Saturday, December 12, 2009

Quote of the Day: Indifference

Excerpt from The Perils of Indifference

Elie Weisel, 1999

...We are on the threshold of a new century, a new millennium. What will the legacy of this vanishing century be? How will it be remembered in the new millennium? Surely it will be judged, and judged severely, in both moral and metaphysical terms. These failures have cast a dark shadow over humanity: two World Wars, countless civil wars, the senseless chain of assassinations -- Gandhi, the Kennedys, Martin Luther King, Sadat, Rabin -- bloodbaths in Cambodia and Nigeria, India and Pakistan, Ireland and Rwanda, Eritrea and Ethiopia, Sarajevo and Kosovo; the inhumanity in the gulag and the tragedy of Hiroshima. And, on a different level, of course, Auschwitz and Treblinka. So much violence, so much indifference.

What is indifference? Etymologically, the word means "no difference." A strange and unnatural state in which the lines blur between light and darkness, dusk and dawn, crime and punishment, cruelty and compassion, good and evil.

What are its courses and inescapable consequences? Is it a philosophy? Is there a philosophy of indifference conceivable? Can one possibly view indifference as a virtue? Is it necessary at times to practice it simply to keep one's sanity, live normally, enjoy a fine meal and a glass of wine, as the world around us experiences harrowing upheavals?

Of course, indifference can be tempting -- more than that, seductive. It is so much easier to look away from victims. It is so much easier to avoid such rude interruptions to our work, our dreams, our hopes. It is, after all, awkward, troublesome, to be involved in another person's pain and despair. Yet, for the person who is indifferent, his or her neighbor are of no consequence. And, therefore, their lives are meaningless. Their hidden or even visible anguish is of no interest. Indifference reduces the other to an abstraction.

[...]

In a way, to be indifferent to that suffering is what makes the human being inhuman. Indifference, after all, is more dangerous than anger and hatred. Anger can at times be creative. One writes a great poem, a great symphony, one does something special for the sake of humanity because one is angry at the injustice that one witnesses. But indifference is never creative. Even hatred at times may elicit a response. You fight it. You denounce it. You disarm it. Indifference elicits no response. Indifference is not a response.

Indifference is not a beginning, it is an end. And, therefore, indifference is always the friend of the enemy, for it benefits the aggressor -- never his victim, whose pain is magnified when he or she feels forgotten. The political prisoner in his cell, the hungry children, the homeless refugees -- not to respond to their plight, not to relieve their solitude by offering them a spark of hope is to exile them from human memory. And in denying their humanity we betray our own.

Indifference, then, is not only a sin, it is a punishment. And this is one of the most important lessons of this outgoing century's wide-ranging experiments in good and evil.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Author: Santa Claus Relies On Robots, Gadgetry



Getting presents to all the good little boys and girls every Christmas is a monumental task for Santa Claus — and it's led some children to question how he does it.

In The Truth About Santa: Wormholes, Robots and What Really Happens on Christmas Eve, author Gregory Mone explains the elaborate systems that make it all possible.

Jump here to read / hear the whole story



Obama's Nobel Peace Prize Speech: A Just and Lasting Peace

Barack Obama, Truthout Transcript: "I receive this honor with deep gratitude and great humility. It is an award that speaks to our highest aspirations - that for all the cruelty and hardship of our world, we are not mere prisoners of fate. Our actions matter, and can bend history in the direction of justice. And yet I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge the considerable controversy that your generous decision has generated."

Read the Article

FINDING A VOICE by Ann Davidow

What would it take to believe some stories making the rounds? Is closer examination warranted to judge whether truth is stranger than fiction, if reality exists in some provable context or is simply the verbal gymnastics of fanatics and political opportunists?

Let’s see, a young white woman gives birth to a baby, fathered by a man from Kenya, and as soon as the infant is born, she thinks to herself “maybe some day my little biracial offspring could run for president of the United States.” Fearing that her status as an American citizen might not suffice, she rushes from her Kenyan birthing hut, boards a plane for Hawaii and persuades the registrar of births there to phony up a birth certificate and alert the local newspapers about her son’s arrival. What an ambitious woman, but that’s how mothers are sometimes. And darned if baby Barack didn’t become president after all; time to sow the seeds of doubt about a woman on a mission.

