Two Left Feet


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Wednesday, December 25, 2002

[Simon]

Still working on the template, but I have a post to write, so the template will have to wait.

Last Monday, conservative/libertarian (I think) blogger Glenn Reynolds (Instapundit) had this to say:

HOW DARE WE IMPOSE FREEDOM ON THE IRAQIS WITHOUT THEIR CONSENT! I saw something along these lines on some antiwar blog earlier, but I forget where it was. However, even that rather dubious line of argument just got weaker as there's some evidence that it wouldn't be without their consent:

He then continued with a quote from the linked MSNBC article, which noted that a research association known as the International Crisis Group had recently published a report detailing the often favorable views of Iraqis towards a possible American invasion. In a moment, I'll get to the report itself, which was far more nuanced than Reynolds's commentary would let on. To be fair, the article he linked to had a similarly simplistic summary of the report, but it took me two minutes, at most, to find the International Crisis Group's website through Google and then navigate through their site to this report. You'd think Glenn could at least have read the introduction.

To briefly reply to his comments about imposing freedom: since he didn't cite any particular page, I can't speak to the strength of the argument made by the antiwar blogger Reynolds refers to. I can't even tell from the post whether he's deriding the idea of caring how to bring about a state of freedom (which I'm assuming to be some ideal combining democracy and civil liberties) or merely mocking the way someone expressed that idea.

Of course, it is important how we arrive at freedom. It wouldn't matter as much if we could be sure that the end result of the process would be freedom, no matter what, but if we aren't paying attention to the wishes and needs of those we're "liberating" during the process of "liberation", I think there's a high probability that the freedom we're attempting to provide won't be much freedom after all. Sometimes, it's not that easy, and we'll have to act without knowing the wishes of those we're trying to help, or we'll feel compelled to act in a way opposed to their wishes. It doesn't help, though, to assume that everything will work out as long as we are successful in introducing Iraq to the light of American democracy.

(Granted, Reynolds didn't make this argument, but then again he didn't make much of an argument at all. I will therefore ruthlessly exploit this opportunity by pointing out flaws in the arguments of other proponents of war. I will then overgeneralize these flaws to all such proponents. :) Okay, okay, I won't do that, but many of the arguments for war that I've read seem to be based partially on assumptions like that. I felt like addressing that assumption, even if it was tangential to the post Reynolds made.)

Anyway, I have thought on more that one occasion that many people on both sides of the debate on invasion have assumed that their position is the one most tolerable to the Iraqi people, and they have done so without actually asking the Iraqis themselves. I'm not saying that every single proponent and opponent of invasion is operating in this way (that would be a nice way to get everyone mad at me if they ever read this), but I have noticed it among many of those engaged in arguing. Perhaps most of these people had evidence backing up their contentions that they were fighting for the Iraqis' best interests, but I never saw that evidence. So, curious about this study, I searched for it and read it (the overview is here, the full report as a PDF is here).

First of all, I have no previous knowledge of the ICG, but they have a long list of fairly important people of a large variety of occupations and nationalities as board members, so I'll take the legitimacy of the group as a given. Second, the report was not a scientific study, and there were several factors limiting their ability to perform accurate research, as they explained:

On-the-ground research is constrained, of necessity, by several factors. The nature of the regime is a key consideration. Outside researchers face significant obstacles, and security concerns are critical – those of the interviewer as well as those of the interviewee whose anonymity must be preserved. Moreover, the Iraqis interviewed for this briefing paper do not constitute a scientific or representative sample. ICG has sought to talk to individuals from different backgrounds, belonging to various age brackets, walks of life, and religious groups. Nevertheless, a majority of the dozens of Iraqis who were interviewed at some length and in a number of cases on more than one occasion came from urban areas, principally Baghdad and Mosul. This paper and the statements made by Iraqis should be read and filtered with these limitations in mind. (1)

The report also noted that the study was limited to the Arab portions of Iraq (i.e. did not include Kurdistan).

