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Current Topic: Society

Why Americans Hate the Media
Topic: Society 4:22 pm EDT, Apr 19, 2008

Why has the media establishment become so unpopular? Perhaps the public has good reason to think that the media's self-aggrandizement gets in the way of solving the country's real problems

Gold Star. I was a few pages in before I realized it was written in 1996. How shamefully little has changed in 12 years.

Why Americans Hate the Media

RE: America’s Traffic Congestion Problem: Toward a Framework for Nationwide Reform
Topic: Society 5:29 pm EDT, Apr 15, 2008

Stefanie wrote:
I think you're right about that. I don't think charging peak-hour tolls is feasible, and Anthony Downs further explains why in a related article:

Anthony Downs wrote:
Transportation economists have long been proponents of this tactic, but most Americans reject this solution politically for two reasons. Tolls would favor wealthier or subsidized drivers and harm poor ones, so most Americans would resent them, partly because they believe they would be at a disadvantage.

Well, that's a reasonable argument, but also one that was addressed in the original article. To wit, some percentage (about 1/3 based on a few samples), of the collections would be redirected into subsidies for low-income drivers who would otherwise be harmed by the opportunity cost of driving into the cordon. There are a number of compaints I can imagine in response to this, not least of which is the administrative overhead, but I think all are tractable.

Anthony Downs wrote:
The second drawback is that people think these tolls would be just another tax, forcing them to pay for something they have already paid for through gasoline taxes. For both these reasons, few politicians in our democracy—and so far, anywhere else in the world—advocate this tactic. Limited road-pricing schemes that have been adopted in Singapore, Norway, and London only affect congestion in crowded downtowns, which is not the kind of congestion on major arteries that most Americans experience.

The author is also cognizant that educating the public about the difference between taxation and paying for something is one of the main hurdles to such schemes. Again, the economic argument is that driving is currently cheaper than it's *real* cost, becuase harm to the environment, business development, etc., are undervalued. Americans will probably largely reject this argument on reflex, but I think it has a great deal of merit. Still, merit doesn't make things happen, necessarily.

...I disagree with Downs when he claims that we can't make the situation at least a little better. He states that "living with congestion... is the sole viable option," and discounts the options of "greatly expanding road capacity" and "greatly expanding public transit capacity." While I agree that constantly expanding road capacity is impractical, I think he has given up on public transportation (in the form of rail systems) too easily. If trains were available in more areas (connecting neighboring cities, and connecting downtown areas to the suburbs), I think many commuters would use them. No, I don't expect it to eliminate all congestion, but I do think trains (above or below ground) ... [ Read More (1.0k in body) ]

RE: America’s Traffic Congestion Problem: Toward a Framework for Nationwide Reform

The Long Way There
Topic: Society 10:41 am EDT, Apr 10, 2008

Americans commuting patterns are changing fundamentally. Similar shifts in the way we work can't be far behind.

A beautiful collection of photos.

[ Indeed. I love this style... makes everything look like scale models.

The article that accompanies is, alas, essentially content free and useless. -k ]

The Long Way There

RE: Against Independent Voters - Stanley Fish - Think Again - Opinion - New York Times Blog
Topic: Society 3:14 pm EST, Jan 24, 2008

Stefanie wrote:
I've been voting since I turned 18, but not once have I voted for a Democrat. As you mentioned, it's not just because there's a "(D)" beside a Democratic candidate's name, but because I know the party itself, and I've heard what a particular candidate from that party has to say and/or seen what he's done in the past, and concluded that there are simply too many issues on which I disagree with him (and often his party's platform, as well).

I'm confused, are you merely saying that the (D) is a quick indicator that you will *likely* not support the candidate, once you've eventually done the research to see what they're all about? I'm not really being snarky, because frankly I do this same in the other direction sometimes. Being affiliated with the Republican party doesn't automatically mean I couldn't support someone, but it probably does. I'm going to look at candidates starting from the other side and work my way over, perhaps. Of course, for major elections, I already know enough about the major candidates to have a somewhat reasoned opinion.

