Showing posts with label society. Show all posts
Showing posts with label society. Show all posts

Review: Pedigree: How Elite Students Get Elite Jobs

Pedigree: How Elite Students Get Elite Jobs Pedigree: How Elite Students Get Elite Jobs by Lauren A. Rivera
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

If you work in higher education and believe in any kind of social justice mission that higher education is to fulfill, then this book is worth picking up. Furthermore, if you plan any role in hiring employees, it would be equally important for you to check out this book. Rivera explores and deconstructs the "magic" of job hiring to illustrate how social and cultural capital often allows for more privileged people to acquire prestigious jobs, regardless of their actual skill and ability. She shows how low and working class students who do attend prestigious and ivy league institutes are still significantly disadvantaged when going into the job market. The implications of her book are something we all need to consider when we consider how education and employment relate to achievement in our culture.

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Allowing the Public To Vote? A Question to Answer

Recently, a friend on Facebook asked me the following question.  This is a friend of a different political viewpoint from me and on occasion, we get into a debate about different things.  I appreciated the open question without limited judgement embedded in it.  Distilled down to its basic idea, it's an interesting question and thought I would share both question and answer.  Feel free to also chime in with your thoughts.

" I have a pet peeve, and I'd like your opinion on it. Also want to make sure I'm being reasonable and all.  Here goes:
IF a person decides that they are going to forego work, class, a nap, or what have you to join a protest against a candidate or political party, shouldn't they be required to know and understand what that party or candidate represents? More importantly, shouldn't they be able to speak intelligently regarding the party or candidate they're supporting? This type of exasperating comportment brings about substantial doubt in the voting public."


Interesting question...I would say there's no easy answer.

Word cloud of this blog post.
If you want to TLDR version, it simple:  No to both questions.

However, if you want to understand how I come to that, feel free to read on.

On one level--the pretext of the American idea is that--a person doesn't have to know anything in order to do whatever one wants to do--that's a part of our "freedom".  You are just as free to be peeved as someone else is to be protesting.  We all do things often based on little knowledge, incorrect knowledge, or without actual understanding of what our actions say or result in...and that is really the cornerstone of our nation.  As Ralph Waldo Emerson says, "A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines...Speak what you think now in hard words, and to-morrow speak what to-morrow thinks in hard words again, though it contradict every thing you said to-day."  It is an intentional quality built into the system.  If we all would only be able to act when we have achieved knowledge & understanding of things, we'd so very rarely act.

Additionally, we need only look at the First Amendment to see that there is no stipulation for intelligence.  "the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances."  There have been limitations on this amendment such as requiring permits and such, but the knowledge isn't one of them.

To get to the question a bit more, I guess I would go further:

"Required" by whom?
I'm assuming you're meaning "morally required" but if not, I guess I would ask who gets to be the gatekeeper.

If "morally required"--I refer back to Emerson above but also raise the question of whose moral systems are we talking about?   Should we be concerned that none of us attain the moral perfection we espouse to and should that be taken into account for whose morals we using to deem something morally required?  That is, should the moral failure of a protestor be held as anything more or less than the moral failings of the person judging?

"Know and understand" to what degree?

The thresholds you provide are insubstantial in that they create no standard upon which all could actually agree.  Knowledge & understanding--according to whom?  To what degree?  If a person can speak eloquently about 3 policy issues on a candidate they support or are protesting, but can't on 10 others, is that an acceptable threshold?  What if those other 10 issues don't matter to the person?

And how do we assess what the protester/supporter knows?  Do we rely on media soundbites that purposely create and manipulate content to illustrate how smart/inept the people are?  Do we administer a quiz to each person to determine their knowledge and understanding?  Should we make them write essays or speeches to explain?  This sounds pedantic and silly (and obviously clearly written by someone who thinks a lot about teaching & learning)...but my point is, who gets to make that judgment call about whether a person knows or understands who they are supporting or protesting?  We can all easily play the game of judging others based upon a few pieces of information we know about them and the assumptions we derive from that about the person and use that to decide if someone "knows and understands"--but to me, that's a weak approach that usually only allows one to reinforce their own biases without doing the work of listening and learning what that person knows or understands and how they come to that.  After all, if someone has forgone other activities to attend a protest or a rally, it means something meaningful has moved them--but meaningful to that person isn't necessarily going to be meaningful to us.

To add another level of chaos and confusion to this is that each party & every candidate puts out thousands of bits of information daily--none of which any one of us can responsibly know and still maintain a functional life.  This was why things like "literacy tests" were abolished as part of voting because they were often clearly used to prevent populations from voting.  Whoever was deciding the threshold could easily move the field posts however they wanted.  We can all play "gotcha politics" with one another based upon what we don't know about our candidates.

"To know and understand what that party and candidate represents"

That's a problematic consideration as well because it assumes each party has a singular meaning and they don't.  There are too many parts to a political party to be seen as singular in a way in which could be agreed up.  Therefore, if people can't even agree on what a party represents (or the dynamics between what the party says and what the party does), defining what a party represents is an impossible act because people who are protesting are likely to have a particular collection of facts in the form of narrative while those attending in support, may have different (or similar) facts but a different narrative that sees the party in a positive light.  In essence, it's impossible for us to "know and understand" a party or a candidate.  Besides being so far removed from said party or candidate, we are all operate with bits of similar and different information that is filtered through our preferred media outlets and into our own understanding of the narrative of politics.  

