labingi: (Default)
I’ve just written a critical—though, I hope, civil—letter to Rachel Maddow for her coverage of Hurricane Harvey, which, despite many interesting observations, was also twenty minutes of not mentioning climate change once:

I wrote her, as opposed to everyone else who hasn’t been mentioning climate change, because I suspect she really cares. And I suspect she’s under orders from her superiors at MSNBC not to get into climate change. She’s one person who, I suspect, if she were to get a lot of letters noting this omission might take it seriously and might even speak to her superiors about it.

If anyone else feels like dropping her a line, here is the contact page for her show, with lots of options for getting in touch:
labingi: (ivan)
Review: Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go

Kazuo Ishiguro's 2005 novel Never Let Me Go is a science fiction story about three young people, Kathy, Ruth, and Tommy, grappling with their emerging awareness of the disturbing social destiny they were born for. It may be one of the best written novels I have ever read, which makes it interesting that it's not better reviewed by readers: Goodreads gives it 3.8/5 stars, Amazon 4/5, not bad to be sure but not world class. I'd argue that this slight disconnect with many readers (evident in written reviews as well as ratings) reflects precisely why it is important that Ishiguro wrote this book. The novel challenges our blindness to how our own social indoctrination works. It asks us to face realities we not only don't wish to but have genuine conceptual difficulty with. This is not to say some criticisms are not valid, but they pale, in my view, next to the book's achievements.

Most of this review will talk about ideology and indoctrination, but that is not all the book is about, and I want to be sure to mention a couple of other ways in which it excels. It is one of the most realistic and subtle portrayals I have read of how deep friendships (often) operate: the good, the bad, the habituation, the ability to read each other, the passive-aggressive patterns, the maturing and evolving, the joy, the hurt, the power plays, the mutual support, the altruism, the mess of it all. Though the characters’ trio of best friends does not externally resemble my primary relationships at all, I saw my relationships everywhere, so much so that I fantasized about contacting the friend who’s severed ties with me and saying, “Read this book. This is about us.” The book is also about facing death, and apart from the story’s particulars, which I’ll come to, there’s an extent to which this is everyone’s story: we are all faced with our ending, with the years flying by and the likelihood of decrepitude and dependency and the loss of loved ones before a possibly physically painful ceasing to be. This is also very well captured.

As to the rest, spoilers follow… Read more... )
labingi: (Default)
A while ago, I wrote my representative, Earl Blumenaur, asking him to support a carbon tax. Though his form letter reply did not address that proposition, it did include this very fine sentiment:

"The challenge of climate change is not just a matter of scientific consensus or political debate. It is a challenge that we must embrace fully as a moral responsibility to fellow creatures that share our planet, to vulnerable human populations who contribute the least to climate change but will suffer the most, and to our children and future generations."

Hear, hear!
labingi: (Default)
Happy 4th of July in a year with little to recommend it for America. On such a 4th, here are some things I am grateful for about America:

* The US Constitution. It is clunky in some ways and arguably suffers from being so much the prototype of modern democracies and, thus, less polished than some systems that came later. It's the first concept album of Les Mis version of a modern democratic republic, but if we didn't have it, we would currently be living under a dictatorship--and we're not. So bless the Constitution.

* The American belief in freedom of speech, not only as enshrined in the First Amendment, but as a cultural assumption. Yes, it has been abridged at times. Yes, it is under assault now. And, yes, it is very often used to voice idiocy very loudly.

But I truly believe that Americans are so deeply culturally tied to expressing their own voices that true diversity of discourse would be hard to radically suppress. America will not soon be North Korea. That is, perhaps, my favorite American cultural characteristic, for all its downsides.

* The grassroots resistance. It's only just getting started, but it's getting started in a big way. The pendulum is swinging left, and the serious move to reclaim democracy from corporatocracy is beginning.
labingi: (ivan)
I've done a couple of reviews of French stuff:

Rousseau: A Discourse on the Origin of Inequality: Surprisingly outdated and yet still current.

Victor Hugo, The Man Who Laughs: Good story (about the guy whose look inspired the Joker in Batman) but disappointingly executed.
labingi: (Default)
Thoughts on Romney's statements...

Romney: "There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what."

Boy, I hope so.

Romney: "All right, there are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government..."

Of course, we're dependent on government. A population of over 130 million people is far too large to organize without its being managed through some kind of government. Does Romney really believe we have no dependence on government, i.e. we need no government? Is he, in fact, an anarchist? If so, why is he running for President of a government he feels is not necessary?

Romney: "... [47 percent] who believe that they are victims..."

