Stop saying “recession”

January 31, 2008

This is a plea to anyone who currently holds a position in news broadcasting. You could be a news anchor, a writer, or even a person likely to be interviewed on economic issues. I am begging you, please, please stop saying the word “recession.” After everyone involved has taken five minutes out of their lives to carefully consider the meaning of the word, you may resume using it, on the sole condition that you do so correctly.

So, to be clear, let me take a moment to share the correct definition here. In the United States, the Bureau of Economic Analysis is responsible for tracking and officially measuring and reporting on the gross domestic product (GDP). This Bureau, one of a number of them under the auspices of the Commerce Department, defines the term as follows:

“A recession is a decline in a country’s gross domestic product, or negative real economic growth, for two or more successive quarters of a year”

Now then. Now that we all are working with the definition, as defined by the organization empowered by law in this country to handle these matters and widely accepted by macro economists, let us consider for a moment how this term might apply to an issue near and dear to my heart and likely to yours: the current status of the United States economy.

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What makes a role model?

January 29, 2008

Kickboxing Geishas I’m reading Veronica Chambers’ Kickboxing Geishas: How Modern Japanese Women Are Changing Their Nation, and I just came to a part where Chambers describes the unexpected reaction she got when asking young Japanese college women about their role models. Coming from the US, she had clearly been thinking of it as a very standard question, along the lines of “Where do you want to be in five years?,” and so on. But instead, she ended up writing this:

The most obvious question to ask, when you are reporting on women and their changing roles in society, is: Who are your role models? Even if the answer is pat – “my mother,” “Hillary Clinton,” “Maya Angelou” – it tells you something about the woman and how she thinks of herself. Perhaps because Japan is not, by nature, a country of individualists, the role model question gets a lot of blank stares. “I don’t have any role models,” a girl named Gaga tells me at Sacred Heart [University]. “My parents taught me when I was small, you can choose your own way.” Akiko, another student, says, “I think I don’t have a certain person, but an image: someone who’s independent, strong, and caring.” I wonder, too, if it is because the national culture is so private, that it is hard to develop the kind of admiration and deep-seated affiliation that one feels for a role model: be it a senior employee at your company or someone you see on TV.

I wonder how many women at [Canon executive] Masako Nara’s company know how important it was for her to be called by her maiden name and the deal she struck with a coworker to make it happen. How many of Satako’s female coworkers know how uncomfortable she was at the late night drinking parties that were once part of her job, and how relieved she was to get more international clients who prefer lunch to dinner for work-related socializing? My sense, again and again, was that women told me stories they did not share with their colleagues, or even sometimes with their friends. It occurs to me that in order for someone to be a role model, they must reveal not only their strengths, but their vulnerabilities. It’s in the interplay between the two, and how they overcome the latter, that we find something worthy of admiring.

-Chambers, 84

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With This Ring, I’m Not Sure

January 25, 2008

Every now and then a story pops up about purity rings (AKA chastity rings) – the most recent one that comes to mind is the English girl who wasn’t allowed to wear one at school and brought suit, saying it was a religious article (she lost). Different stories about the rings emphasize different aspects of them – since they’re not an “official” religious item by any means, the way they’re used seems to be fairly fragmented. Some girls buy them for themselves, some have them given to them by their parents, some receive them at creepily-overtoned father-daughter purity balls which got a lot of press a few years ago. How common the latter actually are, I have no idea, but somebody’s buying the rings – looking around various religious jewelry sites turn up a lot of designs, from the reasonable enough miniature cross to the metaphorically unfortunate heart wrapped in a ribbon. Many of them are accompanied by verses promoting purity which can only be described as dire, and they’re easy to rib. So easy, in fact, that I’m not going to talk about that angle of it.

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Revisiting Language Death

January 24, 2008

In hearing the news today, from a variety of sources, that the last native speaker of the Native Alaskan language of Eyak has died, I had some time to ponder where my previous explanation of my feelings about language death stories had broken down. One of the stories spoke of a person who had been working to “preserve” the language, and it hit me that what I really object to, aside from the usual melodrama from reporters who only superficially understand the issue, is the terminology that so often gets used, because it is misleading.

What the person in the news story had been working to do was not “preserve” the language, as I see it, but to “record” it. There’s perhaps only a slight difference here, and maybe it’s just in the way I’m defining the words for myself in this context, but I’ll explain why they seem different to me.

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What’s your escape plan?

January 23, 2008

I’ve been noticing stories on the news lately about the Iraqi refugees in Syria. The latest one I heard was about all the services needed to take care of that many people with no income. The one that really stuck with me, though, was from a while ago, talking about how so many of the refugees in Syria had actually been quite wealthy when they first arrived, but as the years have dragged on and they still feel unsafe returning to Iraq, their savings have dwindled. They can no longer afford to rent the large houses they settled in originally; they have sold many of the possessions they brought with them; any business they possibly once owned in Iraq has been taken over. They do not have the right to work in Syria, no matter how highly trained, so they have no hope of income. And these were the people who planned ahead and had means to leave.

