A New Kind of Debtor Prison
Nicholas Kristoff, the thoughtful and socially conscious NYT columnist wrote eloquently about what could be called debtors’ prison not long ago drawing attention to the fact that people who can’t afford to pay fines are jailed instead, a system that ensures they won’t be able to pay. Serving time puts one’s job in jeopardy, should one have a job because many of those who are fined are homeless, for example being fined for sleeping on a park bench. The system also places the children of single parents at risk, and can mean eviction for some. Still nation- wide the practice continues and is often used as a means for certain localities to raise money. But a few days prior to Kristoff’s column, the LA Times had run a similar article in this case drawing attention to the fact that the ACLU had fought and won several lawsuits trying to outlaw the practice. They have won in Richland, Washington, Biloxi, Miss., Colorado Springs, Colo. and East Pointe, Mich. We might all remember that the issue of jailing people who can’t pay fines was an issue in Ferguson, Mo, one the federal government made the city discontinue. The aim of the ACLU lawsuits is Continue reading
Ballet Shoes For Black Dancers
It’s usually difficult for whites to be aware, much less understanding, of the difference being black makes in today’s world. Ballet shoes may be a small example, but it is revealing of how easy it is for the society to ignore the needs of non-whites. Ballet is an art form based on tradition. The tradition favors white ballet dancers, and usually females. Slowly over time black dancers have made inroads both in the US and in the UK. Most of us now know of Misty Copeland and the Washington Ballet. Eric Underwood is another black dancer, an American who dances with the UK’s Royal Ballet. Because ballet shoes only come in fleshtones accommodating white dancers, he had to apply pancake make up to his. Fleshtone shoes allow the dancer to look natural, the idea is for the shoes to blend in with the skin. It takes up to half an hour for Eric, and other black dancers, to apply the pancake, some of it is lost during performing and since his ballet shoes only last 3 or 4 days, Continue reading
Spending on Others
Hard to If you want to be happy spend money on others. Psychology professor Elizabeth Dunn and marketing professor Michael Norton document all this in their book Happy Money: The Science of Happier Spending. They’ve of course conducted research and experiments and on a recent PBS program Elizabeth Dunn even spoke of living what she has come to believe. She and a group of friends are engaged in a project pooling resources to sponsor a refugee family. To these authors happiness is not spending on oneself, but on others. One may like spending money on oneself, it may make one happy, but the gratification of spending money on others is greater, which means that maximizing self-interest is not always an answer and altruism may not be as devoid of gratification as we might have thought. To someone like me who has been practicing meditation and the values it represents for years or to someone who agrees with the idea of Continue reading
Hard to believe but cockroaches have a redeeming side. We shun them, destroy them, hate them, but it appears there is more to them. Cockroaches can save lives. A transmitter can be attached to them and since they are small enough to go anywhere, they can easily be sent through the rubble after a natural disaster and relay if there is life. There are 450 species of them—more than we need I’m sure—and of those only 4 species can be considered pests. In some countries they are pets and are part of folklore. They have and are providing inspiration for scientists. The way they easily move and can use their wings to right themselves back up inspired one scientist to design a robot. The way their legs are hinged are inspiring another to design prostheses. They are being studied in medicine also since they apparently produce Continue reading
People Skills Wanted
David Like many I keep wondering if our use of technology is replacing human skills and making them redundant. The mere idea that this may not be quite so makes me, and hopefully others, stop and take notice. The idea comes from a paper “The Growing Importance of Social Skills in the Labor Market” by David Deming who is Assistant Professor of economics at Harvard, a paper being given a more public airing by being the subject of an article in the online site fivethirtyeight.com. The paper comes from research that points out that until fairly recently, one needed hard skills in order to have a job that paid very well, skills like those of engineering, or math. It is not so any longer, people skills are now needed. This doesn’t mean Continue reading
Not Victims But Warriors
David Kirp, a public policy professor at Berkeley, writes in a NYT op-ed about an anti-poverty program in Houston where they did something quite rarely done: They asked people in some neighborhoods with high poverty rate, what they needed. That he points out has not been the traditional approach. Neighborhood Centers, a Houston non-profit in existence since 1907, went about it differently. The credit is mostly due to the organization’s president and chief executive officer for the last 20 years, Angela Blanchard who says,” The people are the asset, the source of potential solutions, not the problem.” Their numerous one-on-one interviews and Continue reading
A 100-Carat Diamond
Sotheby’s New York recently sold a 100-carat emerald cut diamond for $22.1 million. The buyer was anonymous. Even through its picture on the BBC website the stone was remarkable and for its size was described as a rare flawless diamond. Although it set a record, it wasn’t the most expensive diamond, two years ago a pink diamond was sold for $83 million. Were these stones bought by and for a single individual or were they bought on behalf of an institution, a museum perhaps?
A few years ago I visited a diamond exhibit in a museum. I had never before then seen a pink or yellow diamond nor stones with such brilliance. Suddenly I understood why clarity in diamond was a sought after quality. And too I understood why diamonds have been the subject of sagas, adventures or been coveted and lusted after. I learned that their real beauty is not visible when one sees diamonds in jewellery stores’ windows and displays. It’s easy to imagine how the 100-carat stone would fit into an exhibit such as the one I saw, be its chief attraction, even adding to the lore, the history, the mystery of how carbon and time turn into the pristine rock we call diamond.
More than likely it was acquired by an individual. Then I, and I hope you the reader, begin to question. Oh no, not the right of someone to buy it, but the social good of one person owning a $22 million stone. If indeed it belongs to one person, who is or will benefit from it?
Pets vs Condemned Prisoners
The Marshall Project, a non-profit journalistic organization specializing in the criminal justice system, had a 7-question quiz comparing how we execute condemned prisoners and how we euthanize pet Continue reading