Posted tagged ‘New York Times’

Can’t read the paper (not a problem of eyes.)

December 7, 2010

Lately I just can’t make myself read the newspaper.  Everything turns my stomach.   The New York Times especially.

I’ve even begun  to wonder whether the paper is following its ordinary lay-out; nothing holds the eye.

 This is not because the news is sad–some of it, such as the death of Elizabeth Edwards, certainly is.   Oddly, I can stand to read that story even though I  feel terribly sorry for Mrs. Edwards and certainly her children; there are elements of courage, strength, tragic loss.

Is it just me?  My over-stimulated ADD?

Or are stories laced with greed, posturing, and self-righteousness more sickening than stories about cancer? 

All the tax business, all the Wikileaks business, all the posturing, self-righteous business, all the posturing in the name of ‘small business’ business, all the greed.

I don’t think I would mind it so much if people flat-out admitted their weaknesses—if the New York Times, for example, in connection with its publication of all the Wikileaks stuff, said, “look, we want readers.”   

If the Republican leadership flat-out said, “look, we serve the rich.”   

 If Obama just said, “look, they’ve got me in a stranglehold.” 

Actually, I guess Obama is kind of saying that.  My eyes, heart, stomach, simply find it very hard to take.


“Know-Nothings”, “Know-Not-Enoughs”, Breastfeeding, Obesity, Food

August 4, 2010

The “Know-Nothings” has always been my favorite name for an American political movement.  It just seems so forthright. (In fact, the 1850s movement got its name not because of the self-awareness of its members but because, if questioned about their affiliation, they were supposed to answer, “I know nothing.”)

Realistically, no one today is likely to adopt a name as truthful as that, even sarcastically.    I’d settle for a movement called the “Know-Not-Enoughs.”

This comes up for me today not in the context of politics, but health.   It’s raised by two unrelated articles in the Times – one about new discoveries of further merits of breastfeeding (“Breast Milk Sugars Give Infants A Protective Coat” by Nicholas Wade); and one about the unsolved problem of the rising rates of obesity in the U.S. (“Obesity Rates Keep Rising, Troubling Health Officials” by Denise Grady.)

The breastfeeding article talks about how undigested complex sugars in breastmilk have now been found to play an important role in providing beneficial intestinal bacteria for infants.  The findings have made the researchers more sharply aware of the evolutionary miracle that is breastmilk:  “It’s all there for a purpose, though we’re still figuring out what that purpose is,” Dr. [David] Mills said. “So for God’s sake, please breast-feed.”

I have always been a major proponent of breastfeeding but the doctor’s strong urging still surprised me.  For many years, health professionals seem to have routinely mentioned the benefits of breastfeeding, but then everyone seemed to quickly change the subject to personal preferences.  No one wanted to make a new mother feel guilty or pressured; no one wanted to step on cultural toes, even if they were not traditional cultural toes. especially if the preferences seemed to correlate to any ethnic group or educational level.  There has been a feeling, as in much of dialogue about just about everything, that everyone was entitled to their opinion or preference, and that all of these opinions and preferences were wonderfully equal on some vast universal scale.

I don’t let scientists off the hook.  When I grew up, scientists creating and even pushing infant formulas  were the opposite of “Know-Not-Enoughs.”

Now, among other things, we have a society that’s obese.   Putting aside any specific causal connection between the reduction in breastfeeding and obesity, there are certainly parallels between the substitution of formula for breastmilk, and the replacement of fresh, traditional foods, with fake “know-everything” food.  For the last few decades, people have eaten as if food could be manufactured, and as if such manufactured foods could satisfy all nutritional needs (which were also considered to be more or less known.)

No wonder people eat and eat;  no wonder flesh clings to what it ingests.  Bodies seem to know something is missing, but not where or how to get it.

