Iran vs. Western Media

April 9, 2007 by

I’ll be short and sweet.  Does anyone else see the disconnect between British claims that their sailors and marines were psychologically tortured against the empirical evidence via video recorded scenes provided by Iran.  The Iranians have disclosed footage portraying these tortured British souls looking quite content, eating, playing chess, watching TV, and wearing tracksuits; and that this clashes quite starkly with the story the British/US government story.  The US/British claim that the prisoners spent no more than an hour a day in contact with others, yet the Iranian empirical evidence seems to fly in the face of this.  I for one have more faith in empirical evidence.  I found it even more striking that the western media chose to omit the full official Iranian statement on why they released the military personal: It went something along the lines of -  On the occasion of the birth of the Prophet Muhammad and the death of Jesus Christ, we are releasing them…  Does that strike a very ironic religious chord in anyone…

To sum up, I have faith in humans, and I hope to believe that the thinking man sees through the bullshit of Britain/America, and if they don’t, then it’s time to just plain give up on this whole damn endeavor.

The Problem With Modern Feminism

March 4, 2007 by

I’m not a big fan of country music, but I have a huge crush on Carrie Underwood. She has an amazing voice, and she’s cute as a button (Cuter, even, as my mind strains to recall a moment in my life when I’ve seen a button and stopped to say, “Hey, that’s cute”). Sometimes, I think about what life would be like if we were together, and my mind wanders, asking questions about our compatibility. Questions, like, would she also be passionate about legislation to allow domestication of polar bears? Is she also banned from public libraries? Does she share my irrational fear of Maroon crayons? Perhaps I ask too much. In fact, I probably wouldn’t care about any of those things, so as long as she fell within two standard deviations of the (already rather high) mean value of crazy that most men have come to accept women are. Which, if she is anything like the characters she voices in her songs, she isn’t. I call into evidence her recent hit, “Before He Cheats”:

Chorus
And he don’t know…
That I dug my key into the side of his pretty little suped up 4 wheel drive,
carved my name into his leather seats…
I took a Louisville slugger to both head lights,
slashed a hole in all 4 tires…
Maybe next time he’ll think before he cheats.

I’ll admit, at the cost of my “indie street cred,” that I love this song (Can you imagine me singing this in the shower? Well, apparently neither can my neighbors, who ended up calling the police amidst beliefs that I was physically abusing a spouse). I can’t help but wonder, though, if anyone heard this song and made it their “girl power” anthem. You know, don’t let a man push you around; vandalize the frak out of their automobile instead of approaching problems in a civilized matter, like men do.

That’s when I realized feminism needs a public relations facelift. Yes, yes, I am quite aware that feminism is about gender equality and banishing prevalent beliefs about gender roles, but it, in fact, has come to be associated with unnaturally muscular women, asexuality and androgyny, “girl power” slogans, unshaven legs, and general disagreeability. The feminist movement needs changes, and it needs them soon:

1. Drop the use of the word “feminism” and push hard for neutral terms. “Womens’ rights” is probably the clear winner here, but a master marketeer can probably spin a better sound byte. Everything else about feminist philosophies should remain exactly the same, it’s just the name that really should change. Look to Henry VIII for guidance. Which leads me to my next point …

2. Axe the leadership, axe the current spokespeople. The womens’ rights movement needs better faces! Women are not attracted to the feminist movement because women are vain, and because women are constantly in competition with every other woman within three degrees of separation (don’t lie … men know, we just don’t care, no matter what we say to get around the bases). Women will not join an organization if there is any chance of their appearances being associated with the idea of being unattractive, because it puts them at a competitive advantage to all other women who are not associated with being unattractive. The new leadership needs to be women who are confident, successful and attractive, yet, are not overly aggressive, became successful without explicit use of their sexuality, and are well respected by men and women alike. In other words, the leadership and spokeswomen should be superhuman. Force Barbara Walters back into hiding in the attic, and bring Ivanka Trump into the foreground.

