Archive for the ‘Society’ Category

How times change

November 30, 2014

marriagevia xkcd

I grew up in Williamsport, Md., a little town on the Potomac River, in the 1940s and 1950s, and was taught by my parents, teachers and Sunday school teachers to judge people by the content of their character and not the color of their skin.

It was not so far south that expressing this opinion would have caused anybody to be run out of town, but I do remember many arguments in which the supposed clincher was, “Be honest, Phil.  Would you want one of them to marry your sister?”

My answer was, “Well, if I had a sister, which I don’t, I wouldn’t want her to suffer all the grief she would have to go through if she married a Negro.  But, if she really loved him, I guess I would still love her and respect her decision, as unwise as it probably would be.”

In truth, I thought the question was a red herring.  I didn’t think interracial marriage would ever be common.  I thought it was just a talking point to justify the denial of equal rights.

In the 1960s, in Hagerstown, Md., in the same county, I attended the marriage of my friend Jim Yeatts, who was white, to Georgianna Bell, who was black.  A detective from the city police department sat in a police cruiser outside the church when the ceremony was performed.

That night the chief of police phoned the newspaper publisher, who was my employer, and informed him that I was among the guests.  The phone call didn’t have any consequences.  I mention it as an example of something that happened then that would be unthinkable now.

What was unthinkable then was same-sex marriage.  If somebody had asked me a question about this back in the 1960s, I wouldn’t have known that they were talking about.

Starting the Christmas shopping season

November 28, 2014

uncle-sam-2

The worst voter turnout in 72 years

November 25, 2014

voterturnout2014

Only 36.3 percent of American registered voters went to the polls this year, the lowest turnout in 72 years.  Fewer than a third of registered voters actually voted in California, Texas and New York, and turnout topped 50 percent in only seven states—Maine, Wisconsin, Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, Minnesota and Iowa.

The New York Times editorial writers blamed the negativity of the election campaign, and changes in election law in some states that discourage voting.  I am in favor of more substantive debate in campaigns, and I am in favor of better election laws, including provision for early voting.

But I don’t think these get to the heart of the problem, which is a lack of a good reason to vote.  There was an unusually large turnout in 2012, reflecting the hopes of many Americans for peace and prosperity.   These hopes have not been fulfilled.

I vote myself as a way of affirming that I haven’t given up on American democracy.  I fear that many Americans, especially young people, are giving up.

§§§

The Worst Voter Turnout in 72 Years by the editorial board of the New York Times

SMALL THANKS 2014

November 23, 2014

reasontobethankful.qmI have many things for which to be thankful.  I have never in my life had to worry about where my next meal was coming from or whether I would have a roof over my head.  I have never been without friends.  I have good health for somebody my age (nearly 78).  I can honestly say I have everything I really want.

But this post is not about these things.  It is about small things for which I am thankful.

I am thankful for automobiles that don’t rust out.  When I first came to Rochester, the city and county governments used to spread large amounts of road salt in the winter.  Natives and long-time residents told me it was important to get a good rust-proofing service; I, foolishly, used an inexpensive service instead, to my regret.  Road salt is less of a problem now than it was then, but the plastic body of my Saturn doesn’t rust.

I am thankful for automobiles that always start in the winter.  I can remember when this was a big issue.  I would run my car in neutral when I got home, and before I tried to start the car, in hope of recharging the battery enough to get a good start.  Now, with alternators as standard equipment, that recharging takes care of itself.  I am thankful for automobiles that get good traction on ice-covered and snow-covered streets, for right-side rear view mirrors and for rear-window defrosters.  I am thankful for idiot bells that let me know when I am getting out of the car with my lights still on or my key still in the ignition; this idiot needs the reminder.

I am thankful for ballpoint pens that don’t leak over my shirts when I accidentally put them in the washer.

I am thankful the Barnes & Noble bookstore provides chairs so I can sit and read.

I am thankful for painless dentistry.  As a boy, I once had a tooth extracted without anesthetic.  The dentist used what looked like a pair of pliers.  He pulled and pulled and pulled, then had to stop and catch his breath before going back and finally getting it out.

I am thankful for plastic bottles shaped with grips.

I am thankful for thermostats.  My parents had a coal furnace, and we had to be constantly thinking not letting the fire go out, but also banking the furnace so as not to waste coal.  One of my chores, since both of my parents worked outside the home, was to go right home when school let out and shovel fresh coal in the furnance.  Now I have a gas furnace that doesn’t have to be monitored at all, and a thermostat which I can turn up or down when I feel too hot or too cold.

I am thankful for luggage with wheels.  I can remember walking through airports and, before that, train stations carrying suitcases that felt like they would pull my arms out of their sockets.

