Blake Kernen: Why 'take Your Kid To Work Day' Is Not Overrated 2014-04-24
Time for one of my favorite days of the year: Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day. I go to work with my dad, 4 a.m. wake-up call and all, and it's an experience my younger brother and I truly look forward to each April.
And apparently, we're not the only ones. The program was founded 21 years ago, and today more than 37 million kids and adults participate at over 3.5 million workplaces. This year's theme is "Plant a Seed, Grow A Future."
There are a number of reasons why I think it's such a great day: a TV network, dad's colleagues and their kids, learning new things, meeting new people, and a guilt-free day off from school. But the best thing about going to Take Your Kids to Work Day is seeing my dad do something he truly loves to do. And that's inspirational.
My dad found "it" and he's lucky he did. "It" is figuring out what you really want to do in life, going for it and doing it. It's earned success, finding out what makes you happy, working at it, and achieving it. Earned success can be anything you want it to be -- writing beautiful stories, making music, painting, being a doctor, helping others, bankers, lawyers -- something that brings value to your life, and other people's lives. For many people, earned success is one of the most gratifying and satisfying feelings in the world.
Entrepreneurs and innovators already know this. And, it's really not all about how much money they make, or even how many times they fail before making any money. The average entrepreneur makes under $45,000 per year, and fails 3.8 times before succeeding. It's their desire for earned success, doing something that they love, and the satisfaction and happiness that come with it, that keeps them motivated.
I hate to say it but my days of attending Take Your Kids to Work Day are probably numbered. At 14 years-old with working papers and a parent's signature, I can look for my own job, and if I land one, I'll get minimum wage (that's $8.25 an hour in my state), which sounds pretty great to me. In reality, it sounds even better to the 6.7 percent of Americans (10.5 million people) who are currently unemployed.
I'm hoping my dream job is out there somewhere, someday, but for right now, I'll settle for another great day at the office with my dad.
Peace Love Profits,
The B Team: 12 Months Since Rana Plaza: Why Business Needs A Plan B 2014-04-24
A year ago today, over 1,100 Bangladeshi garment workers lost their lives when, despite prior warnings, the building in which they were working collapsed. Over 2,500 more were injured in the disaster, some crippled for life.
The victims of the Rana Plaza factory collapse, most of them young women, were part of a global supply chain that brings affordable garments to markets around the world. This was not the first event of its kind in Bangladesh, and Bangladesh is not the only country where industrial disasters have occurred.
As members of The B Team, we recognize that these incidents violate basic human rights, they are avoidable and they must stop.
We know that change is possible. More than a century ago, industrial disasters in Great Britain and the United States became the focus of national campaigns that led to improved working conditions and greater societal concern for worker safety. Problems such as blocked exits, locked doors and inadequate inspections of factory conditions were addressed generations ago in these parts of the world.
In response to the Rana Plaza disaster, two separate initiatives involving global apparel brands have taken shape over the past year -- 'The Bangladesh Accord on Fire and Safety' and the 'Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety.' Both are a critical part of wider efforts by governments, international organizations, domestic manufacturers and local civil society organizations to ensure such accidents do not happen again. These initiatives, as well as the Rana Plaza Arrangement, which is the only coordinated and systematic approach to ensure all the victims, their families and dependents will receive entitlements to cover their losses, are clear steps in the right direction, but more is needed.
Ultimately, we believe business should be a driving force for wellbeing. That is why we have committed to listen to the needs of employees throughout our businesses and supply chains and to make sure they are treated with dignity. This means building an environment in which all employees can thrive, in line with international human rights and labor standards and where workers receive a fair proportion of the value they create through a decent living wage.
While immediate action by companies is absolutely necessary, their efforts alone cannot achieve a sufficient response. Another Rana Plaza could happen any day and workers around the world remain at risk. Current attempts to address worker safety are too dependent on audit-led approaches. These are incremental at best, and unlikely to bring about the systemic changes needed.
To ensure decent work for all, concerted action is required at multiple levels.
The UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights provide an overarching authoritative framework for ensuring businesses everywhere are respectful of human rights. They reaffirm existing state obligations and make clear that all companies have a responsibility to respect human rights throughout their operations and supply chains. In Bangladesh this means retailers that rely on a wide network of suppliers for production must know and accept responsibility for addressing factory safety throughout their supply chains.
Western governments and international institutions must also invest more to bolster the Government of Bangladesh, which needs to create a culture of safety, not only through effective industry regulation, inspection and monitoring of factories, but also by strengthening infrastructure. Governments must also accelerate their efforts around the world and at a local level to improve regulations; ensuring companies everywhere adhere to universally accepted human rights.
Businesses and their shareholders must play a bigger role in improving factory infrastructure and paying fair wages to workers -- recognizing their right to form unions and bargain collectively. They must also put the right safeguards in place throughout their operations and provide training and support to principal suppliers and to all subcontractors to help them meet international standards. This will require long-term business commitments to Bangladesh that will enable shared approaches to addressing these challenges.
Civil society has an equally crucial role, not only in providing legal aid and support to workers, but also in encouraging citizens to vote with their wallets, demanding that their favorite brands treat workers with dignity. Increasing consumer pressure will help ensure businesses are accountable for providing a safe working environment, where workers can form trade unions to collectively negotiate for improvements in their pay and conditions.
And where protection gaps exist, business, unions, civil society, and governments must come together to address abuses by developing adequate remedies that reach all garment factories in Bangladesh without undermining existing legal frameworks and protection mechanisms.
If such levers can be used, we can move much closer to a system that puts inclusive prosperity and long-term sustainability before short-term profits.
No worker should ever have to fear for her or his life while on the job. Our inaction has given tacit consent to a system that leaves far too many workers vulnerable in the face of unacceptable risks.
We must move faster to bring about these changes. It will require bold action, courageous leadership and new business models. We all have a role to play. Rana Plaza must not fade in our memory, or become just another tragedy among many -- but remain a clarion call for global collective action to protect human rights regardless of the financial cost.
This statement is issued by The B Team including:
Shari Arison, Sir Richard Branson, Kathy Calvin, Arianna Huffington, Mo Ibrahim, Guilherme Leal, Strive Masiyiwa, Blake Mycoskie, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, François-Henri Pinault, Paul Polman, Ratan Tata, Zhang Yue, Professor Muhammad Yunus and Jochen Zeitz. Mary Robinson and Dr. Gro Harlem Brundtland are honorary members of the team, representing People and Planet.
The B Team is a not-for-profit initiative formed by a global group of leaders to create a future where the purpose of business is to be a driving force for social, environmental and economic benefit.
For more information please visit www.bteam.org.
Timothy Karr: Strike Two: Obama's Second Fcc Chair Fails On Net Neutrality 2014-04-24
When President Barack Obama pledged to appoint a Federal Communications Commission chair who was dedicated to protecting Net Neutrality, we had no reason to doubt he'd find the right person for the job.
Obama campaigned in 2008 as a strong champion of the open Internet, telling an audience that he'd "take a back seat to no one in my commitment to Net Neutrality." He said that his chair would share his views on safeguarding the open Internet.
Now, the president is on his second FCC chair, and neither has proven himself up to the task.
The first, Chairman Julius Genachowski, constructed an "Open Internet Rule" that was doomed from the outset. Built upon a flimsy legal foundation and riddled with telco-friendly loopholes, the Genachowski rule was shot down by a federal appeals court in January.
By then Genachowski had fled the FCC leaving his mess for others to sort out.
No worries, assured President Obama earlier this year. "The new commissioner of the FCC, Tom Wheeler, whom I appointed, I know is a strong supporter of Net Neutrality."
Obama said the federal appeal court decision, while rejecting Genachowski's scheme, did confirm that the FCC could use its powers to protect Internet users from online censorship and discrimination.
"They have authority," Obama said. "And the question now is how do they use that authority. If the old systems and rulings that they had in place were not effective in preserving Net Neutrality, do they have other tools that would stand up to court scrutiny that accomplishes the same goals."
As Obama's second FCC chair, Wheeler will put into circulation today a proposal for a new rule. All evidence suggests that Wheeler's proposal is a betrayal of Obama and of the millions of people who have called on the FCC to put in place strong and enforceable Net Neutrality protections.
It reportedly would allow Internet service providers to charge an extra fee to content companies for preferential treatment, guaranteeing their content reaches end users ahead of those that do not pay.
