Drama Doll

September 30, 2009

If you’re a female under the age of about thirty-five, you probably know about American Girl dolls; they each come with their own historical setting, a six-book series, multiple outfits and accessories, and the sound of about fifty million small and not-so-small girls pleading with their parents to buy them one. I was one of them, once; my mother, who was extremely pleased to see a doll with brown hair and eyes, had planned to surprise me with Samantha for Christmas, but I found the catalogue and, steeped to the brim with Laura Ingalls Wilder stories, begged for Kirsten because she was a pioneer and wore a sunbonnet. I got her that Christmas, twenty-one years ago, and still have her, along with quite a few accessory sets – bought one at a time, twice a year (birthday and Christmas). She was by far the longest-lasting and best toy I can remember having.

Mattel bought out the company about ten years ago and in addition to expanding their stable of dolls they now have modern dolls and “best friend” dolls, some of them being pushed harder than others (poor Kirsten – since her best friend Marta dies of cholera in Book 1, I don’t think she’ll be getting a shroud-wrapped companion doll any time soon). I hadn’t thought much about them for a while, but that all changed last February when, two months to the day after my daughter was born, one of their catalogues arrived in the mail. Coincidence? I like to think so. Anyway, a quick review brought me up to date – the “Girl of the Year” was named Chrissa (um … OK) and had two friend dolls named Gwen and Sonali. All of them, of course, retailing for $95 apiece. I got another catalogue a few weeks ago, which introduced their new WWI-era Jewish doll. So imagine my surprise, when noodling around on the Huffington Post instead of doing something more productive (like, say, bouncing a rubber ball off my living room for three hours) there was a piece describing the “controversial new homeless doll.” Another doll? What the hell?

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David Foster Wallace on suicide and the moral life

September 14, 2008

David Foster Wallace’s postmodernism was always about morality.

Whatever anybody said, all the Great Big American Novelists of our lifetimes have shared that itch. But for Wallace it must have been a fever. Morality was never below the surface of his art — even though the art was usually so dazzling that some people couldn’t see anything else.

To cheer me up after his wretched, untimely death, here is some advice he gave about literal and figurative suicide, from his 2005 commencement address at Kenyon.

The full speech doesn’t betray Wallace’s trademark floridity, the habit that’s going to be talked up in all this morning’s papers. Instead, it’s flat almost to the point of crassness. It’s a slap in the jaw. It’s worth a full read.

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Blogroll Addition: Jeff in Burundi

July 8, 2008

We seem to be having some sparse posting of late, but the summer travel season (including such things as vacations, business trips, weddings, moving, and preparing for new schools or jobs) is well underway, which is terribly distracting for our writers, alas. Hence, a blogroll addition to keep you distracted.

Jefferson Mok is a classmate from Grinnell who has just moved to Burundi to “establish a residential shelter for female child soldiers who need assistance to reintegrate into their communities.” Simple, yes? Especially as the sole representative of his organization. You can follow his adventures so far at his blog. He spent the last two years working with asylum seekers in Chicago, and is now going to try to help at the source. We wish him the very best of luck! I, for one, am somewhat in awe at the task he’s taking on.

Judicial Review?

February 8, 2008

I have more respect for John McCain as a candidate than I have had for a major Republican candidate in pretty much living memory. He has risked political capital for principle on a number of occasions, most notably in his support for campaign finance reform, and that’s not easy to do in politics for as long as he has been it. I still disagree with most of his positions, but I respect him.

That’s why I felt such a chill down my spine during his remarks yesterday when he became the presumptive Republican nominee for president when he spoke of his enthusiasm for judges who “take as their sole responsibility the enforcement of laws made by the people’s elected representatives.”

