News Roundup: Food, Culture, Taxes, & Telecommuting

There has been lots going on in the national and international news since my last news roundup. Allow me to walk you though the articles that most strongly caught my eye in the last month and a half. We’ll cover everything from economy, taxes, and class to food, arts, Ukraine, and telecommuting. I’ve tried to categorize them so you can skip sections that don’t interest you. As always, click the links through to read the full articles.

Economic Segregation & Equal Opportunity

  • Equal Opportunity, Our National Myth is an insightful opinion piece by Joseph E. Stiglitz about the near-impossibility of social mobility in America today. It’s really worth a read — I’ll leave you with his words to spark your interest:

“It’s not that social mobility is impossible, but that the upwardly mobile American is becoming a statistical oddity. According to research from the Brookings Institution, only 58 percent of Americans born into the bottom fifth of income earners move out of that category, and just 6 percent born into the bottom fifth move into the top. Economic mobility in the United States is lower than in most of Europe and lower than in all of Scandinavia. […] After 1980, the poor grew poorer, the middle stagnated, and the top did better and better. Disparities widened between those living in poor localities and those living in rich suburbs — or rich enough to send their kids to private schools. A result was a widening gap in educational performance — the achievement gap between rich and poor kids born in 2001 was 30 to 40 percent larger than it was for those born 25 years earlier, the Stanford sociologist Sean F. Reardon found.”

  • On the note of wide economic gaps, watch this short film about the distribution of income in the US. It is shocking and even a bit disgusting but necessary to know so we can try to change it.
  • And again, because of the appalling income distribution in the US, Why Taxes Have to Go Up (for the richest of the rich):

“As it happens, those taxpayers are the same ones who benefited most from Bush-era tax breaks and who continue to pay low taxes. Even with recent increases, the new top rate of 39.6 percent is historically low; investment income is still taxed at special low rates; and the heirs of multimillion-dollar estates face lower taxes than at almost any time in modern memory. […] On the spending side, Republicans are resisting cuts to defense. That implies brutalizing cuts in nondefense discretionary areas, like education and environment, which are already set to fall to their lowest level as a share of the economy since the 1950s.”

Food and Healthy Eating

  • This in an interesting piece from The Atlantic about how Americans spend money on food.
  • You’ve probably heard about how good the “Mediterranean diet” is for you. Well, it’s true! Yet another study as affirmed that a diet rich in healthy fats, vegetables, fruits, legumes, fish, and wine may prevent diseases and help you live longer. Mark Bittman writes this nice column about how the Mediterranean diet is really just synonymous with eating real, fresh food. In his words, “What’s new is all the junk that been injected into our foods and our diet since the end of World War II. What’s not new is that eating real food is good for you.”
  • Staying on the “real food” kick, Bittman also has a great piece in the NY Times Magazine from the weekend of April 6th. He examines fast food and asks if it’s possible to have healthy fast food. The answer? Yes, but it’s going to be tricky to balance fast with cheap with healthy.

“…there’s now a market for a fast-food chain that’s not only healthful itself, but vegetarian-friendly, sustainable and even humane. And, this being fast food: cheap. […] What I’d like is a place that serves only good options, where you don’t have to resist the junk food to order well, and where the food is real — by which I mean dishes that generally contain few ingredients and are recognizable to everyone, not just food technologists.”

Peace Corps & Ukraine

  • I will continue to advocate for the Peace Corps for as long as I live. My Ukraine experiences were unforgettable. This Huffington Post article, called “Not Your Parents’ Peace Corps” (that’s certainly true — and I would know! My dad was a PCV in Tanzania in the ’60s), mentions the impact that today’s PCVs can have, both in their countries of service but maybe even more so back at home:

“‘The impact of Peace Corps service lasts a lifetime.’ Living and working in villages and communities far from home, volunteers learn to see the world in new ways and to communicate in new languages, to adapt to new environments, manage teams, troubleshoot obstacles and organize large-scale initiatives. Put simply, the Peace Corps is a life-defining leadership experience and launching pad for a 21st century career.”