3. Begin recruiting them young. Women generally shy away from disciplines regarded as mens’ territories such as math and science due to their smaller brains, but the negative images of women in business have generally faded away, thanks to the emergence in America in the last thirty years of prominent women CEOs. Use business as the foot in the door. At a young age, create programs for budding businesswomen. The Girl Scouts kind of do this with their cookie racket, but they are thinking too small and not encouraging troupes to be creative with their product lines to grow revenue and grab market share. When these programs become fully accepted, even by the staunchest proponents of the school of My Daughter Will Be A Housewife Dammit, then it is time to sneak in the sciences into these programs.

4. Rewrite fairy tales. Monica Geller, one of the characters on Friends, quips at one point about how she has been thinking about her wedding since she was 4 years old. It was a scary moment in my life when I realized that this joke was based on much truth. Where do women get this idea of marriage and relationships being their end-all panacea? I’ll tell you where: Prince Charming, that rat bastard that ruined it for the rest of us that now have to work for womens’ affections and do things romantic things that violate our very genetic tendencies. I heard about some “feminist fairy tales” a while back. One of the stories has Rapunzel spending five hours a day doing pushups and pullups, saving herself from the tower, shaving her hair off, and joining a militant womens’ organization at the end of the story. Another story has Snow White filing date rape charges against Prince Charming, then, while in counseling, spending five hours a day doing pushups and pullups, shaving her hair off, and joining a militant womens’ organization at the end of the story (both stories, by the way, are exactly the type of press feminism does not need). These are bad examples, but they’re a start.

5. The last, and most important: don’t villanize men. This is important. Don’t villanize men. I’ve known enough feminist types in my heyday who are too quick to answer, “Well, women do that because MEN oppress women, yadda, yadda, MEN start wars”. Hey, it might be true, but get off your high horse and stop thinking that a matriarchal society would have been any different. I’m not suggesting this to win over the men, which it will help with; I’m suggesting this so it’ll win over the women, who still want the men, who are alienated by all this “you suck” rhetoric. Many men associate feminism with man hating, and man hating with the smashing of cars when angered. Women know feminism is associated with negative traits when men are looking for mates, and many womens’ organizations will shy away from teaching members feminist principles to avoid a negative reputation as membership equating to a red mark to the single men on the market.

Intelligent men and those like me who fake it rarely have any quarrel with womens’ rights. It doubles the potential employment pool. It doubles the number of buyers for goods. It doubles the number of inventors innovating. There’s a theory that division of labor along gender lines is why Cro-Magnon man outlived Neanderthal man, but we’re no longer a society of hunters and growers. Division of labor should be done by merit and ability. By supporting womens’ rights, we can advance our progress in maximizing the potential of our species. But until the womens’ rights movement corrects some very negative public perceptions, it will fail to gain effective traction and lose support. Already, several major changes in the worlds’ climate are moving against womens’ rights. The religious right, for instance, works to throw its political clout to keep women virginal and in the home. Globalization has the potential to help women advance, but if the womens’ rights movement never takes off, it also has the potential to turn the equality gap between men and women into a permanent impasse. Women need to wise up and take action to protect the world for their daughters, because the philosophies that would open up opportunities for them are stagnant in gaining support, and in several decades, may very well be in grave danger of extinction.

Punishing Failure, and the Law of Unintended Consequences

February 20, 2007 by

Asian kids rarely miss school. Common sickness is not an acceptible cop-out. To be sick enough to get the ‘okay’ from the parents to stay home, one would literally have to have a dementia inducing fever, exhibit signs of an advanced stage of leprosy, perhaps even demonstrate the coughing of blood, before getting a very reluctant acceptance that, God forbid, maybe, just maybe school would be out of the question that day. In elementary school, for several years in a row, I received the “Perfect Attendance Certificate”, an honor shared between only myself and roughly three-quarters of the other Asian kids in school. I sometimes wonder about how many countless other children we needlessly infected as walking, breathing carriers of disease. It makes me chuckle.