So, what are the conclusions of the report? Yes, it found remarkable levels of support for an American invasion among those they interviewed, but the more interesting question is why they supported an invasion. According to the study, the Iraqi people do not so much welcome American involvement as much as they are fed up with living in an oppressive regime that has been in a state of constant war for most of the past twenty years. They want a return to some sort of normalcy, to no longer be a pariah in the international community. An American invasion seems like the quickest and easiest way to achieve this goal, and most seem to see it as inevitable anyway, so they support it.

However, the study also indicated that most of the interviewees base their support of invasion on vague ideas of what a post-war Iraq would be like, instead of carefully considered analysis of the situation. They assume that a war will be quick and relatively bloodless. They are also highly de-politicized, and they seem to expect a high level of outside involvement and even supervision of Iraq after the invasion is over. Whether their expectations will be met is anyone's guess, but it's certainly not a given. The report also points out that many other issues, such as the credibility of the UN and possible hostile reaction among non-Iraqi Arabs, cloud the matter even if we acknowledge that Arab Iraqis support an invasion to some degree.

I thought the concluding paragraphs were particularly powerful:

In the end, what comes to light is the picture of a population worn down by what it has been forced to endure and eager for deliverance. This is a message that ought to be heeded, regardless of whether the inspections succeed, and regardless of whether a U.S.-led war is the final outcome. As this briefing paper has tried to show, the status quo of harsh international sanctions coupled with ruthless domestic repression is experienced as a prolonged state of war that – from the Iraqi people’s perspective – no longer is sustainable. Today, policy-makers are focused on developing scenarios for Iraq assuming the U.S. wages a war. But they also should be considering creative and forward-looking scenarios for Iraq assuming it does not.

Ultimately, the views candidly expressed by Iraqis – and the very fact of the candour itself – may say less about their feelings regarding a war and its aftermath than about the appalling two decades that, should a war now occur, have preceded it. They reflect a sense of desperation about the present more than of pragmatic, level-headed hope about the future. For if there is one clear, incontrovertible conclusion that emerges, it is that the time is long overdue for Iraq’s state of war finally, and one way or another, to come to an end.

Agreed. Here's the link to the report again; it's fascinating.



[Simon]

Modifying the template. Looks ugly now, hopefully will look better soon. :)


Sunday, December 22, 2002

[Simon]

Recently, I've seen a couple of criticisms of the "What would Jesus drive?" campaign that Jean mentioned about a month ago. (Archives are down for the moment; I'll put a link to Jean's post when they get back up. As for the criticisms, I don't remember where I read them, sadly. You'll just have to take my word for it. :) ) One of these criticisms was in passing, so it's hard to know what in particular rubbed the author the wrong way, but s/he seemed to be mocking the hubris that the organizers of the campaign exhibited in claiming to know what their Lord would drive. The other criticism was a rant that essentially said that Jesus wouldn't drive--he would walk! He (Jesus) wouldn't use some luxurious form of transportation to get around when he had his own two feet. (Hmm...I feel guilty about the lack of capitalization of the divine pronoun. Oh well.)

I should mention that I haven't seen a single ad in any medium that was created for this campaign, so it's certainly possible that the commercials are offensive and/or insensitive. In addition, the extent of my other knowledge about the campaign is essentially limited to the article Jean linked to in her November 15 post. Also, my knowledge of the New Testament is admittedly spotty: I was raised as a not terribly observant Jew, and I'm essentially an agnostic nowadays. My only exposure to the actual text of the New Testament was a selection from my freshman year humanities class (Mark, Matthew, John, Romans, one of the Corinthians or perhaps both, and one of the Thessalonians). I was supposed to read Augustine's Confessions, too, and it seemed interesting, but I never got around to reading it. I did read the Inferno and loved it. So I'm not going to even try to argue the theology (except in a very broad sense). I'm also not going to go into the actual ads produced for this campaign, but I feel safe in doing so since the criticisms I'm referring to don't talk about them either.

