Digest 4

My fourth digest linking to what I’ve recently been reading online. First, the customary now-playing and now-reading: Computer Love by Kraftwerk, and actually, I’m between books at the moment; wifely Kate put Gone with the Wind on a reading list for me, so I think I’ll take up that one next.

  • A Japanese paper says the hikikomori, or shut-ins, are a problem that has reached the stage of crisis.

    There are approximately 230,000 people [in Japan] who almost constantly shut themselves in their rooms except to go to nearby convenience stores, according to a survey conducted by the Cabinet Office. […] the statistics have raised questions about the future of Japan.

    Hikikomori are defined as those who shut themselves in their homes for at least six months but are not involved in child care or housework even though they are not sick.

    Problems involving shut-ins have been pointed out over the past 15 years, but only experts and nonprofit organizations have worked on the issue, with little public support.

    I’ve heard good things about Michael Zielenziger‘s book on the subject.

  • Requisite rightwing lunacy: former Republican Colorado Representative Tom Tancredo, once a Republican presidential candidate who’s now stated his intention to run as the Constitution Party’s Colorado gubernatorial candidate, has advocated the impeachment of President Obama for “wanting to destroy the Constitution,” calling him “a more serious threat to America than al Qaeda” — that’s from his op-ed in the Washington Times, where he says:

    [Obama’s goals constitute] the utopian, or rather dystopian, reverie of a dedicated Marxist — a dedicated Marxist who lives in the White House.

    Because of the power he wields over budgets, the judiciary, national defense and even health care, his regime and his program are not just about changing public policy in the conventional sense. When one considers the combination of his stop-at-nothing attitude, his contempt for limited government, his appointment of judges who want to create law rather than interpret it – all of these make this president today’s single greatest threat to the great experiment in freedom that is our republic.

  • “On the other side of the aisle,” as the phrase goes, Van Jones, former White House green jobs special advisor, tells the netroots — pretty much the progressive blogosphere — to quit beating up on Obama.

    “I can’t stand it. President Obama volunteered to be the captain of the Titanic after it hit the iceberg,” Jones said at Netroots Nation […]

    “This is harder than it looks. Having spent six months in the White House, it’s a totally different experience when you’re sitting there and the missiles are coming over the horizon at you,” he said. […]

    Jones said the netroots need to realize they are up against an “epic” force with the conservative media movement, which is trying to “bury everything you fought for everything you believe in,” and comparing it to the Lord of the Rings.

    Much as I wish for more progressive results, I have total sympathy for Van Jones’s view: it’s easy to backseat quarterback and complain when you don’t have the full view of entrenched interests and whatever other enemies Obama faces. On the other hand, acknowledging that can slippery-slope to a “just trust the President you like” position, and since that isn’t viable overall, government should be more transparent. And really, if you aren’t activist-ing in some way (e.g., How to Call Congress, How to Snailmail Congess), your cynicism probably isn’t getting anyone anywhere.

  • For his part, the President asked Netroots Nation via a video address to seriously credit his Administration for its accomplishments so far:

  • No? You don’t want to do anything for the mid-term elections because they’re not as dramatic as the Presidential ones? Here, read this CBS piece about Minnesota Republican Representative Michele Bachmann, who “said yesterday that if Republicans [win] the House in November, ‘all we should do’ is subpoena and investigate the Obama administration.” She’s also called for “100 percent repeal of ObamaCare” and the “big mother of all repeal bills.”

  • To me, anything regarding the Apollo space program is automatically interesting. For instance, recently a customs officer was charged with stealing Neil Armstrong’s signature. Bidding for the recent signature rose over $1000 before the auction was halted.

  • A College Board study ranks Texas as one of least educated states, with only 27% of Texans holding university degrees. Actually, that’s a higher figure than I would’ve guessed. No disrespect.

  • Something less depressing, please? Wallpaper made from newspaper, a Boing Boing find.

  • Better: super zoomed-in, short, silent video, also found on Boing Boing (initially via Nothing to Do with Arbroath), an ant drinking from a rain drop. It might take a moment to download before you can play it.

    Amazing how the rain drop doesn’t just collapse instantly.

  • If you want to spy on the Wall Street Journal, here’s their take on Netroots Nation:

    How nervous are liberals about the November election and how angry are they at conservatives? Plenty, to judge from this year’s Netroots Nation gathering of 2,000 liberal bloggers and activists.

  • The great Clarion West Writers Workshop in Seattle, which I attended in 2008, has announced its set of six instructors for 2011. (For another 36 hours or so, you can donate to the workshop by sponsoring me; $5 through PayPal, quick!)

    We’re pleased to announce that our instructors for the 2011 Clarion West Writers Workshop will be Paul Park, Nancy Kress, Margo Lanagan, Minister Faust, L. Timmel Duchamp, and Charles Stross, the 2011 Susan C. Petrey Fellow.

    General background on the Clarion West Writers Workshop can be found here. Check back with us in September for more information on next year’s instructors and on applying to attend the 2011 session.

  • An account of a military contractor’s corruption has made many rounds already, but it’s so offensive it bears linkage (NYT) and excerpting:

    more than $6 million in personal expenses [were paid out] on behalf of [contractor] Mr. Brooks, covering items as expensive as luxury cars and as prosaic as party invitations, Ms. Schlegel testified.

