12/16/2011 3:55:03 PM
What do you know about Santa Claus? He has a big, white beard; a jolly jelly-bowl of a belly; rosy cheeks; and a candy-apple red leisure suit. He keeps a stable of supernatural reindeer, probably somewhere in the vicinity of Norway. And, of course, he delivers Xboxes and ponies to well-behaved kids and coal and books to those that broke the rules too often in December. Most people have a fairly fond outlook toward ol’ St. Nicholas, but Scott F. Aikin and Robert B. Talisse of 3 Quarks Daily think he’s one of the most nefarious figures in America. Or, as they put it, Santa Claus is a “morally tone-deaf autocrat who delivers toys to the children of well-off parents rather than life-saving basic goods to the most needy.”
Let’s unpack Aikin and Talisse’s screed a little bit, and afterward you can decide for yourself whether you’re going to throw Mr. Kringle under the sleigh.
The two writers start from the premise that Santa is both morally and “somnically” omniscient—that, as the old ditty goes, he knows whether we’ve been bad or good and if we’re lying wide-awake in bed or if visions of sugarplums are dancing in our heads. Plus, he’ll break into our homes by any means possible (even if he must resort to the chimney). “In other words,” the scrooges at 3 Quarks Daily write, “Santa does not respect our privacy.”
You might say that Santa serves as a good metaphor for an ever-watching nanny-state. A scarlet-clad London bureaucrat, if you will. (Or, if you prefer, you can imagine Westerners as inmates of a Foucauldian Panoptican prison complex, with Santa Claus and his workshop hidden neatly in the observation tower.) By stacking the holiday gift-game with the moral incentive to be-good-or-forgo-presents, the goodness and the rightness of behaving well is cheapened. “Performing the action that morality requires is surely good,” they contend, “however, when the morally required act is performed for the wrong reasons, the morality of the act is diminished.” The promise of toys at the end of year spurs us to act out of self-interest rather than out of innate goodness. Aikin and Talisse go so far as to say that “the Santa myth undermines the idea that we should act on the basis of our moral reasons.” In other words, we’re greedy and we’ll do whatever it takes for free stuff—and then return to being despicable after the New Year.
Aikin and Talisse don’t pull any punches in their conclusion. “Santa,” they write, “is thus a moral torturer: He punishes those who are not good, and then imposes a system of incentives and encouragements that go a long way towards ensuring that everyone will fail at goodness.” And just in case they hadn’t upset everyone with their moral treatise, they remind the faithful that they’re failing their own religion by believing and accepting Santa Claus’ stranglehold on holiday tradition: “Christian parents that embrace the Santa myth make idolaters of their children.”
Like a child leaving milk and cookies out for Santa as a last-ditch attempt to prove their sterling character, Aikin and Talisse get in one final parting shot: “Not only does Santa Claus not exist, it’s a good thing, too.” Merry Christmas!
Source: 3 Quarks Daily
Image by DanCentury, licensed under Creative Commons.
12/15/2011 2:05:55 PM
The year was 1988. Japan’s Olympic Games went off without a hitch, astronomers found an ocean beneath the crust of one of Jupiter’s moons, and a small gangsta rap collective released one of the most memorable, most inflammatory songs of all time. “Fuck tha Police”—which was featured on N.W.A.’s debut album, Straight Outta Compton—prophetically criticized police brutality and racial inequality. The album dropped four short years before the 1992 race riots in Los Angeles.
