Two Left Feet


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Monday, September 30, 2002

[Jean]

Operations in Afghanistan are eerily similar to those that took place in Vietnam not long ago, and I'm guessing will be just about as effective. Link via Cursor.


Sunday, September 29, 2002

[Simon]

The Nation writes an open letter to Congress. A highlight (go read the whole thing though):

On April 4, 1967, as the war in Vietnam was reaching its full fury, Martin Luther King Jr. said, "A time comes when silence is betrayal." And he said, "Some of us who have already begun to break the silence of the night have found that the calling to speak is often a vocation of agony, but we must speak. We must speak with all the humility that is appropriate to our limited vision, but we must speak."

Now the time to speak has come again. We urge you to speak--and, when the time comes, to vote--against the war on Iraq.

In reaction to this open letter, Ampersand has started a BlogBurst. He suggests that all who oppose a war on Iraq write letters to their congresspeople (congresspersons?) and/or to their local newspapers, post the letters to their blogs, and let him know so that he can list the letters on a central webpage. The post describing the idea is here. Assuming I am not crushed by masses of evil classwork, I'll definitely participate.


Saturday, September 28, 2002

[Jean]

Here's an interesting thought:


"To blame greedy capitalists, big business, complicit politicians, and bureaucratic insouciance for the worsening environmental malaise seemed too facile- as well as too fashionable. The causes of the environmental crisis were diffuse, insidious, and synergistic. It was rooted in our whole way of doing things- modern technology and our basic values- humanism and the summon bonum of human happiness, defined as pleasure and measured by money and material accumulation...Anything short of a philosophical overhaul of prevailing attitudes and values toward nature seemed then, as now, to treat the symptoms of the maladaption of global civilization to the planet- not the disease itself". - J. Baird Callicott

I've been thinking a lot about disconnection in relation to this quote lately, and I'm starting to believe that part of our problem has to do with our disconnection from nature, from our history, and from each other.

First of all, I don't think that people are really rooted in their natural environments any more; that is, they have no idea which animals and plants are indigenous to their area or what the cycles of the moon are or any sort of knowledge even beginning to resemble that sort of thing. A person living in the United States not long ago would not have been able to survive without such knowledge. Now, it seems that we can carry on without it, but I'm not sure we're carrying on well. I can't help but wonder if the depression and anxiety that seems so widespread in our culture today might have something to do with the loss of a sense of place and belonging, and with the lack of the sense of being rooted in the land.

I also believe that if people had knowledge, in particular, recent knowledge, of the history of our country, arguments about the possible war with Iraq might be a bit more reasonable. If people had real understanding of the US's role in installing Saddam Hussein and selling him weapons in the first place, maybe fewer people would be so gung-ho about attacking Iraq. As things stand, I get the impression that everyone lives from moment to moment, making judgements about the situation at hand, with no thoughts about how it came to be. It seems that people are not rooted in the events of the past and consequently have little respect for the future. Maybe people would be more rooted in the past if the history we learn in school had more to do with facts and less to do with wishy-washy patriotism, but that's the subject for another post.

Finally, people today seem disconnected from each other, and consequently from their human communities. I strongly believe that if people have real knowledge of each other and of the world, they will not fail to act when problems arise. But today, neighbors don't even know each others' names, much less if they need help of some sort or if there is a community problem that would be easier to solve if they worked together.

I'm not sure where all of this disconnection came from, or if I'm just imagining it. I'll think more on how our culture got on this track, and I am, of course, open to suggestions.


Thursday, September 26, 2002

[Simon]

I battle the Forces of Evil in the comments section on MaxSpeak. OK, they're not the Forces of Evil, but they're pretty annoying.



[Simon]

Hmm...blogging frequency is decreasing greatly. Oh well. I'm sure my blogging will pick up as my classes really get going. Yeah. Uh huh.

I saw this post on Body and Soul. It's quite interesting, and reminded me of the inner debates I've been having recently about what I want to do with my life and what I should focus on.

