The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

San Antonio loses an orchestra

The San Antonio Symphony dissolved itself yesterday, to howls of anger from its musicians:

The board of the Symphony Society of San Antonio cited stalled negotiations with the Musicians’ Union and the lack of a labour contract.

In a statement on the San Antonio Symphony’s website, the board said: “The last bargaining session between the Symphony Society and the Musicians’ Union took place on March 8, 2022 after which the Union declined to return to the bargaining table, despite efforts of federal mediators and the Symphony.

The symphony’s musicians had been on strike since late September 2021, when they were asked to take a pay cut from $35,774 (£29,097) to $17,710 (£14,404) a year.

In September Mary Ellen Goree, chair of the San Antonio Symphony musicians negotiating committee and principal second violin, said musicians had been “shocked and appalled” by the proposal, which would have reduced their salaries to less than the living wage.

Goree suggested the board's move might violate an existing contract:

She cited a 2019 contract that specifies what needs to be done if there is a dissolution of the San Antonio Symphony Society, the board that manages the symphony.

She read an excerpt of the document to TPR: “Such transfer of assets shall be subject to the approval of the Union and the members of the orchestra, as well as the Board of Directors of the society.”

The only vote taken was within the Symphony Society.

The news reached Sebastian Lang-Lessing, the symphony's former music director, during a visit to South Korea. He said the move by management was indefensible.

“It's totally in contradiction with the mission of the San Antonio Symphony, and they need to be held accountable for that," he said. "By just dissolving now and ... to blame to the musicians is a very arrogant move.”

The union's own statement calls out the Symphony Board for financial mismanagement:

“What the Symphony can afford,” of course, is directly tied to what the leadership of the Symphony Society is willing to raise. It is telling that the past 30+ years have been an unbroken trend of the San Antonio metropolitan area becoming larger and larger, and the Symphony budget becoming smaller and smaller. Given our population growth and the number of corporations either headquartered or doing significant business in San Antonio, the idea that San Antonio cannot support an orchestra even at the level of Omaha, Nebraska (an orchestra with a $9M budget), is ludicrous.

On September 26, 2021, the SSSA wrongfully declared impasse and imposed draconian terms that would reduce the size of the orchestra by 40%, cut the pay (already barely above a living wage) of the remaining 60% by 33%, and offer most of the remaining 40% of the musicians a salary of just over $11,000 a year with no benefits. Agreeing to such terms would have been meant agreeing to our own destruction, so on September 27, the musicians called an unfair labor practice strike.

There seems to be a lot more to this story, and I'm curious if anyone down there might commit some journalism to finding out what.

Theft of the commons

Writer Eula Biss essays on the disappearance of common grazing lands through enclosure laws as part of a larger pattern of class struggle (and no, she's not a Marxist):

In the time before enclosure, shared pastures where landless villagers could graze their animals were common. Laxton [England] had two, the Town Moor Common and the much larger Westwood Common, which together supported a hundred and four rights to common use, with each of these rights attached to a cottage or a toft of land in the village. In Laxton, the commons were a resource reserved for those with the least: both the commons and the open fields were owned by the lord of the manor, and only villagers with little more than a cottage held rights to the commons.

As a visitor from the age of private property, it seems remarkable to me that commoners held rights to land they did not own or rent, but, at the time, it was commonplace. In addition to common pasture, commoners were granted rights of pannage, of turbary, of estovers, and of piscary—rights to run their pigs in the woods, to cut peat for fuel, to gather wood from the forests, and to fish. These were rights to subsistence, rights to live on what they could glean from the land. In the course of enclosure, as written law superseded customary law, commoners lost those rights. Parliament made property rights absolute, and the traditional practice of living off the land was redefined as theft. Gleaning became trespassing, and fishing became poaching. Commoners who continued to common were now criminals.

The story of enclosure is sometimes told as a deal, or a transaction, in which landowners traded away their traditional relationship with the landless in exchange for greater independence. By releasing themselves from their social obligations to provide for the poor, they gained the freedom to farm for profit. And this freedom, or so the story goes, is what allowed the increased efficiencies that we call the agricultural revolution. Commoners lost, in the bargain, the freedom once afforded to them by self-sufficiency. Dispossessed of land, they were now bound to wages.

The landowners who promoted enclosure promised “improvement,” and “improvement” is still the word favored by some historians. But we should be wary of the promotional language of the past. Leaving the commons to the commoners, one eighteenth-century advocate of enclosure argued, would be like leaving North America to the Native Americans. It would be a waste, he meant. Imagine, he suggested, allowing the natives to exercise their ancient rights and to continue to occupy the land—they would do nothing more with it than what they were already doing, and they would not “improve” it. Improvement meant turning the land to profit. Enclosure wasn’t robbery, according to this logic, because the commoners made no profit off the commons, and thus had nothing worth taking.

The whole essay is worth a read.

High temperature record and other hot takes

Chicago's official temperature at O'Hare hit 35°C about two hours ago, tying the record high temperature set in 1994. Currently it's pushing 36°C with another hour of warming likely before it finally cools down overnight. After another 32°C day tomorrow, the forecast Friday looks perfect.

While we bake by the lake today, a lot has gone down elsewhere:

Finally, apparently John Scalzi and I have the same appreciation for Aimee Mann.