I do to an extent. It depends on what you mean by victim. I certainly feel victimized by a social structure that enriches a tiny majority with ridiculous profits at the expense of funding for things like my--socially very important--job so that I'm underpaid and constantly in fear of losing my job. I feel victimized by living in one of the richest nations in the world but being alone among developed nations in having no reliable access to a doctor, in having my access to a doctor contingent on staying in job that is underpaid and I may lose anyway in a few years because my other immediate options would certainly provide no benefits.

Now, if by "victim" one means a mindset in which one does not put one's back into hoeing one's row (however horrible the soil), then I hope I'm not a victim. I do work very hard and dream hard, too, about possibilities for building a life I'd like. I'm like most Americans I've met in this.

Romney: "... [47 percent] who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it. That that's an entitlement. And the government should give it to them. "

"You-name-it," of course, has no content. To this list, I would add "education." Beyond that, I can't think of anything I feel financially entitled to, except perhaps fair remuneration for seizures for eminent domain or of property by the police.

I sincerely wish I lived in a country in which 47 percent of the population believed in these entitlements. If I did, we might be well on the way to a genuine social democracy, in which all people are granted a basic right to life with basic dignity. Alas, I don't believe Romney's numbers are correct here. I encounter comparatively few Americans who really believe in this piece of common sense (even in my mostly Democratic town, in my mostly Democratic state).

Romney: "These [47 percent] are people who pay no income tax."

Here's an interesting article on why people don't pay income tax.

The statement that this 47 percent is identical to those who believe in entitlements is false: I pay income tax and I believe in entitlements.

(Romney text via Mother Jones)
labingi: (ivan)
Today said to me, "Some of the biggest Republican donors are AT&T, Verizon, Bank of America, and J.P. Morgan Chase. Can you tell these companies, 'You could lose my business if you keep funding Republicans as they crash our economy'?"

Well,, no. At least not in any way any of these companies would believe. As far as I know, I don't do business with Verizon and Chase, so no business to lose there. As for AT&T, well, it's about to buy out T-Mobile, which is my cell phone provider, and my only other option for cell phone service, realistically, would be Verizon, which I categorically refuse to do business with until they are they only monopoly left given the way they used contractual small print to charge me more than twice as much as I have ever paid from any other equivalent service for crappy "high speed" internet that froze routinely several times a week, despite the fact that my use of the service was pretty minimal: email and casual surfing really, no major downloads or uploads.

You see, in the US, it's virtually impossible to tell both AT&T and Verizon you won't work with them unless you're willing not to have a cell phone, and your not having a cell phone will hurt you significantly more than it will hurt them. (I guess Sprint might be some sort of option maybe?)

As for Bank of America*, I've spent years trying not to do business with them, only to have my "socially responsible" credit card company, Working Assets, bought out by them. I suppose I could do a massive search for other credit card companies and try to ascertain which of the two or three mega-conglomerate banks own their various front organizations, but I even if I found one, I have no say in whether B of A or Chase buys them out the day after I sign up.

So, no,, I can't really tell them they'll lose my business. Furthermore, for all the folks who do, I think they'll understand well enough that those folks, of necessity, are lying.

*In the interest of fairness, though, I will say that when my credit card showed a suspicious charge recently, B of A was absolutely professional, efficient, and user friendly in handling the problem. I have to give them full marks there.
labingi: (ivan) (which I belong to and usually pretty much agree with) just sent me an email calling for the resignation of Alan Simpson, Deficit Commission Co-Chair, because he made a comment in which he called those who rely Social Security for income "lesser people."

I followed a link graciously provided by to, where I watched the interview in question, and I have to say, I like this guy.

Now, I have not followed the Social Security debate. Considering that we're on different side of the political aisle, I probably disagree with this gentleman's plans for how to manage SS insofar as I would understand them (though I do actually agree in a general, long-term way that the retirement age must rise as/if life expectancy rises; I've long assumed I'll have to work till I'm over 65, and if I'm in sound health, that doesn't seem too horrifying).

But as for the interview itself, yes, a lot of it was tone deaf. Calling working class people "lesser" certainly was, as was the chorus of "crap" and "bullshit," etc. But it was honest. Here was a guy who appears to have been taken aside in a hallway and asked, with no prep whatever, to talk about his views on SS. He could have walked out with a "no comment." But he didn't. He spoke to this fellow who clearly disagreed with him for quite some time in quite some detail about serious aspects of the issue. He sounded annoyed and put out and stressed, as I don't doubt he is. He said a lot of unpolished things, but I like that they were unpolished and that he was willing to say them. I would take this any day over ultra-rehearsed Newspeak drafted by professional speech writers. I came away from this interview feeling this guy had actually thought about the issue he was working on and had real feelings about it. I might disagree with him, but if he is called on resign, it should be because his ideas for fixing the system are bogus, not because he said the wrong word in the act of agreeing to talk to someone in a honest, unrehearsed way about issues that seem genuinely important to him.


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