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September 2006 Archives

It's them, not you.

I would guess that as we get older and relate less to recent college grads, we want to come up with an explanation for that distance that puts the responsibility on them, not us. (In other words, the subtext of such narratives is that if kids today strike you as weird, it's them, not you.)

"Kids Today -- The Arrival of 'The Millennials'," by Orin Kerr, The Volokh Conspiracy, September 28, 2006

September 28, 2006 06:27 PM   Link    Caught Our Eye    Comments (0)

Free speech

Already, angry Palestinian militants have assaulted seven West Bank and Gaza churches, destroying two of them. In Somalia, gunmen shot dead an elderly Italian nun. Radical clerics from Qatar to Qom have called, variously, for a "day of anger" or for worshipers to "hunt down" the pope and his followers. From Turkey to Malaysia, Muslim politicians have condemned the pope and called his apology "insufficient." And all of this because Benedict XVI, speaking at the University of Regensburg, quoted a Byzantine emperor who, more than 600 years ago, called Islam a faith "spread by the sword." We've been here before, of course. Similar protests were sparked last winter by cartoon portrayals of Muhammad in the Danish press.
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The fanatics attacking the pope already limit the right to free speech among their own followers. I don't see why we should allow them to limit our right to free speech, too.

"Enough Apologies," by Anne Applebaum, The Washington Post, September 19, 2006

In 1948 the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). Article 19 affirms the right to free speech:
Article 19. Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.(1)

"Free Speech and the Constitution," by Roy Jordan, Parliament of Australia, Parliamentary Library, Law and Bills Digest Group, June 4, 2002

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.

U.S. Constitution: Amendment I

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September 22, 2006 11:37 AM   Link    U.S. Constitution    Comments (0)

"Health insurance premiums for federal employees will increase by an average of 1.8 percent next year" - "Amazing" is right

Health insurance premiums for federal employees will increase by an average of 1.8 percent next year, the lowest annual increase in the government's employee program since 1997.

Officials said they substantially slowed the rise in 2007 insurance rates by dipping into excess financial reserves of the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program, which provides about $33 billion in health-care benefits annually. They said the reserves had increased in recent months because insurance claims and other expenses had not grown as fast as estimated.

Next year, 63 percent of FEHBP enrollees "will see no increase in their premium," said Linda M. Springer , director of the Office of Personnel Management, which administers the program. "That is amazing."

"Excess Reserves Help Slow the Rise in Health-Care Costs," by Stephen Barr, The Washington Post, September 20, 2006

September 20, 2006 06:37 AM   Link    Caught Our Eye ~   Economics    Comments (0)

60 year old Italian nun shot - at hospital entrance - 4 times - in back

Gunmen killed an Italian nun and her bodyguard at the entrance of a hospital where she worked, doctors and witnesses said Sunday in what some feared was connected to Muslim outrage over the pope's recent remarks about Islam.

The nun, who has not been identified, was shot in the back four times by two gunmen armed with pistols, Dr. Mohamed Yusef told The Associated Press.
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The nun, who spoke fluent Somali, was believed to be around age 60 and had been working at the hospital since 2002, witnesses said on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals.
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Several witnesses blamed [sic] Sunday's shooting on the recent controversy over a speech Pope Benedict XVI made in Germany on Tuesday on Islam in which he quoted a Medieval text calling the Prophet Muhammad's teachings "evil and inhuman.".

"I am sure the killers were angered by the pope's speech in which he attacked our prophet," said Ashe Ahmed Ali, one of the many who witnessed the shooting..

"These gunmen always look for white people to kill, and now the pope gave them the reason to do their worst," said Mohamud Durguf Derow, another witness..

Earlier Sunday, a leading Muslim cleric in Somalia condemned the pope for causing offense to Muslims.

"Italian Nun Shot Dead by Somali Gunmen, Doctors Say," AP, September 17, 2006

September 17, 2006 09:27 AM   Link    Caught Our Eye    Comments (0)    TrackBacks (1)

"Another day, another brick."

The Capitol Hill Brain Trust has decided that not only may every worker play, but they must be offered an IRA account. With pensions quickly disappearing, individuals will have little choice. Some of the IRA funds I am familiar with (from several years ago) could be traded at least once a week without any penalty or commissions (I know, I traded thousands of shares of Tribune stock on just that basis). I understand that many funds which handle IRA accounts have instituted penalties for excessive trading.

Nevertheless, we have reached a point where almost every employed individual must take on market risk. You may believe it is necessary; I did too, until one evening I was talking with Anna, who had been cleaning our offices for decades. Asked how my day went, I commented, "Another day, another dollar." Anna said her family (which was Polish) had a different saying -- "Another day, another brick."