I could probably count the number of times I’ve missed elementary school on one hand, perhaps even without the use of my more opposable joints. Boy, was I a miserable sight those days. I had to be. I’ll admit, though most of it was genuine maladiction, much of it consisted of showboating, just so my parents could know that I was truly, beyond a reasonable doubt, sick. My mother fashioned herself a medicine woman, a healer, an expert on Chinese remedies – she still does, as a matter of fact, in spite of the fact that she has had absolutely no training in the subject, save some extended gossip sessions with the wife of the local accupuncturist. She used to make for me a strange black concoction, calling it a several thousand year old ‘traditional ginger cure’. From what I could understand, it was a mix of several different herbs – and more ginger than any living soul should consume in a month’s time. If you’ve had ginger before – raw – imagine that taste multiplied by a factor of a hundred. Yeah, that’s about how bad it tasted. I dreaded it. I forced it down, and I tried to wash the taste out of my mouth. It never worked, but that never stopped me from trying.

I got sick again recently. I did my best to make no signs of it during the Chinese New Year celebrations, but a sneeze and a sniffle gave me away to Inspector Mom. Guess what the first thing she said to me was as soon as she figured out I wasn’t feeling well? “I’ll make you the ginger soup.”

Liquid dread. “No, mom, it’s okay, please, none of that, I have NyQuil.”

She’s never liked the fact that I’ve never really had too much faith in Eastern medicine. No, actually, that’s not entirely true. She’s never liked the fact that I’ve never had faith in her Eastern medicine. “But it’s always cured you within one day when you were young!”

I sighed. It was time to come clean. “No, mom, it’s never cured me. I just hated it so much because it was so disgusting that I would rather go to school sick than drink it. It tastes that bad. And I know you just made it up. There’s no medical research that indicates drinking your ginger soup will cure anything. If it actually cured the common cold, you wouldn’t be keeping it a secret. We would have patented the formula, extracted the vital ingredients, created a pill, bribed someone in the FDA, and made millions of dollars while saving the American economy millions of dollars in lost productivity. In fact, if anything, your ginger soup was worse for society as a whole because it would scare me into going back to school without having fully recovered and infect all the other kids.” Yes, it was time to let her have it. I was an adult, and, goddammit, I was going to stop her from ever inflicting that torture she called a cure on any more living souls.

She made it anyway. “What? You’re not going to drink it? You’re going to make me waste good ginger and other expensive Chinese medicines?”

I drank the ginger. Goddammit.

She asked me later on if I wanted more. I fought off my Pavlovian gag reflex from imagining the taste of the soup. “No, no, no, it’s quite alright. I’m not sick anymore.”

“Good,” she smiled. “And you didn’t believe it would work.”

———

A few years ago, George W. Bush signed into law the “No Child Left Behind” act, establishing a system of accountability for public school districts that would, ideally, motivate educational administrators to implement reforms for trailing schools and improving the academic performance of certain minority demographics. In theory, it’s a good idea. In a free market system, key performance motivators are the expectation of rewards for success, and the fear of being punished for failure. Public educators, have long been criticized for being too protected by tenure programs and union bubble shields. The No Child Left Behind act specifically detailed a plan for reducing funding for schools that failed to meet a federally set benchmark, and called for “restructuring” consultants to come into a failing school to clean house if needed, in effect turning the school in question into an artificial corporation specializing in the production of students at every grade level producing strong standardized test scores.

Years later, we are beginning to see some very adverse side-effects to this system. Teachers and administrators in difficult school districts, afraid of losing what little federal funding they were receiving, began cheating for the students. Rather than keep more problematic students in school, counselors would advise students to drop out rather than bring down a school’s average. And these are just the tip of the iceberg.

At the very core of the problem is the philsophy behind punishing failure. In a free market system, a corporation assesses all the risks behind a particular market before investing to overcome any barriers of entry. The reward for success is a net increase in funds, and the punishment for failure is a net decrease in funds. After too long a period of decreasing funds and incurred debt, the corporation goes out of business. Similarly, when an employee performs well, his employer rewards him with prestige and bonuses. When the employee underperforms, he does not gain the bonuses, is possibly demoted, and eventually, fired, unless he leaves first. That’s the beauty of a free market system and free market employment: “at will” production of labor – there is always a chance, even if infinitely small, of a company going out of business. When the company goes out of business, if there is any kind of demand for the commodity it produced, another company will rise in its stead to produce the commodity, perhaps at a lower quality and lower quantity, to avoid sharing the fate of its predecessor. The system of punishing failure, thus, only works if the ecology allows for extinction and adjusted repopulation.

