Snark: to annoy or irritate

"Snark" has been in English language dictionaries since at least 1906, and Lewis Carroll used the word to describe a mythological animal in his poem, The Hunting of the Snark (1874). Most recently, the word has come to characterize snappish, sarcastic, or mean-spirited comments or actions directed at those who annoy or irritate us.

At first, this blog was just going be a place to gripe, but because it's more satisfying to take action than it is to merely complain, now most of the posts/reposts suggest ways to get involved in solving problems.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Recommendation: Catalog Choice

A few years ago, when I was feeling overwhelmed by the stacks and stacks of unwanted catalogs that arrived in the mail, a friend recommended that I try  
Like most people, I had ordered a few things from catalogs, which opened a floodgate of junk mail. Each year, the stack grew taller, especially as the December holidays approached. I hated to think of the resources that were being wasted. Within 4 weeks of signing up with Catalog Choice, there was a noticeable drop in mailings, which has continued. If you aren't already familiar with Catalog Choice, I strongly recommend that you check it out.
The steps are easy: first, assemble that huge stack of unwanted catalogs, then sign up at and begin declining. The website makes it easy to search by vendor name. You'll be asked to provide your name and address, as well as a bit of information from each catalog's mailing label. Even if the label doesn't contain requested information such as customer number and source code, you can decline it. 
That's your part of the process. Catalog Choice then contacts the vendor and requests that the mailings stop. Unfortunately, a few companies ("Woman Within," you know who you are) ignore your request, but the majority honor it fairly quickly. Be aware that if you place another order with vendors who sell their customer lists, a new flood of catalogs may result. However, renewing your requests through Catalog Choice is easy.
There is no cost for Catalog Choice's service, but they do appreciate donations. 
After you've signed up and declined catalogs, the website provides data on how your choices have benefited the environment. Environmental impacts are calculated using the EDF Paper Calculator.
Here's an example from my latest visit to the website:
TOGETHER WE'VE SAVED 634,601 fully grown trees
     YOU SAVED 6
TOGETHER WE'VE SAVED 264,283,734 lbs. of greenhouse gas
     YOU SAVED 2,129
TOGETHER WE'VE SAVED 636,485,603 lbs. of solid waste
     YOU SAVED 5,126
TOGETHER WE'VE SAVED 93,685,243 gallons of water
     YOU SAVED 755

Here's some additional information from Catalog Choice's website:  
"Catalog Choice's mission is to help people reduce unwanted mail, save natural resources, reduce clutter and take control of their mailbox. Since launching our free service in 2007, Catalog Choice has grown to serve more than a million people and thousands of companies.
We've expanded our service to help people control not only what arrives in their mailbox, but also to protect their privacy and personal information. Many companies work with us to make the opt-out process efficient and effective. Participating companies include catalog mailers, nonprofits, phone book publishers and other advertisers who use Catalog Choice to demonstrate best marketing practices and to honor consumer choice and privacy.
Catalog Choice is a nonprofit corporation based in Berkeley, California. We have a small, dedicated team and we use technology to maximize what we can accomplish for our members and participating companies.
We have worked in collaboration with The Ecology Center, National Wildlife Federation and the Natural Resources Defense Council. We are funded through tax-deductible donations, grants from the Overbrook Foundation, the Merck Family Fund, Kendeda Fund, Goldman Fund, Weeden Foundation, Mead Foundation, and Johnson Family Foundation. We supplement this funding with services for members and companies that help further reduce unwanted mail, protect personal information and certify best practices in the direct marketing industry."

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Embarrassed for Them

These women are embarrassing me! Naturally, I want to see more women in positions of political responsibility, but how are we ever going to be taken seriously with displays of ignorance such as these? 
The post below comes from the PFAW website, but a longer video of the debate may be found at:

When Sarah Palin took to the airwaves to spread her dangerously flawed understanding of freedom of speech, tens of thousands of activists joined PFAW in sending her copies of the First Amendment to help her get it. Now it seems that her protege, Christine O'Donnell -- the GOP candidate for U.S. Senate in Delaware -- needs help understanding the separation of church and state.

In a debate with her Democratic opponent Chris Coons (at a law school of all places), she challenged him to tell her where church-state separation was in the Constitution, and seemed absolutely baffled when he informed her that it was right there, clear as day, in the First Amendment. Even the audience gasped -- and laughed -- in shock.

Clearly, O'Donnell needs to read the First Amendment again.

Sign our petition now and we'll send Christine O'Donnell a copy of the First Amendment on your behalf!

