Friday, May 30, 2008

Kielburger, Marc and Craig: Me to We: Finding Meaning in a Material World


Authors: Craig and Marc Kielburger. Includes contributions from Richard Gere, Dr. Jane Goodall, Kim Phuc, Her Majesty Queen Noor, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Oprah Winfrey.
Title: Me to We: Finding Meaning in a Material World.
Publication: Toronto: Fireside, 2004. 308 pages, paper, ISBN 0-7432-9831-4.

I jump back a few decades. I remember, while driving from New Jersey to Indianapolis back in 1970, about the time of Kent State, to take a corporate assignment on a new job, repeatedly hearing the popular song “Everybody’s beautiful in his own way.”

Lay that aside, and note that the younger of the two brothers (from Ontario) who author this book appeared on Oprah to help her lauch “O Amabassadors” in the developing world. The Kielburger brothers also helped found “Free the Children,” which in turn links to the "O Ambassadors Program".

The message of the book sounds like an inter-faith or even secular complement to Rick Warren’s “Purpose-Driven Life.” It’s not about you, it’s about your community and other people – the secular analog to saying it’s about God. It may sound like a call to “get involved”, sometimes gratuitously, with meeting the real needs of others regardless of one’s own circumstances. It seems to ask for a more communal kind of self-awareness, as a part of a layering of communities (“We”) than as an expressive individual (“Me”)/

This does seem to contradict the modern idea of “individual sovereignty”. Having one’s own knitting in order before reaching out to form relationships with others is seen as a virtue, as a way to avoid clinging to people or avoid unwelcome intimacy. And, it seems, self-worth inevitably must bear a relation to competitive personal performance. When, what about the others who can’t, either because of inheritance, environmental poverty, or some combination of both?

The main bridge between the individual and others in our society is supposed to be the nuclear family, and until more modern times this was tied to regulation of sexual interests by marriage and the needs of the family. Most of the time, the book presumes that the individual already has a family and that the main issue will be reaching beyond the family to understanding the problems of the larger world and getting involved, sometimes in very personal ways, in solving them. But the issue is also important for younger individuals.

Furthermore, religion deals with the practical reality that most people cannot completely control what happens to them, whatever their attempt at “personal responsibility”. People are often shaped by unchosen family responsibility for others besides children of their own. The early Christians lived communally and practiced a kind of socialism that we sometimes call “kingdom economics.” Compare that to the market fundamentalism, extreme capitalism and hyperindividualism of much of modern society. Nevertheless, individualism is an appealing belief system particularly to ward off abuses by government.

So, now, I have to deal more with my own personal reaction. I grew up as a “sissy boy” in a world that seemed use male competitiveness as a way to justify the idea that some people or families have more than others (particularly during the consumerism and McCarthyism of the 50s, in an era that accepted conscripting young men and exposing them to the ultimate sacrifice for others, women and children). In grade and middle school came to believe, partly as a result of social rejection and teasing, that I was “unworthy” of continuing the family biologically and developed the “logical” teen-brain reaction of upward affiliation. I could redeem myself by excelling as an individual, in academics, or as a musician or artists -- and skipping some of the usual emotional "socialization". But that would often be a solitary pursuit, requiring a lot of private space, and extremely selectivity in social, personal and especially romantic contacts as a (gay) adult. I lived this way much of my adult life, in a kind of “urban exile” that seemed to work for the last third of the 20th Century. Introversion came naturally to me, but these days it seems to surface as a "moral" failing to respond to others.

Imagine my reaction, then, to the increased call for personal involvement and openness. As a substitute teacher for a couple years, I found that some kids would demand a kind of attention that normally only a parent gives. I hear the calls for adoptive parents, and for all kinds of personal involvement in addressing various world crises, from Katrina to Oprah’s Ambassadors. I've even gotten at least on unsolicited job call regarding supervising others as a "role model" in raising money for "charity." But to behave with any integrity, I have to choose what I become involved in very carefully, given my past, and especially given a political climate that did not welcome me in certain kinds of situations. I need to have a legitimate connection to the cause I go to bat for. And I may question some calls (should homes really be rebuilt below sea level in New Orleans, given the uncertain future anyway?) I wonder if the authors would understand that.