But despite attempts to question the president’s right to inhabit the White House, the “birther” thing hasn’t really taken hold except at tea-bag rallies and on some of the more scurrilous right-wing talk-shows. However, other lurid scenarios have been used to blur the line between fact and fiction. If so many Republicans believe ACORN stole the last election for Obama, could that actually be true?

In fact, ACORN is a community organization that seeks to help poor Americans find better housing, fairer wages and develop a political presence. However, in recent years it has become the butt of conservative attacks precisely because of its success registering minority voters who tend to vote for Democrats. True, there have been irregularities with workers trying to earn a few extra bucks making up names or registering Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck. Needless to say, though, if a cartoonish mouse or duck showed up they were not allowed to cast a ballot. On the other hand, in 2000 George Bush was swept into office by some characters in black robes who sat in the nation’s highest court. Who played the more nefarious role in shaping our history, ACORN or the Supremes?

Republicans are masters at creating outlandish tales about Democrats, e.g. their disdain for doddering old fools, oh not you Rush, the nation’s Grannies. According to popular wisdom on the right, Democrats, apparently having no elderly relatives of their own, would rather send Grandma to an early death than provide her with adequate medical care. When even respected members of Congress declare that “death panels” exist, a certain credibility attaches to their claims. Would it help if greater care were taken to clarify what is meant by end-of-life discussions - - probably not because facts would only confuse issues that have become political fodder for seekers of the limelight.

And according to the GOP base the gay lifestyle is a curable condition. Oklahoma’s Senator Inhofe says there have never been homosexuals in his large family. But I rather suspect there are some closeted incurables around the country, maybe even in Oklahoma, happy in secret with the life their sexual orientation dictates. A NYC subway scrawl once read “my mother made me a homosexual.” Underneath someone had responded, “If I send her the material would she make me one too” - - suggesting, some might say, that homosexuals are made not born. Could they be right or does their self-contained vision struggle against the tide of human diversity and the country’s civil rights tradition?

Can the American people subscribe to the view of leaders who distrust science and say the earth is but six thousand years old after, one assumes, counting the “begats” in Genesis? And what of the dinosaurs they believe shared Eden with Adam and Eve? Did they miss the boat or become extinct as a result of their cigarette habit as one anti-smoking poster depicted them?

Opinions abound but intense delivery is no guarantee of rational discourse or informational integrity. And when facts are distorted by religious belief or motivated by partisan ambitions, great damage is done to our political system. If, for example, Kansas Senator Brownback’s position were to prevail, the American people would be instructed by the Conference of Catholic Bishops regarding abortion and presumably other matters - - a major step towards organizing the country along religious lines. Is that what most people believe? Does that support our founding principles?

It is said in some media circles “we report, you decide”, but ostensibly earnest reportage can be just wildly improbable theorizing. It is often said that if something sounds too good to be true it probably isn’t true. By the same token, if a story or opinion seems too absurd to be believed, it probably shouldn’t be taken seriously.

Please respond to Ann Davidow's commentary by leaving comments below and sharing them with the BuzzFlash community.

FINDING A VOICE by Ann Davidow

HRC on Uganda




Dear
Daniel,

In October, a bill was introduced in Uganda's parliament that would make homosexual sex – already a crime there – punishable by life in prison, and punish HIV-positive people who have homosexual sex, as well as "serial offenders," with death. Since then, LGBT Ugandans have been subjected to something no human being should ever have to deal with: living with the knowledge that for them, their whole nation could very soon become Death Row.

Around the world, we wondered how this could happen, and where such violent hate could come from. The answer that slowly trickled out was chilling: here. Proponents of the gay death penalty in Uganda repeatedly cited the radical right's political and religious leaders who peddle so-called ex-gay therapies in this country as proof that gay people can change and are therefore responsible for their orientation. No, the ex-gay charlatans do not advocate the death penalty, but our world is worse off because of the lies that they are spreading. And when murderous people use their work as the foundation for one of the most horrific legislative proposals in recent history they need to take notice and take responsibility.