Going back to the first criticism, hubris, I admit to being a bit confused. Isn't one of the key components of practically every religion the interpretation of sacred texts and traditions in reference to contemporaneous events? There's no way that a holy book could contain direct answers to all possible questions, now and forevermore, so someone has to interpret modern life through the lens of the doctrines, values, and texts of that particular group. Some groups restrict this ability to interpret to a select group; others don't. Either way, it's a necessary tool for being able to survive as a practicing Whatever. It makes at least some sense to me that, in a religion whose Lord and Savior walked the earth for a short time in a human form, some believers would try to resolve their own ethical and moral dilemmas by asking what said Lord and Savior would do if he were in the same situation. Is the critcizer unfamiliar with the phrase "What would Jesus do?", upon which this campaign is clearly based? What's wrong with expressing one's views about the principles of one's religion and how the principles apply to today's world? As I said, I don't have the theological background or knowledge necessary to analyze what Jesus would drive. This is about being able to make the claim, not the claim itself.

In some ways, this point answers the second criticism, that Jesus wouldn't be using an SUV or a hybrid--he'd be using renewable energy like his feet or perhaps some pack animal. This is an interesting point: it reminds us that it's hard to know exactly how to apply the words and actions of a story written and taking place in the first century to the twenty-first century. Nevertheless, I feel I have to ask: how many of us are the Son of God? Seriously...you can't control your childhood--or much of your adult life, for that matter--and many people have to worry about kids or other relatives when paying the bills. Given this, it is difficult though not impossible to totally change one's life so that one is doing things only Jesus could have done, whether or not he actually would have done them. Even if one is not going to totally adopt the lifestyle of Jesus, an understanding of his morality is no doubt helpful in leading one's life, for those decisions in which one can make a difference.

Other stuff soon, hopefully.

UPDATE: Three things: 1)Archives are down again, but I have masterfully divined the format for the archived posts' URL's. (Muwahahaha.) Here's Jean's post about the campaign. 2)Quick note about the (supposed) logic of my post: in the last paragraph (other than "Other stuff soon, hopefully"), I'm not trying to say that you can't try to live exactly as Jesus (or insert other religious personage) did, just that it's kind of silly to say that other people can't invoke Jesus's name unless they live exactly as he did. 3)Fixed some spelling problems and tried to make some sentences more clear. Who knew "interpretat" wasn't a real word?


Monday, December 16, 2002

[Simon]

I flew from San Francisco back home to Boston for winter break. Once again (see this post), I was greatly amused by my trek through the skies.

First, as the rain poured down on SFO (San Francisco International Airport) and the USAir plane I was sitting in made its way onto the runway, I noticed that the plane in front of us in the line for takeoff belonged to United. Somehow, I couldn't help thinking about the symbolism as I imagined the two planes heading into the gray, turbulent skies above, what with United Airlines declaring bankruptcy a week or two ago, as USAir did last summer. (Here's an article about the effects United's bankruptcy might have on USAir and other airlines--apparently United and USAir are in a marketing alliance, which perhaps makes the symbolism even stronger.)

Despite knowing that the material inside in-flight magazines is not exactly at the peak of critical discourse (perhaps because I knew that), I took a look through the copy on this flight. There was a story about the wonders of snow, explaining various related scientific facts and cultural trivia. One part, about the formation of snowflakes, was surprisingly informative, though for all I know it could have been misleading. Unfortunately, the article (actually a graphic next to it) perpetuated the existence of the Great Eskimo Vocabulary Myth, as some have called it: namely, that the "Eskimo" language (there's more than one among the people we often call Eskimo) has some extraordinary number of words for "snow".

