RSSCategory: Community

Dangerous Intersection is 4 years old!

March 12, 2010 | By | 1 Reply More
Dangerous Intersection is 4 years old!

Back on February 21, 2006, I created the first post for Dangerous Intersection. Somehow, it got to be 4 years later all too quickly. Since that first post, DI authors have now published 3,840 posts. And many of you have created one or more of those 18,913 comments that you can still read at the site (all of our posts and comments are available at DI). Our traffic indicates that we’re not small and we’re not big (yet). We typically get about 140,000 visitors per month (about 5,000/day– 1.7 million visitors over the past 12 months), including about 85,000 monthly unique visitors. Over the past 12 months, we dished out more than 7 million pages.

Quantity doesn’t mean much, in and of itself, of course. But I’d like to think that those of us who have participated in the writing and reading at this site have also learned some important things along the way, along with more than a few laughs. I’d also like to think that DI offers some perspectives that you don’t find in most other places, and that we have contributed to the blogosphere and beyond in a significant way.

My plan is to carry on, to learn from past mistakes and to make the site better in the future. One thing I’ve learned during the past few months is that digging into the news cycle too hard and too often can bring me way down, and that’s not good for anyone. Therefore, when I’m feeling a paroxysm of cynicism in the future, I will make sure that I pull out of the news cycle for awhile in order to detoxify (thanks, to Ebonmuse for the encouragement and the terminology).

In the future, I will also try harder to think of a take-away for those posts that concern ignorance, corruption and incompetence. It’s not that we’re going to solve society’s big problems quickly–most of the time, it’s going to be about baby steps if we see any progress at all. That’s not going to be an easy task to present a take-action to every one of society’s woes, but I’m going to give it more effort. The ultimate goal should be to figure out how to make some real-life progress whenever we identify social dysfunction.

I’d like to give thanks to each of the authors, Mark, Brynn, Mindy, Dan, Erika, Mike, Lisa, Ebonmuse, Tony, Tim, Zoevinly, Grumpy, Hank and all the rest for provoking us with your postings and musings. And I really need to thank all of our comment-writers of whom there have been so incredibly many thoughtful people who have offered their own writings to keep the DI authors honest (special commendation to Niklaus). Yet I do know that there are many of you out there who read but don’t write–thank you so much for visiting! Maybe this will be the year that you jump in and write your first comment (remember that you can do so anonymously, if you wish–many comments are anonymous). Almost all of the submitted comments get published (I even publish some of the comments that tell me that I’m going to go to hell!). If nothing else, post a comment to this post just to say hello and join in this modest fourth year celebration.

I would ask for two little favors. If you know someone who might enjoy the kinds of writing you find at this site, please consider sending our home page link to them. Equally important, if a particular post seems well-written to you, please do follow the green-colored directions on the right side of the page and recommend that post to one or more social sites (e.g., Facebook, Reddit, Digg, StumbleUpon). Doing this really kicks up the traffic. It brings a wider (and hopefully a more diverse) audience to the site, which can benefit all of us thanks to more diverse comments. A larger audience would also help me to pay for the hosting costs and the other expense of running this site. I’ll be candid. My hosting costs $100/month, and I’m extremely happy with it (thanks, Josh). The ads you see on the site recoup about 75% of that cost. It would be nice to break even financially, and that’s my main financial goal here. BTW – none of the authors is paid. None of us has made a cent from writing at this site. All of us have day jobs–writing for DI is purely a labor of love.

My overall goal is to present information and opinions that you can trust, but that also challenge you, even though you might disagree with us. In fact, when I tell people on the street about DI, I tell them to visit the site and to comment “especially if you disagree with us.” One of my favorite in-person comments came from a well-accomplished lawyer who was also extremely conservative. He said, “Erich, I sometimes visit your site. It is fascinating and well-written. But I disagree with almost everything you say.” That comment was a prelude to a good conversation over lunch–this kind of comment often is the beginning of something interesting.

I’ll end this “happy birthday” post by suggesting that I love to get email with interesting links. I know that this is true of all of the authors. If you find an good link, do write to us and you’ll likely see it published at DI. Many of our email addresses can be found at the “About” page. Considerable amounts of the links you see here have been recommended by our readers. My own email address is erichvieth@gmail.com (You can also hit the “Contact” link at the top menu). If you want to reach one of the other authors, but you don’t see their email addresses, send me an email and I’ll pass it on.

Once again, thank you. It has been a privilege to write as part of this thoughtful, iconoclastic and kind-hearted community.