Today, one of my friends sent me the link to this NYTimes story about Venezuelan immigrants to the US. They are moving to Florida in droves to escape Chavez, or at least his policies. My friend, who is currently living in South Florida as well, pointed out that none of these people are anything but upper class, especially given which Miami suburbs they seem to be settling in. Luckily, many of these people seem to have found a way into the US that allows them to work. They are the wealthy ones, the lucky ones.

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Eyes wide shut?

January 21, 2008

Taiko DrumThis weekend, we got to see a taiko drum performance. Despite some difficulty making it out the door in time, a required stop for gas, and driving in freezing rain turning to snow, we made it more or less on time. Unfortunately, we ended up with seats that left something to be desired. Entering when we did, we ended up sitting behind the sound board in the theater. Normally, this wouldn’t have been so bad, except that the person operating the sound board was also filming the performance, and spent most of it standing in front of us in order to operate the camera. Perhaps the reason she was able to spend all of her time filming was because it was a drum performance, and the sound equipment was completely unnecessary. It looked like it was turned on, but it wasn’t actually in use.

Even when they were playing quietly, the drummers were entirely audible even from the back of the theater. When they really put their weight into it, I could feel the sound rumbling through my chest and vibrating up through the floor into my feet. It was exactly the effect that people with very expensive sound systems in their cars try to duplicate at stoplights, without any of the distortion that usually makes a mockery of such attempts. As I sat, looking at the back of the camera operator and feeling the sound roll through me, I spent some time thinking about how I tend to experience these kinds of events.

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A Target Audience is Not a Genre, part II, OR, Introducing the Xela Awards!

January 18, 2008

spellbook.jpgMonday was a big day for children’s/teen lit geeks like me.

Monday, at the American Library Association’s Mid-Winter Conference, various committees announced the winners of this year’s Youth Media Awards. You might have heard of these– the Newberry and Caldecott being the most famous.

But there are other awards besides those–the Printz, Coretta Scott King, Batchelder, Schneider Family, Belpre, Geisel, Sibert, Alex, and others.

To say the results are surprising is an understatement. Many people will comment about how the books with most Printz buzz were all left off the list, how the Newberry has gone to a librarian 2 years in a row (conspiracy alert!) and on and on.

After last week’s post and resulting conversation, I’m most interested in the serious cross-level, cross-generation aspect to this years lists. This years lists feature the fact that the Caldecott winner (given for excellence in a picture book) was also named a Top 10 Best Books for Teens. Or the fact that 3 Alex winners (given for adult titles that will appeal to teen audiences) appeared on the Top 10 Best Books for Teens list. So, almost HALF of the top ten list has massive non-teen appeal as well.

But, it brings us back to the point, how to get adults to read teen books? Really good teen books that they’re going to really enjoy?

Simple! We need a new award. If the Alex award is given out for the top 10 adult titles that will appeal to teens, then we need the exact opposite, the Xela Award (I pronounce this X-ela, yes I know it sounds like a cross between a nice Amtrak train and a spread sheet. Work with me on this one.) The Xela will be given to the top 10 teen books that will appeal to adults.

Quite simple, really.

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The Hardboiled Roots of Modern Mysteries

January 16, 2008

I’ve always liked mysteries. Maybe it’s genetic. My parents and I pass around the latest volumes of various mystery series and devour them like candy. One of the longest-standing series that my dad has been following is the Spenser series by Robert Parker, and there are a lot of them around the house, just waiting to be picked up. In my post-graduate school period of unemployment, I read quite a few, and it’s clear that Spenser is one of the few remaining hardboiled detectives.

As the Wikipedia article defines them, hardboiled detectives have the following characteristics:

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Ingredients of Morality?

January 14, 2008

A recent New York Times magazine article, The Moral Instinct, touches on issues near and dear to my Unitarian Universalist heart; different ideas of morality. The article discusses how human beings are somewhat hardwired to have a moral code. However, just what that morality can entail can vary wildy from culture to culture, but most ideas of cultural wrongs can be boiled down to violations of a few different kinds of taboos:

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Blogroll Additions: Language Geeks and Truckers

January 11, 2008

I found a couple new blogs to add to the blogroll, and thought you fine people should be alerted to these fabulous new options for entertainment and procrastination.

First, the Cognition and Language Lab blog, which is highly interesting to me, and will presumably be so to all my fellow linguistics geeks as well.

Second, another blog by a Grinnell alumnus, On the Road (again), in which Mark Bourne chronicles his experiences as a trucker. We Grinnellians know how to put our liberal arts education to work, yes we do! He is also keeping a blog about the progress on building his bread oven, which is what the trucking money is going towards with the end goal of having a bread baking business. Mmmm, bread.