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Globalization is Green

February 5, 2008

[cross-posted from GreenCouple.com, where my fiancee and I talk about how we’re trying to live green(er) together]

The Undercover Economist by Tim HarfordI’ve stolen this counterintuitive title from a section in Tim Harford’s interesting economic book (and who thought that phrase would ever be used?), The Undercover Economist. The book as a whole is a great overview of economic thinking applied to a variety of topics, from finding a good used car to pricing coffee. Near the end, Harford attempts to debunk the idea that trade protectionism prevents globalization from damaging the environment. I find most of his arguments very persuasive, although there might be more arguments against globalization that he doesn’t cover. Hardford identifies three main anti-globalization arguments: a “race to the bottom,” transportation costs, and the idea that economic growth inherently hurts the planet.

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Britney Spears and the human spirit

February 1, 2008

I’ve masturbated to Britney Spears.

How many of us haven’t?

Nobody thinks she’s been just another starlet, I hope. There’s always been something different, something exceptional, something terrible about Britney. I’m not sure how many people have come to terms with that.

It’s not that her name was the most popular Web search in the English language in 2000. It’s that her name has never left the top 10 Web searches. It’s that she was the subject of more Web searches than any other woman in 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003 and 2007, when she was 17, 18, 19, 20, 21 and 25.

That’s more than fame, more than notoriety. This country has a profound and — I’ll say it — mystical relationship with Britney Spears.

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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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Human Rights: the Price of Doing Business in China?

November 13, 2007

Internet giant Yahoo! announced today that they were settling a lawsuit brought against the company by the World Organization for Human Rights. The suit was brought on behalf of several Chinese citizens who were arrested after Yahoo turned over documents revealing their email and I.P. addresses to the Chinese authorities. The suit alleges that at least several of them were tortured in prison, as well as receiving hefty sentences for publishing pro-democracy literature online. In the settlement, Yahoo has agreed to pay the WOHR’s legal expenses, and although the other details of the settlement are to remain private, Yahoo has stated that they include helping the families of the people who were detained.

Yahoo was called before the United States Congress earlier this month and roundly criticized for handing over the documents. In their own defense, Yahoo has stated that their Chinese subsidiary had no choice but to comply with Chinese law and hand over whatever information the local authorities required of them. “Defendants cannot be expected,” their brief reads, “let alone ordered to violate another nation’s laws.”

This case is hardly the first instance of this kind of issue for an American firm operating an internet business in China. It will surely not be the last. The involvement of the Congress and the attendant publicity over this particular case, however, make now an excellent time to consider the very important issues that these types of cases raise.

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How Much Is Your Idealism Worth?

November 11, 2007

As a current job-seeker, I am especially sensitive to the market for recent graduates. Since I’m looking at a lot of do-gooder organizations, I somewhat expect that wages in such positions don’t keep pace with business or government positions. But how much of a cut am I supposed to accept in order to do “fulfilling” work?

What got me riled this time was this fellowship, a one-year position that offers $20,000 to recent graduates of undergrad or graduate programs (no differential for the latter’s further educational experience) or to activists with work experience who would benefit from a research-oriented environment. That sum is to live in Washington D.C., a city where rent can easily equal what the organization is paying as a monthly wage. Unlike many other organizations offering meager salaries, this one doesn’t make it up in free housing or elaborate benefits either. I don’t mean to single them out, because they are by no means the only ones exploiting young people. This is long common and accepted practice in the competitive world of internships; the question is how far it will extend into the world of employment, of qualified people who should be able to support themselves.

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Diplomatic Draft to Occur in Iraq

October 27, 2007

The Washington Post reports today that due to foreseen shortfalls in the number of diplomats volunteering to serve in Iraq, up to 50 foreign service officers may be “drafted” into service.

Over 10% of the diplomatic core has already served in Iraq, which “has become the largest U.S. Embassy in history.” It currently employs nearly 6000 people and has only gotten larger since its reopening in 2004, says the Post.

The “recruits” are tipped to fill positions with the Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs), which were intended to be staffed by diplomats and civilians. When the relatively small State Department couldn’t muster enough employees, the Pentagon sent staff to work instead. The State Department has continued to seek volunteers for the positions, but nevertheless came up short.

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