The Silicon Mind

Find everything here. And maybe some stuff in between.

SM's Popular:
Antonio on Religion and Exclusivity.
Michael on Small Arms.
Antonio, Michael Belinsky, Mike Maio

Monday, January 31, 2005

Tracking Small Arms, An Overview

The nuisance of containing and tracking illicit small arms transfers has become a pertinent and dire problem in the 21st century. Political and social conflicts constantly escalate to military confrontations involving small arms and light weapons throughout our world. These weapons are responsible for most of the deaths in the conflicts in Asia, Africa, Europe, and Latin America. According to the International Action Network on Small Arms (IANSA) 640 million guns are currently in circulation, approximately one to every 10 people in the world. Small arms are produced by 1,249 companies in more than 90 countries. In sub-Saharan Africa alone, there are 30 million small arms and light weapons, with 79 percent in the hands of civilians. 1

Realizing and responding to the growing threat, both the efforts of the international community spearheaded by the United Nations and the regional efforts led by countries around the globe have focused on addressing the issue. Currently, the Gambia National Commission on Small Arms is examining the regional moratorium on small arms and its effectiveness in eliminating insurgent’s access to weapons and ammunition (Gambia Daily News). The Commission will also examine the effectiveness of the implementation of the Bamako Declaration, which was acceded to by the member states of the Organization of African Unity. The Declaration, signed in 2000, calls for the signatory parties to further criminalize the illicit sale and possession of small arms and light weapons and to found research bodies for the purpose of analyzing the effectiveness of current norms in curbing the illicit trafficking of small arms (US Department of State).

Also in Africa, the Small Arms Transparency and Control Regime is now in its third phase of implementation. Phase I called for the creation of a database of interstate sales of small arms in the region. The database will serve as groundwork for creating a digital, on-line register, called the Small Arms and Light Weapons Register for Africa (SALWRA), which will function much like the UN Register of Conventional Arms. Phase II and Phase III of the project have expanded participation in and contributions to this database. No taskforce has yet been charged with analyzing SALWRA’s effectiveness.

Outside of Africa, many governments have shown reluctance to instituting controls and regulations on the production of small arms. Weapons manufacturers stand firmly against marking their weapons in a way that would allow NGOs to trace the weapon to its manufacturer as opposed to its original owner. The weapons lobbies in various countries have been pushing for their governments to cease participating in small arms control treaties. As a result, there still exists no effective worldwide system to record information, even though some weapons do carry serial numbers or other identifying marks. Deadly weapons disappear without a trace on a daily basis. According to the IANSA, 8 million new weapons are manufactured every year, which fuel conflicts worldwide.

The negative response of some governments and weapons interest groups has not, fortunately, become the norm. In Paraguay, weapons destruction programs have been successfully implemented. In September of 2004, Paraguay destroyed 80 tons of ammunition, under the oversight of government officials and in cooperation with the United Nations. Now, Paraguay is trying to implement the Inter-American Convention Against the Illicit Manufacturing of and Trafficking in Firearms and the UN 2001 Programme of Action to Prevent, Combat and Eradicate the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Lights Weapons, both with the assistance of the United Nations (UN News Centre).

Surprisingly, some non-governmental organizations have also been contributing to the efforts to curb illicit trading. The Small and Medium Entrepreneurs Development Authority (SMEDA) recently recommended eight measures for safely and securely developing small arms to the weapons engineering clusters in Darra Adamkhel, Pakistan. These measures seek to address the issue from the supplier’s side, assuring that on one hand sales do not decrease, and on the other hand, these weapons do not end up in the hands of insurgents and terrorists.

Also, a unique program has been developed in Mozambique for disposing of small arms which have been stockpiled, hidden, and left uncollected from a conflict in the region which occurred over a decade ago. This program is sponsored by another non-governmental organization, the Christian Council of Mozambique (CCM). People who either find weapons or possess their own weapons are urged to contact the CCM, which sends a team to secure and dispose of the weapons on the spot. Sometimes, the CCM exchanges the weapons for anything from food to sewing machines to bicycles. This program has been an immense success so far collecting 600,000 weapons and ammunition. Experts reviewing this program have pointed out that it works better than traditional buy-back programs, where weapons owners would turn in their old weapons for money and use that money to purchase new weapons. This program provides more transparency to the process by destroying the weapon on the spot.

