Saturday, June 29

Two days ago, the Supreme Court voted 5-4 to uphold Cleveland’s school voucher program, setting an important precedent in this divisive national battle. Proponents of voucher use argue that it enables choice and competition, ultimately strengthening our urban public schools. Of course, as we all know, suburban schools don’t need any help—in fact many suburban voters are against vouchers because they don’t want to empower blacks and other minorities to come from the city into their institutions.

The truth of the matter is that use of vouchers is yet another blow against our urban schools, precisely the ones that need the most help. It is another vote against the city, against a sustainable lifestyle based on dense living patterns. (I’m not even going to touch the church-state issue.) In the same manner that a laissez-faire value system does not work for corporate accounting practices (a la WorldCom, Enron, Rite Aid, etc.), it will not work for America’s public education system. (NYT; user name: opensewer; password: iswatching.)

As citizens, we need to think long-term and be willing to allocate the tax revenue necessary to create an egalitarian and superior (by world standards) public education system serving every American youth. Oh, wait, but that would create a meritocracy…we don’t want that, do we?

Thursday, June 27

Being one of the kids who was sent to the principal's office for not standing during the pledge, I don't feel so bad about the federal court ruling banning the pledge, but I am quite disturbed by a school's recent decision to ban the game of tag.

Wednesday, June 26

A disturbing report on Kuwaiti detainees that I heard on NPR Morning Edition today led me to this story from the Guardian. While many of the detainees are likely to be extremely dangerous, many others might be victims of a tragic mistake, perhaps scooped up for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. For example, the Kuwaiti detainees that maintain they were doing humanitarian work.

Tuesday, June 25

Because we won the cold war, it's now cool that we share a lot in common with Russia. You know, passing laws that limit free expression and political action.

Monday, June 24

When my car broke down the other week in rural Ontario, I was helped out by a very friendly repair and towing company. Giving me a free lift to a local diner while I was waiting for my alternator to arrive, my host described her home town as "not too exciting. I mean, we don't have any malls around here or anything."
It's not just America that dreams of the mall (NYT; user name: opensewer; password: iswatching)...

Friday, June 21

It appears that public and private schools now have an extra layer of protection from lawsuits that arise from their sharing of students’ educational records. How can this be any good?
Hey everyone, we just installed a new comment system that seems to be fairly reliable. Use it!

Thursday, June 20

One of the most striking things to people visiting America is the size of our waistlines. Our food industry has been successful in brainwashing us into eliminating self control from our eating habits, and have influenced the government's supposedly objective diet guidelines.

Yet our culture is also fat phobic and filled with images of skinny celebrities and waifish models. Our celebrities get skinnier as our working population gets fatter. It reminds me of seeing poor women reading the celeberity gossip rag "US" - and wondering what they have in common... shouldn't it be called "Them" ?
Can anyone who has flown halfway around the world in a jet powered by subsidized fossil fuel and puffing out greenhouse gases qualify as an eco-tourist -- whatever the shape or content of the holiday that awaits them?...Tourists are the shock troops of Western-style capitalism...

Wednesday, June 19

The S.E.C. adopted the industry's voluntary standards as rules and thought that was an adequate response. And now some in Congress appear intent on ensuring that the states cannot force real reform. And they wonder why there's a crisis in investor confidence? (NYT; user name: opensewer; password: iswatching.)
Ah, the typical American City. (NYT; user name: opensewer; password: iswatching.)
The world is full of strange little examples of beauty.
In times like this, I am glad we have a thoughtful, skeptical, liberal, media to sell us on the wonders of the military machine.

Tuesday, June 18

Announcement: Many of you have been emailing us about when and where the next Opensewer Gatherings will occur, and also about starting new Gatherings in your area. Our apologies for the slow (or lack of) responses. Don’t worry—we’ve read your emails and will in fact answer each one of you individually.

We have been re-thinking the Gatherings, and are trying to design a better way to implement them that is not as top-down as the current structure. Thanks for all your input and suggestions. We will most likely have this worked out by early July, so stay tuned!

Monday, June 17

'We do need a "new economy", but one that is founded on thrift and care, on saving and conserving, not on excess and waste. An economy based on waste is inherently and hopelessly violent, and war is its inevitable by-product.' ... Thoughts in the Presence of Fear.

Sunday, June 16

Just wanted to bring this up again ‘cause I’ve thinking about it… Are you ready to cede your position as a member of the world’s most powerful economy—because it’s probably going to happen in our lifetime. Based on purchasing power parity, China’s GDP is second only to ours, and growing much more rapidly (8% vs. the U.S.’ 4-5%). Sure, they have some structural problems to work out, but we have growing internal problems that can handicap us (most significantly the growing rich-poor gap). Really, think about it—how is going to feel? Personally, I think the coming change will give our collective ego a reality check.