I am “jealous” of my private space, to a point that some people see as too “selfish” or inviting “bad karma.” I do need my space, I do need my “sovereignty”, and sometimes people want to help themselves to it. Some facilities – my web activities, my music, and the like, I do manage carefully myself, so as not to put what I have at too much risk. Financially, I behave conservatively. I’m not a materialist in the sense that possessions (like a big house) are themselves important. But, frankly, it’s easier to be generous if you are doing well in life yourself. Speaking for myself, I would want to be. The book also suggests some "Lenten" sacrifices of convenience and efficiency, perhaps to go green, but to accept more interdependence on others. I walk and use public transit when possible, but often I cannot afford to waste time to prove I can "do without."

Given my background, yes, I sometimes harbor a critical attitude toward some people. You hear a lot about single mothers needing help, and politicians go to bat for them. I can snigger and say, well, why did you have kids if you weren’t ready. I didn’t. I know, this seems negative, but you can understand the resistance to this in someone with the kind of background I have.

The book sometimes places an emphasis on personal “openness” to others in public spaces. Again, I’m not one who likes to approach people in public to sell them on causes, and often I don’t like to be approached. I don’t like to manipulate people, even to get them to do good things. The authors develop there own lingo with respect to service: "hedonic" and "eudaemonic happiness," as well as gratitude and empathy. Their notion of empathy seems to relate more to the level of the group (perceiving how someone who lives in a different culture feels) than to others of different levels of ability or resources close-by. This reminds me of the "everybody's beautiful" song and sermons often preached on "the gifts of the spirit" and even the "Parable of the Talents."

However, in light of all of this, I must have my own idea of giving. For one thing, I believe that the Internet can be engineered to enable people to understand what is going on without having to depend on authoritative (whether familial, religious, business or political) to spoon feed them (to “sell” things, a lot of the time). That is already happening, and in “retirement” that has become my first personal priority. What is harder to bring this to the level of interpersonal interactions with people who need it. Tutoring? Chess clubs in urban areas? I can imagine some opportunities.

The book suggests “We” as a way of living. This notion harkens back to the way many people live in the third world, close to the cycles of reproduction and nature, with little or no opportunity for individual excellence apart from social or political position within a tribe, often associated with family. I see charity more in terms of karma, even in a moral philosophy one could call “pay your dues.” Barack Obama (whom Oprah supports very visibly) has hinted at this in some recent speeches.

See also my tv reviews blog (May 26 2008) for report on Oprah show.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Recent books on parents' supervision of teen Internet safety


In the past couple of years the media has steadily increased its reporting on issues about Internet safety and teenagers, as a subset and also an extension of related issues for adults, as in the workplace. While a couple of law professors have authored books recently on “online reputation” and on “generativity” as it relates to Internet safety, now there are some books that take up what parents need to know to protect their kids and enable their kids to learn to use the Internet properly. Last week, PBS broadcast a show on this (see my TV blog for May 20, here.) This is a most welcome development.

Author: Nancy E. Willard.
Title: Cyber-Safe Kids, Cyber-Savvy Teens:
Subtitle: Helping Young People to Learn to Use the Internet Safely and Responsibly.
Publication: Jossey-Bass, 2007. ISBN 978-0-7879-9417-4, 324 pages, indexed, paper.

The author is an attorney and educational consultant. Her book gives a good, narrative overview of all of the major subject areas that parents need to know about, including mechanics, reputation, copyright, bullying, as well as academic integrity. She pays particular attention to the developmental steps that teenagers undergo and the fact that teenagers simply are not capable of understanding the long term and subtle consequences of their actions until they have matured enough, biologically, socially and in terms of educational progress. Of particular concern are symptoms that kids are trying to “hide” Internet activity. She recommends that parents draft agreements with their kids, and gradually allow their kids more freedom as they show they are ready for it. The process is a lot like learning to drive a car. Her points are level-headed and not alarmist or overly “moralistic.” She makes an interesting point that our society encourages a system where consumers get a lot of media content free in exchange for seeing advertising, some of which (both content and ads) is not always age appropriate.

The author has another book on cyberbullying which I have ordered and will review later.

Author: Candice M. Kelsey.
Title: Generation MySpace:
Subtitlle: Helping Your Teen Survive Online Adolescence: How social networking is changing everything about friendship, gossip, sex, drugs, and our kids' values.
Publication: New York: Marlowe & Company, 2007. 322 pages, paper.

