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Weekly Link Round-Up

Hey, remember when I used to post weekly round-ups of all the links I posted across the Great Wide Internet?

Me neither. Let’s get back in the habit.

From Twitter and Facebook:

These cool dresses are made out of maps. Like, paper maps. Seriously.

Last Sunday was Mother’s Day, and here’s comic artist Kate Beaton’s tribute to her mother. Made me bawl like a little kid.

The Economist asks whether filibustering–that thing where idiotic politicians with no scruples read phone books out loud instead of debating the issue to prevent anything from getting done–is unconstitutional. Well, someone else asks it, but The Economist reports on it.

For the first time since that time when Europeans killed off all the Native Americans, Caucasian people no longer constitute the majority of births in the US.

This is a few years old, but it turns out the Mormon Church’s official stance on homosexuality is actually kind of open-minded. Too bad their main representation in the public sphere is that spoiled bully.

I did Model UN and debate in university, but I never got the chance to pretend to be the Federal Reserve of the United States. So jelly.

Facebook went public last week, and the Borowitz Report images how Mark Zuckerberg really wanted his “Potential Investors” letter to sound like.

Kate Hart is a novelist, and she put together some interesting (and depressing) infographics about the (under)representation of minorities in young-adult literature.

I’m looking forward to the latest reinvention of the classic Snow White fairy tale starring Kristen Stewart, Charlize Theron and Chris Hemsworth, and this themed music video by Florence + The Machine just makes it look even cooler.

This week, I wrote about:

That post by Ben Irwin about the true history of democracy in the US.

Inhumane landlords in the UK.

John Scalzi’s video game-based metaphor for privilege.

The possibility that jobs are becoming obsolete as we move away from a scarcity-based economy.

A comment you should read, if you ever feel like your life is just The Worst.

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A little perspective, please

The theme of this blog post, of course, was inspired by that famous Louis C.K. bit on Conan discussing the rapidity with which people adapt to new luxuries and then take them for granted, but the center piece of this post is actually a comment I found on Metafilter, summing up just how profoundly lucky we are in modern times:

I am by no means a rich man, but in comparison to most of the world and most humans who lived in any age preceding ours, I live like a king. By the mere accident of birth, I came to live in a country that bombards its citizens with comforts. I woke up this morning and put two cups of fresh, clean water into a metal pan and boiled it on my electric stove. I then stirred in some 7-grain porridge and some raisins and cooked up my breakfast. I didn’t have to grow the grains and process them and I didn’t have to grow the grapes and dry them into raisins – it all came from the store, packaged and ready to go! From the same store, I also obtained some butter without having to own a cow and some honey without having to put on an apiarist’s suit and squeeze it out of a hive. I put the porridge and honey and butter into a ceramic bowl that I did not cast and stirred it all together with a metal spoon that I did not forge.

Click through to see the whole thing. I re-read this comment a lot when I’m having a really bad day and it never fails to cheer me up. (I’ve exchanged a few emails with the author of the comment EatTheWeak and he is a total mensch, too.)

For another bit of perspective that’s a bit more sentimental, try this:

The relationship you have with the world is just like any other relationship. Every now and again, even if it’s pissed you off for no good reason, you have to look it in the eyes and say:

I love you.

Have a good Friday, everyone.

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Planned obsolescence

Here’s an interesting post from, of all places, CNN, about the possibility that our current understanding of employment such as it is is obsolete and outdated:

Our problem is not that we don’t have enough stuff — it’s that we don’t have enough ways for people to work and prove that they deserve this stuff.

The question we have to begin to ask ourselves is not how do we employ all the people who are rendered obsolete by technology, but how can we organize a society around something other than employment? Might the spirit of enterprise we currently associate with “career” be shifted to something entirely more collaborative, purposeful, and even meaningful?

Instead, we are attempting to use the logic of a scarce marketplace to negotiate things that are actually in abundance. What we lack is not employment, but a way of fairly distributing the bounty we have generated through our technologies, and a way of creating meaning in a world that has already produced far too much stuff.

There’s lots of sci-fi that already deals with the concept of a post-scarcity world–most notably Culture by Ian M. Banks–but it’d be interesting to see how reality copes. After all, something something undeserving layabouts, amirite.

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The easiest setting to argue about

Oh boy.

John Scalzi is a pretty popular science-fiction writer, known in particular for Old Man’s War and Android Dreams. He also runs a pretty popular blog.

Yesterday, he put up a post discussing the concept of straight white male privilege using an analogy of a video-game – a role-playing-game to be precise. Nerds aren’t immune to privileged and inconsiderate behaviour towards those who aren’t like them, and I thought this was a good way of explaining the concept:

Imagine life here in the US — or indeed, pretty much anywhere in the Western world — is a massive role playing game, like World of Warcraft except appallingly mundane, where most quests involve the acquisition of money, cell phones and donuts, although not always at the same time. Let’s call it The Real World. You have installed The Real World on your computer and are about to start playing, but first you go to the settings tab to bind your keys, fiddle with your defaults, and choose the difficulty setting for the game. Got it?

Okay: In the role playing game known as The Real World, “Straight White Male” is the lowest difficulty setting there is.

It was, well, controversial, to say the least. There were so many people accessing his blog yesterday that it actually crashed the server for a while. Ironically (or perhaps not) it’s mostly been straight white dudes who are outraged at what they perceive to be Scalzi’s condescension towards them, or otherwise “shaming” them for their privilege somhow.