Public education does not and cannot fall under this umbrella.

The public education system cannot go out of business. Nor can it afford to offer anything but service of the highest caliber. As much of a Libertarian as I am, I believe very strongly in class mobility and accessibility to quality education as a vehicle to that mobility. In order for a Democracy to survive the entropic nature of a free market economy’s tendency towards Oligarchy and no-compete monopolies, education must always be available as well as improving so the next generation can invent the Next Big Thing to unseat the Last Big Thing. Unlike the commodoties and franchises with limited life-cycles produced by corporations for consumption, the supply of education must never, ever drop below the demand for it. Any generational respite in producing educated workers in a First World market will lead to an absence of the growth of new, marketable franchises, and subsequently economic implosion.

My mother is not a stupid woman. In fact, she is very, very sharp. I’ve long suspected, for instance, that her ‘ginger soup’ is a punishment for my not being careful enough to avoid getting sick, and my fear of having to drink it subconsciously drives me to be extra careful with personal hygiene, dressing appropriately, and in general avoiding environments which facilitate the spreading of disease. Certainly, my reported incidents of sickness have decreased. But what of its effect on my actual increased precaution towards staving off sickness? Questionable, at best. The same applies to the No Child Left Behind act and its approach towards motivating by way of fear. The conspiracist would argue that it is in the interest of the ruling class to oppress the masses by way of depriving us of education, while at the same time looking like heroes for ostensibly increasing test passage rates (and the particularly vile would argue that my mother does not actually care about my well-being as much as she cares about not having to hear about my lack of it). We need public education reform; there is no doubt of that. It’s time to move on. Fear of punishment has not created the results public education so desperately needs. It’s time to throw “No Child Left Behind” in with all the other failed social experiments.

Hell NO, We won’t go!

February 5, 2007 by

This morning marks the first day of Lt. Watada’s court martial for refusing deployment in Iraq. He refused deployment orders to Iraq because he concluded that the war in Iraq was an illegal war and if he participated in the war, he would be guilty of war crimes. He faces up to 4 year accomodation in a military prison (which is a true sink-hole) if found guilty for conduct unbecoming of an officer, missing troop movements, and contempt toward officials. He did not deploy with his unit last June to Kuwait City.

Watada

Although Bush’s war in the middle east was based on unfounded evidence, let’s focus on Watada’s decision. He’s a commissioned officer in the United States Army. He swore an oath to–

obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice.” (http://www.army.mil/cmh-pg/faq/oaths.htm)

So do soldiers have a right to refuse to fight if they find the war to be immoral? His lawyer, Seitz believes so. Soldiers are not granted the same rights as civilians, they tell you this before you join. You sign away a lot of your rights to be in the military, and Watada was not conscripted, drafted or gang-pressed into the military. He volunteered like every soldier currently in the US military.

It’s also stated in the uniform military code of justice that a soldier is required to follow “lawful orders” [(UCMJ) 809[890].ART.90 (20)], but it doesnt say whether or not he has a right to refuse immoral orders. The code probably leaves this out on purpose because morality is such a relative term to each soldier. So that leaves the question of whether or not Bush issued a lawful order into Iraq.

wa
(I have this sneaking suspicion that he’s doing all this for the ladies…)

There are some scenarios where a soldier ought to refuse an order. For instance, if the soldier is ordered to torture a prisoner to get information or to throw a grenade into bus full of nuns, he ought to refuse. However, this is an extreme, and the difficulty with these things is the cut off point. It seems to be just as arbitrary as deciding when the cut off point for abortion is legal.

