The ramblings of an Eternal Student of Life     
. . . still studying and learning how to live
 
 
Monday, May 31, 2004
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A guy at work gave me a copy of the Wall Street Journal the other day (May 27 edition). I’m not the WSJ type — not a “hyper-capitalist” at all (though I’m not really anti-capitalist either; I’m just against the extremes that business seems to go to these days). But it’s still good to keep up with what the business sector is talking about, so I put the Journal in my “water closet” reading pile.

After a few visits to the loo, I noted two articles of interest. I thus decided to share them with my blogging audience, all 5 or 6 of you –- thanks for your support! And please be assured that this is a not-for-profit blog; it has nothing to do with those sales arrangements encouraged by sites like www.aiyo.com (talk about capitalist extremes). Anyway, here are my WC reflections on the WSJ:

1.) On the heavy side, there was an article about Airbus and its A380, a commercial jet liner now in development. Once it starts flying, supposedly in 2006, it will be the world’s largest passenger jet, bigger than the Boeing 747. It will be able to hold up to 800 passengers, depending on how tightly the airlines decide to pack ‘em in (and the airlines generally pack ‘em in pretty tight).

The article focused on the problems that Airbus management and engineers have had in controlling the A380’s weight. The problem is, the more the plane weights, the more fuel it uses. The more fuel it uses, the more it costs to operate. The more it costs to operate, the less money it makes in the highly competitive air passenger market (and in these days of extreme capitalism, just about every market is highly competitive). So, the Airbus engineers are breaking a lot of old rules, in terms of using carbon-epoxy composites instead of aluminum for critical wing structures.

Today’s planes use a lot of carbon composite parts, but they stick to metal for the most critical load-bearing things. That’s because the designers know how metal responds to wind shears and rough landings and rapidly changing air temperatures (in 10 minutes, a plane can go from 120 degrees on the runway to way below zero up at cruising altitudes). They really don’t know that much about how composites will react under load in such conditions. But what the heck, Airbus is betting the farm on the A380 in its battle with Boeing to dominate the commercial aircraft industry. Too bad that it’s also betting the lives of up to 800 people on each A380 flight in its quest to be king.

Oh, and to save a few more pounds, Airbus is substituting aluminum electrical wire for the usual copper. Although aluminum wire is lighter, it’s more brittle than copper. And brittle is not good in something that twists and flaps like a big airplane does (did you ever watch the motion of an airplane’s wings during turbulence, or during a rough landing? Actually, perhaps it’s best not to).

Back in the 50’s and 60’s, when the government actually tried to discourage monopolies, industries adopted more of a live-and-let-live attitude. Because of the threat of antitrust lawsuits, they would generally forgo the chance to rake in big profits and settle for just enough to keep their investors from bolting. Today, it seems like we’ve gone back to the mentality of the early 20th Century, when monopolies like Standard Oil would do anything to knock off their competitors and rake in the dough – including endangering the welfare of their customers and employees. It will be interesting to see if Airbus is also going a little bit too far here.

I’m sure that Airbus and the airlines will get the A380 up in the air; but will it have the generally good crash history that the 757 and 767 have had, or will it become another DC-10? I myself will not be in any hurry to fly an A380, despite the low fares they will allow (Virgin Atlantic, a low-fare trans-Atlantic carrier, had signed up for some; but they’ve decided to wait a bit, let someone else be the first to fly them).

2.) On the slightly lighter side, there’s an article about Aliquippa, Pennsylvania, another one of those rust-belt industrial cities that fell upon hard times in the 70s and 80s and still hasn’t gotten out of the hole. Aliquippa has been down on it’s luck since its big J&L; Steel plant closed around 1983. Thousands of jobs were lost, unemployment went way up, the town went broke, people moved out, and almost no new businesses came in (although a small US Gypsum operation started and created 200 jobs). Under such conditions, it’s not surprising that alcoholism and drug abuse has become more prevalent. Aliquippa is one of those places that got stepped on by the cowboy capitalist ethic that I discussed above. (Admittedly, controlling this new hyper-capitalist ethic won’t be as easy as in the early 20th Century, when antitrust and pro-union laws did the trick, followed by environmental laws in the 70s; we are now living with a highly international economy, where American antitrust and union and environmental laws have no effect in places like India and China; there are no easy answers, as trade barriers just shoot ourselves in the foot).

