The struggle is long, and its path uneven

Kentucky is arguing a philosophy that was struck down by SCOTUS nearly 50 years ago.
A friend of mine posted something on Facebook about some local bit of bigotry; there are so many, I can’t keep track. At some level, I become a tad inured, which I reckon is not a good thing. Still, these news stories caught my attention.

ITEM: Tom Cotton Says Critics Of Indiana Should Get ‘Perspective,’ Be Thankful State Doesn’t Execute Gays. It’s amazing! Before he organized that letter that was signed by 47 Republican senators that was sent to Iran during the US government’s negotiations with that country, I didn’t even know who he was.

Now I do recognize the name and face of the freshman senator from Arkansas, but not for any good or noble reasons.

BTW, that so-called Religious Freedom Indiana law was well explained on FOX News. Seriously

ITEM: Lawyers for the state of Kentucky actually put this in legal papers:
“Kentucky’s marriage laws are not facially discriminatory to gays and lesbians based upon their sexual orientation. Kentucky’s marriage laws treat homosexuals and heterosexuals the same and are facially neutral. Men and women, whether heterosexual or homosexual, are free to marry persons of the opposite sex under Kentucky law, and men and women, whether heterosexual or homosexual, cannot marry persons of the same sex under Kentucky law.”

Seriously, I laughed out loud. It was because they were using the exact same structure of an argument as was used by courts in the mid-1960s when trying to uphold rules against mixed-race marriage. “Because its miscegenation statutes punish equally both the white and the Negro participants in an interracial marriage, these statutes, despite their reliance on racial classifications, do not constitute an invidious discrimination based upon race.”

On June 12, 1967, the Supreme Court unanimously ruled, in Loving v. Virginia, that the anti-miscegenation laws of Virginia and 15 other states were unconstitutional. Kentucky is arguing a philosophy that was struck down by SCOTUS nearly 50 years ago. This is not just bigoted thinking, it’s bad lawyering.

ITEM: There is a strong relationship between having higher income inequality in a community and the life expectancy of the people who live there. Moreover, that income inequality in the United States is far greater than most people realize.

And one of the WORST places is the Albany, NY metro, which ranked last in US for black children’s healthy development, according to a front-page story in the Times Union on April 2.

ITEM: Two school districts in Kansas announced that the academic year would end early because they lack sufficient funding to keep the schools open.

“The school closures are just the latest in a series of drastic measures that Kansas public services have been forced to take in recent years, as [Governor Sam ] Brownback’s radical tax cuts have drained state coffers of much-needed revenue.” AND he was re-elected in 2014 by four percentage points.

ITEM: If You Don’t Have a Smart Phone, You Don’t Exist – At Least, Not According to Hollywood. Subtitle: “In TV and film, the idea that only bad guys have flip phones is making the tech divide even wider.”

As my friend Alan noted, “When only poor people and villains are depicted as having non-smartphones, it’s sending a message that I think is probably harmful in the long term. I noticed Reddington [the amoral lead character played by James Spader] was using a burner flip phone last night on The Blacklist. Would not have noticed if I hadn’t read the article.”

ITEM: Study Confirms Tea Party Was Created by Big Tobacco and Billionaire Koch Brothers. This is not a particular surprise to me. “In 2002, the Kochs and tobacco-backed CSE designed and made public the first Tea Party Movement website under the web address;” THAT I did not know.

ITEM: Noam Chomsky on the Roots of American Racism.
“It’s easy to rattle off the usual answers: education, exploring and addressing the sources of the malady, joining together in common enterprises — labor struggles have been an important case — and so on. The answers are right and have achieved a lot. Racism is far from eradicated, but it is not what it was not very long ago, thanks to such efforts. It’s a long, hard road. No magic wand, as far as I know.”

Disinclined to get a smart phone

It would take a cheap, idiot-proof technology for me to get a smartphone. Or someone else paying for it.

smartphonesArthur, the Windy City Kiwi, writes:

Here’s another one for you: You’ve written about your lack of enthusiasm for smart phones, but do you see a time in the future when you might be persuaded to embrace them, and, related, what would it take for that to happen? For example, some people say that the ability to pay for things using their phone (rather than cash or card) would push them. That may or may not be true for you, but is there something that might be?