All these programs are increasingly important and warmly welcomed by the international community. While helpful, these programs represent regional efforts and thus cannot seek to fully and completely eradicate the problem at hand. Only an international program, of the scope available to the United Nations, can seek to comprehensively address the problem. To promote peace and security, the United Nations should take the lead in addressing this problem by internationalizing these successful regional efforts.

1- Of the rest, 19 percent are in the possession of police forces and 2 percent are held by insurgents and outlaws. Bai Ousman Secka, permanent secretary. Department of State for Defense. Banjul, Gambia.

Religion and Exclusivity

It's interesting,they say love overcomes all. In real life, this is obviously not the case, regardless of how many feel-good movies à-la-The Prince and Me or whatever the most recent film is along those lines. But I want to address a particular aspect of love not overcoming all, and that is the point of religion.

What a sticking point that one is, eh? Eddie Izzard jokes, in Dress to Kill, about how the British royal family always marries internally (the specific line was `Are you a royal family? Are you a royal member? Well, then you can marry me 'cause you're same gene pool, and our IQs will go down the toilet.'). Now, naturally, the part about IQs going down the toilet isn't an apt description about what occurs when religious intermarriage occurs. It's been happening for long enough that, were it to be the cause of intellectual reduction, the human race would most probably have returned to the trees by now.

Nevertheless, most people who are faithful to their religions will, from my personal observations, not marry outside of their religion or a reasonably similar one. What do I mean by reasonably similar? Though less common than Jewish-Jewish marriages, a marriage between a Jew and a Christian is probably more common than that between a Jew and a Muslim.

Why, though? Why this exclusivity? Why would someone make a decision on a relationship based on religion? It's an interesting question, and I'm willing to try and put forth an answer. Namely, children.

Not all couples want to have children. But, those that do want to (note that I say want to, not actually necessarily have) and who plan ahead in life will see the obstacles to be overcome when it comes to children, especially when the relationship involves two diametrically opposite religious views (i.e., one of the two believing in some variant of montheism and the other being an atheist). Because what do you teach your child? Do you take them to Church? Naturally, the religious person will say yes. But what about the atheist? Does he not care about his child being `brainwashed' (because that's what most of us probably consider Church as a vehicle for; I certainly do1)?

The ideal compromise would be, of course, for each member of the couple to agree to teach their child their own point of view. Faced with both of them, the child's world view would be more complete and, as he or she matured, he or she would be able to follow the path that seemed most logical to him or her. Unfortunately, some people don't trust to the process of gradual learning and the later process of choice. After all, humans are naturally evil. Thus, if given the choice, they will go the evil way. At least, that's one way to look at it.

Me, I'm of the view that humans are naturally rational. If it seems rational to them that religion is an appropriate explanation, there we go. If they perfer science, there it is. And if they go for both, that's equally as acceptable.

Regardless, the ideal compromise is probably rarely one that will be seen. The atheist will, of course, not have a problem with it - he or she would have taught the child at home anyway. But the religious person is so used to the presence of Church that they will most often not like that compromise, or simply outright refuse to go for it.

In the end, the choice is one for each individual relationship. But this is, in my opinion, one of the worst obstacles to be faced with. In fact, it is beyond that: it is at the same time the most divisive and most useless of obstacles to a relationship. Because the above compromise exists, and it is an easy one to follow. Really, what causes it to fail is insecurity in one's own beliefs. In one's faith. Which is an interesting failure, really, since the very foundation of religion is faith.

