Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Unexpected consequences, edition X + 1

honking car clip artWow, talk about things you'd never think of (but that sort of make sense in retrospect): hybrid cars hit more pedestrians and bikers because they're so silent! Reassuringly or hilariously, manufacturers are considering adding car sounds to their cars' electric modes (rather like a sulfer smell is added to household gas lines) so they're more easily perceived...


Tuesday, September 29, 2009


Just love this: More Americans Believe In UFOs Than Oppose A Public Option . . .

(via an email from MoveOn)

Life on (in?) the information superhighway

We hear lots about how texting ruins grammar, the Internet makes us dumber, the next generation is bound to be idiots. Or something like that. In the last couple of weeks, have encountered two articles making the opposite argument, that by writing more in a more public context, a larger percentage of the population is becoming comfortable with writing prose and with using it to make arguments and effect change.
  • The first looks at college Stanford student writing and finds that a huge percentage of it occurs outside of class assignments, meaning that this generation is writing more than any generation before them.
    Before the Internet came along, most Americans never wrote anything, ever, that wasn't a school assignment. Unless they got a job that required producing text (like in law, advertising, or media), they'd leave school and virtually never construct a paragraph again.

    But is this explosion of prose good, on a technical level? Yes. Lunsford's team found that the students were remarkably adept at what rhetoricians call kairos—-assessing their audience and adapting their tone and technique to best get their point across. The modern world of online writing, particularly in chat and on discussion threads, is conversational and public, which makes it closer to the Greek tradition of argument than the asynchronous letter and essay writing of 50 years ago.
    This may or may not generalize to all levels of education (I suspect that Stanford undergrads are not very representative), but I think it's true that even the less "literate" are jumping in and expressing themselves, which has to be good for their flexibility of thought. Only time will tell.

  • The second article traces the tendency of the public to decry any new technology as spelling the end of civilization...
    I start with Plato's critique of writing where he says that if we depend on writing, we will lose the ability to remember things. Our memory will become weak. And he also criticizes writing because the written text is not interactive in the way spoken communication is. He also says that written words are essentially shadows of the things they represent. They're not the thing itself. Of course we remember all this because Plato wrote it down -- the ultimate irony.
    This author notes that many technological innovations have given more people access to the means of "publication" and gradually reduced the gatekeeper function of scribes, then publishers, etc., until anybody can be an "author" to some kind of audience.
    Opening up writing to new voices can’t be a bad thing. We’re seeing this spiral. The more people use technology, the more people communicate, the more people in power become concerned with how to control that use. There are two forces pushing against each other. ... [I]t’s similar to what happened when printing presses became a major means of communication or when radio and TV became major communication players. How do you license, how do you control what gets said on the air?
    It's also worth noting that he talks explicitly about kids outgrowing their use of emoticons and becoming (rather rigid) users of standard grammar and punctuation, thus dismissing one of the standard arguments made against all that texting and chat. Various other interesting bits there too.
Apologies to whoever referred me to these articles -- I sort of think one was from Follow Me Here and the other from Atrios, but that's just a guess...

Tuesday baby fun

In the last month or so, Speck, who loves carousels, finally asked to move from the stationary seats (usually a bench) to the animals that move up and down. She watched the other kids intently for her last couple of stationary rides, weighing the move. Here are her first two such outings, recorded for posterity...

Speck on a carousel horse, waving at Papou
On the fancy horses at the historic carousel at the Please Touch Museum.

Speck on a leopard at the Zoo carousel
On a leopard at the Philadelphia Zoo's rainforest carousel.

Thanks to Papou for being there to catch the waves and take the pics! :)

Tuesday giggle

Legislators' amorous emails, as performance art. Good contrasts of style . . .

Friday, September 25, 2009

Occasional reminders never hurt

Sen. Al Franken reads the 4th Amendment of the Constitution to a Justice Department official giving testimony before his committee. Apparently the Constitution is rather passe these days...

(via a Medley tweet)

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Who's looking out for the Big Guys?

