Sunday, April 14, 2013

Sunday Reading

Why Americans Are So Ignorant — Lawrence Davidson looks into the reasons, and it goes beyond Fox News.

moranIn 2008, Rick Shenkman, the Editor-in-Chief of the  History News Network, published a book entitled  Just How Stupid Are We? Facing the Truth about the American Voter. In it he demonstrated, among other things, that most Americans were: (1) ignorant about major international events, (2) knew little about how their own government runs and who runs it, (3) were nonetheless willing to accept government positions and policies even though a moderate amount of critical thought suggested they were bad for the country, and (4) were readily swayed by stereotyping, simplistic solutions, irrational fears and public relations babble.

Shenkman spent 256 pages documenting these claims, using a great number of polls and surveys from very reputable sources. Indeed, in the end it is hard to argue with his data. So, what can we say about this?

One thing that can be said is that this is not an abnormal state of affairs. As has been suggested in prior analyses, ignorance of non-local affairs (often leading to inaccurate assumptions, passive acceptance of authority, and illogical actions) is, in fact, a default position for any population.

To put it another way, the majority of any population will pay little or no attention to news stories or government actions that do not appear to impact their lives or the lives of close associates. If something non-local happens that is brought to their attention by the media, they will passively accept government explanations and simplistic solutions.

The primary issue is “does it impact my life?” If it does, people will pay attention. If it appears not to, they won’t pay attention.


It may very well be that (consciously or unconsciously) societies organize themselves to hold critical thinking to a minimum. That means to tolerate it to the point needed to get through day-to-day existence and to tackle those aspects of one’s profession that might require narrowly focused critical thought.

But beyond that, we get into dangerous, de-stabilizing waters. Societies, be they democratic or not, are not going to encourage critical thinking about prevailing ideologies or government policies. And, if it is the case that most people don’t think of anything critically unless it falls into that local arena in which their lives are lived out, all the better.

Under such conditions people can be relied upon to stay passive about events outside their local venue until the government decides it is time to rouse them up in some propagandistic manner.

How The NRA Got What It Wanted — Blake Zeff reports in Salon that Wayne LaPierre could get the last laugh.

LaPierreIt’s hard to remember now, but in the immediate aftermath of the Sandy Hook school shooting in Newtown, Conn., this country seemed serious about gun safety reform. President Obama visited the community and tearfully invoked Scripture and vowed real action. Hunting enthusiast and senator Joe Manchin (D-W. Va.) suggested he’d consider supporting an assault weapons ban. And National Rifle Association foe Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) called the organization “enablers of mass murderers” and vowed to wage war on it — and few rushed to its defense.

Then, somehow, things seemed to get even worse for the NRA. After a full week of silence after the tragedy, it held a press conference in Washington, D.C., in which its leader, Wayne LaPierre, inspired laughter and ridicule by supporting zero reforms to guns, aside from a call for more of them (arm teachers!).

But for all the mockery LaPierre’s speech elicited (and maybe even deserved), history may well show it to be a canny political maneuver. By effectively shifting the conversation far to the right, he also shifted rightward what constituted a “compromise” in the gun discussion. And ultimately, against all odds, his organization would emerge with a deal it could more than live with — in fact, one it had once publicly proposed, itself.

In other words, it is Wayne LaPierre who will get the last laugh.

The first thing to remember when it comes to the NRA and its goals is that — despite its carefully cultivated image as a hobbyist group for hunters and sportsmen — it’s far more like a trade or lobbying group for gun manufacturers. It’s the gun companies, after all, who largely fund the group. This is relevant because the imperatives of weapons producers are different from those of consumers. While polls show that gun owners — and even members of the NRA – are willing to support certain restrictions on gun ownership, these are not the opinions that matter. If the manufacturers (i.e., the funders of the group) will stand to lose massive profits from a given initiative, logic dictates that averting said measure will be fought by the NRA with brute force.

This is why bans on merchandise like assault weapons and high-capacity magazines will always be opposed so intensely by the NRA (though, in fairness, there are many gun owners who share the group’s vim in opposing these measures). It’s difficult to estimate just how much gun manufacturers stand to lose by having to stop manufacturing a chunk of their catalogue, but it’s self-evident to assume the number is not negligible.

It’s Not Just For Wizards Anymore — Turning Quidditch into a real sport.  Raya Jalabi of The Atlantic has the story.  (Now if they were to play it at Sunlife Stadium, I’d vote for it.)

Logan Anbinder, Matthew Bunn, Ahmed Al-Slaq“I’ve had my shoulder thrown out from an illegal tackle. I’ve had my lips busted open more times than I can count. I had a concussion earlier this year and I spent my first week of senior year with a black eye from a broomstick… It’s certainly not for the faint of heart.”

Amanda Dallas, a student at New York University, isn’t talking about rugby or dodgeball or even high-risk housekeeping. She’s talking about Quidditch, the sport of choice for wizards and witches in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books.

Dallas recounted her history of Quidditch-related injuries on the way to Kissimmee, Florida, where she’ll compete this weekend with her college intramural team, the NYU Nundu, in the Muggle Quidditch World Cup VI, the highlight of the Muggle Quidditch year. She, like an estimated 1,500 other college-age players along with 12,000 spectators from around the world, will descend upon Kissimmee with broomsticks and gusto, ready for the sixth installment of the magical athletic tournament.

In the fictional boy-wizard bildungsroman, Quidditch is described as “an extremely rough but very popular semi-contact sport, played by wizards and witches around the world.” In the muggle (or non-magical) realm, Quidditch has strived to stay close to its fictional conception. Athletes play the game with one hand firmly gripping a broomstick, itself comfortably nested between the player’s legs.

Most of the novelized characteristics of the game have stayed intact: There are seven people per team, three elevated hoops that act as goalposts, quaffles (volleyball-like balls, thrown through the hoops to score points), bludgers (kickball-like balls used to hit opponents with), and, of course, a golden snitch. In J.K. Rowling’s original, the snitch was a tiny self-propelled golden ball with wings that darted around until a team’s “seeker” captured it, thus ending the game. But in Muggle Quidditch, the snitch is a person, dressed in yellow, who has a tennis-ball tail. To end the game in real-world terms means to capture the snitch’s tail.

Quidditch is more than a whimsical expression of fandom, though. It’s an amalgam of different sports, from dodgeball to basketball to rugby and more, with more than 700 rules laid out in a 172-page manual. Hundreds of teams have popped up across the globe, 300 of which are officially-recognized members of the governing body, the International Quidditch Association. Thousands of college-age plus students clamber to participate. And many of those participants would like to see the game, which has only been around since 2005, achieve some sort of legitimacy as a sport in its own right.

Doonesbury — Their good name.

One bark on “Sunday Reading

  1. Re: ignorant Americans. Some of my friends pay no attention to politics, then scream and holler when something changes that they don’t like. I keep telling them that national politics will definitely affect them personally.

    Re: Quidditch. What fun! I’d go watch that.

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