And of course, you have people within the party that can't agree on what it means or represents--so if the internal members can't, the external are also unlikely to do so.

All of which means that your threshold for the knowledge and understanding of a protestor for a candidate you have sided  with is likely to be profoundly different than what I beleieve should be the threshold or what someone else might be.

As to the second question, I would further add, what does "speak intelligently" mean?  Who gets to decide that threshold?  "Speak intelligently" is in the same hazy space as "to know and understand."  What defines "speaking intelligently"?  Who defines what level of intelligence?  Should it matter if the person is intelligent in area X but not area Y or area Z?  Should it matter if the person doesn't care about area Y or area Z?

Does it only mean "speak" and should the actual speaking abilities of the individual matter?  Should it matter if they are an introvert or extrovert?  Should the context matter?  How someone might "speak" at a rally for their candidate may not be elegant or intelligent--given that most events are just orgiastic love-fests of repeated slogans, cliches, and "we're #1" speak, people's intellectual abilities are often not at their peak.  Where we talk has much influence on how we talk, which means what the camera captures is mediated even before the media play with it.   I'm assuming you mean more than speaking, but that only exasperates the dynamics upon what we judge their abilities.  

All of this is to say that embedded in American ideal is the individual.  The individual has inalienable rights that include protesting and voting.

Does this bode badly for democracy? I would say it has been a feature of democracy in the US since the start--misinformed or uninformed people has always been voting.  If I were to improve the structure of democracy--that's probably not where I'd be looking to change or fix things or be frustrated by.  Even myself, I know, as much as I try to be politically aware, I miss a lot and am misinformed in many ways.

Probably not the response you were looking for, but hopefully not a total waste of your time ;)  I appreciated the question and the opportunity to reflect on it.

What about you, dear reader?  What are your thoughts on the question posed or the answer supplied?

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Review: Invisible Men: Mass Incarceration and the Myth of Black Progress

Invisible Men: Mass Incarceration and the Myth of Black Progress Invisible Men: Mass Incarceration and the Myth of Black Progress by Becky Pettit
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The book is a fascinating look at the element of incarceration among African Americans (particularly male) and how because of demographics gathering such as the census and polling work, has left a wide gap about the nature of racial progress over the last 60 years. The result is a stark difference in perception between what is reported to have occurred in terms of racial progress and how things really are. Pettit traces connects these changes to the rise of the prison industrial complex and its explosion since the 1970s and 1980s. The disproportionate amount of African Americans in prison has left them unaccounted in a variety of other data for different reasons and thus, hide the actual disparities. The result is political action and choices that do not necessarily make up for the continued problems created through historically institutional racism.

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Review: Newtown: An American Tragedy

Newtown: An American Tragedy Newtown: An American Tragedy by Matthew Lysiak
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Lysiak offers an investigative look at the Sandy Hook mass shooting in December 2012. It's a powerful and intriguing book that balances the facts with the emotion. He introduces the reader to all of the major people involved, sharing their history and their potential. He does not sugarcoat things but at the same time, he proves respectful in his descriptions. It is a fascinating look at what unfolded and more importantly, a good look at the complexity of the challenges around mass shootings.

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The #IceBucketChallege, Activism and Spotlights

So by now, many of us have heard about the #IceBucketChallenge for ALS.  A good amount of us have participated in it and still others have written and reported upon it.  This has been an interesting campaign that has been highly success for the ALS Association in raising awareness of the illness and what the organization does.  I was recently tagged and performed my own #IceBucketChallenge with my fiance since we were both challenged by her brother.  Of course, we followed through with a donation (above the $10 mark for each of us) and we nominated others to meet the challenge and to donate.  Here is our video:

There are plenty of people doing it but there are also lots of questions and concerns being raised about it as can be seen from the Twitter stream:

And of course, it was interesting to see how some people have tried to build upon the success of ALS and encourage support for their own causes such as the #SunBlockChallenge from BexxFine who does fundraising for the Melanoma Education Foundation.  

ALS in the Spotlight

We were nominated on Tuesday and planned to do it on Wednesday (you have 24 hours to accomplish it).  But between Tuesday's nomination and Wednesday's execution, I read a post by a friend on Facebook that got me to thinking differently about the whole thing.

The debate about whether the ALS #IceBucketChallenge is actual activism or slactivism has created lots of writing and reflecting.  There are plenty of examples online wherein the people performing it get it all wrong, fail to mention ALS in their video, fail to donate, or fail to make themselves more aware of what ALS is and the whole reason for the #IceBucketChallenge.  This criticism of the viral movement can be understood and has clear similarities to the Kony2012 viral movement.  Of course, there are differences here too.  Each action (whether you go for the bucket or forgo it) should entail a donation to ALSA and they have reported a significant increase in donations compared to the previous year (currently, well pass double the amount from last year).  While some still argue that more time and money are being wasted, I think that's questionable at best.  Giving and receiving donations are tricky things and there has to be some stickiness to encourage people to do it.  In this case, that people are "nominated" or tagged to do it, that there's some entertainment, and some pressure (24 hours) generates a more rewarding and engaging experience and that's important for both the people donating and the organization.  We have this ideal conception of all giving being this altruistic approach with nothing to be gained from the giver but the reward of giving.  And while there are kernels of truth in this, we also live in a system (capitalism) that repeatedly tells us that this is not the way to operate and therefore, we often need more than just that good-feeling to motivate us to act charitable.  Coupled with this, of course, is the fact that so many different causes pull at our heart-strings, it's hard to decide which ones to pick.  

