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Current Topic: Society

The Price of Life
Topic: Society 8:35 pm EST, Feb 20, 2008

E. Benjamin Skinner recorded the following conversation inside a brothel in Bucharest, Romania. Listen as a pimp offers Skinner and his translator a handicapped, suicidal girl in exchange for a used car.

From the archive:

In prior eras, the slave trade was conducted openly, with ads prominently posted and the slaves paraded and inspected like animals, often at public auctions. Today’s sex traffickers, the heirs to that tradition, try to keep their activities hidden, although the rest of the sex trade, the sale of the women’s services, is advertised on a scale that can only be characterized as colossal.

As a society, we’re repelled by the slavery of old. But the wholesale transport of women and girls across international borders and around the U.S. — to serve as prostitutes under conditions that in most cases are coercive at best — stirs very little outrage.

And from earlier this week (or, rather, from 1902):

The American Public takes another sip of its coffee and remarks, “How very unpleasant!

And from farther back, and farther afield:

It hits the poor, not because it wants to hurt them, but to frighten the rich ... Having refused the poor what is necessary, they give the rich what is superfluous.

The Price of Life

The Boomers Had Their Day. Make Way for the Millennials. -
Topic: Society 8:02 am EST, Feb  3, 2008

American history suggests that about every 80 years, a civic (or Joshua) generation, emerges to make over the country after a period of upheaval caused by the fervor of an idealist (or Moses) generation. In 1828, 1860, 1896, 1932 and 1968, as members of new generations -- alternately idealist and civic -- began to vote in large numbers, the United States experienced major political shifts. This year, the civic-minded millennials, born between 1982 and 2003, are coming of age and promising to turn the political landscape, currently defined by idealist baby boomers such as Clinton and George W. Bush, upside down.
Because idealist generations are unwilling to compromise on moral issues, they've always failed to solve the major social and economic problems of their eras. In the decades after the 1828 election, the country was pulled apart over slavery, ultimately leading to the Civil War. After the 1896 campaign, the United States couldn't find a way to help blue-collar workers and farmers to share fully in the wealth generated by the Industrial Revolution. It took the Great Depression to usher in the sense of urgency that led to Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal. Today, issues such as affordable health care or quality education or climate change are endlessly debated but never resolved by two sides unwilling to set aside their ideological agendas for the common good.

But now, with another civic generation emerging, the times, as boomer troubadour Bob Dylan sang, they are a-changin'. Civic generations react against the idealist generations' efforts to use politics to advance their own moral causes and focus instead on reenergizing social, political and government institutions to solve pressing national issues. Previous civic realignments occurred in 1860, with the election of Abraham Lincoln, and in 1932, when the GI generation put Roosevelt in office. It's no coincidence that these "civic" presidents, along with George Washington, top all lists of our greatest presidents. All three led the country in resolving great crises by inspiring and guiding new generations and revitalizing and expanding the federal government.

in light of recent discussions about party politics this piece particularly struck me

The Boomers Had Their Day. Make Way for the Millennials. -

Evangelicals a Liberal Can Love - New York Times
Topic: Society 7:44 am EST, Feb  3, 2008

At a New York or Los Angeles cocktail party, few would dare make a pejorative comment about Barack Obama’s race or Hillary Clinton’s sex. Yet it would be easy to get away with deriding Mike Huckabee’s religious faith.

a new wave (redux) article about evangelicals going stuff that i consider Christian.

Today, conservative Christian churches do superb work on poverty, AIDS, sex trafficking, climate change, prison abuses, malaria and genocide in Darfur.

Evangelicals a Liberal Can Love - New York Times

America’s Riveting Democracy - New York Times
Topic: Society 8:00 am EST, Jan 31, 2008

An Italian member of the European Parliament is not the first person you expect to meet in Charleston, South Carolina, but there was Monica Frassoni last week following the twists and turns of a remarkable U.S. election.
Why, it’s fair to ask, should a fading imperium — or so the conventional wisdom has it from Davos conclaves to Pew opinion surveys — so rivet the world?

America’s Riveting Democracy - New York Times

Leaked UK gov't doc reveals plan to "coerce" Brits into national ID register -- MIRROR THIS FILE! - Boing Boing
Topic: Society 6:36 pm EST, Jan 30, 2008

Leaked UK gov't doc reveals plan to "coerce" Brits into national ID register -- MIRROR THIS FILE!
Posted by Cory Doctorow, January 29, 2008 3:01 AM | permalink

Phil from the UK anti-ID-register group NO2ID sends in this nugget -- note the call to action there. We've got a sensitive government document revealing the British government's plan to trick us into a database state and we need as many copies as possible, as quickly as possible!