You can’t have a functional and effective army if each soldier reserves the right to refuse to fight whenever they find something immoral; however, you don’t want an army that will blindly go “yippie-kai-yay” and follow orders without restraint. That’s what separates a professional army from gangs of ethnic cleansing in Serbia.

I think Watada knows that he’ll be found guilty, but what I’m wondering is whether or not his act was unbecoming of an officer. Isn’t it an officer’s duty to exercise restraint when he believes that an order is unlawful?

Toward Sex Equality: Thoughts on Dominance, Formal Equity, Differences Theory and Other Feminist Models

January 24, 2007 by

I’ve been reading Catharine MacKinnon’s work lately, which inspired me to think further on feminism and the pursuit of equality among the sexes. MacKinnon wrote that sexuality is socially constructed. The male and female sexes are created through the eroticization of dominance and submission where the man-woman difference is defined directly by the dominance-submission dynamic. She laments that we live in a male-privileged legal system and “man has become the measure of all things.” Sexual dominance, then, is the reason why women are subordinated.

To achieve sex equality, Justice Ruth Ginsburg seems to advocate gender-blindness, treating similarly situated men and women equally, literally. This is currently our Supreme Court’s interpretation of sex equality. However, critics of this formal equity approach say that when you ignore sex when sex is often a critical factor in how an individual interacts with society, you end up with cases that show limited compassion toward pregnant women or working mothers. This liberal approach seeks objective equality, but the result is a subjective equality through the perspective of the men who still control our society.

Others, such as Carol Gilligan, say that men have certain assets to bring to the table, such as the ability to think abstractly, while women have different but equally important assets, such as an ethic of care and nurturing. Men live in a “world rationalized through logic” and women live in a “world of relationships.” The reason for sex inequality is the overvaluing of male characteristics and the undervaluing of the female. Thus, sex equality may be achieved after we equally value both and integrate both masculine and feminine traits into our laws. Critics immediately see that this is the overt embrace of stereotypes where women are valuing in themselves what men have traditionally valued in women.

Still other approaches, such as pragmatic feminism, critical race feminism, or lesbian feminism, see sex as being inextricably tied to race, class, sexual orientation, and even life experiences. Thus, sex equality can only be achieved on a personal case by case evaluative basis. Right away we note that legal enforcement of sex equality under these models would be an administrative nightmare. (Note: Lesbian feminism is different from the other approaches by its scrutiny of heterosexuality as an institution. It doesn’t necessarily promote case by case inquiry.)

Ruminating on these varying ideas led me to post this question: What is your vision of sex equality? How does this vision address the deficiencies of existing theories and also, since utopias do not exist, what obstacles do you think will perpetually hinder sex equality as a reachable goal?

Is Taiwan Ready for Independence?

January 20, 2007 by

Liberty and the pursuit of happiness is the birthright of every human being on the planet, yet in light of another brawl in the Taiwanese Legislature, I’ve come to wonder whether or not Taiwan has the maturity to form a stable democracy.

KMT DDP Brawl

Some background is in order if you are unfamiliar with Taiwan’s political situation. Since martial law was lifted from Taiwan in 1991, the kidney shaped island has been holding elections in efforts to form their own independent sovereignty. Like most political democracies, two parties dominated most of the votes. The Democratic Progressive Party (DPP or Green Party) and the Kuomintang (KMT or Blue Party). Both parties are at each other’s throats.

DPP KMT Flags

The DPP is characterized as a more socialistic party, making promises of welfare reform and public health initiatives. Originally the DPP was pro-independence, but they have softened their stance to prevent an outbreak of hostility from China and to appease American trade interests. The KMT party is more big business friendly and has positioned itself to be open for reunification, but does not commit itself to such a cause. Since China holds Taiwan to be a renegade state and desires reunification, they are stauch supporters of the KMT party, the only party open to the option.

January 19, 2007, the KMT had dominated the majority of the Parliament in the elections, and during the final legislative session of parliament, DPP party members bum-rushed the speaker’s podium to prevent voting because they claimed the vote had been corrupted. A brawl errupted, a shoe was thrown, and I’m sure somebody’s feelings were hurt in that room.  If it’s any consolation, atleast it wasn’t as bad as what happened to old Julius.

