Monday, May 26, 2008
War has been with humans ever since the beginning of civilization and probably beforehand. Through centuries, countless young people have died fighting for their country, tribe, family, cause, etc. In recognition of their bravery, we should also have the courage to admit that wars, even/often those in which the U.S. is a participant, are not always noble affairs. We should be careful to distinguish between the bravery of young people, the legitimacy of the conflict they are involved in, and the enterprise of war in general.
Every nation-state, except Costa Rica, needs an army. The soldiers who serve in these armies usually have little say in the actions they are asked to perform. However, statesmen who make decisions about war and peace have the power, and should have the wisdom, to decide when war is just and when it is not. Certainly a war like WWII was just and necessary. On the other hand, numerous other wars and military operations over the years have been more questionable. In general, leaders should be hesitant to go to war. They should be hesitant to put the lives of young people on the line. And their certainly is no glory in dying in a war. We aren't Klingons after all. Death in war is nothing but tragic and sad.
War should be avoided whenever possible. It seems like such a simple maxim, but for millennia war has plagued humanity. The most important step in reducing the phenomena of war is creating a culture that abhors war rather than glorifies it. A society that glorifies war is more likely to engage in the practice. A society that despises war is less likely to instigate an armed conflict. Instead of hailing the young people who have died in war as glorious, we should lament their deaths. We should admit that war is a gruesome and disgusting disease that infects our species.
Like a virus, war may never be completely eliminated from our world, but also like a virus, it may be managed. Perhaps we can potentially reduce the number and severity of wars and make war an option of last resort and most importantly refuse to glorify war, while still honoring those who have tragically died as a result of armed conflict.
Thursday, May 22, 2008
Tuesday, May 20, 2008
Can you imagine a more "environmentally challenged" logo? A beautiful blue-green earth being covered in red paint that looks like blood! And to top it off their slogan is "Cover the Earth". Unbelievable! Earth to marketing department...your logo was designed by Dick Cheney.
I have no idea what the environmental record of this company is. Maybe it's good, but that is beside the point. It seems that they have totally missed the boat on creating a "green" image, which, if you are a company trying to sell a product, is very important.
Addenum: I just went to the company website and this is what it said about their logo:
"Our historical logo is one of the most recognized company logos in existence. Created in the late 1800's, the logo's purpose was to represent the company's desire to help beautify and protect the buildings of the world. It was a symbol of a young company's enthusiasm, idealism and hope regarding its future and the possibility for achievement that hovered on the nation's horizon. Over the years our "Cover the Earth" logo has become a figurative emblem signifying integrity and service."
Whether or not it was created in the 1800s and is "historical", this logo has got to go. It's a public relations disaster! I mean, if slackers like me are blogging about it, you have a problem.
Also, I have been looking around the internet and many other bloggers have commented on the company's logo. In the comments section of many of these posts, there are "people", who are obviously Sherwin-Williams employess, trying to attack the bloggers! For example one "person" writes:
"I’m not sure who you are or what this website is all about, I simply stumbled upon while looking for a SW logo to print off. I think you should know that Sherwin-Williams was the first major paint company to stop making lead paint. They did decades before the federal government passed legislation that made it illegal . Sherwin-Williams is also the leading innovator in making low voc and “green” paints. The logo is actually the fourth most recognizable logo in the world and that is why is not dropped. People like the logo and have for years, and I do not see that changing in the near future."
"Does focusing on such a trivial and superficial aspect of a company’s corporate policies seem a wise investment of time? The symbol and the company are over one hundred years old. They have a right to acknowledge that history. Perhaps your time would better be spent focusing on real issues like the actual environmental policies of the company or the government than it it is railing about such a cosmetic issue."
It's crazy to think that this company pays people to go around and write comments in blogs in order to change public opinion! Guys, get with the times and change your logo or else suffer the cold wrath of the market.
Sunday, May 18, 2008
I just watched Michael Moore's Sicko this weekend. While the juxtaposition of the "perfect" health systems in France, Canada, and Cuba to the "hellish" one in the U.S. was a bit oversimplified (you can likely find people with health care horror stories in any country), Moore does bring up some very good points.
One of these is that the interests of health care organizations and especially drug companies, which are desperate to be profitable, in the U.S. are diametrically opposed to those of patients. A patient wants the system to spend as much money on him/her as possible, while an insurance organization, especially one which is publicly traded, has an incentive to spend as little on the patient as possible and to seek reasons to deny care. This point is insightful because, whether or not health care functions better in the U.S., the system is still set up in an adversarial way. Instead of feeling like they are cared for, patients become the opponents of the system that is supposed to help them get well. When you walk into a doctor's office in the U.S., the first thing you think of is not "How am I going to get well?" but "How much will this cost?" and "I know I am going to get screwed!"
Another interesting point Moore brings up, which lies at the center of his argument, is that not all industries function better when privatized. As examples of "socialized" institutions, Moore gives the U.S. postal system and the public school system. I would agree with him that both these institutions are public, but they coexist alongside private organizations which offer similar and often higher caliber services. Fed Ex and UPS are superior to USPS, but also more expensive. With respect to education, private schools at all levels are quite often (not always) superior to their public counterparts. Of course, like good health care, excellent private schooling is only available to those with money and excellent public schools are usually found in high income areas.
My guess is that a new health care system in the U.S., if it ever comes to pass (and that is a big IF), will likely be similar to the differences between public and private schools. The wealthy will continue to have private health care and will get the "best of the best". At the same time, the rest of the country will have a public system with a mixed level of quality (a small number of very good facilities and large number of mediocre ones)...but at least it will be mostly free. It is unlikely that drug costs will go down anytime soon though.
