Senator Elizabeth Warren, one of the few American politicians willing to challenge the current financial system, has introduced her first bill in the US Senate. With student loan rates set to double from 3.4% to 6.8% on July 1, the Bank on Student Loan Fairness Act would temporarily reduce those rates to 0.75%, which is the same rate that banks borrow money from the Federal Reserve.
There’s certainly something nice about the symbolism of this bill: Highlighting the discrepancy between the rates offered to financial institutions and rates offered to students investing in an education illustrates the inequities of the financial system. When Senator Warren frames it as a choice between students and banks, it’s clear which side you should be on. And since the bill has no chance of passing, that symbolism is important. But the spirit of the bill is misguided, because the problem with student loans is not that they are too expensive, but that they are too cheap. Continue reading »
Of the many heartfelt reactions to Monday’s tragedy in Boston, one written by comedian Patton Oswalt seemed to really resonate. You’ve probably already seen it: It was shared on Facebook over 200,000 times, “liked” over 300,000 times, and written about on websites from The Atlantic to US Weekly.
There’s a lot to like about Oswalt’s message, but there’s one aspect of it that really bothers me: When he refers to the unknown perpetrators of the crime, he refers to either “one human insect or a poisonous mass of broken sociopaths.” It’s just a throwaway line—it doesn’t really affect the substance of what Oswalt is saying. But it’s a telling line that reveals a problem with the way we conceive of tragedies like this attack.
It’s easy and very tempting to dehumanize the people who plant bombs and attack children—to call them “insects” and “sociopaths”* or whatever term that paints them as some mythical bad guy. After all, how could anyone do something this horrible unless he was subhuman in some way? But it’s a dangerous logical trap to assume that anyone who does an evil thing is an Evil Man. Continue reading »
Everyone else seems afraid to say it, but The Onion is kind of a cunt, right?
For anyone who’s missed the controversy surrounding the satirical publication, it began over an Oscar-related tweet that called the nine-year-old star of Beasts of Southern Wild a cunt. Within an hour, the tweet was deleted, but by then of course millions of The Onion’s followers had already seen it, and many had retweeted it. People like Wendell Pierce and many others criticized the paper, and the next morning its CEO issued an apology for the tweet.
Now, I should say that I don’t think the joke was very good: It was crude and simple and basically relied on the shock value of calling a little girl the c-word, so I can see why many found it offensive. But I also think the ideas behind the joke—that Quvenzhané Wallis is so adorable and beloved BUT that Hollywood often turns quickly and cruelly on child stars—-are perfect subjects for The Onion’s brand of satire. The product wasn’t good, but the thought behind it was fine. Continue reading »
For Love of Country?
It’s rare that I watch enough movies in a given year to identify a “trend” but this year one stood out. Two of main frontrunners for Best Picture this year—Argo and Zero Dark Thirty—were films about CIA operations. Both films have already been nominated for Golden Globes, and while Argo was the early frontrunner, Zero Dark Thirty has gotten most of the recent talk (they even run the gamut alphabetically).
Of course, it’s silly to extrapolate grand themes from two movies, or event to talk about “trends” in a year’s movies—given the variety of production times for movies, any trends are likely to be coincidental. But what’s interesting about both Argo and Zero Dark Thirty is that, though both were based on real events, they each took creative license to glorify the CIA: Argo minimized the role Canada played in the mission to rescue six hostages from Iran, and Zero Dark Thirty erroneously portrays torture as instrumental to the search for Osama bin Laden.
Continue reading »
Last week, on Election Day, I found myself in a long Facebook comment thread about the virtues of voting. In it, someone said, “We have perhaps never had a president that has not committed…great acts of evil.” Of course, my first thought on reading that was That sounds like a fun game, and I decided to make a list of the worst* thing every president has done.
*The word “evil,” is of course loaded with all sorts of moral and metaphysical implications, so I’ve slightly reframed it into the “worst” acts every president has done. To be sure, many of these are clearly evil, but I wanted to include every president, and it’s hard to find something really “evil” that, say, William Henry Harrison did.
A quick note: First of all, I’m only including things they did as president. So the fact that Thomas Jefferson probably raped his slaves doesn’t count, though obviously that’s pretty bad. Secondly, I’m not a presidential historian, so my knowledge of some presidents is pretty limited. I welcome input on events I may have forgotten or never learned about in the first place. Lastly, this list is obviously subjective, based on my own moral judgment. As such, it’s weighted against things I find truly immoral, which usually involve the government killing or imprisoning people. Again, though, I welcome disagreement.