Now back to my main question — is Taiwan ready for independence? I’m going to take a position for once and say ‘NO’. This brawl in parliament is yet another embarassment. If I was a foreign ambassador attending Taiwanese parliament, I would go in with full football pads and a pair of brass knuckles. A country which can’t show a degree of civility in parliament during a non-partisan commission hearing is still too immature to be able to stand on its own. Really, who throws a shoe in parliament? It’s undignified and shows that Taiwan is incapable of civility in its highest levels of government leadership. They’re like a bunch of monkeys flinging poo at each other.

the shoe

(We have the shoe, now where is Cinderella?)

More Links:

http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,244894,00.html

http://seattlepi.nwsource.com/national/1104AP_Taiwan_Legislative_Brawl.html

Helen of Troy she is not

January 12, 2007 by

Some things should not be for sale. The ability to define beauty and aesthetic, for one. Take the case of Devon Aoki:

From IMDB:

“Born in New York but raised in California, Devon is no stranger to the lifestyles of the rich and famous. Her father is former Olympic wrestler and Benihana Steakhouse magnate Rocky Aoki…”

For those of you that don’t follow, Devon Aoki is one of the “rising starlets” in Hollywood, trying to break the transition from runway model to movie actress. She is most notably known for her roles in Sin City and The Fast and the Furious 2. She started modeling when she was introduced to Kate Moss by her godmother, no doubt with a little $nudge$ from Rocky Warbucks.

I’ll just come out and say what everyone else is thinking: she looks like a troll. But is she starring in Lord of the Rings, or Harry Potter or The Chronicles of Narnia as the resident monstrosity? No! She plays “the hot chick.” We always hear about how a hometown beauty gives it all up, takes a Greyhound to Los Angeles with only $200, and gets discovered working at a diner. These stories are inspirational and, for the most part, they give hope of being able to break the class barrier to Americans, regardless of whether or not it is realistic. When the rich start placing their hideous spawn into magazines and fashion shows and calling their special “uniqueness” beauty, that’s when we know capitalism has gone too far.

The Fascist Who Bans Porn

January 10, 2007 by

“Erotica is about sexuality, but pornography is about power and sex-as-weapon–in the same way we have come to understand that rape is about violence, and not really about sex at all.”

– Gloria Steinman

Recently, a lawyer friend lamented to me about having to litigate a case against a major porn production company that her firm assigned to her. That led to a discussion on what the law should be on this issue. Not liking my opinions, she branded me a fascist for supporting the complete ban on porn. She views any restriction on free speech to be, in her words, a “desecration of the First Amendment.” Interested in how others from our generation regard pornography, I decided to submit the issue to IDJ.

First, there should be a distinction made between pornography and erotica. I agree with the Gloria Steinman quote above. Erotica is sexually explicit, but unlike pornography, erotica holds literary or artistic merit. Sexual depictions that further a political design or illustrations of medical and scientific value are also fine. Therein lies how I believe the law should be shaped: sexually explicit materials lacking any of the aforementioned qualities should be banned, especially those depicting unequal power distributions among classes (be it gender, race, or even species).

Most people today may cringe a little when they see hard-core porn, but generally support its legality anyway. Pornographic expressions are as old as our oldest works of art and literature. They are undeniably a significant part of civilization’s culture, history, and even our biology. Yet these points do not justify the tolerance of porn, like how tradition and legacy do not justify the acquiescence to female genital mutilation, foot binding, or disenfranchisement of women.

Also, pornography desensitizes the viewer to impersonal desire and recreational sex, which causes the objectification of the person or class being sexually sought. Often in today’s society, the person is female and the classes are racial minorities, or, heaven forbid, cute little fluffy animals who truly have no voice in the matter. Studies consistently prove that hard-core pornography can and often do lead to sexual violence, further contributing to the inequality and subordination of women (and cute little fluffy animals). In a balance of interests, protecting women (and cute little fluffy animals) should always outweigh any economic gains pornography might provide.

