Saturday, October 30, 2004

Most important election ever?

I am so sick of hearing people say that this is the most important elevtion ever. It is not at all. This election is rather trivial. The most important election in a long time was last election, though we really did not know it at the time.

Last election decided, in advance, how we were going to respond to the already planned events of 9/11. Last election decided that we would go in to Iraq. Last election decided what the US relationship to the world will be. Last election decided the US relationship to Israel. Last election decided whether or not the country would have a decent domestic policy, and how to respond to a wounded economy.

At this point, in the immediate future, the economy will not change dramatically regardless of who the US president is. This election cannot reverse the war on Terror or the war in Iraq. This election cannot reverse the precedent we set with the "Bush doctrine". This election will neither encourage nor discourage any great constitutional shifts.

This election will not change the patriot act. This election will not improve the plight of third party candidates. Actually it is already worse. This election already made a farce of our democracy by insisting that thousands of lawyers are needed to oversee the election - months before it happened.

This election might alter US environmental policy. I am not sure if it will be for the better or worse, but either way it is nothing urgent. This election might speed up funding on stem cells, but this is inevitable, it is just a question of "when it will happen".

This election has a good chance of deciding one or two supreme court Justices. There is also a good chance that the president will change the morale of the military for the worse. Taxes may go up a few hundred dollars for some.

So tell me why this is the most important election ever. This is one of those rediculous mantras that I wish people would stop repeating. An election in an important period in history, such as this most likely is, is not the same as an important election.

Friday, October 29, 2004

Review of The Burglar Who Studied Spinoza

I picked up Lawrence Block's The Burglar Who Studied Spinoza wondering if Spinoza's work might be involved there somehow. It was not. Spinoza's work was mentioned, not used.

But despite my disapointment with the complete lack of philosophy, it was a good quick novel. Wittgenstein was said to have an affinity for detective novels, and this is one he would probably have enjoyed.

There is this burglar, you see, who solves a burglary and a murder which he was somewhat deeply involved in.

The books is a rather quick read. Not overly memorable, but not bad either.

Sunday, October 24, 2004

Good cause

Last night I hung out with "S" who is back from almost a year in Iraq on R and R. He has a lot to say about having been there. After a snack and beer in Yaffa on St. Mark's Place, we went to The Library for more Brooklyn Lagers, and then to that other bar on the corner of A and 2nd which was packed so we didn't stay. From there we went to Max Fish, but that too was too crowded, so we were off to Iggy's for more beer and White Russians. All good places, although none of them had Yingling taps that worked.

He told me about this program he is involved with that gets CDs for soldiers in Iraq. It seems like a worthy cause. It lets the troops know that they are thought about.

Saturday, October 23, 2004

Review of Down and Out in Paris and London

Orwell's Down and Out in Paris and London is a good read. It is the more or less autobiographical story of Orwell's experience with the very-underclass of Paris and London.

In Paris we hear about what life is like for one who is forced to work as a plongeur or the lowest of the low in the resteraunt industry. The work, the sweat, the heat, the lack of sleep is all well described as is the life, accommodations, and frequent abuses of the individual.

The same is true of the life in London. We hear about what it is like to be a tramp. Much of the narrative is dedicated to describing the conditions in which these people were forced to endure. The final few chapters contain clear reformnist polemics about how to alleviate the plight of the tramp and the worker in England.

A few minor points. First: for those like me who speak no French, there are a few too many phrases that you will just not figure out. I hate missing the point of some line or paragraph because the author assumes I know another language. So in the first part of the book that takes place in Paris, there is a lot of local color added by throwing in many Frenchisms, there is also a bit lost because it got irritating.

Second, One sees the origins of Orwell's interest in language here. It is worth noting that Orwell has a section of Tramp Slang in the book, together with some etymological speculations.

Third, In this book, ones sees some early anti-Semitism on Orwell's part. In a 1945 anti-anti-Semitism Essay he writes that after 1934 anti-Semitism ceased alltogether to be respectable in literature and entertainment. Down and Out in Paris and London, published in 1933, apparently just makes the cut. There are at least half-a-dozen anti-semetic remarks and statements in the book which maight make one feel uncomfortable, if those sorts of things make you uncomfortable. Orwell changed later, but the early Orwell still has certain prejudices unexamined. This is particularly queer given the liberal minded nature of the work - improving the lot of those affliced by societal prejudice.

Overall though the book was a good and quick read, and it is a good examination of poverty in England. The bookd did not have the impact of say Jacob Riis's book about poverty in New York, but it should hit a sympathetic chord with anyone who reads it.

Review of Smoke Over Golan

Uriel Ofek's Smoke Over Golan was written in the very immediate aftermath of Israel's Yom Kippur War. The war was a rather close call for Israel. Israel was surprised, and there were some rather large inital setbacks.