Surface Soot in Kashmir – “Glacial” Doesn’t Mean Slow When It Comes To Warming

July 18, 2010
Kashmir (Sooty Glacier With Goat)

Kashmir - Sooty Glacier (With Goat)

Nicholas Kristoff writes in today’s New York Times about the decline of glaciers in the Himalayas, and the resulting damage to agriculture and waterways on the Indian plains.  One factor in the deterioration (aside from a general rise in temperatures) is apparently the soot on the surface of the glaciers, caused by the exhaust systems of trucks and buses traveling the roadways there.   Because the soot reduces the reflective quality of the snow and ice, it causes them to absorb more heat and melt more quickly.

Archival and new photographs illustrating Himalayan deterioration are currently on display at the Asia Society in New York, but I couldn’t resist adding my own photographic evidence.  The photo above (taken June 2009) shows a slice of soot-covered Himalayan glacier; a goat travels on top of the blackened-ice, whitish buses haunt the background.

The roads–the road in that area, which travels from Srinagar, through Kargil, to Ladakh, is only open from mid-May to October.  In these months, it is extremely crowded with both commercial (beautifully decorated) trucks transporting the year’s worth of supplies, and extensive army convoys.  (They move about the thousands of soldiers stationed in Kashmir.)

Drass, Kashmir, India

The glaciers are beautiful, but sadly grey.  As we began ascending the mountains (by car – no crampons), I thought the grey was a sign of the age of the ice (as in humans!) but closer viewing showed it to be the coating of ash and soot that Kristoff writes of.   (It actually reminded me of snow in New York City — say, near the Holland Tunnel.)

You don’t need to do extensive “backwater” explorations to see an effect on lowland rivers – below is a picture taken in India’s primary tourist city, Agra, the home of the Taj Mahal, showing the riverbed of the Yamuna (part of Indus river system fed by Himalayas.)    It’s my understanding that the “islands” used to be submerged.

Yamuna River, Agra

So many people rely on these waterways.  This is not just a problem of dry pipes or reduced pressure – people (often children or women) actively take livestock, laundry, and their individual selves to the riverbanks.

The reduced flow seems not only to mean lesser water but, increased muck – less dilution of the zillion and one pollutants that burden these poor waterways.

Where else can the people go?  They walk out further onto the caked silt of the old riverbed to get to the mirk of water that’s still there.

Kristoff hopes in the article that the BP spill will make Americans, and others, aware of the increasing degradation of the environment worldwide.   I, for one, think it’s doubtful, since Americans have difficulty recognizing the degradation of their home environment.   But many poorer countries – certainly not just India – which have hopped onto  a developmental train of manufacturing and consumption, have no environmental safeguards, enforcement, or even disposal systems, and  tragedy looms.  As nature is reduced, as true rivers and glaciers “melt down”,  mountains of undisintegrated plastic and pools of shinily suspicious liquids move in to fill (or deepen) the void.  (I couldn’t quite make myself take pictures of those.)

Yamuna River, Agra, India

iPad Sunnyside Up–Let Me Just Check My Mail

June 7, 2010

iPad Sunnyside Up

The  New York Times has a couple of articles this morning on how technology is re-wiring our brains; you can find them if you check online—excuse me a sec, I’ve got a new gmail coming in.

The articles talk about the mental and emotional price of a life hooked into, and hooked on—oops—there’s my cell….gizmos.

(Sorry, sweetie, I’m writing my blog.  Can I call you back in two minutes?)

Some people think multi-tasking makes them more productive, but studies show it makes people actually accomplish less, and encourages a kind of shallowness.

Did you know, btw, that Robert Pattinson won MTV awards for best actor, global star, and perpetrator of best 2010 screen kiss last night?   (Does ManicDDaily have her finger on the popular pulse, or what?)

One article depicts a software executive (hey, what do you expect?  The guy’s a software executive, head of a start-up, in Silicon Valley), who “works” in front of three or four large video screens.

In the photos of the guy’s family , they all have iPads.  Even the kids.  The guy even reads Winnie the Pooh on an iPad to his littlest kid.  In bed. (I know it’s kind of awful, but the graphics are also amazing!)

I can’t help wondering if the article will be good for Apple stock.

(I’m just going to check that, okay, it’s bookmarked, so won’t take a mo.)