1- Brainwashing means, of course, consciously trying to eradicate other ideas through the use, in the case of the church and the mosque and other such places, of hazy words such as `evil' and scary places such as Hell and nifty incentives such as Heaven - ways to get around solid proof. Granted, religion itself is not based on proof, and that is part of the idea - you have to have faith. But then again, that could almost be perceived as yet another contrivance. The point is, one who truly has faith in their beliefs does not need another to explain what Jesus or his disciples meant or what Mohammed may have tried to say. In my eyes, the truly religious (not the evangelicals, mind you, the religious - there is, in fact, a difference) can interpret the Word of God, as put forth by whatever holy book they may have, on their own, and will understand that there are others who will not agree with their interpretation. Their agreement is inconsequential. With true faith, one can be self-assured in one's interpretation.

You do have to admit that an atheist talking theology is rather amusing...

Monday, January 24, 2005

What Model UN Does Wrong

Model United Nations is a powerful institution designed to educate young men and women in several critical areas. It teaches them about negotiation, the difficulty of working in an international body, and, most importantly, how to see the world through the eyes of another country and often another culture.

These are skills that, especially in the United States, are lacking. But, like any system, there are things wrong with the Model UN system as I have seen it implemented here in the US. The key to all of these flaws, for the most part, is one word - `competition'. Competition is at the same time what drives Model UN and what pulls it down. It is what keeps it at its fairly good level without leting it excel or disappear into insignificance.

Why do students do Model UN? What is the interest in going somewhere for the sheer reason of arguing with others or cooperating with them? Why bother? Because you can win something. Because you can be proud that you got the top, or second-best, or whatever, award. And sometimes, because you're in a class that requres it and you need that class or can't drop it this late into the game.

This is a dangerous set of motivations. The reason is that it inhibits the system of the UN itself from materializing in the committee room. Now that I've been both a delegate and an assistant director, I have a few perspectives that I didn't before. And, because I've been speaking extensively with a Conference Director, I am also acquainted with some of the faculty-side limitations that exist.

The most amusing thing the Conference Director told me was that certain teachers would be upset if the Awards section of our website wasn't accurate. You see, the problem is that most of these conferences are called something-MUNC. The poor faculty advisors are mostly under the impression that this means `Model United Nations Competition'. In fact, it tends to stand for `Model United Nations Conference'. Quite a difference.

The United Nations is driven by a (usually unequal) balance of national and international interests. The problem is that, at a Model UN conference, the balance is not between national and international interests, it is between cooperation and clearly differentiating oneself from the supposed `competition'.

I should relate an experience that pertains to this. A few months ago, I was Assistant Director on Security Council at a Model UN conference. We had some very good delegates, but only two or three who stood out, and one who was very enthusiastic. We ended up giving him the top award in the committee, or the second-best. Regardless, he deserved none of the top three, and it was due to utter lack of alternatives that we chose him. Why didn't he deserve any of the top three? My director and I went about committee, and specifically unmoderated caucuses, a bit differently than most directors usually do. Most directors tend to stay seated and maybe look around every once in a while. We decided that we would get up and walk around and mingle with the delegates to follow the discussion and resolution-writing process from beginning to end. Amongst other things, this would allow us to know exactly what people were talking about when they addressed the committee in formal debate.

What I found, in the end, was that this particular delegate, when I was watching his group, could not focus on others. In speaking to the various delegates, he seemed to be speaking directly to me because he would look at me as he spoke and occasionally glance at the other delegates. He was constantly focused on me. I can't think of anything more annoying, when someone is trying to convince me as a delegate, than that delegate not looking at me. And this didn't only happen once; he consistently did this every time I was watching the little group he was talking to. Three or four times I had the urge to reach out and shake him by the shoulders and yell, `YOU'RE NOT TRYING TO CONVINCE ME!!! YOU'RE TRYING TO CONVINCE THEM!!' But naturally, I didn't. I'm too careful a person to do that.

This time around, I can't even remember which country he represented. I'd seen him a year before at the same conference, that time as the delegate representing the United Kingdom (and I'd already decided I didn't like him; he's one of those that will let others come up with ideas and then take the pats on the back). I think this time he was the Russian Federation. Regardless, he was one of the Big 5.