The author is a middle school and high school teacher in the Los Angeles area and works on academic placement issues. Right from the outset, her book is a bit more concerned with the social and values context of the Internet issues, some of these of considerable concern to adults as well. Her experience seems to be that a teaching career means a certain kind of life, kid centered, and she is much more concerned about attitude and inference than the first author, whose background is more with the law itself. In her introduction, she talks about teacher participation in “TV-turnoff week” at school, which harks back to the time a few decades ago when teachers had to encourage students to “read, don’t watch television.” I remember that in my own junior high school in the 50s. But now, turning off TV means turning off computers, too; and computers have a legitimate place in education when used properly. She notes that kids brag about getting around the “Lenten fast.”

She then goes on to discuss the way Myspace has, for kids, provided a preferred “reality.” She notes that many kids equate Myspace with the Internet – a false comparison, but Myspace used to be more permissive than Facebook, which was more oriented toward college and adults in the beginning. Further, a certain generation of teens did “come of Internet age” with Myspace, not realizing that even ten years ago there was a robust life on the Internet with older forms of conventional websites (which I grew up on, coding a lot of raw HTML). She points out that kids (especially girls) present themselves unfavorably on their profiles, for no rational motive, unaware that future schools and employers will find this material.

The problem is that for some kids, the Internet provides a more successful “existence” – especially socially – than “real life”. It’s not such a problem for kids with “real world skills” for expression, like sports, music, drama, chess, debate, etc. (I’m reminded of the California teacher who came up with “Freedom writers”.) It may not be a problem for kids who do well in school, or even for kids who come up with legitimate business ideas or innovations on the Internet and make real money. But for others it is an escape.

And, she approaches the area of family values – parents generally want to socialize their kids to have the practical skills and empathy to function in the family unit (hence the Mormon “family home evening”), and a technology that lets kids (or adults, for that matter) escape into a parallel “dominion” is certainly a potential impediment to socialization. However, this sort of issue should be resolved within the family, not by a school district or individual teacher. (Private schools might work differently on this.)

Apart from that, she winds up giving the same general advice as Nancy Willard. It's easy to examine some extensions. Parents can make themselves "friends" and recently a few police departments have offered to do so, however teachers should never interact with student profiles without permission.

Authors: Larry Magid and Anne Collier.
Title: MySpace Unraveled:
Subtitle: A Parent's Guide to Teen Social Networking.
Publication: Berkeley: Peachpit Press, 2007. ISBN 0-321-48018-X. 184 pages, paper, indexed.

This book was mentioned in the PBS NOVA program and does focus on Myspace. It gives detailed illustrations of Myspace input and output the way a systems analyst would present it in a systems specifications document. The purpose of that is to guide parents through all the details of setting up and using Myspace and monitoring the child’s activity. The authors show some confidence that Myspace (which belongs to Fox) now has strict policies about acceptable use and improved privacy options, comparable to that of Facebook. All the authors point out that private profiles can be circulated and that the manipulation of friends lists can be a source of social stress for immature teens. Also, a small amount of material even from a private profile can be seen by the public (without being added as a Friend).

Update: June 7, 2008



Nancy E. Willard. "Cyberbullying and Cyberthreats: Responding to the challenge of online social aggression, threats, and distress". Paper, 9x11, Research Press, 308 pages, is a detailed “hand book” for dealing with bullying, written for both parents and particularly school administrators and school districts.

The subject matter intersects two issues: bullying as it would occur in the real world, and the Internet, which can make things very public. In the early part of the book, she distinguishes between various kinds or bullies and targets. A disturbing portion of this occurs just out of “social climbing.” It seems to reflect an overly competitive view of life, and that “might makes right”. Other bullying occurs as a reaction from people who are bullied themselves. Girls may be more likely (than boys) to use "relational aggression" than boys and the Internet and social networking sites may facilitate such behavior. She discusses social interaction and empathy, which she describes as having both cognitive and affective or emotional components. She spends some space on a surprising problem of bullying by teachers of non-conforming students, and this behavior may go on a long time and not be criticize by school officials. A typical recent example (not in the book) concerned the Florida kindergarten teacher who late other kids "vote" an autistic child out of the class (the teacher was removed from the class after complaint from parents). She provides a brief but balanced treatment on the problem of mistreatment (whether by students or teachers) of students based on perceived sexual orientation or gender non-conformity, and recognizes that students and parents often do not report this behavior and that school administrators have difficulties dealing with it.

