Thursday, March 28, 2013

Pinterest: the Pinboard as Personal Museum

In his 1972 book Ways of Seeing, the novelist/art critic John Berger notes that home bulletin boards, or pinboards, on which people pin letters, snapshots, reproductions of paintings, newspaper cuttings, original drawings, and postcards, are like personal museums. Forty years later, Pinterest has become the personal museum of millions around the world.

Launched three years ago, Pinterest is a virtual pinboard that allows users to create and manage theme-based image collections of events, interests, hobbies, etc. Users create and categorize “boards” containing images of their interests, browse each other’s boards and “re-pin” their images to their own boards, or simply “like” photos. The boards can be as personal and specific as the individual creating them (“Hobbit Safety Videos,” for example), but the most popular Pinterest categories are Food & Drink, Do-It-Yourself and Crafts, Women's Fashion, Home Decor, and Travel. As of last year, 83% of the users globally were women. The age range, at least in the U.S., was generally 35-44.

Unlike other social media which emphasize social connectedness, Pinterest is, above all, a place for personal inspiration. It is, as Pinterest describes itself simply but brilliantly, “a tool for collecting and organizing things you love.” Nathaniel Perez of Fast Company writes about Pinterest’s vast appeal and how it differs from sites such as Facebook and Twitter:

With Pinterest, it’s the things we like that connect us. It's a natural propensity, one that mimics the way we behave with our connections in real life...

[W]hile other social networks have largely focused on static sharing behaviors (think “liked,” “stumbled,” “digged,” “read,” “watched” and “checked in,” all [in] a “timeline”), Pinterest is focused on fluidly bringing users together through visual discovery, while connecting them to the stories and authors behind “pins,” whether they be trusted friends, interesting strangers, or brands thinking creatively.

An American Christian’s Letter from an Iranian Prison

Thanks to a letter received by his family last week, new details have emerged about Pastor Saeed Abedini, an American citizen and Christian convert from Islam, who has been held in Iran’s brutal Evin Prison since September of last year and was sentenced in January to eight years in prison for “evangelizing and threatening national security.”

Written probably weeks ago on the margins of scraps of newspaper, it is only the third letter Abedini has been able to get to his family during his imprisonment. In it he gives damning details of the abuse he has received solely for his infidel faith:

I was blindfolded and a guard was holding my hand guiding me. He asked “what are you here for? What is your crime?” I said “I am Christian pastor.” All of the sudden he let go of my hand and said, “So you are unclean! I will tell others not to defile themselves by touching you!” He would tell others not to get close to me.

A nurse and doctor too told him the same thing when he asked for relief from the pain he had suffered from beatings. “In our religion we are not supposed to touch you,” the nurse told him. “You are unclean.” Abedini wrote: “She did not treat me and that night I could not sleep from the intense pain I had. According to the doctor’s instructions, they would not give me the pain medication that they would give other prisoners because I was unclean.”

He also wrote that he could not fall asleep one night because of the pain, as he listened to the sound of “dirty sewer rats with their loud noises and screeches.” At one point he said hello to his own reflection in an elevator mirror “because I did not recognize myself. My hair was shaven, under my eyes were swollen three times what they should have been, my face was swollen, and my beard had grown.” The pastor explained in the letter how he is trying to focus on forgiveness, and how he forgave the interrogator who beat him as well as those who refused to give him the pain medication.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Pink’s Mid-Concert Maternal Moment

Rock stars have interrupted live musical performances for all kinds of reasons – usually in ways that solidify their edgy image,  from Jim Morrison of The Doors stripping naked, to The Who’s substance-abusing drummer Keith Moon passing out, to Axl Rose of Guns ‘N’ Roses diving into the crowd in pursuit of a videotaping fan. But last week was probably the first time a rocker halted in mid-song to pacify a distraught child with a toy and a treat.

The Los Angeles Times reported that the singer Pink, on the Philadelphia stop of her Truth About Love Tour, was midway through an acoustic version of her song “Who Knew” when something near the stage caught her attention.

“Hold on, time out,” she said to her guitarist, who stopped. And then, to someone near the front of the audience, “Is everything okay right here? Is this little girl all right? What’s going on? Why is she crying? Why is she upset?”

Word came back that two people in the audience apparently had been fighting or arguing.
“’Cause there was a fight?” Pink asked. “You all are fighting around a little girl?” This prompted some booing from the audience, but she kept things calm and light-hearted.