The civil libertarian will support the freedom to engage in any and all consensual forms of sexual activity and expression. Liberals often discount claims that pornography produces harmful effects on society. Postmodern thinkers raise the concern that bans on pornography always seem to incidentally repress gay and lesbian literature, as was addressed by a Canadian Supreme Court case in the early 90s, R. v. Butler. Note, however, that under the legal definition of pornography I propose, gay and lesbian literature would be protected. I do not discredit the compelling arguments proffered by those who want to keep porno legal; but I have yet to hear a pro-pornography rationale compelling enough to reconsider my stance. My intent for banning porn is to protect those who suffer a history of pervasive discrimination, who have been stigmatized, or considered by society to be politically insular. Now what is so fascist about that?

Rest in Peace, Mr. Saddam Hussein

January 2, 2007 by

Before the close of 2006, the world witnessed the execution of Saddam Hussein for war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide. Ironically, the execution took place at a site called Camp Justice. Our blood-stained hands evidence a sin no less forgivable than any the man we killed committed. We should all be stunned by what is truly an undue hostile discrimination against this simple person.

The young Saddam Hussein did not grow up with a strong mother figure; as a result, he acquired a chauvinistic outlook toward women. His cultural environment did not help either. And yet in light of how many redneck men in our lovely country America treat the women in their lives, Saddam took great care of his daughters, his first wife, and the mistress he loved. He has even said that a man should never be deliberately insolent toward women. I do not overlook the countless women dead at his commands for no legitimate reason whatsoever. Yet I don’t find him to be the complete monster our media characterizes him as.

Saddam Hussein was power hungry. He starved for control, but never possessed the charisma of Hitler, or the acumen of Castro, or the presence of Chairman Mao– instead Saddam rose to power from meager beginnings because he possessed an unstoppable drive. Though he could not inspire, he himself perspired. That got him to the top and once there, because he knew he was not exceptional, his insecurities obliged his cold-blooded brutality. For him to stay at the top, he had to be merciless. Without charisma, acumen, or presence, visceral force was effectively his only strategy. Moreover, in his boyhood, society treated him as an outcast, so to combat the bullies, Saddam had little choice but to retaliate with brutality…and no one was there to teach him otherwise. The lack of warmth and compassion shown to him in his early life does not justify his lack thereof later on, but he was human. Having flaws plus disagreeing with Western ideologies does not make this human into a devil.

I watched a taping of his execution the other night and, in that moment the horror of the visuals riled up in me an angry sense of shame toward our society. The heavy feeling in my gut eerily reminded me of the heaviness I felt when I first saw on the television set the devastation of the twin towers. We deemed the destruction on 9/11 to be morally wrong, never thinking critically on why or how a man like Osama bin laden could spurn the capitalistic privileges he enjoyed to become, in a way we probably do not understand, an ascetic crusader. Yet we find nothing unjust about snatching away Saddam’s right to speak at his own trial, throwing up a litany of excuses for why the execution of Saddam was understandable. We removed the judge who tried to respect Saddam Hussein’s legal rights because we found the judge “too lenient.” As his execution took place–what should have been a solemn moment–people shouted to the dying man, “Go to hell.” Saddam did, however, leave the world with a letter. See Full Text: The Saddam Hussein Letter, http://www.guardian.co.uk/Iraq/Story/0,,946805,00.html. Even considering the eloquence often lost in translation, his letter was unremarkable in content. What does strike the reader is the fighting spirit behind his words. Memorialized in that letter is the true state of affairs: we are afraid of this man’s passions, not his actions, because his actions are nothing we have not already seen in our own government, past or present.

We rushed a hasty decision to execute Saddam Hussein because we did not understand him and thus feared him. While I disagree with capital punishment, that principle is not why I oppose Hussein’s execution. I oppose his execution because we did it for the wrong reasons. We killed him because we feared him and did not know any other way of overcoming that fear except completely annihilating the existence of that which we fear. This is not a triumph. This is the same tyranny Saddam used to gain power in the Ba’ath Socialist Party and then the Iraqi state.

