October 15, 2011
Retail Politics: Unions try a new strategy to squeeze potential developers from working with Wal-Mart
October 15, 2011
For all the complaints and protests about Wal-Mart’s plans to open a store within the five boroughs, the superstore could break ground tomorrow as long as it finds a site that is properly zoned—hardly a problem in retail-friendly New York.
That has not stopped anti-Wal-Mart union leaders from asking City Council Members to flex the shred of land use authority they do have, given the circumstances.
The Council may not be able to block Wal-Mart, but, the union officials say, they want members to commit to making future deals more difficult for developers who allow the Arkansas-based discount chain into the city.
“Related and Vornado do a lot of business in this city, and I’m not sure they want to be the ones to herald Wal-Mart in,” UFCW Local 1500 political director Pat Purcell said. “It’s not advisable to be the ambassador for a hostile party.”
Stuart Appelbaum, the president of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, said that he was particularly concerned by Related. The developer has said it is exploring opportunities with Wal-Mart, though Appelbaum insists that Council Member Charles Barron was promised that Wal-Mart would not be a tenant at the Gateway II mall—one possible site that the retail giant is exploring—when Barron’s East New York district was rezoned for the development in 2009.
With the many technicalities written into city land use law, council members could make life increasingly difficult for targeted developers. Those within the anti-Wal-Mart campaign say that they would ask more people to look at the example of Council Member Gale Brewer, who has often used the rules to stop or slow development she opposes from coming into her Upper West Side district. (A spokeswoman for Related declined comment.)
Queens Council Member Mark Weprin, head of the Zoning & Franchises Subcommittee, said that while he shares concerns about locating a Wal-Mart in New York City, the union strategy was too much for him. “That doesn’t seem appropriate to me,” Weprin said. “I’m not sure it would even be constitutional to restrain trade like that. Projects should be judged on the merits, not based on some bad action in the past.”
Steven Restivo, a Wal-Mart spokesman who has been leading the company’s public relations drive in the city, said that there are as many potential sites and developers in the five boroughs as there are selections in any of his company’s stores. “We are evaluating opportunities large and small, and are in conversations with developers, but also with brokers and landlords,” Restivo said.
While unions are playing an insider game with the Council, Wal-Mart’s strategy is to put pressure on Council members by going to their constituents. Pollster Doug Schoen has done polling in 10 Council districts, showing popular support for opening a store. Constituents are being targeted with direct mail and radio spots touting Wal-Mart’s low prices and the jobs the company could bring to these neighborhoods.
The union strategy is not the only inside game that matters for Council members. Christine Quinn has been a clear and vocal opponent of the chain’s entry to New York City. Even Council members facing intense pro-Wal-Mart pressure in their districts would likely steer clear of support, for fear of crossing the speaker. People involved in the pro-Wal-Mart effort acknowledge that overcoming this factor may prove the biggest challenge, and one tactic that is already being employed is pushing the idea that the locally-grown produce sold at the stores would fit perfectly with Quinn’s new food policy push. Another tactic is pressing the idea that the unions most likely to support her if she runs for mayor in 2013 are precisely the ones likely to come out in favor of a Wal-Mart.
For both the opposing unions and Quinn, the vilification of Wal-Mart represents something of a shift in policy from previous efforts by big-box stores in New York City. The unions were largely silent, for instance, when Target, Marshalls and Costco opened locations this summer at the new East River Plaza in Harlem. Quinn even cut the ribbon at the complex’s grand opening. Community groups that opposed the project now say it has ruined the character of the neighborhood, killing small businesses and increas-ing traffic….
From Confucius To Beethoven: China’s embrace of Western classical music is rooted in Confucian values
October 15, 2011
Classical music has taken off in China, which is producing more musical instruments, more music students, and, increasingly, more superstar players, such as Lang Lang, than any other nation. While Western musicians fearing for the art form’s future have welcomed this trend, the reasons behind it have remained unclear.
Why have so many Chinese embraced an art form that is, after all, the product of a foreign culture? A prominent Chinese-American pianist and scholar has proposed an intriguing answer: Confucius.
Hao Huang, an internationally renowned pianist and professor of music at Scripps College in Claremont, California, sees a sublime convergence between Western classical music and Confucian philosophy. He points out there are profound “trans-cultural affinities” between the musical tradition that produced Bach and Beethoven and “Confucian traditional values of artful self-cultivation and virtue.”
For young Chinese, he writes, studying classical music is a way of embodying those deep cultural values while simultaneously signaling one’s “modernity and individual creativity.”
Huang lays out his argument in an article just published in the International Journal of Music Education. In it, he points out that while the Chinese government’s attitude toward Western music has swung back and forth wildly over the decades, the underlying values spelled out by Confucius — who was himself a musician — have continued to guide popular attitudes and behaviors.