Some snippets:

Why didn't budding engineers and business majors take to Homer and Dante? First, because they shared Armey's belief that the arts are matters of the "heart" (for which they have no respect) and science, business, and technical fields are matters of the "head." I had students tell me flat out that they were "too smart" to waste their time on "easy" stuff like Dante. I probably took remarks like that personally. As someone who was inching her way through the Inferno (in Italian) and finding it glorious, but head-achingly difficult in its complexity (and this was on my fourth or fifth reading of the work), I was angry at someone telling me he could put it all away in a minute if he thought it was worth his time. It would not occur to me in a million years (nor to any humanists I know) to suggest that if we weren't busy struggling with the words of the greatest thinkers in the history of mankind and facing issues that have haunted us for millennia, we'd have time to fool around with that silly engineering tinker toy stuff. We expect the same respect from technocrats, and we don't get it...

I don't care if Bush has never read The Great Gatsby , or if Cheney wouldn't know a Guelph from a Ghibelline. I don't think there's any one work that every educated person "must" read (although the Constitution would be nice, if you plan to be president). But I care that none of them have the artist's habit of mind that not only recognizes but delights in the complexities of human beings. I care that no one in this administration seems to have read any history that isn't simplistic and jingoistic. It bothers me that none of them have ever given up pieces of their egos long enough to see themselves in a novel's characters. I honestly believe George Bush would understand more about dealing with tyrants and warlords if he told Donald Rumsfeld, "Leave me alone for awhile, I need to read a little Shakespeare." Shakespeare knew Hosni Mubarak better than Rumsfeld does.

And I think the impossibility of that happening began decades ago, when they were business and technical majors, and decided that nuances were for the weak and thinking was for people with too much time on their hands.

I've heard the complaint that Jeanne D'Arc mentions in this post about students of humanities being woefully unaware of science, while engineers, et al, have to deal with lots of humanities classes. I think this does betray some arrogance on the side of the engineers. At least here at sunny Stanford University, the general education requirements for science are woefully inadequate, from a point of view of understanding science. But then so are the humanities requirements. It's just as easy to find a low-commitment humanities-requirment class as it is to find a low-commitment science-requirement class (even easier, perhaps). Just because you have to write essays instead of do problem sets doesn't make the class any less worthwhile. Though, come to think of it, the easier grading that I see in most humanities classes compared to science classes might have something to do with the perception that the humanities classes are less valuable. Or maybe it's the other way around--if humanities classes were graded as harshly as sciences, maybe people wouldn't take them. Hmmm...

I think the main point that I wanted to note was just something I've been going over in my head lately. There's tension in every debate. Incredibly rare is the issue on which there's no give and take, no need to take multiple ideas into account. Take civil liberties, for example. In this debate, I'm way over on the side of the civil libertarians--I'm a huge proponent of the First Amendment and most of the rest of the Bill of Rights (I'll save the topic of the Second Amendment for another day). But even I must acknowledge that there are times when overall public concern must preclude individual liberty. Of course, most of those times are instances in which I'm defending the individual liberties of other people, but the point is that you can't just follow one doctrine to its end, or you'll end up in absurd irrelevance.

Maybe everyone else already knew this. You wouldn't know it from the state of public discourse, though.



Thursday, September 12, 2002

[Simon]

Long time no blog. Both my esteemed colleague and I have been quite busy lately. A few thoughts...

I saw a citation of the Gettysburg Address on Slacktivist. And it really seems to be the most appropriate thing to say on this day. In some ways, we are engaged in a war. It's not the war on terrorism; it's a war on something far more destructive, far more insidious. It's a war on hate, a war on fear, a war on the inability to live and let live. Maybe a "war" isn't even the right paradigm--maybe that word has problems in and of itself. At any rate, what really hits home with me is this: "The brave men, living and dead who struggled here have consecrated it far above our poor power to add or detract." I'm not sure how the "brave men" fit in exactly either. There was certainly great bravery, but to me, that was secondary. September 11 wasn't important because of the bravery of those involved, though I have incredible respect for the bravery that many exhibited on that day. September 11 was (and is) important because so many people died, horribly and unnecessarily. Our words can't really express the pain, can't add or detract to what has happened.