The guy’s wife say it’s hard for him to be fully in the moment, that when the emotional going gets tough, he escapes into computer games.  But then one of the articles cites a kid who texts a lot in school and that kid says that the “the moment”–that is all the time she spent in school before she had texting–was incredibly lonely and isolating.

I feel sympathy for the kid, but isn’t loneliness and isolation part of what school is all about?  Childhood?  Has she not read Jane Eyre?  Virtually any Dickens?   (I’m sure they are on Kindle.  Maybe even for free.  Or Google Books?  Let me check a sec.)

Oops, there’s my other email, office, you know, my crackberry, the red light is blinking—do you mind?

Kristoff’s Moonshine, Hirsi Ali’s Feminism, “Honor Killing”

May 23, 2010

A couple of articles in the New York Times today are enough to make a woman a feminist for the sake of bettering the world as a whole, and not simply the lot of women, (although since I am already a feminist, I may not be a good judge of that. )

One from Nicholas Kristof describes the situation among the poor in Africa where spending choices by fathers favor alcohol and cigarettes over anti-malarial mosquito netting and children’s tuition fees.  To combat this problem, micro-bankers are trying to put more money in women’s hands, as women tend to be more likely to spend money on the welfare of their children than on their personal habits or pleasures.

Another article by Deborah Solomon, portrays Ayaan Hirsi Ali, an ex-Muslim woman, the author of Nomad:  From Islam to America, and discusses the Islamic view of women as family property, only with the twist that women are property that is capable of devaluing itself (like silver that self-tarnishes, an oven that self-chars.)

To some degree, the articles discuss unpopular topics; some in the West are so anxious to compensate for cultural biases and depradations of the past (and present)  that they are reluctant to criticize, or even acknowledge, practices that are unjust and oppressive.  This, to my mind, is political correctness at its worst: when there is a pretense that all points of view are equally valid and that cultural norms (even those that are unjust to women and children) are somehow fine simply because they are foreign and/or tradiional.)

Here is a poem on the subject on honor killing.   It was inspired by an incident in the Middle East where a brother killed a sister suspected of dishonoring her family:

Honor killing

The knife slides in,
with force.
She is thinner than he has remembered,
her collarbone sharp as
a hook he thrashes upon.
Mind snags heart, but
cannot aim for breast,
only the knife can look past nipple.
Smaller than he’s remembered,
with too-soft skin that folds within
whites of eyes big as
He tries to think
of flame, the filmy body
of smoke, the dryness of
ash, but blood,
in honor of
the righteous,
Why has she made him,
do this,
with force.

News/Olds – New York City Cab Drivers – Texas School Board

March 13, 2010

Extra!  Extra!  In The New York Times yesterday:  (i) not all New York City cab drivers are honest, and (ii) Texas will be Texas.

In the first “amazing” news item:  New York City cab drivers have cheated millions of riders in the last two years.  This has been accomplished by illegally charging an alternative (doubled) meter rate applicable to Westchester and Nassau County within New York City limits.

Some drivers have excused these overcharges on the grounds that the buttons activating the meter rates are small and that it is easy for pre-occupied fingers to accidentally activate the wrong rate.   (The excuse, which doesn’t take into account the higher bucks received,  smells like those sometimes sent to car insurance companies:  “a pedestrian hit me and went under my car.”   “The guy was all over the road. I had to swerve a number of times before I hit him.”)

If New York cab drivers being New York cab drivers is disheartening, Texas being Texas is even more so.  As reported by James McKinley Jr.: “the Texas Board of Education on Friday approved a social studies curriculum that will put a conservative stamp on history and economics textbooks, stressing the superiority of American capitalism, questioning the Founding Fathers’ commitment to a purely secular government and presenting Republican political philosophies in a more positive light.”

Example:  the new rules will replace the term “capitalism” as a description of, you know, capitalism, with the term “free enterprise system,” (to avoid the negative connotations of phrases like “capitalist pig”.)

