Category: American Culture

In favor of non-holidays

| December 1, 2014 | Reply

I had a wonderful visit with a friend yesterday. She and I have been friends ever since we attended law school together in the late 1970’s. We had an engaging conversation in her living room. I couldn’t imagine a more enjoyable visit. We traded numerous stories and observations, sharing more than a few laughs. As I was traveling back home, it occurred to me that we accomplished this without any of the following:

Handing each other gifts;
Dressing up in fancy clothing;
Blinking lights, ornaments or decorations;
A television turned on;
Singing or listening to ritualistic songs;
Eating special food or drinks;
Making unsupportable claims about events that happened 2,000 years ago.

Instead, we celebrated a friendship and took an active interest in each other’s lives. This is an activity that can be enjoyed simultaneously by small or larger groups of good-hearted thoughtful people. In fact, some of my favorite moments this year have involved

Recently, another friend of mine mentioned that her favorite holiday is Thanksgiving because it is the holiday most devoid of commercialism and religiosity and jingoism. I mostly agree, but even Thanksgiving has been clouded with commercialism, obsessions with spectator sports, and the perceived need to display ourselves through decorations, special clothing and special food. To be fair, I do enjoy the spread of food one encounters at Thanksgiving, but it is a secondary consideration to the occasion. What would be more meaningful as a Thanksgiving celebration: A big feast without anyone to share it with, or a room full of special people without special food?

I would like to nominate Non-Holiday Spontaneous Visiting as my favorite “holiday,” because it is this “holiday” that gets even closest to the core of the most important part of what makes us humans at our best.

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On Being Primed For Worse

| November 25, 2014 | 1 Reply
On Being Primed For Worse

Haven’t we been gearing up for some kind of O.K. Corral showdown pretty much since the announcement that there would be a grand jury? Haven’t we been gearing up for some kind of O.K. Corral showdown pretty much since the announcement that there would be a grand jury? Sure looked like we expected what we got. [More . . . ]

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Early Racism

| October 21, 2014 | Reply
Early Racism

They were marched into the classroom, single file, and lined up along the blackboard to face the roomful of white faces. It would be sheerest invention to say I remember everything about that day. The only things I recall had to do with questions about how my own situation was about to change.

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Cyclist getting wiped out by car door

| September 12, 2014 | 1 Reply

I’m really ambivalent about what happened in this video. Cycling is my preferred method of transportation. I’ve never yet been doored. I assume that every door I pass can open at any time and wipe me out. Therefore, I slow down quite a bit when in a hazardous situation. The guy in this video likes to take changes as part of asserting his rights. Check out the way he shot through the pedestrians before the crash. The narrow path right before the crash and his insistence at traveling at a brisk pace were accidents waiting to happen. That he was wiped out by a door thrown into the bike lane angers me, people should be more careful opening car doors. On the other hand, almost all people who open car doors do it blindly. It’s a fact of life, like the fact that the tides go in and out. Further, the consequences of riding fast through hazardous areas will be an injury suffered by the cyclist, not those who throw their doors open. Hence, my approach of riding very slowly in such zones, even though I would be legally entitled to go as fast as I want in the bike lane. I’m sorry to see this guy wiped out, of course, but the video leaves me quite ambivalent about who was the victim.

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John Oliver points out the scandal of for-profit colleges

| September 8, 2014 | Reply

The amount of accruing student debt is incredibly distressing.   John Oliver has produced this excellent expose on the debt, the politics and the long trail of victims.

Thousands of students are running up enormous debt, especially at for-profit colleges.    Thanks to the lobbying efforts of educational institutions, student loans are not dischargeable in bankruptcy regardless of how bad the track record of the institution for actually placing students into jobs in their fields of education.

The marketing strategies of for-profits are especially reprehensible.

Excellent job of exposing this dysfunction and fraud.  Once again, we rely on comedians to do the best journalism.

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Myths of Authority in Practice

| August 22, 2014 | 2 Replies
Myths of Authority in Practice

I’ve been trying to come to terms with Ferguson since it began. The shooting of Michael Browne sparked a response that surprised many people and the counter responses have been equally surprising among certain people, not so much among certain others. Every time I start to write something I find what I intended to say had already been said better elsewhere. [More . . . ]

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Beware Free Dimes from the March of Dimes

| August 17, 2014 | Reply

Would you like to piss away some money? How about sending money to the March of Dimes, which recently sent me this letter that included a dime glued to the letter.

March of Dimes

The first thought in my mind is Robert Cialdini’s Rule of Reciprocity, which appeared in his best selling book, Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion:

Reciprocity – People tend to return a favor, thus the pervasiveness of free samples in marketing. In his conferences, he often uses the example of Ethiopia providing thousands of dollars in humanitarian aid to Mexico just after the 1985 earthquake, despite Ethiopia suffering from a crippling famine and civil war at the time. Ethiopia had been reciprocating for the diplomatic support Mexico provided when Italy invaded Ethiopia in 1935. The good cop/bad cop strategy is also based on this principle.

In his book, Cialdini points out that when someone hands us something, the feeling of indebtedness makes many of us feel compelled to reciprocate, and the reciprocation is often out of proportion to the initial gift. In the case of the March of Dimes, people get only dimes but they will often respond by writing checks for $25 or $50.

But should you contribute to the March of Dimes? Consider this, also from Wikipedia:

In his book Essentials of Sociology: A Down-to-Earth Approach, sociologist Professor James M. Henslin describes March of Dimes as a bureaucracy that has taken on a life of its own through a classic example of a process called goal displacement. Faced with redundancy after Jonas Salk discovered the polio vaccine, it adopted a new mission, “fighting birth defects”, which was recently changed to a vaguer goal of “breakthrough for babies”, rather than disbanding.

Charity Navigator, an organization that attempts to quantify the effectiveness of charities, has given the organization a rating of two stars (out of four). This is a merged score that attributes both a Financial as well as Accountability & Transparency rating to a non-profit. As of Fiscal Year 2012, Charity Navigator gives a 34.68 out of 70 score for Financial and a 67 out of 70 for Accountability & Transparency. This gives the March of Dimes a merged score of 44.93, leading to their two star status.

Another criticism has been that President Jennifer Howse’s compensation is high. In 2011 the March of Dimes 990 reported it was $545,982.[citation needed] In 2012 her compensation was reduced to $526,679.

 

Related topic: Charities that play the game of giving you something so that you give THEM something. Example: Girl Scout Cookies.

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John Oliver takes on Payday Lenders

| August 12, 2014 | Reply

John Oliver takes on Payday Lenders with a vengeance.   Check out Sarah Silverman’s payday loan alternative commercial at the end.

<iframe width=”560″ height=”315″ src=”//www.youtube.com/embed/PDylgzybWAw” frameborder=”0″ allowfullscreen></iframe>

I have often been highly critical of Payday Loans at this website. They are dangerous financial products that drive the working poor into bankruptcy, foreclosure and worse.

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Jim Carrey takes on guns

| August 11, 2014 | 1 Reply

This video, a parody of a show called “Hee-Haw,” takes on the glorification of guns with a feisty song. Jim Carrey plays the role of Charleston Heston.

The 2013 video caused quite a stir, even bringing Ted Nugent and other “patriots” out into the limelight.

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