Giving ISPs the green light to implement Internet payola schemes will be a disaster for startups, nonprofits and everyday Internet users who cannot afford these unnecessary tolls. These users will all be pushed onto the Internet dirt road, as phone and cable companies will start to prioritize access to the few online sites and services that can afford the fees. The Zero-Sum Game
This is bad news for anyone who thinks the Internet marketplace should remain open to all comers. By design, the Internet's flat network architecture has allowed anyone to innovate without having to first seek permission from the service providers that control much of the "last mile" access to Internet users. Under Wheeler's proposed regime ISPs won't just favor the sites that pay up; they'll also give special preference to their own services. For years they have tried to kill any Net Neutrality rules that prevent them from protecting their legacy voice, text and video services from the kind of competition the open Internet makes possible. The prioritization of data on the Internet is a zero-sum game. Unless there is continual congestion, no website would pay for priority treatment. This means Wheeler's proposed rules will actually produce a strong desire for ISPs to create congestion through artificial scarcity. Americans need the opposite: an Internet that is fast open and abundant. Under Wheeler's scheme there is no motivation for ISPs to deliver the next-generation Internet. In a statement late Wednesday evening Wheeler indicated that his approach is shaped by the January court decision. But the federal appeals court gave Wheeler a clear path forward: to protect real Net Neutrality the FCC must reclassify broadband providers as the common carriers they are. Wheeler instead chose a convoluted prioritization scheme that undercuts the level playing field that has made the Internet such a powerful engine for opportunity. Obama's Choice
A former cable and wireless industry lobbyist, the chairman is a longtime Obama loyalist and fundraiser. Prior to today's proposal he has repeatedly declared his commitment to a "free and open Internet" and public service. "If I am fortunate enough to be confirmed, my client will be the American public and I hope that I can be as effective an advocate for them as humanly possible," Wheeler told senators during his confirmation hearing last June. And yet clearing the path for a payola Internet is an insult to the millions of people who have actively called on the agency to preserve the open Internet. And it's an insult to President Obama who has repeated his commitment to Net Neutrality on multiple occasions since declaring his White House ambitions. For Obama the choice is now clear: Either you are for Net Neutrality or you're with Tom Wheeler. You can no longer say you're for both.
Peter Van Buren: An Apartheid Of Dollars 2014-04-24
Life in the New American Minimum-Wage Economy
Cross-posted with TomDispatch.com
There are many sides to whistleblowing. The one that most people don't know about is the very personal cost, prison aside, including the high cost of lawyers and the strain on family relations, that follows the decision to risk it all in an act of conscience. Here's a part of my own story I've not talked about much before.
At age 53, everything changed. Following my whistleblowing first book, We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People, I was run out of the good job I had held for more than 20 years with the U.S. Department of State. As one of its threats, State also took aim at the pension and benefits I'd earned, even as it forced me into retirement. Would my family and I lose everything I'd worked for as part of the retaliation campaign State was waging? I was worried. That pension was the thing I’d counted on to provide for us and it remained in jeopardy for many months. I was scared.
My skill set was pretty specific to my old job. The market was tough in the Washington, D.C. area for someone with a suspended security clearance. Nobody with a salaried job to offer seemed interested in an old guy, and I needed some money. All the signs pointed one way -- toward the retail economy and a minimum-wage job.
And soon enough, I did indeed find myself working in exactly that economy and, worse yet, trying to live on the money I made. But it wasn’t just the money. There’s this American thing in which jobs define us, and those definitions tell us what our individual futures and the future of our society is likely to be. And believe me, rock bottom is a miserable base for any future.
Old World/New World
The last time I worked for minimum wage was in a small store in my hometown in northern Ohio. It was almost a rite of passage during high school, when I pulled in about four bucks an hour stocking shelves alongside my friends. Our girlfriends ran the cash registers and our moms and dads shopped in the store. A good story about a possible date could get you a night off from the sympathetic manager, who was probably the only adult in those days we called by his first name. When you graduated from high school, he would hire one of your friends and the cycle would continue.
At age 53, I expected to be quizzed about why I was looking for minimum-wage work in a big box retail store we'll call “Bullseye.” I had prepared a story about wanting some fun part-time work and a new experience, but no one asked or cared. It felt like joining the French Foreign Legion, where you leave your past behind, assume a new name, and disappear anonymously into the organization in some distant land. The manager who hired me seemed focused only on whether I'd show up on time and not steal. My biggest marketable skill seemed to be speaking English better than some of his Hispanic employees. I was, that is, “well qualified.”
Before I could start, however, I had to pass a background and credit check, along with a drug test. Any of the anonymous agencies processing the checks could have vetoed my employment and I would never have known why. You don't have any idea what might be in the reports the store receives, or what to feel about the fact that some stranger at a local store now knows your financial and criminal history, all for the chance to earn seven bucks an hour.
You also don't know whether the drug tests were conducted properly or, as an older guy, if your high blood pressure medicine could trigger a positive response. As I learned from my co-workers later, everybody always worries about “pissing hot.” Most places that don't pay much seem especially concerned that their workers are drug-free. I'm not sure why this is, since you can trade bonds and get through the day higher than a bird on a cloud. Nonetheless, I did what I had to in front of another person, handing him the cup. He gave me one of those universal signs of the underemployed I now recognize, a we're-all-in-it, what're-ya-gonna-do look, just a little upward flick of his eyes.
Now a valued member of the Bullseye team, I was told to follow another employee who had been on the job for a few weeks, do what he did, and then start doing it by myself by the end of my first shift. The work was dull but not pointless: put stuff on shelves; tell customers where stuff was; sweep up spilled stuff; repeat.
It turned out that doing the work was easy compared to dealing with the job. I still had to be trained for that.
You had to pay attention, but not too much. Believe it or not, that turns out to be an acquired skill, even for a former pasty government bureaucrat like me. Spend enough time in the retail minimum-wage economy and it’ll be trained into you for life, but for a newcomer, it proved a remarkably slow process. Take the initiative, get slapped down. Break a rule, be told you're paid to follow the rules. Don't forget who's the boss. (It's never you.) It all becomes who you are.
Diving straight from a salaried career back into the kiddie pool was tough. I still wanted to do a good job today, and maybe be a little better tomorrow. At first, I tried to think about how to do the simple tasks more efficiently, maybe just in a different order to save some walking back and forth. I knew I wasn't going to be paid more, but that work ethic was still inside of me. The problem was that none of us were supposed to be trying to be good, just good enough. If you didn't know that, you learned it fast. In the process, you felt yourself getting more and more tired each day.
Patient Zero in the New Economy
One co-worker got fired for stealing employee lunches out of the break room fridge. He apologized to us as security marched him out, saying he was just hungry and couldn't always afford three meals. I heard that when he missed his rent payments he'd been sleeping in his car in the store parking lot. He didn't shower much and now I knew why. Another guy, whose only task was to rodeo up stray carts in the parking lot, would entertain us after work by putting his cigarette out on his naked heel. The guys who came in to clean up the toilets got up each morning knowing that was what they would do with another of the days in their lives.
Other workers were amazingly educated. One painted in oils. One was a recent college grad who couldn’t find work and liked to argue with me about the deeper meanings in the modern fiction we’d both read.
At age 53, I was the third-oldest minimum-wage worker in the store. A number of the others were single moms. (Sixty-four percent of minimum-wage employees are women. About half of all single-parent families live in poverty.) There was at least one veteran. ("The Army taught me to drive a Humvee, which turns out not to be a marketable skill.") There were a couple of students who were alternating semesters at work with semesters at community college, and a small handful of recent immigrants. One guy said that because another big box store had driven his small shop out of business, he had to take a minimum-wage job. He was Patient Zero in our New Economy.
State law only required a company to give you a break if you worked six hours or more under certain conditions. Even then, it was only 30 minutes -- and unpaid. You won’t be surprised to discover that, at Bullseye, most non-holiday shifts were five-and-a-half hours or less. Somebody said it might be illegal not to give us more breaks, but what can you do? Call 911 like it was a real crime?
Some good news, though. It turned out that I had another marketable skill in addition to speaking decent English: being old. One day as a customer was bawling out a younger worker over some imagined slight, I happened to wander by. The customer assumed I was the manager, given my age, and began directing her complaints at me. I played along, even steepling my fingers to show my sincere concern just as I had seen actual managers do. The younger worker didn't get in trouble, and for a while I was quite popular among the kids whenever I pulled the manager routine to cover them.
Hours were our currency. You could trade them with other employees if they needed a day off to visit their kid's school. You could grab a few extra on holidays. If you could afford it, you could swap five bad-shift hours for three good-shift hours. The store really didn't care who showed up as long as someone showed up. Most minimum-wage places cap workers at under 40 hours a week to avoid letting them become "full time" and so possibly qualify for any kind of benefits. In my case, as work expanded and contracted, I was scheduled for as few as seven hours a week and I never got notice until the last moment if my hours were going to be cut.
Living on a small paycheck was hard enough. Trying to budget around wildly varying hours, and so paychecks, from week to week was next to impossible. Seven hours a week at minimum wage was less than 50 bucks. A good week around the Christmas rush was 39 hours, or more than $270. At the end of 2013, after I had stopped working at Bullseye, the minimum wage did go up from a little more than $7 to $8 an hour, which was next to no improvement at all. Doesn't every little bit help? Maybe, but what are a few more crumbs of bread worth when you need a whole loaf not to be hungry?
Working to Be Poor
So how do you live on $50 a week, or for that matter, $270 a week? Cut back? Recycle cans?
One answer is: You don't live on those wages alone. You can't. Luckily I had some savings, no kids left in the house to feed, and my wife was still at her “good” job. Many of my co-workers, however, dealt with the situation by holding down two or three minimum-wage jobs. Six hours on your feet is tough, but what about 12 or 14? And remember, there are no weekends or holidays in most minimum-wage jobs. Bullseye had even begun opening on Thanksgiving and Christmas afternoons.
