Wednesday, March 17, 2010

My Appointed Rounds

Neil Pearce on the political economy of incarceration:

[B]ecause the Census historically counts inmates where they’re imprisoned, their numbers actually swell population counts — and legislative representation — for rural areas. The losers in political clout are then the very urban areas most of the prisoners come from.

The Prison Policy Initiative, an advocacy group that documents the impacts of mass incarceration, found 21 counties across the nation where at least 20 percent of the population were prisoners from another county. The reformers’ “case celebre” is Jones County in eastern Iowa, where a backhoe operator was elected to the Anamosa City Council with just two write-in votes, one his wife’s. Why? Because 95 percent of his ward’s population consists of 1,300 inmates in Iowa’s largest penitentiary– and none of them can vote.

Seven state senate districts in upstate New York, the Policy Initiative has calculated, would not have met minimum population requirements in the last decade if they’d not had significant prison populations. California, Texas, Illinois, Iowa, Wisconsin and Maryland are among other states in which the census count of inmates held in lightly populated small town areas can impact the political balance.

Tim Stevens on cyberwarfare:
The facts of cyberterrorism, or state-sponsored cyberattacks, are heavily-guarded by national security protocols, but the case has yet to be made that these are really significant risks, despite what you hear senior officials say. And this is the point: you cannot use the darkest imaginings of those with high-level security clearances to promote ends with little consideration of the ethical and practical implications of the means of achieving them. Crime and espionage are not necessarily acts of war, and the fact that they are being subsumed under the rubric of "war" should worry those who care about international relations, diplomacy, the role of security agencies, the relationship between state and industry, and about the constitutional contracts between the individual and the state.
Cervantes on the comfort of having powerful enemies:
We want to have powerful enemies. They comfort us. "It is less scary to place all our fears on a single, strong enemy than to accept the fact our well-being is largely based on factors beyond our control. An enemy, after all, can be defined, analyzed and perhaps even defeated. . . A research team led by social psychologist Daniel Sullivan of the University of Kansas reports on four studies that suggest people are 'motivated to create and/or perpetually maintain clear enemies to avoid psychological confrontations with an even more threatening chaotic environment.'"

Indeed. But, the fact is, our real enemies can be defined, analyzed and perhaps even defeated; it's just that they are more complex and less palpable than al Qaeda or the communofascist plots of the Obama administration. Structural unemployment, growing economic inequality and declining living standards of working people; multiple environmental crises; the threat of emerging infectious diseases; these and other pressing problems are understandable and they are not insoluble. But they require us to give up some cherished illusions and confronting them requires accepting the likelihood of troubled times and struggle ahead. For many people, it's just easier to worry about the bearded guy holing up in the mountains halfway around the earth.
William R. Freudenburg on the American media's bottomless appetite for climate denialism:
When the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change releases a major report, its main conclusions get a few stories, while most of the attention goes to small errors that don’t affect its substance – and that show up about once every 1000 pages. On the other hand, when the American Enterprise Institute publicly offered $10,000 to any "scientist" willing to attack the climate science for money, that was somehow not treated as a scandal. There was barely a mention of it in the American press, and even after that information trickled out, the AEI and similar think tanks continued to be treated as perfectly credible sources for juicy quotes – without even a disclaimer to note that the quotes came from AEI, "which was revealed last year to be offering pay for reports that repeated its party line."
Obscene Desserts on Fremdscham:
The phenomenon of 'fremdschämen' refers to an empathic process in which person A feels ashamed in place of person B. Person B is not aware that they are in a situation about which they need to feel shame; person A, however, absolutely is. From this embarrassing feeling of being touched by the situation in which person B finds himself unknowingly, person A feels vicariously ashamed for him....

[I]t occurs to me that the noun form, Fremdscham (so, something like 'vicarious shame'), seems ready for export.
(Photo at top: "Tornado in the mid-west 1936" by Michael Paul Smith.)

1 comment:

Marcellina said...

RE:"Fremdscham": This is the first time I have ever come across this word.