Our goal is to send tens of thousands... or even hundreds of thousands of copies of the First Amendment to Chirstine O'Donnell. If she reads it over and over again, maybe the words will sink in and she'll finally start to get the concept of separation of church and state.

It was remarkable... Christine O'Donnell was chiding Chris Coons about his knowledge of the Constitution as she defended her assertion that "evolution is a myth" and her support for allowing the teaching of creationism in public schools. Coons rightly felt she needed to be reminded about the constitutional foundations for the principle of separation of church and state, at which point her extremism... or stunning lack of knowledge... or both became evident.

Christine O'Donnell's denialism extending from evolution to one of the bedrock constitutional principles on which our country was founded -- the separation of church and state -- is unacceptable.
-- Ben Betz, Online Communications Manager
P.S. You can hear her in her own words and then add your name to the petition here >

Dear Ms. O'Donnell,
As a candidate for U.S. Senate, you should display at least a basic knowledge of our Constitution and its First Amendment, which reads:
"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof..."
petition button

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Chilean Miners: Heroes or Victims?

This article appeared in In These Times, on Thursday, October 10, 2010.
Chilean miner Carlos Barrios leaves the Fenix rescue capsule. Barrios was the 13th miner brought to the surface on Oct. 13.  (Photo by RODRIGO ARANGUA/AFP/Getty Images)

14 Oct 10
3:49 pm

By Mike Elk

They are being viewed as heros, but some disagree with this characterization. The 33 Chilean miners trapped underground for 69 days have been treated like heroes since their rescue this week. They were invited to the country's Presidential Palace for a special soccer game. A Greek mining executive offered to pay for themto take an all-expense paid trip to Greece to just relax for a few weeks at beaches. Many other companies have made huge donations to their families.

"The miners are not 'heroes,' as they have been called around the world for surviving underground for over two months," NĂ©stor Jorquera, president of the Chilean mineworkers union, CONFEMIN, told the Inter Press Service. "They are victims." Many in the international labor movement have complained that news accounts have ignored the poor treatment of workers by the mining company, which intially refused to pay their wages after the miners were trapped underground on August 5.
San Esteban, the company that operates the mine, claimed they had no money to pay the workers who were trapped under the mine. In fact, the company was apparently so broke that it couldn't even pay the costs of the recovery. The government of Chile was forced to pay for a rescue that some say could cost anywhere between $10- $20 million.
As a result, the president of Chile, Sebastian Pinera, vowed to make major changes to the way workers are treated in Chile. "Never again in our country will we permit people to work in conditions so unsafe and inhuman as they worked in the San Jose Mine, and in many other places in our country," he said

It's important to note that working conditions in Chile are notriously unsafe. There were more than 191,000 workplace accidents, including 443 deaths, in a country with only a population of 17 million people in 2009, an astronomical rate for such a small country.
President Pinera set up a commission in August to write a report on workplace safety, which is due to be delivered on November 22. The president also announced the creation of a new mining agency to more strictly enforce mining safety laws and increase funding for safety programs.
But Jorquera, president of CONFEMIN, says this is not enough. He called for Chile to agree to the International Labor Organization's (ILO) Convention 176 on Safety and Health in Mines, like most industrialized countries around the world have done.
Whether or not Chile signs on to that convention will make clear how serious the country's leaders are about reforming mine safety laws. It won't be much of a surprise if the media, which often neglects workplace safety issues, quickly moves on after the rescue and ignores mining safety issues in Chile and elsewhere. But let's hope Pinera, and the rest of Chile's leaders in government, act now to ensure we never have to watch another harrowing subterranean story like this unfold.

