Tuesday, July 31

Failing Our Children by Worshipping Success

Madeline Levine’s book, "Teach Your Children Well," is a reflection on our distorted view of success, and how we as parents pass this through to our children. From the New York Times review (emphasis mine):
"...Levine’s latest book is, in fact, a cri de coeur from a clinician on the front lines of the battle between our better natures — parents’ deep and true love and concern for their kids — and our culture’s worst competitive and materialistic influences, all of which she sees played out, day after day, in her private psychology practice in affluent Marin County, Calif. Levine works with teenagers who are depleted, angry and sad as they compete for admission to a handful of big-name colleges, and with parents who can’t steady or guide them, so lost are they in the pursuit of goals that have drained their lives of pleasure, contentment and connection."
"These are parents who run themselves ragged with work and hyper-parenting, presenting an 'eviscerated vision of the successful life' that their children are then programmed to imitate. They’re parents who are physically hyper-present but somehow psychologically M.I.A.: so caught up in the script that runs through their heads about how to 'do right' by their children that they can’t see when the excesses of keeping up, bulking up, getting a leg up and generally running scared send the whole enterprise of ostensible care and nurturing right off the rails." 
How to Raise a Child (NYT book review of 'Teach Your Children Well,' by Madeline Levine).

Previously here on Opensewer, along this line of thought: Why Are You So Busy? and Envy, Snobbery, And A Gentler Philosophy of Success.

Friday, July 27

The Prescience of Orwell and Huxley

Predictions in George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four and Aldous Huxley’s A Brave New World that appear to have come true in 2012.

Thursday, July 26

Silence is for the Grave

"Picture all experts as if they were mammals. Never be a spectator of unfairness or stupidity. Seek out argument and disputation for their own sake; the grave will supply plenty of time for silence."
 Christopher Hitchens, from Letters to a Young Contrarian.

Wednesday, July 25

Religious Indoctrination via "Vacation Bible School"

On my Facebook feed this morning, a number of acquaintances (from an earlier time in my life) had posted photographs about something known as "Vacation Bible School". If you're unfamiliar with this, Vacation Bible School is typically a week-long program offered by local churches, full of activities, dramatic skits, snacks, and other fun stuff that kids love. It's all centered around efforts to 'win' children to Christ. Seeing these photos of children having fun under false pretenses made me so sad, and just a bit angry. It's propaganda, it's deceptive, and it's nothing more than an attempt to indoctrinate young, impressionable minds before they've had the chance to develop the ability to think critically.

Richard Dawkins, of course, has much to say on the subject.

Heard on the Internet

A couple selected quotes from around the web yesterday:
"If you rearrange the letters in the word 'faith', you get the word 'microwave'. No need to test this--just believe me."
"Hey, invisible hand of the market, stop hitting yourself." 
I particularly like the second one.

Tuesday, July 24

We're Starting to See the Last Gasps of a (Dying) Conservative Worldview

Desperation marks decline:
"Someday political scientists will try to date the decline of reasoned discourse in America to the moment when the left and the right began to invent their own facts. Climate change deniers, the purveyors of lies linking abortion to breast cancer, and creationists will all be blamed for the end of meaningful debate between liberals and conservatives. But that’s not quite right. The real end of civic discourse can be traced to the new conservative argument that facts themselves are dangerous. 
"It’s a dangerous contention not just for what it hides, but also for what it reveals: a lack of any other arguments."

Monday, July 23

Economists Predict U.S. Poverty Will Reach Highest Rate Since 1960s

"The analysts’ estimates suggest that some 47 million people in the United States, or 1 in 6, were poor last year. An increase of one-tenth of a percentage point to 15.2 percent would tie the 1983 rate, the highest since 1965. The highest level on record was 22.4 percent in 1959, when the government began calculating poverty figures. ...
"Demographers also say poverty will remain above the prerecession level of 12.5 percent for many more years. Several predicted that peak poverty levels — 15 percent to 16 percent — will last at least until 2014, due to expiring unemployment benefits, a jobless rate persistently above 6 percent, and weak wage growth. 
"Analysts also believe that the poorest poor, defined as those at 50 percent or less of the poverty level, will remain near its peak level of 6.7 percent."
US poverty rate projected to hit highest level since ’60s (The Boston Globe)

Friday, July 20

As If It Wasn't Generic Enough Already

Darden, the company behind the I-could-be-anywhere-USA restaurants Olive Garden and Red Lobster, has now started pairing the two under one roof in certain markets. As if we needed any more convincing of the dubious quality of the food at these places. Welcome to the continued generification of America.
"'This is really the first casual diner, full-service restaurant that I’ve seen do this,' said Senatore, who is based in New York. 'You have to ask: 'Why has nobody else done it?' Sometimes it’s because it’s not a great idea.'"
Darden Sees Olive-Garden-Red Lobster Making New Revenue (Businessweek)

Yes, We Need to Raise Taxes, but We Also Need a More Transparent Tax System

Conor Friedersdorf writes in The Atlantic:
"It is beyond dispute that there is a huge amount of rent-seeking in the American system, that lobbying yields truly stunning returns on investment, that the complexity of our tax code benefits very rich people who employ extremely intelligent tax attorneys to reduce their tax burden, and that certain policies (like the Wall Street bailout) redistributes toward moneyed interests. ...