The smart workers found their other jobs in the same strip mall as our Bullseye, so they could run from one to the next, cram in as many hours as they could, and save the bus fare. It mattered: At seven bucks an hour, that round trip fare meant you worked your first 45 minutes not for Bullseye but for the bus company. (The next 45 minutes you worked to pay taxes.)
Poverty as a Profit Center
Many low-wage workers have to take some form of public assistance. Food stamps -- now called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP -- were a regular topic of conversation among my colleagues. Despite holding two or three jobs, there were still never enough hours to earn enough to eat enough. SNAP was on a lot of other American's minds as well -- the number of people using food stamps increased by 13 percent a year from 2008 to 2012. About 1 in 7 Americans get some of their food through SNAP. About 45 percent of food stamp benefits go to children.
Enjoying that Big Mac? Here’s one reason it’s pretty cheap and that the junk sold at “Bullseye” and the other big box stores is, too: Those businesses get away with paying below a living wage and instead you, the taxpayer, help subsidize those lousy wages with SNAP. (And of course since minimum-wage workers have taxes deducted, too, they are -- imagine the irony -- essentially forced to subsidize themselves.)
That subsidy does not come cheap, either. The cost of public assistance to families of workers in the fast-food industry alone is nearly $7 billion per year. McDonald’s workers alone account for $1.2 billion in federal assistance annually.
All that SNAP money is needed to bridge the gap between what the majority of employed people earn through the minimum wage, and what they need to live a minimum life. Nearly three-quarters of enrollments in America's major public benefits programs involve working families stuck in jobs like I had. There are a lot of those jobs, too. The positions that account for the most workers in the U.S. right now are retail salespeople, cashiers, restaurant workers, and janitors. All of those positions pay minimum wage or nearly so. Employers are actually allowed to pay below minimum wage to food workers who might receive tips.
And by the way, if somehow at this point you're feeling bad for Walmart, don't. In addition to having it's workforce partially paid for by the government, Walmart also makes a significant portion of its profits by selling to people receiving federal food assistance. Though the Walton family is a little too shy to release absolute numbers, a researcher found that in one year, nine Walmart Supercenters in Massachusetts together received more than $33 million in SNAP dollars. One Walmart Supercenter in Tulsa, Oklahoma, received $15.2 million, while another (also in Tulsa) took in close to $9 million in SNAP spending.
You could say that taxpayers are basically moneylenders to a government that is far more interested in subsidizing business than in caring for their workers, but would anyone believe you?
Back in the Crosshairs
Some employees at Bullseye had been yelled at too many times or were too afraid of losing their jobs. They were not only broke, but broken. People -- like dogs -- don't get that way quickly, only by a process of erosion eating away at whatever self-esteem they may still possess. Then one day, if a supervisor tells them by mistake to hang a sign upside down, they'll be too afraid of contradicting the boss not to do it.
I'd see employees rushing in early, terrified, to stand by the time clock so as not to be late. One of my fellow workers broke down in tears when she accidentally dropped something, afraid she'd be fired on the spot. And what a lousy way to live that is, your only incentive for doing good work being the desperate need to hang onto a job guaranteed to make you hate yourself for another day. Nobody cared about the work, only keeping the job. That was how management set things up.
About 30 million Americans work this way, live this way, at McJobs. These situations are not unique to any one place or region. After all, Walmart has more than 2 million employees. If that company were an army, it would be the second largest military on the planet, just behind China. It is, in fact, the largest overall employer in the country and the biggest employer in 25 states. When Walmart won’t pay more than minimum, it hurts. When it rains like that, we all get wet. This is who we are now.
I Was Minimum
It’s time to forget the up-by-the-bootstraps fantasies of conservative economists bleating on Fox. If any of it was ever true, it's certainly not true anymore. There is no ladder up, no promotion path in the minimum-wage world. You can’t work “harder” because your hours are capped, and all the jobs are broken into little pieces anyone could do anyway. Minimum wage is what you get; there are no real raises. I don't know where all the assistant managers came from, but not from among us.
I worked in retail for minimum wage at age 16 and again at 53. In that span, the minimum wage itself rose only by a few bucks. What changed, however, is the cast of characters. Once upon a time, minimum-wage jobs were filled with high school kids earning pocket money. In 2014, it’s mainly adults struggling to get by. Something is obviously wrong.
In his State of the Union Address, President Obama urged that the federal minimum wage be raised to $9 an hour. He also said that a person holding down a full-time job should not have to live in poverty in a country like America.
To the president I say, yes, please, do raise the minimum wage. But how far is nine bucks an hour going to go? Are so many of us destined to do five hours of labor for the cell phone bill, another 12 for the groceries each week, and 20 or 30 for a car payment? How many hours are we going to work? How many can we work?
Nobody can make a real living doing these jobs. You can't raise a family on minimum wage, not in the way Americans once defined raising a family when our country emerged from World War II so fat and happy. And you can't build a nation on vast armies of working poor with nowhere to go. The president is right that it’s time for a change, but what’s needed is far more than a minimalist nudge to the minimum wage. Maybe what we need is to spend more on education and less on war, even out the tax laws and rules just a bit, require a standard living wage instead of a minimum one. Some sort of rebalancing. Those aren't answers to everything, but they might be a start.
People who work deserve to be paid, but McDonald’s CEO Donald Thompson last year took home $13.7 million in salary, with perks to go. If one of his fry cooks put in 30 hours a week, she'd take in a bit more than $10,000 a year -- before taxes, of course. There is indeed a redistribution of wealth taking place in America, and it’s all moving upstream.
I got lucky. I won my pension fight with my “career” employer, the State Department, and was able to crawl out of the minimum-wage economy after less than a year and properly retire. I quit Bullseye because I could, one gray day when a customer about half my age cursed me out for something unimportant she didn’t like, ending with “I guess there’s a reason why people like you work at places like this.” I agreed with her: There is a reason. We just wouldn’t agree on what it was.
I’m different now for the experience. I think more about where I shop, and try to avoid big places that pay low wages if I can. I treat minimum-wage workers a little better, too. If I have to complain about something in a store, I keep the worker out of it and focus on solving the problem. I take a bit more care in the restroom not to leave a mess. I don't get angry anymore when a worker says to me, “I really can't do anything about it.” Now I know from personal experience that, in most cases, they really can't.
Above all, I carry with me the knowledge that economics isn’t about numbers, it’s about people. I know now that it’s up to us to decide whether the way we pay people, the work we offer them, and how we treat them on the job is just about money or if it’s about society, about how we live, who we are, the nature of America. The real target now should be to look deeply into the apartheid of dollars our country has created and decide it needs to change. We -- the 99 percent, anyway -- can't afford not to.
Peter Van Buren blew the whistle on State Department waste and mismanagement during Iraqi reconstruction in his first book, We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People. A TomDispatch regular, he writes about current events at his blog, We Meant Well. His new book, Ghosts of Tom Joad: A Story of the #99Percent, has just been published.
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Larry Womack: The Face Police 2014-04-24
Please repeat after me: it is never OK to publicly say an unkind thing about another human being's face. "You have a bad face," no matter how it is phrased or framed, is never really constructive criticism. I know, I know. It seems strange that anyone should have to say this to adults. Yet, here we are.
At the same time, it also feels strange that more people haven't said it in recent months. Following the Academy Awards, we were deluged by wave after wave of ugly, inappropriate comment. The first was the most mean-spirited and puerile: "What happened to her face?" Next came, "Poor thing," and "She deserves better." (Which implies that there are faces that do, in fact, deserve to be shamed.) Finally, we arrived at, "But we loved you just the way you were!"
Did you? Did you really? Because it seems to me that media (and overall human) ageism and superficiality are pretty pervasive. Even the positive comments are so rooted in a culture of negativity that there's a certain darkness just around the edges.
Finally, last week, the most prominent victim called out the bullying for what it was. Yet another reason to love Kim Novak. Still, this week, I've seen headlines like, "Over the Hill at 24: the aging of the twentysomethings" and, "In Defense of Aging." So it seems the Novak experience wasn't exactly a eureka moment for all of western civilization.
It's easy (unless you're the victim,) to condemn a handful of offenders in one particularly egregious example of brazen nastiness. The fact is, when it comes to appearances, society is cruel, and in spite of everything we know, it isn't getting any less so. There are people out there who actually believe it is their job, as professionals, to inform you when someone else has a sub-par face. As if the world needs face police.
I understand that people are programmed to react to physical appearance. It is, to some degree, a natural instinct. I also understand that almost all people turn to one another at home and comment about how everyone looks. I get it. I do it. It's all in good fun, I suppose. I sure as hell do it. What I don't understand is why people would think it is okay to air negative opinions about someone's face in a public forum.
Actually, I think I do. It's a hacky means of getting a lot of attention and a little applause. It doesn't even have to be clever; just mean enough to shock. And maybe, if we're all very lucky, the target will actually change their face, so that we can make fun of them for that, too. We're all just children on a playground, really.
I suppose that I do grant a pass to comedians. Maybe I shouldn't. But most of the time, when a comedian makes a joke about someone's face, it doesn't feel especially hurtful or damaging, because it isn't serious. It challenges us to take a joke.
