Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Books That Make You Dumb?

Via Crooked Timber. Books that Make You Dumb did some calculations on Facebook and did some cross analysis between most popular "favorite books" by school and the average SAT scores. The creator of the site acknowledges that this is more of a correlation than a causation, but says that nonetheless, "The results are awesome."

Before we get into how smart people are who read One Hundred Years of Solitude and how dumb people who read The Holy Bible are, I'd argue that again, this isn't really a study into how smart people are. SAT scores aren't the ultimate measure of intelligence. They're one arbitrary measure of how well you, um, take the SAT. What's more, those that even take the SAT are skewed toward white, upper and upper middle class people. There are plenty of people (myself included) that didn't take the SAT.

Additionally, the biggest reason people read books is because their friends recommend them. This has more to do with the social structure of how people choose books they read. Some of the schools with lower SAT scores could require different reading than those with high SAT scores. It also has to do with how much reading was emphasized in households where these people grew up. Furthermore, as Jill noted yesterday, leisure reading is on the decline among Americans, especially among the college age group.

Granted, this site seems to be just for fun and more or less a way for certain people to affirm that they're smarter than everyone else, but with the distasteful IQ race analysis lately, I'd rather not see stuff like this be in the limelight.

Cross-posted at

Screen Actors Guild Prepares For Its Own Fight

It turns out the writers aren't the only ones that are unhappy with the way things are going in Hollywood. The Screen Actors Guild is preparing for a fight for revenue increases from online media and DVD sales, a similar complaint to the Writers Guild of America. But as this great LA times piece explains, the powerful SAG might not have enough leverage at a time when the economy is bad and Hollywood is already strike-weary from the WGA strike.

Labor unions have more or less been on the run in recent decades, with union membership rates at about 12 percent nationwide. But in Hollywood, the SAG and the WGA have maintained quite a bit of power. That is, until recently. Now, with internal politics threatening to fracture the SAG, we'll see how the entertainment industry will shake out.

Although I'm rooting for the unions to get their writers and actors at least some of the demands they're asking for, I'm skeptical. I can hold out with my Netflix queue, but I fear this time the media executives will end up getting the better end of the bargain.

Cross-posted at

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Youth and Super Tuesday

Event this morning that CP hosted, in case you missed it.

Domestic Violence Addressed in Sierra Leone

A friend of mine, Alyson Zureick, is over in Sierra Leone working with a nonprofit group there. Today she had a really interesting blog post about a package of three gender-related bills that have been passed into law, giving legal protections to women in family-related situations. The key component of this law was the Domestic Violence Act. Prior to the passage of this law, Alyson explains, it was technically legal for a husband to abuse his wife. Although Sierra Leone had implemented family support units within the police force in 2001, this law finally criminalizes domestic violence and marital rape.

Alyson explains that the challenges of implementing this project will be complicated, espeically because the Ministry of Social Welfare, the government institution responsible for implementing and enforcing these gender-related acts, is stretched thin, it "has the largest portfolio of any government department but the smallest budget." In 2006, Alyson says, the ministry had a total budget of half a million US dollars. That's less than 10 percent of the country's gross domestic product.

It's really easy for us to forget all the legal protections we have in place for women in the United States that are totally lacking in developing countries. Some of the first wave feminists worked hard to establish divorce rights, retention of children after the dissolution of a marriage, and the criminalization of domestic violence. These are often hard-fought battles that deserve attention and support.

Cross-posted at

Monday, January 28, 2008

Torturing the CIA

A new online-only investigative journalism site called the Washington Independent has officially launched today. (They've already done some really great stuff, including this piece on today's veterans conducting their own Winter Soldier hearings.) They have a great article up today by Spencer Ackerman on how the CIA, hard to believe as it may be, was relatively untested when it came to interrogation. After 9/11, Bush mandated that the CIA begin conducting torture, and as we've seen in recent months, the result is disasterous.

"Very, very few interrogations were done in CIA," said John Sullivan, who performed an estimated 5,000 polygraph tests in the unit during a 31-year career. "Most of what we did was elicitation. Interrogation involves people who don’t want to give you information. In my case, about 20 percent of my tests involved some form of interrogation." None of those interrogations involved anything physical or psychological pressure. "I was never aware of any agency employee being involved in torture. Never. And I spent four years in Vietnam," Sullivan said. "I was disgusted by Abu Ghraib. It broke my heart."