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Welcome to Prom Night

March 12, 2010 | By | 2 Replies More
Welcome to Prom Night

Constance McMillen wanted to go to her high school prom. Like most students in the United States, she doubtless saw the event as the capstone of four years of effort, a gala event for students that represents a reward for getting to the end of their senior year and, presumably, graduating not only from high school but into adulthood. One night of glamor and revelry, dressed at a level of style and affluence many might never indulge again, to celebrate the matriculation into the next level of independence. A party where students can show themselves—to their peers and to themselves—as adults.

It has become something more, probably, than it was ever intended to be. Patterned after high society “debuts” at which young ladies of good breeding (and potential wealth) are introduced to Society (with a capital “S”) in a manner that, when stripped of its finery and fashionable gloss, is really a very expensive dating service, with the idea of creating future matches between “suitable” couples, the high school prom is a showcase, a public demonstration of, presumably, the virtues of a graduating class. Over the last few decades, even the less well-off schools strive to shine in what a prom achieves. Instead of a local band in the high school gym, with bunting and streamers and colored lights to “hide” the fact that normally gym class and basketball are performed in this room, the prom has become elevated to a decent hotel with a ball room, a better-priced band (or a DJ), and all the attributes of a night on the town in Hollywood. Tuxedos and gowns are de rigueur and students’ families spare no expense to deck their children out in clothes they really often can’t afford. Limousines transport the budding fashionistas and their knights errant to the evening’s festivities and you know this cost a fortune.

Students may be forgiven for believing that it’s for them.

In its crudest terms, the prom is for the community, a self-congratulatory demonstration of how well the community believes it has done by its youth. It is a statement about what that community would like to see itself as.

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Building lifeboats

March 3, 2010 | By | 2 Replies More
Building lifeboats

I know that my past few posts have been bleak (see here and here), but now I must temper that sense of despair with some hope. Things are bad, and will probably get worse, but that’s not to say that they will not get better.

But here’s the trick: we all have to stop relying upon someone else for solutions. Forgive me if I sound like a politician for just a moment: we must “be the change” we want to see in the world. I cannot tell you how to solve the peak oil problem, or the unfolding economic collapse, or climate change, or the corruption which has become endemic in our political system– you have to figure it out for yourself. I’m not selling a prepackaged kit which contains all of the answers, and I would probably distrust anyone who was.

But that’s precisely why I still have hope. If we are going to make it through the challenges facing us, we must learn to pull together again as a community and actually attempt to create our own solutions. There can be no more delegation to those in Washington. We cannot afford to wait for decades as they attempt to muster the political will to combat the flood of money which has so damaged our electoral and political processes. We simply don’t have time to fix the system that’s been damaged beyond repair.

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Payday loan opponents struggle to get a fair hearing

February 22, 2010 | By | 20 Replies More
Payday loan opponents struggle to get a fair hearing

Payday loans are high-interest short-term unsecured small loans that borrowers promise to repay out of their next paycheck, typically two weeks later. Interest rates are typically 300% to 500% per annum, many multiples higher than the exorbitant rates charged by banks on their credit cards. A typical payday borrower takes out payday loans to pay utility bills, to buy a child’s birthday present or to pay for a car repair. Even though payday loans are dangerous financial products, they are nonetheless tempting to people who are financially stressed. The growth of payday lenders in the last decade has been mind-boggling. In many states there are more payday lenders than there are McDonald’s restaurants. In Missouri Payday lenders are even allowed to set up shops in nursing homes.

Missouri’s payday lenders are ferociously fighting a proposed new law that would put some sanity into a system that is often financially ruinous for the poor and working poor. Payday lenders claim that the caps of the proposed new law would put them out of business. Their argument is laughable and their legislative strategy is reprehensible.

Exhibit A is the strategy I witnessed Thursday night, February 18, 2010. On that night, Missouri State Senator Joe Keaveny and State Representative Mary Still jointly held a public hearing at the Carpenter Branch Library in the City of St. Louis City to discuss two identical bills (SB 811 and HB 1508) that would temper the excesses of the payday loan industry in Missouri. Instead of respecting free and open debate and discussion regarding these bills, payday lenders worked hard to shut down meaningful debate by intentionally packing the legislative hearing room with their employees, thereby guaranteeing that A) the presenters and media saw an audience that seemed to favor payday lenders and B) many concerned citizens were excluded from the meeting. As discussed further down in this post, payday lenders are also responsible for flooding the State Capitol with lobbyists and corrupting amounts of money.carpenter-branch-library

When I arrived at 7:00 pm, the scheduled starting time, I was refused entry to the meeting room. Instead, I was directed to join about 15 other concerned citizens who had been barred from the meeting room. There simply wasn’t room for us. But then who were those 100 people who had been allowed to attend the meeting? I eventually learned that almost all of them were employees of payday lenders; their employers had arranged for them to pack the room by arriving en masse at 6 pm.

