Jul 23, 2009

Something to check out

Garrett's Tales from the Peace Corps.

Since I'll likely be somewhat out of touch for the next couple months, Garrett's a good place to go if you're looking for some meditations on the South Africa Peace Corps experience. He's got a bunch of pretty penetrating posts on the whole business. I read it from beginning to end.

Jul 22, 2009

Staging

Tomorrow, we get a vaccination for yellow fever, and then it's on the plane to Johannesburg. I'm the only person in the South Africa group that is alone in my room, which is kind of lonely. I did get to hang out with a great married couple--we went to sushi (unagi, I will miss you deeply), and had a couple beers.

The staging orientation was interesting and bewildering--there's a lot to remember, I just hope I make it there with my stuff in one piece. It's a 17.67 hour flight, with one stop for refueling in Dakar.

Jul 21, 2009

Big News

So I joined the Peace Corps, and on the 23rd I'll be heading to South Africa to start training. So long as I don't wuss out, I'll be moving into some kind of township in September. Right now, I'm in a hotel in Washington DC (man, Matt was right, the buildings are short here), and the douchebag baggage attendant in Cortez refused to put my luggage on the plane because I was 10 minutes late for check-in (apparently you have to be there 45 minutes before boarding). That might make marginal sense for a medium sized or large plane, but this was a 15-seat cropduster, half empty. The baggage check was literally 30 yards from the plane. I walked out on the runway and got to stare at the wide-open baggage compartment, then sit on the plane for 15 minutes. So of course they sent one bag to LAX and the other to Tajikistan or something.

Anyway, I hope they show up eventually--though I think I could probably survive without them. I anticipated this would happen and brought the bare minimum of toiletries and so forth in my carry-on. I'd just have to replace my entire wardrobe.

They say that we will have very limited access to cell phones and the internet for the three months of training, which ends September 17th. Reports are mixed as to whether or not that's actually true, but in any case I probably won't post too often here until I get out in the field. I'll try to do a weekly I'm-still-alive post at least.

My cell phone from the states won't reach me anymore. I'll update when I get a South African number.

Jul 14, 2009

Grr

I usually like Matt Yglesias a lot, but this just pisses me off:
I think another way of thinking about it is that Dawkins has basically tried to reformulate atheism in the evangelizing and illiberal mode of illiberal evangelizing religion. Thus, much as right-wing Christians and right-wing Muslims can simultaneously loathe each other and have structurally similar views, so, too, can “new atheists” join the party. Elsewhere you have a liberal ethic adhered to by people who identify with different spiritual traditions and also by what I think are “normal” atheists, just people who don’t identify with a religious tradition, rather than people who want to construct a self-conscious atheist identity and go to battle over it.
First, conflating someone like Dawkins (who is a little pissed at religion for my taste, but otherwise a great educator and science popularizer, and quite liberal) with bona-fide douchebags like Harris and Hitchens is stupid. Second, it's a hideous exaggeration to equate Dawkins' strong atheism with the evangelizing illiberal mode of Christianity. Seriously, when atheists have the kind of witch-burning track record of fundamentalism, then we can talk. Until then, STFU.

Also, what the fuck is wrong with a "self-conscious atheist identity?" If you happen to believe strongly in hugely important questions like "where did the universe come from?" and so forth, then you're abnormal. In order to be normal, according to Matt, you have to just "not identify with a religious tradition" (which covers a lot more ground than atheism, by the way).

I don't consider myself an atheist (more like an agnostic in the mode of Carl Sagan), but this was a real clunker from Matt.

Jul 13, 2009

More Auto-tune

This is my favorite.

The latest from Pogo.

This time, it's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

Auto-Tune the news

I'm a bit late to the party, but this is just awesome:



Channel!

Some pictures

Calico Trail: This thing is a real bitch on a bike; this time we were on foot. There were half-mile sections on Calico so rocky and steep you couldn't even push the bike, you had to carry it.
That's Mount Wilson in the background.

Monarch Crest Trail:
This trail was pretty easy on a bike, and really cool as it runs right along the Continental Divide for a ways. There were so many people on it, though, that what sticks out is being overtaken by someone about every five minutes.
Still pretty though.

You could plow this groove and plant some crops

Dig it!

Scientist survey


Check this out. I'm pretty much square with the majority on every topic. Mostly what struck me is the success of the right-wing attack on the scientific consensus around global warming and evolution.