Then Pink, a fairly recent mother herself, grabbed a toy and a snack from somewhere off-camera – possibly a bag full of baby gear like the one my wife takes everywhere – and offered it to the girl. “Honey, do you want this frog? Will this frog and this Rice Krispies Treat make you feel better? C'mon, c’mon, you know you want a Rice Krispies Treat.”

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Lamenting the Decline of Digital Etiquette

At Acculturated we’ve often expressed concern about the decay of language and of human interaction in the accelerating digital age. But two writers elsewhere last week made urgent pleas to hasten that degeneration.

In his online Slate article “You Say ‘Best.’ I Say No,” Matthew J.X. Malady confesses to being so inundated by electronic communications that the standard polite closings like “Sincerely yours,” “Cheers,” and any version of “regards” (“Best regards,” “Warm regards,” etc.) have pushed him to a breaking point. “It’s time,” he believes, “to kill the email signoff.” Such time-wasting niceties “are holdovers from a bygone era,” and today, “the continued and consistent use of antiquated signoffs in email is impossible to justify.” Emails, he says, have become more like text messages, “and no one in their right mind uses signoffs in text messages.”

But Malady didn’t stop there. Salutations are wasteful irritants as well: “Dear? Hi? Hey? Kill me now.” These courtesies, he argues, must become casualties of the urgent need to “streamline” our lives.

He anticipated “protestations and bellyaching from the old guard” who might point out that these conventions make communication personal, polite, respectful; forgoing them would be  like hanging up abruptly to conclude a phone call. Malady counters such “sticks-in-the-mud” with the weak and inaccurate explanation that we only say goodbye on the phone to indicate when the call is about to end, whereas “with an email, you can see the conclusion.” He preemptively raises other likely objections to his argument:

Shouldn’t there be an exception for formal business communications, or for one’s first-ever correspondence with someone? Aren’t signoffs kind of nice? Don’t they make notes more personal? Without them, wouldn’t email become too detached and impersonal?

Workshops in White Privilege

CNS News reports that the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction (DPI), the state agency that purports to advance public education and libraries, recently promoted materials urging its white VISTA volunteers to obsess over the “privilege” their race apparently confers on them.

AmeriCorps VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America) is a national service program whose members commit to serve full-time for a year at a nonprofit organization or local government agency, working to fight illiteracy, improve health services, create businesses, and strengthen community groups. DPI notes that its VISTA volunteers serve in schools that are culturally and racially diverse, and therefore DPI provides “multiple opportunities for training…that help the volunteers better serve the schools and communities in which they are placed.”

Part of that training apparently includes helping the white VISTA volunteers understand the degree to which they unknowingly have been “privileged” socio-economically by the color of their skin. Toward that end, the “VISTA Hub” of the DPI site includes a page devoted entirely to “Power and Privilege.” CNS News reported that the page included links to racial justice workshops and online tests where VISTA volunteers can “learn about your personal bias.” So begins the process of brainwashing the volunteers into believing that the invisible lubricant of a collective racial privilege they didn’t even know they had has greased their path to an imbalance of power and prosperity.

Monday, March 18, 2013


Recently posted the 2012 version of its annual list of top “cents-able” (I’ll pause while you groan) celebrities who still live relatively frugally despite their outsized paychecks. Not surprisingly, considering the source, the list of ten “frugalebrities” is weighted heavily toward avid coupon-clippers like actress Kristen Bell, American Idol winner Carrie Underwood, NBA star Carmelo Anthony, and Lady Gaga, of all people. But some of the other stars reveal how frugality has been deeply ingrained in their sensibilities by hard life experience.

Jay Leno, for example, despite owning a mind-boggling car collection, credits his smart money-management to his parents, who learned the value of a dollar the hard way during the Great Depression. Desperate Housewives star Eva Longoria similarly says that her father taught her not to take fortune for granted. Longtime Law and Order actress Mariska Hargitay confesses that

I constantly worry about money. I make a lot now but I don’t feel that way because I was poor and had no money for a lot longer than I’ve had it. As an actor, if this show ends next year, then what? As an aging woman, then what? I’m saving money to live on, for the future.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Real-World Bullying Puts Jennifer Lawrence’s Bullied Past in Perspective

The New York Post ran a piece the other day entitled “Jennifer Lawrence Reveals Bullying Past,” offering a bit of insight into the 22-year-old, recent Oscar-winning actress, Hollywood’s current “It Girl.” I expected it to be a compelling tale of how being treated cruelly gave her the drive to succeed, or perhaps, in an unexpected twist, a tale of how Jennifer herself bullied others. The truth turned out to be more underwhelming than either of those.