Monopoly millionaireAll this talk of protecting the little people, who's worrying about the Fat Cats? A touching tribute to insurance executives and... all they do.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Today's schadenfreude

Ah, legislators, the law of unintended consequences has kicked your butts. Let's start rewarding the well-behaving instead of the well-connected! Heck, let's make this take effect in my hometown! :)

(via Medley via Greenwald)

Imagine that!

When women opt out of their jobs to become full-time moms, their future prospects take a hit, not only in their derailed career paths, but in the lack of options when the economy tanks or their husbands take leave...
For the major media that romanticized opting out as the soothing solution to the stress of juggling work and family, the devastation that choice has left in its wake represents merely another story. But for the women who got sold a bill of goods and gambled their futures without understanding the risks they were taking, losing that bet turned out to be the biggest mistake of their lives.
I'd like to say that They Should Have Known Better, but in our "post-feminist era," the wealth of pressures from family and media, as well as the impression that women's woes have been fixed, mean that many young women aren't even aware of the real data, let alone prepared to apply it to their own lives. Nobody wins in that situation, not even the kids whose welfare os supposed to be at root of the decision.

(via Atrios)

Monday, September 21, 2009

Poem/quote of the day

We'll never get there,
Time is always ahead of us,blurred fall trunks
running down the beach, urging
us on faster, faster, but sometimes
we take off our watches,
sometimes we lie in the hammock,
caught between the mesh
of rope and the net of stars,
suspended, tangled up
in love, running out of time.
- Barbara Crooker
In The Middle
(via whiskey river)

More celebration of our post-racist society

Just don't bump into cranky cops. Because near-deadly force makes a great come-back.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Friday frolic: kid vids from summer fun

Finally got around to uploading a smattering of Speck videos from the summer. Thought these two would be fun for the general viewer and also capture some of her current personality...

Chasing bubbles at the wedding reception in Scotland (at 17 months)

Stomping puddles! oh, the joy!! (17.5 mo)

The status quo is not acceptable

A new study shows 45k people die from lack of decent health insurance every year in the US:
"We're losing more Americans every day because of inaction ... than drunk driving and homicide combined," Dr. David Himmelstein, a co-author of the study and an associate professor of medicine at Harvard, said in an interview with Reuters.
And yet homicide is an epidemic that we have to address, and lack of insurance... eh, they should have planned better. This is a moral issue, people!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Today's fun with science

Always wondered about the accelerating expansion of the universe? Perhaps it's really just that the progression of time is slowing . . . It's hard not to be curious about the point at which time ceases to advance. But, um, it makes my mind reel.

(via Follow Me Here)

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Flying -- 100 reasons to avoid it

airplane in a red yield triangle Atrios is onto something here. I've been flying for some 35 years, and just in the last couple have I started taking the Hassle of Getting There into account when contemplating trips -- will I be there long enough to justify two degrading and frustrating security passes? Is the speed really preferable to, say, the comfort and cleanliness of a train? Could I go somewhere nearby and nearly as nice (see: Montreal for Paris, etc.)? And that is for somebody who doesn't strictly have to count pennies when planning a vacation. The airline industry might just have to start caring about its passengers again, lest it find itself freed from any need . . .

Paved with good intentions

What could sound more friendly than "dolphin-safe tuna"? Turns out it's actually a bit of an ecological disaster in practice...

(via kottke)

Monday, September 14, 2009

National blogger cares more than local politicians

Cory Doctorow excoriates the threatened closing of Philadelphia's library system. It's a wonderful tribute to what libraries represent to individual users and vast cultures...

(via a Medley tweet)

That so-called liberal media

newspapersJust trumpeting those crazy liberal ideas again... Sigh.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Suggestions to keep one up at night...


The more things change...

...the more the South continues to play the white master/subservient black man game. They've spent centuries building the layers of coded language so that even the mildest comment carries unmistakable resonances to its intended audience...

mmm, makes you feel good about America, don't it?

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Some things, what needs linked

  • Discussions about penalties for drunk driving need to take into account that bars are largely built into a car culture (like stadiums built in the middle of seas of parking lots) -- perhaps there is more than one way to reduce this problem!