It turns out that the claim is only true if one adopts a very charitable framework for evaluating the claim. The first problem one runs into is choosing which language is the "true" Eskimo langauge--if you choose to include all of them, you're obviously going to come up with a lot more words than you would with any one language. The second problem is figuring out what counts as an individual word. Do you count all inflected forms ("shoe" vs. "shoes")? Many languages have far more inflected forms for each individual root, inflating the count if you include all of them. In addition, the languages spoken by some of the "Eskimo" groups often use one word to express an idea we would use a phrase for (the word is usually longer than most commonly used English words). This might also inflate the count if we include all the variations that are included in one word in their language but occur as a phrase in English. Finally, what do you count as "snow"? If you accept words with tenuous connections to the idea of "snow" in your designated Eskimo tongue, you have to do the same in English. And there's a bunch if you do that. (This piece has a longer, more detailed explanation of what I just said. This also has some discussion about the issue, with a short list of Yup'ik words for snow and related concepts. And this page also has some information.)

To the credit of this article's author, he/she did mention that English has many words for snow itself. Still, the graphic (which might have been out of the author's control) did exclaim "Look at all the words for snow in Eskimo!" or something like that. Of the five, one was supposed to be translated "snowflake", which doesn't seem to count, since we have the word snowflake The words also seem to have come from at least two different languages, according to my very brief informal research.

Oh well. I guess I shouldn't expect much from airplane in-flight magazines.

More later on some articles I've read, and perhaps some thoughts I had on game theory and Iraq--I just finished a book about game theory and U.S.-Soviet relations in the 50s and 60s, among other things. I definitely don't feel like I'm qualified to write about the subject, but I'm not sure that'll stop me. :)


Tuesday, December 10, 2002

[Simon]

A couple of days ago, I was reading for the first time the blog "where is raed", a blog whose owner claimed to be an Iraqi actually in Iraq while posting. (There also seemed to be another poster on the blog who was from Jordan.) Today, as Jeanne D'Arc noticed, the blog is defunct, all archives and all postings gone except for a mysterious "sorry". The template was completely changed as well, suggesting that it wasn't just some glitch in a computer somewhere. This all is a bit worrying, but there doesn't seem to be much that I personally can do about it. It's also a bit annoying not to have a source to link to and quote from, but I don't really need it to make my point.

One of the two posters (Salam, I think) had written a post that essentially said "Up yours" to the U.S., asking why America seems so interested in Iraq's human rights stance now, unlike all those years when the U.S. supported Saddam even though our leaders knew of his horrible human rights record, and unlike the decade of sanctions that continued even though we knew that we were hurting the people of Iraq and not Saddam. Someone, somewhere, must have linked to him, because a flock of war proponents started posting in the comments on his site. In my opinion, most of it was immature invective, but one question caught my attention, something along the lines of "What would you do instead?" (not quite that polite, though). The commenter pointed out that most of the people opposed to the war (at least on the left) were also opposed to sanctions and really didn't have a solution for what to do with Iraq and Saddam.

Of course, many left-wing opponents of war have made suggestions on what to do, often but not always stressing the role of the UN and weapons inspections. (There is the issue of why the U.S. has the right to many, many nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons if Iraq cannot have any, but that's a topic for another day.) Still, I think that there is something valuable in examining the implications of the ways both proponents and opponents of war frame the debate.

The large anti-war movement (as witnessed in the October 26 protests in Washington, DC, and San Francisco) has been defined by its very anti-war-ness, by being against the war in Iraq. It has not been a movement for inspections, or for sanctions, or for anything, really (as a whole, that is; individuals have been very much for one thing or another, but there does not seem to be a unified voice). This is probably partly a consequence of coalition-building: most members of the movement are willing to set aside their particular analyses and solutions in order to contribute to the solidarity of the movement. I think this is a good thing, and I don't really see a way around it. I do wonder, though, what effect the essentially negative (as in "being defined by the absence of something") nature of the demand "no war!" has on the ability of the message to spread and convince.