And Then Robin Williams Changed The Game

The post that my friend posted, struck a chord--not just in me--but in many of his friends as well.  In the post, he raised the question about where we should shine spotlights and while ALS is important, it's sometimes hard to recognize the attention that it is getting and how the discussion around mental health and suicide is much trickier to deal or as easily rally people around.  

Image: Robin Williams.  Source: Robin Williams--a man that made so many people laugh and smile--a man whose movies so often found the inner hope within all of us--should commit suicide is a bit heart-wrenching.  It also reminds of that depression and depression-associated suicide is an equally real and tragic experience for everyone around.  In that, there's a horribly democratic element to depression that can also make it harder to talk about or create a rallying movement around.  After all, if it affects 1/5 of the population, it can be hard to feel like there is much that can be done.  It's also a sinister thing, depression.  It can lie in the shadows waiting to strike hard directly or suffer the person a thousand little cuts. I have another friend who posted the following about depression while writing this post that I thought in many ways got to the center of the challenge.  

Eryk Nielsen - Thoughts on Depression Part 1
Eryk Nielsen - Thoughts on Depression Part 2

Now for regular readers of this blog (all 2 of you), I've mentioned before about the trials and challenges I've had with depression and suicide attempts.  In reading about Robin Williams' cause of death, I took it a bit harder than I would have were it another celebrity in part because Williams was such a centerpiece of entertainment growing up, but also because his roles and messages carried  much meaning for me and were often uplifting.  One of my favorite movies of his and one that had a lot of impact on me while I struggled out of my depression and suicidal tendencies was What Dreams May Come.  It was a film that gave me another way of thinking about death and helped me think differently about a lot of things related to depression and suicide.

My friends both connected ideas that were circling in my head and many others out there who were reconciling their experiences or experiences of people they cared about.  Like Neil, I don't mean to belittle the #IceBucketChallenge but would like to acknowledge the importance of mental illness and the ways it impacts many of us directly and indirectly.  To that end, in addition to donating to the ALSA, I also decided to make a donation to National Association of Mental Illness to help find ways of helping others who find themselves unwell and unable to help themselves.  I would encourage you to donate as well if you have felt the impact of mental illness in your life.  

But more than donating, I would encourage you to reach out not just to people who you know have mental illness but just to everyone in your circle.  I think one of the biggest challenges around depression, suicide and the like is that it often goes unnoticed.  It is often an invisible illness.  I know in my own history, it was cryptic at best.  I left clues, but at the same time, they were clear clues to me because I knew what I was experiencing, whereas to others, they had little context to understand how that one comment or action was part of a larger pattern--part of a bigger call for help. That is all to say that I have no doubt we all have people who are suffering in some capacity and a friend reaching out to them could be just the something needed to help them out.  Finding ways of supporting people we care about in our life is probably the best thing we can do in the wake of Robin Williams' death.

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Of Bunnies and Logos: The Playboy Icon

My Informational Design and Visual Literacy course provided me with a challenge this week to explore and discuss a company's logo.  Basically, to break it down and explore how it captures the company's message and purpose.  After aimlessly googling company logos trying to find inspiration, I randomly thought of the Playboy logo and what follows is what I wrote.  I should warn you that several people who read an excerpt on Facebook said they wouldn't be able to look at the logo the same again.  So enjoy!
Image: Playboy Bunny.  Image Source:

There's lot to cover with this logo and the more I think about it, the more ingenious I find Playboy to be with their logo.  This logo conveys much without actually saying anything formal and much of what it suggests is more risque without having to be blatantly raunchy--something that Playboy aspires to over other entities like Hustler and the like.  Playboy is a multimedia empire that largely caters to men’s sexual interests. What started initially as a magazine has evolved into books, television, film, websites, events, and facilities (e.g. The Playboy Mansion). The key style that Playboy has employed for decades has been sex through the prism of sophistication; the equivalent contrast of an escort versus as street-level prostitute. Playboy is the escort, purportedly offering class and sophistication with its sexual steam.   Though the extremely sexually-conservative folk would see all elements of sexual capitalism vanquished, sexual moderates and liberals tend to view Playboy with much more acceptance or amusement (except when of course, one delves into the niche of feminism that claims that all pornography is exploitative of women and detrimental; I do not agree with this branch of thinking, though I can understand how one gets there).   While celebrities, politicians, and other high-profile people seek to avoid being “caught” with lower echelons of sexual capitalism, many regularly interact with Playboy and are comfortable with this association. As one of the best-paying magazines in the country, many popular and skillful writers have at some point published in Playboy magazine (those famous “articles” that no one reads).

Researching the logo can be a little tricky.  After all, each search is prefaced with "playboy" and that invites all things sex related--which only speaks to the prevalence and success of the company and its aforementioned logo.  However, it did yield some interesting sites such as this Tumblr site that presents cartoons from Playboy magazines throughout the years.  

The famous bunny logo balances the prestige and sophistication that Playboy as an organization has attempted to uphold while in subtle and sophisticated ways, communicates that sex is still the subject on hand.  For those that don't know, the Playboy bunny originated in an cartoon in an early issue of Playboy magazine by Art Paul.  It evolved into what has become the icon of Playboy fairly shortly after that.  