She also discusses the complexity of problems that result from kids’ use of the Web (including use from home), leading to problems already discussed widely on this blog. School districts must deal with both on-campus use of the web, and the likelihood that hostile use off campus will disrupt the school environment and create risks. There is a history of litigation that determines how First Amendment rights are balanced against the need for order and discipline in schools, both from speech on campus and sometimes off campus. There are many relevant cases, such as Tinker and Hazelwood. The mere mention of a personal website, profile or blog sometimes can lead to the legal pretext that inappropriate communication has affected the campus.

A particularly disturbing area is the examination of student profiles or blogs on the web for “leakage” (“implicit content”) or writings that indicate risk, especially from a student who has been bullied.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Barnes & Noble reports 1Q loss, might acquire Borders; would Amazon take over website too?


This does not seem to be a good time for booksellers. Reuters reports today that Barnes and Noble is reporting a first quarter loss, partly because of an accounting charge. It’s not clear how the financial results split between the plush retail stores and the enormous website, which is very efficient. There is also a report that Barnes and Noble may acquire Borders, which may want to be acquired.

The Reuters story link is here and it was displayed today through the Finance page on Yahoo!. the same day of alarming reports about oil prices.

Increasing gasoline and food prices (call it inflation or stagflation) are affecting discretionary spending for books and DVDs by many families, especially those with children or dependents.

Borders teams with amazon.com for its online store. It was not clear how a merger would affect stores, but obviously some would close. It would also seem possible that amazon would eventually control the entire web operation.

Barnes and Noble has a strategic alliance with iUniverse, which provides “supported self-publishing” (or “cooperative publishing”) through print-on-demand, which eliminates the cost of large inventories. It is not clear from the report how well the self-publishing support business is doing, or how it could be affected in the future if the two major retailers merge.

BooksaMillion, Powells, and other booksellers do not appear to be affected by any of these reports yet.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Roger Lowenstein: While America Aged: sobering narrative of defined benefit pension problems


Author: Roger Lowenstein.
Title: While America Aged:
Subtitle: How Pension Debts Ruined General Motors, Stopped the NYC Subways, Bankrupted San Diego, and Loom as the Next Financial Crisis.
Publication: New York: Penguin, 2008. ISBN 978-1-59420-167-7.
Description: 274 pages, hardcover, indexed, three parts, seven chapters with Introduction and Conclusion

Before beginning the review, I note an irony, in that the title reminds me of the title of a recent book by Bruce Bawer "While Europe Slept" that is also about demographics.

The full title of this book pretty much tells its message and table of contents. The overall message is compelling, but the history of each of the three crises is filled with minutia, typical of history books dealing with social issues.

The underlying big problem should be obvious by now. It’s demographics. People are living much longer, so any defined benefit pensions have to be paid out much longer. Back in the 80s and sometimes in the 90s, companies bought out highly salaried workers in their 50s. It became almost expected to “retire” early in one’s late 50s, and then start some second career, perhaps one’s passion, but possibly having to sell stuff.

The right wing talks a lot about the dangers of having fewer children (especially in certain social groups) and about “demographic winter” which is said to be happening already in Europe. But as for pensions, the bigger problem is really that employers don’t keep people working at fully salary or wage long enough. We could afford defined-benefit pensions if people worked 40 years, into their 70s. Companies could do that if people stayed healthy enough with lifestyle changes, and if economic and foreign policy were sound (which they obviously are not). In such an environment, fewer children could be a desirable development.

The first part of the book is about GM, and the history of Walter Reuther, and then the “anti-Reuther” later. In the beginning, men didn’t retire; they kept on working and their families took care of them, and they probably didn’t live long after they couldn’t work. The idea of been compensated for an industrial accident was scoffed at (the book mentions Reuther’s losing a toe). But gradually the concept of retirement grew, and eventually was supplemented with social security. The social security offset would be subtracted from pensions, but this practice would be resisted. Labor unions started demanding more. Companies like GM tried accounting tricks and spinoffs (Delphi) to handle the mathematical problems. Eventually, defined benefit pension obligations became so onerous that shareholders lost control of the company. Of course, union members can vote only for their own representatives, not for the owners of the company (except when companies are employee-owned).