This is a far more complicated issue than merely smartphones. This has to do with me and technology in general.

1) I embrace technology, but technology does not always embrace me. There was a period when we would have our work computers were swapped out after so many months, and mine would always be a couple of months earlier than others. One of our techies theorized that I had some sort of anti-electronics aura, seriously.

I have had two Android devices, and they both have died, much earlier than they should have. I ENJOYED having them, but I was happy I had not become dependent upon them.

2) I have no instinctive understanding of technology. It took me days to figure out the way to start my cellphone was to press the red-colored END button; that made no sense to me. I can take pictures on my phone, but I’ve yet to figure out how to RETRIEVE them. I’ve read the manual, but it didn’t help. After a while, it just wasn’t that important to me.

I participated in the Pebble smartwatch Kickstarter. STILL haven’t figured out how it works. Yes, there’s a website that offers tech support, but anything that REQUIRES tech support just to find out how to turn it on quite literally gives me a headache from exhaustion. That was neither the first or last bit of technology I’ve purchased that I couldn’t suss out how to use.

3) I don’t want to become dependent on technology that I will lose, or will break, or otherwise not be able to use. I see people who are lost without their devices, and I don’t want to be one of those people. And I’ve misplaced my cellphone for days on end. Moreover, I’m convinced this true: Increased smartphone use equals lower GPA among college students; for some people, at least, it seems to take away their ability to think.

4) Similarly, I don’t want to be one of those people whose attention is buried in the device, oblivious to the surroundings. I see that a LOT on the bus each day.

5) I don’t always trust technology. This is actually more true of GPS that has taken me to wrong exits or around in circles, but smartphones have similar features.

6) I am very wary of geolocation. I don’t want to be omnipresent in the world, or hacked, or sent ads telling me what stores are nearby that I “want” to go to. Frankly, being able to pay for something on a smartphone is a disincentive. This is also why I hate the fact that The Wife has E-Z Pass on the car; the privacy concerns, for me, trumps the convenience of getting through the toll booths faster.

7) I find it very expensive. It’s not the phone, but all of the various deals for service. I see this ad about a “good price” for a family plan and it’s $175 a month for four people; gave me sticker shock. Moreover, they all seem to be tied to plans I loathe being trapped into.

The cellphones that the Wife and I have cost $14 per month, plus tax, total. It allows me to text, though in fact, I HATE to text, that’s more tied to not wanting to be always available. That’s is why I have an answering machine and caller ID at home.

So it would take cheap, idiot-proof, privacy-providing technology for me to get a smartphone. Or someone else paying for the monthly service.

It wouldn’t hurt if someone actually showed me how to do things. I went to the Apple store with my father-in-law a couple of years ago to investigate the possibilities, and these “helpers” spoke in a different language, assuming I understood terminology that I found incomprehensible. It probably had to do with 3G and 4G, or some such, but my eyes glazed over.

Arthur, you have a spouse who seems to be tech-savvy; I do not. Maybe the Daughter will figure out someone else’s smartphone to a degree that she can explain it to me in terms I can understand, and that might crack the door open.

Still, I don’t need one, I don’t feel deprived without it. Now if you want to SEND me one, my address is…

Now, one might say, “But Roger, if you’re so bad at technology, how have you blogged for ten years?”

Trial and error. Blogger had a product, I think it was called Picasa, to use to put photos in the blog; I NEVER got it to work. But I stumbled upon another way. (Blogger has made it much easier since then, of course.)

I remember one of the first times I used WordPress, for my Times Union blog seven years ago, there was a picture of either former New York governor Eliot Spitzer or the cartoon character Dudley Do-Right – they look alike, I theorized – that was three times the size of the page, and I didn’t know how to fix it. Now, I’ve looked at enough simple HTML code to correct the problem, using math. Basic MATH I understand.

Because I’m a librarian, I’ve occasionally been thrown into the deep end of technology. Usually, I drown, but now and then I swim, especially compared with someone actually computerphobic. I’ve actually helped people at the public library with their user problems, which are minor to my mind, but massive in theirs. It’s all a matter of degree.

Once I’m SHOWN many technologies, as opposed to being told or fumbling through the manual, I’m perfectly happy to use them.