This little anecdote illustrates everything that is wrong with the way some people approach Model UN. Our faculty advisor naturally wanted to win awards, but he didn't pressure us into doing that - he pressured us into doing our research and into being good delegates. He realized that if we did this, we could get awards. And he knew those of us who could do it well. My senior year, we went to a conference, and we had, essentially for the first time, what we call a `stacked delegation' - one where our faculty advisor had tried to fill it with people who he knew were good at it and would make excellent impressions. He told me at some point that he wasn't particularly happy that he had to do it, but in order to compete with other schools who were doing it, he had to.

We did well at that conference, of course, but the question is, should that change have been necessary? What is this obsession with winning that causes people to consciously cripple some of their delegations in order to make one that will be able to crush others? It entirely defeats the purpose of model UN. And it is this, perhaps, which annoys me the most. As a director, I have to continuously make sure that everyone is sticking to their country's position; however, I also have to keep an eye out for those who will take others' ideas and pretend that they were the ones who came up with them. If I fail in that job, I only fuel this hypercompetitive environment that feeds actions counter to what should be happening.

There are those who will say that politics is cutthroat, and this is just an example of it. There are those who will say that there are probably plenty of examples of stealing someone else's thunder in the real UN as well. But how can we expect to get rid of corruption and cutthroat politics if we foster it from the very beginning? The answer is simple - we can't.

Sunday, January 23, 2005

Now They're Picking on Spongebob

I read a few days ago about how the head (his name is Dobson or something) of the conservative organization Focus on the Family denounced Spongebob Squarepants for promoting tolerance of sexual diversity. In other words, he criticizes Spongebob for acting in a homosexual manner.

Dobson's assault on an animated, assexual sea sponge is unworthy of comment, but I checked out his organization's website - It's a good site to visit if you want to understand the voices that are dominating the spiritual conversation in this country. Or if you're less interested in scholarly observation and just want some entertainment at the expense of their comically uptight prudishness, visit their affiliated site The site contains movie reviews written from the perspective of a religious conservative. A representative sampling of reviews includes those for Ice Age, Dodgeball, and South Park (just for fun).

Sunday, January 16, 2005

And another...

Here is another interesting quote, by Arthur C. Clarke (from the preface to 2001: A Space Odyssey)

"Behind every man now alive stand thirty ghosts, for that is the ratio by which the dead outnumber the living. Since the dawn of time, roughly a hundred billion human beings have walked the planet Earth. -- Now this is an interesting number, for by a curious coincidence there are approximately a hundred billion stars in our local universe, the Milky Way. So for every man who has ever lived, in this universe, there shines a star." (written in 1968 when the world population was only about 3.5 billion)

Great Quote

I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones.
- Albert Einstein

Friday, January 14, 2005

A glimpse into the tower

Well, here's something I didn't know about:

"...the Academic Index is computed for every Ivy League applicant. It is derived from a composite of SAT I and II scores and high school rank. No one can be admitted whose score is below a cecrtain base level, which is set relative to the quality of each school's overall admissions. The League instituted the index as a way to prevent an athletics-spurred race to the bottom."

- from The Dartmouth Free Press

Thursday, January 13, 2005

A Sex Bomb?

US military wanted 'sex bomb'
By Milanda Rout
January 14, 2005

A "SEX bomb" that would make enemy soldiers irresistible to each other was considered by the US military.

Declassified documents reveal the Pentagon toyed with the idea of an aphrodisiac chemical weapon in 1994.

The gas would have made enemy soldiers sexually irresistible to each other. The weapon's developers said homosexual behaviour among troops would deal a "distasteful but completely non-lethal" blow to morale.

The plans, unearthed from a US air force laboratory in Ohio, were published in New Scientist magazine. (Link)

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Apple Changing Directions?

