Tag Archives: Obama

Links: 30 million words, U.S. customs, etc.

1. A project to make sure children hear more words. A “study in the 1990s found that a child born into poverty hears 30 million fewer words by age 3 than a child born to well-off parents, creating a gap in literacy preparation.”

2. “Earlier this month, On The Media producer Sarah Abdurrahman, her family, and her friends were detained for hours by US Customs and Border Protection on their way home from Canada. Everyone being held was a US citizen, and no one received an explanation.” More here.

3. James Fallows describes the Republicans’ recent obstruction: “Compromise itself is as much their stated enemy as is Obamacare.” And from a commenter to Fallows’s blog:

The Republicans don’t simply reject health care reform, they reject the legitimacy of the elected President, and, even more important, the legitimacy of the voters, along with their elected representatives, who rejected their positions in the last election.

4. In order for there to be civil discourse, there has to be an agreement on the rules of discourse, or as Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo wrote this weekend, “the state requires for it to function a penumbra of norms surrounding the formal mechanisms of government.”

5. The U.S. government shutdown, as if it were a political situation in another country. A sample:

While the factions have come close to such a shutdown before, opponents of President Barack Obama’s embattled regime now appear prepared to allow the government to be shuttered over opposition to a controversial plan intended to bring the nation’s health care system in line with international standards.

6. Matthew Yglesias: “Why Obama Can’t Compromise on the Debt Ceiling. Jonathan Chait’s take is here.

7.When A&E used to be about arts and entertainment.

8. Fonts that can’t be read by computers.

9. Punctuation history.

10. Someone who quit Teach for America.

11. Medium’s new homepage.

12. Teaching quality: Tenured professors, full-time non-tenured profs, adjuncts.

13. Auden.

14. Free will and science.

15. One of the recent MacArthur winners is — Robin Fleming, a medieval historian at Boston College who’s written extensively on the lives of common people in Britain in the years after the fall of the Roman Empire. A review of her book is here.

Links: Cybele/magna mater; rating schools, people, etc.

1. While watching some of the first episode of Bettany Hughes’s “Divine Women” series last night, I was surprised to learn of a goddess, Kybele (or Cybele, or in Rome, magna mater), I’d never heard of. I consider myself moderately well-educated, and I’d studied the Greek myths before, but hadn’t heard of her. Going back to the text I learned from and am now teaching from, Edith Hamilton’s Mythology, I find “Cybele” in the index as associated with Rhea, but there’s almost no other mention). On one hand, it’s a little disturbing to feel I’d never heard of someone who had, according to Hughes, a significant amount of influence in Roman society, but on the other hand, it’s kinda neat to realize how much there is in the world for me still to learn.

2. Setting up a system of measuring and ranking performance of employees (at Microsoft) or of colleges (recently proposed by President Obama) seems to lead to those being measured to game the numbers in ways that don’t contribute to the overall mission of the institutions. This result isn’t really a surprise to a cynical person, but I want to share these stories as a way of promoting the idea that the best, most useful, evaluations go beyond what can be directly measured.

3. A post on The Dish about how, if tattoos are now widely accepted, they are no longer signify cool. I’m often surprised how many people in this rural area have tattoos, particularly those tattoos that cannot be easily covered when need arises — maybe the need seldom arises for those who get tattoos on their necks, near their ears, etc. My personal objection to tattoos is their permanence: I draw on myself, too, but with inks that will wash off or wear off. I can’t imagine there would be an image or word or sign that I’d want to permanently mark my body with — I change my mind too often.

4. A couple posts discussing the problematic implications of the British government’s nine-hour detention of David Miranda, who may have been carrying documents for Guardian journalist and Snowden-helper Glenn Greenwald.

5. An attempt to rank the weirdness of various languages.

6. Some descriptions of sociopathic behavior.

7. An attempt at explaining why older societies believe woman inferior to men.

8. Another post at The Dish about the idea that rather than using technology to increase our free time, our jobs tend to take just as much time as they used to. I’ve often wondered why we still,in most of our jobs, consider 40 hours of work to be a full week, rather than fewer hours. In an essay I’ve enjoyed rereading at times, Bertrand Russell suggests:

Modern technique has made it possible for leisure, within limits, to be not the prerogative of small privileged classes, but a right evenly distributed throughout the community. The morality of work is the morality of slaves, and the modern world has no need of slavery.