On a more logic-related note, the question "What would you do instead?" clearly has some flaws. It is sometimes a valid question; if one is criticizing a policy that provides some benefit to society, it seems decent to provide an alternative that would also provide this benefit. Ah, but there's the crux: does an invasion of Iraq provide the benefits that so many of its proponents seem to assume it will--in this context, usually liberation and democratization of Iraq? To be honest, I don't know. It's possible that a war would have overwhelmingly beneficial consequences for the people of Iraq, though I'm skeptical. What seems more interesting to me is the apparent lack of such doubts among those most vocal in supporting war. They go on and on, finding possible mistakes in solutions offered by opponents of war, but never seem to examine the possibility that a war might not go as planned, and might end up failing at some of the goals that they so loudly proclaim are benefits that will accrue from war. Given the unpredictability of war, war not going as planned seems like more than an almost-certainty than a possibility.


Monday, December 09, 2002

[Simon]

I wanted to post my brief thoughts on what Trent Lott said. From the Washington Post article:

Speaking Thursday at a 100th birthday party and retirement celebration for Sen. Thurmond (R-S.C.) in the Dirksen Senate Office Building, Lott said, "I want to say this about my state: When Strom Thurmond ran for president, we voted for him. We're proud of it. And if the rest of the country had followed our lead, we wouldn't have had all these problems over all these years, either."

Thurmond, then governor of South Carolina, was the presidential nominee of the breakaway Dixiecrat Party in 1948. He carried Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana and his home state. He declared during his campaign against Democrat Harry S. Truman, who supported civil rights legislation, and Republican Thomas Dewey: "All the laws of Washington and all the bayonets of the Army cannot force the Negro into our homes, our schools, our churches."

On July 17, 1948, delegates from 13 southern states gathered in Birmingham to nominate Thurmond and adopt a platform that said in part, "We stand for the segregation of the races and the racial integrity of each race."

There's been a lot of criticism of Lott's remarks in the Blogoverse/-sphere/whatever, from both left-wing and right-wing sources (from the left: CalPundit here with a link to the C-Span videorecording of the event, and here, and here; several posts by Atrios, including a picture of the 1948 Mississippi Dixiecrat sample ballot, and many others; on the right: several posts by InstaPundit, Andrew Sullivan, and some other more traditional-news-based columnists). Until today, there wasn't much in the mainstream media about this, but today there was this story in CNN, recounting criticism made by Al Gore of Lott's remarks, and a timid defense by Tom Daschle of same. The CNN story also mentions that Lott said in a recent statement, "This was a lighthearted celebration of the 100th birthday of legendary Sen. Strom Thurmond. My comments were not an endorsement of his positions of over 50 years ago, but of the man and his life."

Well, that's not what he said. I watched part of the C-Span tape to try to get some of the context of the quote. It did seem to be one of those vacuous bits of praise one hands out at a birthday party, meant merely to make the guest of honor feel good. But I fail to see how that makes a difference; you don't get a free pass to make offensive remarks just because it's someone's birthday party. He did not appear to be joking, and if he was, it was in incredibly bad taste. In addition, he had obviously prepared something to say; whether or not what he said was from his notes or off the cuff, I couldn't say, but clearly he had already thought about what he was going to say. It is beyond my imagination that Lott did not know what he was implying when he said that the U.S. would be better off if a man running specifically on a platform of maintaining segregation and numerous other racist policies had been elected.

Words mean something. If you invoke the name of one of the dark forces in our history, you'd better mean it. If you don't mean it, and you're a decent human being, you apologize for what you said. And others should think twice before supporting you.



[Jean]

The Good Ol' Medical Establishment

A good friend of mine swallowed her retainer accidently the week before Thanksgiving. She had to go to the emergency room, where the doctors took x-rays and then threatened to put a scope down her throat to retrieve the retainer if it did not travel beyond a certain point by the next day. The following day, she returned to the hospital, where more x-rays were taken and the new position of the retainer noted. Then, apparently because no room was available in which the scoping could be done, my friend waited. And waited. And waited. The hospital ended up keeping her overnight, only to release her the next morning because the retainer had passed too far along in her system to be retrieved by the scope. So the doctors kept her in the hospital for hours, only in the end deciding to allow the natural course of events to take place. (I'll spare you the details of how she had to pick through her...well, you know...to make sure that the retainer had indeed returned to the sunny world.)