But when allegedly serious people think it's appropriate to comment publicly about the quality of someone's face, we as a society have a problem. And a lot of allegedly serious people do. Always have, it seems.
We should know better now, though, shouldn't we? We've gone through the second and third waves of feminism. We've lost countless people to eating disorders. We've seen people commit suicide simply because they were afraid of looking old. We've driven teenagers to Botox.
Yet, it seems that all we've learned is how to wrap our superficial digs up in positive things like body acceptance or feminism, so that they can be passed off as progressive social commentary. As if more body-focused negativity will somehow yield body positivity. In reality, "She's telling little girls it isn't okay to age," really means, "I don't like her face." "I liked how she looked before," implies, "I don't like her face, now."
How about, oh, I don't know... just holding your damn tongue?
I mean, does anybody seriously believe that when a woman reads something negative about her face in the Daily Mail she swears off plastic surgery for good? Or picks up the magic wand that can instantly undo what has already happened? No. She calls her surgeon, sobbing, and asks how to fix it. She feels compelled to change her face, again, to please others.
And arguing that other people should look and age the way you want them to is not going to spare little girls the social pressures that lead to plastic surgery. It is, however, going to show them a woman -- usually a capable, successfully one -- once again being judged on the basis of her physical appearance.
So, if you want women in Hollywood to stop getting plastic surgery, maybe you should just stop saying negative things about their appearance, period.
On that topic: it also isn't your face. It's hers. Her face is not your bitch. Call me a boring old believer in bodily autonomy, but I think a person's face is theirs to do with as they please. If cosmetic surgery makes someone feel better about him or herself, it is no one else's duty to tell them that it shouldn't. If slicing up their bodies and spending hours a day at the gym also doesn't appeal to them, catty comments about their aging process will not slow your own.
I understand, of course, that to some degree the demand for attractive young actresses is just plain biological: we'd rather look at pretty people. That will never change. Marilyn Monroe was a hell of a performer, but would she have become Marilyn Monroe without the aid of cosmetic surgery? There are leading ladies in Hollywood who are one hairline adjustment away from being uncastable.
The men aren't spared, either. The night of the Oscars, I read a press release for the previous year's Razzies. It described Adam Sandler as an "aging, schlubby comic..." The man had just made Jack & Jill. It has a 3% on Rotten Tomatoes and a perfect zero among top critics. I felt personally demeaned by the trailer. But the worst things the meanest award committee in Hollywood could say about the film was that it starred a man who is unattractive and subject to natural law. Why is that what they felt most comfortable commenting on? Again, it's easy applause.
I think it's safe to say that nature is no longer dictating our standards of beauty. Our own childish insecurities are. And we have to stop using our voices to reinforce this insane, unnatural standard of beauty that has developed. Have you seen this? Someone gave somebody else a collection of photos of one of the most beautiful women in the world and said, "Fix everything." Surgeons in West Hollywood and Beverly Hills get that same request every single day.
They've been doing it for decades. Figure artist and historian Jim Silke is one of the world's most prominent admirers of Bettie Page. He once observed that, "If Hollywood... had not rejected Bettie Page because of her Southern accent, it would have because of her lazy right eye, too thin upper lip and too defined rib cage."
He's right. Bettie Page, one of the greatest sex symbols of the 20th century, rose from obscurity to superstardom based solely on the power of her image on film, but she didn't have the rib cage for Hollywood. Hollywood was looking for a very particular type: Kim Novak. Studios became infamous in the '50s for turning away any girl who could not be made to look like Kim Novak, circa 1955.
How was this ideal attained?"Cohn put Novak on a stringent diet, all the while calling her 'that fat Polack' (Novak's background is Czech) behind her back. She followed an exercise regime. She was assigned a make-up artist. Her teeth were capped. Her hair was dyed blonde, then rinsed to make it gleam lavender in the light."
Before the 2014 Academy Awards, Novak, now universally admired as an exceptionally gifted actress, fasted for three days.
These days, that isn't enough. Things are getting worse -- and it isn't biology that's driving it.
Marlee Matlin: Closed Captioning Finally Enters Digital Age 2014-04-24
It started with the Yellow Brick Road.
One evening in 2009, I sat down on my living room couch with my family to watch "The Wizard of Oz" on Netflix. It was all up there on the screen in my living room: Dorothy, the farm in Kansas, Toto, the twister. Only one important thing was missing for me. The closed captioning.
Perplexed, I took to Twitter to express my disappointment. My frustration resonated with others who felt left out by new technologies that didn't take the rights of the deaf and hard of hearing into account. I worked with the National Association of the Deaf (NAD) to send a letter to Congress demanding companies that offer streaming and online video stop excluding the 30 million Americans who are deaf and hard of hearing.
It didn't end there. In 2011, the NAD sued Netflix for failing to provide closed-captioning on most of its streaming content. We weren't going to let the future of entertainment pass us by. Netflix settled this lawsuit by promising to have all of its shows subtitled by 2014. Thankfully, all video streaming companies including Netflix, Hulu, Amazon and others have to offer closed captioning by April 30, 2014 or else be subject to the same fines as traditional broadcast television.
But there's still more than we can do to make closed captioning and subtitles available to those who need them. On Feb. 20, 2014 the FCC outlined new rules requiring improved accuracy in closed captioning, an initiative ten years in the making, according to the Los Angeles Times.
There are over 7,000 languages spoken in the world - why shouldn't we all be able to take part in each other's culture? Sharing the things that make us laugh, think and cry can unite us and shine a light on what we have in common rather than what makes us different. Stories about love, honor and family show us how alike we are at heart, no matter what language we speak.
Marlee Matlin is an Oscar-winning actress and the foremost advocate for closed captioning. She is expanding her work worldwide. She is currently working on the Billion Words March with global TV site Viki.com to help translate and subtitle TV shows and movies into 200 languages -- making TV entertainment more accessible to everyone.
Adam Levin: The 4 Laziest Ways To Improve Your Credit 2014-04-24
There are people out there who expend a lot of energy in the quest for a totally meaningless perfect credit score, which I've written about elsewhere. Most people know it's important to have good credit, but they don't want to spend too much time worrying about it. The good news is that you can be pretty lazy and still improve your credit.
The difference between having good credit (generally from 700-749) and bad credit (anything below 620) can mean the difference between getting the car you want versus the car with monthly payments you can afford. A well-managed credit history can make home ownership possible years before a poorly managed one, while really bad credit could cause you to lose a rental apartment to someone more vigilant about their personal finances.
Credit is an investment that accrues value through behavior. If you do the right things, your score will increase. Like an investment portfolio, your credit portfolio can improve your quality of life. But just like any investment, a credit portfolio requires some basic knowledge and maintenance.
Here are four very easy things you can do to start improving your credit.
1. Let Your Accounts Get Older
The age of your credit history accounts for roughly 15 percent of your overall credit score. In the same way car insurance companies use age to predict how risky it is to insure a driver, the three credit bureaus use the age of your credit as a way to determine your likely behaviors.
The older your credit history, the more information the bureaus have about your habits, and account age goes to predictability. Would you rather lend money to someone who has kept an account in good standing for 12 years or 1 year?
While most blots and blunders on your credit report fall off after seven years -- they have their own credit score silo -- the age of your credit continues to positively affect your score. The best part? You just have to keep doing what you've (hopefully) always done and keep using credit responsibly.
2. Stop Searching for New Credit
Every time you apply for credit, a lender makes a hard inquiry into your credit. The number of inquiries can have a big impact on your credit, accounting for 10 percent of your overall score. Inquiries remain on your credit reports for two years, but only those within the past year count, at least with the majority of credit scoring models. And certain types of loan shopping -- for auto, student loan or mortgage loans -- will result in only one inquiry on your credit report if you shop within a short window (two weeks is safest).
Not shopping for credit until you really need it is a simple strategy that requires you to do nothing, and can be a good thing for your score over time.
3. Ride the Coattails of Someone With Good Credit
This trick doubles as a training tool. Parents often add their teenage children as an authorized user on a credit card to teach them about using credit responsibly.
There are other situations where becoming an authorized user on an account owned by someone with a strong credit history can be a good idea. Specifically, if a family member, spouse or significant other has bad credit, you can let them "piggyback" on one of your accounts. For the authorized user, this is the ultimate trick because it requires no effort at all. As long as the account remains active, the authorized user doesn't even need to use the credit card and can benefit from the positive credit history. Many people employing this strategy opt to cut up the authorized user's card so he or she isn't tempted to use it.
While this is a lazy trick for one party, the person helping out might want to put in a little extra time making sure nothing crazy happens on their credit accounts. If you are an authorized user, make sure the account you're added to is in good standing, and stays that way. Any mistakes made by you or the primary user can make this tactic counterproductive to your credit building efforts.
4. Let Your Bank Make Payments for You
Paying your car loans, mortgages and credit accounts on time is the single most important factor in determining your creditworthiness. Thirty-five percent of your score is based on this one factor. Since you are going to pay these bills anyway, set them up for autopay through your checking account.
The peace of mind you will get knowing every bill is being paid is so much more valuable than the time you need to invest making sure there's enough money in your checking account to cover expenses.