I’ve learned how to fake it reasonably well. I know how to reboot, whether it be my computer or my home Internet/cable system; turning things off and on works remarkably effectively 80% of the time. But only if I can find the OFF button. Have you noticed the OFF buttons on computer hardware are never in the same place? That’s not user incompetence, it’s DESIGN error.
I DO need, however, the Selfie Shoe.

Cultural engagement

I happened to have gone to a panel at FantaCon this month with Steve Bissette, Kris Gilpin and Dennis Daniel, all of whom used to swap bootleg horror films, fifth-generation recording dubbed in German or Dutch. THEY are ecstatic that those films are now available in a nice Criterion collection.

The cover of the September 20/27, 2013 Entertainment Weekly, its Fall TV Preview, says “get the scoop on 119 shows, PLUS the best new series.” If I need a reminder that the medium has diffused, that’ll do it.

Yet on two successive episodes of the Bat Segundo Show podcast, host Ed Champion declares that there is an “American epidemic of gravitating to mainstream culture in an age of limitless choice.” He and guest Kiese Laymon discuss “why America is terrified of rich and variegated cultural engagement.” Then Champion and Alissa Quart dissect “how outsiders and iconoclasts have been appropriated by institutional forces. Why have we shifted to a culture hostile to original voices? Why is it all about being liked?”

I found myself arguing and agreeing with the dialogues in about equal measure. On one hand, there’s no doubt that a lot of the “outsiders” get co-opted. And there’s the “you’re an idiot if you’re not watching this” meme that Jaquandor discussed, in this case, about Breaking Bad. He’s seen two episodes more than I have and is disinclined not to see any more, which SHOULD be OK, but apparently is not, at least for some tastemakers. (Hey, I haven’t seen either Game of Thrones (and won’t) or Downton Abbey (Bought the Wife the DVDs, so I probably will – eventually).

On the other hand, when there are so many movies, so many TV shows, and I have a finite amount of time and money, why CAN’T I at least look at Rotten Tomatoes, and get a sense of the critical mass of movie reviewers? Maybe I WILL go see that movie with the 12% positive reviews, though probably not.

There was this whole argument on one of those podcasts about finding the obscure films, it seems, for the sake of seeking them out, proving one is “cutting edge” or “outre”; it all felt a bit affected to me. I happened to have gone to a panel at FantaCon this month with Steve Bissette, Kris Gilpin, and Dennis Daniel, all of whom used to swap bootleg horror films, fifth-generation recording dubbed in German or Dutch. THEY are ecstatic that those films are now available in a nice Criterion collection.

Speaking of Mr. Byzantium Shores, he called BS on the Louis CK rant about smartphones. He may be correct about the inauthentic specifics, yet I found it oddly affecting theater. I think a commenter describing smartphones enabling “a sort of rude, in-the-bubble behavior” feels right. Or maybe it’s just my reaction to the people on the bus I see every day, about 2/3s of which are totally detached from the person sitting three feet from them makes me more than a bit melancholy.

Going back to that EW issue, one of the “best new shows” this season is supposed to be the FOX comedy Brooklyn Nine-Nine. Our local social media maven posted one of those flippant comments on Facebook, “Where have all the sitcoms gone?” to which a guy noted that he was watching one at that moment, Brooklyn Nine-Nine. She wrote back, “Isn’t that a drama, and an hour?” Well, no, a simple Google search would reveal that was a new “ensemble comedy about what happens when a talented, but carefree, detective [Andy Samberg] and his diverse group of colleagues get a new captain [Andre Braugher of Homicide: Life on the Street] with a lot to prove.” I thought his information (which I augmented) required an acknowledgment at least to him, but I guess that’s just my projection.

Oh, and I can tell you that many of the sitcoms are now on the Disney Channel. I’ve seen several, none of which are particularly good.
Lots of folks are upset that the Emmys had an individual tribute for, as one person put it, “that filthy drug addict Cory Monteith” by “that no talent Jane Lynch” (I actually read that, naturally on Facebook) while not doing so for Jack Klugman, who was one of my favorite actors, or for Larry Hagman. I thought Mark Evanier addressed this rather well, which is that these things are never “fair.”

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