Yesterday, at about 12 PM Eastern Standard Time (9 AM Pacific), in San Francisco's Moscone Center, Steve Jobs began his Macworld Expo keynote. This event has marked, every year for the past six or seven years since Jobs returned to Apple, the revelation of another fascinating creation of the trademark stylish, high-tech type that the company has now become famous for. Even though it is the most visible Apple event, however, it is nowhere near the only one. The iPod, for example, was released on October 23rd, 2001.

But, back to yesterday. Yesterday, Apple outdid itself yet again. Steve Jobs announced a slew of new things, showing off some of the specific technologies from the upcoming fourth release of Mac OS X, codenamed `Tiger', among which will be Spotlight, the new searching technology that, at least according to Jobs, outdoes such desktop searching functionality as has been introduced by Google, Microsoft, and others recently, if for no other reason than the user interface (a friendly UI being what Macs are renowned for).

Interestingly enough, another part of Tiger is something called the Dashboard. It contains mini-applications called Widgets (programmers will be familiar with the term, as, perhaps, will people with some economics study under their belt) which provide small capabilities, such as weather. Linux users may associate this with such technologies as Karamba and SuperKaramba, though it also bears similarities to some of the things that the Slicker project is trying to do.

The two most important announcements at the Macworld Expo, however, were two new product announcements that are not only visually nifty and economically attractive, but also present a fundamental change in Apple's business model to date.

The first product was the iPod Shuffle. This new iPod is the size of a pack of gum and has either 512 MB ($100) or 1 GB ($150) of static (Flash-based) memory. That is to say, it does not have a hard drive. That means no battery power wasted on skip protection, because there are no moving parts. This also makes it more durable. More importantly, it puts Apple in a sector of the MP3 market they hadn't been targetting until now - the cheap, small Flash-based MP3 players. The thing that really sets this player apart is that it has no screen. That's right, no screen. No way to see any information on the currently playing song.

To use it, you create a playlist in iTunes. Then, you transfer it to the iPod Shuffle (it plugs into your USB port like a USB key would) and set it to play. The switch on the back turns it on, but it has two `on' positions - one to play the playlist straight through, and the other to shuffle the songs. The battery power of the iPod Shuffle is 12 hours, and it recharges in 3 through your USB port. If you want to, you can buy a power adapter which is basically an Apple power brick with a USB port on one end to charge it that way.

The iPod Shuffle was the first indicator that Apple would be changing market strategies a little. Apple is usually well-known for making extremely stylish, but rather expensive products. This brings their MP3 player focus into the stylish but cheap category in conjunction with their existing iPod and iPod Mini lines - high- and mid-range, respectively. Naturally, the Shuffle gets the trademark white earphones that tend to mean that you have an Apple player in your pocket (or, in this case, around your neck).

The second indication of a change in market strategy was the announcement of the Mac Mini - a six inch long, six inch deep, two inch tall box with a slot-loading DVD-ROM/CD-RW drive in the front and all the ports and the power button in the back. It's brushed-steel look goes along with most other recent Macs, as well as with the high-quality flat panels they sell. To understand just how small this thing is, imagine the size of a CD. Add a few centimeters to either side, and you get the image of how long and deep it is. The height... well, one-third that. Twice as tall as the ultraportable laptops today.

The Mac Mini also does not include a monitor - that's for the user to buy. And the price tag is $499. That's right. Macs just leaped from high-end, $1000+ machines, to the low-priced PC market to compete directly with Dell. This is a stunning change in Apple's market strategy, since the sub-$1000 PC has been a challenge for most to undertake profitably. Apple really has to market these as low-priced PCs instead of stylish ones in order to get some serious return on the investment.

The fascinating thing is that this could potentially lead to a leap in market share for Macintosh computers - along with another huge market segment made up of the iPod Shuffle (though this latter one is more unlikely, since Apple is entering the Flash-based MP3 player market a bit late). However, it could also be a complete flop and lead Apple into an unprofitable situation for the year. These two products were a real gamble. But they play into the knowledge that the iPod's popularity has spawned a lot of thinking along the lines of `I would get an iPod, but it's just so expensive... and who needs that much space anyway?' and `I would switch to a Mac, but they just cost so much...' Not anymore.