  • This is a wonderful short film of Ukraine, made by a couple who spent some time cycling through (mostly) western Ukraine. Sniatyn doesn’t appear, but you will see shots in Kolomiya, the next biggest city, and the beautiful Carpathian Mountains. This video made me miss Ukraine.
  • In not-so-chipper news, Ukraine continues to struggle to define its position between Russia and the E.U. If you’re interested in the political side, read this opinion piece.

“…the E.U. would like to sign and ratify an Association Agreement with Ukraine by the time of the Eastern Partnership Summit in Vilnius in November. For this to happen, the E.U. is looking for progress in Ukraine’s handling of three issues: prevention of selective justice, elections with international standards, and other reforms as defined in a jointly agreed Association Agenda. […] The most persuasive steps that the Yanukovich administration could take would be to free Tymoshenko and Lutsenko. […] An Association Agreement with Ukraine serves fundamental E.U. interests. It would also serve the interests of the people of Ukraine and increase the chances that Ukraine undertakes necessary political and economic reforms.”

Music & Literature

“Beethoven’s music is too often seen as exclusively dramatic, expressive of titanic struggle. In this respect, the “Eroica” and the Fifth symphonies represent only one side of his work; one must also appreciate, for example, his “Pastoral” Symphony. His music is both introverted and extroverted and it again and again juxtaposes these qualities. The one human trait that is not present in his music is superficiality. Nor can it be characterized as shy or cute. On the contrary, even when it is intimate, as in the Fourth Piano Concerto and the “Pastoral” Symphony, it has an element of grandeur. And when it is grand, it also remains intensely personal, the obvious example being the Ninth Symphony.”

  • Another NY Times Magazine feature article, this time on “The Epic Ups and Downs of Peter Gelb,” the Metropolitan Opera’s general manager. Worth reading, if you are at all interested in the classical music and opera world.
  • As an English major, I was struck by this piece on the value of teaching how to write through literature. I love this:

“The question “What was your favorite moment in a story?” is an easy entry point for both a student schooled in the finest prep academy and a science major straight out of a substandard district. Anyone can find a favorite line. Placing further pressure on those lines — Why did you like it? What changed at that moment that brought energy to the text? — can help students trust their instincts: they were on to something! It’s a less intimidating approach to literature, free from the burden of historical background and devoid of grad-school jargon.”

Women’s Rights & Telecommuting

  • I’m sure you’ve caught wind of the telecommuting debate (to allow it, or not to allow it?) sparked by the new Yahoo CEO who banned it. I completely disagree with her decision, both from my own experience and for many of the reasons stated in the article: “[…] numerous studies show[] that telecommuting workers are more productive than those working on-site. […] a work force culture based on long hours at the office with little regard for family or community does not inevitably lead to strong productivity or innovation.” There are, of course, good reasons for working regularly in an office setting amongst other people, but there are also many reasons for a company to allow employees some flexibility in where they work some of the time.
  • A smart opinion piece urging the UN to take a stance on violence against women. I particularly agree with this: “Violence against women must be seen as a human rights issue, and that has nothing to do with culture or religion.”

Just For Fun

  • Those of you interested in languages and word origins should look at this, “Visualizing English Word Origins.” 
  • A dense but worth-reading excerpt by the late philosopher Ronal Dworkin’s forthcoming book, Religion Without God.
  • “Diagnosis: Human” is an op-ed on today’s over-diagnosis of ADHD and excessive diagnoses of other disorders. The author argues that, rather than trying to diagnose every little thing — too much energy, depression from grieving — we should remember that we are, after all, human and are therefore allowed to — and should — experience human emotions:

“Ours is an age in which the airwaves and media are one large drug emporium that claims to fix everything from sleep to sex. I fear that being human is itself fast becoming a condition. It’s as if we are trying to contain grief, and the absolute pain of a loss like mine. We have become increasingly disassociated and estranged from the patterns of life and death, uncomfortable with the messiness of our own humanity, aging and, ultimately, mortality.”

 

What have you been reading lately?

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