Since the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 enshrined the 40-hour week, hours have tended to be taken for granted in the fight for employee rights. Unpredictable scheduling and “involuntary part time” have brought hours back to the forefront, putting them at the heart of a new national movement.
A 2006 essay by White House reporter Helen Thomas, who died Saturday at 92, on how the press failed to do its job in the run-up to the Iraq war. She recalls one exchange with former White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan:
“‘Did we invade those countries?’
“At that point McClellan called on another reporter.
“Those were the days when I longed for ABC-TV’s great Sam Donaldson to back up my questions as he always did, and I did the same for him and other daring reporters. Then I realized that the old pros, reporters whom I had known in the past, many of them around during World War II and later the Vietnam War, reporters who had some historical perspective on government deception and folly, were not around anymore.”
An investigation of the drone strikes that killed Anwar al-Awlaki and his 16-year-old American-born son, Abdulrahman al-Awlaki:
“One day in early September, Abdulrahman woke up before the rest of the house. He tiptoed into his mother’s bedroom, took 9,000 Yemeni rials—roughly $40—from her purse, and left a note outside her bedroom door. He then snuck out the kitchen window and into the courtyard. Shortly after 6 am, the family’s guard saw the boy leave but didn’t think anything of it. It was Sunday, September 4, 2011, a few days after the Eid al-Fitr holiday marked the end of the holy month of Ramadan. Nine days before, Abdulrahman had turned 16.
“A short while later, Abdulrahman’s mother woke up. She started to rouse his siblings for morning prayers and then went to wake him, but Abdulrahman was not in his bedroom. She called for him and, while searching the house, found his note. In it, he apologized for leaving without telling her and said that he missed his father and wanted to find him. He also said he was sorry for taking the money. ‘When his mother told me about the letter, it was just like a shock for me,’ Abdulrahman’s grandmother Saleha told me. ‘I said, “I think this will be just like bait for his father.”‘ The CIA, she feared, ‘might find his father through him.'”
Writer and photojournalist Deborah Copaken Kogan on her career and her experience with gender bias:
“It’s 1999. I sell my first book to Random House, a memoir of my years as a war photographer, for twice my NBC salary. I’m thrilled when I hear this: a new job; self-reliance; the gift of time to do the work I’ve been dreaming of since childhood. The book is sold on the basis of a proposal and a first chapter under the title Newswhore, which is the insult often lobbed at us both externally and from within our own ranks—a way of noting, with a combination of shame and black humor, the vulture-like nature of our livelihood, and a means of reclaiming, as I see it, the word ‘whore,’ since I want to write about sexual and gender politics as well. Random House changes the book’s title to Shutterbabe, which a friend came up with. I beg for Shuttergirl instead, to reclaim at least ‘girl,’ as Lena Dunham would so expertly do years later. Or what about Develop Stop Fix? Anything besides a title with the word ‘babe’ in it. I’m told I have no say in the matter.”
Small towns like Sugar Hill, New Hampshire, are fighting unwanted development by practicing “municipal disobedience”:
“Thus, Sugar Hill became one of dozens of communities nationwide—mostly villages but also the city of Pittsburgh—that have reacted to environmental threats by directly challenging the Constitution and established case law. The leading champion of this confrontational strategy—which has its share of critics, even among progressives who share the sense of desperation that is driving it—is a bearish 43-year-old attorney named Thomas Linzey. These skirmishes, Linzey believes, are the first steps in a long campaign to wrest power from corporations and strengthen American democracy. He refers to the strategy as “collective nonviolent civil disobedience through municipal lawmaking.”