The other two sections of the book deal largely with public employees, who can vote out their public officials, and whose employers “must” pay up, resulting in future large tax increases. The New York City transit system started with separate transit companies that offered few benefits for dangerous work in the beginning. But over time, city unions became powerful and eventually extended to other areas, like teachers (whom John Stossel has reported as impossible to fire in New York when incompetent). New York City went through its Financial Crisis of 1975, when I was living in New York and working for NBC as a (non-union) computer programmer. I remember that an office mate actually bought a “Big MAC” bond. And I remember the “Ford to City: Drop Dead” New York Daily News headline.

The San Diego portion also covers the accounting gimmicks, and how they came apart in the wake of private accounting scandals (like Enron) and how the affected city politics. California has been affected by the use of referendum to stop tax hikes. This was a public sector problem in “Republican” territory, with its own flavor.

One major contributor to the pension factor in private industry is that newer companies do not offer defined benefit plans and do not pay premiums into the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation, which can itself run deficits and need a taxpayer bailout. Existing pensions are covered by ERISA, but companies can cancel them in some circumstances involving buyouts or bankruptcy, and PBGC pays only a portion of the pension to the retiree. Companies have sometimes been stricter about retirees working for competitors after retirement.

The author points out that retiree health insurance, which covers the retiree from early retirement up to age 65 when Medicare eligibility starts, is itself a bit of an anomaly, and gets weaker all the time as medical costs rise and ability of companies to fund the insurance diminishes. He believes that all Americans should be covered by a kind of Medicare, with partial coverage by mandatory premiums and assistance based on income. That is, he supports a modified ingle payer system with a Canadian style approach to personal choice of doctors.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

William Eskridge has a new book explaining Bowers v Hardwick, Lawrence v Texas


I recently reviewed the history of Bowers v. Hardwick and Lawrence v. Texas on by glbt blog  just before I learned about Dr. William Eskridge’s new book on the subject. So, here we go again, delving into an area that disturbs a lot of people, with a certain detachment, trying to educate people to become aware of how they think about sensitive things.

 First, let me recap what my perception of the anit-gay hostility in the legal system as I came of age with it. To me, it seems to say something like this: if you want to be a first-class citizen with full legal rights, you have to share family responsibility. That usually means you must marry and have kids, or try to. That’s an essential obligation of living in a “free country.” You owe it. You need to develop the gender-specific skills to do this, before doing what you want with the rest of your life. That is how if came across to me. Now, there is a lot wrong with society’s wanting this (which in large measure it still often does). For one thing, it’s obviously not good for the stability of marriages if people get married because they have to. (Think about all the jealousy rings in heterosexual soap operas like "Days of our Lives").

 Nevertheless, that is how it seemed. It was a paradox, because so much of the early party of life – school, and the college – is about establishing yourself, your expression and “worth” outside of the family. Then, you’re supposed to fall in love and take on the responsibility of continuing life. It sounds like the script of the 1955 movie “Marty.”

And, even if you don’t reproduce yourself, your’re supposed to be loyal to your biological family, and drop everything and put them first in your life. I repeat – I say all of this in the subjunctive mood (clearer in other languages than English).  The book, now, is

Author: William N. Eskridge, Jr.

Title: Dishonorable Passions: Sodomy Laws in America: 1861-2003.

Publication: New York: Viking Adult, 2008 ISBN 978-0-670-01862-8, 514 pages, hardcover, extensive notes and index and appendix. Introduction, twelve chapters, appendix with details by state. Amazon link.

 It is a monumental volume, somewhat relective of the two big books on gay history by Randy Shilts, but a little denser and more technical. Eskridge, for example, covers some of the anecdotes related to the military gay ban (like the Newport bust in the 1920s) that Shilts did in "Conduct Unbecoming". Eskridge would probably concur with my “view” of the problem, although he would say that it is a particular view, often found with people who came of age during the era of McCarthyism and the Cold War, when homosexuality (especially in men) seem to be targeted as of the deepest moral threats to the nation. It is right to wonder why this happened, as it doesn’t make a lot of sense to the modern person used to the mores of individualism.

Eskridge traces anti-sex laws back actually to colonial times. He lists some concepts like disgust, the “ick” factor, “pollution”, and “destabilization.” What this refers to is a belief system that transcends any modern concept of “personal responsibility” and establishes a set of background community values that most men and women believe that they need in order to function well as parents in lifelong committed and "active" marriages, with the lifelong "mandatory" intimacy that marriage produces. The belief system is supposed to make marriage and family life “worth it.” Puritanical attitudes toward the family were pervasive, and expressed in such vehicles as Comstock's laws regarding the mail, but did not necessarily target homosexuals until well into the 20th Century. Eskridge traces the cultural paradigm shift with some jargon that he invents: the transition from procreative marriage and compulsory motherhood (both "white"), to "companionate racially pure marriage and compulsory heterosexuality" (p 82). He could have mentioned the Vatican idea of mandatory complementarity.

