Hansen, 18, who wore a pin with Ms. Palin’s face, could barely contain her excitement. […] “I love it, I’m really glad that I came. It was really enlightening.

She admitted she didn’t know a lot about Ms. Palin’s politics, but she said she loves her nonetheless.

“I admire how she can have a family and still be able to work as much as she does and everything she does.”

I mean, wow. To quote a classic lyric from Audio Two: What more can I say?

Goats and Corrosion and Beasties, Oh My!

Thanks also to my brother Mark for linking us to Exiled in the Land of the Free, an album you can download gratis to raise awareness about Oglala Sioux political prisoner Leonard Peltier. It features The Goats (a truly excellent rap group that only put out two albums, the first of which — Tricks of the Shade — rivals any Public Enemy or Paris or Coup disc for Best Political Rap Album Ever) and Corrosion of Conformity and The Beastie Boys and Rage Against the Machine and Helmet and many other cool bands.


If you’d like to know Leonard P’s story, you can watch the documentary film Incident at Oglala (91 minutes) right here via Google Video:

Today I’m listening to: Audio Two!