May 09, 2008


Caption: You'll put your eye out.

The theme at Goat Rope lately is writing for social change or social conservation, whichever is appropriate at the time. There are also links and comments about current events. If this is your first visit, please click on earlier posts.

El Cabrero had an interesting dream a few weeks ago. No, it wasn't the recurring one about trains and tunnels. It was about writing.

In the dream, I was given something that looked like a rifle but could take pictures like a camera. Point and shoot, just like a firearm. Then I found out it could also function as a rifle if I flipped a switch.

My first thought was that this could be really dangerous and the results could be tragic if you didn't know exactly what you were doing at the time. As the gun safety folks say, one should assume every firearm to be loaded and presumably that goes for every dream camera/rifle too.

(Full disclosure: although there are a couple firesticks at Goat Rope Farm and I can shoot fairly straight, I'm not a big gun person. I don't bitterly cling to them anyway...Sorry, I couldn't resist that one.)

((OK, I know there are some smirking Freudians out there shouting "phallic symbol!" That's fine, since I'm an occasional Freudian smirker myself, but it really didn't seem to be about that. Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar and sometimes a dream camera/rifle is just a dream camera/rifle.))

When I woke up, I knew right away the dream was about writing. Here's why. Writing for positive change (or positive conservation) takes different forms. Sometimes it involves directly attacking injustices, making arguments, etc. That would be rifle.

At other times, it's important just to capture an image of what is going on,tell a story, state the facts, present credible research that would hold up to critical investigation, or just accurately convey information. That would be camera.

Of course, there's some overlap. A good argument (rifle) should be backed up with facts and clear reasoning (camera). And sometimes just presenting the facts (camera) can help improve an unjust situation. But the message I got from the dream was that I needed to know what I was doing when I picked that thingie up.

There have been plenty of times when I've attacked policies head on in print (rifle) and I'll probably do it again pretty soon. But that isn't always what the situation requires.

For example, El Cabrero's beloved state of West Virginia just overhauled a major public health care program and the changes are confusing to lots of people. Not jumping through the right hoops can mean not being able to get some important services. I've just about finished writing a consumer's guide to the new system. In it, I tried to just state the facts as clearly as possible, keeping my opinions out of it. Yep, camera.

Doing research about public policy should be mostly camera as well, even if you have strong beliefs about what should be done. You want the results to be as reliable as possible, meaning that other people looking at the information would find the same things, and you want it to be valid, meaning that the conclusions you draw follow from the data.

The main thing is to know what you're doing when you're doing it.

HAPPY MOTHER'S DAY? The latest snapshot from the Economic Policy Institute points out that

In a selection of 19 countries with comparable per capita income, the United States provides the fewest maternity leave benefits in both length of leave and paid time off (see chart). This is considered separate from any disability insurance for which one may qualify. In fact, the United States falls two weeks short of the International Labor Organization's basic minimum standard of at least 14 weeks general leave. It is also the only country not to guarantee some amount of leave with income.

LABOR'S REVIVAL? This article suggests it's closer than we may think.

URGENT DUCK-BILLED PLATYPUS UPDATE. Their genes are weird too.

EVANGELICAL MANIFESTO. Here's yet another sign that the religious right doesn't have a lock on the opinions of evangelical Christians.

CONSUME THIS. In a National Geographic-sponsored survey of 14 countries, US consumers ranked last in terms of environmentally-aware buying habits.

MAGICAL THINKING. Ancient people sacrificed to appease the gods. We buy insurance.



Magmak1 said...

“Media-based communications are designed to satisfy four basic individual and social needs: surveillance –a scanning of the environment, as if by social radar; correlation—the editorial effort to make sense of the information obtained; socialization –the transformation of values; and entertainment.

Another set of distinctions points to the need for information for knowledge or pleasure, for a sense of identity and status, for connection to a larger society, and,alternately, for escape.

Another axis of communications distinguishes between those that serve intimacy and individuality, and those that reach out to integrate groups of people. The basic need for individuation and integration can be served by a variety of “media events”.

Elihu Katz et al., “In Defense of Media Events”, Communications in the 21st Century, John Wiley and Sons, NY, 1981.


“Electric speed, in bringing our social and political functions together in a sudden implosion, has heightened human awareness of responsibility to an intense degree. [The cultural, social and political meaning of national and international groups] can no longer be contained… they are now involved in our lives, as we in theirs….”

Marshall McLuhan, "Understanding Media"


“At home, we now have our own private faucet of “hot and cold running images…”. Many admirable features of American life today –the new poignance of our conscience, the wondrous universalizing of our experiences, the sharing of the exotic, the remote, the unexpected—come from television [and the Internet]. But they will come to little unless we find ways to overcome the new provincialism, the new isolation, the new frustrations and the new confusion which come from our new segregation.”

Daniel Boorstin, in 'Life', 9/10/71


“In the end, there must be a purpose to our journey. Human endeavor cannot simply consist of random acts and happenstance. There needs to be meaning beyond self that gives our limited days definition and direction. And only within that meaning can the judgment rendered upon our lives have worth.

Beyond individual achievement and failure, there is common purpose, shared and inescapable. It is not purpose derived from legislative mandates. It is genetic. It resides in every being because it is the continuance of that being. It is the sacredness of generational responsibility: to be given life and to insure that life passes on enhanced, cherished, protected.”

Paul Efthemios Tsongas, “A Journey of Purpose”, 1995

Davey Crockett said...

I just like guns . . . .

El Cabrero said...

Well, there is that.