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Dysfunction - May 10

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Texas House favors gas tax break

Jake Batsell, Dallas Morning News
Legislature: Prices would drop 20 cents for 3 months; Senate may not be receptive
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Gas prices are climbing, but the Texas House wants to make your summer road trip a little cheaper.

House members gave a preliminary blessing Tuesday to a three-month break from the 20-cent-per-gallon state gas tax, aiming to ease the pain during the summer driving season.

Gas prices have been creeping higher for 13 straight weeks, according to AAA Texas surveys. Last week, prices for regular-grade gasoline rose to $2.87 a gallon in Texas, with Dallas drivers paying a penny more per gallon.
Also Online

Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio, tacked the surprise measure onto a Senate gas tax collection bill Tuesday. He said a couple driving a pickup and a car could save more than $100 over the three months.

"It's real relief," Mr. Martinez Fischer said. "It makes a difference, I believe, in whether or not families will spend that weekend going to the coast or Fiesta Texas or Six Flags."
(9 May 2007)
Contributor Dave writes: "Here in Texas, you must burn as much gas as possible."


40 percent of babies watch TV, UW study finds

Paul Nyhan, Seattle Post-Intelligencer
Baby wants a bottle, and her TV.

Babies are glued to television sets these days, with 40 percent of 3-month- olds and 90 percent of 2-year-olds regularly watching TV, according to a University of Washington study released Monday.

These tiny viewers are further proof that baby TV is a booming business in 2007. Today, infants have their own 24-hour network, Brainy Baby and Baby Einstein DVDs, and a growing list of other programs made just for them. Many also have sets in their bedrooms.
(8 May 2007)


Infantile Liberalism
(Review of Consumed by Benjamin Barber

Russell Jacoby, The Nation
...Benjamin Barber, a political theorist and author of Jihad vs. McWorld, wades into the debate on shopping and advertising in Consumed. His is an ambitious book that seeks to define a period as well as to outline forms of resistance, which include a new type of global citizenship. A century ago German sociologist Max Weber attributed the rise of capitalism to a new religious spirit, a Protestant ethos of saving and hard work. That argument has yielded a small library of elaborations and refutations. Barber, who is not exactly a shrinking violet, seeks to revise Weber with an idea equally "provocative and controversial"--the notion of an "infantilist ethos." Once upon a time capitalism, driven by a Protestant spirit, "shaped a culture conducive to work and investment," serving nations and citizens, but today a consumerist capitalism, driven by an "infantilist ethos," "shapes a culture conducive to laxity, shopping, and spending," turning us into hapless shoppers and in the process gutting democracy. Not only have children and teens become a vast consuming market but adults no longer grow up: "Aging adults remain youth consumers throughout their lives."

But what exactly is the "infantilist ethos" that Barber offers as his contribution to the vast literature on consumption? "Infantilization aims at inducing puerility in adults and preserving what is childish in children trying to grow up." Unfortunately, this does not take us very far. Barber offers a series of what he calls dyads that "capture infantilization": easy over hard, simple over complex and fast over slow.

...The genius of capitalism turns the simple and easy--meals, relationships, joy--into things complicated and hard; it commodifies all of life. With a click of the mouse and a credit card number it also offers instant pleasures. What once could be done outside the market--for instance, games and sports--now requires money and purchases. "Infantilization" may actually signal the demise of the infant. Adult fashion and sexuality now encompass children and preteens. This suggests not the triumph of the infant but the triumph of adult marketing.

Infantilization, for Barber, is a catch-phrase that he does not really analyze. Rather, he turns to what he calls "affiliated ideologies" of privatization, branding and total marketing, which promote hyperconsumerism. Here, where Barber feels more at home, he ranges far and wide; he reviews the fetish of everything private--housing, roads, schools, security--and the suspicion of everything public. He surveys the omnipresence of brands and "lifestyle" advertising in American life. He outlines the supremacy of the market. But while Barber is a thoughtful guide, he is not an especially incisive one, and often the drone of the political science professor takes over
(2 May 2007)

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