I am thankful for search engines since as Google that allow me to find information in two minutes that I would have had to spend an afternoon in library to get, if I could find it at all.  I am thankful for web hosts such as WordPress that allow me to have my own web log, free of charge and without needing to be computer-savvy.  I am thankful for being able to communicate with friends in distant places through e-mail.  Not to mention spam filters which free me from having to continually purge my e-mail and web log comments.

I am thankful for direct-dial long-distance telephone service.  I can talk to people in distant states and even foreign countries at an affordable price and without having to deal with an operator.  And for telephone answering machines.  When I was a boy, telephone service was like Internet service today.  Most people had it, but a large minority didn’t.

And not all telephone users had private telephone lines. Basic telephone service in those days consisted of a party line, networking a number of households; the phones of everybody on the line rang on every call, but you were supposed to recognize the distinctive ring of your own line and not listen in to others’ calls.

Microwave ovens are a great boon to a lazy cook like me.  I do almost all my cooking nowadays, which consists mostly of frozen dinners, in the microwave.

What are your non-obvious reasons, small or large, to be thankful?

(more…)

Google searches of the rich and poor

November 9, 2014

up-leonhardt-master675Carol Graham of the Brookings Institution reflected on the differences in concerns of America’s rich and poor.

The divide in the concerns of those in the toughest circumstances and those in the most comfortable was highlighted by a recent analysis of Google searches for the New York Times’ Upshot.

The searches that correlated most closely with difficult circumstances were related to diets, diabetes, guns and religion especially the dark side of religion e.g., ‘hell’ and ‘antichrist’.

In the most privileged areas, searches related to the latest technology, health and parenting: e.g., ‘ipad’, ‘jogger’ and ‘baby massage’.

There is another inequality, too, that reflects and reinforces the others: in happiness and optimism about the future.

My research – in the U.S. and beyond – shows that individuals with prospects for upward mobility are happier and more likely to invest in their future health and education and those of their children.

When queried about well-being, the rich highlight the role of work and good health in their lives, while poor people are more likely to focus on friends and religion … … .

It is interesting that Graham’s study assumes that both rich and poor have access to Google.  The fruits of technology are become steadily cheaper, while groceries, rent, tuition and medical care become more expensive.

Focus on friends and religion is a good thing, not a bad thing.  While it is good to think about getting ahead and staying healthy, your job and your health are things that can be taken from you at any minute.  True friends and a sustaining faith will be there for you even when you are unemployed and sick.

LINKS

America: Divided In the Pursuit Of Happiness by Carol Graham for the Brookings Institution.

Inequality and Web Search Trends by David Leonhardt for the New York Times.  This is the source of the graphic.

The happiest cities in the USA are in Louisiana

November 9, 2014

happiest cities list

happiest cities

I like lists and maps like these, although I take them as informed guesses rather than certain facts.  I know that people sometimes say they’re satisfied with their lives when they’re not, and vice versa, and I’d be interested to know what adjustments were made for income and demographics.

Still, the list and map are interesting.  Louisiana is a state with above-average poverty, violent crime and corruption, yet a survey finds that the five happiest cities in the USA are in that state.  Among the top 10 happy cities, six are in Louisiana, three are in other Southern states and only one is an affluent Northern city.

I don’t find this implausible.  I think Southerners on average, both white and black, have stronger family ties, a greater capacity for enjoying the simple things of life and an ability not to sweat the small stuff.

It’s interesting that New York City is the unhappiest city in the USA.   New York City has the greatest concentration of wealth of any U.S. city, but also a great gap between rich and poor.  I’d guess that New York City has one of the greatest concentrations of unsuccessful ambitious people among U.S. cities, and this certainly makes for unhappiness.

The other nine of the 10 unhappiest cities are declining industrial cities in the Midwest or Middle Atlantic.  Having good things and losing them generally makes people more unhappy than if they never had the good things in the first place.  However, the authors of the study say these places seem to have been unhappy before they went into decline.

My home city of Rochester, N.Y., is among the moderately unhappy cities, according to this map.  I learn from the interactive version in the Washington Post that we rank 248th in happiness among 318 cities studied.  I myself am highly satisfied with my life and so, for the most part, are my friends.

But then the majority of my friends are college-educated white people like me.  The Rochester area has a wide disparity between rich and poor, so my experience may not be representative.

One thing about Rochester is that it is cloudy.  We have many overcast days and a lot of rain and snow.  This is said to cause something called “seasonal affective disorder”.  I notice that most of the happy blue cities are in the sunny South or Southwest or the scenic Rockies.

The San Francisco and Silicon Valley areas have great concentrations of unhappiness, yet people want to move there.  Money isn’t everything, but maybe happiness isn’t everything either.

LINK

The appeal of unhappy cities by Emily Badger and Christopher Ingraham of the Washington Post.

The passing scene: November 6, 2014

November 6, 2014

New Shipping Canal in Nicaragua Faces Questions and Opposition by Jens Gluesing for Der Spiegel.

Click to enlarge.