And let us not forget the other deaths that sprang forth from this day.

* * * * * * * *

Along with the Gettysburg Address, I recalled a couple of other passages that seemed appropriate today. The first is from Cry, the Beloved Country by Alan Paton:

Cry, the beloved country, for the unborn child that is the inheritor of our fear. Let him not love the earth too deeply. Let him not laugh too gladly when the water runs through his fingers, nor stand too silent when the setting sun makes red the beld with fire. Let him not be too moved when the birds of his land are singing, nor give too much of his heart to a mountain or a valley. For fear will rob him of all if he gives too much.

And from Abraham Lincoln, to a classic novel, to Babylon 5. Well, it moves me. Ignore the alien race names if you like--they only show up once. This is from the Lurker's Guide to Babylon 5. The copyright remains with the original owner; I hope that, given the circumstances, this is considered within fair use.

The Universe speaks in many languages, but only one voice.

The language is not Narn or Human or Centauri or Gaim or Minbari.

It speaks in the language of hope. It speaks in the language of trust.

It speaks in the language of strength, and the language of compassion.

It is the language of the heart and the language of the soul.

But always it is the same voice.

It is the voice of our ancestors speaking through us.

And the voice of our inheritors waiting to be born.

It is the small, still voice that says we are One.

No matter the blood, no matter the skin,

No matter the world, no matter the star,

We are One.

No matter the pain, no matter the darkness,

No matter the loss, no matter the fear.

We are One.

Here, gathered together in common cause

We agree to recognize this singular truth and this singular rule:

That we must be kind to one another.

Because each voice enriches us and ennobles us,

And each voice lost diminishes us.

We are the voice of the universe, the soul of creation,

The fire that will light the way to a better future.

We are One.


Sunday, September 01, 2002

[Jean]

How Insider Capitalism Benefited W.

Here's an interesting article that begins, "It's awfully tough to be Mr. Corporate Responsibility after you have profited from the actions of an irresponsible corporation that engaged in a shady deal." The article is from The Nation.




[Jean]

NOT IN OUR NAME:
A Statement of Conscience Against War and Repression

The text of this resolution, available in Spanish and Arabic as well as English, begins:

Let it not be said that people in the United States did nothing when their government declared a war without limit and instituted stark new measures of repression.

The signers of this statement call on the people of the U.S. to resist the policies and overall political direction that have emerged since September 11, 2001, and which pose grave dangers to the people of the world.

For the complete text, to read a list of signers (who include Barbara Kingsolver, Susan Sarandon, and Gore Vidal), and to sign it yourself, click here.




[Jean]

My esteemed colleague was musing recently (8/28) on bathroom policies in the workplace and in schools. I feel compelled to point out that it is my understanding of the history of American education that the system was, at least in part, designed to create good factory workers: hence the bells signaling the beginning and ending of each school day and each class period, the intolerance of tardiness, and (she says darkly) the encouragement of students to do what they are told without question. I don't believe that my colleague's school locked all but one of the bathrooms with the direct purpose of preparing him for a career at Jim Beam Brands Co.; however, the mentality behind the degrading conditions of school seems to have been created with artful purpose.



[Simon]

I'm trying to figure out what I think about this news:

6 Pakistanis Sentenced to Hang for Gang-Rape

This case involved the order by a tribal council in Pakistan to rape a young woman because her brother supposedly had sex with a woman from a much higher-status clan. Just thinking about it makes me sick, and I have no problem with punishing those involved. But I'm also strongly opposed to the death penalty. Do I let my moral beliefs about capital punishment get thrown away because I happen to be in support of the policies being enacted here? On the other hand, can I let my feelings on the manner of punishment override my support for what may be a crucial step forward (or not) for women in Pakistan? Gotta love those principles... ::sigh::