A broken down town in a gloomy valley outside of Pittsburgh … this is light, you ask? Well, no. But the article also quoted Aliquippa’s City Manager, who came across as a highly intelligent, professional and devoted public official trying his best to somehow find a way out of the mess that his town is in. Given the town’s problems with substance abuse, however, his name was a bit unfortunate: Mister Stoner.

Well, in keeping with my promise to zip this blog up a bit, I’m going to close with a nice picture, a picture of a cloud. As to Airbus, I hope that its A380s with their 800 passengers soar above every such cloud to safe landings every trip. And as to the stoners in Aliquippa, I suppose they can relate to a “cloud 9”. But I hope that the glowing edge of this cloud foretells an upcoming “silver lining” for Mister Stoner and all the people fighting for a comeback in his town.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 12:40 pm       No Comments Yet / Leave a Comment
 
 
Saturday, May 29, 2004
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NICKNAME TRIVIA: Back in 4th or 5th grade, the kids in my class had a nickname for Volkswagen Beetles: “nope-a-diddles”. I never found out where that name came from or just what it meant. Was that a widespread thing, or was it limited to my part of Jersey? I couldn’t seem to find any reference to that name on the big search engines.

I myself never had a Beetle, don’t remember even riding in one. That was one part of the 60’s and 70’s that just passed me right on by. But I do remember kids in the back of a schoolbus yelling out “NOPE-A-DIDDLE” whenever a Beetle passed by. And back then, that was just about every minute!

HOT RECIPE ADVICE: I was looking for something new and interesting to cook the other day, so I opened a recipe book and found something called “mulligatawny soup”. It’s basically a spicy lentil soup heated up with cayenne pepper flakes; not bad. Interestingly enough, one of the main spices in it is turmeric. I had some old powdered turmeric lying around; I hardly ever use it because of its bland, earthy taste. But I read the other day that turmeric may help to prevent colon cancer, as it helps to reduce inflammation down in the body’s sewer system. Perhaps that helps to explain the odd combination of pepper flakes and turmeric in the recipe; pepper is obviously an irritant, and perhaps the turmeric helps to counter it. That won’t be the first time that a food recipe has deep but unspoken wisdom behind it. The folk who invented mulligatawny soup probably didn’t have access to medical research regarding turmeric; my guess it that over time, the cooks and the consumers of the soup just felt better with it in there, and so turmeric became a traditional ingredient.

(HOWEVER: I did check out some other recipes on the net, and a lot of them didn’t have turmeric … still, it is a traditional Indian condiment, often used in curries).

The next time I’m cooking something hot and spicy like three-alarm chili (vegetarian, of course), I think I’ll add a tablespoon or two of turmeric. The chili probably won’t taste any better or worse, but it might get thru my system a little easier. And at my age, easy is good.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 11:56 am       No Comments Yet / Leave a Comment
 
 
Monday, May 24, 2004
Art & Entertainment ... Weather ...

I had a friend my age who was one of those techno-geek-loners (which I also qualify for, admittedly). Today, the younger techno-geek-loners generally do OK as software engineers. Unfortunately, the computer revolution hadn’t really begun yet back when my erstwhile friend was in college, so Rick settled for chemical engineering. In those days, computers were big, crude uncool things (such as the IBM 360 and other monsters made by Burroughs and Sperry-Rand) that were only used for accounting, payroll and inventory functions. So it wasn’t surprising that computers didn’t capture Rick’s imagination back when he was making career choices.

Rick eventually moved to Ohio, where he eventually bought a house. He lived there by himself (and probably still does). The place was rather — eh, shall we say sparsely furnished. Interior decoration and meticulous housekeeping were not exactly Rick’s forte. Rick was a good guy with a witty and intelligent air about him, but deep down there was a cloud of Sarte-like anomie hanging over his life.