Turn Off FOX in Public

If you've ever seen Glenn Beck's show, you know how paranoid, mis-
leading and hateful his rants can be. But it's even worse than that.
The extreme rhetoric espoused by Beck and others on FOX News is 
scary because it's easy to see how this rhetoric could inspire violent 
acts against progressives. Unfortunately, a new report makes clear 
that's exactly what happened in at least one near-tragic case.1
Three months ago, a heavily armed man named Byron Williams 
was on his way to kill people at two non-profit organizations in 
San Francisco when he got into a gun battle with police. Luckily, 
they arrested him before he could carry out his plot. Now, in an 
interview from jail, the "progressive hunter" has revealed that in 
fact Fox News' Glenn Beck was a major inspiration:
"Beck will never say anything about a conspiracy, will never 
advocate violence ... But he'll give you every ounce of 
evidence that you could possibly need."2
Byron Williams is just one example of the very real and growing 
danger of political violence from the far-right — and FOX's 
continued promotion of hatemongers like Glenn Beck only fans 
the flames.
That's why we've partnered with Color of Change to launch a 
campaign to reduce FOX's poisonous, dangerous influence on 
our nation. More than 200,000 people have signed the petition 
asking businesses and public places to stop playing FOX News. 
Will you add your voice?
This story is personal. Byron Williams came frighteningly close to 
killing our friends at the offices of the Tides Foundation and the 
ACLU — which is less than one block from CREDO.
While many Americans are aware of the ACLU, the Tides 
Foundation is an organization that most people had never 
heard of — until Glenn Beck started demonizing and spreading
 false information about them. Since Beck's show premiered, 
he has pushed conspiracy theories involving Tides on nearly 
30 episodes. During the same time period, Tides was never 
mentioned on other news channels.3,4
According to the interview with Williams just released by 
Media Matters, he was driven by a bizarre and false 
conspiracy theory involving the Tides Foundation that 
Glenn Beck pushed multiple times on his television show.5
It's stunningly irresponsible for FOX to continue legitimizing this 
baseless and incendiary nonsense under their "news" banner. 
Will you join us in asking businesses to Turn Off FOX on their 
TVs, and stop promoting this dangerous rhetoric in our 
Williams is the clearest example we have of someone who 
was motivated by FOX News to engage in political violence
 — but he's part of a consistent pattern of violence from 
far-right extremists that underscores the danger of the hateful 
rhetoric and misinformation that's commonplace on FOX 
News and the right-wing noise machine.6,7
Beck's program in particular is so extreme that 296 organizations 
have asked FOX to pull their advertisements from his show. 
(Beck's show is known as "empty calories" because it draws few 
advertising dollars but substantial ratings.)8 Yet despite this 
significant pressure from advertisers, and clear evidence that 
FOX News broadcasts have lead to real-world violence, FOX 
continues promoting hate and fear, packaged as news.
This rhetoric is amplified every time it's played on a TV in a 
bar, restaurant or other public business. We can send a 
strong message to FOX, and reduce the reach of FOX's 
dangerous messaging, by encouraging businesses near us to 
turn it off.
Thankfully, police were able to stop Byron Williams before he 
committed a massacre. But it can happen again — let's do 
Elijah Zarlin, Campaign Manager
CREDO Action from Working Assets

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Fix The Filibuster

Congress has left Washington and there will be no more chances to pass much-needed legislation before the election.
There will be no public option, no climate bill, no end to "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," no new tier of unemployment benefits, no end of too big to fail, no response to the horrible Citizens United Supreme Court decision and no end to the crisis facing the federal judiciary caused by the dearth of judicial confirmations.
There is one reason why, despite Democratic majorities in both the House and the Senate, Congress was unable to pass many common sense reforms — the filibuster.
The filibuster is an antiquated provision in Senate procedure that requires a 60-vote supermajority to pass legislation, confirm nominees or even perform some of the most mundane parliamentary tasks.
Filibuster abuse has gotten so bad that a staffer for Senator Jim DeMint (a Republican senator from South Carolina and the one most closely associated with the Tea Party) sent an e-mail to the offices of all the other senators explaining that Sen. DeMint would filibuster any bills he had not personally approved of moving to the floor.
This is what the filibuster has reduced the Senate to — an arena where moments of pique, inflated feelings of self-importance, the casual and callous disregard for the crises we face as a country, and political posturing can bring the business of the legislative branch of our government to a grinding halt.
Many progressives are frightened of filibuster reform.
Some defenders of the filibuster argue that we should keep it because the Senate should be a place for deliberation. If that's true, then the filibuster is exactly the wrong tool for the job.
There are over 400 bills that cleared the House and were not taken up by the Senate because of the filibuster or the threat of a filibuster, including many with broad bipartisan support. The filibuster hasn't led to deliberation in the Senate; the filibuster has led to debilitating constipation of the Senate.
Others want to keep the filibuster around so that a future progressive minority might be able to stop the excesses of a conservative majority. Even if you think that the Republicans will keep the filibuster in place when it's no longer to their benefit, it's hard to look back and survey the past history of the filibuster and deem it any near a net gain for progressives.
Look at what the filibuster has gotten us. The filibuster did not prevent the appointment of a conservative majority on the Supreme Court that was able to hand the presidency to Bush. And afterward, it did not stop the appointments of reactionary and partisan Justices Roberts and Alito to the Court.
The damage averted during the eight years of the Bush administration because of the filibuster is dwarfed by the amount of progress the filibuster stifled in the two years since President Obama took office.
The simple fact is that we cannot allow the Senate to continue in such a dysfunctional manner. We need it to start functioning again if our nation is to meet the myriad challenges we face.
At the beginning of the next Congress, the Senate will be able to change the filibuster rules with a simple majority vote. There are multiple proposals on how to fix the filibuster, many of which have merit. But what is clear is that the Senate must seize this opportunity to fix the filibuster.
Thank you for working for a better world.
Matt Lockshin, Campaign Manager 
CREDO Action from Working Assets
P.S. Some progressives oppose efforts to reform the filibuster because they anticipate times when the filibuster will be used by a progressive minority to stop the overreach of a conservative majority.
If you look at the totality of how the filibuster has been used, it has on rare occasion achieved tactical success for progressives. But on the whole it has proved a strategic disaster for those who fight for social change.
The filibuster systematically works against those who want the government to function, who want to see our legislators address problems and fix things, and who want the government to move us past old prejudices and hateful laws written in the bad blood of our forbears.
And given the craven, callous disregard of Senate Republicans for the multiple crises we face as a nation, given their utter willingness to place political ambition and partisan gain over the need to legislate, is there any doubt that they will have the slightest scruples in eliminating the filibuster when it's to their advantage?
Rather than endure additional years of dysfunction in one of the most important institutions of our Republic, we should address the problem on our own terms.
Take action to fix the Senate!
Clicking here will add your name to this petition to all current senators and candidates for Senate:

Click to automatically sign.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Pass the Paycheck Fairness Act

Senate to Vote on the Paycheck Fairness Act!
Before the Senate recessed last week to go home and campaign for
the November elections, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV)
filed a cloture petition on the Paycheck Fairness Act. This is a big
step forward for the bill and for pay equity. It means that the Senate
will vote on the Paycheck Fairness Act after they reconvene on
Nov. 15 following the election.
This big step forward was made possible by your advocacy! But our
work is not done! Now we all need to work to ensure that the
cloture vote, a vote to end debate, passes. We need 60 votes to
pass, so keep up that advocacy to ensure that the Paycheck
Fairness Act passes the cloture vote in November.
AAUW has been leading the coalition to pass the Paycheck
Fairness Act, which would close loopholes, strengthen incentives
to prevent pay discrimination, and bring the Equal Pay Act in line
with other civil rights laws. It would also prohibit retaliation against
workers who inquire about employers' wage practices or disclose
their own wages.

Take Action!
To urge your senators to support the Paycheck Fairness Act, just
click on the “Take Action” link in the upper right corner or copy and
paste the following URL into your Internet browser.  Then follow
the instructions to send your message.

AAUW’s Action Network makes it easy for advocates to influence 
Congress to act on issues critical for equity for women and girls. 
Help Action Network grow and be even more of a force in our 
nation’s capital. Urge your friends and family to join AAUW’s 
Action Network today. 

Friday, October 1, 2010

Not That She Can Read, But...

Sarah Palin needs to learn about the true meaning of the First Amendment. And that's just what our friends at People For the American Way are setting out to teach her.
Palin's recent statements about the Park 51 Islamic Cultural Center betray a contempt for the Freedom of Religion guaranteed by the First Amendment. And yet Palin has tried to use the First Amendment to stifle legitimate public debate that was critical of radio personality Laura Schlessinger.
Matt Lockshin, Campaign Manager 
CREDO Action

Dear People For the American Way Supporter,
It is clear from her recent statements defending Dr. Laura Schlessinger's egregious on-air racial insensitivity and attacking the so-called 'Ground Zero Mosque' that Sarah Palin does not know the first thing about the First Amendment.
Maybe she should read it again.
Our goal is to send tens of thousands... or hundreds of thousands... or with the help of Facebook and web users like you, maybe even a million copies of the First Amendment to Sarah Palin. If she reads it a million times, maybe the words will sink in and she might finally start to understand the concepts of Freedom of Religion and Free Speech.
Back when she was campaigning for vice president in 2008, Palin claimed her First Amendment rights were being violated because people criticized her rhetoric and some in the "lamestream media" questioned her scurrilous attacks on then-candidate Obama.
Now she has taken to Twitter to defend Dr. Laura Schlessinger's repeated use of the "n-word" on her radio show in a screed about how minorities are too sensitive about race and need to have thicker skins. Palin claims that Schlessinger's First Amendment rights are being denied because of the backlash against her remarks.
Someone needs to tell Sarah Palin that just as the First Amendment protects the right of Dr. Schlesinger to make racist, offensive comments, it protects our right to raise our voices in outrage. It's shocking that we'd need to explain this to any political leader, much less a vice presidential candidate from the most recent election who has since been since granted major spokesperson status in the media!
Send her a copy of the First Amendment now and hopefully a basic understanding of its clauses will sink in with repetition.
But it's not just the freedom of speech provision of the First Amendment that Sarah Palin doesn't comprehend — she's also unclear on the concept of freedom of religion. No one has been a more vocal critic of the planned Park51 Muslim community center in lower Manhattan. She has pointed fingers at Democrats, President Obama, "peace-loving Muslims" and others demanding that they take a position against a community center two blocks from where the Twin Towers once stood. One of the core principles expressed in the Constitution is the belief that people of all faiths, and of no faith at all, are equally welcome in public life. America betrays its deepest values when it says that minorities are welcome only if they know their place.
But Sarah Palin still doesn't get it! Let's help her.
And, please, tell your friends. Our goal for this one is to get a huge response.
Thank you for standing up for freedom of speech, expression, the press, assembly and religion — thank you for standing up for the First Amendment.
Ben Betz, Online Communications Manager