Time to explore the logo.  First, there is the singular contrast of black and white. This makes the logo bold and stick out; grabbing the viewer’s attention. Also the mixture of black and white could also be read through a moral lens in that despite the questionable elements of sexual capitalism (represented by the color black—a color traditionally meant to indicate the negative), there is purity mixed with impurity.  The black and white contrast also connects to the bow-tie and more strongly elicits the bow-tie's metaphor as a stand in for a full blown tuxedo.

The rabbit head silhouette is continually referred to as the Playboy “bunny.” This is a curious but impressive feat by Playboy because it plays out several themes simultaneously and across the sexual divide that’s worth acknowledging.  These ideas could be mutually exclusive if one thinks about it too much, but funny enough, no one ever does.  The bunny is used in many ways and thus the icon can be embraced by many.

  1. The icon “bunny” appears to be male (indicated by the tux—more about that later).
  2. The tux also invokes a sense of class and wealth.
  3. The “bunny” is a rabbit; well known for its proclivity for sex.  
  4. With these three consideration, the bunny embraces the "playboy" who is wealthy and looking to sexually score.
  5. Yet, a bunny is typically a young rabbit; as in, a newly born rabbit, not yet capable of reproducing.
  6. “Bunny” is the term referred to the women that work at the Playboy clubs and the term many refer to when talking about women who work for Playboy in some form of exhibition. 
  7. Taking three, five, and six, here again, we have an interesting presentation of women:  sexy but non-procreating exhibitionists.
  8. What about the bunny presented in side-profile. The bunny doesn't look forward which might be a direct invitation.  Instead, it looks to something the viewer can't see. Therefore, the viewer must ask what the bunny is looking at and must become the bunny to see what the bunny sees.
  9. But given that the only action permitted to the bunny is to look, we also discover the centerpiece of the Playboy industry.  The visual.  Looking at "bunnies".  It promises us nothing more.   Laura Mulvey would be proud.
Image:  Word cloud of this blogpost

So why is the tux important? Firstly, it indicates class and sophistication, a key element of Playboy. It also indicates that the icon we are looking at is a male (e.g. a sophisticated man).  Some would argue this is questionable, but given the bunny's origin as a male "playboy", it seems rather moot.   Since the icon is abstract (yet clearly male), it does encourage the viewer to project himself into the role of that bunny who is presented as looking (leftward). Thus, the image tells the male viewer that he too can see what this icon sees (an abundance of women in various states of undress). This idea of abstraction comes from Scott McCloud who discusses that abstraction enhances one’s tendency project himself or herself into the abstract. That is, the more abstract (to a certain point) a drawing is, the easier it is for people to picture themselves therein.

Of course, there are more sexual hints within this logo still. The bunny ears spread out in a way that they could simultaneously be considered phallic (from a state of flaccidness to an erect state) and yonic (the two ears forming the “V” of a woman’s legs as well as the “V” of the pubic mound). The curvature of the bunny in contrast to the straight-lines of the tuxedo tie also hints at a contrast between the constraint of the male viewer and the sexual abundance of the women within the Playboy establishment. And of course, the bunny’s face with its particular curve simulates a curvaceous buttocks or even a breast (supposing the bunny’s “eye” to be the nipple).

All in all, this logo does a fantastic job at capturing the tantalizing and complex sexual dynamic that Playboy represents.  The question of whether it is intentional or not (much like when the student says, "but did the Shakespeare mean all that stuff") isn't relevant.  The fact that it can be all found there makes think about the direct and indirect ways information is communicated.  They say a picture is worth a thousand words--and I blew past that a few paragraphs ago.  

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Responding to the Value of Popular Culture

So there's this regular letter-to-the-editor writer for the Salem News, Malcolm Miller, who writes these 3-4 sentence quips that seem to largely disregard and condemn popular culture and society in some capacity or another.  Whether it's sports or talk shows, he is dismay with it all and with any who appear to take value in it.  Last month he wrote one called, "A Cultural Question."  Here is my response to said letter.  I originally sent it to the Salem News but they appeared to pass on it.  So here it is:

There is much to read that may not be considered "good.”  I believe Miller would appreciate the quote--though not necessarily the actual writings since they were more common--of  science-fiction writer, Theodore Sturgeon:  "Ninety percent of [science fiction] is crud, but then, ninety percent of everything is crud."

But as one who seems to value the authority of established "cultural assets," you might look to Plato.  He would be more likely to idolize the sports figure as a representation of the ideal than to idolize a book.  As he said in Phaedrus,

"Most ingenious Theuth, one man has the ability to beget arts, but the ability to judge of their usefulness or harmfulness to their users belongs to another; and now you who are the father of letters, have been led by your affection to ascribe to them a power the opposite of that which they really possess. For this invention will produce forgetfulness in the minds of those who learn to use it, because they will not practice their memory. Their trust in writing, produced by external characters which are no part of themselves, will discourage the use of their own memory within them. You have invented an elixir not of memory, but of reminding; and you offer your pupils the appearance of wisdom, not true wisdom, for they will read many things without instruction and will therefore seem to know many things, when they are for the most part ignorant and hard to get along with, since they are not wise, but only appear wise."