I visited Rick in Ohio a couple of times before we lost touch (mainly my fault — I was entering my own “eremitic” phase). On a disinspiring Saturday afternoon while Rick and I were trying to think of something to do, I remember him making a comment about feeling down. Rick’s environment would send most people tumbling into clinical depression, but good old Rick was a hearty strain — a pack of cigarettes and couple of beers was all he needed for mental health. Well, actually more than a couple …

Anyway, I asked Rick what was wrong, and he motioned his cigarette toward the TV, where some nondescript mid-afternoon movie was on. He told me that the movie channel had an all-week Dennis Quaid festival underway. I had been reading the paper or something and generally ignoring the tube, but his comment made me pay attention to the cinematic delight in question. After a half hour or so, I started feeling blue too. There was indeed something depressing about watching Dennis Quiad in some cheesy melodrama on a cloudy mid-afternoon. I finally thought of some museum or tourist trap that I wanted to see, and we got out into the light where our moods improved a little. Rick lived outside of Akron in flatland Ohio, so they didn’t improve all that much; the overall surroundings were rather “Quaidian” in themselves.

So, when I read about Quaid’s new movie, “The Day After Tomorrow”, I was reminded of that afternoon with Rick. Yet another pepper-upper by Dennis Quiad. What’s interesting about Day After Tomorrow is that it has gained a cache of respectability by dealing with the all-too-serious environmental threat caused by global warming. As the tornadoes gather and the snow falls, Quaid is finally having his moment in the sun.

The scenario presented in the movie unfolds way too fast, in keeping with Hollywood’s need to pander to America’s 30-second attention span. However, respectable scientists have said that natural temperature trends now under way, exacerbated by industrial atmospheric emissions, could conceivably change ocean currents in a way that triggers a new ice age. (Yes, it seems strange that global warming could start an ice age; but the warming trend could break our ecosystem’s current equilibrium, and when equilibriums are broken, anything can happen). The glaciers wouldn’t arrive all at once, as in the movie; it might take 20 or 30 years before things get noticeably colder. But even 30 years would not be enough time for the human race to adapt. There would eventually be significant drops in agricultural production and mass migrations away from frozen zones and flooded coastlines, which would probably lead to resource wars. Things would get pretty nasty; the world could probably not support 6 billion people any longer. It would certainly endanger the comfortable and generally civilized style of life that about a half-billion Westerners (like myself) have become accustomed to.

It’s hard to believe that Mother Nature would betray us like that. But scientific studies indicate that the history of human civilization has occupied a temporary niche of relatively nice weather. The world climate seems to flip between warm and cold periods, maybe every 20,000 years or so. We’re not necessarily due for a change, but all the carbon dioxide and particulates and other stuff that we’ve thrown up into the atmosphere over the past 100 years or so may be pushing the system into a zone of instability and “phase shift”. The party of human prosperity is still going on, but it may be later than we think.

I thought it was quite appropriate for that notion to be popularized by a Dennis Quiad movie. As to Rick, well I recall that he was a pretty good cross-country skier and a bit of a survivalist (I think he had a gun somewhere in his house). And he just doesn’t get depressed too easily, despite his vulnerability to Quiad’s acting. Rick will probably do much better than I will if the Gulf Stream shut-down occurs within our lifetimes.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 7:55 pm       No Comments Yet / Leave a Comment
 
 
Saturday, May 22, 2004
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I know that this blog can be pretty heavy reading sometimes. So to perk it up a bit, I’m trying to add some imagry. When I was a kid, I used to like to sketch … especially in school while in the middle of a boring english class. However, I never got very good at drawing, as I just didn’t have a natural talent for it (I’m just not a “body-oriented” artistic type). But sketching was nonetheless a pleasant enough way to pass some time. I still have some of my creations, so I recently scanned them and fired up my Adobe Photoshop for some digital enhancement. Here’s one of the results. It’s the old train station near where I grew up, a place of nice memories from when I was a kid. Don’t go looking for it — it was torn down years ago.

I always had a thing for trains, and for a decade or two I was a full-fledged railfan. But I gave that up back in the early 90s, and good thing too since railroad fans are often accused these days of being potential terrorists (see the article about railfans in the May 24, 2004 issue of Time Magazine). So you shouldn’t take pictures of trains in America anymore, but hopefully sketching from memory (and then digitally enhancing it) is still allowed.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 3:20 pm       No Comments Yet / Leave a Comment
 
 
Wednesday, May 19, 2004
Personal Reflections ...

WE COULD BE HEROS: I generally try not to think about bugs too much. Just seeing them on the steps or crawling up a wall is enough for me. They are definitely not one of nature’s more aesthetic creations – too many spindly legs and jagged tentacles and black shells and stuff like that. But I will give bugs credit for one thing … they do behave like little heros. Ants and bees and wasps and other “social” insects will instantly give up their lives to defend their group (albeit, they don’t have any self-consciousness to foster any regrets about it).