Monday, January 10, 2005

Liberal take on Rathergate

Today, an independent panel released a report analyzing a case of public misinformation. According to the panel, a certain entity “presented half truths as facts” and “ignored facts that cast doubts on the story.” This entity claimed to have received this misinformation from another source. Unfortunately, the source of this misinformation goes unpunished.

The entity in the above description is CBS News. The panel found CBS News to have no political agenda when producing the story other than the hunt for sensationalism. The case of misinformation, now commonly referred to as Rathergate, occurred when CBS news anchor Dan Rather reported, based on forged documents, that "…Mr. Bush disobeyed an order to appear for a physical exam, and that friends of the Bush family tried to “sugar coat” his Guard service. " (source)

Now, you may realize that the description, italicized above, matches another familiar and recent event; namely, the misinformation campaign carried out by the Bush Administration that led the American people to support the Iraq War. But here is where the stories diverge: In the case of CBS News, while the source of the misinformation went unpunished, the disseminators of the un-truths were fired, asked to resign, and re-assigned. In the case of the Bush Administration…nothing.

The difference between Rather-gate and Bush's Iraq War is that CBS punished those who misled the American public while President Bush promoted them to another four-year term. Was everyone responsible for Rathergate fired? Obviously not. But action was taken, which is more than the American public has seen from the President, who could take a hint from Dan Rather's on-the-air apology to the American people.

This is my liberal opinion of the Rather-gate scandal. Joe has a conservative take on the matter.

Appearances and Perceptions

I was going to make my first post a really long article on language and the brain, but I realized when I was almost done that I'd made a fundamental mistake in my descriptions, so I have to rewrite that. So I'll start off with something a bit shorter. I never wanted this blog to be only about politics or current events, so this is going to stray a little from what Michael's been writing on.

We live our lives in a world of judgement. Day by day, we are judged by every person that sees us. Sometimes they're lighting quick judgements that don't generally stay in mind for longer than a second or two. Sometimes they're more in-depth judgements by people who have seen us many times before. It all depends on context. While you're walking down the street, you make instantaneous judgements without even thinking about it. When you're sitting in class, bored, you may look at someone and make a longer judgement, much more consciously. And when you meet someone for the first time, you automatically take in their clothes, their mannerisms, their accent, and any more of a million other things and pass judgement on them right then and there.

The problem with this is the innaccuracy of these judgements. Don't judge a book by its cover did not become cliché because it wasn't true. It became cliché because it was. Our initial judgements, however accurate they may end up being, cannot give us an accurate portrayal of someone. Yet sometimes these judgements are so strong that we end up paying attention to them anyway.

It is here that appearance and perception come into play. One of the key complaints some put forth about today's society is that it is materialistic, that women try to do everything they can to be pretty, that many men either will do anything to look good or will spend their time miserable with the fact that they are not perfect. The accusation naturally falls onto the media for helping with this, what with the advertisements that use perfection as their selling point and imply that by using a certain product you, too, can be perfect.

Society, both now and for the past thousands of years, is enamoured with popularity. A popular person is a lucky person. I myself am guilty of thinking this. The truly admirable ones, we think, are those who manage to be both popular and to not compromise on their own ideals and their kindness. And those do exist, to a certain extent, and they are admirable, to a certain extent. The problem is that they are very few and far between.

In the end, most of us strive for popularity. Which community we strive for popularity in is of no consequence. Few are those who simply decide that they will be the best person they can be without caring about popularity. Few are those who are willing to take their appearance and their self, really, and simply live with it.

But the reason for this is that there is something missing in society, and that is the admiration of the individual. In recent years, there has been more of a move to encourage and embrace this, but it still has not happened. Even if we can admire a famous scientist or a famous actor, what we are admiring is their position, not them. We are admiring the fact that they are intelligent (in the case of a scientist) or that they are good-looking or good actors (in the case of an actor)1, but not much further than that. Is this person good with his or her family? We don't particularly care.