Yesterday, Ugandan officials announced that the anti-homosexuality law would no longer authorize executions and life imprisonment, and that the government would instead direct the so-called offenders to "ex-gay" programs. Although we are relieved that approximately 500,000 Ugandans seem to be out of the risk of death, this proposal still aims to terrorize LGBT Ugandans and their families and must be defeated.


We must not only exert pressure upon foreign governments to reject violence and discrimination, we must continue to educate here at home.

Fondly,

joe_solmonese_signature_150

Joe Solmonese
President, Human Rights Campaign

Bill Moyers and Michael Winship | The Land Mines Obama Won't Touch

Bill Moyers and Michael Winship, Truthout: "Many people are troubled that Barack Obama flew to Oslo to receive the Nobel Peace Prize so soon after escalating the war in Afghanistan. He is now more than doubling the number of troops there when George W. Bush left office."

Read the Article

A doggy Christmas surprise - Karácsonyi kutyás meglepetés

Quote of the Day via the SacBee:

I was raised Christian, and narrowly "escaped." Only 1 in 12 people ever escape the religion that they are indoctrinated into. Luckily, I'm one of the "1."

I know it's scary to think outside the parameters that you've been conditioned to think within your whole life, but I promise you this (and it's a promise you can take to the bank, unlike the promises made by politics and religion): the sooner you free yourself of religion's tyranny, the sooner you will begin to more fully appreciate your life and temporal existence on this Earth.

Whether you just disassociate with religion, become agnostic or full on atheist, it's great knowing that you approach your life with logic, reason, and a sense of self-destiny. Think for yourself. Your life will be SO much better.

Jump here to read the article and the anon discussion post


Wednesday, December 9, 2009

This from Alterdestiny: Obama's Accomplishments

This from Alterdestiny:

Nathan Newman suggests otherwise, noting a tremendous list of accomplishments:

Quick Summary of 2009 Progressive Victories

  • Three major health bills (SCHIP, tobacco regulation, and stimulus funds for Medicaid, COBRA subsidies, health information technology and the National Institutes of Health) enacted even before comprehensive reform
  • Stimulus contained myriad other individual policy victories, not only preventing a far worse depression but also:
    • Delivered key new funds for education
    • Expanded state energy conservation programs and new transit programs
    • Added new smart grid investments
    • Funded high-speed Internet broadband programs
    • Extended unemployment insurance for up to 99 weeks for the unemployed and modernizing state UI programs to cover more of the unemployed
    • Made large new investments in the safety net, from food stamps (SNAP) to affordable housing to child care
  • Clean cars victory to take gas mileage requirements to 35mpg
  • Protection of 2 million acres of land against oil and gas drilling and other development
  • Executive orders protecting labor rights, from project labor agreements to protecting rights of contractor employees on federal jobs
  • Stopping pay discrimination through Lilly Ledbetter and Equal Pay laws
  • Making it easier for airline and railway workers to unionize, while appointing NLRB and other labor officials who will strengthen freedom to form unions
  • Reversing Bush ban on funding overseas family planning clinics
  • Passing hate crimes protections for gays and lesbians
  • Protecting stem cell research research
  • Strengthening state authority and restricting federal preemption to protect state consumer, environmental and labor laws
  • Financial reforms to protect homeowners and credit card holders
  • Bailing out the auto industry and protecting unionized retirees and workers

Jump to read the rest here

Incarceration in the USA
Created by Online Education

also:

Chile, Panama Lead Latin America in Incarceration Rates; Brazil Still Has Highest Total

A Day with Sen & Sonja








Guest Columnist: Speaking math to the lay public

************************
From the Seattle-Post Intelligencer, Wednesday, January 7, 2009. See http://www.seattlepi.com/opinion/395101_mathguestonline08.html
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Guest Columnist: Speaking math to the lay public
By Bill Marsh

A well intentioned, partially informed and very political group of Washington citizens has convinced our Legislature to implement a 19th century mathematics curriculum in our schools. Since they believe that the half-century of work in mathematics education that started when Sputnik went up in 1957 was almost entirely misguided, they undervalue the ideas and research of the people who, in my lifetime, have worked hardest to better our children's learning of mathematics. Conversely, they tout the opinions of some of the louder research mathematicians who share their traditional views.