As for human heroism … there is a surprising amount of it out there. Surprising to me, anyway. I try to think of myself as a humane person, but in the heroism department I probably fall short. I really don’t know if I would jump into an ice-cold river to save a drowning child. Thankfully, I’ve never been in that situation. An act like that requires an impulsive mindset (or someone who is a really good swimmer), and honestly, I don’t do well in impulsive situations.

When I was young, when I had my whole life ahead of me, heroism seemed like an easy and natural thing – even if death were to be the result. (But then again, I watched a lot of TV back then). Now, in my late middle age, with not all that many years left to go, risking my life to save another just doesn’t seem quite as simple. Maybe I’m just in an advanced stage of cynicism and burn-out.

But then again — I do have to wonder (partly as rationalization against my cowardliness) if heroism is a genetic thing. Science seems to be finding more evidence (inconclusive though it still is) that much of our social behavior has genetic origins or precursors. I’ve always had trouble with the generally shared but unspoken rules of social engagement (e.g., body language, tone of voice, sexual connotations, etc.), which are potentially determined to some degree by our genes. (Asperger’s, you ask? I’ll discuss that at a later time). So maybe my “hero genes” are a bit defective? Or is that I’m just not ready yet?

Hmmm … with inscrutable questions like that to deal with, who has time for the sound of one hand clapping? Or one hand swatting a bug?

◊   posted by Jim G @ 7:14 pm       No Comments Yet / Leave a Comment
 
 
Sunday, May 16, 2004
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SPIN CYCLE: I’m slowly going through my “Great Minds of the Western World” CD lectures from The Teaching Company. I’ve made it to the 17th Century, and just heard the story of Sir Isaac Newton. The great minds of the 16th and 17th Centuries were quite amazing, and Sir Isaac was the amazing of the amazing. In just a few months, mostly as a spare time project, Newton thought up the basic concepts and math for what we now call “physics”. And after he finished it, he stuffed his notes in a drawer and forgot about them until 20 years later, when astronomer Halley paid him a visit to discuss the motion of planets. Newton suddenly remembered that he had previously sketched out some math, but he wasn’t sure just where those notes were anymore. Luckily, he eventually found them and published them, and the world took a huge step out of the dark mists of ignorance and misunderstanding (i.e., a world where things moved according to “magic”).

Yea, you’ve gotta have a pretty big mind to put together the idea of “force equals mass times acceleration” and “momentum equals mass times velocity” and “the force of gravity is inversely proportionate to the square of the distance between two objects”. Put all that together with the recently invented Cartesian 3-dimensional coordinate grid, as Newton did, and you could relate force and mass and time and motion in one neat little package. Quite a useful thing, as it turned out. (Unfortunately, as always, the military was one of the first groups to see the value of this new idea; using Newton’s system, they could figure out with great accuracy where a cannon ball or an artillery shell would land).

Well, I don’t have a mind anywhere near as big as Newton’s, nor do I remember much about the math behind basic physics, despite having studied it in engineering school many years ago. But I was tempted to do a bit of ersatz “big thinking” myself after watching Brian Greene’s PBS special about superstring theory, “The Elegant Universe”. I was intrigued by the simple exposition of hidden dimensions that Greene presented — recall that one of superstring’s biggest conceptual challenges is its need for 10 or 11 dimensions, well beyond the 3 space dimensions and one time dimension that we perceive in our daily life.

Greene said that as far as we are concerned here in our day-to-day world, the extra dimensions of superstring are rolled up into tiny little balls, and thus they can’t take us anywhere relative to our three dimensions. He made an analogy to a long wire cable. You could step back and look at a long, straight piece of cable, and it looks like something that has only has only one dimension, i.e. length. However, if you zoom in on the cable, down to the perspective of an ant, it has two “degrees of freedom”: length, given that the ant can walk along the cable; but also, the cable has a circular dimension … the ant can walk in circles around the cable. That ant would hardly get anywhere if it just keeps on spinning round and round the cable; the circular dimension isn’t doing it much good, just as the hidden dimensions of superstring theory don’t allow us to do any hyper-dimensional transporting. (Hyper dimensional transporting would be really cool … if there were to be a linear hyper-dimension, you could disappear and show up a few seconds later in an entirely different place; imagine the fun you could have … here I am, now I’m on the other side of the room, now I’m across the street, now I’m back again, where will I show up next?).

