Archive for July 12, 2007

My Heart Can Only Shatter Once Per Day

July 12, 2007

…and this is what caused it to fall into little pieces today.

From a dissenting opinion:

After closing arguments, the court found that it was in Simone D.’s best interest to administer ECT even though it acknowledged that she would probably never “get better[italics added]: “she perhaps could die. Perhaps she wants to die. But that’s not for us to determine. We must prevent her from dying.”

To sum up:

1) Women are subject to electroschock therapy 2x-3x as often as men.

2) ECT doctors are 95% men; patients are 70% women.

3) The women in the story doesn’t speak English.

I call white-supremacist capitalist patriarchal bullshit.

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Not Really A New Low At All

July 12, 2007

Apparently some Christian activist-types disrupted the opening prayer in the Senate today because it was being given by a Hindu.

See the video and some transcripts from TPM Cafe.

My only question: Is this what some Christians are calling oppression and/or the trampling of their rights?

The New Politics

July 12, 2007

The funny thing is, I’m pretty disillusioned by the American political system, even in the abstract form that I learned in Advanced Government in HS. I don’t think the structure of that system really matches my values, and I think it preserves hierarchies that need to go. (And, of course, I think it’s royally corrupt and only exists in the abstract to boot.)

That said, I feel I can still realize when the system is breaking down, and that such a breakdown has very real consequences, especially since the ‘breakdown’ is largely being spun and covered up by the highly distorted values of the corporate media:

You have to give these Republicans credit, you really do. They are changing the rules of the game right in front of our eyes and daring the Democrats to do something about it.

I’m specifically talking here about the executive privilege claims, although it applies to virtually everything. Traditionally, there would be some posturing and back and forth, negotiations and perhaps some court involvement.Presidents may push the envelope, but they try to maintain the relationship with the congress in order that we not push these things into litigation which might go the wrong way (from their perspective) and therefore codify congressional prerogatives. Some presidents might even actually respect the notion that oversight is a necessary part of the balance of power and believe it’s important to preserve it without creating new laws and rules that make it more difficult. The balance of power between the branches is actually quite a delicate thing that requires a certain amount of good faith to keep that going. The Republicans have thrown that good faith into the trash bin.


There is a great opportunity for sociological and/or political science-based analysis here: What happens when one of the (two major) parties to an essential and long-standing social contract rips it up and throws it out the window? What are the consequences? How deep does trust in the system run for today’s Democrats that they don’t even see that one party has decided to no longer abide by the previous set of agreed-upon rules? It’s really quite amazing, and sort of terrifying, and a major reason I have little to no respect for the Democratic Party; I think the extent to which they are beholden to corporate donors and the existing (and disappearing) system has severely blinded them to the danger they are in, and their saving grace is that people who don’t like Republicans feel they have no other viable alternative than to vote Democratic. The Democrats are winning not on their own strengths (I mean, they’ve got nothing at this point), but solely on the fact that they are not Republicans.

And perhaps more importantly, at what point will the system reach equilibrium again, if it does? What will the governing political structures of America look like then?

I think this is a very important question, maybe the preeminently important question of the day for political scientists and political philosophers, and most them just don’t get it, and I have no idea why not. My faith in academia is taking another hit, and I’m not sure how much more it can survive.

UPDATE: I don’t mean to suggest this is an aberration, not really. I think it’s actually quite logical if one wishes to gain power – the tipping point, as it were, was the Republicans’ decision to value the acquisition of power over keeping the playing field intact (the idea being that once enough power was gained, there was no danger of the tables turning and Democrats using the amassed power against Republicans, since the plan was for Republicans to never lose another election). I also think it’s an example of the movement of capitalist values into the political sphere, or perhaps a result of the pressure placed on capitalism by globalization, an increasing world population, and decreased natural resources.

Article Analysis: Gen-Y Workers and the Modern World

July 12, 2007

I got this from my mother, of all places, and I’m very glad she sent it along. While it was extremely interesting, I also thought it was at least 50% wrong.

What is it? An online article from Fortune magazine about Gen-Y workers and how “we’re” different. I put that in quotes because while I don’t really identify with the article a whole lot, I am in the age group, so I’m likely to be lumped in there.

Also, a disclaimer: there’s bound to be more than a few stupid generalizations made by me throughout this post. Please point them out in a kind fashion if you find them. Thank you.

Let’s start at the beginning – and I warn you, this is likely to be a long, long post. From early in the article:

They’re ambitious, they’re demanding and they question everything, so if there isn’t a good reason for that long commute or late night, don’t expect them to do it. When it comes to loyalty, the companies they work for are last on their list – behind their families, their friends, their communities, their co-workers and, of course, themselves.