Managed correctly, your credit portfolio is a guaranteed way to get the things you want in life. You don't need to obsess over getting a perfect score, you just need to work on making it better. And building credit doesn't have to be a complete mystery; you can watch your credit scores improve for free every month on Credit.com.
John Feffer: Earth: Game Over? 2014-04-24
Video games usually provide you with multiple lives. If you step on a landmine or get hit by an assassin, you get another chance. Even if such virtual reincarnation is not built into the rules of the game, you can always reboot and start over again. You can try again hundreds of times until you get it right. This formula applies to first-person shooter games as well as simulation exercises like SimEarth.
The real Earth offers a similar kind of reboot. Catastrophe has hit our planet at least five times, as Elizabeth Kolbert explains in her new book, The Sixth Extinction. During each of these preceding wipeouts, the planet recovered, though many of the life forms residing in the seas or on land were not so fortunate ("many" is actually an understatement--more than 99 percent of all species died out in these cataclysms). As Kolbert points out, we are in the middle of a sixth such world-altering event, and this will be the first -- and possibly the last -- extinction that we will witness as human beings. The planet and its hardier denizens may soldier on, but for us it will be game over.
A subset of environmentalists is already preparing for the end game. In the latest New York Times Magazine, Paul Kingsnorth -- the author of the manifesto Uncivilization -- confesses that he has given up trying to save the planet. He rejects false hopes. "You look at every trend that environmentalists like me have been trying to stop for 50 years," he says, "and every single thing had gotten worse." He's heading to the wilderness of Ireland to grow his own food, homeschool his kids, and prepare for the difficult days ahead.
Survivalism: it's not just for right-wing wackos any more.
Meanwhile, the rest of us are still trying to figure out how to avert disaster. The United Nations recently released another in its series of reports on climate change. This one tries to put a price tag on what we need to do over the next 15-20 years to stop the global mercury from rising.
To implement the recommendations of the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), governments must dramatically increase their investments in low-carbon energy sources. Each year, governments will have to spend an additional $147 billion on such renewable sources of energy as solar and wind power. On top of that, governments need to put $336 billion each year into greater energy efficiency in public and private infrastructure. If we follow all the IPCC recommendations, we can expect to save about $30 billion from eliminating subsidies to industries in the dirty energy sectors.
That still leaves an annual bill of more than $450 billion. This is probably a lowball figure, given the commitment that the industrialized world has made to help the developing world continue to grow economically without expanding its carbon footprint. This figure also doesn't cover current climate change costs associated with extreme weather events, droughts in food-growing areas, the preservation of coastal areas, and other catastrophes in the making. The bill for upgrading U.S. infrastructure alone will run into hundreds of billions of dollars each year.
If you're planning to remodel your kitchen, you're supposed to get a couple of different estimates. So, with a task as large as saving the world, it's probably wise to check in with a couple other sources.
But those looking for salvation on the cheap are going to be disappointed. The International Energy Agency, an intergovernmental organization connected to the OECD, estimates that the world needs to invest a trillion dollars into clean energy--every year between now and 2050. Then there was the Stern Commission report on the economics of climate change that came out in 2006. At the time, Nicholas Stern estimated that stabilizing the current level of greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere would require an investment of 1 percent of global GDP, which at the time was a little more than $300 billion. He revised that up to about $600 billion a couple years later, though nowadays he's talking more in the trillion-dollar range as well.
Of course, these costs should be compared to the price tag for not addressing climate change quickly and resolutely. This, Stern estimated, would add up to 20 percent of global GDP. At some point, of course, we will hit a tipping point at which no amount of money can turn back the clock.
Where will the money come from? A "climate security" tax on military spending would make sense, forcing governments to turn swords into windmill blades. We're currently wasting over $1.7 trillion a year on the enormous potlatch otherwise known as the global military budget.
Another "simple" answer is to not only remove subsidies from dirty energy but to tax it as well. In this way, governments discourage the use of coal and oil and raise the revenue necessary to invest in clean technologies. It seems an elegant solution, except that the energy companies and their political representatives have bitterly fought against carbon taxes. In 2011, the Labor government in Australia pushed through a carbon tax and established a $10-billion "green bank" to support sustainable energy projects. That hasn't lasted long. The new center-right government has vowed to repeal the tax, but the Australian parliament has so far turned back the government's repeal effort.
Denmark offers a less fractious alternative. The country is currently planning to unshackle itself completely from fossil fuels by 2050. And it plans to do that without relying on nuclear power. The country has invested heavily in wind power, and last year, for the first time, wind supplied more than 50 percent of the country's energy consumption for an entire month. How much will this 40-year transition cost? The estimate is roughly 1 percent of the country's GDP. By the end, Denmark will have cut its carbon emissions by 80 percent.
The Denmark model requires a few caveats. The entire scheme involves significant investment in new technologies and infrastructure upgrades. It also depends on a critical variable--the increasing cost of fossil fuels. If oil and gas and coal remain cheap, capital will not flow into the new technologies. In other words, the possibility of the earth burning up is not sufficient to concentrate our minds and mobilize our efforts. It comes down to a pocketbook issue. Only astronomical prices at the gas pump will force us to change our behavior, individually and collectively.
We could wait for the market to push up these prices, but that will likely be too late. Instead, we need to artificially raise the costs of fossil fuels, and that brings us back to some form of carbon tax. Another part of that strategy would be to leave some of that ancient, liquefied plant and animal matter in the ground and at the bottom of the ocean, forgoing deep sea drilling, refusing to rip up forests for the treasures beneath, and leaving the tar sands be.
But perhaps the most important caveat is this: Denmark will only succeed if we are all on board. We don't have the luxury of sitting back, seeing if the calculations involved in Denmark's fossil-free scenario work out, and then following suit if we like the results. By that time, it would be too late.
As with our individual lives, there is no reset button for the human race (Noah's flood notwithstanding). Polish poet Wislawa Szymborska put it well in her poem "Nothing Twice" (translation by Stanislaw Baranczak and Clare Cavanagh):
Nothing can ever happen twice. In consequence, the sorry fact is That we arrive here improvised And leave without the chance to practice
Even if there is no one dumber, If you're the planet's biggest dunce, You can't repeat the class in summer: This course is only offered once.
If humanity fails this particular science class, we're done. It doesn't matter whether we're straight-A students from Denmark or flunkards like congressional climate change denier James Inhofe. We won't be given another chance at the global joystick.
Earth: game over. For us at least.
Crossposted with Foreign Policy In Focus.
Bob Cesca: Antonin Scalia Suggests A 'revolt' Against The Government In Response To Tax Hikes 2014-04-23
It's not 100 percent clear the extent to which Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia meant what it sounded like he meant, but tossing around the word "revolt" in the context of a discussion of the U.S. government is never a smart nor rational idea. And it's especially a bad idea when it's invoked during an era when armed revolt against the government is being taken very seriously.
During a speaking engagement last week at the University of Tennessee College of Law, Scalia discussed how it's constitutionally permissible for Congress to impose taxes on citizens. Fair enough. However, Scalia added, "if it reaches a certain point, perhaps you should revolt."
The word "revolt" carries with it a very specific definition: "to break away from or rise against constituted authority, as by open rebellion; cast off allegiance or subjection to those in authority; rebel; mutiny." Not a lot of gray area there.
The only thing that might cast doubt on whether Scalia meant "revolt" to mean an armed rebellion is that later while answering a question about his decision to uphold the constitutionality of flag-burning, the justice said:"You're entitled to criticize the government, and you can use words, you can use symbols, you can use telegraph, you can use Morse code, you can burn a flag."
While this could, maybe, possibly mitigate the severity of what he said, it's important to reiterate that he had apparently moved on to a completely different topic. By the way, a telegraph? Morse code? Was he drunk? Nevertheless, Scalia isn't known for soft-pedaling his language or mincing words, so it's reasonable to assume Scalia was suggesting a literal revolt against the government.
It appears as if we're in the midst of an upswing in popularity for anti-government revolution. Call it Rebellion Chic. The buzz has been gradually amplifying over the last five years, beginning with vague hints at secession and eliminationist rhetoric several years ago, but it's never been so openly embraced as it's been for the last two weeks. Formerly inconceivable, especially following the disastrous results for the old Confederacy, rebellion seemed like fever-dreams for a few revolutionary cosplayers and militia gun hoarders. But ever since the Bundy Ranch stand-off began in Nevada it's become a very real, very tangible option for the radical far-right, considering how a group of mounted hooples got away with marching in a line of battle toward several Bureau of Land Management rangers -- and were backed up by at least one armored yokel crouched in a sniper's perch, aiming an assault rifle in the direction of the government officials.
On top of the actual event, Fox News Channel and almost all of AM talk radio, minus Glenn Beck amazingly, has been cheerleading the Bundy Ranch militia, encouraging them to hold fast. For example, here's Sean Hannity floating the idea that the government wants to assassinate Bundy:
And here are the talking monkeys at Fox & Friends openly weaving into the story a silly conspiracy theory about President Obama mustering a citizen army to serve as another Nazi-style SS:
We've come to expect these kinds of crowd-pleasing rebellion fantasies to be marketed by the usual suspects. But when joined by elected officials and especially a Supreme Court justice, it takes on a patina of serious legitimacy. In Scalia's case, it's even worse given his status as one-ninth of a full third of the U.S. government.