And now, the list: Continue reading »
You seriously want to vote for one of these guys?
It’s time for my biennial plea for you to abstain from voting. I’ve got my work cut out for me: As election season (mercifully) draws to an end, we’ve reached the time of year when everyone and their mother takes time to urge you to vote, no matter who you vote for, as if the mere act of casting a vote is somehow worthwhile.
What goes conspicuously unmentioned in all these pleas to vote is the simple fact that your vote is extremely unlikely to make a difference. This is nothing but a statement of mathematical fact: The odds of an election in which millions of votes are cast being decided by one vote* are essentially zero. Even in smaller, more local races, or elections that are extremely close, the odds of your vote being decisive are still incredibly small. The only elections that have been decided by one vote were races in which fewer than 10,000 votes were cast. Continue reading »
It’s the longest and most mundane symposium ever! Three years ago John S wrote about his experiences watching the Malibu Sands arc of Saved by the Bell. This summer, I watched the Malibu Sands arc of Saved by the Bell—mainly because I had just finished the first season of Game of Thrones and needed what a personal trainer might call a cool-down period.
Consider this setting the record straight.
—The issue to be raising isn’t over volleyball as a spectator sport. Clearly, Top Gun proved you wrong there. The issue is the sustainability of a beach club dynasty with an ever-changing roster of volleyball players. Just how can North Shore—the Valley of the beach, amirite?—continue dominating Malibu Sands for a decade when the players on its volleyball team (i.e. staff members at the club) presumably change each year? Now I know what you’re thinking: that I’m essentially describing major college sports, which obviously have dominant and doormat programs. But North Shore doesn’t have a coach; that much is obvious. Malibu Sands’ is Kelly. What we’re led to conclude, then, is that North Shore’s owner actively recruits excellent volleyball players to work at his club over the summer—likely costing himself hundreds of dollars in workplace efficiency—simply to beat Leon Carosi in a bet.
What did Leon do to him in the past to deserve such vengeance? Continue reading »
Nothing can make me like LeBron James. I don’t care if he is a champion now. I don’t care if he is the NBA Finals MVP. I don’t care if he put up one of the greatest playoff performances ever this year. I don’t care if he helped Shane Battier get a ring. I don’t care if he overcame the worst cramps in human history to do it. I don’t care if he’s humbler, happier, and more mature than he was two years ago. I don’t care if spends his off-season saving small children from burning buildings. Nothing can make me like him.
And yet the tide is turning in his favor. Throughout the year, fans and sportswriters seemed to be letting up on LeBron, as if the statute of limitations on detesting him had run out. Seth Davis, of Sports Illustrated, seemed to make this argument almost explicitly. And now that James finally has his ring, I suspect the intense fandom that lined up behind whichever team happened to be playing the Heat will die down a bit; it’s not as fun to root against something that’s already happened. Continue reading »
It’s not helping…
The phrase “Game Over” has recurred several times over the last few months when scientists talk about the environment: Most famously, James Hansen of NASA said it about the potential impact of the Keystone pipeline; recently, Jane C.S. Long told The New Yorker that it would be “game over” if Arctic permafrost started to melt; the phrase has appeared in headlines and op-eds about seemingly every environmental issue.
I’m not sure if one scientist said it first, and everyone else thought it sounded cool, or if some liberal Frank Luntz-type sent some memo about the phrase to environmental advocates everywhere, or if it’s just a coincidence. Either why, though, they should really stop, for at least six reasons:
1) Saying “Game Over” makes you sound like you are talking about a video game Continue reading »
The CDC has recently begun a $54 million anti-smoking ad campaign. It is disgusting. The hope is that these graphic ads will pressure people into quitting, and they appear to be working: Since the ad started airing, calls to 1-800-QUIT-NOW have doubled, and visits to the government’s anti-smoking website have tripled.
For New Yorkers, these types of ads are nothing new: New York (and, I assume, some other states as well) has been running ads of this variety for years. And while quitting smoking is a worthwhile goal, these ads are very disturbing for a number of reasons.
First of all, they are very disturbing. I mean, they are horrific to look at. Continue reading »