Click to enlarge.

Nicaragua is proceeding with plans for a new canal connecting the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, which will be bigger than the Panama Canal.

The Nicaraguan Canal will be paid for and built by China, which will get a 50-year concession to operate the canal and an option for an additional 50 years.  It would give China a great foothold for expanding its economic influence in the Western Hemisphere.

The canal is scheduled for completion in just five years, although construction hasn’t started as yet.  Unlike the Panama Canal, it will be big enough to handle container ships.

Some Nicaraguans are opposed, because of the impact on Lake Nicaragua, source of most of the country’s drinking water, and because 30,000 Nicaraguans will be displaced from their homes to make way for the canal.  Others question whether the canal will be financially viable, since the Panama Canal is being expanded and other central American countries are building “dry canals”—railroads to transfer cargoes from one ocean to the other.

The New Loan Sharks by Susanne Soederberg for Jacobin magazine.

desperationnationStagnation of American wages and economic uncertainty have made payday loans a big business, because so many Americans are barely getting by and have no savings cushion for unexpected emergencies.

Payday loans are not a marginal part of the U.S. economy.  They are a big business financed by economic giants such as Wells Fargo, JP Morgan Chase and Bank of America, and by Advance America, which is owned by Mexican billionaire Ricardo Salinas Pilego.

The Red Cross’ Secret Disaster by Justin Elliott and Jesse Eisinger of ProPublica and Laura Sullivan of NPR.

The Red Cross is another charitable organization which has succumbed to the corporate model, which puts fund-raising and public relations ahead of doing its job.

Naomi Klein’s new climate change book

October 22, 2014

Naomi KleinWe know that we are trapped within an economic system that has it backwards; it behaves as if there is no end to what is actually finite (clean water, fossil fuels and the atmospheric space to absorb their emissions) while insisting there are strict and immovable limits to what is actually quite flexible: the financial resources that human institutions manufacture, and that, if imagined differently, could build the kind of caring society that we need.

==Naomi Klein, This Changes Everything

*****************************************

Naomi Klein’s brilliant new book, THIS CHANGES EVERYTHING: Capitalism vs the Climate, underlines two important things I had not quite realized.

The first is that the built-in financial incentives of the fossil fuel corporations, or capitalism generally, make it impossible for corporate executives to do anything on their own that would limit the greenhouse gasses that cause climate change.

The second is that many seemingly unrelated struggles against abuses by fossil fuel companies, or abuses by corporations generally, tie in with fighting climate change.

hoax-cop15When native Americans fight to have Indian treaties recognized in law, when small towns in upstate New York pass ordinances against hydraulic fracturing for natural gas, when ranchers and Indians protest the Keystone XL pipeline, when other protestors object to corporate trade treaties such as NAFTA, when Occupy Wall Street protesters advocate economic democracy—all these things help other people in danger from the increase in droughts, floods and violent storms.

I confess that I did not see these connections, or did not fully realize their significance, until I read this book.  I had thought of the question of climate change as primarily a question of how and how much I and other people are willing to reduce their material standard of living, or give up hope of increasing their material standard of living, so that future generations will have a decent planet to live on.

This is a real and important question, but it is not the only question.  As Naomi Klein points out, the well-being livelihoods of many people are threatened by continuing on the present course.   That is because the era of easily-available oil, gas and coal is long gone, and the methods of extracting them—deep water ocean drilling, tar sands, fracking, mountaintop removal—are increasingly costly, dangerous and destructive.

(more…)

The limited benefit of enriching the rich

October 17, 2014

trickledown

Hat tip to Avedon’s Sideshow

The young nations and the aging nations

October 7, 2014
world baby boom

Click to enlarge.

crudebirthrate

Click to enlarge.

I think the leveling off of population growth is a good thing.  There is a limit to how many people the earth can support.  I don’t claim to know what that limit is, but it will be passed at some point unless population growth is leveling off.

demographic transitionThe good news is that this is starting to happen.  The problem is that it is not happening in every nation at once.

Some nations have low birth rates and an aging population that is growing in relation to the working-age population.  Other nations have high birth rates and a young population who can’t all find jobs.

Should there be more immigration from the growing young nations to the static older nations?

What happens to the world balance of power when the population of some nations is static and the population of others grows?  If present trends continue, India will have a larger population than China.  Mexico could become a more populous nation than the USA.  What then?

Bertrand Russell years ago wrote that in order to achieve world peace, nations needed to limit their populations as well as limit their armies and armaments.  Is that possible?

Demographers say that a nation’s population growth starts to level off when women are emancipated enough to be able to decide whether or not to have children, and when a nation reaches a level of prosperity such that parents think their security in old age is better with a few well-educated and well-off children than with many poor children.

I hope this comes true for the whole world.  Expressing this hope is as close as I can come to answering the questions I asked.

What do you think?

(more…)


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 629 other followers