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There is something attractive about defrocking a figure of faith-and-family-values virtue, particularly one of great commercial success who has endeared himself to an endangered minority: the American middle class. The late Thomas Kinkade, who died of unnamed causes Friday, made an easy target. The self-anointed “painter of light” specialized in idealized scenes harkening to a more innocent and bucolic time. Such art might be expected from a pastor’s wife or a bookish introvert yet it was the high degree of contrast between the artist’s placid and peaceable imagery and his real-world foibles and flaws that made him an irresistible subject for personal and artistic attack.

In the wake of Kinkade’s untimely death at age 54, the Los Angeles Times rehashed a 2006 exposé in which the painter was portrayed as a drunken, ruthless and foulmouthed hypocrite.  Whatever one may believe about the man, the art world has stood firm about his vision: Kinkade is a commercial success but his paintings do not merit creative or historic memory.

Kinkade’s artistic legacy is as much in question as his personal one. (more…)

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The secret is out: Apple has a worm inching its way through its corporate flesh. January was a tough month on the Cupertino, California company venerated for its innovation and vision.

The controversy emerged when an Apple contractor in China, a manufacturing facility known as Foxconn where many brand-name electronics are assembled largely by hand, made headlines when dozens of workers threatened to jump to their deaths over a labor dispute. Foxconn’s solution? Erect netting beneath roofs and windows.

It doesn’t end there. For 12-hour shifts, six-days-per week and a live-in lifestyle workers allegedly earn just $17, the New York Times reports. Forbes and PC Magazine added their own angle to the news. One such detail described a high-level manager who, at a Chinese zoo, asked a zookeeper to provide advice on how to deal with his workers, drawing a direct comparison between factory workers and undomesticated animals. It gets worse. A NYT piece, “In China, Human Costs are Built into iPad“, refers to two dozen accidental worker deaths that have occurred as a result of unsafe working conditions. Finally, in “This American Life” the narrator of “Mr. Daisey and the Apple Factory” recounts a first-hand meetup with underage Chinese workers, among scores of others who suffer permanent neurological tremors and ticks as a consequence of over-exposure to a chemical toxin.

For all the outrage, many argue such are the inescapable growing pains of a Third World labor force “coming up”. At one time, the United States, too, was known for worker exploitation, a chief reason child labor laws gained traction and unions became a bulwark against corrupt and abusive management practices. And yet, even at the height of the union movement in the US such organizations represented only a fraction of the workforce. Nonetheless, what began as labor negotiating with management to build a viable American middle class has transformed in recent decades to its polar opposite: a perception that unions destroy American prosperity.

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In the scare-of-the-week news story we learn that Bed, Bath & Beyond may have distributed radioactive tissue holders across the country.

It allegedly started when just four metal tissue box covers buried in a transport truck set off radiation detectors installed after 911 to protect us from a terrorist threat. Who knew truck-stop Geiger counters would also serve to protect us, apparently, from made-in India? But are mass exporters like China and India really to blame for these all-too-common consumer product scares?

Perhaps not.

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