“Confucius’s vision of music’s role is that it serves to create a harmonious union between heaven and earth,” Huang writes. “Claims of music’s emotional and spiritual benefits, beyond mere entertainment value, constitute an affinity between Confucian musical aesthetics and Western classical music.”
“The Confucian concept of virtue, attained by creating a harmonious order through self-cultivation of discipline, deeply influences Asian musical aesthetics,” he adds. “Performing beautiful sounds on an instrument is believed to demonstrate personal virtue; developing artistic skill and sensibility is essential to becoming an ethical human being.”
Huang further argues that the traditional one-on-one teaching method used to train young singers and instrumentalists is quite consistent with Confucian philosophy.
“Participation in Western classical music requires memorization of details of model compositions through disciplined practice and intense concentration,” he notes. “This offers opportunities not only to master technique, but also to become imbued with the spirit of the music…
Many people think heavy drinking causes promiscuity, violence and anti-social behaviour. That’s not necessarily true, argues Kate Fox.
I am a social anthropologist, but what I do is not the traditional intrepid sort of anthropology where you go and study strange tribes in places with mud huts and monsoons and malaria.
I really don’t see why anthropologists feel they have to travel to unpronounceable corners of the world in order to study strange tribal cultures with bizarre beliefs and mysterious customs, when in fact the weirdest and most puzzling tribe of all is right here on our doorstep. I am of course talking about my own native culture – the British.
And if you want examples of bizarre beliefs and weird customs, you need look no further than our attitude to drinking and our drinking habits. Pick up any newspaper and you will read that we are a nation of loutish binge-drinkers – that we drink too much, too young, too fast – and that it makes us violent, promiscuous, anti-social and generally obnoxious.
Clearly, we Brits do have a bit of a problem with alcohol, but why?
The problem is that we Brits believe that alcohol has magical powers – that it causes us to shed our inhibitions and become aggressive, promiscuous, disorderly and even violent.
But we are wrong.
In high doses, alcohol impairs our reaction times, muscle control, co-ordination, short-term memory, perceptual field, cognitive abilities and ability to speak clearly. But it does not cause us selectively to break specific social rules. It does not cause us to say, “Oi, what you lookin’ at?” and start punching each other. Nor does it cause us to say, “Hey babe, fancy a shag?” and start groping each other.
The effects of alcohol on behaviour are determined by cultural rules and norms, not by the chemical actions of ethanol.
There is enormous cross-cultural variation in the way people behave when they drink alcohol. There are some societies (such as the UK, the US, Australia and parts of Scandinavia) that anthropologists call “ambivalent” drinking-cultures, where drinking is associated with disinhibition, aggression, promiscuity, violence and anti-social behaviour.
There are other societies (such as Latin and Mediterranean cultures in particular, but in fact the vast majority of cultures), where drinking is not associated with these undesirable behaviours – cultures where alcohol is just a morally neutral, normal, integral part of ordinary, everyday life – about on a par with, say, coffee or tea. These are known as “integrated” drinking cultures.
This variation cannot be attributed to different levels of consumption – most integrated drinking cultures have significantly higher per-capita alcohol consumption than the ambivalent drinking cultures.
Instead the variation is clearly related to different cultural beliefs about alcohol, different expectations about the effects of alcohol, and different social rules about drunken comportment.
This basic fact has been proved time and again, not just in qualitative cross-cultural research, but also in carefully controlled scientific experiments – double-blind, placebos and all. To put it very simply, the experiments show that when people think they are drinking alcohol, they behave according to their cultural beliefs about the behavioural effects of alcohol.
The British and other ambivalent drinking cultures believe that alcohol is a disinhibitor, and specifically that it makes people amorous or aggressive, so when in these experiments we are given what we think are alcoholic drinks – but are in fact non-alcoholic “placebos” – we shed our inhibitions.
We become more outspoken, more physically demonstrative, more flirtatious, and, given enough provocation, some (young males in particular) become aggressive. Quite specifically, those who most strongly believe that alcohol causes aggression are the most likely to become aggressive when they think that they have consumed alcohol.
Our beliefs about the effects of alcohol act as self-fulfilling prophecies – if you firmly believe and expect that booze will make you aggressive, then it will do exactly that. In fact, you will be able to get roaring drunk on a non-alcoholic placebo.
And our erroneous beliefs provide the perfect excuse for anti-social behaviour. If alcohol “causes” bad behaviour, then you are not responsible for your bad behaviour. You can blame the booze – “it was the drink talking”, “I was not myself” and so on…
October 15, 2011
This image has been posted with express written permission. This cartoon was originally published at Town Hall.