Many of the people excluded from the meeting were eventually allowed to trickle into the meeting, but only aspayday-employees other people trickled out. I was finally allowed into the meeting at 8 pm, which allowed me to catch the final 30 minutes. In the photo below, almost all of the people plopped into the chairs were payday lender employees (the people standing in the back were concerned citizens). This shameful tactic of filling up the meeting room with biased employees has certainly been used before.

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JK Rowling discusses the “fringe benefits of failure”

February 10, 2010 | By | 1 Reply More
JK Rowling discusses the “fringe benefits of failure”

In June 2008, J.K. Rowling gave this delightful and insightful commencement speech recognizing the upside of failure.

J.K. Rowling Speaks at Harvard Commencement from Harvard Magazine on Vimeo.

How is failure essential? Rowling told the audience that it “strips away the unessential” and sets us free to see what really matters. Rock bottom can become “a solid foundation.” In fact, she urged that it is “impossible to live without failing at something.”

Rowling’s 20-minute talk is filled with nuggets of wisdom, and illustrated with stories about people with the courage to freely think and act, as well as those who dared to value empathy more than “rubies.”

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New Center to explore the role of religion in politics at Washington University

January 5, 2010 | By | Reply More
New Center to explore the role of religion in politics at Washington University

Wonderful news from Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri. The Danforth Foundation has made a huge financial contribution to create a specialized Center on Religion & Politics. Former U.S. Senator John Danforth was instrumental in making this possible. The following is from the Center’s press release, which was issued last month:

$30 million endowment gift from Danforth Foundation funds creation of center

Washington, D.C., Dec. 16, 2009 — Washington University in St. Louis is establishing a scholarly and educational center that will focus on the role of religion in politics in the United States, according to Chancellor Mark S. Wrighton.

“The establishment of the John C. Danforth Center on Religion & Politics reflects the legacy of Jack Danforth and his belief in the importance of a civil discourse that treats differences with respect,” Wrighton said in making the announcement Dec. 16 at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.

“The center will serve as an ideologically neutral place that will foster rigorous, unbiased scholarship and encourage conversations between diverse and even conflicting points of view,” Wrighton said.

“Knowing that religious values and beliefs can either encourage or undermine civility, the center and its educational programs and scholarly research can provide a bridge between religious and political communities and will inform new kinds of academic explorations focusing on the relationships between the two. We think that’s a worthy goal.”

The creation of the center, which includes the recruitment of five new faculty members with endowed professorships, is being made possible by a $30 million endowment gift from the St. Louis-based Danforth Foundation. It is believed to be the largest gift of its kind made to a university to fund such an academic center.

The center opens January 2010 and will convene public conferences and lectures to address local, state and national issues related to religion and politics and also will offer an educational program in religion and politics, including an interdisciplinary undergraduate minor in religion and public life.

The new faculty appointments will be in the area of American religion and politics and will complement the work of scholars already on the Washington University faculty in the departments of history, anthropology, literatures and religious studies. The new faculty members will hold joint appointments between the new center and existing academic departments.

The center will attract visiting scholars to St. Louis and create opportunities for interaction with Washington University faculty, students and members of the St. Louis community. It also plans to publish and disseminate proceedings of conferences and results of studies by faculty, visiting scholars and students of the center.

“Historically, the responsibility for this kind of dialogue has most often been left to universities with religious connections,” said Danforth. “But great non-sectarian institutions like Washington University combine rigorous academic standards with traditions of civil conversation, and that’s why this is the perfect place for such a center. Few issues are more critical to the well being of a democracy than how religious beliefs — or the denial of such beliefs — co-exist with civic virtue and of how the ‘truths’ of the one are made compatible with the toleration and good will required by the other.”

The Columbia Missourian (based in Columbia, Missouri), provides additional context:

John Danforth, 73, of St. Louis, has often been at odds with others in the GOP because of his concerns about the influence of the Christian right. In newspaper columns, speeches and in a book, he has argued that Christian conservatives have focused on divisive issues that polarize Americans.

Washington University Chancellor Mark Wrighton said the center in St. Louis will reflect Danforth’s belief “in civil discourse that treats differences with respect.”