Anna's retirement predated mine by two years; she and her husband (who worked 38 years as a janitor in large apartment buildings, and in which they lived rent-free) sold the five apartment buildings they had acquired and moved back to Poland where they live very well.

So we must, first, save and then we must invest. But the market is not the only place, it is certainly the most convenient...and potentially the most treacherous. If we were reared in a croc zoo we would have an enhanced appreciation of risk. If, on the other hand, one were reared in a society that lauded you for spelling a word phonically (but incorrectly), if your athletic prowess were determined by T-Ball, if rowdiness were not dealt with through a severe reprimand but Ritalin-type drugs, and the ultimate form of punishment was a 30 minute "time-out," then you will have a populace of individuals unfamiliar with risk of any kind.

Daily Speculations, September 12, 2006

September 13, 2006 06:37 AM   Link    Caught Our Eye    Comments (0)

"I will survive"

An alien sings "I will survive"

September 11, 2006 08:27 PM   Link    Humor    Comments (0)

"The Psychic Appeal of Manual Work"

I began working as an electrician’s helper at age fourteen, and started a small electrical contracting business after college, in Santa Barbara. In those years I never ceased to take pleasure in the moment, at the end of a job, when I would flip the switch. “And there was light.” It was an experience of agency and competence. The effects of my work were visible for all to see, so my competence was real for others as well; it had a social currency. The well-founded pride of the tradesman is far from the gratuitous “self-esteem” that educators would impart to students, as though by magic.

I was sometimes quieted at the sight of a gang of conduit entering a large panel in a commercial setting, bent into nestled, flowing curves, with varying offsets, that somehow all terminated in the same plane. This was a skill so far beyond my abilities that I felt I was in the presence of some genius, and the man who bent that conduit surely imagined this moment of recognition as he worked. As a residential electrician, most of my work got covered up inside walls. Yet even so, there is pride in meeting the aesthetic demands of a workmanlike installation. Maybe another electrician will see it someday. Even if not, one feels responsible to one’s better self. Or rather, to the thing itself—craftsmanship might be defined simply as the desire to do something well, for its own sake. If the primary satisfaction is intrinsic and private in this way, there is nonetheless a sort of self-disclosing that takes place.
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Because craftsmanship refers to objective standards that do not issue from the self and its desires, it poses a challenge to the ethic of consumerism, as the sociologist Richard Sennett has recently argued. The craftsman is proud of what he has made, and cherishes it, while the consumer discards things that are perfectly serviceable in his restless pursuit of the new. The craftsman is then more possessive, more tied to what is present, the dead incarnation of past labor; the consumer is more free, more imaginative, and so more valorous according to those who would sell us things. Being able to think materially about material goods, hence critically, gives one some independence from the manipulations of marketing, which typically divert attention from what a thing is to a back-story intimated through associations, the point of which is to exaggerate minor differences between brands. Knowing the production narrative, or at least being able to plausibly imagine it, renders the social narrative of the advertisement less potent. The tradesman has an impoverished fantasy life compared to the ideal consumer; he is more utilitarian and less given to soaring hopes. But he is also more autonomous.

This would seem to be significant for any political typology. Political theorists from Aristotle to Thomas Jefferson have questioned the republican virtue of the mechanic, finding him too narrow in his concerns to be moved by the public good. Yet this assessment was made before the full flowering of mass communication and mass conformity, which pose a different set of problems for the republican character: enervation of judgment and erosion of the independent spirit. Since the standards of craftsmanship issue from the logic of things rather than the art of persuasion, practiced submission to them perhaps gives the craftsman some psychic ground to stand on against fantastic hopes aroused by demagogues, whether commercial or political.
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Today, in our schools, the manual trades are given little honor. The egalitarian worry that has always attended tracking students into “college prep” and “vocational ed” is overlaid with another: the fear that acquiring a specific skill set means that one’s life is determined. In college, by contrast, many students don’t learn anything of particular application; college is the ticket to an open future. Craftsmanship entails learning to do one thing really well, while the ideal of the new economy is to be able to learn new things, celebrating potential rather than achievement. Somehow, every worker in the cutting-edge workplace is now supposed to act like an “intrapreneur,” that is, to be actively involved in the continuous redefinition of his own job. Shop class presents an image of stasis that runs directly counter to what Richard Sennett identifies as “a key element in the new economy’s idealized self: the capacity to surrender, to give up possession of an established reality.” This stance toward “established reality,” which can only be called psychedelic, is best not indulged around a table saw. It is dissatisfied with what Arendt calls the “reality and reliability” of the world. It is a strange sort of ideal, attractive only to a peculiar sort of self—gratuitous ontological insecurity is no fun for most people.
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Skilled manual labor entails a systematic encounter with the material world, precisely the kind of encounter that gives rise to natural science. From its earliest practice, craft knowledge has entailed knowledge of the “ways” of one’s materials—that is, knowledge of their nature, acquired through disciplined perception and a systematic approach to problems. And in fact, in areas of well-developed craft, technological developments typically preceded and gave rise to advances in scientific understanding, not vice versa. The steam engine is a good example. It was developed by mechanics who observed the relations between volume, pressure, and temperature. This at a time when theoretical scientists were tied to the caloric theory of heat, which later turned out to be a conceptual dead end. The success of the steam engine contributed to the development of what we now call classical thermodynamics.
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So what advice should one give to a young person? By all means, go to college. In fact, approach college in the spirit of craftsmanship, going deep into liberal arts and sciences. In the summers, learn a manual trade. You’re likely to be less damaged, and quite possibly better paid, as an independent tradesman than as a cubicle-dwelling tender of information systems. To heed such advice would require a certain contrarian streak, as it entails rejecting a life course mapped out by others as obligatory and inevitable.