I am a mathematician with different views. I favor many progressive and reform ideas in mathematics education. But I am well aware that, as in other difficult areas of research and scholarship, mistakes are made, and ideas and opinions have to be abandoned or changed -- including some I once held.

Statements by practicing mathematicians should of course be taken seriously in mathematics education. Any reasonable person who has learned from mathematicians that there are an infinite number of primes would reject out of hand a fourth-grade curriculum built on a finite number of primes. The Washington State Board of Education would be justified in rejecting any curriculum that introduces real numbers in second grade, given that the mathematician it hired to review our state's standards has told them: "The point is that fractions are an essential intermediary step between whole number and real numbers." And since a renowned mathematician on the National Mathematics Advisory Panel recently convened by President Bush tells us that "...one must know what fractions are and how to add fractions before a decimal can be defined," surely no one should consider a curriculum that introduces decimals before fractions.

These two prominent mathematicians are honest, hard working scholars speaking the truth as they see it as a public service. Unfortunately, they often make statements about or in mathematics education and public policy in a manner that suggests these statements are mathematically certain. The two statements just quoted sound as if they are statements in mathematics. But they are not certain. In fact, they are not true.

There is a "naming trick" based on iterated halving with which second graders can understand and use real numbers, which they can call "measuring numbers," as "good names for dots on number lines." A six-year-old, who may or may not know what a tenth is, explains the trick in six minutes at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d90wWqYBMOQ
The idea behind this trick can be extended to decimals in third and fourth grades, before students have to face the horrors of fractions.

Mathematicians, it seems to me, have a special responsibility to be careful in how they speak to the lay public. Everybody knows that even the best knowledge in other fields is subject to revision, but that mathematics is different. I was told in high school chemistry 50 years ago that inert elements did not form compounds. Then along came xenon difluoride. I'm sure that our two mathematicians would agree that statements in mathematics education, including their own, have to be viewed and held more tentatively than those in chemistry.
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Bill Marsh lives in Port Angeles. He taught in several secondary schools and colleges. He testified last year before K-12 education committees in the Legislature.
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Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Waiting for Sen & Sonja in a coffee house in Berkeley

and listening to Handle's Messiah, and missing Braum, and feeling much better after a rough few weeks. Stupid university politics, worries about family, house, computer hi-jinks, and GLBT downers... all combined to put me in a funk... but I am better now, or at least feeling much better...

I had a great day with my pre-algebra students, and a good dinner with a good friend Charlie, his wife and their very precocious and adorable daughter.

After dinner he took them home, and came back and we talked for a few hours in a nice coffee shop while Handle's Messiah played. Which got me to think about Braum and our annual trek up the hill to Auburn to sing in the Messiah community sing...

Soon I am on my way to retrieve Sen & Sonja at SFO @ 11:50PM.

Life is back to being good!

Monday, December 7, 2009

Quote of the Day

Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. The cost of one modern heavy bomber is this: a modern brick school in more than 30 cities. It is two electric power plants, each serving a town of 60,000 population. It is two fine, fully equipped hospitals. It is some fifty miles of concrete pavement. We pay for a single fighter plane with a half million bushels of wheat. We pay for a single destroyer with new homes that could have housed more than 8,000 people. This is, I repeat, the best way of life to be found on the road the world has been taking. This is not a way of life at all, in any true sense. Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron. […] Is there no other way the world may live?

– Dwight David Eisenhower, “The Chance for Peace,” speech given Apr. 16, 1953

The Reason for 15 Million Unemployed: Poor Thinking at the Top

by: Dean Baker, t r u t h o u t | Op-Ed

photo
(Image: Troy Page / t r u t h o u t; Adapted: Alex E. Proimos, ianmunroe, calebkimbrough)

The United States has more than 15 million people unemployed. This is not their fault. It is the fault of really bad policy decisions by people who get paid more than almost all of the unemployed ever did or ever will. The failure of economic policymakers to recognize and attack an $8 trillion housing bubble led to the downturn. The continuing failure of economic policymakers to think creatively is why 15 million people remain unemployed.

jump here to read the rest of the article at Truthout

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