Reexamining Vonnegut’s body of work as an adult:
“Rereading Slaughterhouse-Five taught me two things about the novel: how great it really is, and what it’s really about. It’s not about time travel and flying saucers, it’s about PTSD. Vonnegut never explicitly negates the former possibility, but the evidence for the latter is overwhelming once you start to notice it. Billy Pilgrim, whose wartime experience closely parallels Vonnegut’s own, does not announce his abduction to the planet Tralfamadore, where he is displayed in a zoo and mated with the Earthling porn star Montana Wildhack—with the strong suggestion that he doesn’t imagine it, either—until after the plane crash that replays, in several respects, his wartime trauma. Despite the way we flesh them out in our minds into the semblance of a real story—as Vonnegut surely knew we would—the scenes on Tralfamadore add up to no more than a handful of discontinuous fragments: a moment in the flying saucer, a moment in the zoo and a few moments with Montana Wildhack, amounting altogether to scarcely ten pages. The whole scenario turns out to derive from a Kilgore Trout novel that Billy had read years before (as well as sharing plot points with The Sirens of Titan). And the compensatory nature of the wisdom Billy claims to learn up there is all too clear. The Tralfamadorians see in four dimensions, the fourth one being time. ‘The most important thing I learned on Tralfamadore was that when a person dies he only appears to die. He is still very much alive in the past.'”
The U.S. is supporting the Honduras government in an effort to crack down on drug trafficking. But are we aiding and arming the wrong side?
“In some ways, it was just one more bloody episode in a blood-soaked country. In the early hours of the morning on May 11, a group of indigenous people traveling by canoe on a river in the northeast Mosquitia region of Honduras came under helicopter fire. When the shooting was over, at least four persons lay dead, including, by some accounts, two pregnant women. In Honduras, such grisly violence is no longer out of the ordinary. But what this incident threw into stark relief was the powerful role the United States is playing in a Honduran war.
“US officials maintain that the Drug Enforcement Administration commandos on board the helicopters did not fire their weapons that morning; Honduran policemen pulled the triggers. But no one disputes that US forces were heavily involved in the raid, and that the helicopters were owned by the US State Department.”
Exploring the life and work of the Czech playwright, politician and philosopher:
“‘I approach philosophy somewhat the way we approach art,’ Havel once confessed. Despite his lack of method, he took a reading of Heidegger and a handful of homegrown metaphors and set forth in his writing powerful ideas about politics, truth and human nature. Havel believed that under communism and capitalism, people are threatened by what he described in his 1984 essay ‘Politics and Conscience’ as ‘the irrational momentum of anonymous, impersonal, and inhuman power—the power of ideologies, systems, apparat, bureaucracy, artificial languages, and political slogans.’ He coined a word for this power, samopohyb, which his graceful and sensitive longtime translator, Paul Wilson, believes is derived from samopohybný (‘self-propelled’). Wilson has rendered the word variously as ‘self-momentum’ and ‘automatism.'”
A history of scientific misconduct and the investigation of Harvard scientist Marc Hauser:
“Three years after the seizure of materials from Hauser’s lab, theBoston Globe leaked news of a secret investigating committee at Harvard that had found Hauser ‘solely responsible’ for ‘eight counts of scientific misconduct.’ Michael Smith, Harvard’s dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, confirmed the existence of the investigation on August 20, 2010. Hauser took a leave of absence, telling the New York Times, ‘I acknowledge that I made some significant mistakes,” and adding that he was “deeply sorry for the problems this case had caused to my students, my colleagues and my university.’ At the time he was working on a new book titled Evilicious: Why We Evolved a Taste for Being Bad. In February 2011 a large majority of the faculty of Harvard’s psychology department voted against allowing Hauser to teach in the coming academic year. On July 7 he resigned his professorship effective August 1. Hauser has neither publicly admitted to nor denied having engaged in scientific misconduct.”
All over the world people are struggling for lives that are worthy of their human dignity. Leaders of countries often focus on national economic growth alone, but their people, meanwhile, are striving for something different: meaningful lives for themselves. Increased GDP has not always made a difference in the quality of people’s lives, and reports of national prosperity are not likely to console those whose existence is marked by inequality and deprivation.