We live in a time where we have many forms of meaningful storytelling.  Books absolutely have a place in that world, but they are not the sole means of transferring and developing substantial cultural artifacts.  That we have become a culture of such diverse range and taste speaks more to our cultural complexity than any uniformity to a preordained and highly limited ideal.

Lance Eaton
Watcher of television, films, and even Youtube videos.
Reader of books, comic books, blogs, and even Twitter feeds. 
Listener of old time radio, audiobooks, great speeches, and even podcasts.

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Obnoxious Tones in the Childfree Debate

This article in the Daily Beast on childfree living that was brought to my attention definitely irked me...a lot.  It had enough condescension and judgment about the nature of childfree living that I got a bit twitchy and proceeded to write.  Many of you know that I have opted for the childfree life and regularly engage in the conversation about the conscious decision not to procreate.  I've read and discussed it here on this blog and most of my friends know--it's one of my soapboxes for sure.  I understand and appreciate why people procreate, I just don't care for it and I get annoyed about the ways in which people decide they know what's best for me and other people making the conscious decision. I get further annoyed when writers attempt to talk about people opting for childfree living deliver articles that still echo of judgment.  Of course, some child-filled folks aren't likely to see the strong bias or underlying misdirects that the authors point out since the childfree lifestyle is often foreign to them (note--it's foreign but not incomprehensible--no more than the child-filled life is incomprehensible to childfree folks.  Too many on both sides of the discussion argue that the other can't "truly" understand what the other's life is like.  I find that an extremely misleading assumption.  Our entire lives and interactions with one another are extraction of personal experiences to understand the other person and that has the potential to extend to all aspects of life).  

So here are some of the faults I find with the article. 

Let's start with the first paragraph:  "First, for many younger Americans and especially those in cities, having children is no longer an obvious or inevitable choice."  The problem here is the last bit:  "no longer an obvious or inevitable choice."  Since when is an "inevitable choice" considered an actual choice?  It's not.  If you can have any choice of color of a Model T Ford so long as that color is black--it's not a choice.  So the authors' frame to imply "choice" when historically there wasn't any speaks to a bias of that's what "should" be done.  This bias is made crystal clear by the second sentence:  "Second, many of those opting for childlessness have legitimate, if perhaps selfish, reasons for their decision."  

So not only do adults have actual choice, but they may have actual "legitimate" reasons to not have children.  However, one should be weary because those legitimate reasons are "selfish."  Wow.  First, the assumption that the decision to not have children is "selfish" while whelping out a pup is considered unselfish is problematic.  In many ways, procreating can be argued as an ultimate act of selfishness--particularly in a modern world where each child puts further demand on a ecosystem that humans are already overtaxing and in conjunction with the massive number of children who have no homes or families.  Choosing to procreate in that light would be seen as much more selfish and self-centered. 

But why do my reasons for not procreating need to be legitimized?  I've consciously and purposely chosen not to have children whereas nearly half the pregnancies out there are  "unexpected."  That suggests to me that our lack of legitimate reasons and conscious decisions for procreating in all likely still contribute significantly to the gender gap, since procreation invariably impacts females substantially more than males (both directly and indirectly).  That many can't legitimize their need to breed beyond "because" isn't entirely reassuring and again, given the aforementioned environmental and social issues above, are much more suspect and problematic.  After all, my decision to not procreate puts no further potential burden on the larger social system than that which I already represent.  But those who procreate increase the direct (in terms of resources consumed) and potential (should the parents rid themselves or lose the right to have said child) burden upon society.  But my decision needs legitimacy?  To be clear, it's not the act of procreation that I take fault with.  It's that my decision to not procreate needs to be legitimize and is regularly framed as "selfish" when there's clear reasons why we would want to legitimize the selfish decision to procreate.  

The next problem I see in this article is the term "Postfamilial America."  That somehow not procreating means you are beyond the traditional family?  Again, it hints at this idea of being non-family oriented.  However, many of the people I know that don't procreate are very-family oriented.  Connected and close with their families in ways.  And if by post-familial refers to the idea that we extend ourselves beyond our traditional family bonds; that too is inaccurate.  The 1900s gave us the nuclear family, but "family" has had a much larger meaning throughout history and extended to a variety of people that weren't necessarily family or superficially family.
History of Human Population--we have little
 to fear about a population decline

The article flailing cries that "Postfamilial America is in ascendancy as the fertility rate among women has plummeted, since the 2008 economic crisis and the Great Recession that followed, to its lowest level since reliable numbers were first kept in 1920."  This statement is a bit confusing since first, by fertility do the authors mean women who are potentially fertile or women who have become pregnant?  But I think it's the nationalistic vibe that permeates the article that we see start to rise.  Population decline may be happening in pockets, but the global picture continues to be one of substantial growth.  We're 7.1 billion and counting.  In the course of visiting the Population Institute website for about 10-15 minutes, it was reported that the population had grown by 1000 net births.  

The authors continue to fixate on the concerns and challenges that are supposedly created by those selfish non-procreators.  Whose going to replace the workforce?  What about all those elderly entitlements?  (Of course, he seems oblivious to the fact that adults without children--particularly DINKs--are likely to have more resources to work with and be less of a social burden).  The authors are not concerned about the overall continued population growth in the world, but about the United States.  So much of the challenges that he points to--only exist because of a self-interested and one might say selfish approach to looking at human population.  These are artificial threats created by an artificial barrier called nation.  Here, the authors are playing upon a xenophobic bias (his own and the readers) to ignore the larger picture and just frame the US in a state of crisis (making note that we could go the way of Europe or Japan who also face population declines) that is in part, caused by the childfree selfish people.   

