Creative Destruction

August 9, 2006

The Peril of Boredom

Filed under: Content-lite,Navel Gazing,Philosophy — Brutus @ 11:24 pm

I overheard a mother at a bus stop trying to interest her son in the video iPod she was carrying, apparently loaded with the usual kid shows. He was having none of it, though he wasn’t causing any disruption or disturbance, while she was in effect a drug pusher. The scene got me thinking about how we soothe our boredom, especially that of children.

Almost every parent insists that children’s unrelenting need for both attention and stimulation is exhausting. Given the tools at hand, it’s inevitable that parents use various means of pacification, increasingly electronic distractions. Some parents recognize that plopping the kid(s) in front of the TV means selling their children down the river of advertising (training them as rapacious consumers), and for some, there’s a sense of guilt. Lately, kids have portable electronic distractions (e.g., GameBoys and iPods) so that even the relative wholesomeness of summer camp is no longer free of electronics. And it’s bleeding into adulthood. Never mind the countless hours routinely forfeited to TV; now a gaming system, an Internet connection, a cell phone, a DVD collection, and a BlackBerry also clamor for time and attention. Workouts, rush hour commutes, plane rides, and virtually any idle time must now be complemented by an iPod or DVD. Electronics makers must be rolling their hands and twirling their mustaches, having convinced most of the population to be plugged in at all times, just as soft drink purveyors convinced previous generations that a meal isn’t complete without a soft drink.

So what’s with the cavernous emptiness of boredom that screams to be filled, even if only with the most banal of stimulation? Why is it so difficult to be content in silence, alone with our own thoughts? Like the T-Rex that can only sense movement in its field of vision, we’re evolved to notice and seek change rather than stasis, which has turned into a fetish for novelty. Many of us are also so ill-equipped to use our own creativity as a source of self-amusement, whether it be writing, singing, or even thinking, that we must instead turn our attentions outward and, in our general laziness, gather whatever stimulation is most readily available. With our current electronics options, much of that stimulation is empty of meaningful content, such as the graphics on a news program that do nothing but temporarily tantalize the eyes, or the variety of new musical styles that are all hook and beat and thump.

It used to be that when a child complained “I’m bored …” to a parent, an aphorism was delivered: “Boredom is the mark of an uncreative and impoverished mind.” The implication of that rebuke was that, by using the imagination, one could dream up things to do that would provide amusement and generate enthusiasm. Perhaps some parents still instruct children that way, but in public at least, the complaint “I’m bored” is usually interpreted as a fire alarm, sending parents scrambling to find something to quench the fire before some mischief sets in. The restless mind of youth transforms into the mind at rest, like the effects of a depressant. And the habit is easily formed: the expectation that stimulation is done to a person rather than something a person does for him- or herself. Over time, one effect is that one’s enthusiasms are dominated by outer directedness, which is to say that we cathect with celebrities, consumer goods, sports teams, alcohol, and drugs, all of which release us from the torments of being ourselves.

UPDATE: I just came across this new product. It’s a shopping cart with seating for kids and a TV screen. For the love of all things holy, don’t look away from the TV screen!!

shopping cart


Lamont Defeats Lieberman in Ct. Democrat Primary

Filed under: Politics — Ampersand @ 2:13 am

It’s rare that Bob Hayes and I agree, but both of us are pleased by the results in the Connecticut primary.

Even if the result is that Lieberman keeps his seat but becomes a de facto Republican, I’d consider that an improvement over the status quo. Right now, Lieberman is enormously useful to Bush and the Republicans, because he provides cover for their positions; “even a Democrat like Joe Liberman agrees…” and so forth. As an independent, he won’t be as effective at providing cover for Bush and the Republicans.

Beyond Marriage

Filed under: LGBT Issues — Ampersand @ 1:50 am

There’s been a lot of fussing over this statement, written by some LGBT activists, which calls for a broader debate over what kind of families will be recognized by the government. Here’s a sample:

Lieberman Concedes Narrow Defeat in CT Primary

Filed under: Current Events,Politics — Robert @ 12:22 am

Lieberman didn’t quite pull it off in the Connecticut primary. He’ll sweep the general, of course.

As a good Republican, this is the most outstanding news possible. The netroots’ power has been shown to be relatively weak – but strong enough to prevent a mainstream figure from being viable in the Democratic party, which will spiral further and further left, losing power with each successive orbit. Plus, we’ll end up picking up Lieberman as a RINO – he’ll probably be SecDef or SecState in whichever Republican administration picks up the pieces in 2008. And the sweetest nectar of all is, most lefties probably think this is a victory.

