Monthly Archives: December 2011

If I really agree with this, I shouldn’t be blogging about it

Pico Iyer makes perfect sense:

THE average American spends at least eight and a half hours a day in front of a screen, Nicholas Carr notes in his eye-opening book “The Shallows,” in part because the number of hours American adults spent online doubled between 2005 and 2009 (and the number of hours spent in front of a TV screen, often simultaneously, is also steadily increasing).

The average American teenager sends or receives 75 text messages a day, though one girl in Sacramento managed to handle an average of 10,000 every 24 hours for a month. Since luxury, as any economist will tell you, is a function of scarcity, the children of tomorrow […] will crave nothing more than freedom, if only for a short while, from all the blinking machines, streaming videos and scrolling headlines that leave them feeling empty and too full all at once.

The urgency of slowing down — to find the time and space to think — is nothing new, of course, and wiser souls have always reminded us that the more attention we pay to the moment, the less time and energy we have to place it in some larger context. “Distraction is the only thing that consoles us for our miseries,” the French philosopher Blaise Pascal wrote in the 17th century, “and yet it is itself the greatest of our miseries.” He also famously remarked that all of man’s problems come from his inability to sit quietly in a room alone.

[…] We barely have enough time to see how little time we have (most Web pages, researchers find, are visited for 10 seconds or less). And the more that floods in on us (the Kardashians, Obamacare, “Dancing with the Stars”!), the less of ourselves we have to give to every snippet. All we notice is that the distinctions that used to guide and steady us — between Sunday and Monday, public and private, here and there — are gone.

We have more and more ways to communicate, as Thoreau noted, but less and less to say. Partly because we’re so busy communicating. And — as he might also have said — we’re rushing to meet so many deadlines that we hardly register that what we need most are lifelines.

So what to do? The central paradox of the machines that have made our lives so much brighter, quicker, longer and healthier is that they cannot teach us how to make best use of them; the information revolution came without an instruction manual. All the data in the world cannot teach us how to sift through data; images don’t show us how to process images. The only way to do justice to our onscreen lives is by summoning exactly the emotional and moral clarity that can’t be found on any screen. […]

It’s vital, of course, to stay in touch with the world, and to know what’s going on […] But it’s only by having some distance from the world that you can see it whole, and understand what you should be doing with it.

What more is there to say? I’m logging off for now. So should you.

(Image via Aidan Rowley)

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Attention students and minorities: the Republicans don’t want you to vote

Are you a student, or poor, or black, or Hispanic? The Republican Party thinks you probably support the Democrats (whether that’s true of you or not), and doesn’t want you to vote. And it’s doing everything in its power to keep you from doing so.

If you aren’t yet aware of all the GOP initiatives to make it harder for certain demographic groups to cast their ballot at the polls, then you must read this NY Times editorial summarizing all these efforts (boldface mine):

Next fall, thousands of students on college campuses will attempt to register to vote and be turned away. Sorry, they will hear, you have an out-of-state driver’s license. Sorry, your college ID is not valid here. Sorry, we found out that you paid out-of-state tuition, so even though you do have a state driver’s license, you still can’t vote.

Political leaders should be encouraging young adults to participate in civic life, but many Republican state lawmakers are doing everything they can instead to prevent students from voting in the 2012 presidential election. Some have openly acknowledged doing so because students tend to be liberal.

Seven states have already passed strict laws requiring a government-issued ID (like a driver’s license or a passport) to vote, which many students don’t have, and 27 others are considering such measures. Many of those laws have been interpreted as prohibiting out-of-state driver’s licenses from being used for voting.

It’s all part of a widespread Republican effort to restrict the voting rights of demographic groups that tend to vote Democratic. Blacks, Hispanics, the poor and the young, who are more likely to support President Obama, are disproportionately represented in the 21 million people without government IDs. […]

Republicans usually don’t want to acknowledge that their purpose is to turn away voters, especially when race is involved, so they invented an explanation, claiming that stricter ID laws are necessary to prevent voter fraud. In fact, there is almost no voter fraud in America to prevent.

William O’Brien, the speaker of the New Hampshire State House, told a Tea Party group earlier this year that students are “foolish” and tend to “vote their feelings” because they lack life experience. “Voting as a liberal,” he said, “that’s what kids do.” And that’s why, he said, he supported measures to prohibit students from voting from their college addresses and to end same-day registration.

Read the whole thing here.