And for the sake of what? A tax increase? Scalia should be old enough to remember take rates during the Eisenhower era when the top tax marginal tax rate was 90 percent, with effective tax rates for the super-rich in the upper-30 to middle-40 percentile, far above what it is today. Yet returning to those rates would ostensibly be enough to justify a revolt, so says a Supreme Court justice -- and a revolt, incidentally, that would precipitate the obvious death and imprisonment of most the people involved with attempting to overthrow the government.
Seriously, whatever happened to the reputation of the Republican Party and the conservative movement as the law and order people? It appears as if Obama Derangement Syndrome, with three years still left to go, has boiled over, squelching rational debate and confounding traditionally conservative values. Imagine, for a moment, if the Bundy Ranch people where Muslims and the guy who was perched on the overpass with his rifle was, instead, wearing a turban and sporting a C-4 vest strapped to his chest -- all mustered against the government during, say, the Bush/Cheney administration. It'd be called jihad, and, with the support of Fox News and Sean Hannity, the outcry for summary execution of the so-called jihadist ranchers would be swift.
Instead, Bundy is in clear violation of the law by not paying taxes or fees, and yet he's a hero to the former law and order crowd who's vocally encouraging him in his militantly traitorous endeavors. Likewise, a Supreme Court justice thinks it's unfair to be subjected to higher taxes but it's perfectly fair to revolt against the government.
I honestly didn't foresee the far-right careening this far off the rails, but there appears to be plenty of crazy-strength left in its tank. We've gone from the days of announcing a legislative agenda designed to make Obama a one-term president to considering the option of armed revolt. Can you imagine how over-the-top insane it'll be come next year or the year after?
"There's no earthly way of knowing... Which direction they are going... There's no knowing where they're rowing..."
Cross-posted at The Daily Banter.
Click here to listen to the Bubble Genius Bob & Chez Show podcast. BobCesca.com Blog with special thanks to Seth Okin.
Patricia Leavy, Phd: Our Brains On Art 2014-04-23
I am a sociologist by training. I come from academic world, reading scholarly articles on topics of social import, but they're almost always boring, dry and quickly forgotten. Yet I can't count how many times I've gone to a movie, a theater production or read a novel and been jarred into seeing something differently, learned something new, felt deep emotions and retained the insights gained. I know from both my research and casual conversations with people in daily life that my experiences are echoed by many.
The arts can tap into issues that are otherwise out of reach and reach people in meaningful ways. This realization brought me to arts-based research (ABR). Arts-based research is an emergent paradigm whereby researchers across the disciplines adapt the tenets of the creative arts in their social research projects. Arts-based research, a term first coined by Eliot Eisner at Stanford University in the early 90s, is based on the assumption that art can teach us in ways that other forms cannot. Scholars can take interview or survey research, for instance, and represent it through art. I've written two novels based on sociological interview research. Sometimes researchers use the arts during data collection, involving research participants in the art-making process, such as drawing their response to a prompt rather than speaking.
The turn by many scholars to arts-based research is most simply explained by my opening example of comparing the experience of consuming jargon-filled and inaccessible academic articles to that of experiencing artistic works. While most people know on some level that the arts can reach and move us in unique ways, there is actually science behind this.
Beginning with the power of fiction, there is a growing body of scholarship on the relationship between neuroscience and literature, often referred to as literary neuroscience. It is actually worth noting that Silas Weir Mitchell (1824-1914), one of the founders of American neurology, was also a fiction writer who published an astonishing nineteen novels, seven poetry books, and many short stories. Many of his works of fiction were linked to patient observations made during his clinical practice and centered on topics dealing with psychological and physiological crises. One wonders if we are only now beginning to understand what Mitchell might have really been on to. Here's a snapshot of recent research.
Natalie Phillips (2012) used the fiction of Jane Austen in a study about how reading affects the brain. The preliminary results of this work have been revealing. Phillips and her colleagues found that the whole brain appears to be transformed as people engage in close readings of fiction. Moreover, there appear to be global activations across a number of different regions of the brain, including some unexpected areas such as those that are involved in movement and touch. This research helps to explain how we become immersed in novels, actually feeling as though we are within the story and that the house could burn down and we wouldn't notice. We actually place ourselves in the story. Research in this area seems to be taking off. For another example, Gregory Berns (2013) led a team of researchers in a study published in Brain Connectivity that suggests there is heightened connectivity in our brains for days after reading a novel.
Research on other art forms has similar implications. For example, Daniel J. Levitin (2007, 2009) has written extensively about the cognitive neuroscience of music. He suggests that music is distributed throughout the brain, in both hemispheres. Further, he argues that, in essence, music is hardwired into our brains and listening to certain kinds of music, like Mozart, can actually make us smarter.
There is an emerging field called neuroaesthetics that considers how our brains make sense of visual art. Nobel laureate Eric Kandel (2012) explains that visual art activates many distinct and at times conflicting emotional signals in the brain which in turn causes deep memories.
While the preceding examples focus on consuming or experiencing the arts, it is important to note that recent research on the activity of art-making has yielded similar results. For example, there is a growing relationship between art therapy and neuroscience. Many in the field now suggest that both hemispheres of the brain are involved in art making and are necessary for artistic expression. There is clinical research on drawing as well. A study by Rebecca Chamberlain and colleagues in the journal NeuroImage (2014) debunks right-brain and left-brain thinking to argue that those with visual artistic talent or who identify as visual artists have increased amounts of grey and white matter on both sides of the brain.
So whether we are consuming art or involved in art-making ourselves, art impacts us in profound ways not previously understood. There are serious implications for how we might teach, learn, conduct and share research most effectively. These are primary drivers of the arts-based research movement.
In 1963 famed sociologist Lewis A. Coser, far ahead of his time, published a book titled Sociology through Literature which he deemed "experimental." Coser believed that novelists were uniquely able to tap into and describe human experience, which could be of great value to teaching in the social sciences, but he knew others were not yet ready to follow suit. I recently read an op-ed by Gregory Currie published in the New York Times that suggested literary fiction may actually improve our moral sensibility and social intelligence.
A good novel can make us smarter and more compassionate. I think Lewis A. Coser would have enjoyed that article. Considering the scope of what we know now about how the brain works, which no doubt merely scratches the surface, it seems clear that the move to the arts in social research opens limitless possibilities.
Patricia Leavy's is the author of Method Meets Art: Arts-Based Research Practice andFiction as Research Practice. Visit www.sensepublishers.com for more information.
George Hobica: The Airline With The Rudest Flight Attendants Is... 2014-04-23
You're probably not going to be terribly surprised by the results of the latest Airfarewatchdog.com reader poll.
The truth is, at least in my experience, most flight attendants are "nice" at least if you're nice to them. Pour on the charm, and they'll respond. That's not always the case, but here are some tips.
We polled 3,400 people, and by a wide margin, Southwest and Alaska were voted as having the nicest flight attendants and Spirit the worst, followed by Air Canada. We adjusted the results by the number of passengers carried between January and October 2013 in order not to skew the results based on airline size (the more people who fly an airline, the more flight attendants they encounter).
The results of the worst flight attendant poll:
Spirit - 26% Air Canada - 14% Frontier - 11% Virgin America - 9% Allegiant - 8% United - 7% US Airways - 7% American - 5% AirTran - 3% Delta - 3% Hawaiian - 3% JetBlue - 3% Alaska - 1% Southwest - 1%
Since most people seem to love Virgin America (and it is indeed a pretty cool little airline) you might be surprised as I was that it came in 4th in the worst poll, even worse than tiny Allegiant. As I've noted elsewhere, I never have problems with flight attendants because I treat them with excessive courtesy but the only time I had a really bad one was in first class on Virgin America. The dude just went AWOL and when he finally showed up at the end of the flight I asked what happened, "Where'd ya go, was there an emergency back in coach?" he said "Is there a problem? That's what the call button is for." Maybe he knew I had upgraded my $150 fare with a last minute $350 upgrade and wasn't entitled to a second drink.
Harrumph. More reading: How to make your flight attendant like you.
Annalee Newitz: Are We In The Early Stages Of A New Mass Extinction? It's Complicated 2014-04-23
If you stay awake at night wondering about the worst thing that could ever happen, I have an answer for you. It's called a mass extinction. Basically, it's a real-life apocalypse, where over 75 percent of all species on the planet die out over a million years -- a blink of an eye in geological time. Now there's mounting evidence that we're entering a new mass extinction today.
Over the past half-billion years that life has wandered across our planet, we've already suffered through five mass extinctions. You've probably heard about the most famous mass extinction, which happened about 65 million years ago at the end of the Cretaceous period when an asteroid smashed into the planet and wiped out most of the dinosaurs. In previous mass extinctions, however, there were equally impressive natural disasters, ranging from rapid ice ages and continent-wide wildfires, to mega-volcanoes. In each of these catastrophes, most life in the world died out, replaced over the next few million years by whole new ecosystems of animals and plants. No matter how much of the planet burned or was buried in ice, life rose again.