Police brutality is in the news again, but this time it’s being levied against Occupy Wall Street protestors. The social atmosphere that led to the ’92 riots is different in many ways from our current distraught times, so it only makes sense to update the anthem for the new generation of disenfranchised protestors. Rappers Sage Francis, B. Dolan, Toki Wright, and Jasiri X recently recorded “Film the Police,” a call to arms—er, well, phones—reminding young protestors that police brutality is unacceptable. Twenty-three years of telecommunications technology advances have given ordinary citizens an instrument to document egregious abuses by law enforcement officers: Smartphones. Before I go any further, watch the video below:
The new version borrows many elements from Ice Cube and Co.’s version, borrowing its original beat and rhyme scheme, as well as lyrical themes. When B. Dolan says, “You got a weapon in you pocket whether you know it or not”—referring to a handheld video camera—it echoes N.W.A.’s aggressive, dissenting, we’ve-had-it-up-to-here attitude. Jasiri X raps about how wealth inequality and violence disproportionately affect black Americans, which is the same thing Eazy-E was saying in the late ’80s.
The emcees make clever use of violent language which, in my opinion, works far more constructively than N.W.A.’s pissed-off rhetoric. “Now tell me what you gonna do, next time you see the boys in blue,” rhymes Toki Wright. “You cock your camera back and point and shoot.” Although the lyrics seem to advocate the assassination of police officers, it’s clear that “shooting” is an act of non-violent resistance when juxtaposed with video footage of riot police mowing down protestors with rubber bullets.
I’ll save the larger discussion about hip hop’s de-politicization for another time, but it seems that the genre’s musicians seem to be taking a stronger political stance lately. If I could recommend one recent (and excellent) (and free) politically-driven hip hop album to check out, it would be Immortal Technique’s mixtape The Martyr. It’s, as they say in the industry, quite dope.
12/12/2011 4:25:24 PM
Kids these days get all the cool toys. Whether it’s a talking strip of bacon, a T-Pain microphone with built-in auto-tune, a giant inflatable Titanic waterslide, an animatronic kitten, or sticky bath-time goo, it seems that every absurd flight of a child’s fancy can be met. “Sure, it may seem counterintuitive,” writes Travel + Leisure, “but as anyone who grew up playing with a Slinky, a Squirmle, or Silly Putty can attest, it’s often the strangest toys, the ones that freak us out or make us squeal, that become our childhood favorites.”
But if you ask me, parents and toymakers these days don’t give kids enough credit. Given an odd-shaped rock, an empty cardboard box, an old make-up compact, or really weird bug, kids will entertain themselves longer than with a plastic action figure with multiple outfits. There’s something to be said for the classics, the timeless toys that transform in a child’s hand: the piece of string that becomes a magic rope, the soup pot that becomes a knight’s helmet, the couch cushions that become a house.
In a flashy consumer culture that finds new ways to add laser sounds and glitter (for the little ones) and wholesome educational elements (for the nail-biting parents) to otherwise innocuous toys, it was nice to read Geek Dad’s roundup of “The Five Best Toys of All Time.” Writer Jonathan Liu, who often reviews gadgety toys for technophilic parents, takes a step back and considers the essential components of a good toy. “These are time-tested and kid-approved!” he claims, introducing a list that includes cardboard boxes, mailing tubes, and dirt. “And as a bonus, these five can be combined for extra-super-happy-fun-time.”
His tongue-in-cheek description is nostalgic and refreshing. Here’s his review of one of history’s most popular toys, commonly known as “Stick”:
This versatile toy is a real classic—chances are your great-great-grandparents played with one, and your kids have probably discovered it for themselves as well. It’s a required ingredient for Stickball, of course, but it’s so much more. Stick works really well as a poker, digger and reach-extender. It can also be combined with many other toys (both from this list and otherwise) to perform even more functions.
Stick comes in an almost bewildering variety of sizes and shapes, but you can amass a whole collection without too much of an investment. You may want to avoid the smallest sizes—I’ve found that they break easily and are impossible to repair. Talk about planned obsolescence. But at least the classic wooden version is biodegradable so you don’t have to feel so bad about pitching them into your yard waste or just using them for kindling. Larger, multi-tipped Sticks are particularly useful as snowman arms. (Note: requires Snow, which is not included and may not be available in Florida.)
Sources: Geek Dad, Travel + Leisure
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