Still, the concern I have with the party system is precisely the presumptive affiliations. Of course a lot of people are going to naturally cluster based on the most fundamental values they hold. Still, I think attaching an arbitrary title to such people, when they vary quite widely on a lot of less fundamental, but still extremely important, issues is a disincentive to bother actually thinking or examining anyone. As I said, I do it too... it's a convenience, but it's one that i don't particularly think is healthy for the execution of our government.

But, then, if voting was any harder than it is, even less people would do it.

Anyway, if a voter has thought at all about their own values, some candidates can be quickly ruled out (at least on a first pass basis) due to a small number of specific disagreements. I don't feel the need to look hard at Giuliani, for example, because I detest his foreign policy attitudes and his utter lack of development on most other issues. That was easy. On the Dem side, I find Clinton distasteful because of her Senate record, foreign policy stance, censorship positions and her entrenched-politician attitude. She's not at the front of the list for me.

Still, party affiliation itself does matter. If an individual Democrat were to go against his party and agree with me on enough key issues to get my attention, his election could wind up giving his party a majority in the House or Senate, affecting the leadership, committee appointments, etc. I'm not saying that's the determining factor, just that it should be considered when "voting for a person, not a party or an ideology."

Well, i think this argument sounds circular. You're saying that even voting for that rare candidate you find superior to all the others, despite being from a party you typically wouldn't, i... [ Read More (0.2k in body) ]

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

The Associated Press: Police Reward Good Drivers With Coffee
Topic: Society 12:49 pm EST, Dec 19, 2007

RANCHO CORDOVA, Calif. (AP) — Happy holidays. Now pull over to the side of the road.

Motorists may be in for a surprise if they spot flashing red lights in their rearview mirrors in this Sacramento suburb during the holiday season.

Police are stopping law-abiding motorists and rewarding their good driving with $5 Starbucks gift cards.

A traffic officer came up with the idea to "promote the holiday spirit and enhance goodwill between the traffic unit and the motoring public," police Sgt. Tim Curran said.

Local businesses donated money to buy the gift cards.

"They raised a substantial amount of money," Curran said. "They'll be pulling over a lot of people."

I don't like this precedent. This sounds a lot like being pulled over for no reason.

[Agreed. That's fucked up. You want to thank me for being a good driver? Pull over all the fuckers swerving around the interstate, changing lanes without signaling, etc. Wasting an officer's time handing me a $5 starbucks card, that I may not even want, is kind of absurd. -k]

The Associated Press: Police Reward Good Drivers With Coffee

Choice is good.... Amd the more the better...
Topic: Society 7:40 pm EST, Nov 11, 2007

CHOICE IS GOOD. And the more choices, the better.

This simple American credo lines the shelves of grocery stores with 162 varieties of breakfast cereal, turns ordering a cup of coffee at Starbucks into an Olympic challenge, makes selecting a phone company an enterprise requiring a business degree and supplies dating services with an endless stream of hopeful customers.

It also underlies the way many economists think about human behavior. Human beings, according to traditional economic theory, are rational creatures who, faced with a choice, weigh the costs and benefits of each option and pick the one they prefer. And the more options people are given, the theory goes, the more satisfied they will be.

Yet in an article published last month in The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, two social psychologists dispute this view, arguing that at some point, multiplying the number of alternatives people are given becomes counter productive.

In a series of studies, Dr. Sheena S. Iyengar, an assistant professor at Columbia's business school, and Dr. Mark R. Lepper, chairman of Stanford's psychology department, have demonstrated that providing too many options— particularly when the differences between them are small — can make people feel overwhelmed and overloaded, and as a result, less likely to buy or pursue any of the options available.

One is glad to read in the article that Barry Schwartz was included, since this topic is well within his purview.

Choice is good.... Amd the more the better...

