stuff I've been reading: weekend links

I'm off to the first of my all-day Saturday summer session class (LIS488: Technology for Information Professionals). I leave you with a short list of some of the stuff I've been reading online the last couple of weeks.

Back at the end of May, Hanna sent me this column by William Zinsser at the Powells' Book Blog. "the national epidemic that's most on my mind right now," Zinsser writes, "isn't swine flu. It's the slow death of sequential thinking. My students, especially younger ones, go out on a story and come back with a million notes and a million quotes and absolutely no idea what the story is." Having just finished a year's stint as a teaching assistant with undergraduate students, I definitely sympathize with his sense that students are very reluctant to make an original argument (or, as Zinsser puts it, tell a coherent story). Yet in unoriginal contrarian fashion, Zinsser locates the cause of this "epidemic" in new technology -- a model of causality that seems to me simplistic and potentially even entirely wrong. Online environments, for example, can be sites for quick-hit, disconnected thoughts and responses that have little or no through-line. They can also provide platforms for the rich interlinking of ideas and dialogue in a way that sustains dynamic, thoughtful conversation. Check out his post and see what you think.

Jesse, over at Pandagon, blogged about the conservative outrage that apparently erupted online when Google decided, on June 6th, to use their logo to commemorate the 25th birthday of the computer game Tetris instead of the 65th anniversary of D-Day. Aside from being an amusing opportunity to snark about conspiracy-minded conservatives, I think it's a really good example of a way of thinking that seems much more prevalent on the right than the left (although, to be fair, I've spent much more time, geographically, around hard-right conservatives than I have around hard-left liberals): the inability to separate out their own personal preferences or ethical decisions from the preferences or decisions of the society at large. So much conservative social policy seems aimed at protecting themselves from people who have different priorities and preferences from their own -- as if the mere existence of different-thinking and differently-acting people threatens their own survival. As Jesse writes, "If these fine Americans find themselves unable to handle the fact that Google may not at all times reflect their particular preferences in logo design, may I recommend using the power of the market to use any of the other dozen search engines available." Instead, conservative folks seem to feel so besieged by non-conservative values that they've forgotten they have the power to "just say no," get up and walk away.

Thanks to my mother, Janet, for passing along Ellen Goodman's editorial about Dr. Tiller's murder (and for being unequivocally pro-choice; I don't take it for granted Mom!). I haven't been able to formulate a coherent response to William Saletan's column kinda-sorta supporting abortion access in the wake of Dr. Tiller's assassination, while at the same time drawing moral parallels between Tiller's medical practice and the convictions that drove his killer to murder -- but Amanda Marcotte's latest edition of the RhRealityCheck podcast helped clarify some of what I found so problematic about his language. It's a really strong episode of the series, and includes not only a round-up of evidence of the broad anti-choice vendetta against Dr. Tiller, but also a kick-ass interview with sex educator Heather Corinna about post-abstinence-only sexuality education that provides a nice counterpoint to extremist violence and bigotry.

Rebecca Traister's husband, Aaron, offers a witty reflection on his adjustment to stay-at-home parenting, and what it felt like to shift from parenting as a "break" from "real life" as an employed adult to realizing parenting was his life for the foreseeable future, and a necessary contribution to his family's economic survival. I, selfishly perhaps, haven't been able to spare a lot of emotional energy for digesting economic news lately, but the women's studies scholar and feminist in me is really interested by the way in which material economic circumstances seem to be prompting critical re-evaluation of concepts like masculinity and work in pro-feminist ways. Also: points for describing the pregnant Rebecca (with, I can only assume, her blessing) a "giant breadwinning turtle woman."

On the question of children and our cultural conceptions of children and childhood, yesterday morning Hanna sent me Ann Billson's column from the Guardian online about the meaning of children in horror/thriller films:

For us non-parents, children in real life are frequently "just there" like that, buzzing around just below our radar, occasionally getting our attention by screaming, whereas children in science fiction or action movies tend to be vital narrative devices, not so much characters in their own right . . . In thriller terms, children are shorthand for something to be preserved at all costs, and we're expected to take it on trust that one sprog is worth a hundred adults.

I would argue that, in real life, there is a huge and meaningful middle ground between seeing children as "just there" unless they hit the radar in negative terms, and seeing them as worth one hundred adults put together . . . but Billson's analysis of the way young people are used as characters in certain genre films is certainly thought-provoking. As Hanna pointed out, Billson collapses together the treatment of children from infants to teenagers with little differentiation, a move that seems problematic for her purpose of character analysis since obviously a fourteen-year-old teen means very different things to us, culturally, than a newborn infant or toddler.

Hanna also passed on a Guardian op-ed about the murder of a museum guard at Washington, D.C.'s holocaust museum this past Wednesday. It's a thoughtful piece that is much more articulate than I feel I could be about the need to reject both hatred and reactionary violence against those who hate -- and seek a broader, more humanistic response to acts of terrorism that affirm the essential interdependence of the worlds' human beings.

And finally, because all good things come in threes, another Guardian article -- this time, hilarious columnist Stuart Jeffries on how the rich pretend they're toughing out the recession: "Are you seriously telling me that you aren't worrying about how your Jerusalem artichokes are faring in the new vegetable plot dug by your Lithuanian au pair at the back of your five-figure designer minimalist garden? (Don't pretend you aren't.)"

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