"When campaigning in 2008, Obama explicitly argued that the American system required systemic reform as a precondition for fair outcomes. After being elected, he abandoned any real effort to fundamentally change the system, and proceeded to work on enacting reforms within it. I'd love to see Obama achieve systemic tax reform that ends the advantages the rich gain from complexity and access. Instead he's focused on the "within the system" reform of raising rates on the rich. Given the alarming fiscal situation we're in there's a case to be made that doing so is necessary. But it's a suboptimal course, and there should be no illusions about that." (Emphasis added.)
Focus on the Ill-Gotten Gains of the Rich Instead of Their Tax Rates

Thursday, July 19

In Praise of Boredom

"...Boredom is more than a mere flagging of interest or a precursor to mischief. Some experts say that people tune things out for good reasons, and that over time boredom becomes a tool for sorting information — an increasingly sensitive spam filter. In various fields including neuroscience and education, research suggests that falling into a numbed trance allows the brain to recast the outside world in ways that can be productive and creative at least as often as they are disruptive."
You’re Bored, but Your Brain Is Tuned In (NYT)

Wednesday, July 18

Should the U.S. Follow New Zealand's Example and End Farm Subsidies?

"Faced with a budget crisis, New Zealand's government decided to eliminate nearly all farm subsidies. That was a dramatic reform because New Zealand farmers had enjoyed high levels of aid and the country's economy is more dependent on agriculture than is the U.S. economy.
"Despite initial protests, farm subsidies were repealed in 1984. Almost 30 different production subsidies and export incentives were ended. Did that cause a mass exodus from agriculture and an end to family farms? Not at all. It did create a tough transition period for some farmers, but large numbers of them did not walk off their land as had been predicted. Just one percent of the country's farmers could not adjust and were forced out. 
"The vast majority of New Zealand farmers proved to be skilled entrepreneurs — they restructured their operations, explored new markets, and returned to profitability."
In New Zealand, Farmers Don't Want Subsidies (Cato)

Tuesday, July 17

Teacher Idiotically Brags About Illegally Blocking an Atheist Student Group to the Wrong People (Jezebel).

Republicans Want Their Own Preexisting Conditions Covered, But Not Yours

"'House Republicans refuse to admit they voted to give themselves taxpayer funded lifetime guaranteed health care instead of having the same health care as their constituents,'" said Jesse Ferguson, spokesman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, referring to the fact that members of Congress are eligible for retirement benefits after just five years."
Democrats Mock GOP For Protecting Own Health Care In Repeal Vote

Monday, July 16

On Internet Addiction

"We may appear to be choosing to use this technology, but in fact we are being dragged to it by the potential of short-term rewards. Every ping could be social, sexual, or professional opportunity, and we get a mini-reward, a squirt of dopamine, for answering the bell. 'These rewards serve as jolts of energy that recharge the compulsion engine, much like the frisson a gambler receives as a new card hits the table,' MIT media scholar Judith Donath recently told Scientific American. 'Cumulatively, the effect is potent and hard to resist.'"
Is the Web Driving Us Mad? (Newsweek)

The Future Isn't So Bright For Private Medical Insurers

Rick Ungar makes his case for the most potent component of Obama's Affordable Care Act:
"That would be the provision of the law, called the medical loss ratio, that requires health insurance companies to spend 80% of the consumers’ premium dollars they collect—85% for large group insurers—on actual medical care rather than overhead, marketing expenses and profit. Failure on the part of insurers to meet this requirement will result in the insurers having to send their customers a rebate check representing the amount in which they underspend on actual medical care.
"This is the true ‘bomb’ contained in Obamacare and the one item that will have more impact on the future of how medical care is paid for in this country than anything we’ve seen in quite some time.  Indeed, it is this aspect of the law that represents the true ‘death panel’ found in Obamacare—but not one that is going to lead to the death of American consumers. Rather, the medical loss ratio will, ultimately, lead to the death of large parts of the private, for-profit health insurance industry."
The Bomb Buried In Obamacare Explodes Today-Hallelujah! (Forbes, December 2011)