Greene then said not to take this example too literally … it’s a “sort of” analogy, because the concepts behind superstring are much weirder and harder to understand. Well, doing some Newtonian big-think, but on a more literal basis (well below the level of superstring mathematics, which I’ll never come close to understanding, and not even up to Einsteinian relativity), it occurred to me that you might be able to come up with a different way of looking at day-to-day physical matter and movement. I wondered if Newton could have decided that there are six dimensions by which we should describe the movements in time and space of all matter. The first three are the highly apparent ones: length, width and depth. The extra three are circular dimensions that are wrapped around the big three linear dimensions, just as in Greene’s example of the ants walking around the cable. The first three dimensions are used to describe an object’s relative position and its linear movement. The next three couldn’t tell you a thing about an object’s position or linear movement, but they could tell you what it’s doing with regard to spin.

When you think about it, spin is a strange thing (I’m talking about regular spin, not the totally abstract and weird concept of “spin” for elementary particles … or the totally down-to-earth and weird concept of political spin). You airplane pilots are very familiar with spin; you call it roll, pitch and yaw. When you’re up there in the clouds, either on a Piper Cub or a jumbo jet, roll, pitch, and yaw are life-and-death issues for you. But for us non-pilots, well … try thinking about a spinning top (that is, if anyone still spins tops, like I did when I was a kid; one year it was yo-yos, the next year it was tops … I guess today it’s skateboards). A spinning top definitely has some interesting characteristics, all of which can be adequately described in three-dimensional space through Physics 101 concepts like “angular momentum” and “center of gravity” and “moment arms”. But still, back when I was studying basic physics, these concepts seemed like some sort of “retro-fit” to make a distinctive type of physical behavior (i.e., spin) comprehensible to our three dimensional system. So why couldn’t our physics have been based on six dimensions instead (plus time as the seventh), to better accommodate the reality of spin?

My mind is too old and weak to come up with what the math would have looked like in such a system. But I can take a guess here … it would describe every point on a grid based on it’s length, width and height relative to the starting point, then would also describe what that point was doing with regard to spin along the length, width and height axes (i.e., roll, pitch and yaw). Of course, those extra three descriptions would get pretty complex; when an object is spinning along an axis, one set of points in it is experiencing “true spin”, like the stillpoint center of a spinning wheel. The other points of a spinning body are flying around through length, width and height according to their radial distance and angle relative to that stillpoint axis. I’m not sure if all this would be a better way to describe a spinning object than the way that our 3D basic physics works. It might have been much more convoluted. But still, I wonder if it could have worked, if we could have gotten used to it, had spin been personally judged as something distinctive by the person who founded physics (i.e., Newton)?

Well, there isn’t any practical value in my ponderings here. None whatsoever. But nevertheless, it’s fun (for me anyway) to put one’s self in Newton’s shoes, and see what other approaches he might have taken to describing how things work in our “regular world”. Things are the way that they are for historical reasons, but it’s interesting to ponder whether they could have been different. Not necessarily for better, not necessarily for worse … but different! Who knows, maybe someday we will make contact with an extra-terrestrial life form, and maybe their basic physics will use three linear dimensions, three
spin dimensions, and one time dimension (just as their number systems may not be based on multiples of ten, as ours is). But then again, they may be so advanced that our theoretical 11 “superstring” dimensions will be accepted doctrine to them. Or maybe they will be up to 47 dimensions or some crazy number … who knows!!!

◊   posted by Jim G @ 3:49 pm       No Comments Yet / Leave a Comment
 
 
Friday, May 14, 2004
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If you are into politics, you already know that it ain’t always easy to say who is a liberal and who is a conservative. I remember a history class back in my college day where the prof asked what makes a liberal and what makes a conservative. He obviously believed that there actually existed such a definition. So did I. I raised my hand and gave my viewpoint. The prof totally nixed my answer, and kindly provided his own. And his explanation made no sense whatsoever to me.