"Shop Class as Soulcraft," by Matthew B. Crawfor, The New Atlantis, Summer 2006

September 4, 2006 08:17 PM   Link    Career    Comments (0)

I bought it on eBay....

Are you an eBay junkie? This song, based on the music from "I Want it That Way" by the Backstreet Boys, is for you!

With words superimposed on the screen:

And if you missed it the first time around ... the 2 guys from China ...

September 3, 2006 10:27 AM   Link    Humor    Comments (0)

High school (and Washington?) as Dante's Circles of Hell

Joanne Jacobs describes a very funny post by Ms. Cornelius of A Shrewdness of Apes: "high school is organized into concentric circles of despair and Sisyphean drudgery which align quite nicely with the Nine Circles of Hell our friend and eternal optimist Dante Alighieri described so fully."

Joanne Jacobs "favorite is Circle 5 for the 'wrathful and sullen' seniors."

Circle 5 - The River Styx; the Wrathful and the Sullen: The seniors have slogged their way through all these levels only to discover that they are merely on the verge of true Hell. They've figured out to take AP and honors classes their first semester, and as soon as the transcripts are mailed off to their fifteen dream colleges to "drop them like it's hot" and coast through the rest of the year. The ones who SWORE that they would never want to go to college or trade school have lost a bit of that sneer as they are slowly coming to the realization that after antagonizing Mom and Dad for the last six years, what with the brushes with the law and the suspensions and the phone calls from school and the poor grades, their parents are COUNTING the days until they can tell their offspring that their bedroom has become an exercise room, and seven bucks an hour at TWO part time jobs at fast food joints minus something called FICA and social security will get them a run-down one bedroom apartment with three roommates, rides to work on a bus, peanut butter sandwiches, no vacations EVER-- much less three months in a row off, no health care, and tennis shoes from K-Mart, not Foot Locker. No bling, no phat threads, and no pimpin' any rides. Suddenly four years of sitting in a classroom listening to someone drone on and on about 18th century British literature or the principles of accounting doesn't sound nearly as stupefying as fifty years of soul-destroying repetitive labor where you come home at the end of the day with the smell of fried food permeating even your HAIR, which you now have to get cut at Great Clips four times a year.

We also like Circle 4:

Circle 4 - The Hoarders and the Improvident: Most of the juniors are engulfed in a tsunami in post-high school planning, as the first deadline to register for the ACT was on the Friday after we started school, and they are frantically collecting honors to list on their aplications and recommendations from harried staff. Those who swear that they'll NEVER want to go to college or trade school or sit in a classroom again are sneering at their classmates who are wigging out. They can't wait to get out of school so they'll never have to do what anyone tells them, EVER AGAIN.

"When teaching school is like... a divine comedy," by Ms. Cornelius, A Shrewdness of Apes, August 27, 2006

Meg Greenfiled described Washington as a "stunted, high-schoolish social structure" so Ms. Cornelius' descriptions kind of work here....

September 2, 2006 11:37 AM   Link    Humor    Comments (0)

A $3 product "that will change the world"

Sitting humbly on shelves in stores everywhere is a product, priced at less than $3, that will change the world. Soon. It is a fairly ordinary item that nonetheless cuts to the heart of a half-dozen of the most profound, most urgent problems we face. Energy consumption. Rising gasoline costs and electric bills. Greenhouse-gas emissions. Dependence on coal and foreign oil. Global warming.

The product is the compact fluorescent lightbulb, a quirky-looking twist of frosted glass. In the energy business, it is called a "CFL," or an "energy saver." One scientist calls it an "ice-cream-cone spiral," because in its most-advanced, most-appealing version, it looks like nothing so much as a cone of swirled soft-serve ice cream.

"How Many Lightbulbs Does it Take to Change the World? One. And You're Looking At It." By Charles Fishman, FastCompany, September 2006

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September 1, 2006 08:07 AM   Link    Caught Our Eye    Comments (0)