The overall assumption that the population growth of the 1900s was a positive thing seems ridiculous at best given when we know not only about the environmental impact but that in this country millions of children go undernourished and uncared for.  In the end, the idea that childfree living is somehow connected to a potential decline in our culture negates that the practices of the 1900s have created a variety of problems that childfree living actually addresses much more than negatively impacted.  Yes, we have benefited greatly from that growth--I won't argue that.  But the idea that it is sustainable and childfree people are compromising America's future by having legitimate yet selfish reasons for not procreating is ludicrous.  

Ok, there was a lot more that I wanted to write, but I think I'll save that for a book.  This article probably doesn't deserve any more attention.

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Recent Letter to the Editor: Fools tilting at windmills

This one was in response to Barbara Anderson's column "Overreaching government still a concern".  

To the editor:

Barbara Anderson’s selective reading of the Second Amendment and her NRA advertisement (“Overreaching government still a concern,” Jan. 3) is disappointing.

Never mind that there is no major movement or serious interest in repealing the Second Amendment — and while there are people advocating this, they are on par with those wishing to secede from the United States; fools tilting at windmills.

Follow through to read the rest.

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These Are The Gun Arguments That Are Bunk

Given the mass gun shootings of the last year and in the last decade, the discussion around guns continues to circle around without actual meaning or purpose.  Over the course of conversations with people, I find myself getting to the point where I start to roll my eyeballs when I hear certain faux-arguments.

To be clear--not just because I feel obligated to say it or else be disregarded as a "anti-gun" person and because I actually do believe it--I do believe people should have the right to reasonably arm and protect themselves including guns from realistic and recognizable threats.  I go back and forth about owning a gun myself--not because of any ethical issues about ownership or protecting myself but because that would also entail proper care of the weapon and regular practicing with it (which for those who know me, know that I already do a billion things--adding to the mix can be challenging).  That is, if I were to be a gun-owner, I would want to make sure I could be a responsible one.

However, the words "reasonably," "realistic," and "recognizable" are the key modifiers here.  That people instantly want to (or choose to) believe that a discussion about the places for guns in our society equates to wanting to take guns away from everyone seems to mean they have either drank all of the NRA's Kool-Aid or may themselves not be entirely rational (which is a relevant issue to consider down below when we talk about mental health).  

So here are the bunk arguments that I just don't want to deal with any more, largely because they are a distraction from the conversation and not a meaningful contribution.

People can still kill with "______" so are we going to outlaw "_____."

Yes, they can.  People are wonderfully creative and have ample ways of killing and doing harm.  But that's not a fair analogy on several key elements.  The first is that no one is talking about outlawing all guns.  Quit pretending there's somehow a majority of people in this country that want that to happen and you're some frightened minority.  There is a discussion about the use of guns that are capable of spraying a large amount of bullets in a short span of time.  The serious and purposeful use of a gun such as that is clear, when one contrasts what happened at Sandy Hook and what happened on the same day in China.  Of those involved in the stabbing spree, almost all have survived.  And at the end of the day, yes, other things can create massive death, but they are either highly restrictive (cars, trains, planes, etc), highly ineffective for mass murdering (knives, rocks, crossbows, etc) or complicated enough to orchestrate (e.g. ingredients for a bomb akin to what Timothy McVeigh did).  In the case of cars, trains, planes, etc, we still create numerous blockades (both legal and physical) to prevent the large scale harm by motor vehicles and the like (and in truth, it's easier to dodge a car than it is a bullet; you're likely to be able to see and avoid the car much easier).  In the complicated orchestration, there's nothing preventing people per se but it takes a significant amount of planning that is hard to pull off.  If doing things like bombing were so easy and quick to access, then why do the more fierce gun zealots have to point to McVeigh as proof of evidence that common household are just as easy to kill large amounts of people? Why do they reach back some 18 years if these things are a clear and present danger--unlike semi-automatic guns which one only needs to look back every few months.

Yes, you can kill by other means; that doesn't mean you ignore the ways in which guns are predisposed to kill many people in efficient ways.  That doesn't get the gun off the hook.

It's the 2nd Amendment; You Can't Mess With the Bill of Rights.

I hear this a lot.  Usually, it's gun-advocates yelling at who they perceive as liberals saying something along the lines of "You don't want your amendment of free speech messed with, well, I don't want my amendment of the right to bear arms messed with."  Butt there are ample restrictions on every part of the 1st Amendment.  It has been amply messed with and with good reason.

The 1st Amendment reads:  "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."

It contains five specific freedoms:  religion, speech, press, assemble and petition.  There is indeed laws that do interfere and disregard religion:  laws that restrict drug usage, forbid plural marriages, and animal or human sacrifice.  There are laws restricting freedom of speech; liable and slander laws are good examples of those as well as the "Shouting fire in a crowded theater" or saying "bomb" on a plane.  The press have their limitations too about the kind of the information they can present and their sources.  The right to peaceably assemble has been disregarded innumerable times (e.g. around national conventions).  And though I don't enough about the limitations on the right to petition, it's clear that some do exist.