But 9/11 changed all that. Despite having nearly no off-the-shelf experience, the CIA was tasked by President Bush to come up with a robust interrogation program for the most important al-Qaeda captives. So the agency turned to its partners for assistance in designing its interrogation regimen: Israel, Egypt, Saudi Arabia—all countries cited by the State Department for using torture—among others. Additionally, as Mark Benjamin has reported for Salon, two psychologists named Bruce Jessen and James Mitchell, who worked as contractors for CIA, helped the agency "reverse-engineer" the military and CIA training on resisting torture for use on detainees. Suddenly, waterboarding, an illegal practice of simulating or in some cases inducing drowning, became an American-administered practice.

Interestingly, one place that the CIA didn’t look for help was the place where interrogations have been performed, lawfully, for decades: the Federal Bureau of Investigation. "In terms of actual interrogations, when you have a suspect in custody, the FBI does that hundreds of times a day, 365 days a year, for 90 years," said Mike Rolince, who spent over three years as Special Agent in Charge of counterterrorism at the FBI’s Washington field office before retiring in October 2005. "The FBI brought serious credibility and a track record to the table. That said, the U.S. government decided to go about [interrogations] in a different way. The results speak for themselves. I don’t think we need to be where we are."

The article is great, and you may want to check out a crib sheet we ran a couple of months ago on waterboarding and torture. The Washington Independent has also hired Future Majority's Mike Connery to write on the youth and their impact on the primary season. I look forward to more stuff from them.

Cross-posted on

Fly back from the West Coast.

I spent the weekend in LA with Campus Progress, and we put on our very first West Coast Journalism Conference. Apparently LA has an energy drink for "her." Awesome.

Energy Drink for her

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

To Choose or Not to Choose

Today over at Campus Progress, we have a pretty creepy video of pro-lifers on the Mall yesterday. It's part of our whole Roe v. Wade package. Enjoy.

I was also at the NARAL happy hour at Bourbon last night which had great crab cakes and, interestingly enough, Sin City playing on the wall.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Killer of Sheep

I started watching Killer of Sheep last night on Turner Classic Movies channel because even though I heard it was great, I hadn't seen it. The film is good, although very arthouse-y. What I thought was really fascinating was actually the interview with filmmaker Charles Burnett. He talked about how the inspiration behind the film was the fact that he didn't see African Americans represented anywhere in Hollywood films in the 1970s. I'm curious what the feeling is today. Even though Hollywood has become more integrated than it was back in the '70s, the faces on television and movies are still overwhelmingly white.

Blog for Choice

Blog for Choice Day

On the 35th anniversary of the Supreme Court's decision in Roe v. Wade, I can't help but remember talking with my sister and mother about abortion when I was still fairly young. My mother taught me that even if not everyone agrees with abortion, it should always be available for women who need it. The thing that's starting to scare me is that abortion is surely under attack in America by a highly organized grassroots coalition of pro-lifers. Today, they're marching on the mall, as they do every year. What access to abortion is really starting to represent is a class divide, much like access to higher education, access to medical care, and financial security.

Abortion will always be available for (white) upper class women who need or want it. They can fly to Europe, drive to Canada, or take a quick weekend to Mexico City. Other women -- poor mothers and women of color may not always be so lucky. If the pro-life movement succeeds in criminalizing abortion, it will be the worst off that will pay the price.

If Roe is overturned, there is little any of us can do about it. The decision will likely be made by five men, the way the "partial birth" abortion ban was decided. What we've created is a world where the powerful are very powerful and the powerless cannot make their own decisions. After all, access to abortion isn't just about women or "unborn children," it is about social justice.

Cross-posted at

Monday, January 21, 2008

The Wire 5-3

This week's Wire episode seemed to show a dichotomy in the skills of the writers. The story line on the drug dealers gets more compelling -- although gets less screen time -- while the story lines on the three other fronts, the mayor, the newspaper, and the police, gets less so.

McNulty moves forward with his nutcase plan to create a fictional serial killer and manages to get Lester on board. What seems silly about this plan is that they are trying to get resources for an investigation into murders of black people, but I'm going to be cynical and say that the problem here is that McNulty is targeting white homeless men. This hardly seems the demographic that will launch a full-scale investigation. McNulty, meanwhile, is back to his reprehensible self: drinking too much, and caught by fellow police in a compromising position with a woman in a parking lot. I definitely missed the lecherous McNulty last season, but they seem to have gone too far in the other direction.

On the newspaper front, the management has announced the next round of buyouts. Among them is a character, Roger Twigg, that is surely a representation of David Simon -- an on-the-ball reporter who knows his stuff and promises to move on to write "the next great American novel." Meanwhile, the young ambitious reporter, Scott, is clearly depicted as a fabricator. He manufactures quotes to contribute to Twigg's story. Alma, the only female reporter with a name, sees her reporting on a triple murder bumped from the front page due to the "shrinking news hole." The mayor's office leaks a story to Gus to feel out the prospects of bumping Ervin Burrell for Cedric Daniels. Gus -- the only black reporter depicted -- is safe in this round of buyouts.