Life is good.

August 8, 2006

Three Comments About Michigan’s “Coercive Abortion Prevention Act”

Filed under: Feminist Issues,Reproductive Rights — Ampersand @ 1:05 pm

Via Noli Irritare Leones, I learn of Michigan’s “Coercive Abortion Prevention Act.” What the CAPA would do is make it a crime to “commit, attempt to commit, or conspire to commit physical harm to the pregnant female” in order to force her to have an abortion; or to commit “repeated or continuing harassment of the pregnant female that would cause her to reasonably feel terrorized, frightened, intimidated, threatened, or harassed” to compel her to seek an abortion. As well as providing criminal and misdemeanor penalties, CAPA also makes it possible for women to sue coercers in civil court.

Three comments on CAPA:

August 7, 2006

TV: Doctor Who, So You Think You Can Dance, America’s Got Talent

Filed under: Content-lite,Popular Culture — Ampersand @ 4:44 pm

So first thing I did once I got back from NY is catch up on some of the TV I missed. Spoilers ahead!

To Deadbeat

Filed under: Blog Status — Off Colfax @ 12:58 am

If you’re going to try and troll, could you please not spam the same damn thing over and over and over again? Particularly not in the span of two minutes? And all on Ampersand’s posts?

Yes, I’m talking to you. You see, these days a troll requires originality and careful thought in order to properly carry out their self-assigned duties throughout the blogosphere. These attempts of yours are far from meeting the lowest bar and, instead of being an insightful provoker of debate, tend simply to be a pain in the ass.

Please inquire within the comment section of Eschaton for an accredited course in how to troll.

For trust me when I say this… You really need it.

Have a nice day.

EDIT: The comments in question have been removed, so I killed off the links. However, one has been preserved for the sake of posterity in the comments below.

August 6, 2006

The Ironic Unintended Effects Of Electing Judges By District In Oregon

Filed under: Politics — Ampersand @ 12:38 am

This November, Oregon voters will have a chance to change the way Judges are elected to the Oregon Supreme Court. (Yes, we elect our Supreme Court Justices here.) Right now, OSC (Oregon Supreme Court) Justices are elected by the entire state. If Ballot Measure 24 (pdf link) passes, however, the seven judges on the OSG (and also the ten judges on the Oregon Court of Appeals) will be elected by districts determined by population.

In other words, if Measure 24 passes, Oregon will be divided into seven Supreme Court districts, each containing one-seventh of Oregon’s population; and each district will get to elect one Supreme Court Justice.

The idea is to let people in rural Oregon feel like they have representation on the OSC. (Oregon, in a much oversimplified nutshell, can be divided into “liberal Portland” and “conservative the rest of Oregon,” so Portland’s influence annoys the rest of the state). However, Randy at Ridenbaugh Press points out that Measure 24 might work to weaken, rather than expand, the influence of rural Oregonians:

The up-side to the initiative, from the rural interest viewpoint, is that they’d be guaranteed a presence on the court. The downside is the limitation of that presence. On even the 10-member Court of Appeals, all of Oregon east of the Cascades would get just about . . . one seat. And that’s as much as they’d ever be able to get; under the present plan, you could in theory elect judge after judge from the big wide open. They’d get less than that on the Supreme Court. Meantime, under the new plan, the Portland metro area’s domination of the courts would be locked in.

It seems to me that this plan could make it far easier to elect at least a couple of progressive Judges, as well – it’s a lot easier for a progressive to get elected if they only have to get a majority of Portland voters, rather than a majority of Oregon voters.

So if you want Eastern Oregon to have guaranteed representation on Oregon’s highest Court, vote for Measure 24. And if you want to guarantee that the Court will always be dominated by Portlanders… vote for Measure 24.

Curtsy: Blue Oregon.

August 2, 2006

Doctor’s Orders

Filed under: Feminist Issues,Iraq — Daran @ 12:27 pm

Barry recently drew my attention to this article, by Nir Rosen, which I described as “a very rare instance of a second order gendering applied to males”. The terminology was defined by Dr. Adam Jones in his paper Effacing the Male (emphasis in original):

A first-order gendering is focused at the level of the individual person, case, or event. In the Kosovo context, this might be a reference to the rape of a particular Kosovar woman, or a given case of mass rape; for Kosovar males, it might be a reference to the gender-selective execution of a man, or a given mass execution.