All this is to say that there are reasonable restrictions (ok, and some unreasonable; PATRIOT ACT anyone?) on the First Amendment.  They are there because while the founding fathers were intelligent people, they did not know everything and could not foresee all the ways society would become incomprehensibly complicated.  This is true of the Second Amendment.  In the age of Washington, Adams, and Jefferson, the gun was not a weapon of mass murder it is today.  It could take upwards of thirty seconds to a minute per shot and these were not the mass-produced weaponry of today, they were regularly problems with the aim and function.  These were the "arms" in the Second Amendments that the founding fathers were referring to.

One has to legitimately wonder if they would have worded things differently if the semi-automatic Bushmaster rifle was available in large quantities as it is today.  Along with that the introduction of mass produced guns and bullets coupled with the significant decrease in price might also have created a different outcome.  Again, in colonial times, a single gun would have costed significantly as would the bullets.  Amassing an arsenal would not have been feasible.  Finally, none of the rhetoric from the pro-gun camp seems to acknowledge that Amendment itself, in its original text, talks nothing of personal protection but solely about the "security of a free state"--not a free individual as a precursor to having a right to keep and bear arms.  That is, the right to bear arms is directly connected to the people's willingness to be part of a "well-regulated militia"  (part of an organized and controlled effort--not just lone gunmen) in protection of a free state (the state or the federal state).  That they never want to discuss what a "well-regulated" militia would look like or mean to their concepts of freedom is a clear indication of choosing to read only what they want to see.

Disarming Everyone Won't Stop Criminals

Absolutely right, but two problems with this.  1.  We don't want to disarm everyone.  2.  This conversation isn't necessarily solely about criminals.  Adam Lanza was not a "criminal."  Klebold and Harris were not "criminals."  They certainly committed illegal (i.e. "criminal") acts, but it was not in the same vein that "criminals" use such weaponry (which is to secure the property of others or protect their own--often illegally obtained--property).  The discussion as it exists right now is more interested in the issue of easy access to assault weapons to people with mental illness who when given easy access to substantive killing machinery may act on it without notice.  And before we quickly go blaming the people around that person (such as Lanza's mother), realize the prevalence of mental illness in our society (26.2% of adults; that's over 1 in 4).  This means if have 200 friends on Facebook; statistically speaking, at least 50 of them are dealing with some form of mental illness.  Since we have a poor means of talking about and dealing with mental illness, it also means we fail them and us when it comes to dealing with issues of access to such weaponry as the Bushmaster.

That's not to stigmatize mentally ill people; but so much of the discussion around guns and gun rights is focused on gun owners as perfectly rational people.  Never mind that humans are generally irrational beings; there is also a large portion of the population whose mental faculties may be inhibited with an illness.  This complicates the issues of accessibility to weaponry because when people are in highly irrational states which is often an element of many mental illnesses, there is no reasoning with them.

The argument about criminals completely (and purposefully) misses the mark because in cases like this (besides missing the mark that it's not about getting rid of all guns),  Lanza had easy access to legal semi-automatic weapons.  If he had not, either the death toll would have been less or it would not have happened at all.  It was not a perfectly conceived plan--it was the impulsive whim of someone lacking the mental faculties to do otherwise like many other mass murders.

Gun Free Zones Don't Work; They Just Make Us More Vulnerable

This one seems to be at the core of the NRA's response to the shooting;  A gun in every school for protection.  First, gun-free zones are for the same reason that speeding limits in schools are there.  By and large, some people are still going to speed or bring guns.  But in both cases, it's about the fact that the increase (of speed or presence) perpetuates an increase in chance accidents.  Nothing makes things absolutely safe, but there are ways of reducing the risks.

Much of what I'm talking about here is easily summed up in a great internet meme I've seen floating around Facebook:

Wanting Sensible Gun Laws Don't Make Me Anti-Gun Just Like How Wanting Sensible Traffic Laws Don't Make Me Anti-Car

In the end, I know tragedy can't be averted entirely, but they can be reduced in number.  Given that we are living in a world that is significantly less violent and brutal than any time in history, our concern (and sometimes obsession) with being threatened and vulnerable is a bit disconcerting, owing more to the 24 hour news cycle and the perceptions of threats as opposed to actual threats.  I would love to see a reasonable conversation about such things, dominated by the majority in the middle rather than the zealots on the extremes.

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Shootings, Troubled Boys, and System Failures

I hesitated a lot in writing this.  It leaves the door open to be directly or indirectly judged and devalued.  Some might view it as sensationalizing the tragedy for my own gain or trying to garner attention away from it.  What follows is me sharing what is extremely hard to share because there has been no space for these conversations in our culture.  I make no claims to be or to know Adam Lanza; after all, in the end I didn't do what he did.  But in my adolescence, the impulse was palpable though the opportunity wasn't.    

As early as ten years old, I experienced suicidal fantasies; that was also the year of my first attempt.  I tried to electrocute myself (in rather pathetic conditions in hindsight).  I would try two more times in the next six years; once with a knife and once with pills.  I mired in a depressive suicidal slump for seven years of my life during which nary a day would pass where I didn't think about death; mine and at times, others. 

One day, a neighborhood kid showed me his gun (by sneaking up behind me and pointing it at my head). I told him it wasn't real and that he wouldn't do it, neither of which I hoped were true.  It was a starter gun for races and I remember the disappointment.  I had shimmering hopes that I could end my life and maybe even others’ lives.  For a few days afterward, I hoped that maybe he could get me a gun.

