10/30/2007 3:34:33 PM
Americans keep blindly eating up politicians' lies, and Factcheck.org, a political watchdog featured in the new issue of Utne Reader, may have figured out why. According to a recent article by Joe Miller, research into the human brain shows that if people hear the same idea over and over again, our brains tend to think it's true. For example, if politicians keep saying that Saddam Hussein was responsible for 9/11, or that evolution is nothing more than a theory, then people tend to accept what's repeated despite evidence to the contrary. The article notes "how political spin-masters exploit this tendency ruthlessly, repeating dubious or false claims endlessly until, in the minds of many voters, they become true."
The article concludes that humans should be making a special efforts to cast doubt on dubious politicians and big-budget advertisements. The current media-saturated environment makes it difficult to sort out truth from falsehood, but it’s not impossible. At least watchdogs like FactCheck.org are here to help, offering a modicum of protection from the shrill barks of the political hounds. –Brendan Mackie
10/30/2007 3:01:11 PM
Just as the Gap was beginning to polish its image with its 2004 social audit system and involvement with Product Red, the store for the affordably hip has once again tarnished its image. An Observer investigation discovered that a line of Gap garments slated for the December gift-giving season were being sewn at a child sweatshop in New Delhi. While a Gap spokesperson promised that the items (which number in the tens of thousands) would be recalled, I wonder: What do you do with recalled clothes made by slave labor?
Some good ideas, if you’re Santa-minded and want to follow the spirit of the season...
- Clothe your child workers.
- Open a bootleg Gap where the kids can sell their wares and rake in all profits. Since they would still be working, you’d have to let the wee workers determine their hours and wages.
- Dedicate all proceeds from this holiday season to improving working conditions in India.
Or follow the Grinchesque spirit of exploitation by...
- Putting the clothes in a warehouse until they can be marked down and passed away unnoticed in retail stores.
- Selling the clothes anyway. Who’s going notice the difference?
- Lay off the child workers so they can find more lucrative work elsewhere.
Give your Santa- or Grinch-spirited suggestion below...
10/29/2007 1:26:13 PM
, the bimonthly journal published by the nonpartisan Council on Foreign Relations, has allotted the 2008 presidential candidates a forum to spell out their foreign policy positions without worrying about photo ops, pancake breakfasts, or having to pack the complexities of international relations into digestible sound bites. Starting with the July/August issue, one Democrat and one Republican have been given the space and the ear of America's academics and elite. Without network TV cameras rolling, candidates take a half step away from rhetoric and express their positions with rare complexity and relevance. So far, Clinton, Edwards, Giuliani, McCain, Obama, and Romney have put their (or their staff writers') pen to paper for the journal.
If you're looking for more admittedly dry foreign policy news and analysis, peruse the transcripts of candidates’ speeches and various debates or check out the council’s pages for Defense/Homeland Security and US Strategy and Politics. —Eric Kelsey
10/25/2007 6:26:36 PM
It's always easy for one generation to point accusing fingers at another, and the current crop of whatever my age cohort is called (Generation Y, Millennials, Interns?) has gotten plenty of slack from the older folks. Mostly, we're chided for being apathetic or insufficiently outraged. So, plenty of twenty-somethings have had to come out swinging in defense of our political participation.
In a web-only essay for American Prospect, Courtney E. Martin joins the ranks of her generation's defenders by taking on Thomas Friedman's recent characterization of it as "too quiet" (hence, a few Friedmanesque labels like "Generation Q" and the "Quiet Americans"). Martin asserts that what's seen as quiet, apathetic, or disengaged is more accurately tagged as paralyzed—a stasis that results from being "overeducated but underutilized."
This generation's response to the barrage of bad news isn't to march on Washington—though plenty have. Instead, Martin writes, she and her mates do the best they can by choosing careers that match their values, opting for work in nonprofits, as teachers, or as social workers. That, and they look for ways to psychologically and politically cope with the overwhelming multitude of problems facing the world. —Julie Dolan
10/25/2007 3:51:48 PM
Plenty of spam flows through our e-mail boxes, the majority of it hawking cheap Viagra and other prescription drugs. All the predictable angles are, well, predictably exploited. Want better sex? More sex? Have we ever got a deal for you…
Then, this morning, this subject line:
Quality medications should be affordable to all.
Grammatically correct, no typos, and a message that surely would resonate with the Utne Reader audience—could this possibly be spam?
Of course it was. The e-mail contained nothing more than a dubious link, a promise of cheap drugs. But for a brief moment, I had a vision of an army of spammers, diligently hammering away at their keyboards, trying to bring quality, affordable medication to a nation in pressing need of healthcare reform. Spammers, spamming for the greater good. Then I sighed and clicked “block sender.”—Julie Hanus
10/23/2007 9:17:36 PM
The Lonely Candidate provides a most-needed (and most-amusing) campaign service by tracking presidential hopefuls' claims to be the only person to do something or other. Take, for example, this chestnut from Hizzoner:
"I'm the only one who reduced taxes. I actually did it so many times that there's a dispute over how many times I lowered taxes.