As the book develops he often mentions forced conformity.With the ideas of Freud, a more “pseudo-utilitarian” idea developed, that individuals had a moral duty to make their sexual expression “productive” --- that is, quasi “reproductive.” Family rearing involves taking risks, and everyone should share the risk and responsibility. The obligation exists with any sense of sexual pleasure at all; it doesn’t wait until one has created a baby. So the state would have a legitimate interest in channeling sexual energy toward procreation and family responsibility, and in discouraging "nihilistic" sexual expression for its own sake.

 Gradually, more individualistic ideas of liberty took hold, and gradually these ideas influenced how many concepts related to the Bill of Rights and Fourteenth Amendment should be read. The scope of the effect of sodomy laws was coming to be understood. One issue concerned the idea that they were mostly enforced in non-consensual situations, involving minors and rape. But there was also the idea that state acceptance of consensual homosexual relations would influence minors and discourage the formation of families in the future.  To a modern person, this kind of thinking sounds self-defeating and self-contradictory. By deferring to prejudice and commonality, it undercuts the idea that people should be strictly responsible for their own choices. But, traditionally, marriage and family has not been viewed this way. The institutions grew up in a world of external threats, where families (and communities) needed internal loyalty to survive. Families often believe that familial authority creates "right" regardless of the "truth" about some particular circumstances, and this belief seems important to family function (even more so in totalitarian societies like radical Islam). So men believed they were entitled to a cultural climate that supported their sense of “power” and “masculinity” collectively. This sort of thinking would run into logical contradictions when dealing with men who were less “competitive”, but society was afraid of the social implications of “upward affiliation” (and its effect on other men) and preferred to see such men get married and have kids themselves rather than “compete” and “monitor” the whole system from a distance.

Ultimately, anti-gay policies and laws had a lot to do with “protecting” the nuclear family from the logical consequences of competitive individualism. Did they work? Well, they didn’t prevent a lot of bad things, and sometimes encouraged them. Eskridge gives some space to lynchings and relates racist attitudes to anti-gay laws.  Eskridge covers the legal battle over these laws in detail, taking us through all kinds of history: Mattachine, Frank Kameny, Stonewall, into the 70s, AIDS (he could have covered the attempt to strengthen the Texas sodomy laws in 1983), and then Bowers v. Hardwick; and finally; Lawrence v. Texas. (I give the links to the opinions in my other post, link above). My own expulsion from college in 1961 occurred in a time of almost maximum McCarthyism-related “terror” against gays as part of the “enemy” of the “family” in a free society.

One key point is why privacy with consensual sex was never a “fundamental right” unless associated with marriage and procreation. This was, first, because of a belief that families needed a cultural climate that supported the demands made of them in daily life, and secondarily because of a later belief that family responsibility belonged to everyone. Of course, one can get into debates about originalism (and Eskridge covers this), but the real problem comes down to this.  Eskridge warns that the battle for gay freedom and equality is far from over, and the Lawrence opinion, contrary to the fears of Justice Scalia, hardly comports with any “gay agenda.” He, like Jonathan Rauch, advocates that gays take stability and family and community responsibility seriously. He does spend some space on gay marriage and especially gay adoption and custody (the Bottoms case in Virginia, and the laws in Florida banning adoption by gays). Sharing of risks and obligations is a serious moral issue, but it ought to be faced for what it is and debated directly – when talking about the military, national service, and filial responsibility, and even the effect of the Internet on families. Sodomy laws used to provide a facile an lazy cover for real issues. They are gone, thankfully.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

National Geographic: Changing Climate Special Report, review


National Geographic offers a Special Report “booklet” called “Changing Climate: What You Should Know; What You Can Do,” 88 full sized pages, heavily illustrated, edited by NH editor Chris Johns.

There are three sections: “Signs of Change” “The Science Is In” and “Solutions.”