“The center will serve as an ideologically neutral place that will foster rigorous, unbiased scholarship and encourage conversations between diverse and even conflicting points of view,” Wrighton said.

This is a wonderful development. Washington University is a first-rate center of scholarship, and there might not be a more important topic in these times. Here is yet more information on the new Center, from Washington University’s website.

I very much like the motto for the Center: “Common ground for civil dialogue.”

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Huxley and Orwell

January 2, 2010 | By | 3 Replies More
Huxley and Orwell

This cartoon sums up Neil Postman’s observation that Aldous Huxley appears to be correct that censorship isn’t necessary to intellectually disengage citizens.

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Failure to plan ahead on highway redesign.

January 2, 2010 | By | Reply More
Failure to plan ahead on highway redesign.

St. Louis is still celebrating the December re-opening of its big highway construction project. “Highway 40” (now known as Federal Highway 64) was retooled with more than $500M in taxpayer money, much of it federal money. This highway runs along the heavily traveled “central corridor” of St. Louis, and it would have been a great place to leave room for a new light rail line (St. Louis has such a system that desperately lacks a line running down this central corridor). Or at least they could have thought of carving out a narrow biking route along the highway. None of these things were done, however. In St. Louis, many of us still think of private motor vehicles as our sole means of transportation.

Highway 40 reopening - Photo by Erich Vieth

Ironic, then, that officials opened the new highway to only pedestrians and bikes the Sunday before it opened the newly rehabbed highway to cars and trucks. I heard several people peddling on the highway exclaim that they could bicycle swiftly, in about 25 minutes, from the middle of St. Louis City all the way to Clayton on the new highway. Gad – it really didn’t take that much longer than driving a car!

But why wasn’t accommodation made for light rail or even for a bicycling path? An official explanation showed up (at all places) at the St. Louis Science Center (it’s no longer there). As you’ll see, there is nothing scientific about this propaganda. On a big board offering the “FAQs” of the reconstruction, one could read the following “explanation.”

explanation

I’ll translate: We’re short-sighted people. Notice how the “explanation” tries to lull you to sleep for the first few sentences before evading the question entirely? Here’s another translation: “We’re stupid.” Here’s another: “We lack a thoughtful set of priorities.” Or this: “We’d rather give trillions of dollars to banks than fight for something sensible here at home.”

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Privacy inverted

December 30, 2009 | By | 2 Replies More
Privacy inverted

I think we’ve almost reached the end of an extraordinary ten years or so. Immense amounts of information that should have been public has been kept private. Consider, for instance, eight years where the Bush administration classifying almost anything controversial to be “secret.” More recently, we’ve seen the supposedly transparent health care debate become shaped by opaque dealings because, for instance, Big Pharma and the White House. We continue to see the Federal Reserve successfully prevent tax-payers from learning the inner-workings of an extremely power organization, the actions of which affect us all. But there’s more to this decade than secret things that should be public. It’s public things that should be secret, and I think this second phenomenon is well-illustrated by the following video:

What should, for all intents, be a private moment, the marriage proposal by a pleasant-seeming fellow to his weather channel forecaster girlfriend, has been turned into a public spectacle. I’m sure that no one meant any harm, but as I watched this, it was as clear as can be that I didn’t belong there. This should have been a private moment between the two lovebirds, but the decision to broadcast what appeared to be a surprise proposal (from her standpoint) just couldn’t be resisted. The draw of the limelight was just too alluring. And proposing in public warped the situation in several major ways. She seemed to be willing, but was she really? Did she really want to make her lifetime commitment, and the tremble of her voice, a spectacle for numerous people who had actually tuned in only for the weather? And consider what this sort of thing does to the viewers. Watching this exchange turned me into a voyeur. Did you feel that way too? Here’s more information on this TV proposal.

Nor is this private-things-made-public situation unusual. Anyone turning on TV these days (TV is foisted upon us in waiting rooms, airports, stores, and even the courthouse where I served as a juror two weeks ago) sees numerous what-should-be private moments, including families airing out their dirty laundry on TV. We also see it on numerous blogs–I’ve read one where the woman advised the world that her husband is a drunken bum and that she’s going to leave him–she wrote this to total strangers before telling him. You can also get a regular dose of what-should-be-private information just by browsing Facebook or, better yet, MySpace. And the mainstream media simply just can’t get enough of what should be private family matters regarding politicians, actors, musicians and, of course, athletes.

So there you have it. We are simultaneously seeing a continuing explosion of public private things and private public things. This just can’t be healthy.

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