Friday afternoon reading

Yesterday I had a full work day plus a three-hour rehearsal for our performance of Stacy Garrop's Terra Nostra on Monday night. (Tickets still available!) Also, yesterday, the House began its public hearings about the failed insurrection on 6 January 2021. Also, yesterday was Thursday, and I could never get the hang of Thursdays.

Finally, Wired takes a look at the law of war, and how Ukrainian civilians may cross the line into belligerents by using apps to report military intelligence to the Ukrainian army.

My houseguest has departed

After four nights, five puddles, four solid gifts, and so much barking that the neighbors down the block left a note on my door, Sophie finally went home this afternoon. I also worked until 11:30 last night, but that had nothing to do with her. It did cause a backup in my reading, though:

Finally, army dude-bros in several countries have gotten into arguments over online tank games and, to win those arguments, have posted classified information about real tanks. The defense authorities in the US, UK, France, and China are investigating.

Friday, already?

Today I learned about the Zoot Suit Riots that began 79 years ago today in Los Angeles. Wow, humans suck.

In other revelations:

Finally, it's 22°C and sunny outside, which mitigates against me staying in my office much longer...

Regulate crypto! And guns, too

Even though it seems the entire world has paused to honor HRH The Queen on the 70th anniversary of her accession, the world in fact kept spinning:

Blogger Moxie Marlinspike wrote about their first impressions of web3 back in January. I just got around to reading it, and you should too.

Oh, and plastic recycling doesn't work, and probably can't.

And here, a propos of nothing, is a photo of St Boniface Cemetery I took this morning:

Two thoughts about the world

First, I believe this might be the greatest gaffe* of the 21st century:

Second, for everyone whinging on about paying $5 per gallon of gas, why not take this opportunity to finally switch to the metric system? Then you'd only be paying $1.29 per liter** of gas!

* And I do mean "gaffe" in the sense that it's an absolutely true statement made absolutely unintentionally.

** Of course, they're used to this way of pricing petrol in London, where they're today whinging on about 159p per liter ($8 per gallon).

Spring, Summer, Spring, Summer, who knows

This week's temperatures tell a story of incoherence and frustration: Monday, 26°C; Tuesday, 16°C; yesterday, 14°C; today (so far), 27°C. And this is after a record high of 33°C just a week ago—and a low just above 10°C Tuesday morning.

So while I'm wearing out the tracks on my window sashes, I'll have these items to read while my house either cools down or warms up:

And finally, Ian Bogost feels elated that cryptocurrencies have crashed, particularly because he doesn't own any.

What did we say about crypto?

Don't. Just don't. Tulips look like a better investment than cryptocurrency.

First, the Justice Department has launched a prosecution against an unnamed defendant for allegedly laundering $10 million in Bitcoin:

U.S. authorities filed charges in March after allegedly discovering that a sanctioned country had set up a PayPal-type payment platform system with the defendants’ help, according to Friday’s ruling. It said investigators were able to use sophisticated blockchain analysis tools to trace that person’s actions, since despite cryptocurrencies’ anonymizing features, all transactions to individual accounts are recorded in public ledgers that can be amassed into large data sets.

The $10 million in bitcoin payments originated from the United States and were transmitted for customers of the payment platform, according to a U.S. law enforcement affidavit cited by the ruling. The platform advertised its services as designed to evade American sanctions, and the defendant “proudly stated” it could do so using bitcoins while knowing the country was blacklisted, the ruling said.

The US Magistrate Judge overseeing the case reminded the defendant that despite the mythology surrounding them, cryptocurrencies are traceable and are considered cash for the purposes of international sanctions. They are, in other words, not the perfect vectors for bribing foreign dictators that their proponents promote.

Economist Paul Krugman makes (as you'd suspect) the economic argument against cryptocurrencies (sub.req.), if the legal and moral arguments didn't persuade you:

By now, we’ve all heard of them, but what exactly are cryptocurrencies? Many people — including, I fear, many people who have invested in them — probably still don’t fully understand them. Saying that they’re digital assets doesn’t really get at it. My bank account, which I mainly reach online, is also a digital asset, for all practical purposes.

In any case, as we look forward, the value of cryptocurrencies will have to rest on their underlying economic uses, which are …

Well, that’s just the thing. I’ve heard many discussions in which crypto supporters have been asked exactly what economic role crypto can play that isn’t more easily and cheaply achieved through other means — debit cards, Venmo, etc. Other than illegal transactions, in which crypto may sometimes offer anonymity, I have yet to hear a coherent answer.

As it is, cryptocurrencies play almost no role in economic transactions other than speculation in crypto markets themselves. And if your answer is “give it time,” you should bear in mind that Bitcoin has been around since 2009, which makes it ancient by tech standards; Apple introduced the iPad in 2010. If crypto was going to replace conventional money as a medium of exchange — a means of payment — surely we should have seen some signs of that happening by now. Just try paying for your groceries or other everyday goods using Bitcoin. It’s nearly impossible.

Those who question crypto’s purpose are constantly confronted with the argument that the sheer scale of the industry — at their peak, crypto assets were worth almost $3 trillion — and the amount of money true believers have made along the way proves the skeptics wrong. Can we, the public, really be that foolish and gullible?

Well, maybe the crypto skeptics are wrong. But on the question of folly and gullibility, the answer is yes, we can.

As Julia Ioffe pointed out yesterday in reference to ordinary Russians believing the Kremlin's propaganda, in a country where 30% of the population believe in "replacement theory," our folly and gullibility have no limit.