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15 Years After Columbine, How “Never Again” Became “Oh, Well”

Columbine

The Article: 15 Years After Columbine, How “Never Again” Became “Oh, Well” by Ben Dreyfuss in Mother Jones.

The Text: On April 20, 1999, two teenagers walked into a suburban high school outside of Denver and shot 13 people to death. The massacre at Columbine was not the first mass shooting in America. It was not the first mass shooting at an American school. Indeed, Peter Jennings began the news that night, “The reaction of so many people today was ‘Oh no, not again.'” But Columbine was different. It became a national trauma in a way the others hadn’t. Yes, it was the deadliest American school shooting on record at the time—though it is no longer—but what really amplified its significance was the fact it was the first mass shooting that played out in real time on television. The shootings began at 11:19 a.m. By noon, local television stations had broken into regular programming with uninterrupted media coverage. Millions of people across the country turned on CNN and watched the story develop.

Here’s how America watched the chaos of Columbine: There were reports of a shooting and it was at a school and the body count began going up and witnesses said they were two shooters with shotguns and rifles and pistols and there had been an explosion across town and it had been a diversion maybe and pipe bombs, something about pipe bombs, and the body count kept rising, and booby traps, and then Clinton gave a speech and then the shooters were in a mafia that wore trench coats and maybe there were more than two and then, no, there were only two and they were dead and the bomb squad finished the initial sweep of the building at 4:45 p.m. and it was over, but not really because then there was the CCTV footage, the witness interviews, the search for motive, they had been bowling, they had been bullied, they had said something about Hitler and they listened to Marilyn Manson and they wanted to one up Timothy McVeigh and What Does It All Mean?

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The Meaning Of “Haha” And “LOL”

Texting

The Article: ‘Haha’ and ‘LOL': Are texting’s staples simple laziness or signs of social desperation? by Michael Krikorian in The LA Times.

The Text: Last week I sent a text message to a friend. A Hollywood business meeting I had high hopes for had been suddenly “postponed.”

“Everybody canceled except me,” I texted.

She texted back, “Haha.”

What’s so funny about it, I wondered? Where’s the haha in my disappointment? My text was more sad than funny; her text steamed me. Dismissed twice.

“Haha” and its partner, “LOL,” are texting’s go-to replies, a vaguely complimentary, vaguely condescending way to acknowledge a text has been received.

I once wrote about the overuse of the superlative “amazing,” and, predictably, almost everyone I knew who read the piece told me it was an “amazing” article. Haha. Good one. LOL.

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The White Tourist’s Burden

Voluntourism

The Article: The White Tourist’s Burden by Rafia Zakaria in Al Jazeera.

The Text: My friend Jack likes to tell his favorite story about a summer he spent volunteering in Colombia. He recounts that story anytime he’s handed the opportunity, at parties, lunch meetings and airports. He highlights varying facets of the story on different occasions — the snake he found in his tent, his camaraderie with the locals and his skills at haggling. The message to his audience is clear: I chose hardship and survived it.

If designer clothes and fancy cars signal material status, his story of a deliberate embrace of poverty and its discomforts signals superiority of character. As summer looms, many Americans — college students, retirees and others who stand at the cusp of life changes — will make similar choices in search of transformational experiences. An industry exists to make these easier to make: the voluntourism business.

A voluntourist is someone like Jack, who wishes to combine exotic vacation travel with volunteer work. For anyone interested in being one, a dizzying array of choices awaits, from building schools in Uganda or houses in Haiti to hugging orphans in Bali. In all of them, the operational equation is the same: wealthy Westerners can do a little good, experience something that their affluent lives do not offer, and, as in Jack’s case, have a story to tell that places them in the ranks of the kindhearted and worldly wise.

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Why Corporations Fail To Do The Right Thing

Oil Spill

The Article: Why Corporations Fail to Do the Right Thing by Christine Bader in The Atlantic.

The Text: Four years ago yesterday, the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded, killing 11 men and spilling thousands of barrels of oil into the Gulf. This Thursday is the first anniversary of the Rana Plaza collapse in Bangladesh, which killed more than 1,100 garment workers.

What has happened in the time since these disasters? BP was barred from drilling in U.S. deepwater—until last month. Western clothing brands are upgrading Bangladeshi factories, but the fundamentals of their business haven’t changed: Brands outsource production to factories serving multiple clients in low-wage, low-regulation countries (not just Bangladesh).

The lack of fundamental change in these industries—and others, such as financial services after the 2008 crisis—suggests disasters like these are bound to happen again.

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Federal Prison Population Has Increased 800% In 30 Years

Prison Inmates

The Article: Feds to Reconsider Harsh Prison Terms for Drug Offenders by Sarah Childress in PBS.

The Text: The federal prison population has expanded by nearly 800 percent in the past 30 years, spurred in part by the increasing use of tougher sentences applied to nonviolent drug crimes.

Now there’s a growing movement to scale it back. On Thursday, the U.S. Sentencing Commission, an independent federal agency, plans to vote on an amendment to sentencing guidelines that could ultimately begin to winnow the federal prison population, nearly half of whom are people convicted of drug offenses.

The amendment is part of a bipartisan push away from America’s addiction to incarceration, which prison reform experts say costs far too much, not only in dollars — $80 billion a year in 2010 — but also in the devastation primarily of African-American communities, who have been disproportionately caught up in the system.

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