“I changed schools a lot when I was in elementary school,” revealed J-Law (I wish I could take credit for making up that nickname), “because some girls were mean.” The sole example noted in the article was her recollection that in middle school, a girl gave her invitations to a birthday party to hand out to other students – a party to which Jennifer herself wasn’t invited.

That’s pretty low, like something out of the film Mean Girls, but in all honesty, it’s pretty far down the scale as bullying goes; in fact, it’s so tame that I wasn’t sure why the Post even bothered. To be fair, this was only a piece of celebrity fluff, a feel-good tale of a young girl being snubbed by her popular peers in school and going on to become the biggest young star in Hollywood. But I couldn’t help being struck by its contrast to another news item from that same morning, about a teen named Malala Yousafzai.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

A Killer in the Wind

Maybe it was the dark house on the edge of town, the murderer waiting for me inside, but I thought about the ghosts that night, that last April night before they all came back to haunt me… - the opening of A Killer in the Wind

Andrew Klavan,” author Stephen King has said, “is the most original American novelist of crime and suspense since Cornell Woolrich.” If you’re not familiar with Klavan, you should be, and if you’re not already a fan, you will be.

He is the author of internationally bestselling crime novels like True Crime, made into a film by Clint Eastwood, and Don’t Say A Word, also a film, starring Michael Douglas. He has been nominated for the Mystery Writers of America’s prestigious Edgar Award five times, winning twice. Two of his many other books include Empire of Lies, which features – gasp! – an unapologetically Christian protagonist and an Islamic terrorist conspiracy, and The Identity Man, which explores themes of identity and redemption beneath its crime thriller veneer.

He has recently begun writing thrillers for the vast, impressionable YA or Young Adult audience as well, including the bestselling Homelanders series, which follows a patriotic teenager’s battle against jihadists (in a literary genre devoid of them, overrun as it is with vampires and zombies). That series too is being developed for film.

As a screenwriter, Klavan wrote the great little 1990 film A Shock to the System, which starred Michael Caine, and 2008’s One Missed Call, starring Ed Burns. As a thoughtful essayist on the state of the culture, he is a contributing editor to City Journal, and his articles have appeared in the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, the Washington Post, and elsewhere. An occasional guest on Glenn Beck, Hannity and Red Eye, Klavan also blogs regularly for PJ Media and his video series “Klavan on the Culture” can be found at or on YouTube.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Brainwashing Kids About Guns: the Sequel

Barely a month ago I wrote about a spate of recent incidents in which schoolchildren as young as five were seriously punished for committing no reasonable offense whatsoever other than triggering the anti-gun hysteria of politically correct, progressive school officials. Those incidents were just the beginning.

In arguably the most ludicrous and outrageous example yet, a seven-year-old with ADHD has been suspended from his Brooklyn Park school for two days because he accidentally shaped a breakfast pastry to resemble – according to his teacher – a gun. Apparently he was trying to shape a mountain out of it, but it turned out to be the school authorities who made a mountain out of a molehill. Playing with his food actually drove Joshua’s teacher to tears (“She was pretty mad,” he said), and she took away the pastry and tossed it in the trash. The father confirmed with the school that no students had been upset or hurt or scared, but the principal determined that “a threat had been made.”

Ponder that for a moment.

Joshua’s elementary school later sent students home with a letter citing the Code of Student Conduct to parents and guardians which declared that “one of our students used food to make inappropriate gestures that disrupted the class. While no physical threats were made and no one [was] harmed, the student had to be removed from the classroom.” This is curious reasoning, considering that it was the hysterical teacher who disrupted the class, and since the incident had no adverse effect on any of the students, there was no reason to remove Joshua from the class, much less suspend his education for two days.

The Hollywood Left Mourns Its “Great Hero” Chavez

Tuesday was a dark day for socialist totalitarians everywhere, including among the Hollywood elite. Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chavez finally succumbed to cancer, and a pair of Hollywood heavyweight supporters mourned him openly and proudly.

“Today the people of the United States lost a friend it never knew it had,” declared Sean Penn, Hollywood’s most dictator-loving actor, in a statement to The Hollywood Reporter (THR). Of course, the reason the American people were unaware Chavez was our friend is that he had always made it perfectly clear that he hated us.