The first section starts with “Change Is Here” by Joel K. Bourne, Jr. and the first big illustration shows a coastal house in South Florida. It’s hard to believe that anyone would live that way in the bull’s eye of a hurricane. There is a picture of a coal-fired power plant in Ohio; the low cost and domestic availability of coal, especially through strip mining and mountatintop removal, encourages its continued use and CO-2 emissions in the United States. There is a spectacular picture of a cumulonimbus cloud in Illinois, about to drop a tornado. The desertification picture shows famine in the third world.

The second section is called Science, starting with “Proof Positive” by Robert Kunzig. The report starts with an account of a multiple 1955 measurement of CO-2 by Charles David Keeling as 310 to 315 parts per million. By 2007, it had reached 384 ppm. It is the rapid rate of change in CO-2 concentration – the derivative – that has scientists so alarmed. The average global temperature rose by a little more than 1 degree F in the past century; it may be surprising that it is not more.

The third section features an essay by Peter Miller, “Now It’s Personal.” He covers three families: one in Botswana, one upper middle class family in Las Vegas, and one middle class family in India. The report shows how it may be difficult for many families to make radical changes, even when doing good things in raising their kids. However small changes, like using CFL’s, can have a major impact. The report quantifies the relative carbon emissions of various lifestyle related activities. Driving or commuting certainly emits a lot more than home entertainment, but the whole chart makes one wonder about social priorities in the future. Many people with lower incomes (especially retirees) may have a hard time affording purchasing hybrid cars or retrofitting homes for solar energy.

NativeEnergy makes it possible for people to purchase carbon “credits” now. So far, no one is keeping score. But I wonder about the future.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Time: 1968: an attractive photographic memoir of a year that changed the world


Time has a handsome red full-sized paperback “1968: War Abroad, Riots at Home, Fallen Leaders and Lunar Dreams: The Year that Changed the World,” 120 pages, heavily illustrated, edited by Kelly Knauer, with about fifty short articles on all kinds of events of that year that Tom Brokaw says is the most critical of modern times.

That is the year I went into the Army, “volunteered for the draft.” I enlisted for two years, and wend in Feb. 8, 1968, a Thursday, two weeks before the date on my induction notice. I thought I would get a “good deal,” even though the Army recruiter in Arlington warned me that 95% of the two-year guys got infrantry, 11Bravo, the Queen of Battle … etc. (you fill in the rest).

I did get a good deal, spending three months in the Pentagon and then 18 months at Fort Eustis (“Useless”), near Williamsburg VA, site of my expulsion for admitting homosexuality six years before. How ironic. I had gone from 4-F (psychiatric) to 1-Y to 1-A with three physicals, maybe the only person to do that.

The most important “moral issue” for me in those days, is who was made to sacrifice, and who was deemed more “valuable.” Back in the early 60s, JFK had wanted to defer all married men, and then there was a period of Kennedy Fathers. LBJ got rid of this, but student deferments stayed in place until the lottery in 1969, while I was already in, safely tucked away at Fort Useless. During the mid 60s, professors, even assistant instructors (as well as high school teachers, indirectly) might have life and death "power." Homosexuality was, in people’s minds, a character flaw that belonged to sissies and applied to men who didn’t “pay their dues.” That’s how we saw moral issues. It was starting to change in the mid 60s, and would cap out a year later with Stonewall in 1969, which couldn’t happen without 1968 first, right?

The book does cover that year with all its events: Tet, LBJ’s no run announcement, the assassination of Martin Luther King and the incredible urban violence to follow, RFK’s assassination, the “Medium Cool” Democratic convention in Chicago, the campaign with Nixon’s come-from-behind win election night. It covers a lot of other things, too, like Andy Warhol’s Factory and the attempt on his life by Valerie Solanas (“Scum Manifesto”).

But I remember that year so much in the moral issues of the day as I experienced them. I actually finished my MA and took my Masters Orals in January at KU (“you passed”), and graded the Algebra finals that I gave as an instructor while on a bus to visit a KU roommate in Western Kansas before going in. (There were some A’s. But I was a “hard math teacher” they said.) Then, life would progress through the induction station, a night in the Hotel Jefferson, a bus ride the next night to Fort Jackson, the Reception Station, all the routines of Basic, the infirmary, recycling into Tent City (Special Training Company, the military’s answer to special education), and pulling out of it, night infiltration, bivouac, basic graduation, then a stint at the Pentagon, then a mysterious transfer to Fort Useless. I do recall a 1972 book about the draft, Peter Tauber’s “The Sunshine Soldiers.”