Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Mark Morford often has an interesting take on odd things.  His post today parallels some of my thoughts on the subject of reading.  Some time ago I listened to a news story which focused on the alleged illiteracy of the coming generation.  The report centered most of the blame on the internet.  The short, superficial stories combined with the opportunity to jump away from the text with the click of a mouse contributed to the shortened attention span of modern young people who got most of their information via the net.  However, from my own ruminations on my own reading patterns, I have to ask some other questions.  Morford noted that "Fewer writers of real talent are being discovered, fewer publishers are willing to take any sort of risk, and serious, literary-minded reading, that glorious pastime, that fine personal art, the immersive and transportive and beautiful intellectual fertilizer, appears to be giving way to the more addictive but far less nourishing hellbeast of new media and the Net."  I suspect that publishing, like most business, is basically risk averse and that the proportion of drivel to gems has always been high.  How many of the novelists who were wildly popular at the same time any of those authors now recognized as part of the canon of 'great literature' are widely known and enjoyed?  Once upon a not very long time ago, I would start a book and read through to the end.  Period.  I may have gotten bored with it.  The author may have had nothing new to say on his subject or s/he may have produced a poor novel with characters I simply couldn't stomach.  But I finished the book.  Now, I have less patience.  I don't waste my time on boring books or on books that have nothing new to say on subjects I am well read in; and, I don't waste my time on boring web sites.  

Another thought on that topic before I leave it: I have spent many years in the academic world working in different fields and at different levels.  Reading was my job as was conveying the essence of what I read to others.  I have been out of that rat race for ten years.  As a result I my reading habits have changed.  But I read as much as I ever did.

 In the category of 'everything old is new again' did anyone notice the play the notion of food diaries is getting.  The news last night featured a recent study showing that food diaries can help people achieve dramatic weight loss.  This morning I stumbled on a blog on the same subject.  I learned about food diaries at least thirty years ago when they were being touted as a way for people to focus on the emotional triggers prompting their eating.  Some time ago I remarked on how mindless most of our consumption (of food or things) is.  Why should it be so newsworthy that when we become mindful many of us don't consume as much?

Or, in the same category, the notion of a 'national speed limit' that has resurfaced.  Yesterday's post has some of the details.  The story made a tiny blip on the mainstream media--very tiny.  Does anyone remember the last attempt the Federal Government made at such a mandate?  It was after the 1973 Oil Crisis when OPEC members initiated their oil embargo against western countries who supported Israel.  The price of gas went through the roof.  We had long lines at gas stations and some states forced drivers to fill up on alternate days depending on their license numbers.  The national speed limit worked re-e-e-ally well.  I remember riding in a company van to a job in Denver (from Fort Collins) in the middle of a blizzard.  While our driver scared the s**t out of me by tooling along at 50 mph little sports cars were blowing by us at 80 mph.   Can anybody spell 'death wish.'  In Montana our van was passed by a school bus while our driver was breezing along at 85.  Drivers in western states argued that the speed limit simply added excess time to their commutes which often exceeded 100 miles a day, or more, round trip.  I knew college level instructors who eked out a living by teaching at as many as four institutions in three cities and traveled circuits between Fort Collins, Greeley and Boulder six days a week.  You can figure out their commuting milage and times.  I doubt that any return to a national speed limit will be any more effective.  By the way, four day workweeks, flex-time and telecommuting were touted back then just as they are being touted now.  As soon as the fuel crisis eased business went back to business as usual.

This quote comes by way of TPM Cafe today:
John McCain:

"Americans have got to understand that we are paying present-day retirees with the taxes paid by young workers in America today. And that's a disgrace. It's an absolute disgrace, and it's got to be fixed." [Transcript available from Congressional Quarterly]

The writer who brings us this quote asks with what funding Senator McCain would propose to replace the tax that supports Social Security?  I have a suspicious mind but I believe that the good Senator would be quite happy if nothing replaced the tax.  To be more accurate, he would prefer to keep the tax but not the program.  Let me also say something else--I have been working for 40 years.  When I was young I paid taxes that funded the retirees of that day and I have been paying ever since.  No one ever questioned the fairness of that proposal.  After all we all paid taxes that went to projects we didn't approve of and hadn't been specifically asked to approve.  It makes me very angry when politicians like Senator McCain propose dismantling a program I have been paying for before I get the benefits promised.  Let me suggest to him that if he wants to scrap Social Security, in the name of fairness, all of the money anyone still living paid into the system be returned to them with a modest, say 3 percent per year, interest. 

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