Friday, April 29, 2011
The Mexican home has been transformed. In 1990, one in five dwellings had a bare-earth floor. Now only 6% do. Virtually all have electricity, whereas 20 years ago one in ten went without. A tenth still lack sewerage, but this is better than the figure of one in three in 1990.
More interesting still is what Mexicans put in those homes. More houses have televisions (93%) than fridges (82%) or showers (65%). In a hot country with dreadful television this is curious.
Tuesday, April 26, 2011
I propose we give convicts the choice of the lash at the rate of two lashes per year of incarceration. One cannot reasonably argue that merely offering this choice is somehow cruel, especially when the status quo of incarceration remains an option. Prison means losing a part of your life and everything you care for. Compared with this, flogging is just a few very painful strokes on the backside. And it's over in a few minutes. ...
My defense of flogging—whipping, caning, lashing, call it what you will—is meant to be provocative, but only because something extreme is needed to shatter the status quo. We are in denial about the brutality of the uniquely American invention of mass incarceration. In 1970, before the war on drugs and a plethora of get-tough laws increased sentence lengths and the number of nonviolent offenders in prison, 338,000 Americans were incarcerated. There was even hope that prisons would simply fade into the dustbin of history. That didn't happen.
Monday, April 25, 2011
The life of the rural poor is extremely boring, with repetitive back-breaking tasks interrupted by periods of enforced idleness ....
"things that make life less boring are a priority for the poor". They tell the story of meeting a Moroccan farmer, Oucha Mbarbk. They ask him what would he do if he had a bit more money. Buy some more food, came the reply. What would he do if he had even more money? Buy better, tastier food. "We were starting to feel very bad for him and his family when we noticed a television, a parabolic antenna and a DVD player." Why had he bought all this if he didn't have enough money for food? "He laughed and said 'Oh, but television is more important than food.'"
Saturday, April 23, 2011
It was different than the last time I went. The weather was much nicer, and it was a weekend, so it was pretty crowded. The crowds and weather robbed the place of a lot of its character, making it feel more like a park and less like a shrine.
In no particular order, here are some musings and observations, based on my memories and notes that I wrote down:
What does it say about our country and our military that we choose to lay our honored dead in precise geometric precision?
The changing of the guard to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is an interesting ritual. I wonder what the history is behind the exaggerated leg swing and the loud heel clicking. Even the regular pacing of the guard feels so mechanical. This seems to be a relic of the old days of the army when keeping formation was the key to winning. Marching-band style maneuvers have been obsolete on the battlefield for over 170 years, but they still linger on in the rituals, training, and traditions of the military. That kind of thing does not just happen in the military; it is fairly common for actions to go from practical to ritualistic as technology changes.
I overheard this just after the guard change:
Little Asian girl: "If he is the guard and he has a gun, does that mean he will shoot anyone who goes to the tomb?"
Her mother: "I don't think so."
The mother seemed disoriented by the question. I understand why. How could you possibly explain this kind of symbolism to a little child? I did not even know if the gun was loaded. When I was there, I thought they were carrying M1 Garand rifles. You cannot tell if those are loaded or not. I just looked it up, however, and learned that the rifles are actually M14's, and that they are not loaded.
If I have to answer a question like that in the future, I will probably say something like "No, he will only shoot you if he thinks you have a gun."
I noticed a lot of jet noise from the airport. It definitely was distracting. I wonder if people complained about the airport being built so close to the cemetery
It was fascinating to look closely at all of the memorials in the display hall. The ones from American civic groups are kind of boring, but the ones from foreign leaders are very interesting:
All of the items in the picture above were presented by the Japanese. Japanese prime ministers and government officials often come to Arlington. I am not sure why. I know that it is traditional for foreign diplomats to visit Arlington to show solidarity with and respect for the USA. However, from what little I know of Japanese culture, it seems like this would be a humiliation. I wonder what it feels like to pay your respects at a place where the pilots who dropped atomic bombs on your country are buried and honored. Politics being what they are, we will probably never get an honest answer to the question of their feelings and motivations.
This is really impressive. More people should make plaques like this.
This is a mere club presented by the prime minister of New Zealand. I know that this is considered a sacred weapon, a symbol of honor and power, but it still feels very odd. How would all of the veterans of the Indian Wars buried at Arlington feel if they knew if a visit to their tombs was memorialized with the weapon of a "savage" like the ones they had been fighting?
There is a big wooden plaque from the 19th century from "The Grand Army of the Republic." I must confess that when I saw this I immediately thought of Star Wars. People do not use names like that any more; they are confined to history and fantasy. I was somewhat relieved when I looked it up and found that this was the Union solder veteran's organization, and not a name used by our actual military or government.
One final note: What is your reaction to this picture?
Give me your gut reaction in the comments.
Wednesday, April 20, 2011
Labour inspectors in Lusaka, who monitor sweatshops, have use of only one car and recently it was broken for four months. In the meantime Chinese engineers built an entire cluster of garment factories from scratch.