I personally think it’s a fun post worth reading, and since I’ve also been embroiled in rather lengthy discussions about it elsewhere, I thought I’d repost some of my comments here as well.

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You think your landlords are bad

The UK hasn’t been having such a hot time of it lately, economically speaking. (Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know that no one really has.) Predatory landlords are just one of the symptoms. You think you hate your landlord? Read this article about the woman who lives in a shed, and other horror stories:

“We found a walk-in freezer where people have been living, paying rent to live there,” Wales says. “The record was one house with 38 people, of whom 16 were children.”

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That’s totally democratic

I’d never read Ben Irwin’s blog before now, but his post about the historical context of the US republic system and what it implies for our current concept of democracy is fascinating:

Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay — anonymously wrote the Federalist Papers. Their aim was to explain and defend this new form of government, which they insisted was neither monarchy nor democracy but a republic — a system of representative government.

Translation: direct democracy or “majority rule” was NOT what the founders had in mind because they knew that left to its own devices, the majority would invariably oppress and deprive the minority of its rights.

There’s a reason things like slavery, civil rights, and women’s suffrage weren’t put to a popular vote. There’s a reason why the U.S. Senate is structured so a minority of senators can thwart the legislative agenda of a simple majority.

It’s in the majority’s best interest not to use their power to oppress the minority — if not for more virtuous reasons, then for the simple fact that they may not always be the majority.

So good.

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A pattern of problematic behaviour

Here’s a post written by a woman who came across a question on a health history form that should have been easy to answer, but maybe isn’t (trigger warning):

I filled out my “Initial Health History” form for prenatal and birth care. You know: check the box if you’ve experienced [any of the following]. I got to this very interesting item: ”ANY unwanted/undesired physical or sexual contact.”

And I almost went blithely on without checking the box that means I’ve experienced it. Because nothing has happened to me, really, right? I’m supposed to feel lucky, right, given that I’m a woman in a culture where horrible things very often happen to girls and women? But then I actually thought for a second, and reality hit me.

The rest of the blog post goes into specific detail about the type of sexual harassment that she’s received in her life – and I have to say, it doesn’t sound too unlike the stories I’ve heard from my female friends. Highly recommended reading for everyone:

I’d never envisioned these little experiences as part of a larger pattern before filling out that form. They’re just so ordinary. My mother and stepmother and friends and, I’m sure, students have experienced all of this shit, and are continuing to experience it–and much scarier and more scarring shit, too. Many of you have, and do, and will. In many senses I am lucky. Yet despite my comparatively good fortune and my considerable privilege–which I totally acknowledge–the truth is that each of these ‘little’ moments in my life articulated what quickly became a powerful theme:

Your body is not for you. Your body is for men’s pleasure.

And you are at risk, all the time.

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Rest where the wild things are

Maurice Sendak, best known for the illustrated children’s story-book “Where the Wild Things Are”, passed away yesterday at 83. (NYTimes Obit.)

I’ve collected a bunch of things about him that I enjoyed, and that you might, too:

Stephen Colbert interviews Maurice Sendak. (I tried to find a working link for Canadians but it doesn’t look like Comedy Network has it. If you google for it there are lots of mirrors.)

NPR’s interview with Maurice Sendak following the publication of his last children’s book. It’s an audio link, but there are some highlights:

“I have nothing now but praise for my life. I’m not unhappy. I cry a lot because I miss people. They die and I can’t stop them. They leave me and I love them more. … What I dread is the isolation. … There are so many beautiful things in the world which I will have to leave when I die, but I’m ready, I’m ready, I’m ready.”

The Guardian interviews Maurice Sendak and covers Rupert Murdoch, US politics, and a less-than-fairytale childhood:

At 83, Sendak is still enraged by almost everything that crosses his landscape.

“I hate [ebooks]. It’s like making believe there’s another kind of sex. There isn’t another kind of sex. There isn’t another kind of book! A book is a book is a book.”

Here’s an envelope from a letter he sent a fan, full of his illustrations (via Letters Of Note):

Also via Letters Of Note, a practical question from a reader about vacations:

Tate Modern museum did a series of profiles of famous and influential people for a podcast, and here’s their interview with Mr. Sendak.

The best bit?

“Why didn’t you do a Wild Things 2?”
“Go to Hell.”

Rest in peace, Mr. Sendak. You have given us much.

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Pre-historic marriage

North Carolina, the state where I live, is voting on an amendment to decide whether or not marriage should be defined as solely between a man and a woman.

Now, same-sex marriage is already banned by statute in this state, so this isn’t at all about same-sex marriage. Rather, it’s about codifying discrimination against people who don’t fit the prescribed religious edicts of how people should behave. There’s lots of good discussion here about the many ways it would harm innocents in the state.

There’s two things I want to say about this. Well, three. (Okay, maybe four.)

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The War Against Women

I’m in a depressed funk that started last night and hasn’t stopped.

It started because I was reading about the current movement in Texas to defund Planned Parenthood. It’s not enough that abortion-providers in the state already aren’t allowed to receive taxpayer-generated funds…but even funds that are specifically earmarked for non-abortion activities “free up other resources for Planned Parenthood to spend on its mission to promote elective abortions“. (Also, Planned Parenthood is apparently a terrorist organization.)

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