Meanwhile, Marlo is inching his way to becoming more powerful, courting the Russians to become a direct buyer so he can shut out Prop Joe. Thankfully, they've brought Omar back into the storyline by having Snoop and Chris dish out some retribution. The next episode promises to have Omar play a more prominent role. Michael is struggling with the desire to just be a kid, spending the day at an amusement park with his little brother and Dukie, and his life on the street. Bubbles didn't even make an appearance in this episode

The story lines on the newspaper end seem pretty simplistic, but I'd like to see more of what's going on in the street. Part of the problem is there are so many plots and subplots going on it's impossible to give enough time to everything. We'll see if the drug dealers and addicts get more time in the next episode.

Cross-posted at

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Re: Politics and Misogyny

Bob Herbert gets it both right and wrong in yesterday's column. The part he gets right is, "Sexism in its myriad destructive forms permeates nearly every aspect of American life." This is more true than any man or woman is really willing to admit. The story should be taken on as one of the biggest issues facing our country today. Our expectations of women can be demeaning and objectifying.

Just as I thought Herbert got it really right, he went too far in the other direction. He points to examples of misogyny that include "Hard-core pornography ... photographers [that] risk life and limb to get shots of Paris Hilton or Britney Spears without their underwear... men regularly gather at Gate D to urge female fans to expose themselves ... from brutal beatings and rape to outright torture and murder." These are all serious examples of misogyny, but they most certainly aren't the only ones.

BBut the trick is that the examples he lists are pretty widely accepted as terrible in our culture. The dark side of sexism is the kind that not everyone would call sexism. By calling out somewhat extreme examples, he's making the case that sexism is easily identifiable. The thing is it's not. We may never discover the extent to which sexism exists in our culture because we're all a little biased. It's always important to fight the extreme cases of misogyny, but it's much harder to identify and fight the subtle instances of sexism.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Russert Hearts Trees, Finally

In the Nevada debate tonight my jaw dropped when Tim Russert (finally) asked a question on the environment. I guess someone brought it to his attention.

Environmentalism V. Gingrich

I have a (slightly overdue) piece on Newt Gingrich's Contract with the Earth up at Campus Progress today. Note: when you request a Gingrich book from the publisher for review they send a signed copy. Apparently they can't give those away.

Here's the main crux of my argument:
In A Contract with the Earth, a book he recently co-authored with conservationist Terry L. Maple, Gingrich argues that the environmental movement has become too polarized, and that, at least when it comes to climate change, both the left and the right need to meet the rest of the country in the center. What we need to move forward, the authors say, is a consensus.

The problem with this argument, of course, is that we don’t need to build a consensus about the environmental movement. One already exists, and the left is already on board.
Go on and read the whole thing.

Death on the Home Front

The NYTimes this weekend had a long report on soldiers who have returned to the United States and committed a killing:

The New York Times found 121 cases in which veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan committed a killing in this country, or were charged with one, after their return from war. In many of those cases, combat trauma and the stress of deployment — along with alcohol abuse, family discord and other attendant problems — appear to have set the stage for a tragedy that was part destruction, part self-destruction.

Three-quarters of these veterans were still in the military at the time of the killing. More than half the killings involved guns, and the rest were stabbings, beatings, strangulations and bathtub drownings. Twenty-five offenders faced murder, manslaughter or homicide charges for fatal car crashes resulting from drunken, reckless or suicidal driving.

About a third of the victims were spouses, girlfriends, children or other relatives, among them 2-year-old Krisiauna Calaira Lewis, whose 20-year-old father slammed her against a wall when he was recuperating in Texas from a bombing near Falluja that blew off his foot and shook up his brain.

A quarter of the victims were fellow service members, including Specialist Richard Davis of the Army, who was stabbed repeatedly and then set ablaze, his body hidden in the woods by fellow soldiers a day after they all returned from Iraq.

And the rest were acquaintances or strangers, among them Noah P. Gamez, 21, who was breaking into a car at a Tucson motel when an Iraq combat veteran, also 21, caught him, shot him dead and then killed himself outside San Diego with one of several guns found in his car.

The thing about this is that the DoD isn't inclined to take ownership of the killings, especially since a good chunk of them were committed after the soldiers become veterans and therefore beyond the DoD's jurisdiction. Unfortunately, the DoD's "no comment" stance on this issue is worse than if they addressed it head on.