This is a children's novel. It is about a boy whose parents more to the then-uncharted Golan Heights to a farm where he becomes the only child in his school. There are a few adventures and a subplot about the boy's friendship with a Syrian who lives in the valley below the farm in the Golan Heights. The friendship transcends the politics which were hardly understood by the 10-year old.

The sub-plot should have been more well developed, but the story was good - for a children's book. This is not profound literature, but I am sure it has amused many 11-year olds.

Saturday, October 16, 2004

my week

So a bit of catching up on my week. I am on a three week mission. I am in New York and New Jersey almost the whole time, so I am not seeing any exotic locations or meeting really fascinating people, but I am doing something fairly OK, and working for good people. It is OK. I have to wake up really early every day, and I am pretty much with the same eight people all the time, but it is OK. The timing couldn't be worse though, getting me right in the middle of a semester.

I know things happened in the news, but I really did not have the time to see them. I heard Olive Drab this past Monday. They were good. I really like them live.

I got very little sleep lately.

I have had lots of conversations with lots of strangers on the subway lately. It is weird, quite a few strangers have started chatting with me. One was this gay guy who was really hitting me a lot. I was too polite, to the point of perhaps leading him on a bit. But then he got pretty obscene, and I felt a bit awkward. I wish women hit on me like that. Then there was this black guy who had been a military attache to various embassies. He was a pretty nice guy. I wish we had more time to chat. There were also these girls from my neighborhood who started to talk to me. On was interested in politics and the war in Iraq, and the other two were just weird. The list goes on.

I need sleep.

Friday, October 15, 2004

My Cereal Woes

I was in the supermarket mear my house the other day trying to get a few things I needed. One thing I really wanted was Alpha Bits cereal. I am a rather big fan. My supermarket carries - and I swear I counted - over 120 varieties of cereal, and there were no Alpha Bits. They did have the Alpha Bits with marshmallos, but I hate marshmallos. What is the world coming to? Over 120 varieties and no Alpha Bits!

Monday, October 11, 2004

Penn's self-righteous letter

By now we have all seen Sean Penn's arrogant letter to the makers of Team America World Police.

I still find it amazing that we let actors talk. I still find it amazing that actors are news. When we ask why the electorate is so uninformed, the answer seems so obvious. The media dedicates way too much space to what Sean Penn said about a movie.

Naturally, those who sit around and spend their time worrying about actors instead of politics should not vote. Who the heck wants semi-literate people who cannot distinguish reality from movies voting? I certainly don't.

(And for the Sean Penns out there I am one of those who may eventually be in harm's way in Iraq.)

Pick a zinger

An opinion piece in today's Columbia University Student Newspaper suggests that "It only takes one witty, original saying that will reach the undecided voters to determine this election". This is sadly true. The author actually seems to be endorsing that the candidates do this, ie, they pick a good line and ride it to victory.

It is sad that even those in our Ivy League have given up on political debate in favor of good one-liners.

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

Review of The Quark and the Jaguar

About 10 years ago, Murray Gell-Mann, the 1969 winner of the Noble Prize in Physics, wrote a rather interesting book: The Quark and the Jaguar. This book covers a whole variety of topics, but there seems to be two main points. The first point is scientific: that the universe is quite simple and from this simplicity all sorts of complex phenomena can emerge. The second point is polemical, namely that we should take care of the planet.

The author pretty much discusses or alludes to every famous scientific principle that is currently being talked about. Maxwell's Demon, genetic algorithms, Schrodinger's Cat, the theory of evolution, non-linear dynamics, market economies, Grand Unified Theories, and of course quantum mechanics, just to name a few. Gell-Mann clearly knows something about everything, and many of these things are interestingly discussed in the book, and a lot of them are even explained sufficiently so that you can get an idea of what it is.

(There is an interesting chapter on religious belief too, which I think might contain an early version of theories just coming out of cognitive science.)

Much of this sometimes seems disconnected, but the author is trying to describe the science of the simple and complex. Sometimes it seems to loose track of that. But the whole read, was, I thought, interesting.

At the end of the book it gets polemical. There is a slight nod toward explains the value of diversity on the planet. Both mostly there is a lot of discussion about how it should happen, what should be done, and what we would have to do to change. I thought that part of the book was weak, as I was not told why we should care about the rain forests, except that perhaps we might find some wonder drug there that some indigenous tribe has been using to cure cancer for millennia that noon picked up on yet. I would have liked to see some real good examples of what useful things ethnobotnists have found that we did not know about before. Also, I thought that the talk about the necessary change that would have to come about was very rough. I would have like some creative details.

But the book was a good read, and the style was sufficiently engaging. There were even a few interesting philosophical points along the way. It was definitely not time wasted in reading the book.