Undeterred by reality, Penn went on: “And poor people around the world lost a champion.” This would be the “champion” who oversaw one of the world’s most corrupt countries and top drug trafficking sites, and whose capital has the second highest homicide rate of any large city in the world, while he amassed a personal fortune. He left behind a country wrestling with a housing crisis, high inflation, an electricity crisis, and rolling food and goods shortages, all of which were fallout from Chavez’ vision of 21st century socialism.

“I lost a friend I was blessed to have,” Penn continued. “My thoughts are with the family of President Chavez and the people of Venezuela.” If Penn’s thoughts were truly with the people of Venezuela, he would be rejoicing for them, since they are now rid of an arrogant monster, although Chavez’ number two Nicolas Maduro Moros doesn’t promise to be any better. Tragically, “Venezuela and its revolution will endure under the proven leadership of Vice President Maduro,” threatened Penn.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Why Have Kids?

No sooner had I cleaned my seven-week-old daughter’s poop off my lap the other day (don’t ask) than my two-year-old tried and failed to empty a jug of milk into a teacup she had perched atop a stack of art books (you have to understand what a book fetish I have to fully appreciate how traumatizing this was). Why, I tried to remember, did I decide to have kids?

In his new book about America’s declining birthrate, What to Expect When No One’s Expecting, Jonathan Last calculates that the cost of raising just one child, when you factor in skyrocketing college tuition and hidden costs like lost second-parent income, now tops $1.1 million. “Children have gone from being a marker of economic success to a barrier to economic success.” As if that weren’t deterrence enough, Last notes correctly that “to raise a child is to submit to a staggering amount of work, much of which is deeply unpleasant. It would be crazy to have children if they weren’t so damned important.”

By “important,” Last means necessary for the maintenance of a fertility rate that won’t one day lead us to extinction. But preservation of the species isn’t what motivates most parents to have children; they have them for any number of personal reasons – when they do have them. Pets now outnumber kids in America, Last writes, by more than 4 to 1: “Pets have become fuzzy, low-maintenance replacements for children.”

It’s hard to blame people for preferring pets and freedom. Putting diapers on babies puts a damper on a freewheeling lifestyle. To be a parent – a good parent, anyway – means that from Day One the child replaces you as the center of your universe. “Having kids is, literally, no fun,” says Last. “Researchers have been studying the effects of children on their parents for decades and the results are nearly always the same. Having children makes parents less happy.”

Israeli Leftist Targets a Holocaust Organization

On the left-wing Israeli website, correspondent Amira Hass posted an article recently with the unwieldy title, “On an ostensible Holocaust website, the U.S. right's opposition to Obama is the message,” in which she attacked the work of the Los Angeles-based Children of Jewish Holocaust Survivors (CJHS) for its pro-Israel and anti-totalitarian stance, two positions the left cannot tolerate.

Hass wrote that CJHS caught her attention a few months ago with an email containing a “hair-raising photograph of the train tracks to Auschwitz.” Hass, herself a child of Jewish Holocaust survivors, “assumed that this group that I wasn't familiar with somehow considered me one of their own… and I let myself read what the group had to say.” I’m pretty certain that CJHS does not consider Hass one of its own, since her work perpetuates the standard leftist lies about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In any case, what Hass then read on the site prompted her to attempt a withering response.

“On the site of Children of Jewish Holocaust Survivors,” Hass wrote, “the right wing uses one of the 20th century's greatest atrocities for political gain.” This disgusting accusation is a cynical ploy to gloss over the fact that it is the unholy alliance of the left and Islamic fundamentalists who want to diminish the historical truth of the Holocaust – or deny it altogether – for their own political gain.

“The first thing I learned” from the site, she continued, “was that I should be gravely worried by Chuck Hagel's possible appointment as the next U.S. defense secretary.” Actually, Israel should be gravely worried but Hass has nothing to fear, since neither she nor Hagel is a friend of our Middle East ally. Next, she read that CJHS is “committed to the promotion of Western values against the dual threats of complacency and the spread of Islam.” Hass found this amusing, claiming “that the social and biologically-based hierarchy, white supremacy, racial purity, country above all and man in service of the state and race are Western values.” If Hass considers those to be the West’s values, then she fits right in with the deranged Islamic fundamentalists whose genocidal agenda she is abetting.