Modern technique has made it possible to diminish enormously the amount of labor required to secure the necessaries of life for everyone. This was made obvious during the war. At that time all the men in the armed forces, and all the men and women engaged in the production of munitions, all the men and women engaged in spying, war propaganda, or Government offices connected with the war, were withdrawn from productive occupations. In spite of this, the general level of well-being among unskilled wage-earners on the side of the Allies was higher than before or since. The significance of this fact was concealed by finance: borrowing made it appear as if the future was nourishing the present. But that, of course, would have been impossible; a man cannot eat a loaf of bread that does not yet exist. The war showed conclusively that, by the scientific organization of production, it is possible to keep modern populations in fair comfort on a small part of the working capacity of the modern world. If, at the end of the war, the scientific organization, which had been created in order to liberate men for fighting and munition work, had been preserved, and the hours of the week had been cut down to four, all would have been well. Instead of that the old chaos was restored, those whose work was demanded were made to work long hours, and the rest were left to starve as unemployed. Why? Because work is a duty, and a man should not receive wages in proportion to what he has produced, but in proportion to his virtue as exemplified by his industry.

Russell goes on to suggest that 2 workers could each work a 4-hour shift, rather than one person having an 8-hour shift and the other having no work (and thus, no wages) at all. If much of our living standard is relative, if we all agreed to work fewer hours and earn lower wages, maybe we could still maintain comfortable lifestyles that would allow more leisure. Sure, that sounds like socialism, but, you know, I’m not sure why that’s inherently worse than the winner-take-all capitalism we have now. (Of course, I say that as a public employee who already enjoys working in a government institution, with decent benefits and vacations. I frankly haven’t understood why those who complain about government workers being coddled haven’t just, you know, tried to become government workers — maybe that’s just the equivalent of being an entrepreneur for those of us who prefer more time to more money.)

Hoping it’s performance art

In recent days, I’ve witnessed people saying things so terrible that I wonder if, and I hope that, I’m watching performance art. Maybe I’m seeing a set-up piece for a hidden-camera show like this one , or maybe the people involved are just trying to provoke others. If these things were happening in a big city or a college town, the “performance art” interpretation would be at least possible, but since I’m seeing and hearing these things in rural Ogle County, I’m afraid these people being so stereotypically hateful and racist may not be acting.

On 10 July, at my local diner, two white ladies in their 80s (or thereabouts) were kvetching very loudly about how kids can’t do math in their head, and so on, and they eventually moved on to other topics. One said, “I’m just so angry,” and the other answered, “we all are.”

But rather than accept that perhaps their anger were invalidating any other opinions they might have, they continued to complain: one woman said that someone wanted to bring “Muslims over here,” to which the other said, “we already got 8 million,” and then I missed a few words, and then I heard, “Let’s just hope somebody kills ’em,” which I thought referred to the Muslims, but my wife heard “kills ‘im,” which she interpreted as referring to the current U.S. President.

Either way, the other lady said, “That’s what I hope.”

This was so over-the-top obnoxious, not to mention nearly illegal, that I just started laughing, albeit bitterly. My wife said, let’s not get so angry when we get old. Let’s keep our minds in shape.

And then this morning, as I sat in a local McDonald’s (same one as here), I heard two older white men talking. One, who wore a blue dew rag and had a black leather jacket with patches that read “I RODE MINE, STURGIS ’04” (and 3 patches for other recent years), and who at one point said he was 73 years old, told his friend that he was going to a Tea Party meeting tonight, and after which he said these things:

“Obama’s got sh*t so fuc*ed up, that son of a bit*h … typical ni*ger sh*t … when you get home, google ‘who is Antonio West?‘ That’ll shut things up.” [Snopes says the case is a “false equivalency” to the Trayvon Martin case, as “the two cases are nearly polar opposites.”]

A few minutes later, the old white guy let loose with this: “If they did say it like it was, the damn paper wouldn’t print it … nobody will address it … damn n*****s keep breeding all the time … [we?] can’t keep building prisons … to me, I would say this … to the victor goes the spoils … or, give ’em the option of going back to Africa.”

I feel bad about publishing these words, but I’m doing so in hope that there’s some value in simply documenting things being said out loud in public spaces in small-town Illinois in 2013. Though I was angered by what I heard, I decided that rather than confront this man’s statements directly (anybody who would espouse these beliefs at this point in history seems to me someone who would also be resistant to being criticized or educated), I’d throw these online with the hope of reminding the rest of us that there still are people around who say these things.

And surely not every Tea Party member says things like this, but here was one guy who sympathized with the Tea Party who did. He either fits the stereotype, or he’s just acting to get a rise out of others. But I didn’t see anybody directly challenge the old white ladies or this old white guy.

I’m really hoping they’re just performance artists.