Truth vs. Truthy

From The Chronicle of Higher Education

September 30, 2010, 06:05 PM ET

Separating the Truth From the Truthy

Chronicle of Higher Education
An Indiana University web project is separating the truth from the "truthy" in political Tweets online.
The project—named "Truthy," after Stephen Colbert's descriptor for misinformation dressed up as fact—mines Twitter to analyze patterns in political discussions and makes the information available online. The software allows visitors to take a closer look at Twitter trends to spot data manipulation by tech-savvy special-interest groups.
"We're trying to study how information propagates online through social networks, blogging, and social media," said Filippo Menczer, associate professor of informatics and computer science at Indiana, who is leading the research. Truthy, he said, attempts to answer the question, "Can we put together our understanding of complex social networks and crowdsourcing to automatically detect the spread of misinformation?"
Through the site's database of Twitter memes—ideas passed from user to user by retweets or mentions, often signified with hashtags like #TeaParty or usernames like@LadyGaga—visitors can track how often a meme is mentioned by how many unique users as well as the volume of tweets over time. Truthy also checks tweets against a list of words and word clusters compiled by psychologists to determine a tweet's mood. Truthy can tell, for example, whether users are hostile or supportive of #GOP at any given moment.
Visitors are also asked to identify memes that appear to have been tampered with by flagging them as "truthy." This crowdsourcing tool will allow users to see where misinformation is being spread and will eventually help researchers develop algorithms to automatically identify Twitter abuse by identifying "truthy" behavior. "We're interested to see if we can get reliable data from crowdsourcing," Mr. Menczer said.
The site has also introduced a new way to visualize memes as they emerge and grow. Maps of twitter memes—like #GOP, pictured above—show interactions between individual users (represented by black dots) as they connect via retweets (the blue lines) and @replies (the orange lines). As various user clusters spring up around a topic, their activities are mapped by the Truthy software. In the #GOP example, Mr. Menczer said two distinct clusters—conservative and liberal—have emerged with each clusters' users parroting members of their group with retweets and talking about members of the other cluster through mentions in @replies. That's why you see two dark blue clusters connected by a matrix of orange lines.
Truthy was inspired by a study on Twitter bombs—floods of messages by a small group of users to manipulate trending Twitter topics—done by a researcher team at Wellesley College earlier this year. Accoriding to researcher Pagiotis Takis Metaxas, a professor of computer science at Wellesley, the study looked at the tactics of a Conservative group that manipulated trending topics on Twitter on the day of a senatorial election in Massachusetts in January. The study found that the political group started nine Twitter accounts just days before the election and monitored Twitter users who were posting about the upcoming election. On election day, the group sent @replies with disparaging comments about the Democratic candidate and a link to the group's Web site to 60,000 users before they were shut down by Twitter administrators. The Twitter bomb not only spread misinformation about candidate Martha Coakley, but the tweet also appeared in Google search results since the search engine was displaying real-time messages online at the time. "As we were looking through the data, we suddenly realized that there was some pattern that was trying to influence Google," Mr. Metaxas said.
Although he does not believe the bomb had a major impact in the election outcome, Mr. Metaxas said the group's attempt to influence Twitter and Google search should make internet users more wary of what they read online. "People who are not very astute to the way these things work may get confused," he said. "We need to have very good critical thinking skills to survive."
While Mr. Menczer said the Truthy format is not yet set in stone, he hopes that the Web site will stop political groups from "abusing the system and spreading misinformation."
"Ideally," he said, "this will disincentivize the abuse."