When I was researching my book, Scatter Adapt and Remember: Humans Will Survive a Mass Extinction, I talked to a lot of scientists about a fundamental mystery -- how any did any animals and plants make it through these devastating times? Their answers gave me a window on what it would have been like to live through one of these mass extinctions. What became clear right away was that these disasters all have one thing in common. No matter what their initial causes, they ultimately killed so many life forms with climate and habitat changes. Even the asteroid that took out the dinosaurs did most of its damage to life not from an instant flash-cooking of the planet, but during the long nuclear winter that followed. All the debris from the meteor impact shot into the upper atmosphere, creating thick clouds that blotted out the sun and decimated plant life. And that changed ecosystems all across Earth.
If you were one of the animals who survived that catastrophic explosion and had to face the changes that followed, you would have seen a world that was dying with a whimper. Climate changes are devastating because they destroy the food webs that link every life form on the planet in a network of eaters and eaten. When sunlight was blocked by a cloud layer 65 million years ago, a primary source of food died with all those plants. Then the herbivores, plant eaters, began to starve; and the carnivores starved when their prey succumbed to famine too.
Among the survivors were animals who could adapt quickly to their new environments, spreading out into new territories unlike anything they'd dealt with before. Life would have been a series of constant, unpleasant surprises for the small, furry shrew-like mammals who made it beyond the Cretaceous. Part of their adaptability involved being able to eat a variety of foods. This trait would come in handy during an era when food sources were unstable and changing rapidly.
No matter what set off these mass extinctions -- and there's reason to believe that most of them had multiple causes -- they all ended the same way. Millions of species died because their habitats changed, which caused their food sources to disappear. Mass extinctions are nothing like the glorified super-cleanse of a mythical apocalypse. They are ugly, slow, and terribly complicated.
There are many signs today that we may be in the early stages of a new mass extinction. The climate is changing very rapidly, plus we're seeing an extraordinary number of extinctions among land animals. It's possible that this sixth mass extinction cycle began roughly 15,000 years ago, with the dieoffs of megafauna like mammoths and giant sloths in the Americas.
Are we doomed? I don't think so. Unlike animals who lived through previous mass extinctions, humans can actually see it coming. Using science, we can study previous mass extinction survivors and learn from them what we'll need to survive -- and perhaps even prevent the worst effects of the next catastrophic wave of extinctions. One of humanity's greatest strengths is our adaptability. We've spread out into every corner of the planet, making icy mountains and arid deserts into our homes. Best of all, we are capable of planning for the future, and making changes now that will benefit our species in centuries to come.
Given what we know of previous mass extinction scenarios, it's clear that our biggest dangers come from habitat changes that undermine food security. So our first step toward survival has to be exploring alternative fuels that don't load our atmosphere with habitat-changing carbon. In previous mass extinctions, volcanoes and fires did the work of our industrial revolution, raising temperatures and ocean acidity without any human intervention. This time around, we need to intervene, and fast. By reducing carbon emissions, we can slow down the changes that will eventually destroy our food supplies.
When thinking about the future of our survival, I often consider the words of one mass extinction expert I spoke with. A quiet man named Peter Roopnarine, he works at the California Academy of Sciences, researching now-extinct food webs. Essentially, he studies what happens when a mass extinction is making the world starve. He told me that death is what leads to death. The more life forms go extinct, the more knock-on extinctions you'll get from that fraying food web. He believes that maybe there's a tipping point, perhaps around the time when 40 percent of all species have died out, when the death toll rises in a sudden spike and hits that 75 mark that's the gateway to a mass extinction event.
Death is what leads to death. When animals and plants go extinct around us, each one causes more extinctions. But the flip side is also true. Mass extinctions do not happen overnight. Each step we take toward saving our environments and the lives in them, the closer we come to saving the world -- and ourselves.
I talk about the small (and giant) steps we can take to create a more survivable future for humanity in my book, Scatter, Adapt and Remember: How Humans Will Survive a Mass Extinction.
Rob Greenfield: Lessons Learned From A Year Without Showering 2014-04-23
As of today it has been one year since my last shower. Yes, I know that sounds crazy and a year ago I would have agreed with you. I was a regular showering guy for the first 26 years of my life. Well, maybe not every single day, but just about.
So how does a regular showering guy end up going 365 days and counting without taking a shower? It started with a long bike ride across America to promote sustainability and eco-friendly living. I set a bunch of rules for myself to follow to lead by example. The rule for water was that I could only harvest it from natural sources such as lakes, rivers and rain or from wasted sources such as leaky faucets. And I kept track of exactly how much I used too, with an aim of showing just how little we need to get by.
I made it through the 100-day bike ride without taking a shower and for me that was quite the task in itself. But everything had gone so well that I decided to continue my showerless streak. I set a goal for 6 months and when that day passed I figured I might as well go a full year without a shower.
So here I am now, one year later, to tell you story of my year without a shower. I might as well bring this up right away. You think I'm really stinky right? You think I smell like some sort of Swamp Monster like this:
Actually, nope. When I say that I haven't showered that doesn't mean that I wasn't bathing. I swam almost daily in places like this:
And showered in waterfalls like this:
and I used eco-friendly biodegradable soap when I needed to.
But I learned that by living naturally I didn't need cosmetic products anymore. I just used some soap, toothpaste and essential oils and found that to work real well. This compared to previously using colognes, deodorant, shampoo, lotions and all sorts of other products full of chemicals. And guess what? I had no lack of friends!
In fact some even bathed with me.
And I even had some romances in that year.
Nobody thought that I smelled at all. And I surprised myself at how clean I was, just like everyone else.
I realized that water doesn't have to come from a shower head to get me clean. You can wash yourself in lakes.
Or just by sitting in the rain.
But when natural water wasn't available I found other places to clean myself without having an impact. Like this leaky fire hydrant in Brooklyn:
Or this blasting fire hydrant in the Bronx:
I learned that I can air dry rather than using a towel. And this meant less laundry, which saved even more water.
And I also turned my shower time into a time to connect with nature. It became my favorite time of the day, when I would disconnect from the stresses of life and be present with my surroundings.
Sometimes I jumped around before jumping in.
And sometimes I just chilled out.
Other times I contemplated life.
And on occasion I'd have guests.
I learned that the average American uses about 100 gallons of water per day. But I was able to use less than 2 gallons per day on my bike trip. That's just 8 Nalgene water bottles. (This was not including the natural water and leaky sources that I bathed in.)
Most importantly I learned to really appreciate every last drop.
Because water gives life to all of us and the animals too.
When I got home from my bike trip I resumed life at home but managed to use just 10-20 gallons per day. That is 5-10 times less than the average American uses. I went another 8 months without showering and conserved over 5,000 gallons of water and had plenty of fun with friends at the same time!
And when I didn't feel like swimming, but I needed to get clean, I just rubbed myself down with a cloth and a gallon of water. But most importantly, I learned that you don't have to stop showering to be a part of the solution. There are many easy ways to conserve water and most are really easy for any of us to do.
-Flush the toilet less often. -Take shorter showers or turn off the water while you're soaping up and scrubbing down. -Wash clothes less and in full loads -Turn off the faucet -Wash the dishes efficiently. -Install water efficient showerheads and toilets. -Get your leaks fixed. -Grow food not lawns. -Harvest rain.
How will you choose to conserve water? Start today by picking just one way to conserve and with time do more and more. You'll likely find it to be quite easy this way.
And if you do all of that, you might start feeling like this!
Please share this story to inspire others to conserve water! Photography by Brent Martin
This post originally appeared here.
Dean Baker: Judith Rodin: Director Of The Day 2014-04-23
Co-authored with Arthur Phillips, research associate at the Center for Economic and Policy Research
Directorships, 2008 - 2012: 3 Total director compensation, 2008 - 2012: $3,209,317* Average annual director compensation, 2008 - 2012: $641,863 Average compensation per full year of service as director: $229,237
Judith Rodin is president of The Rockefeller Foundation, which held $3.7 billion in assets as of its 2012 annual report. That year, the foundation distributed $130 million in grants and charitable activities while taking in a net investment income of $283 million. Previously, Rodin was the first woman to lead an Ivy League university as president of the University of Pennsylvania from 1994 to 2004. After leaving Penn, where she had earned her undergraduate degree, she was named President Emerita. She also served as provost of Yale University for two years.
Rodin's bio boasts participation in the World Economic Forum, the Council on Foreign Relations, and the Clinton Global Initiative. She also is a member of the White House Council for Community Solutions. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo named Rodin to co-chair the NYS 2100 Commission, whose mission is to improve the capacity of the state's infrastructure to withstand natural disasters. She chairs the commission with Felix Rohatyn, the former investment banker who in 1975 was picked by then-governor Hugh Carey to take over New York City's finances, a precursor to today's emergency managers in Detroit and elsewhere.
Rodin has been a director of Comcast, the world's largest media and communications company, since 2002. Over the past four years, 2010-2013, Rodin and the board paid CEO Brian L. Roberts, the son of the company's founder, just over $118 million. GMI Ratings, which publishes risk assessments of publicly traded companies, has found Comcast to be of "Very High Concern" regarding its executive pay. Rodin has chaired the company's compensation committee since 2005.