I find the fact that the doctors kept my friend in the hospital for such a lengthy period of time without actually doing anything that wouldn't have happened anyway rather disturbing. More disturbing, though, is that my friend says that the only pain she felt during the whole episode was when the nurse jabbed her with an IV. Evidently, they insisted on putting an IV in her, for no apparent reason- the IV wasn't even connected to anything.

What ever happened to, "First, do no harm"?

Breaking News


My partner from Environmental Studies 35 last semester has been named a Rhodes Scholar. Part of me feels excited to know someone who has earned such a prestigious award, part of me feels dwarfed by her accomplishments, and a part of me remembers how exhausted and stressed out she always seemed. If you read her bio, you'll see that she really has accomplished an incredible amount of things, but recalling how close to collapse she always seemed last semester makes me realize that I just can't live the way I'd have to live to earn the same sort of recognition. ::sigh:: I'm afraid, too, that I'm probably too subversive, given that one of my new mottos is, "Community service promotes the status quo!" to earn many traditional scholarships. I can only hope I'll be able to make my way in the world without corporate or state sponsorship.



Deodorant Tales



I keep running across passages like the following:



Most people think that antiperspirants and deodorants are the same thing, but they aren’t. Antiperspirants work by clogging, closing, or blocking the pores with powerful astringents such as aluminum salts so that they can’t release sweat. (Note that aluminum can accumulate in the brain.) Deodorants work by neutralizing the smell of the sweat and by antiseptic action against bacteria. Deodorants are preferable because they don’t interfere with sweating, a natural cooling process. More here.



This sort of thing could just be leftist propaganda designed to undermine the deodorant/anti-perspirant industry, but I'm starting to feel less inclined to wear the stuff. I've considered just going entirely without, but alas, my culture weighs too heavily on me and I fear to be stinky in public. Happily, I've discovered a solution: homemade deodorant.



1/4 cup vegetable shortening

1 tablespoon arrowroot powder

2 teaspoons baking soda

1/8 teaspoon tincture of benzoin


a few drops of an essential oil of choice
(I used a mixture of basil, rosemary, and rose geranium.)

I mixed up these ingredients yesterday with a fellow subversive. It was remarkably easy- I even left out the tincture of benzoin because I couldn't find any, and its purpose seems to be more for soothing the skin than for anti-stinkiness. So all I needed were four ingredients, a bowl, and a spoon, and within minutues, I'd created a supply of deodorant that looks like it'll last me for years. The deodorant is in a creamy form, which can be applied to the armpits much as one would apply a hand lotion. And so far ::sniffs armpits:: it seems to work great.

There's something very empowering about making my own deodorant- I feel like I'm throwing a small punch at the deodorant industry; suddenly, I'm "off the grid" for commercial hygiene products. Making my own was easy, and cheap, since to spread out the expense of the bottle of essential oils, I'm planning to give everyone I know deodorant for Christmas (I'll have to explain carefully that really, I'm just looking out for their health.)

Whilst searching on the internet for deodorant recipes, I found websites galore describing how to make all kinds of products that most Americans purchase, like soap, shampoo, and others. This was a small epiphany for me, since somehow I never realized that I could make my own, even though it seems obvious to me now. Of course! I'm guessing that most everyone used to make their own soaps and such, and if they couldn't make a certain product, they probably didn't need it.

My fellow subversive and I are planning to purchase thrift store t-shirts tomorrow to cut up for homemade, reusable menstrual pads. That project may be a bit more complicated, but considering that each year women in the U.S. throw over 12 billion pads and 7 billion tampons into landfills and sewage systems, I think it's a worthwhile project.