If you mirror this document, please add a link to it in the comments for the post.

UK campaigners NO2ID this morning enlisted the help of bloggers across the world to spread a leaked government document describing how the British government intends to go about "coercing" its citizens onto a National Identity Register. The 'ID card' is revealed as little more than a cover to create a official dossier and trackable ID for every UK resident - creating what NO2ID calls 'the database state'.

NO2ID's national coordinator, Phil Booth, exhorted bloggers, freedom lovers and anyone who gives a damn about personal privacy to mirror the annotated document on their site.

"The charade is over. While ministers try to bamboozle the British public with fairytales about fingerprints, officials are plotting how to dupe and bully the population into surrendering control of their own identities."

"Biometric ID cards are a sham; a magician's flourish to cover the biggest identity fraud there has ever been."

1.2MB PDF Link (mirror this file!)

Leaked UK gov't doc reveals plan to "coerce" Brits into national ID register -- MIRROR THIS FILE! - Boing Boing

Reported Stimulus Package Would Provide Little Immediate Boost Due to Removal of Most Effective Provisions
Topic: Society 7:26 am EST, Jan 27, 2008

Nose, face, spite.

Changes reportedly made last night in the stimulus package would reduce its effectiveness as stimulus. Although the package includes a reasonably designed tax rebate, the two most targeted and economically effective measures under consideration — a temporary extension of unemployment benefits and a temporary boost in food stamp benefits — were zeroed out, apparently at the insistence of House Republican leaders.

The two respected institutions that have rated stimulus options in recent days — the Congressional Budget Office and Moody’s — both give their two highest ratings for effectiveness as stimulus to the two measures that were dropped.

Reported Stimulus Package Would Provide Little Immediate Boost Due to Removal of Most Effective Provisions

RE: Against Independent Voters - Stanley Fish - Think Again - Opinion - New York Times Blog
Topic: Society 4:44 pm EST, Jan 22, 2008

Decius wrote:

ubernoir wrote:
however i think you need to take onboard a wider perspective than simply the party politics of the US. I believe party politics is an essential part of democracy across the world and the formation of two blocks which are themselves coalitions inevitable both in the first past the post system and in proportional representation systems.

How does this lead to the author's conclusion that one must participate in one of these parties and that failure to do so is somehow fraudulent or weak? If being independent is valid when viewed soley through the lens of American politics, how could broadening my perspective lead to the conclusion that it is invalid?

Generally, two blocks form because in a majoritarian system with a unitary executive there must be a winner who holds power, and anyone who is not part of that winner is by definition the opposition.

In America, I find can myself a part of the opposition regardless of who is in power. This is because both parties actually cut away at my interests. Both constantly press againsts civil liberties. Neither has the will to solve substantial domestic problems that this country faces. I don't suspect that the coming reign of the Democrats is any more likely to address real problems like social security solvency (which Democrats publicly pretend isn't real) or health care than the Republicans were. When they are able to find the will to act it is usually in response to phony news media moral panics or in the interest of corporate doners (intellectual property maximalism, new bankruptcy legislation).

I do not see how it can be weak to refuse to join political organizations that are alligned against my interests.

it's interesting how you remember a piece and read it differently
(Stanley Fish the author of the piece is someone whose reader theory and writings I studied at university for my english degree so i find it ironic to have to go back to read his article again because my impression of it and what I took away from it is so different from yours)

i missed him arguing that you should join a party

i do not belong to a political party and never have but the set up in this country is very different. Everybody of voting age is on the electoral roll -- we do not register to vote in the US manner and i'm not sure of the exact mechanics of being an independent or registered democrat or republican. My mental model is rather different of the two blocks. In the UK we have party members and activists but membership is quite low compared to voter turnout. We have what are called swing voters, the undecideds who move between parties between elections. It is these who in general elections decide the outcome. Large areas of the country are electoral wastelands for party x or party y. It is a cliche of British politics that because Scotland had no Conservative MPs it was used a... [ Read More (0.2k in body) ]

RE: Against Independent Voters - Stanley Fish - Think Again - Opinion - New York Times Blog