From the tone of the post, I read this as the author expressing surprise, or at least written as though it will be news to the people who the magazine is aimed at.

My response? Well, duh. And yes, I realize that this is the dominant cultural norm surrounding work, especially for folks who have personally experienced the 1950s-80s. However, it’s no longer a major expectation of anyone I know. Why is there no company loyalty? Because it works both ways – folks I know are fully aware that many companies, especially large ones, don’t give a rat’s ass about individuals at the bottom of the food chain – and we also know that this lack of care is institutionalized and globalized. Find us a place that cares about its employees, and we’re still suckers:

Dorsey recalls the time the president of an engineering firm called a new employee’s mother and asked her to be there when her daughter started work Monday morning. “When her mom walked through the crowd, she was like, ‘Oh, my God,’ and her mom says to everyone, ‘I took her to kindergarten, and now I’m here for her first day of work,'” Dorsey says. “The president took them on a tour of the company and explained to both of them why what new employees were doing was so important to the company. And the mom turns to her daughter and says, ‘You are not allowed to quit this job. Real companies are not like this.'”

Thing is, this “new paradigm” still leaves in the place the old structure of wages and a hierarchical division of labor – i.e. modern capitalism. So as new as it is, the demands of “Gen-Y workers” are not really radical at all…they are something else. (But what? I’ll get to that eventually, I promise.)

Next:

And speaking of fashion, this isn’t a group you’ll catch in flannel. They’re all about quiet kitsch – a funky T-shirt under a blazer, artsy jewelry, silly socks – small statements that won’t cause trouble. The most important decorations, though, are electronic – iPods, BlackBerrys, laptops – and they’re like extra limbs. Nothing is more hilarious than catching a Gen Yer in public without one of those essentials. Let’s just say most wouldn’t have lasted long on Walden Pond.

Speak for yourself. The older I get, the more I like flannel, dammit – and this is an example of some pretty bad generalizing, though I suspect it’s more accurate for certain demographics (large firms and business majors) than others. Again, my social circle, by and large, isn’t really embracing these trends – though it is, I think, aware of them.

On the other hand, this is also a good example of an interesting compromise or concession on the part of “Gen-Y” folks: They keep their quirkiness, but they keep it hidden and willingly conform to the norms of professionalism, or at least some norms. Like the article says, they want to be weird, but they don’t want to risk anything. Sigh. I’m not sure I can call that progress in good faith.

When it comes to Gen Y’s intangible characteristics, the lexicon is less than flattering. Try “needy,” “entitled.” Despite a consensus that they’re not slackers, there is a suspicion that they’ve avoided that moniker only by creating enough commotion to distract from the fact that they’re really not that into “work.”

Not into work? No?! Really? Why in the world would anyone not like work?

Give me a break – though to be fair, this seems directed at old white people who happen to be middle- or upper-level managers and who spent years, if not decades, doing crap-work just to get promoted to a position with meaning. It appears that Gen-Y folks don’t like that model. Surprise, surprise.

The catch here is that at least for me, I define “work” as drudgery, make-work, repetitive, etc. I don’t mind laboring – ask the grass seed farmers I used to work for – but, like the article says, I can’t stand not to end a shift and realize I might as well not have done anything, because everything looks the same as when I started (can you say McJob?). Here’s a little secret: Jobs don’t have to suck. I promise. Envisioning a worker as someone that can be broken down statistically at corporate headquarters or someone who is essentially a profit-producing robot results in the kind of “jobs” that do, in fact, suck – they don’t require any creative thinking or any problem-solving, and they don’t result in a feeling of accomplishment when something does get done. For an example of how to organize work in such a way that keeps it meaningful and makes it empowering, see Michael Albert’s Participatory Economics.

Moving on:

Of course, Gen Yers have been told since they were toddlers that they can be anything they can imagine. It’s an idea they clung to as they grew up and as their outlook was shaken by the Columbine shootings and 9/11. More than the nuclear threat of their parents’ day, those attacks were immediate, potentially personal, and completely unpredictable. And each new clip of Al Gore spreading inconvenient truths or of polar bears drowning from lack of ice told Gen Yers they were not promised a healthy, happy tomorrow. So they’re determined to live their best lives now.

This paragraph digs at me a bit. My outlook wasn’t really shaken by Columbine or 9/11 at all (sorry, I guess I didn’t grow up in much of a bubble), and I had a moral/intellectual framework that was flexible enough to respond without freaking out, even then (and for that matter, I know plenty of older folks for whom 9/11 was not at all a surprise – they say that anyone with a knowledge of how the US acts in the world shouldn’t have been surprised at what happened). I suppose it is possible that “9/11 changed everything” for Gen-Y, though I doubt it. I think older folks read this into younger folks because it challenged older folks more – their worldviews were more established than someone who graduated HS a few months after GWB took over. It also challenged the dominant media narrative in America, which sort of by default is supposed to reflect the “fact” that “everyone” changed, though I think that’s quite obviously wrong.