So it didn’t surprise me when I read that President Bush is in trouble with the “true conservatives” over Iraq, who feel that America has no business doing any nation-building beyond its own borders. On the other side of the coin, there are people who consider themselves liberals and yet promote the use of military force to stop injustices (such as ethnic cleansing in Serbia or Kosovo – recall the Clinton years). In other words, being a conservative doesn’t always mean being a hawk, and being a liberal doesn’t always mean being a dove.

I’m old enough to remember the Vietnam War days here in America. By 1968, it seemed quite clear that liberalism meant stopping the war and bringing our boys home. And yet, back in the John F. Kennedy years, liberal idealism could still be reconciled with sending soldiers and guns to help forward the cause of democracy and human liberties in far-off places like Vietnam.

I just read an article that makes me wonder if that earlier version of liberalism was such a horrible thing after all. Recently, the communist government in Vietnam imposed some very heavy restrictions on Internet cafes, where most of those Vietnamese who know how to use the Web gain access to it (remember, Vietnam is still an extremely poor agrarian country; relatively few people can afford a computer, fewer still can get even basic dial-up). Every café now has to cooperate with the government by recording personal identification for every Net user, and by tracking everything they do during their session. Talk about Big Brother! The Vietnamese government is obviously trying to choke off the Internet as a voice of dissent. Visit the wrong sites or use the wrong words in your e-mails, and you will soon be paid a visit by a “party representative”. And his visit ain’t gonna be anything to party over. Maybe he’ll let you off with a warning, and maybe not. There’s always a spot waiting at the local “re-education” camp.

This is the kind of stuff that keeps nations locked in the Stone Age, that strangles the creative spirit that fosters things like economic growth and human respect and government by law (versus poverty and authoritarianism and government by fear — which pretty much sums up Vietnam since the communists took full control in 1974). Kennedy and company arguably saw it coming back in the early 60s, and did what they could to stop it. Lyndon Johnson saw that JFK’s efforts weren’t working, and ratcheted them up to absurd levels, whereby hundreds of young Americans were dying each week (and who knows how many thousand Vietnamese).

Back in the late 60s and early 70s, the Vietnamese War seemed like such an evil thing to us young men facing the meatgrinder (read, the draft). But now, looking back 35 years, it seems more like classic tragedy, where the noble intentions of a few unforeseeably beget disastrous results for the many. Those Greeks knew what they were talking about when they wrote tragedy. The themes they espoused in their plays still rang true in Southeast Asia in the late 60s. The idealistic Americans were ironically blind to the fact that the Vietnamese people are a rabidly nationalistic lot, who would much rather embrace a horrible form of home-brewed government than consider an enlightened system defended by tall, white foreigners from afar.

In the end, it was the pragmatic argument against the war in Vietnam that was correct, versus the neo-liberal / semi-pacifist / anti-establishment rhetoric that was so popular back around 1969. The truth was that even if we were fighting for the right thing, there was no way we could have won. We were battling against thousands of years of culture and history in Vietnam that we couldn’t understand, but that our enemies knew as naturally as they knew how to breath.

Is the Iraqi war also going the Greek tragedy route? I’ve already read some interesting quotes from Army generals assigned to Iraq, saying that we really don’t understand what’s going on. I’m totally cynical about the motivations of George Bush and Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld and company in starting this war. But I honestly sympathize with the military brass, who seemed to have embraced the idea that they were part of a crusade – OOPS, bad word! – OK, a campaign to bring liberty and democracy and economic growth to the people of Iraq, while still respecting their Islamic heritage. Unfortunately, the Furies seem to have been released, and the military people are bearing the brunt of their rage – from RPG’s and mortars set off by guerrilla groups, to the spiritual corruption of young American men and women assigned to Abu Ghraib.

It looks to me as though an American “war of choice” has once again brought us past the point where “liberal” and “conservative” viewpoints mean anything. The big question in Iraq has become: Is it realistic? Is it achievable? Or is it just a sad and ironic waste of many lives? Are the stars just not in the right place right now for reform in Iraq – just as they weren’t, and still aren’t, in Vietnam?

◊   posted by Jim G @ 11:47 pm       No Comments Yet / Leave a Comment
 
 
Wednesday, May 12, 2004
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GRAPHIC IRAQI REALITY: Yea, I saw the video of Nicholas Berg’s untimely end in Iraq. Someone at work found a site with it. It’s so awful that my mind couldn’t accept it literally. No, I subconsciously thought, that can’t really be happening; it’s just another scene from a violent TV show or Hollywood movie.