The bad news is that when we train people to kill people sometimes it's really hard to turn that switch off, especially given the extreme and prolonged stress that these soldiers undergo in combat situations. We can't say that in every instance these killings can be chalked up to PTSD, but it's hard to ignore that combat stress has lasting effects. What I found saddest and most disturbing was that in a third of the circumstances, the victim was a family member. These wives, children, or close relatives are happy to see their soldiers return home, but they aren't the same. In many cases, these former soldiers also took their own lives.

It's becoming a more common story as troops return from the combat arena. The thing is, PTSD is treatable, and we should be pushing to make sure these kinds of incidents don't happen because the veteran gets treatment before he or she causes destruction. As the death toll is starting to subside in Iraq, it's important that we monitor it here as well.

Cross-posted on

Monday, January 14, 2008

The Wire 5-2

Last night's episode of The Wire may be working to confirm Jesse's theory of how season five will unravel the reputation David Simon has earned for himself. The episode began with a poorly acted monologue (these definitely don't seem to be Simon's strong suit, which anyone who has seen The Corner could confirm) at a Narcotics Anonymous meeting.

In the epic good journalist v. bad/lazy journalist subplot Simon seems to be developing, "New York Times or Washington Post, where else?" journalist Scott seems to have fabricated a boy in a wheelchair to add some color to his story on the Orioles opening season game. When his editor asked for more information about the boy, the executive editor -- yes, the same asshole that denied U Maryland wasn't meeting it's desegregation goals -- thought the article was a fine piece of writing and overrode the Gus's request for more information.

As of yet, we're not really seeing a whole lot of interaction between either the journalists and the cops or the journalists and the corner boys. The one point of overlap in yesterday's episode was when Alma arrived on a crime scene to whine for time with Detective Kima. It seems that even at a bad paper, there might be more of an overlap between the police and the paper.

There was some cynical (and spot on) speculation by Bunk, McNulty, and Lester that if 22 bodies of white people (especially white women and/or children) were pulled out of row houses, the investigation wouldn't have been shut down. This seems to be leading McNulty down the rather grim path of faking a serial killer to force the city's administration to pour more money into law enforcement.

I think the point about race is a great one to make, but the idea of faking a serial killer by altering crime evidence on white bodies seems an extreme that doesn't even really address the issue. If/when McNulty gets discovered, there would be a huge backlash.

So far, I'm not overly impressed, but we'll see if it picks up in the next few weeks.

Cross-posted at

Sunday, January 6, 2008

The Wire Season 5 Premier

The much-anticipated season five premier of The Wire aired last night, and this season focuses on journalism. Spencer and Tom thought that this season will focus on the print v. online debate within journalism. Perhaps it's because I'm a young female journalist myself, but I picked up on perhaps an unintended topic: sexism in the newspaper industry. Granted, Simon's female characters are generally not only lacking but underdeveloped. I had hoped in an industry that's starting to become more flush with young female reporters, we'd see some interesting stuff. I guess I was wrong.

The first scene in which we view journalists, the three middle-aged male reporters are out on a smoke break. They talk about how the managing editor has a taste for hiring young 23-year-old women with "traffic light eyes" half of whom "can't write a lede." I highly doubt lede-writing is related to gender.

When the metro desk editor sniffs out a good story on the city council making a deal with , he gives credit to the lazy (male) city council beat reporter even though he didn't find the story. Another male reporter, who has nothing but ambitions to be at the New York Times or the Washington Post, comes to the metro editor and expects to be handed a story of the same caliber.

The female reporter, who was asked to run out on assignment to get a statement from the drug dealer at the strip club, insists that Baltimore is a good news town as she sips a drink at the bar out of a martini glass and seems content to stay at the Sun. Apparently she plays the role of the unambitious female reporter, with no desire to move on to the Times or the Post.

Perhaps the most frustrating scene depicted was when the managing editor killed a story on the University of Maryland not meeting its desegregation goals because his buddy was the dean of the journalism school and "race aside" the story needed more reporting to see how the school was "really perceived by minorities."

There isn't much to go on yet, but I wonder if this season will frustrate me when it comes to gender.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Sick Day

I'm feeling a bit under the weather today, but I hear there's a caucus happening in Iowa. Sounds like there was record-setting voter turnout. Awesome. Now, I'm going to bed.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Is Jon Stewart a Writer Ally? Or not?

On Monday Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert will return to the air, even though a writers strike has yet to be resolved. The shows will only feature unscripted interviews and not commentaries (the interviews are probably . I know that there aren't just the writers to consider -- that stagehands and camera crews are also tightening belts, but I was a little disappointed in the Stewart/Colbert decision.