We often hate that which reminds us of our ugliest yet truest reflection. Our leaders condemned him because they saw in Saddam Hussein the person they themselves could have easily become if they had seized the same opportunities. Saddam was an average man with average abilities but a tremendous amount of heart and a dangerous chip on his shoulder. As a person, he was not that different from you or me. In a world where walls and borders preserve our precious identities, many Americans, especially the ones who say good riddens to Saddam’s death, forget that when all is stripped to its core, Saddam Hussein was our brother.

The Quiet Crisis

December 26, 2006 by

Whenever I want to scare the pants off myself, I just reread sections of “The World is Flat” by Thomas Friedman.

Specifically, the chapter in mind is “The Quiet Crisis”, which details the decline of America’s ability in the upcoming decades to compete with developing nations in the sciences and in engineering. Not only are the numbers of competitive graduates from India, China or Eastern Europe increasing, the numbers of graduates from American institutions is actually decreasing. To throw salt on the wound, the amount of funding in public education and in science institutions is also proportionally shrinking. As a result, many leading industry figures are beginning to question America’s ability to innovate, and thereby, maintain our ability to be leaders in the world economy.

While not explicitly saying so, Friedman hints that Americans have begun to stress the importance of encouraging their children to develop creativity at the cost of a solid academic foundation, while developing countries have spared no expense to drive future generations into pursuit of mastery of the basics such that they may grow into specialized professionals in scientific fields. “Creativity,” believes the average American soccer mom, “is more important than simply knowing how to do math equations.”

What an empty, stupid platitude.

No one doubts the importance of creativity in innovation. Without creativity, Edison could never have invented the light bulb, nor could Einstein have postulated his theories on the true shape of the universe. But Edison could never have created the light bulb without understanding electric current; nor could Einstein have articulated the nature of gravitational curvature without a thorough grasp of the theories of Leibniz and Newton.

Every television show, incompetant high school guidance counselor, and Dr. Phil self-help pamplet will tell parents to let their children pursue what they love, not what they need to learn – and parents support their children when they drop out of chemical engineering because they cry that Calculus is hard. For this reason, we have seen an increase in college graduates who only have expertise in humanities and soft sciences, who do not understand the supply chains they manage, or lead projects with a two word vocabruary of “milestone” and “deliverable”, or market a product without knowing what a single technical term on the press releases they write means. There’s an old joke about a corporate boat race in which a Japanese rowing team, comprising one manager and ten rowers, beats an American rowing team with one rower and ten managers – disgruntled, the American team fires the single rower. What was the saying again? Comedy imitates life?

We can’t keep this up. America needs to force science on its students. Science education must begin as soon as children can read. Mathematics education must never cease. University degrees must not be conferred to students without a technical or scientific major. We need this. It’s true that it is possible for a person to be technical and have technical knowledge without a degree, but persons capable of being self-motivated enough to teach themselves are far and few between. Are these harsh? Yes. Radical? Certainly, but we need this to stay competitive in a global marketplace where there are 5 billion other people gunning to take from us what we have worked so hard to build. And what of the students of humanities? Should not students be allowed to study philosophy, or the arts? Of course! This isn’t Fahrenheit 451. Descartes, Galileo, Aristotle, Leibniz and Archimedes were all philosophers – philosophy could very well have been the key to their genius. But all these men were scientists first. We must not discourage the study of the humanities; we must encourage it as a necessary supplement to hard sciences.

A philosophy professor once told me, “You can’t only study philosophy. You need to eat. If you don’t eat, you can’t be a philosopher, because you’d be dead.” The luxuries we have to learn what we want, to do what we want – these are afforded to us only because for the last forty years, we have dominated industry with our ingenuity and work ethic, but that will quickly change if we remain fat and complacent. We’re all about the easy way out, and we beg our teachers to give our children less homework so they have time to come home and live life and play “Grand Theft Auto” and watch MTV. It’s time we accepted facts. If we don’t work a little hard now, we’ll all work a lot harder later.


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.