In American society especially, there is still a homophobia of the highest proportions. This is partially planted in the extreme religious nature of the US, but it is also a frame of mind that develops from childhood from the society. That is slowly disappearing, fortunately, but that is yet another aspect of individuality that is difficult to accept. And that needs to change.

Bertrand Russell said, "Religion is something left over from the infancy of our intelligence, it will fade away as we adopt reason and science as our guidelines." It's an interesting thought. There is no evidence of its actually occurring, but the problem is the immediacy of our point of view. We look at a scope of a day, a week, a month, maybe a year. We cannot truly look out over a decade, a century, a millenium. Just as religion will supposedly fade away, so, I believe, will this aversion to individuality. It has already begun to fade in certain places, in the last two decades. Time will change it further. In the meantime, we can only try to change our own view and wait for the next fascinating person to come along.

I was going to write a bit more, but it's already a bit long for a single blog post, so maybe in a few days. The article on language, I now realize, will have to be cut up in several different sections, as it is far longer than this. Oh well.

1 - That's not to say that actors cannot be intelligent, nor is it to say that scientists cannot be good-looking.

Sunday, January 09, 2005

Peace reached. Genocide continues.

About a year ago, Sudanese rebels realized that the tiny region of Darfur is the perfect place to get away with genocide. And so, the murder of countless Africans in Sudan ensued. Today 50,000 civilians are dead and 1.4 million are displaced. But the Sudanese rebels do not deserve all the credit – the government also took part. They hired thugs and mercenaries that go by the name of the Janjaweed militia, to hunt down the rebels. This militia, in turn, began raping women, abducting them to use as sex slaves, and kidnapping children away from their respective families.

Now, a peace deal is reached between the Sudanese government and some of the rebels. The ordinary people, who are as usual the primary sufferers of military conflicts, sang in joy at the downtown of Nairobi, Kenya. What is ironic about this peace deal is that it doesn't include all the rebels. Some, in western Darfur, are still continuing the genocide. Read more here.

Saturday, January 08, 2005

In my reading...

I just to want to share with you John Mearsheimer's view of realism:
"After all, for every neck, there are two hands to choke it." (from The Tragedy of Great Power Politics)

So according to an article on the front page of today's NYT, the conservative pundit Armstrong Williams received $240K from the Dept. of Education to promote the No Child Left Behind Act on his show. That many segments of the media have graciously served as the Bush administration's propaganda arm is nothing new or revelatory. But now tax dollars have been used to fund the dubious and somewhat undemocratic practice. Instead of enriching one of its lapdogs, perhaps the Department could have found a better use for the money, such as, say, properly funding the very act that it's trying to champion.

Thursday, January 06, 2005

Et tu, Chomsky?

I might be losing faith in Chomsky. The man is a "leading intellectual of our times" (NYT), but his intense dislike for Israel is..well..see for yourself:
Chomsky is author of the preface to a book by the notorious French Holocaust denier Robert Faurisson, one of several in which Faurisson claims that Jewish organizations fabricated the Holocaust in order to extort war reparations from Germany and to build international sympathy for the creation of a Jewish state:

“The alleged gassing and the alleged genocide of Jews are part of the same historical lie which has been the basis of a huge political and financial swindle of which the principle beneficiaries are the State of Israel and principal victims the German people, not its leaders, and the Palestinian people,” as Faurisson puts it .(source)

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

The Republican Reaction

Here is what Andrew Sullivan has to say about the Hill's removal of 'protection rules' for DeLay:

DeLay is ruthless. But he's not dumb. The Republicans know that their public support is tenuous; that their increased numbers were primarily a function of gerrymandering. Bending ethics rules for their own purposes was never going to fly. As one of them noted, "Constituents reacted. We're blessed with a leadership that listens." (source) The listening will have to continue. Or else.

He forgets to mention that many, many inside the Republican party were disgusted by the "ethics changes." Loyalty only goes so far. Eventually, personal morals kick in. Also, Daschle is gone and DeLay is also on the way out. Coincidence, or a mindset shift?

