Follow-Ups and Reading Lists and a Poem

I'm caught up in long-form writing projects this week, but here are some quick thoughts and reading recommendations until I can return to the blog in full force:

  • I got a lot of interesting responses to my post on Siri and abortion access. A common critique was that it's crucial to catch problems like this early in a new technology's life cycle, before it reaches mass market penetration. I totally agree, but maintain that greater progress would be made for more women right now if half the attention paid to the Siri contretemps was funneled into building basic web sites for locating reproductive health services. For example, the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy has created Bedsider, which allows you to enter your zipcode and get a list of nearby clinics that provide affordable contraception. We need something similar for abortion.
  • Linda Darling-Hammond (on the left) and Rick Hess (on the right) are two of the smartest people in education policy. Here is their joint prescription for fixing No Child Left Behind, and for the federal government embracing a more "humble" role in school reform.
  • On the occasion of the Utne Reader downsizing, my friend Reihan Salam has a very thoughtful post on how small-ciruclation print magazines created "virtual communities" before the Internet. As Reihan notes, this was a big part of being a nerdy kid in the 1990s. And yes. I basically owe my life to small-circulation print magazines!
  • Speaking of which, the new issue of N + 1 contains delightful histories of Pitchfork and Gchat. Pick up a copy.

Lastly: My New Year's resolution for 2011 was to read a poem each night before bed. I failed miserably (of course), but in the spirit of the year ending, I've attempted to actually do this occasionally for the past month. Here is an old favorite, which I still find almost shockingly irreverent. But it's true, I think, nonetheless.

A Brief for the Defense, by Jack Gilbert, from Refusing Heaven

Sorrow everywhere. Slaughter everywhere. If babies
are not starving someplace, they are starving
somewhere else. With flies in their nostrils.
But we enjoy our lives because that's what God wants.
Otherwise the mornings before summer dawn would not
be made so fine. The Bengal tiger would not
be fashioned so miraculously well. The poor women
at the fountain are laughing together between
the suffering they have known and the awfulness
in their future, smiling and laughing while somebody
in the village is very sick. There is laughter
every day in the terrible streets of Calcutta,
and the women laugh in the cages of Bombay.
If we deny our happiness, resist our satisfaction,
we lessen the importance of their deprivation.
We must risk delight. We can do without pleasure,
but not delight. Not enjoyment. We must have
the stubbornness to accept our gladness in the ruthless
furnace of this world. To make injustice the only
measure of our attention is to praise the Devil.
If the locomotive of the Lord runs us down,
we should give thanks that the end had magnitude.
We must admit there will be music despite everything.
We stand at the prow again of a small ship
anchored late at night in the tiny port
looking over to the sleeping island: the waterfront
is three shuttered caf├ęs and one naked light burning.
To hear the faint sound of oars in the silence as a rowboat
comes slowly out and then goes back is truly worth
all the years of sorrow that are to come.

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