Wednesday, May 14, 2008
The film is filled with overt references to nihilism, which can be defined as:
the philosophical stance that existence is without meaning, purpose, or intrinsic value, and that there is no morality whatsoever.
And, although I don't think the term "slacker" is overtly used, the Big Lebowski himself refers to The Dude as a "bum", which we can take to mean the same thing. A quick jump to Wikipedia gives us this definition of the term slacker:
a term commonly used to refer to a person who avoids work or military service, or (primarily in North American English) an educated person who is anti-materialistic and viewed as an underachiever.
So what makes a slacker so amusing and loveable while a nihilist is an object of derision? I'd say that the fundamental difference lies solely in the way an individual perceives the philosophy and projects it onto themselves. That is, there really is no difference between a slacker and a nihilist other than that nihilists have made "caring for nothing" an ethos and point of introspection, while slackers are too lazy or too stupid to focus on the matter.
In a sense, The Dude is more nihilistic than a nihilist because he doesn't obsess over his nihilism. Theoretically, a nihilist shoudln't care about anything, even his/her own worldview. So, it seems that a nihilist is just a slacker who took his slacking a little too seriously.
Of course, the joke could be on the slackers as well. They deride and disparage the nihilists, all the while there is no morality or meaning in their own lives. The slackers are actually disgusted by a mirror image of themselves, albeit an image that takes the "philosophy" far more seriously...and makes bad German techno.
Monday, May 12, 2008
In general, people look at a multiparty system as if it were some mutant with eight legs, one eye, and five arms. The Fact of the matter is, most countries have many major political parties. The UK has three major parties and Brazil has 21.
But could we be in for a change? In this year's presidential election I really believe that there should have been four parties, each a splinter of the two major parties, each with its own candidate. It didn't work out that way, but maybe we are seeing some ideological/class/social divides that will eventually turn into splinter parties. Here are the four hypothetical parties and their constituencies:
1) The Progressive Party (Barack Obama) - brings together the odd assortment of yuppies, young idealists, educated do-gooders, african americans, hipsters, and hippies.
2) The Labor Party (Hilary Clinton) - "working class" liberals, latina/o laborers, older moderates.
3) The Defense Party (John McCain/Mitt Romney) - fiscal conservatives, older conservatives still wedded to big bombs and Cold War era defense, army veterans, older secular conservatives, young libertarians.
4) The Conservative Party (Mike Huckabee) - social conservatives, religious right.
This may never happen, but what if it did....someday.
Be careful, this site is addictive. Don't you want to know how Yoda became a Jedi? I rest my case.
Saturday, May 10, 2008
Friday, May 9, 2008
"Los Angeles, loath to rally cohesively around a local cause, has joined hands around tortillas."
"This a [sic] where you can pave over a freeway’s carpool lanes with toll roads, and few will complain. You can propose a 40-story skyrise in the center of Hollywood, and hardly anyone two miles to the west will take notice. You can squander public money, close down the ports and flatten landmarks, and many residents of this sprawling metropolis will simply yawn and move on."
I love The New York Times (gods bless you Paul Krugman), but the article, by Jennifer Steinhauer, did not need to commence with the predictable, cliché diss that so often prefaces stories about Los Angeles.
Look, L.A. has its problems, but at least we aren't home to George Steinbrenner and Staten Island...
The entire process of electing a president now takes over two years! Candidates raise insane amounts of money, which could be put to good use elsewhere, in order to buy television adds and hire enormous staffs that spend all day sending out spam.
In the U.S. we love elections but hate the actual process of government.
It's hard to see how this tendency will change. For ratings purposes, the media will always choose to report on a national political contest over talking about universal health care options or the environment. Pundits will talk about Iowa and New Hampshire for six months while letting biggest political story of our generation, The Iraq War, go by the wayside.
In the American mentality Hilary vs. Obama is just another Yankees vs. Red Sox or Lakers vs. Celtics. A competition in which we can root for our favorite candidate as we would root for our hometown team.
Is there anyway to address this problem?
Well, for one thing the primary season should be condesed into one month rather than lasting six months. This would lessen the impact of states like Iowa and New Hampshire and allow nominees to be chosen quickly. In addition, there should be public funding of candidates so that no candidate simply wins becasue they have more money. Finally, the policial "elite" class should focus on campaign issues and not so much on the demographics and characteristics of the race. That is, rather than spending all day talking about generational, geographical, and racial divides in the polity, they should discuss Iraq, the environment, health care, and income inequality.
Wednesday, May 7, 2008
His name was Charles Burke Elbrick and, at one point in time, he was the United States ambassador to Brazil. His interesting tale is recounted in the 1997 Brazilian film Four Days in September. In 1969 Ambassador Elbrick was kidnapped by a guerilla/revolutionary group called MR-8. The group sequestered the ambassador in order to bring attention to their struggle against the military dictatorship that ruled Brazil and to exchange his life for political prisoners.
Now why do I here recount this somewhat arcane piece of guerilla lore? Well, the movie brings up a good point: is there such a thing as "good" terrorism? In the U.S., we have been conditioned to think of terrorists as muslim fundamentalists who hate "freedom", and I don't deny that those kind of people exist. But there is also a long history of people who have used terrorism in order to fight for democracy, "freedom", etc. In Brazil, for example, the revolutinary groups struggled against a dictatorship that suspended human rights, freedom of press, and tortured and dissappeared thousands of Brazilians. Thus, was it okay for them to kidnap Mr. Elbrick? Something to think about.
Another interesting note from this story concerns one of the kidnappers, Fernando Gabeira. After the kidnapping, Senhor Gabeira went on to become a member of the Brazilian congress. That would be kind of like a member of the Symbionese Liberation Army becoming a congressman. Kind of.