    Also included were university textbooks for his daughter, pornographic videos for his son, plastic surgery for his wife, a burial plot for his mother, prostitutes for his employees, and, for him, a $100,000 American-flag belt buckle encrusted with rubies, sapphires and diamonds.

  • The Wall Street Journal discovers there are languages other than English. Actually — this feature piece about how various languages influence perspective seems good:

    many other ways to organize time exist in the world’s languages. In Mandarin, the future can be below and the past above. In Aymara, spoken in South America, the future is behind and the past in front.

    In addition to space and time, languages also shape how we understand causality. For example, English likes to describe events in terms of agents doing things. […]

    if you change how people talk, that changes how they think. If people learn another language, they inadvertently also learn a new way of looking at the world. […] if you take away people’s ability to use language in what should be a simple nonlinguistic task, their performance can change dramatically.

  • Boing Boing once more brings us teh happy, picking up a post from Lowering the Bar about muggers accidentally encountering, in the course of their crime, a real-life team of avenging ninjas.

  • Oprah Magazine mentions The Alexander Technique, a bodywork method of which I’m a fan; see AlexanderTechnique.com for more, including an instructor finder.

    Research published in the British Medical Journal found that patients trained in Alexander technique, which teaches proper posture and everyday movement habits to reduce strain, experienced an average of 18 fewer days of back pain over four weeks

  • A WSJ article reports that the United Arab Emirates called the Blackberry smartphone a “security risk.” And Blackberries have very powerful encryption built-in.

    BlackBerry was operating “beyond the jurisdiction of national legislation,” the U.A.E.’s Telecommunications Regulatory Authority said in a statementi ssued on Sunday.

    “As a result of how BlackBerry data is managed and stored, in their current form, Certain BlackBerry applications allow people to misuse the service, causing serious social, judicial and national security repercussions.”

    India jumped in, too, according to the India Times:

    The home ministry, which has time and again shared with DoT its concerns over the security agencies’ inability to de-crypt messages shared over BlackBerry, has now asked DoT to sound out Research in Motion (RIM), the Canadian firm that makes the BlackBerry device, that its services in India will face shutdown if its e-mail and other data services do not comply with formats that can be monitored by security and intelligence agencies.

    Cory Doctorow’s novel Little Brother uses phone encryption in its plot a great deal.

  • NYT reports on Britain’s debate over decentralizing their health care system. Meanwhile, the US Department of Health and Human Services announces the opening of the national Pre-Existing Condition Insurance Plan (see more at HealthCare.gov):

    The Pre-Existing Condition Insurance Plan, which will be administered either by a state or by the Department of Health and Human Services, will provide a new health coverage option for Americans who have been uninsured for at least six months, have been unable to get health coverage because of a health condition, and are a U.S. citizen or are residing in the United States legally.

    Created under the Affordable Care Act, the Pre-Existing Condition Insurance Plan is a transitional program until 2014, when insurers will be banned from discriminating against adults with pre-existing conditions, and individuals and small businesses will have access to more affordable private insurance choices through new competitive Exchanges. […]

    In order to give states the flexibility to best meet their needs, HHS provided states with the option of running the Pre-Existing Condition Insurance Plan themselves or having HHS run the plan. Twenty-one states have elected to have HHS administer the plans, while 29 states and the District of Columbia have chosen to run their own programs.

    Starting today, the national Pre-Existing Condition Insurance Plan will be open to applicants in the 21 states where HHS is operating the program. […]

    The Pre-Existing Condition Insurance Plan will cover a broad range of health benefits, including primary and specialty care, hospital care, and prescription drugs. The Pre-Existing Condition Insurance Plan does not base eligibility on income and does not charge a higher premium because of a medical condition. Participants will pay a premium that is not more than the standard individual health insurance premium in their state for insurance that covers major medical and prescription drug expenses with some cost-sharing.

  • The Federal Register website gets an upgrade.

  • Business Insider discusses the destruction of the American middle class; the article has an anti-global perspective I don’t like (because building walls around yourself isn’t a long-term answer), but the article’s worth the scary read:

    no matter how smart, how strong, how educated or how hard working American workers are, they just cannot compete with people who are desperate to put in 10 to 12 hour days at less than a dollar an hour on the other side of the world. After all, what corporation in their right mind is going to pay an American worker ten times more (plus benefits) to do the same job? The world is fundamentally changing. […] the American middle class is being systematically wiped out of existence as U.S. workers are slowly being merged into the new “global” labor pool. […]

    The truth is that most Americans are absolutely dependent on someone else giving them a job. […]

    36 percent of Americans say that they don’t contribute anything to retirement savings. […]

    Only the top 5 percent of U.S. households have earned enough additional income to match the rise in housing costs since 1975. […]

    For the first time in U.S. history, banks own a greater share of residential housing net worth in the United States than all individual Americans put together. […]

    More than 40% of Americans who actually are employed are now working in service jobs, which are often very low paying. […]

    The bottom 50 percent of income earners in the United States now collectively own less than 1 percent of the nation’s wealth.

  • Yikes, time for the funny papers. TV Barn posts about cartoons displayed at Comic Con 2010 that Bill Watterson (of Calvin and Hobbes fame) sent to Berkeley Breathed, creator of my favorite comic strip, Bloom County from the 1980s. In other comics news, the great cartoonist John Callahan, another favorite of mine, died today.

That’s all I can manage for today; for the news I’m a few days behind, but hopefully this digest will let you catch up on some good items you might have missed. Tschuss for now!

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