Reflecting on the holiday season

I've discovered a new word this break. It's Chriswanzukahh. Everyone celebrates it, really! I think it means "trying too hard," but I'm not sure. So instead of a Christmas Tree, or a Hanukkah shrub, I brought home a Chriswanzukahh tree and waited for the Politically-Correct-claus to bring me every American's wish list: cheap gas, happiness, and homeland security.

Your thoughts on the holiday season?

Sunday, January 02, 2005

Abortion and Morals

John has the following interesting view on abortion:

Taking a comparative approach to abortion, I think it becomes obvious that the view that abortion is murder has implications that hardly any Pro-Lifer would be willing to accept. Millions of fetuses are aborted every year. If fetuses have a right to life, this would be a greater tragedy than the Holocaust. If they were consistent, Pro-Lifers would be much more outraged and be willing to take much more drastic measures than they currently do. Bombing of abortion clinics would be unquestionably justified. Of what value is a building compared to the value of millions of lives? I think it is obvious that any destruction of property is justifiable in order to prevent the violation of a right to life provided that property is not necessary to sustain other lives. Why is there such opposition from Pro-Lifers to bombing abortion clinics? Why do they distance themselves as much as possible from such "extremists?" I think the answer is clear: they don't really believe abortion is murder.
I don't think extremism is a viable solution to any problem. Even if the killing of Nazis who shipped people off to concentration camps is justified, such extremism is not as effective as the more subtle ways of protecting those people (see Oskar Schindler). On one hand, it's obvious that "abortion is murder" is simple a piece of rhetoric used by a the Republican propaganda machine. On the other hand, it's really easy to convince yourself of the truth of that statement and do nothing about it. Example: the tsunami killed thousands, yet relatively few Americans are rushing to help the victims. John ends his analysis with the following comment:
On a final note, one of my friends who is very much interested in politics tells me that if three particular supreme court justices were to be killed, Bush would be able to appoint enough Pro-Life Justices to overturn Roe vs. Wade. Kill three people; save millions. Sounds like a pretty good deal to me.

Tsunami update

For those of you wondering how tsunamis occur, go here for a quick explanation.
[EDIT]Or, as usual, you can go to the wikipedia article on tsunamis.[/EDIT]

Also, UN Sec. Gen. Kofi Annan says it may take up to 10 years for the areas hit by the tsunami to fully recover (more here).

Saturday, January 01, 2005

Another take on the Tsunami Relief Effort

David Holcberg over at the Ayn Rand Institute does not think that the United States government should give any aid whatsoever to the tsunami victims. Here is his reasoning:

The reason politicians can get away with doling out money that they have no right to and that does not belong to them is that they have the morality of altruism on their side. According to altruism--the morality that most Americans accept and that politicians exploit for all it's worth--those who have more have the moral obligation to help those who have less. This is why Americans--the wealthiest people on earth--are expected to sacrifice (voluntarily or by force) the wealth they have earned to provide for the needs of those who did not earn it. It is Americans' acceptance of altruism that renders them morally impotent to protest against the confiscation and distribution of their wealth. It is past time to question--and to reject--such a vicious morality that demands that we sacrifice our values instead of holding on to them.
The morality of altruism does have its downfalls. Our world is full of 'parasites', people who exploit our goodwill and get charity without themselves willing to lift a finger. But Holcberg's blanket rejection of altruism is entirely unacceptable. First, it assumes that we are brainwashed into accepting altruism. Second, it completely ignores that human beings live in an interdependent global community. This means that our humanitarian aid, while directly aiding the victims, also benefits us in the long run (i.e. provides us with trading parters, maintains geopolitical status quo, etc.). There are only few of the reasons I find his arguments quite out of touch with reality.

Microsoft slow to compete

Bill Gates loves competition, but it looks like he's lagging behind when it comes to the newly re-invigorated browser wars. Firefox has been downloaded 12 million times and is stealing more and more of the IE users. According to this story, however, Microsoft doesn't plan any major updates to IE until Longhorn comes out in 2006.