Saturday, December 07, 2002

[Jean]

Hooray for globalization

I just finished reading Simon's Salon article. I have to agree with his sentiments- especially since it reminds me that in the maquiladora zone, cases of anencephalitis, that is, babies born without brains, have been sky rocketing. Hmm...could that have anything to do with the ghastly amount of pollution produced by the industries there? Unfortunately, I don't have a link to an article about it. I know the fact only on the good authority of Dr. Greg Gangi, of the Carolina Environmental Program. Although it doesn't really support my point, here's an article about pollution-related anencephalitis in Brazil.

And just in case you still think globalization is great, here's an article about the fight against the privatization of water.



[Jean]

Ho, hum...
While my esteemed colleague has been contemplating the suffering of others and pleading for tolerance and compassion, I've been creating digital movies. One of my creations is now available for public viewing here.



[Simon]

A story at Salon.com tells of the strange deaths of over 300 women in the past ten years in the much changed (since NAFTA) town of Ciudad Juarez, just across the Mexican border from El Paso:

To understand the magnitude of the breakdown, think of the sniper rampage in the Washington area this fall that left 10 people dead and three wounded. Imagine that Montgomery County Police Chief Charles Moose held a press conference and asked local citizens to catch the sniper themselves because local police were not up to the task and the federal government was not being helpful; imagine that the federal government charged that local officials in Montgomery County were complicit in the killings and impeding the investigation. Chaos would ensue, certainly. But then, multiply the number of victims by 30, by 40, by 50, or more.

That's Juarez today.

(Via Jeanne D'Arc.)

When I read this story, I just felt like crying. I was going to entitle this post something along the lines of "When all you can do is cry...." But now I've returned to my senses. I still think crying is good. But then we need to take action, or at least be ready to if necessary. The ability to empathize is something we all need to nurture, and this at times calls for sadness, followed by outrage. Not bitterness, just pure outrage--a feeling of I-won't-put-up-with-this-any-longer but without the us vs. them mentality. Because, well, change is needed--I think most people would agree with that statement, though we'd have trouble agreeing on what direction that change should be in. But we also shouldn't always be working within an adversarial framework. We need to know who's really against what we believe in and who just has a difference of opinion. We need to be aware of what our opposition can do to us, and be prepared to face it, sometimes fighting fire with fire, but we mustn't succumb to the bitterness that comes with an ongoing attempt to change the world. Why? Because, right now, we've only got one planet, and we have to live with each other, whether we like it or not. Being right doesn't make it any easier to live with the 5,999,999,999 other people in the world (I know that there aren't exactly 6 billion people anymore; humor me), especially if you were right but no one listened to you because you were being adversarial. I don't know if this makes any sense; I'll come back later and look at it, to see if I can clarify. Probably many people have said this better than me, but it's something I had to write somewhere, and there are clearly journal-like aspects to a blog, so I don't feel too bad about writing down my jumbled thoughts here.


Wednesday, December 04, 2002

[Jean]

Well, this is cheering...
An update on the Daily Tar Heel crisis (and personal frenzied blood pressure hike): Our friends in the media deigned to publish a guest column rebutting their editorial. Read the original article here and the (brilliant) response here.

Correction
The first goal of SEAC's Green Energy campaign is not, as I stated earlier, to buy solar panels for electricity generation for the roofs of certain buildings, but instead to buy solar thermal panels, for generating hot water and such.


Sunday, December 01, 2002

[Simon]

Senator John Kerry made initial steps to declare a bid for the 2004 Presidential election. From AP, the description of Bush's reaction to the news:

Bush, asked Sunday night about the prospect of running against Kerry, smiled at reporters but said nothing.

Am I the only one who finds that account a little spooky? I have this image of Bush sitting at his desk, silently and slyly smiling (how's that for alliteration?) and nodding while softly petting his cat sitting on the desk. Hmm, maybe I've seen too many movies lately...