Rodin has also sat on Citigroup's board of directors since 2004. At the 2012 annual meeting, shareholders voted by a margin of 55-45 percent to reject the board of directors' CEO pay package. Less than 3.0 percent of CEO pay packages received a no vote from shareholders that year. Rodin, though not on the compensation committee, was the company's longest-tenured returning director at the time of the vote. Since the end of the recession, Citigroup's stock has performed much worse than the market average.
Rodin's other recent directorship was at AMR Corporation, the former American Airlines parent company, where she had served since 1997. In November 2011, AMR filed for bankruptcy and in 2013 merged with US Airways.
*Due to AMR's 2011 bankruptcy filing, the company did not file a proxy statement with the SEC for that year; therefore, Rodin's compensation totals do not include her 2011 compensation from AMR.
Soraya Chemaly: 10 Ways Society Can Close The Confidence Gap 2014-04-23
Female lack of confidence is a big topic of conversation this week in the wake of the publication of Katty Kay's and Claire Shipman's new book, The Confidence Code: The Science and Art of Self-Assurance.
The truth is, while I'm happy for any conversation about gender gaps that need closing, I'm not interested in teaching adult women how to become more confident. We've had decades, even centuries, of confident women. We aren't dealing with status and the fact that men, universally, have more of it. We aren't dealing with how our systems endlessly reproduce this reality, especially when we tell women to adapt to male norms of expression and behavior in order to be successful. I want women to keep the confidence they have as young girls. The confidence we, collectively, crush.
The benchmark for this female loss of confidence is eternal male overconfidence, and that overconfidence has real costs. Why do men assume they are so great? It's not our brain chemistry. It's not a confounding mystery. Men assume they are so great BECAUSE WE KEEP TELLING THEM THEY ARE. We know that overconfidence is an issue and that male disappointment in the face of unrealistic expectations is a big problem. Where are our best-selling books telling men to be a little more humble about their abilities? Or books discussing how widespread tolerance for men's overestimation of their own abilities may be detrimental to them and those around them? Including at school and work?
We've known about this gap for ages. "Something" happens to create it, roughly between the ages of 4 and 14. That "something" will not be significantly offset by individual girls and women pulling themselves up by the bootstraps. That "something" is good old-fashioned sexism expressed in gendered socialization and a default cultural preference for institutionalized male domination of public life. It starts when we are born and is cultivated in homes and in schools, on screens and on fields.
Girls are ceding public space before they even have a chance to engage. We don't call this a girl crisis when, quite clearly, it is. By the time boys and girls leave high school and enter college, boys are twice as likely to say they are prepared to run for office. As teenagers, girls are six times as likely to experience anxiety and depression. Probably because, in addition to a whole host of other things, it's seriously cognitively disjunctive to grow up hearing "girl power" marketing babble and have to terms with quite evident marginalization and historical erasure. The confidence gap is a symptom of a bigger rite of passage for girls: the inflection point when self-objectification and internalized sexism settle into a girl's psyche because, to put it in market terms, cultural capital is so unevenly distributed. That entirely gendered ceding of self is what all this confidence gap closing is about.
If we want adult women to be more confident; to negotiate for a job, equal pay and promotions more effectively; and to become leaders and run for office, her is what we need to do:Stop telling girls to be "little ladies" and "good" girls who help with chores, wait their turns, do not display pride, express anger or be demanding as children. Politeness and taking turns, two highly-ranked lessons we teach girls in particular, are not virtues in the public sphere.
Examine implicit biases and stop interrupting and talking over girls. This is something that parents and teachers do twice as often to girls as to boys. You know what this teaches? That girls' words and thoughts are not as important or valued. The most powerful illustration of the effects of gender on perceptions of importance, competence and speech are the experiences of people who undergo sex changes. In the wake of Larry Summers' "women can't do math" controversy several years ago, scientist Ben Barres wrote publicly about his female-to-male transition experience. After transitioning, he gave a well-received scientific speech and overheard a member of the audience explain that "his work is much better than his sister's," referring to when he was Barbara Barres. Notably, he concluded that one of the major benefits of being male was that he could now "even complete a whole sentence without being interrupted by a man."
Stop promoting the idea that masculinized expression is superior and that women have to emulate it to be successful. The expectation that women be gender bi-lingual, or code switch, is a function of being part of a muted group. The kind of confidence that many people advocate just means a woman has work very hard to overcome sexist gender incongruities to succeed. Nip American male "boys will be boys" entitlements in the bud by holding boys and girls to the same standards of self-regulation as children.
Understand that our country's early childhood math gap, an indicator of so much else in society and achievement of "success," is larger than others' and that is related not to girl's inability to do math, but to higher male status. I spoke to a boy crisis in education crisis author recently who revealed, despite writing several books, that he was had done no cross-cultural examination of math aptitude.
Don't be apathetic about challenging schools to teach women's history. Despite girls' higher academic achievements, girls are leaving schools feeling less secure in their abilities. Girls go into our schools with assuredness and ambition, but they don't leave them that way. Boys however, suffer no degradation of confidence in school. All of this takes place in schools contorting themselves over misunderstandings of the boy crisis in education. Boy crisis in education proponents struggle to justify their concerns when they don't seem to correlate with men's higher levels of confidence, pay, political ambition or any number of other metrics that we gauge success by. The erasure of women's past accomplishments and struggles is depriving boys and girls both of the imagination to see women as powerful agents of change. By suppressing this history, we fail to prepare them for citizenship, we actively make them culturally illiterate, we undermine our ability to create an effective workforce that provides equal opportunity and leverages the talents of all people and we fail to grow adults who can think critically. Can you or children you know answer one or two of these six very basic questions pertaining to women's historic work. The "confidence gap" will never close until everyone is equally fluent in this history as they are with our male dominated one.
Don't tolerate the everyday sexism of male control of religious leadership. This alone would yield seriously positive results for girls and women's confidence. Why wouldn't you reject any notion of God that incorporates the idea that women cannot speak to and for God on equal terms as a man? What kind of ridiculous message is that to send children? There are alternatives everywhere if you want to find them.
Challenge institutions that employ sexual objectification. Not just the blatant sort in advertising and media, but the insidious kind that is part of conventional thinking. For example, dress codes and purity ideals.
Make gender awareness and critical media literacy skills a priority in education. Media is a psychic gift to boys, especially, in the U.S., white boys. It's a lifetime legacy to look around and see yourself represented in diverse, multidimensional ways. Wearing clothes.
Stop focusing on individual women and their choices and spend time on what systemic change has to happen to close this gap. All the confidence in the world will change nothing fundamentally unless we have wholesale cultural will to create institutionalized parity. What too many people are choosing to infer from books like Kay's and Shipman's, or other such as Sheryl Sandberg's Lean In, is that women's lack of confidence is all in our heads. That is not the authors' intent, but it's a popular outcome.
The fact that our competence and credibility are questioned is not in our heads. It's in the workplace, in courts, in law enforcement, in doctors' offices, and in our political system. Women, even those with excessive belief in their own abilities, are expected to prove their qualifications and have more of them. We need more qualifications in order to be paid fairly and to succeed. People and institutions demand it. Managers overwhelmingly distrust women who request flextime. People don't trust women to be bosses, or pilots, or employees. In Pakistan, the controversial Hoodooed Ordinance still requires a female rape victim to procure four male witnesses to her rape or risk prosecution for adultery. That may sound extreme and "other," until you think about how our own rape shame trajectories work. When is the last time you saw sad news about a rapist killing himself out of shame? Of course, women are trusted to be mothers, the largest pool of undervalued, economically crucial labor.
Men wake up, look in the mirror and feel perfectly confident talking about virtually anything because they can. That's not a gross oversimplification.
Improving individual female confidence will not address the fact that when boys and men speak we think what they have to say is more important. Boys and men know this because we teach them, and everyone else, that what they do and say is more important. It's so easy to see. A study about gender and online interactions showed that on list serves, topics introduced by men have a much higher rate of response. On Twitter, men are retweeted two times more often than women. There's no shortage of confident women on Twitter.
I may have a great deal of confidence, but that does not mean the same thing as thinking others will as well. Nor does my confidence affect that of the boys and men around me. The amount of times I have been in meetings and had men talk over me, ignore me, interrupt me and repeat what I say as though I'd never uttered a word is genuinely staggering. I've had teenage boys write me to explain my area of expertise to me. Just now, a man I've never met stopped at my table, asked me what I was writing and made what he termed "helpful suggestions." It's why Rebecca Solnit's coining the term "mansplaining" resonated culturally. Every woman in the world has experiences this.
Telling women to operate more like men in the public sphere, change their speech, change their hair, change their clothes and change their style of expression will only amplify androcentric norms. If we want to close the confidence gap, of course it helps to talk to women about self-doubt, but really closing this gap, as with all the others -- pay, safety, rights -- requires structural changes in every institution we live with. That's a matter of collective will that we are still painfully lacking. I predict that feminism will die, well, at least a dozen more times before that happens.