Archive for August, 2012

A new study shows that homeless young people use Facebook, Twitter, or other social networks as often as college students. The author of the study (available here; subscription needed) hypothesizes that this means that the “digital divide” is overblown, and primarily a generational, rather than income-based, one.

But this assumes that simply using technology is where the divide exists. When I taught high school, my students struggled with the very basics of word processing: touch-typing, setting the margins, spellcheck. When it came to online research, copying and pasting from Wikipedia was par for the course. They could play plenty of Flash games, but they had trouble accessing information useful in their lives — banking, local resources, scholarships.

We need to think about the use case for technology and how to make it useful for low-income families and young people, rather than just patting ourselves on the back for having access across demographic and income groups. How could we better connect them to job training and placement, political groups, continuing education (that isn’t a scam), etc.?

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One of the arguments in favor of affirmative action is that the pool of talented individuals is large enough to accommodate fairly wide variations in how one defines “the best” and still get a good leadership cadre, freshman class, etc. Put differently, if Harvard, instead of admitting the 5.9 percent that they do admit, admitted the next 5.9 percent — the ones who “just missed the cut,” they would still probably be fine.

With the release of the Pitchfork “People Power” list, Jody Rosen at Slate has skewered Pitchfork’s readership for its selection of mostly white, overwhelmingly male, indie rockers. At the very least, it’s boring and predictable. Unsurprisingly, all the albums on the Top Ten got good reviews in Pitchfork.

So, OK, what happened? One is that women didn’t make a lot of lists, but I think that may have to do with a distaste for the kind of listmaking mania that often captivates music nerds and snobs. (See, for example, High Fidelity‘s “Top Five” obsession.) Additionally, there may be less consensus on female artists than on male ones, and the nature of averaging out lists ends up yielding fewer women. (This may be giving Pitchforkers too much credit.) Similarly, there may simply be fewer female artists regularly making music; there are probably a variety of reasons for that, but if we were to take a random sample of rock bands, I bet we would find a low rate of female participation. This may be the result of choice, prejudice, or some combination thereof, but it probably exists nonetheless. This is purely a hypothesis, of course, so no evidence exists one way or the other.

Because all list-making is arbitrary by nature, I’m going to pick an alternate canon of Top Ten albums that could theoretically have been in Pitchfork’s Top Ten (that is to say, they fit within the Pitchfork ethos, got good Pitchfork reviews, and are listened to by mostly indie rock nerds), but that represent a more female list. Much like those next 5.9 percent of Harvard rejects, this is a set of albums that I think Pitchforkers could reasonably say are as good as any of the albums in the Top Ten. I am generally a fan of quotas, because I think people don’t embrace diversity in almost any setting unless they are forced to. So here goes:

  1. Lauryn Hill – Miseducation of Lauryn Hill
  2. Yeah Yeah Yeahs – Fever to Tell (It’s Blitz could probably go here too)
  3. M.I.A. – Arular
  4. Neko Case – Fox Confessor Brings the Flood
  5. Janelle Monae – The ArchAndroid
  6. Aimee Mann – Bachelor No. 2 (or, the last remains of the dodo)
  7. Fiona Apple – Extraordinary Machine
  8. Robyn – Body Talk
  9. PJ Harvey – Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea
  10. Loretta Lynn – Van Lear Rose

Other alternates: Any number of Sleater Kinney albums; I’m not a huge Bjork fan, but any number of Bjork albums could go too.

Because all lists are inherently arbitrary, without a requirement for some other characteristics than “what’s good,” a bunch of mostly white male rock nerds inevitably pick a bunch of mostly white male rock music to be “the best.” Take a look at any compendium of “best ever” albums lists and you’ll see the skew in effect.

But if that were my Top Ten list from the 1996-2011 time period, I’d be pretty happy.

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Amanda Frost has a piece up at Slate about how Congress should abolish the Supreme Court’s three-month vacation. The merits of that idea aside, Congress should first abolish its own moronic vacations. Although I understand that representative democracy means visiting one’s home district, the number of breaks is ridiculous. The House essentially gets a week recess off every month. Both houses still take an August recess. Most of these recesses give Congresspersons time to raise money for their reelection.

Yet, Congress’s job is far more important and copious than the Supreme Court’s. If the Supreme Court chooses not to hear cases and allow different court of appeals opinions to rule in different circuits, the Republic will not collapse. If Congress doesn’t do something about the end of the stimulus and Bush tax cuts as well as the end of various federal aid, the Republic may actually collapse.

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Missouri U.S. Senate candidate Rep. Todd Akin’s awful suggestion that women rarely get pregnant from “legitimate rape” is awful for many reasons — a mind-blowing lack of knowledge of basic human biology, the suggestion that many rape victims who ask for abortions must be lying, etc.

The real problem with his comments, however, is that they are essentially part of the Republican orthodoxy on being adequately “pro-life.” For example, VP nominee Paul Ryan has said that he does not support abortion even in cases of rape or incest — only when the mother’s life is at risk. Five Republican presidential candidates — Gingrich, Bachmann, Santorum, Paul, and Perry — all supported a pledge that only permitted abortion in cases where the mother’s life is at risk (and even then, “every effort should be made to save the baby’s life as well”). As much triangulation as the Romney campaign attempts, the “abortion is always murder” crowd is the core of the Republican base.

In the meantime, Todd Akin will still probably win in Missouri, regardless of his ignorant and offensive comment. The Missouri Republican Party’s official platform supports overturning Roe v. Wade, forced anti-abortion counseling, preventing public money from going to abortions, preventing public employees from referring abortions, etc. Much as Republicans may pretend, Akin’s comments aren’t shocking or surprising at all — they are part and parcel of Republican anti-abortion extremism.

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This is pretty glorious. Paul Ryan says that Rage Against the Machine is one of his favorite bands. Tom Morello, the guitarist for the band, responds by saying, “Paul Ryan Is the Embodiment of the Machine Our Music Rages Against.”

This is the closest I have ever come to feeling sorry for Paul Ryan. If Sufjan Stevens or Thom Yorke or Joanna Newsom were to announce to the world that they thought I sucked, my feelings would be pretty hurt! But then I remember that Paul Ryan wants to engineer one of the largest transfers of wealth from the middle class to the ultra-wealthy, and I stop feeling sorry at all.

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Ok, I know I’m not supposed to be cocky. And I am overall a rather pessimistic person, so I don’t even feel comfortable saying this, anyway. Plus, like everyone else, my political predictions frequently turn out to be wrong.

But, with Romney’s selection of Paul Ryan for VP, this election is now over. Obama will win, and fairly easily.

You may recall that in the past few weeks, there has been some uproar over Harry Reid’s claim that Romney paid zero taxes over the course of a decade.  It’s a claim that could be easily disproved by Romney releasing his taxes, but of course he seems loath to do that.

But now the conversation has changed. Forget the past, let’s look at the future. Paul Ryan’s budget plan, which now becomes the Romney/Ryan budget plan, has some specific ideas for cutting taxes. In particular, it would slash corporate taxes to zero. For the one year of tax returns Romney has released, in 2010, Romney paid about 14% in taxes on his income. Under his new Romney/Ryan budget plan, that number would be… 0.82%. The reason? Nearly all of Romney’s income in that year comes from capital gains/dividends and the like.

This is unimaginably toxic. The political ads write themselves. Romney always had to fight against his image as a rich guy who just wants to cut taxes so that he becomes richer, while the middle class foots the bill. Now he picks a guy who has proposed to do exactly that.

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