After all, that's the point of a strike. Strikes are supposed to cause public disruption and force the corporations to bend to something when the otherwise have ultimate power. Executives do what they can to smooth things over with the public so they can pressure the unions into folding. it's a tricky game. Of course, I don't know what decisions are made behind closed doors, but it seems weird that liberal dudes like Stewart are willing to compromise the situation of the writers. After all, before Stewart was a celebrity, he was a writer for HBO's "The Sweet Life" and Colbert himself broke in on "The Daily Show." I'm not sure why they made the decision, but I'm not sure I'll tune in on Monday.

Cross-posted on

The New Homo Novus

The millennials (I still shudder when I hear that word) are difficult to define. We seem to be difficult for other generations to figure out. Baby boomers tend to think we're selfishly lazy, and our activism pales in comparison to the hippie protests of the late 1960s. Courtney Martin, who is a young person herself, recently dubbed us as a generation that's too comfortable with playing by the rules. (Her essay drew criticism.) But such broad generalizations just don't really seem to fit. Sure, some young people are lazy, but a great number of them are also leading polticially active organizations that make good use of the Internet, coordinating transportation and travel to get students to caucus in a highly-anticipated presidential election. So what is it that really defines our generation? After reading a little Tom Wolfe, I have a theory.

Wolfe wrote a (rather dull) essay called "Two Yong Men Who Went West" about Robert Noyce, founder of that Silicon Valley startup Intel. Although Wolfe's descriptions of young people often sound like they're written for the AARP (see his essay "Hooking Up"), in this essay he, almost by accident, describes a tension I hadn't much thought about until reading the essay.
Noyce used to go into a slow burn that year, 1968, when the newspapers, the magazines, and the television networks got on the subject of the youth. The youth was a favorite topic in 1968. Riots broke out on the campuses as the antiwar movement reached its peak following North Vietnam's Tet offensive. Black youths rioted in the cities. The Yippies, supposedly a coalition of hippies and campus activists, managed to sabotage the Democratic National Convention by setting off some highly televised street riots. The press seemed to enjoy presenting these youths as the avant-garde who were sweeping aside the politics and morals of the past and shaping America's future. The French writer Jean-Fran├žois Revel toured American campuses and called the radical youth homo novus, "the New Man," as if they were the latest, most advanced product of human evolution itself, after the manner of the superchildren in Arthur C. Clarke's Childhood's End.

Homo novus? As Noyce saw it, these so-called radical youth movements were shot through with a yearning for a preindustrial Arcadia. They wanted, or thought they wanted, to return to the earth and live on organic vegetables and play folk songs from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. They were antitechnology. They looked upon science as an instrument monopolized by the military-industrial complex. They used this phrase, "the military-industrial complex," all the time. ... They wanted to destroy the new machines. They were the reactionaries of the new age. They were an avant-garde to the rear. They wanted to call off the future. They were stillborn, ossified, prematurely senile.

If you wanted to talk about the creators of the future -- well, here they were! Here in the Silicon Valley! ... Now here you saw youth in the vanguard, on the deading edge!Here you saw the youths who were, in fact, shaping the future! Here you saw, if you insisted on the term, homo novus!
There's a thread here to pull on. Today's youth, at the end of the first decade in the 21st century, is a product of these two subcultures. Today, we are not afraid of technology, as Wolfe asserts that the Yippies of the late 1960s were, but rather we seek to use the technology born of the Silicon Valley to for grassroots activism, commentary, and organizing. We are at an advantage. We do not have to reconcile the change of technology with political change -- in fact these two are linked so that one is necessary to cause the other. Perhaps finally, with the merging of Silicon and Yippie, we are homo novus.

Cross-posted at

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Happy New Year

Welcome to 2008. I'm sitting at home tonight watching the premier of The Biggest Loser -- I'm sure it's no coincidence it's airing on the day that many people start off with resolutions to lose weight, eat healthier, and exercise more. I've never really watched the show before, but what I'm struck by is that the most overweight people are at something of an advantage at the beginning because the way the show is set up is to look at the bottom line of how much weight is lost, not necessarily how healthy the people become.

Since I've pretty much maintained the same weight since high school, I don't really have much to say about the battle of weight loss or gain. But it does seem that we shouldn't focus on the bottom line of numbers when it comes to weight loss. Health is individual, and we should treat it that way. What's more, the people that don't lose weight quickly enough are sent home.

The show has a lot of good to contribute. For instance, they've partnered with Britta to convince people to stop using plastic water bottles and just use one reusable bottle of hard plastic to eliminate waste. And many of the people on the show are committing to make themselves healthy. But I think there really is a tough balance to strike between focusing on weight and focusing on health.
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