The observations and opinions of a person who has no discernible insights or ideas.

Friday, January 18, 2008

"Now you're the only one here who can tell me if it's true..." 

I just finished perusing Michael Moore’s seminal work, “Dude, Where’s My Country”. I didn’t read it through in its entirety because I don’t hate myself and I have only so much tolerance for rambling, repetitive, self-important writing. I could quickly sum up the key points of the book:

Michael Moore hates George W. Bush
Michael Moore loves to hear his name being used

He makes a few other points, some of which aren’t hopelessly wrong (his chapter on how to talk to your conservative brother-in-law was especially interesting to me, both for the insight it gave me into his philosophy and for his relatively good points about reframing your arguments to suit your audience), but it all comes down to the two key points.

Having just finished reading 1984, I was amused by the collection of his favorite quotes, included in a section about the Patriot Act. The first three quotes all (I think) come from a book-within-the-book that explained how the Party worked and are appropriate descriptions of how a totalitarian society could control its people. The fourth quote goes

The capitalists owned everything in the world, and everyone else was their slave. They owned all the land, all the houses, all the factories, and all the money. If anyone disobeyed them they could throw him into prison, or they could take his job away and starve him to death. When any ordinary person spoke to a capitalist he had to cringe and bow to him, and take off his cap and address him as ‘Sir.’

The inclusion of this quote is amusing because, within the book, it is meaningless. In the book, the historical information about capitalists was pure fiction created to portray the Party in the best possible light. So, it is a quote that is intended to describe the society before it became a totalitarian state, and yet Moore is using it to (I guess) describe a world under the Orwellian Patriot Act. The only interpretation of this quote that would give it any relevance to the section of the book is if you see the revisionist history in the book as actually being descriptive of the current conditions under the party, but that’s a pretty weak argument and still doesn’t quite make the quote relevant.

Don’t get me started on the logical issues with his book, from his tendency to want things both ways (Osama wasn’t responsible for the 9/11 attacks, but we should be hunting him down!), to his obsession with circumstantial evidence (the Bush family had business dealings with other oil families!), to his passing references to insane conspiracy theories.

I’m done with this self-important blowhard. Now it’s time to read some non-political (read: funny) Al Franken stuff.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

"No, the capital of Canada is Ottawa." 

This week, I went to Canada's Capitol (the real one, not that silly city over by Quebec). It was my first time using my new passport, and it was the first time that one of my travel companions has left the US. The following are a few random highlights and observations from my trip.

Have you ever had fantasies about flight attendants? Well, I (sort of) came close to living that dream. I was the only person on my flight into Canada who was wearing shorts (it was in the mid-30's when we landed, so I didn't even need a jacket!), and so when my coworkers heard a flight attendants talking about the guy wearing shorts with the hot legs, they figure that it was about me. I didn't notice him paying any attention to me, so I'll never know for sure if I'm the one he was talking about. (This raises the larger question: why do gay men find me attractive? I'd expect them to be drawn to neat people with fashion sense...)

Speaking of which, Toronto has a lot of cars with rainbow bumper stickers. It's fabulous!

I saw three prominent landmarks on this trip that I had not seen before (at least not up close). I went to the very (very!) cold American side of Niagara Falls (did you know that you can get onto the observation deck for free in the winter, but that all of the gift shops are closed?), the base of the CN Tower (Toronto's Space Needle and until a few months ago, the world's tallest free-standing structure), and the start of Yonge Street (which has been considered at times to be the longest street in the world, and didn't have any markers that I could see).

It's pretty much always easier to return to your own country than it is to enter a foreign one. This is especially true when you are reentering a foreign country from your home country in a foreign car.

It's not necessary to wake up at 3:30 in order to catch a 7:55 flight. While the freeways are remarkably clear at 4:30, it probably wasn't that much worse at 5:30 (the line for Tim Horton's was really long though, which was made worse by the fact that my donut was all Boston and no Cream). The moral of the story is that you should check your flight times before going to be, and make sure that it's the actual flight times and not the mis-typed times on a homemade spreadsheet.

If anyone asks you what you think about the Canadian government's decision to allow seal hunting in Saskatchewan, you should not express indignation because 1) seal hunting is not inherently wrong or inhumane (this would be the hunting of adult seals for meat and furs as opposed to the clubbing of baby seals just for their coats, which is considered inhumane) and 2) Saskatchewan is a landlocked province that doesn't even have any prominent lakes.

My flight back into Salt Lake City had five uniformed pilots. The one in command of the plane was a woman, which was remarkable since women are highly underrepresented in that field.

The important thing is that I'm safely home and a good time was had by all. Take off, eh.

1984 and Why We Have War 

I just recently finished George Orwell's classic book 1984. I had read it before as a teenager, but I didn't really appreciate its message at the time. Now, I read it in light of years of political education and recent history (including the recent paranoia about terrorism).

I do not share the book's dystopian view (in spite of my cynical tendencies), but I think that it is very powerful as a cautionary tale. There is one issue on which I disagree with Orwell's conclusions. In the book, three superpowers have the world divided up in such a way that they cannot overpower each other, leaving them to take turns controlling some of the fringe portions of the world (such as the land between Morocco and India). One essential element of this stalemate is that all three powers have enough resources within their own territories to support themselves, making further conquest unnecessary.

My problem with this is that war is not driven by a need to control resources. Two hundred years ago, wars were about controlling minerals and resources, but that has changed. Look at all of the wars over the last 100 years. At least since the first World War, most conflicts have been driven by a desire to obtain power and to control specific land areas. It's not a matter of having a few thousand more square miles, but of having these thousand square miles. Typically, you have a region that has changed hands over the last century or two, and as a result the groups who have had control each believe that it should be under their control and they are willing to kill anyone else who tries to prevent that.

The other driving influence is the desire to control or eliminate another group of people. I have a hard time understanding ethnic hatreds (even though our country still is simmering with racism), but I can see that a lot of wars are about wiping out the people who are different from you.

The whole point is that, while perpetual war may be inevitable (although I think that nuclear deterrence and economic potentials of trade give strong disincentive to go to war), the relative availability of resources will not be the driving force behind most (if any) wars.

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