Drinking Stories That Put Yours To Shame
Topic: Society 12:45 pm EDT, Oct 26, 2007

2. The London Brew-nami of 1814

The Industrial Revolution wasn't all steam engines and textile mills. Beer production increased exponentially, as well. Fortunately, the good people of England were up to the challenge and drained kegs as fast as they were made. Brewery owners became known as "beer barons," and they spent their newfound wealth in an age-old manner -- by trying to party more than the next guy.

Case in point: In 1814, Meux's Horse Shoe Brewery in London constructed a brewing vat that was 22 feet tall and 60 feet in diameter, with an interior big enough to seat 200 for dinner -- which is exactly how its completion was celebrated. (Why 200? Because a rival had built a vat that seated 100, of course.)

After the dinner, the vat was filled to its 4,000-barrel capacity. Pretty impressive, given the grand scale of the project, but pretty unfortunate given that they overlooked a faulty supporting hoop. Yup, the vat ruptured, causing other vats to break, and the resulting commotion was heard up to 5 miles away.

A wall of 1.3 million gallons of dark beer washed down the street, caving in two buildings and killing nine people by means of "drowning, injury, poisoning by the porter fumes, or drunkenness."

The story gets even more unbelievable, though. Rescue attempts were blocked and delayed by the thousands who flocked to the area to drink directly off the road. And when survivors were finally brought to the hospital, the other patients became convinced from the smell that the hospital was serving beer to every ward except theirs. A riot broke out, and even more people were left injured.

Sadly, this incident was not deemed tragic enough at the time to merit an annual memorial service and/or reenactment.

Hah! I've gotten Lyme Disease from post drunken carelessness, but riots in the streets are whole other level.

Drinking Stories That Put Yours To Shame

big_brother.jpg (JPEG Image, 375x500 pixels)
Topic: Society 11:27 am EDT, Oct 24, 2007

Hardly seems real, honestly...

Did people forget Orwell or something?

big_brother.jpg (JPEG Image, 375x500 pixels)

RE: Halloween decoration or hate crime?
Topic: Society 1:07 pm EDT, Oct 15, 2007

Decius wrote:

I recall when I was in high school we wrote a play which contained the words "that sucks!" We performed the play for students and parents, who mostly seemed to enjoy it. The next morning we were informed that the school had received widespread complaints from parents about references to oral sex in our play. We had absolutely no idea what they were talking about.

This same thing happened to me. I got in trouble for saying "You suck!" (not to a teacher) and was somewhat aghast that anyone a) cared and b) thought that it was worth censoring. If I'd wanted to indicate that that son of a bitch sucked something specific, you can be sure I would have given more detail.

If I did not intend to offend you, then what I said was not offensive.

This isn't really true. Offensive is offensive regardless of intent. Nonetheless, your point remains, which is that the punishment or degree to which you ought to be maligned for such action is dependent on motive.

I think it's kind of tasteless to hang a witch in effigy, precisely because of the history we have in this country of murdering people who were accused of practicing witchcraft, usually as an easy way of removing independent minded, non-conforming people from the community. As you state, I don't at all see it as being hateful towards the Wicca community unless it was intended to be such. It's two separate issues.

There's nothing wrong with practicing Witches making note of this as a way of educating people, certainly. "Hey, you know, we're aware that you weren't really directing this at us, but this is who we are and what we do, and we'd prefer if people didn't keep associating with witches in this way."

That's an adult response.

Crying "Hate Crime! Hate Crime!" is a sure way to make yourself and your community look unreasonable and reactionary, not to mention undermine the notion (the validity of which is certainly open to question) of a hate crime in the first place.

RE: Halloween decoration or hate crime?

Al Gore Wins Nobel Peace Prize 2007
Topic: Society 10:06 am EDT, Oct 12, 2007

For their efforts to build up and disseminate greater knowledge about man-made climate change, and to lay the foundations for the measures that are needed to counteract such change:

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)
Albert Arnold (Al) Gore Jr.


Al Gore Wins Nobel Peace Prize 2007

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