Friday, July 13

Gallup Poll Indicates Weaker Showing By Young Voters in 2012 Election

"Fifty-eight percent of U.S. registered voters aged 18 to 29 say they will 'definitely vote' this fall, well below the current national average of 78% and far below 18- to 29-year-olds' voting intentions in the fall of 2004 and 2008. ... 
"With Obama maintaining just a slight advantage over Mitt Romney in registered voters' presidential preferences, the election result could be decided by turnout. The challenge for Obama is that many of his strongest support groups, including young adults, blacks, and Hispanics, have historically turned out to vote at lower rates than other subgroups. So maintaining a relatively high level of turnout among these groups is a key to Obama's winning a second term."
Young U.S. Voters' Turnout Intentions Lagging (Gallup)

Thursday, July 12

Gates Foundation Pledges $1 Billion For Birth Control In Developing World

"Family planning nearly vanished from the global agenda over the past several decades, partly as a result of past abuses, such as forced sterilizations, and partly because of opposition from religious conservatives.
"Gates said she and her husband, Microsoft founder Bill Gates, made a careful study of the issues and were swayed by the strong evidence that giving women the power to limit family size not only improves health but also increases children's school attendance, leads to more prosperous families and can raise countries' GDPs. 
"'That's why ... we had absolutely no hesitation in making this decision,' said Melinda Gates, who has described the new initiative as her 'life's work.'"
Gates Foundation's pledge for contraceptives in developing countries: $1 billion (Seattle Times)

Wednesday, July 11

Romney Booed After Pledging to Repeal 'Obamacare'

The crowd didn't like this particular aspect of Romney's speech given at the NAACP annual meeting in Houston today (Houston Chronicle).

And here's a video at Think Progress.

Tuesday, July 10

The Impact of Ending Tax Cuts on The Rich

"Mark Zandi, the chief economist at Moody’s Analytics, estimates that allowing tax cuts for Americans who earn above $250,000 to expire at the end of 2012 would reduce gross domestic product growth in 2013 by $40 billion, or about 0.24 percentage points.
"Allowing the “middle class” tax cuts to expire would shave an additional 1.06 percentage points off economic growth. That means letting all of the Bush tax cuts phase out would cut about 1.3 percentage points from growth."
Will Ending Tax Cuts for the Rich Hurt the Economy?

Monday, July 9

Income Inequality Illustrated in Six Cases

Nick Hanauer, an individual from Seattle who makes $10 Million+ per year, on income inequality:
"'If there were a shred of truth to the claim that the rich are our nation's job creators, then given how rich the rich have gotten, America should be drowning in jobs!'
"'So if the rich don't create the jobs,' I ask, 'who does?'
"'The middle classes!' Nick roars. 'A huge middle class will produce an unbelievable opportunity for capitalists.'"
Amber Waves of Green (GQ).

Big Organic

"...organic food has become a wildly lucrative business for Big Food and a premium-price-means-premium-profit section of the grocery store. The industry’s image — contented cows grazing on the green hills of family-owned farms — is mostly pure fantasy. Or rather, pure marketing. Big Food, it turns out, has spawned what might be called Big Organic."
How ‘certified organic’ went corporate.

Friday, July 6

Following Crazy Horse's Example

"The ideologues of rapacious capitalism, like members of a primitive cult, chant the false mantra that natural resources and expansion are infinite. They dismiss calls for equitable distribution as unnecessary. ...
"Civilizations in the final stages of decay are dominated by elites out of touch with reality. Societies strain harder and harder to sustain the decadent opulence of the ruling class, even as it destroys the foundations of productivity and wealth."
Time to Get Crazy by Chris Hedges.

"Religious Freedom" Usually Means "Everyone Should Believe My Religion"

Rep. Valarie Hodges (R-Watson) is backpedaling after coming to the realization that the voucher program she voted for, which would permit funding of religious charter schools in Louisiana, ALSO applies to those pesky non-fundamentalist-Christian religions. Lol.
“I actually support funding for teaching the fundamentals of America’s Founding Fathers’ religion, which is Christianity, in public schools or private schools,” the District 64 Representative said Monday. ...
“Unfortunately it will not be limited to the Founders’ religion,” Hodges said. “We need to insure that it does not open the door to fund radical Islam schools. There are a thousand Muslim schools that have sprung up recently. I do not support using public funds for teaching Islam anywhere here in Louisiana.”
Louisiana Republican: When I Voted for State Funds to go to Religious Schools, I Didn’t Mean Muslim Ones

Thursday, July 5

Why Are You So Busy?

"The present hysteria is not a necessary or inevitable condition of life; it’s something we’ve chosen, if only by our acquiescence to it. ... Busyness serves as a kind of existential reassurance, a hedge against emptiness; obviously your life cannot possibly be silly or trivial or meaningless if you are so busy, completely booked, in demand every hour of the day."
The 'Busy' Trap (NYT).