Against Independent Voters - Stanley Fish - Think Again - Opinion - New York Times Blog
Topic: Society 6:28 am EST, Jan 21, 2008

We’re in that season now when we hear the same things being said over and over again, and nothing is said more often by political pundits than this election (it doesn’t matter which one) will be decided by independent voters. Accompanying this announcement is the judgment – sometimes implicit, sometimes explicit – that this state of affairs is to be welcomed, even encouraged: it’s good that the independent voters are making themselves heard and forcing candidates to think outside their partisan boxes. And this judgment itself implies another: independent voters are better, in the sense of being more reflective and less ideological, than voters who identify themselves strongly with one or the other of the two major parties. The assumption is that if we were all independent voters, the political process would be in much better shape.

This seems to me to be a dubious proposition, especially if the word “political” in the phrase “political process” is taken seriously.Those who yearn for government without politics always invoke abstract truths and moral visions (the good life, the fair society, the just commonwealth) with which no one is likely to disagree because they have no content. But sooner rather than later someone gives these abstractions content, and when that happens, definitional disputes break out immediately, and after definitional disputes come real disputes, the taking of sides, the applying of labels (both the self-identifying kind and the accusing kind) and, pretty soon, the demonization of the other. In short, politics, which is what independent voters hate.

Stanley Fish takes apart a piece of non-sense
so-called independents simply occupy the idealogical interzone between the parties, the fuzzy edge where the skimishing is and the general election battle takes place. The primary system is organising the army and deciding battle order before the fight, it not just about deciding who's in charge it's about designing, or at least building, the Spitfire to win the crucial battle. Independents are the World War 2 equivilant of Italy on one side and then the other. Although I'm reminded of the Italian in Catch 22 who claimed that Italy was winning the war!!

edit after some thought
Or perhaps a better and fairer metaphor would be General George Monck who was a wise man. He shifted allegiances but was also thoroughly moral. Any view of history reveals that no party ever has a monopoly of truth for long. Ending the absolutism of the monarchy was a vital step and another vital step was the stability brought by the Restoration thus we [the English] have the crown in parliament a successful hybrid and political compromise.

Against Independent Voters - Stanley Fish - Think Again - Opinion - New York Times Blog

Iraq veterans leave a trail of death and heartbreak in U.S. - International Herald Tribune
Topic: Society 6:41 am EST, Jan 14, 2008

Late one night in the summer of 2005, Matthew Sepi, 20, an Iraq combat veteran, headed out to a convenience store in the seedy Las Vegas neighborhood where he had settled after leaving the U.S. Army.

By day, the area, littered with malt liquor cans, looks depressed but not menacing. By night, it becomes, in the words of a local homicide detective, "like Falluja."

Sepi did not like to venture outside too late. But, plagued by nightmares about an Iraqi civilian killed by his unit, he said he often needed alcohol to fall asleep. And so it was that night, when, seized by a gut feeling of lurking danger, he slid a trench coat over his slight frame - and tucked an assault rifle inside it.

"Matthew knew he shouldn't be taking his AK-47 to the 7-Eleven," Detective Laura Andersen said, "but he was scared to death in that neighborhood, he was military trained and, in his mind, he needed the weapon to protect himself."

As Sepi started home, two gang members, both large and both armed, stepped out of the darkness. Sepi later said that he spied the butt of a gun, heard a boom, saw a flash and "just snapped."
The New York Times found 121 cases in which veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan committed a killing in the United States, or were charged with one, after their return from war. In many of those cases, combat trauma and the stress of deployment - along with alcohol abuse, family discord and other attendant problems - appear to have set the stage for a tragedy that was part destruction, part self-destruction.

Iraq veterans leave a trail of death and heartbreak in U.S. - International Herald Tribune

The Comeback Continent - New York Times
Topic: Society 6:32 am EST, Jan 11, 2008

Today I’d like to talk about a much-derided contender making a surprising comeback, a comeback that calls into question much of the conventional wisdom of American politics. No, I’m not talking about a politician. I’m talking about an economy — specifically, the European economy, which many Americans assume is tired and spent but has lately been showing surprising vitality.
But the next time a politician tries to scare you with the European bogeyman, bear this in mind: Europe’s economy is actually doing O.K. these days, despite a level of taxing and spending beyond the wildest ambitions of American progressives.

The Comeback Continent - New York Times

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