Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Speed Blogging, 1/21/2014. On Poultry Inspections, Guns And How Social Media May Affect Our Thinking

Contents:  Gun violence, sexual violence

1.  What could possibly go wrong by letting workers of the factory, rather than outside inspectors,  be in charge of more poultry inspections against salmonella?  It's a win-win!  Cheaper chickens in every pot, more money for the firms and lower taxes!

When salmonella next strikes, the politicians who fix the problem could get accolades and bouquets of roses for being decisive and caring.

I was unable to find more about this proposal, but it's a good teaching example of an odd political failing when it comes to prevention.  Politicians tend not to get punished for removing proper prevention, but they can get rewarded for fixing the problems their own lack of prevention created.  Say a politician spends money on making traffic intersections safer and prevents a lot of fatal accidents because of that.  In the next election cycle she or he may not get re-elected because of all that money spent on preventing deaths.  The prevented deaths are invisible, the money expenditure is not.

2.  Meanwhile, on educational institutions and guns:

 One person was shot to death on the campus of Indiana's Purdue University on Tuesday, and a male suspect was in custody, authorities said.

The frequency of shootings at schools and universities in the United States is fueling the national debate over gun control. On Monday night, a student was shot and critically wounded outside an athletic center at Widener University in Chester, Pennsylvania, near Philadelphia.
Last week alone, two students were shot at a high school in Philadelphia, another was shot at a high school in Albany, New York, and two students were shot at a middle school in New Mexico.
Gun ownership laws in the United States have come under intense scrutiny since December 2012, when 20 young children and six educators were shot dead by a long gunman at Sandy Hook elementary school in Connecticut.
In other gun news for just the last few months, we have toddlers killing themselves or other toddlers with guns and we have cases like this one, as well as the Renisha McBride case and so on and so on.

3. This is an interesting piece about the online use of the word "rape" and the difficulties in studying the meaning and prevalence of rape threats, say.  A snippet worth thinking about:

This is changing how we talk to one another. To have the attention of anyone at all, people are increasingly forced to push their communications – whether text or images – out of any shadow of subtlety. It needs to be the brightest star in a sky of very bright stars and busy astronomers with short attention spans. For Oxford neurologist Susan Greenfield, this is a world of 'yuck and wow'. She fears that it could be literally re-wiring our brains. Her warning was itself of course duly turned into a sort of meme, 'yakawow'. You can buy the t-shirt.

The use of rape on Twitter has to at least partly slot into this wider process where taboos – including rape - are being ruthlessly desensitised online. This is creating a more permissive cultural backdrop against which rape threats are made. The threat itself however remains undiminished in either its gravity or the harm it can do to the recipient. The worst-case scenario is that, desensitised to the word, we become desensitised to the act.
I guess the question I have about this is the alternative theory:  That the use of desensitizing language may always have been common among certain sub-groups or within certain conversations, such as in locker-rooms or bars, and that what we see on Twitter, say, is simply seeing that happen.

That's not necessarily the theory I support.  I suspect that the social media do have some impact on our ability to view the other participants as fully human, partly, because we are suddenly able to discuss things with strangers with whom we have no shared history, and partly, because talking to a screen makes it easier to forget that real people hide behind it.

Still, the possibility that our brains are being affected by all this is certainly worth some research.