Example:  Thomas Jefferson (not liked because he coined the term “separation between church and state”) will be cut from a list of figures whose writings inspired revolutions in the 17th and 18th centuries.  (I guess the Declaration of Independence doesn’t count.)  (Is it worth noting that there are no historians on the Texas School Board?)

The proposed changes in Texas make me almost as upset with the left as the right;  I can’t help but feel that,  in the last decades, the left has also actively pushed for a politicization of history texts, and now is being hoist by their own petard.   (I’m sorry to those readers who disagree with me.)

Yes, the old 50’s and 60’s texts were incredibly jingoistic and one-sided; many of the changes of the last decades created a much  more historically accurate, as well as broader, picture of the past.   (Some terrific history texts resulted, such as Joy Hakim’s wonderful The Story of US.)

However, attempts to right old sins, and to emphasize the accomplishments of groups and genders who had historically been overlooked (as well as oppressed), also sometimes went overboard.  My children went to a grade school, for example, where every child knew of Rosa Parks, but extremely few had knowledge of FDR (except, perhaps, for his disability) ,  World War II (other than perhaps Japanese internment camps), or even, though it was a secular school, Thomas Jefferson (except perhaps for his relationship with Sally Hemmings.)    (An attempt to be inclusive, in other words, sometimes seemed exclusive, and to almost perversely avoid a broader historical context.)

Of course, an even bigger problem (to amplify on a quote by the great education president and Texan, George W. Bush):  “Is our children learning” anything at all?

In The Truth, a Discworld satirical fantasy by Terry Pratchett, the tyrannical Lord Vetinari warns a budding newspaper publisher that what people crave is not “news” but “olds”.   “They like to be told what they already know,” Vetinari explains—not man bites dog, but dog bites man.

I’m not sure I completely agree with Vetinari here;  while both these stories are certainly “olds”, they only offer a kind of painful satisfaction, the kind available from from scratching a bite, picking a sore.

For more on this subject, and one of my best paintings ever (of George Washington), check out my post on George Washington, Sarah Palin and Christian With a Capital C.

Further To….

February 20, 2010

One of the good and bad features of a daily blog (especially for a blogger with a daily job) is that it requires the blogger to get posts out quickly, sometimes before an issue is very well understood.  (Sorry!)  In such cases. the post is really a reaction (perhaps premature) to an issue, rather than any kind of cogent analysis.  Sometimes the post doesn’t even reflect the blogger’s longer-term, or considered, reaction to an issue,  but, at best, is simply a snapshot of the moments in which it was written.

Here is further information about the topics of two recent posting:   the first relates to The Line Between Satire and Sneer (illustrated by the teapot surrounded by UFOs), which expressed my wish that the TV show Family Guy hadn’t joked about  the mother of a character with Down’s Syndrome being the former governor of Alaska.    Palin and her daughter Bristol interpreted the program as a cruel jab at Palin’s son Trig (with Down’s Syndrome).  An article in today’s New York Times describes the reaction to Palin’s outrage of the actress,  Andrea Fay Friedman, who did the voice-over for the Down’s Syndrome character and who herself has Down’s Syndrome.  Ms. Friedman accuses Sarah Palin of not having a sense of humor, and of misunderstanding the episode, which presents the Down’s Syndrome character as an obnoxious but strong figure:   “I’m like ‘I’m not Trig. This is my life, ” Ms. Friedman said in a telephone interview with the Times, “I was making fun of Sarah Palin, but not her son.”

I still don’t like Family Guy.  (It’s the crassness.)  And I still wish that the show had not given Palin further “mileage”.  But the article, which gives more information about both the episode and Ms. Friedman,  certainly clarifies another perspective.

The second story which is subject to increasing illumination as the days go by is about Joe Stack, the man who ran a plane into the Austin, Texas IRS building (and whose disgruntlement with the IRS apparently began when the IRS refused to give him a tax exemption as a church.)   Gail Collins has a great article today, The Wages of Rages, about Stack, but also various lame-brained attempts of Republican politicians to expropriate Tea Party rage for political capital.   Yes, she manages to include a reference to Mitt Romney tying his dog to the roof of his car.