There was also this, later in the story:

Kerry said he would back war with Iraq only if Bush could prove an imminent threat, and said he viewed unilateralism as dangerous. ``The United States of America should not go to war because it wants to go to war. We should go to war because we have to go to war.''

That's great; I totally agree. But wouldn't this understanding of the situation have been useful, say, a month and a half ago when the Senate was authorizing the President to use force against Iraq, with essentially no restrictions in place? When Kerry voted to let Bush attack Iraq unilaterally if he wants to?

Sigh.




[Simon]

Read this article in The Nation about an upcoming class-action suit against Wal-Mart claiming sexual discrimination. Also some interesting references to Wal-Mart's anti-union behavior. (Via CalPundit.)



[Simon]

Musings on an airplane trip...

I crossed the North American continent and back last week. OK, it ain't quite like crossing Asia, but still, that redeye flight did me no good. On the way back to Stanford, I was working too much on a physics problem set to think any deep thoughts, but on the way to the East Coast, I was amused/chagrined/intrigued by several events.

There were the napkins. These advertised my airline's website as ".com-pletely" something-or-other (renovated, perhaps), despite the fact that my web browser had been unable to load the airline's webpage earlier that day when I had wanted to find out from home whether my flight was still on schedule. Perhaps it was my browser and not the webpage, but I'm suspicious. It was working later in the week before I flew back. Still, this is intolerable. I simply cannot accept hypocrisy in my napkin-ware.

There was the sign outside a mall I passed in the bus from the airport to my destination; the sign proudly read, "In God We Trust. United We Stand." United, except for the atheists, agnostics, and any religious people who don't want to call their particular object of worship "God", apparently. Although I did read this argument the other day that claimed that the reference to God in the Pledge of Allegiance is actually a reference to anything the listener wants it to be a reference to, including "no God". (To see this amazing claim, scroll down to the bottom half of the page--it's a point-counterpoint discussion of the Ninth Circuit ruling about the Pledge, and the argument in favor of the initial decision is first.) That's right--the words "under God" actually have no meaning, so all the atheist, agnostic, Hindu, Buddhist, etc., etc., children will know that it's not the God of the Judeo-Christian tradition that's being invoked. Given the dominance of Christianity in American culture, how could those children even think such a thing? Shame on them! Maybe that sign i saw was the same thing: "United we stand in our trusting of the Christian God, or the Jewish God, or Allah, or the Buddha, or Vishnu, or Gaia, or...." Might I suggest we be united in something else? (Note: I'm not saying the sign was unconstitutional, merely annoying.)

And there was the intersection of Farmington Dr. and Farrington Rd., also passed by my bus. (Well, it seemed funny at the time....)

And finally, there was the lovely in-flight magazine. I'm not entirely sure why I read these things. I guess they're safe and uncontroversial, and sometimes that's what you want at the beginning of a plane flight. (Anyone want to rate that on a scale from 1 to 10 for bad rationalizations?)

Anyway, this particular issue--which doesn't appear to be online in any form--has an article that talks about online advertising. Apparently, it's very cheap these days. (Who knew?) The article mentions online games that Miller Lite and Ford have used to collect data from potential consumers and grab their attention so that they can be shown the companies' ads. It also talks about this new type of online ad called a Shoshkele that floats above the webpage. A source in the article describes them like this: "They're covering up, for a short period of time, the content you're trying to access. Hopefully, they do it in a way that is intrusive but is also not objectionable. Like TV ads." No doubt it's the anti-consumerist in me, but I do find many TV ads objectionable. And while I'm aware that the Internet probably cannot be entirely no-cost, and though, as a general rule, I prefer content paid for by advertisers to premium content (the latter has its advantages, of course), I guess I fear that the Internet could become...like TV. That is to say, a wasteland controlled mostly by marketing departments. (For a sometimes sickeningly complimentary article about Shoshkeles, look here. The company that makes these ads is here. And I do have to admit that the ads are somewhat appealing in a "gee, whiz" way.)