Sure, the USA got rid of Saddam Hussein and his horrible style of torture and violence. But we haven’t brought civilization back to Iraq; we obviously haven’t vanquished the mindset that develops in the midst of poverty and ignorance, a mindset which accepts violence and blood feuding as a given. Instead of infusing the Iraqis with order and civilization, it looks as though they have infected many of our soldiers with disregard for human dignity. After the Weapons of Mass Destruction rationale was found to be a canard, Mr. Bush and company espoused the notion that this was a fight for the redemption of the Arab and Moslem world via civilized institutions like constitutions, democracy, education, free markets and human rights. If that’s what this war is about, then it’s pretty clear that we are losing.

I’M ON A MEXICAN UFO, WHOA, WHOA: On a lighter note, I enjoyed the report about the Mexican Air Force pilots who were flying along on a routine surveillance mission, then suddenly picked up a bunch of strange, super-fast moving things on both their radar and their infra-red scopes. Interestingly enough, they never saw the darn things; the pilots were relying entirely on their instrument observations. Do machines lie? Well, sometimes … but it would be awfully strange for two different detection systems to simultaneously give crazy readings like that. Was it all just a coincidence? The truth is out there … down Mexico way.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 7:30 pm       No Comments Yet / Leave a Comment
 
 
Saturday, May 8, 2004
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Here’s a memory, an appropriate one after my recent comments on McDonalds. Before Mickey D’s took over the world, there were places like this … the Hot Grill. The food was hearty, but it definitely wasn’t any better for you.

To be honest, I never ate at the Hot Grill. For junk food, my family always went to another place up the road called Rutts Hutt. But I did once apply for a job at the Hot Grill. I was 18 and looking for a summer job, and I saw an ad in the paper. So I drove over there, went into the kitchen, found the manager, and told him I was interested in the position. He took one look at me and said “sorry, not hiring”. Oh well, that was the first of many unsuccessful job interviews to come in my life. At least that one was mercifully short. And hey, a few weeks later I got a job on the railroad, a job with better working conditions (that kitchen, like all fast food kitchens, was noisy, hot and crowded) and much better pay.

Still, it’s nice to see that the Grill is still there, slinging out dogs and fries and chili … especially if you own stock in the pharmaceutical companies that make Lipitor and the other cholesterol drugs.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 1:32 pm       No Comments Yet / Leave a Comment
 
 
Wednesday, May 5, 2004
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I finally saw the torture / abuse pictures taked by US troops at the Abu Ghraib military jail near Baghdad. Very disgusting. Not disgusting in the same way that pictures from WW2 Nazi concentration camps are disgusting — most if not all of the victims in the Abu Ghraib pictures are probably going to get back to their normal lives before long. But to think that Americans, seemingly decent Americans serving their country, were sexually humiliating their detainees just for a good laugh … I always thought we were above that. Sure, the Baathist elements were disgustingly brutal to the four Americans captured and killed in Fallujah not long ago. But I thought we went to Iraq to set the better example, to restore civilization, and not to engage in an eye-for-an-eye, old-fashioned blood feud.

If you are an American, try reversing the picture in your mind and see how you would feel. Imagine those naked bodies belonging to young Americans, and the soldiers in the scenes are dark-skinned Arabs with big moustaches. If you’re a red-blooded American, your blood will probably start to boil at the thought. So imagine what millions of Arabs in crowded streets in Jordan and Egypt and Saudi Arabia and Yemen and Pakistan, etc. are thinking. What they may well be thinking is this: the Americans are truly at war with us Arabs, and not just with the bad element as they like to tell us (e.g. Osama Bin Laden and Sadaam Hussein). The zealots are right when they say that America is our enemy.

In a few days, most of us Americans are going to forget about those pictures. But what about poor Arabs in Karachi and Amman and Duabi and Tunis and the West Bank? How soon will they forget? If it does any good, I offer my own apologies to the Arab and Moslem world for what my fellow Americans did, and for what my President did not do (i.e., have the guts to take the blame and apologize). I hope that you can somehow forgive the incredible weakness that sometimes follows from our incredible wealth and military might.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 9:13 pm       No Comments Yet / Leave a Comment
 
 
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