Rudy, the reason why there's a dispute over how many times you've lowered taxes isn't because we numerically challenged civilians can't keep track of the fury of your tax-cutting orgies. In debates, radio ads, and on the stump, Giuliani insists that he cut New Yorkers' taxes 23 times. In fact, as FactCheck.org points out, he can only really lay claim to 14 cuts, on account of the others being enacted either by the state or the city council, not America's mayor. —Brendan Mackie
10/20/2007 12:00:00 AM
America is living in the midst of a prison epidemic, according to Malcolm Gladwell, author of such books as Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking and The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference. After speaking at the Council on Crime and Justice in Minneapolis, Mr. Gladwell sat down with Utne Reader to talk about the racism, justice, and the American legal system.
Mr. Gladwell was asked about Glenn C. Loury’s article “America Incarcerated” from the latest issue of Utne Reader. You can hear Mr. Gladwell’s take on justice, racism, and American justice today in the interview below. –Bennett Gordon
Utne Reader interview with Malcolm Gladwell: Play Now | Play in Popup | Download
10/16/2007 12:00:00 AM
The October issue of Reason excerpts economist Bryan Caplan's newest book, The Myth of the Rational Voter: Why Democracies Choose Bad Policy (Princeton University Press). The George Mason University professor details the "The 4 Boneheaded Biases of Stupid Voters (And we're all stupid voters)" as a critique of the free-market myth of the rational consumer. As Caplan sees it, citizens (even economists!) buy into the usual hype peddled by politicians. He finds that voters are generally economically pessimistic, underestimating the benefits of job loss – which economists believe can be a good thing – markets, and foreign competition. This irrational behavior runs counter to many of today's global economic theories. —Eric Kelsey
10/9/2007 12:00:00 AM
Imagine a time when our government was so focused on post-war reconstruction, so determined to heal the wounds of war, that scientists were tasked with figuring out how to tend the battered bodies and psyches of civilian survivors. Such was the case in World War II, when some 200 conscientious objectors volunteered to go hungry so that the military could understand what it was up against in resurrecting a ravaged and starving Europe.
American RadioWorks just aired a fascinating documentary on this starvation experiment, which began in 1944 at the University of Minnesota. (You can listen to A Duty to Starve here.) Thirty-six men were chosen for the yearlong study, which tracked the psychological and physiological impact of starvation (the young men's caloric intake was cut in half). Henry Scholberg, one of the participants, explains why he felt compelled to sign up: "American boys were dying on the battlefields, suffering imprisonment, getting wounded. And I felt it was unfair for me to be able to sleep in a comfortable bed at night and always have three meals. I felt I should be prepared to sacrifice." The U.S. government's rationale was similarly simple and persuasive: "Your military leaders," one newsreel intoned, "want no starving people behind their battle lines. For a hungry man is a dangerous man."
Today, when most Americans remain a comfortable distance from the sacrifices demanded of soldiers, A Duty to Starve seems to capture not only a different time but a different country. It's also a striking companion piece to another recent documentary, No End In Sight, which chronicles how obstinately blind the Bush administration was when it came to post-invasion planning. —Hannah Lobel
10/8/2007 12:00:00 AM
Last week Doctors Without Borders/Medecins Sans Frontieres, the humanitarian medical organization, set up a refugee camp in the heart of Minneapolis, directly outside the window of my apartment building. The camp was designed to give people in the United Sates an idea of what it would be like to live inside a real refugee camp. Signs posted around tents and shacks ask the questions, " How do I find water?" and "Can I get medical care?"
I spoke with Jennifer Vago, a registered nurse who has worked in refugee camps in Liberia, Sierra Leone, Sri Lanka, and Sudan. She told me the program had been very successful, giving Americans an idea of what life is like for the 33 million refugees worldwide who live in camps like these. I've recorded an interview with her, and I'll try to post that to the blog soon. -- Bennett Gordon
10/2/2007 12:00:00 AM
A few days ago, the American Prospect blog Tapped posted about Democratic candidates using their families as proxies to show support for gay rights. "In the last debate," said Dana Goldstein, "John Edwards said he was against gay marriage, but his wife Elizabeth supported it."
Now, Mitt Romney's campaign has unveiled a different take on family with AnnRomney.com. Instead of shouldering controversial policy stands, Mitt's wife, Ann, "places primary importance on her role as a wife, a mother, and a grandmother." She even includes a place for recipes on the site. -- Bennett Gordon
UPDATE: AnnRomney.com now simply redirects to MittRomney.com. Commentary withheld.
10/1/2007 12:00:00 AM
Forget those puny detachable Support Our Troops magnets. True patriotism requires mad air-brushing skills (on display for a limited time in the Minnesota Renaissance Festival's parking lot). -- Hannah Lobel
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