Jul 8, 2009

Lame

Jeffrey Goldberg is in Durango. He writes:
There aren't any hot chili peppers in the blistering sun, just a really crappy Best Western motel and a tourist railroad that runs to Silverton that seems like a nightmare to someone such as myself, who is always looking for an exit from crappy tourist adventures.
City folk...sigh. The railroad is actually pretty cool--a genuine old-time narrow-gauge steam engine on the old route, which is spectacular and sorta scary. Get one of the open cars, and it's well worth the money. Also, you can use it as a taxi for a hike up into Chicago Basin, which is absolutely amazing. A bit crowded for a mountain valley, but it's tightly regulated and the mountain goats are very friendly.

The Gaza 21

Apparently about a week ago, a bunch of human rights workers, journalists from 11 countries, and a a former US congresswoman (Cynthia McKinney) were en route to Gaza with humanitarian supplies, but were halted and imprisoned by the Israeli navy. Juan Cole has more. Also see here.

It seems the point of this exercise is classic nonviolent resistance, MLK-style. You attempt to provoke a violent, disproportionate response from the oppressors to sway moderate opinion in your direction. In this case, though, the response of the media is crucial, and in this case I haven't seen a single story from a major US outlet. Currently an American Idol retrospective is on my television, which is clearly more important than a humanitarian crisis perpetrated by an blockade in obvious violation of the Geneva Conventions.

Jul 7, 2009

Kurt Vonnegut

















From #2: "It seemed to me that science fiction writers were writing about the most important issues of our time, and that the mainstream writers and those most respected by critics were still dealing with the subtleties of human character and motivation and all that. Meanwhile, we've created these monstrous engines and social schemes and so forth which are having more influence on us than anything else. So I created Kilgore Trout to say 'maybe these guys can't write so well, but they're sure talking about what needs to be talked about.'"

The Awakening

Healthcare costs

Lo! I was just talking about how Megan McArdle often makes ridiculous arguments--and often about things I sort of agree with! Here she comes with another doozy...but Ezra Klein got there first:

You know, I'd been wanting to write a post semi-agreeing with those questioning the massive savings to be gained by replacing the relatively high administrative costs of the private sector with the relatively low administrative costs of the public sector. But then Megan McArdle and Alex Tabarrok began making a lot of really weird arguments about the Soviet Union -- seriously -- and, sorry, but that's where I get off the train.

We live in a world with actual examples of national health-care systems. France, Germany, Britain, Canada, Japan, Sweden, Italy, Taiwan and Israel all have them. They are cheaper. With lower administrative costs. And comparable health outcomes. And they somehow exist within a largely private economy (Also: Read Jon Cohn!).


Pretty much what I was thinking, except smarter. Also check out his next post.

Megan McArdle

I've never been able to pin down exactly why, but Megan McArdle bugs the crap out of me. Today, Yglesias in his deadpan way eviscerates a McArdle post on relative economic performance of presidents.

Maybe it's just leftover bad taste from the Hilzoy/McArdle spat a while back, but nearly every post I read of hers makes me cringe. I think it has something to do with the often non-sequitur nature of her arguments.

Jul 6, 2009

Robert S. McNamara, RIP


He died today at 93. I've always been fascinated by him. A troubled soul, who it seemed was never really able to come to grips with his role in life, but tried to make up for it in his own, halting, self-serving and ineffectual way. Yet I can't help but view him with a lot of sympathy.

Clearly an astoundingly brilliant man, and clearly a product of the technocratic fetishism of the 50s. Driven, wound to the breaking point.

One must remember that other figures of that time--George McGovern comes to mind--did oppose the Vietnam War from the start, and deserve moral accolades far greater than that of McNamara. Yet not many others who were neck-deep in the conflict tried to deal with the lessons of Vietnam in any way. It's fair to say that he was devastated, haunted by his role in the war, and spent most of the rest of his life trying to atone for it, unlike say Nixon or Kissinger.

I also don't think he can be compared with Rumsfeld. One must remember that in the 60s, the memories of WWII were still fresh. Hitler's march across Europe was not the tired conservative platitude it is today. The USSR was not the broken industrial distopia we remember now, but rather the massed tanks of the Red Army, defeating Germany basically singlehanded. Vietnam was still doubtless a boneheaded war, but its stupidity does not even register compared to the utterly-batshit fever dream of Iraq.

See Kevin Drum for a similar take.

Jul 5, 2009