The Times also links to a report from the non-partisan Brennan Center for Justice, detailing all the changes in voting laws for 2012 (boldface mine):

Ahead of the 2012 elections, a wave of legislation tightening restrictions on voting has suddenly swept across the country. More than five million Americans could be affected by the new rules already put in place this year — a number larger than the margin of victory in two of the last three presidential elections. […]

Over the past century, our nation expanded the franchise and knocked down myriad barriers to full electoral participation. In 2011, however, that momentum abruptly shifted.

State governments across the country enacted an array of new laws making it harder to register or to vote. Some states require voters to show government-issued photo identification, often of a type that as many as one in ten voters do not have. Other states have cut back on early voting, a hugely popular innovation used by millions of Americans. Two states reversed earlier reforms and once again disenfranchised millions who have past criminal convictions but who are now taxpaying members of the community. Still others made it much more difficult for citizens to register to vote, a prerequisite for voting.

These new restrictions fall most heavily on young, minority, and low-income voters, as well as on voters with disabilities. This wave of changes may sharply tilt the political terrain for the 2012 election. Based on the Brennan Center’s analysis of the 19 laws and two executive actions that passed in 14 states, it is clear that:

• These new laws could make it significantly harder for more than five million eligible voters to cast ballots in 2012.

• The states that have already cut back on voting rights will provide 171 electoral votes in 2012 – 63 percent of the 270 needed to win the presidency.

• Of the 12 likely battleground states, as assessed by an August Los Angeles Times analysis of Gallup polling, five have already cut back on voting rights (and may pass additional restrictive legislation), and two more are currently considering new restrictions.

States have changed their laws so rapidly that no single analysis has assessed the overall impact of such moves. Although it is too early to quantify how the changes will impact voter turnout, they will be a hindrance to many voters at a time when the United States continues to turn out less than two thirds of its eligible citizens in presidential elections and less than half in midterm elections.

Many more details here. I highly recommend reading it to see how these new laws might affect you.

Look, it doesn’t really matter to me which party or which candidate you support at this point. But I think it matters very much that the Republicans think they’ve got you pegged — and rather than trying to reach out to you and change your mind, they’ve written you off. And they’re trying to silence you.

They’re not trying to win fair and square. They’re trying to grab power by disenfranchising millions of Americans who might disagree with them. If you think you have the right to vote, if you care at all about having a real working democracy, if you think Washington should listen to the voices of all the voters rather than making it harder for their voices to be heard, then I hope you’re as well and truly pissed-off as I am. And I hope you realize, if you haven’t already, that this says something pretty important about what the Republican Party really believes.

Spread the word. Make some noise. Contact your representatives. And above all, this fall, exercise your right to VOTE — and let the GOP know exactly what you think of them trying to take it away from you.

(Image via The Voter Update)

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The 1% don’t get it: “What makes people furious is that they have stopped being citizens”

Matt Taibbi calls attention to an article at Bloomberg.com in which the much-put-upon billionaires of America frown upon the “imbeciles” of the Occupy movement for hurling abuse their way:

Asked if he were willing to pay more taxes in a Nov. 30 interview with Bloomberg Television, Blackstone Group LP CEO Stephen Schwarzman spoke about lower-income U.S. families who pay no income tax.

“You have to have skin in the game,” said Schwarzman, 64. “I’m not saying how much people should do. But we should all be part of the system.”

Taibbi responds:

But it seems to me that if you’re broke enough that you’re not paying any income tax, you’ve got nothing but skin in the game. You’ve got it all riding on how well America works.

You can’t afford private security: you need to depend on the police. You can’t afford private health care: Medicare is all you have. You get arrested, you’re not hiring Davis, Polk to get you out of jail: you rely on a public defender to negotiate a court system you’d better pray deals with everyone from the same deck. And you can’t hire landscapers to manicure your lawn and trim your trees: you need the garbage man to come on time and you need the city to patch the potholes in your street.

And in the bigger picture, of course, you need the state and the private sector both to be functioning well enough to provide you with regular work, and a safe place to raise your children, and clean water and clean air.

The entire ethos of modern Wall Street, on the other hand, is complete indifference to all of these matters. The very rich on today’s Wall Street are now so rich that they buy their own social infrastructure. They hire private security, they live on gated mansions on islands and other tax havens, and most notably, they buy their own justice and their own government. […]

People like […] Schwarzman […] who think the “imbeciles” on the streets are simply full of reasonless class anger, they don’t get it. Nobody hates them for being successful. And not that this needs repeating, but nobody even minds that they are rich.

What makes people furious is that they have stopped being citizens.

The rest here, and worth reading.

