This American Life

No Coincidence, No Story!

We were listening to NPR on the drive home from the train home from New York and got totally into an episode of This American Life: No Coincidence, No Story!.

The host was Sarah Koenig of Serial fame.

This American Life asked folks to send in their best coincidence stories and they picked great ones to put on the air. It’s a great show.

Had I known, I’d have submitted mine: It really is a small world.

NUMMI 2015

NUMMI 2015

This is a brilliant segment of This American Life in collaboration with Frank Langfitt and NPR news.

A car plant in Fremont California that might have saved the U.S. car industry. In 1984, General Motors and Toyota opened NUMMI as a joint venture. Toyota showed GM the secrets of its production system: How it made cars of much higher quality and much lower cost than GM achieved. Frank Langfitt explains why GM didn’t learn the lessons—until it was too late.

Wikipedia has a nice history of the NUMMI plant.

The NUMMI plant was bought by Tesla and their cars are now made there. Here’s a video of production of the Tesla Model S in the same plant.

The agony and the ecstasy of Mike Daisey

A while ago the outstanding NPR radio show This American Life ran an excerpt of Mike Daisey’s one man show The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs in which Daisey talks about a trip he made to China where he stood outside the Foxconn factory where Apple, Dell, and other companies have their devices assembled. In the show he talks about interviewing various workers (through an interpreter) about conditions in the plant. I heard the show in its entirety and while I took issue with a few of Daisey’s ideas, I thought it was an excellent theatrical performance.

As many reading this will know, Daisey wasn’t the first to note that conditions at Foxconn’s factories weren’t up to American standards, The New York Times and many other news sources have been reporting on this story for a while. Daisey jumped on a bandwagon that was already moving.

Rob Schmitz, a reporter for the radio show Marketplace, met with Daisey’s interpreter in China learned that Daisey made up various pieces of his experience at the Foxconn factory for the sake of his theatrical performance. Daisey now freely admits this.

Schmitz says:

“What makes this a little complicated is that the things Daisey lied about seeing are things that have actually happened in China: Workers making Apple products have been poisoned by Hexane. Apple’s own audits show the company has caught underage workers at a handful of its suppliers. These things are rare, but together, they form an easy-to-understand narrative about Apple.”

This American Life has now retracted the story that Mike Daisey took part in and NPR has a post on it.

What I took issue with and continue to take issue with is this:

Apple outsources assembly of their products to a Chinese (Taiwanese) company, Foxconn. Apple is one of many electronics companies that do this. What bothered me about Daisy’s monologue was the fact that he seemed to attempt to mislead listeners into thinking that the assembly plants are Apple’s factories. They are not. Daisey is not alone in this: much reporting on this story has left out the fact that Foxconn is not owned by Apple, they are one of many Apple suppliers. Ira Glass makes this honest but misleading mistake in introducing the Retraction story linked to above.

Of course, Apple does enough business with Foxconn so that it can exert some pressure on the supplier to improve working conditions and in fact, Apple has done and is continuing to do this. I think Tim Cook has done an excellent job of doing the right thing in light of these real labor issues in China. But China is a developing country and in my opinion there’s a limit on holding them to American labor standards that have taken us two hundred years to evolve.

Since this has hit the internet, Daisey is being raked over the coals by almost everyone and will no doubt be virtually lynched by tomorrow. However, as you can read in the quote above, many of the things he said about Foxconn’s treatment of it’s workers were correct. The thing that was incorrect is that he heard workers say it. He built a compelling theatrical monologue out of an amalgam of information, remixed into a form that would leverage its impact.

Had Mike Daisey constructed a monologue called The Agony and the Ecstasy of Dick Cheney and made up interviews based on credible reporting by Frontline of how the Iraq war started, my guess is there would be a bit less (if any) backlash.

This American Life: Crybabies

This American Life: Crybabies

This entire show is great but act three is particularly fascinating: The Squeaky Wheelchair Gets the Grease.

In California, a kind of crybaby cottage industry has popped up around, of all things, the Americans with Disabilities Act—the federal law that requires all public places to meet a minimum level of accessibility. Some people make a living by suing business owners for not being up to code.

Listen to the show later today when it gets posted or through their podcast in iTunes: This American Life.

This American Life: The Giant Pool of Money

The NPR radio show This American life had a special episode on the mortgage and credit crisis that I just listened to while mowing the lawn: The Giant Pool of Money.

Wow, that a great show and it told the entire story of how these sub-prime mortagates got invented and how people up and down the investment chain exploited them. In the end, everyone lost.

You’ll be able to find a free download of it in the iTunes Music Store starting on Monday, May 12th and continuing for the next week.

This is a fascinating show and it reminded me of two movies: Wall Street, and, Boiler Room except it is entirely true.