In my teenage years, I certainly thought much about doing what Lanza actually did.  If I had access to a gun, I and maybe others wouldn't be alive today.  I thank the powers that be that my mother did not get a gun until I was into my 20s and I had gained distance from where I was in my teenage years.  But there was a time in which I wanted that “power.”    I hated myself, my family, and the world around me for making me feel the way I did; too fat, too stylistically deficient, too unmanly--just not enough of this and too much of that.  The self-loathing, teasing, and sense of displacement simmered and boiled enough so that I regularly fantasized about taking control of my life with a gun. "That would show them."  The classic line of so many people who felt wronged by the world around them.  Though I probably never spoke the lines, the words echoed in my fantasies.  

I took inspiration from another student at my school.  He was regularly harassed by the jocks and others.  He always carried large duffle bag and the rumor mill produced a story that he had been found with a "hit list" and weapons in the bag.  The myth was that he planned to attack and do serious harm to others.  As much as that gave me grounds to also harass, or at least gossip, about him (in my feeble attempts to fit in by talking about others; after all, if they were talking about him, they were not talking about me), I also took his idea to heart.  I wondered who would be on my "hit list."  Who would be my targets?  Specific people or just everyone?  Regularly, I would play these detailed scenarios out in my mind. 

This was a major feature of my adolescence.  Few would have been privy to it at the time.  If the opportunity afforded itself and I did commit some heinous crime, many would have been just as dumbstruck as people now express about Lanza.  Of course, that's not entirely true.  We often know something is up but we don't pursue it.  We say it's not our business or that we're too busy or that it's not true.  The friends, families and neighbors of most serial killers or mass murderers claim utter disbelief and that he (and we're largely talking about "he") was a good person.  We lie to ourselves.  It's easier to say, "I didn't know" than to grapple with the fact that we had some hints about it.  Because then we would have to ask ourselves, "What more could I have done?" and the answer in the wake of dead bodies is usually, "something."  

Was I mentally ill?  Probably, but I flew just below the radar.  No one saw the full picture of what was going on.  My parents got hints, friends (though at times I believed I had none) got hints, and other adults did as well.  I physically and verbally lashed out in anger at people and things and other times, I was the sweetest kid.  But nobody really put in the effort to get the full picture.  I lived in a state of hiding but showing.  This was no soduko puzzle; it was connect-the-dots.  There is a clear element in these tragedies; the signs are there if we but take the time.  Culturally speaking, we don't do mentally ill; it's too complicated; it's too gray.  It would mean not only looking at our children and our friends differently and with extreme amounts of empathy and understanding, but in the big picture, re-evaluating crime and the closely-held beliefs of freedom and self-reliance.

The structure we have created for youth grossly fails us at times.  For every Lanza who takes actions, there are many who suffer silently or inflict their wounds solely upon themselves through self-mutilation or suicide (like myself).  The industrialized education system, that is supposed to simultaneously socialize us and educate us, comes up drastically short in this.  It tries to do both but often fails; we get very intelligent people who have trouble fitting in and social butterflies who can't do the mathematics required for a checkbook.  

Though this isn't an anti-gun rant, guns do play a role in this.  I respect and appreciate the presence of guns in the world.  However, a lack of access to guns prevented me from substantively doing anything more than fantasizing.  That I would have to talk with others and track down a gun by some means was a significant deterrent for someone like me.  I can only think that is the case for a great deal of people in similar states of mind.  

All of this is in the far distance past--literally, half a lifetime ago.  In total, I have spent months of my life addressing and repairing those parts of me through a variety of methods and through a great deal of help from friends and loved ones.  All of which has moved me from a place of hopelessness to a place of hopefulness.  I'd no sooner take my life or anyone's now than I would decide to believe the world is flat; it's an utterly ludicrous idea in my head.  But it wasn't always.  In the mind of that young boy, filled with hate and self-loathing, isolated and disconnected from the world around him, wanting help but never quite capable of asking for it, it was a reality.  

The Sandy Hook shooting was but one of several tragic mass-shootings this year. It triggers a variety of responses.  Some are quick to lose faith in humanity.  Others quickly blame the guns.  Still, others point to failures to address mental illness in real ways.  Some just claim it is a "crazy person" and we can't account for such random acts.  People are wildly reactive and rightfully so, that's what happens when we are faced with trauma.  When tragedy hits, we want quick fixes and easy answers.   We regress to childhood and just want it to go away.  But as adults, we should know better.  There are no easy answers; life is a complicated mess and what happened in Newtown only emphasizes that.

I only wonder though if our failure to address the mental health and illness, the structure of adolescence, and the worship of guns in our culture don't make for the perfect formula for the repetition of these events.  When Columbine happened, like other tragedies, we said it must happen "never again."  But I knew it would.  Because in all honesty, what has actually changed since Columbine?  What can we say that has substantively addressed the issues that caused that event?  Draconian no-tolerance policies against bullying?  That's punitive but doesn't address and engage ways in which we talk about the pressure to create hierarchy in the school setting.  Little has changed because we're not having the right conversations--skip the music selection or the video game choices, those are distractions. Focus on the real issues.  Otherwise, we will continue to see more shootings like Sandy Hook, and grow increasingly fearful of one another.