As for the last couple of sentences…well, again, I’ll save that for later. I think there’s a large undercurrent running though the article that needs addressed separately, maybe even in a separate post that has to do with the perceived and/or real maturity of “today’s youth.” In fact, I think I’m going to end this post here; I’ll have more to say later.

Wishful Thinking

July 12, 2007

According to the Washington Post, the NAACP ‘buried’ the N-word today. With a funeral and a coffin and everything.

From the story:

“Today we’re not just burying the N-word, we’re taking it out of our spirit,” said Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick. “We gather burying all the things that go with the N-word. We have to bury the ‘pimps’ and the ‘hos’ that go with it.”

He continued: “Die N-word, and we don’t want to see you ’round here no more.”

I just think this is a bit premature, and wishful thinking to boot. There’s a lot more work to do before that word stops being used in its current fashion – hell, there’s a debate over whether or not its current usage is a good or bad thing.

At least someone realizes this is the beginning and not the end of what is probably going to be a very long and heated debate:

“We’re not thugs. We’re not gangstas,” Anthony told the crowd. “All of us has been guilty of this word. It’s upon all of us to now kill this word.”

“This is a great start,” the 30-year-old Detroit resident said. “We need to continue to change the mentality of our people. It may take a generation, but it’s definitely the movement we have to take.”

Not to keep harping on the same thing over and over, but I think the use of the N-word isn’t the underlying issue here.

Can you tell I’m a big fan of going right to the source?

Newsflash: Teens Don’t Care About the News

July 12, 2007

I would have told them that for free, but I suppose Harvard’s got to do its own thing.

A key bit:

The poll, which had a margin of error of 2 percent to 3 percent, suggested that younger Americans may pay less attention to news because only one in 20 respondents claimed to “rely heavily” on a daily newspaper.

Additionally, the spread of soft news about pop culture is considered to have lured away young readers from hard news stories on politics and global events.

Predictably, the story digs up a quote from someone who blames it on the Internet. While I think that it’s undeniable that the Internet allows people to filter their news, I think this sort of study and the folks who ask these questions are missing the point:

Why do people – young or old – choose to filter their news to match their political beliefs in the first place?

Looking for a technical solution (or even viewing the problem through a technological lens) to what is a decidedly non-technological problem seems foolish. So: Why do people feel the need or desire to filter their news, especially to make it match their existing political views?

I instinctively go for this answer: Because people aren’t used to having their beliefs challenged. Having one’s beliefs challenged – as opposed to reinforced – forces people to really think. And frankly, since I’m of the opinion that the American educational system actually represses critical thinking rather than foster it (at least from grade 6 on), I understand why people react the same way to challenging information they do to a bright light: They cringe, backpedal, and close their eyes.

Also, I think avoiding the news is a perfectly rational and understandable response to the news itself: I mean, have you watched that shit lately? All the serious stories are downers, and all the happy stories are about relatively inconsequential things. If I’m a high school student, why bother?

All this is a roundabout way of saying that people really like blaming us young’uns for not watching the news, but maybe they – and we – should start realizing the news sucks, and that something should be done about that. Trying to get more teens involved doesn’t really get at the root of the problem.

The Jena Six, or why Racism is Still a Huge Problem In America

July 12, 2007

I’ve been meaning to post about this for a few days, but the heat got in the way. The office gets absolutely miserable any time the temperature breaks 90 degrees Fahrenheit.

There has been a lot written about this issue already; I’m choosing to link to a post at Pandagon that offers a good summary of the issue. (More information can be found via Kevin at Slant Truth, who has been all over this.)

I am posting this now because I think it’s important to remember that racism – the really ugly, overt, and conscious kind – is still nowhere gone from American society.

And furthermore, I think that the ridiculous bullshit perpetrated by the Bush folks at every level since 2000 really encourages this sort of response from police. How? By working to create new, limitless police powers; to encourage folks in authority to abuse their power; and to promote a vision of justice that’s all about pain and retribution.

Sometimes I feel like I came from another planet, or that literally everyone has gone crazy except me. I mean, in my vision of a just world, if something like this happened, the public response would be huge (but not vindicative – just huge). Huge enough, in fact, to actually affect what’s happening in Jena.

And for the record, I don’t blame this on ‘the South’ or some such bullshit – it’s a problem for white people everywhere. And besides, Oregon has a pretty nasty history of state-sanctioned and institutionalized racism that it’s never really acknowledged.