A second-order gendering of the same subject seeks to isolate a pattern of victimization. In so doing, it directs the audience to broader conceptual and experiential similarities that bind individual persons, cases, and events — though the pattern is still restricted in its territorial reach, geographical scope, and historical time. In the context of the Kosovo conflict, this could mean isolating a pattern of rape of women in the conflict, or a pattern of gender-selective executions of men.

A third-order gendering extends the analysis beyond the boundaries of the immediate conflict, region, and contemporary time-frame. It usually seeks to make broad generalizations about regional, global, and/or historical trends. Again to use our Kosovo examples, this might involve placing the rape of Kosovar women against the broader backdrop of rape as a tool of war in the Balkans in the 1990s. It might go further still, and examine the sexual assault of women as a feature of warfare across civilizations and throughout history. A similar perspective on gender-selective executions of men would seek to place these killings against a regional and global-historical backdrop.

This concept of first, second, and third ordering is an extraordinarily powerful metaanalytical tool whose application is by no means limited to the field of gender studies. A non-gendered example would be a news report which describes individual incidents where actions by American forces in Iraq have caused friction with the local population leading to anti-American feelings (first order), isolates a pattern of such incidents throughout occupied Iraq (second order), and generalises further, seeking to explain regional or global anti-Americanism (or anti-superpower-of-the-dayism) as a consequence of American (etc.) actions generally (third order).

Dr. Jones clarifies the boundary between first and second order in footnote 15:

the other […] acts of gendercide mentioned briefly in the article [by James Rubin] are the following: “As many as several hundred thousand ethnic Albanian men may have been detained or harmed by Yugoslav government security forces in the past three weeks. … In the southern Kosovo city of Djakovica … more than 100 ethnic Albanians were reportedly slain by Interior Ministry troops and paramilitaries. … Another [n.b.] 112 men were allegedly shot and burned in the southern Kosovo town of Malakrusa … as many as 200 ‘military-age’ men may have been slain in the northern city of Podujevo …” At no point in the article, however, is any pattern of gender-selective mass executions discerned.

(Bracketed elipisis and italics are mine. unbracketed elipsis are his.)

Although Dr. Jones does not say so explicitly, it’s clear from the last sentence that he does not regard this to be an example of second order gendering. Although a “pattern of gender-selective mass executions” is discernable, at least to those readers looking for it, it is not discerned by the author. He does not “seek[] to isolate” it or “direct[] the audience to broader conceptual and experiential similarities”.

With that clarification in mind, it’s clear that Rosen’s article is a sophisticated second-order analysis of what can be described as “insensitivity” at best, and “brutality” at worst on the part of US forces toward the Iraqi people. There is a single third-order reference to My Lai.

It’s equally clear, that the gendering in the article is overwhelmingly first-order: the pattern is there, but it is not “discerned” or “isolated”, nor for the most part is our attention “directed to broader conceptual experiential similarities”. There is a glimmer of second ordering when Rosen said “I grew to fear the unpredictable American military, which could kill me for looking like an Iraqi male of fighting age” (my italics), but the gender theme receives no further higher order attention.

It is not my intention to fault Rosen’s excellent article. No essay can cover every aspect of a situation, and a good one will choose its theme and stick to it. Rosen does just that. His theme is no less important than mine, it hardly suffers from a surfeit of quality coverage, and he covers it without effacing the male in the process.

That’s exceptional. It ought to be the norm.

August 1, 2006

Mel Gibson Sucks

Filed under: Current Events,Personal Ramblings — Robert @ 5:20 pm

I’m heartbroken about Mel Gibson. I defended him for a long time against accusations of anti-Semitism, and it was a defensible position.

But after what he said, it isn’t defensible anymore. I was wrong; he WAS an anti-Semite all that time. He DID agree with his dad. He was just more clever about hiding it than his old man was.

About the only valid defense left for Mel is that, perhaps, he’s conflicted in his beliefs. Maybe he only partly believes the things he said – maybe that’s why when he’s sober and collected he says one thing, but when he’s drunk and angry he says something different. Maybe. In any event, that’s between him and God to work out.

I suspect that people defending him right now are similarly heartbroken. After you invest a lot of emotional energy in defending something against what you perceive to be a wrongful attack, it’s very difficult to move that energy from the “noble crusade” column to the “stupid mistake” column. Not everyone can do it quickly, and so I hope we can have a charitable attitude towards those who may be struggling to justify their own past actions now.

I’ve always been a strong advocate for Jewish-Christian friendship and reconciliation, and it kills me that Gibson’s idiocy is going to damage the prospects for that in the short and medium terms. I’m sorry I ever defended him, and I wish that he had done a much poorer job of concealing his views, so that he would have been “outed” a long time ago.

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