  • In a similar vein (that is, Missing the Point), I hope that civic planners take note that Phoenix's new transit system is being used mostly by non-commuters, even though that's never what they plan around. Everyday life much? (Atrios doesn't even mention such inconceivables as closing down transit service on July 4 when you live in a region whose primary tourist draw is rooted in our national history, not to mention large celebrations thereof.)

  • Our military contractor system is screwed in a number of ways, from financial costs to oversight to moral problems to stealing our best military folk. But, um, what to make of there being more contractors than military personnel in Afghanistan?!?!?

  • Tomorrow night is a big Obama healthcare speech. I understand where this writer is coming from in claiming that Obama needs not just (or even) to win the policy war but to restore the hopes of his many onetime supporters that he can provide Leadership and Big Picture Inspiration to our national discourse.

  • Echidne notes livingroom elephants in our discussions of work and parenting -- note, for example, the lack of the term "working father" in common parlance.

  • Finally, while I'm at it, somebody go read this extensive review of Mac OS snow leopoard and tell me whether I should upgrade. I mean, that's a lot of research for a $29 piece of software that offers no front-end benefits!

Quote of the day

Let me keep my mind on what matters,
which is my work,
which is mostly standing still and learning to be
- Mary Oliver
Twi Chi
(via whiskey river)

Holiday baby-blogging: forms of play

Not pictures from this weekend, but a wash of color and fun in which Speck demonstrates high points of a toddler's forms of summer play:

Speck in her UV-proof bathing suit and water shoes, enjoying the little sprayers at a fantastic local "sprayground" designed to cool the city's kids.


Here Speck enjoys a little finger-puppet book on the train with Dad.

puddle stomper 2
This is an understated photo that captures a high level of fun: stomping puddles. Speck, in water shoes, surveys the wealth of puddles beckoning from our (dead-end) street...

blue tube crop2
A colorful finish: Speck climbs through a series of elevated blue tubes, one feature among many fantastical climbing structures at a refurbished Tot Lot in Philly.

Friday, September 04, 2009

Conduit for "facts"

It's great that the media isn't our only source of facts about the healthcare debate -- oh wait, crap. I guess it's stuff like this that keeps the debate so elevated...

(via Atrios)

Twitter giggle of the day

donkey with an elephant on his backAt some point this will sink in: "bipartisanship" does not mean saying thank you when someone pees on your shoes.
- HunterDK

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

What are we doing to our country?

Sort of horrifying stories:
  1. A third of young workers (under 35) are living with their parents because of low wages and/or lots of debt. Almost that many are living without insurance, and not by choice. These are people putting their lives on hold because of forces larger than themselves... (via Atrios)

  2. Meanwhile, many LAX employees -- from pilots to baggage handlers -- are living in trailors in a parking lot by the airport between shifts. It's a grim, grim lifestyle, presumably nobody's first choice. (via Bag News Notes)

  3. Thousands of Americans are moving to Mexico for the health coverage. Surely that should convince some unbelievers that things aren't perfect here at home...
But, you know, things are just great here, because we live in a just world and thus everybody deserves whatever they get . . . [sound of head banging desk]

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Privilege, liberalism, and Ted Kennedy

There have been many tributes to and examinations of the life of Ted Kennedy in the last week, but the one that struck me was this musing by Bitch, Ph.D., on what it means to come from a wealthy and powerful family and also care deeply about the poor, underprivileged, and weak.
Therein lies the strength of true liberalism, I think. And the defense, if defense is needed, of "liberal elites" as such. The privilege of the elite can and should be the privilege of working to lift others.
It's not something that one sees all across the political spectrum anymore, or really anywhere along it -- all the more difficult, then, to see a major torchbearer fall by the wayside just when one of his causes (healthcare expansion) might finally be in play. All the more reason for the rest of us to step up . . .

Edit: should add this excellent Ted Kennedy word cloud that gives a pretty good sense of his priorities.
(via a Medley tweet)