Wednesday, April 13, 2011
Tuesday, April 12, 2011
The most prominent conclusion of twin research is that practically everything—health, intelligence, happiness, success, personality, values, interests—is partly genetic. The evidence is straightforward: Identical twins are more similar than fraternal twins in almost every way—even when the twins are separated at birth. But twin research has another far more amazing lesson: With a few exceptions, the effect of parenting on adult outcomes ranges from small to zero. Parents change kids in many ways; the catch is that the changes fade out as kids grow up. By adulthood, identical twins aren't slightly more similar than fraternal twins; they're much more similar. And when identical twins are raised apart, they're often just as similar as they are when they're raised together.
you can lighten up a lot without hurting your kids.
Serenity Parenting changed our lives. We used the Ferber method—let the kid cry for 10 minutes, briefly comfort him, repeat—to get our twins to sleep through the night. We enrolled them in an activity or two, but they spent a lot more time watching cartoons while we relaxed. Our family specialized in activities that were literally "fun for the whole family": reading books together, playing dodgeball in the basement, going to the pool for a swim. If "Lighten up" was the only practical lesson of twin research, my reading had more than paid for itself.
Saturday, April 9, 2011
A few minutes ago, I was sitting outside my apartment reading a book and enjoying the evening. Two women and several children walked by. The children were happily chattering. Upon seeing me, one of the women said to the children, "Be quiet, he is trying to read."
I am wondering why she did this. I was certainly not annoyed or upset by the children, and I hope that I did not look as if I was. Maybe she was trying to teach them manners, but there is no system of morality of etiquette I know of that requires people on a street in the early evening to be quiet. It is a public space, and I should not have any expectation of silence or privacy. If I wanted quiet, I would go in my apartment and shut the door.
It is possible that she just wanted them to be quiet and was using my presence as an excuse to demand silence. But either way, the lesson was wrong. They should not be asked to alter their normal behavior in a public space just because someone else is quietly sitting there.
I do not remember people being so deferential to me in the past. This is not an isolated incident. It seems that people greet me and hold doors open for me much more than they used to. It is somewhat disconcerting. I know that I have become more social and self-confident in the last few years, as well as more physically fit. It seems that this has made me more intimidating. Perhaps people subconsciously see me as a higher-status person who should be given more respect.
In recent years, I have become aware that a great deal of human behavior is determined by emotion and instinct rather than logic and the rules of society. Maybe I am imagining things here, and instinct had nothing to do with that woman telling the children to defer to me. I would like to know why she said that, but I never will.
The front-line in Mogadishu was just beyond the ruined cathedral. You could hear the small-arms fire of the al-Qaeda fighters and the return of heavy machinegun-fire from the sandbagged positions of the African Union troops. But the scene on the sun-washed street in the Hamarweyne district was calm. Women were shopping for fruit and vegetables, and the ciabatta and pasta Mogadishu gained a taste for in its Italian colonial days. A couple of cafés, serving also as electronics shops, were crowded, with people inside making voip phone calls and surfing the internet. Outside on the street boys were fiddling with mobile phones, Nokia and Samsung mostly, but also those fantastical Chinese models you find in poorer countries, nameless, with plastic dragon-like construction, heavy on battery-guzzling features like television tuners. I asked my Somali companion what the boys were up to. He wound down the window and summoned his gunmen to go and ask. The answer came back. "They're updating their Facebook profiles."
Friday, April 8, 2011
Thursday, April 7, 2011
reviews that rate products negatively can be associated with increased product sales when the review text is informative and detailed
Wednesday, April 6, 2011
This is one of the few times I'm actually glad I've grown up with Hippie parents, between Mum's yoga breathing, our kotatsu table, Dad's constant nomadic camping, and their concern for chemicals and wasting water, Iv'e got this list pretty much down pat- I was even a water birth! This almost makes all those years of going to school with smelly clothes and weird lunches worth it.. almost.
Monday, April 4, 2011
The ceramics teacher announced on opening day that he was dividing the class into two groups. All those on the left side of the studio, he said, would be graded solely on the quantity of work they produced, all those on the right solely on its quality. His procedure was simple: on the final day of class he would bring in his bathroom scales and weigh the work of the "quantity" group: fifty pound of pots rated an "A", forty pounds a "B", and so on. Those being graded on "quality", however, needed to produce only one pot -albeit a perfect one - to get an "A". Well, came grading time and a curious fact emerged: the works of highest quality were all produced by the group being graded for quantity. It seems that while the "quantity" group was busily churning out piles of work - and learning from their mistakes - the "quality" group had sat theorizing about perfection, and in the end had little more to show for their efforts than grandiose theories and a pile of dead clay.
Saturday, April 2, 2011
These two things have nothing in common except that they both occupied my afternoon. The head of our Dojo and I practiced parkour on campus, and then went to an outdoor showing of Romeo and Juliet.
Parkour is the art of moving swiftly and efficiently over obstacles. It involves a lot of jumping and climbing. We were both very careful not to try anything that would put us at risk. Anything involving movement and heights can be dangerous, but years of martial arts have given us a good awareness of the environment and what we are capable of. I am tired and sore, and have some scrapes on my hands, but we had fun and learned a lot. We still have a long way to go before we get really good, though.
The play was put on by a class that had some of his friends in it. It was different, but enjoyable. They were having fun with it. Both of Romeo's friends (Mercutio and Benvolio) were played by women, and they changed the lines so the characters were women. The actors were very physically expressive, so the production was lively and a little raunchy, just like it was intended.