Friday, June 14

Rosie and I are on vacation, staying at a friend's house, and I just read the table of contents from an old copy of John Naisbitt's Megatrends, 1984 edition. I was surprised at how prescient the chapter titles were. Please email me if you have any thoughts on this matter. I think I'll give the book a quick read to see what I think of it.
Who owns the internet? In a world of information, where names and words are property, the power of domain naming is crushing. Read how the power became beholden to corporate interests, like every other profitable resource in the west.

Wednesday, June 12

Geov Parrish shares some very disturbing news in Wednesday's Straight Shot: "U.S. General John Ashcroft announced in Moscow Monday that the Bush Administration can now hold U.S. citizens in prison indefinitely, without charges, access to defense lawyers, or trial." He's not making this up.

Monday, June 10

Taking a walk outside or taking a deep breath used to be good advice to help someone relax and feel better, but not anymore.

Thursday, June 6

We modern consumers pay twice for things—once by spending our time watching the television advertisement and again when we buy the product.

… Human beings did not suddenly become materialistic. We have always been desirous of things. We have just not had many of them until quite recently.

By adding value to material, by adding meaning to objects, by branding things, advertising performs a role historically associated with religion. … If we craved objects and knew what they meant, there would be no need to add meaning through advertising. We would gather, use, toss out, or hoard based on some inner sense of value. But we don’t. We don’t know what to gather…

—Adapted from James B. Twitchell, For Shame

Wednesday, June 5

Sure, a too strong media bias gets in the way of useful reporting. But masking their anti-liberal take as pro-fairness doesn't make the MRC any better. At least some media watchdogs, like Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting (FAIR), disclose their own point of view, something the MRC chooses not to disclose with the same degree of candor. But if you can't guess their bias when you read their reviews, I guess you don't notice any bias from Rush Limbaugh, either.
As important as liberal media is to the world, we all know that sometimes media bias will get in the way of legitimate journalism. The Media Research Center is dedicated to bringing "balance and responsibility to the news media" and does so on a daily basis. Their Media Reality Check from yesterday criticized ABC, CBS and NBC for giving airtime to critics "who expressed disappointment that the administration had not slid further into the extremist camp" and not enough airtime to conservative critics who believe that the current "EPA report is based on faulty science." They also point out that a petition has been signed by 17,000 scientists protesting the climate models used to push for "draconian new rules such as the Kyoto treaty."

Tuesday, June 4

This is one of those stories that newspapers put on page A-37 under the Sears ad, but Rose managed to find it this past weekend anyway: The Army has decided to close its Peacekeeping Institute, the only arm of the military devoted entirely to developing principles of how to conduct peacekeeping missions. Also...

...interesting...and good. Also...

...interesting...and bad.

Do you have a problem with "The Simpsons" television show? Probably not. I enjoy it, too, but I have also had nagging doubts about it, especially as the number of people who laud the show's "intelligence" and "political nature" (gag) has increased during its syndication run. Someone else managed to articulate my dislike better than I ever had.

Monday, June 3

Sunday, June 2

New artist Shirley Chien's paintings capture personal and sometimes mundane scenes from daily life. Her reductive technique and skillful use of color encourage deeper contemplation of seemingly ordinary events.
‘Morning, everyone…a few announcements: First, we have taken down the UIGUI comment system for now. Although it was nice (thanks for everyone’s input) it was unreliable, as many free things are these days. We’ll try to replace it—email us if you have any bright ideas. Second, we’ll be posting new art later today (hooray!). Third, we are currently re-thinking exactly how OS Gatherings will manifest themselves in the future. You may have noticed that it’s been a while since we’ve updated that portion of the website. Well, frankly, it became too much work to handle while Rose and I were slaving our way through two years at Cornell.

Now that graduate school is complete, and over the course of the next several weeks, we’ll be making some long-overdue refinements to the website. We hope you enjoy them, and we hope they make our lives a little more manageable. Remember, we’re not web people here—the internet (small “i,” I insist) is not anywhere near the center of our focus or interest. We simply use it because it’s a good medium.

It’s sometimes hard to keep up with people who spend all day on the internet, because we don’t. We’ll sure try to keep our comments interesting and thoughtful, however we can’t assure you our thoughts will always be nice. We reserve the right to be didactic, and you should too. You can trust that we’ll never lose our desire or ability to think critically (and cynically) about this beautiful, nonsensical world. Unfortunately, we can’t promise that we’ll always be able to link to our observations.