And this is precisely why government matters — good government, independent of the moneyed interests, insuring a fair playing field for all and making sure that America works well for the least fortunate as well as the wealthiest among us. It’s John Rawls’ notion of the “veil of ignorance,” of ordering society as if we didn’t know what position we occupied in it — a call for fairness that is very much in keeping with the demands of Occupy Wall Street. If that movement has accomplished anything, it’s in driving the national conversation towards this very necessary consideration of what principles constitute a just society. And it’s a conversation that needs to keep going.

Once again, Elizabeth Warren:

A caveat: I’ve just finished reading Animal Farm again, and can’t help being haunted by Orwell’s warning about the oppressed throwing off their shackles only to become mirror images of their oppressors (or as Jenny Holzer suggests, “Change is valuable when the oppressed become tyrants”). I don’t think that’s inevitable. With foresight, and self-doubt, and an unflagging commitment to hold our leaders — and ourselves — accountable, may we all have the wits (and the decency) to avoid that fate.

(via Pharyngula. Chart via Mother Jones; lots more here.)

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Miscellany: “Bah, humbug!” edition

For your perusal this holiday season: Continue reading

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The best Christmas carols ever

I’ve written about my candidate for the worst Christmas carol ever. On the other hand, here, in my opinion, are two of the best.

Atheist though I am, I’ve always had a soft spot for “O Holy Night” — even though it’s getting harder and harder to hear it done tastefully, as singers nowadays seem to see it as an excuse for bombast and vocal gymnastics. I grew up listening to this incomparably lovely version by Nana Mouskouri, whose straightforward style lets the exquisitely haunting melody shine through:

Another wonderful version, by the group Celtic Woman:

And the second song, which I’ve posted before, is the very touching (and uncharacteristically sentimental) “White Wine in the Sun” by Tim Minchin. A perfect encapsulation of what, for me, is the true meaning of Christmas:

Happy Holidays to all.

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Everything is better with cats

Oh, excellent! AbeBooks identifies a pressing problem, and a solution:

Here at AbeBooks Headquarters, we occasionally step away from our bubbling beakers to read books. And we’ve all noticed a disturbing trend throughout classic literature.

Many of the so-called “classics” are entirely devoid of cats. I know.

Cats and books go together like bees and honey. So we took it upon ourselves to properly “Catify” some of the classics. We bring you, the joy of Kitty Lit. Cats on classic covers!

A couple of gems:

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Meow

Oscar is a sweet but disastrously overweight domestic shorthair who – from the home he shares with his mother and sister – dreams of becoming the Dominican J.R.R. Tolkien and, most of all, finding love. But Oscar lacks opposable thumbs, and can’t be a writer, because he is a cat.

And:

The Cat Hair in My Eye

Holden Catfield is a whiny, disillusioned youth barely out of kittenhood. As he roams New York City, he becomes increasingly despairing of the state of the world, and lacks faith and hope in the goodness of society. With any luck, neutering him will make him less moody. Or maybe a nice ball of string.

The rest here.

Want more? Check out The Kitten Covers as well, for more of this:

(Top image by Edward Gorey)

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The bullshit of gender-coding, cont’d

Nate DiMeo writes an open letter to the toy company Melissa & Doug, care of two of their merchandise characters:

Dear Abby and Emma (the girls in my daughter’s magnetic dress-up doll kit from the toy company Melissa & Doug),

[…] I’ve decided it’s time for you two to get jobs. Because, now that [our daughter] knows that pants don’t go on your head, all she’s learning is fashion — which super-cute top goes best with which skirt. But, I figure work clothes are different. A firefighter’s clothes are functional. She needs gloves. She needs a helmet. A doctor needs scrubs, maybe one of those old-timey head mirrors. Work clothes would inspire imaginative play and prompt questions beyond do these jeggings make my wooden butt look big?

But guess what, Abby and Emma, Melissa & Doug don’t make work clothes for you. They do for these two bigger, girl dolls. But their clothes won’t fit you. And yes, ballerina is technically a profession. I’m less sure about princess. There is one of the larger dolls who does have cool work clothes. His name is Joey. So, Abby and Emma, you can’t be astronauts. And you can’t help our daughter dream about being a scientist or a police officer either. Sorry girls. And — while I know there is more to parenting than purchasing — if you do talk to Melissa & Doug, if they maintain some sort of  magical, Geppeto-y psychic link to you two, can let them know that there’s more to being a girl than just being girly.

Heard on the radio program Marketplace, and posted here at the request of my daughter, who nodded vigorously as she listened and now insists that this be included in “our permanent records.”

More on gender-coding bullshit here and here.

(Image via The Baby Habit)

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