8 years of our assent

"We've gotten really good at living with things during the Bush Years, at tolerating the intolerable. And while this may sound like another tip of the hat to the incredible resilience of the American people, it's not: Resilience, after all, is not what's required in crisis when the crisis is partly of your own making. Responsibility is. We have heard of the Tech Bubble of the Clinton Years, the Housing Bubble of George W. Bush. Well, the bubble that we're living in now — still — is the bubble that's all our own. It's the Moral Bubble, and it will not be pricked until we take responsibility not just for the forty-third president's actions but for our inaction — for all the agreements we've made without awareness, for all the awareness we've come to without vigilance, for all the times we've touched the easy, insulating button of our assent."

Excerpt from the wonderful piece by Tom Junod on Esquire Magazine: What the Hell Just Happened?

8 years of the gangster presidency, was a very, very long time indeed:

We gotta have peace!

Curtis Mayfield

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The Best Music Video of 2008

I could watch Grace Jones for hours... Good to see her back in shape. She has made some of the best urban tracks of all time: "Pull up to the Bumper" and "La vie en rose".



1000+ 930+ 830+ 700 600 dead and counting

People who have not experienced war first hand don't realize that its horror is not fear, pain or anger. It is despair, and powerlessness. I will never forget my parents' desperate faces when they could do nothing to protect me and my brother other than putting their arms around us and pray for the best---when we were under mortar fire in the Angolan civil war. This sense of powerlessness overwhelms me when I read accounts such as these:

"I heard from the father of one of our patients, a 10-year-old boy with cancer who had been going to Israel for chemotherapy. Of course, there is no chance of that now. His child was in pain, so he wanted to go to the nearest hospital in Gaza, which was the European hospital in Khan Younis. The ambulance couldn't reach them because the road was blocked so this man carried his son for 8km (five miles) on his back to the hospital. When they got there, there wasn't any medication available, there weren't even any painkillers so he just carried him back home."
Dr Miri Weingarten is director of the Israeli charity Physicians for Human Rights

"We have been receiving a very high number of patients with a strange burn, completely different to the burns we are used to managing, very deep burns with a very offensive, chemical odour coming from the wound site. The wound keeps smoking for a long time. When we try to wash it with saline and water, some reaction happens, the skin bubbles and the patient complains of extreme pain. In some cases there is then severe destruction of the tissue and we have had to amputate whole limbs. We don't know what type of treatment should be used. The major problem is we don't know the kind of weapon that has been used. We have a visiting doctor from Norway who thinks it might be white phosphorus but we are not sure. Even if it is, we have no experience of it and do not know how to deal with wounds it has caused. We are asking for the help of all physicians across the world - what type of weapons cause these injuries and how do you deal with them? Is the chemical odour coming from the wound harmful to the medics? What are the long term repercussions? We have no idea. What can we say? We try to reassure patients but we do not know. "
Dr Abu Shaaban is director of the Burns Unit at Gaza's Shifa hospital

Imagine these were your children, and you will get closer to understanding the horror of war. A quote from Erasmus comes to mind: "War is delightful to those who have had no experience of it."

Grieving over Gaza by Anat Biletzki.

One thing that amazes me is how Israel manages not to let any journalists in, without that much outcry from the U.S. and Western media---certainly nothing like what we read and hear, rightly, when Mugabe expels western journalists from Zimbabwe...

And while the US media worries, also rightly, about whether there was torture at Guantanamo, I don't see the editorials of the NY Times calling for immediate access to Gaza in order to verify horrific stories such as "Israelis shot at fleeing Gazans" and UN accuses Israel over phosphorus. Jon Stewart below is the only one asking why such phony standards... Meanwhile at the NYTimes, we have the boring sanctimony of Friedman---why doesn't he use his position to press Israel into letting journalists in? Why doesn't he go there to report if claims such as the one above are true or not?

Even UN-flagged schools are not immune. 292 235 205 children among the dead. Humanitarian crisis deepens. Journalists still not allowed in, therefore casualty claims in Gaza cannot be independently verified. U.N. Warns of Refugee Crisis in Gaza Strip.

"[...] UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said an alleged failure of the Israeli military to help wounded civilians in Gaza - cited by the Red Cross - could constitute a war crime. On Thursday, the International Committee of the Red Cross said its staff had found four weak and scared children beside their mothers' bodies in houses hit by shelling in the Zeitoun neighbourhood of Gaza City. Ms Pillay told the BBC: 'The incident the Red Cross describes is very troubling because it has all the elements of what constitutes a war crime. There is an obligation to protect the wounded, to treat the sick, to remove them to safety and here, according to the Red Cross, Israeli soldiers just stood by and did nothing for these four children and one adult who were too weak to move.' The UN human rights body has demanded that human rights monitors be deployed in Gaza, Israel and the West Bank so that any violations of international law can be documented independently. Separately, the UN's head of humanitarian affairs, John Holmes, said it was 'extremely disappointing' that so far the resolution had been ignored by both sides." Full Story @ BBC News.

Give Peace A Chance (Phunk Investigation Mix) - ONO

Jon Stewart once more asks the tough questions no one dares to: Why are both parties following the same party line? (removed the embedded player because it was causing some glitches, follow the link to the video).

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On diversity

Often, in academic life, we are asked to report on our "diversity activities" or directed to try to increase diversity in our admissions and hiring endeavours. The problem is that in the absence of a definition or even guidelines about what constitutes a "diversity activity", we are forced to guess what these might be. In my view, this is problematic because it can easily devolve into an exercise that breaks up humans into unrealistic, constituent "canonical identities". Should I report on the sexual preferences or the cultural and racial profile of my students, for instance? Or should I just describe the chromosomal makeup of people I collaborate with, as well as my efforts to increase the numbers of people with a certain chromosomal makeup? I find all of this not only pointless but based on unscientific premises about "identity" that ought to be left in the XX century. I have a collaborator who is XY chromosomally but who is outwardly a female and is attracted to females---should I report on that and how? I refuse to. For me, in an appraisal, admissions or hiring exercise, looking at human features other than their relevant productivity is in bad taste and ultimately unfair to all involved, which is why I object to doing it.

I believe that if a goal of our organization is to increase its population diversity, the best that we can do is to increase the universal appeal of our subject matter. Certainly biology and psychology as fields are quite diverse in their workforce because their subject matter is of universal appeal. Computing, on the other hand, is not as diverse simply because its subject matter has been very restricted to questions about computing per se, rather than about solving real-world or human-nature problems. Traditional computing has not been very appealing to women, but it has not been very appealing to most men either. It appeals to a special type of person who is interested in abstract computing per se---that kind of person tends to be a certain type of man, but certainly most men are also not interested in computing per se.

The field of Informatics, a fairly new term in the US and the general area where I work, is more focused on problem-solving and human and biological questions. Therefore, it is poised to change the appeal of computing---at least that is what we are betting on. My point is that if we want to increase diversity in the informatics or computing, let us focus of making our subject matter more universally appealing, rather than counting the gender, racial, cultural, and sexual preference attributes of people---all of which are more or less fuzzy and ultimately undefinable.

Yesterday I saw the movie doubt, in which Meryl Street's character, a nun, says that in the pursuit of wrongdoing, one has to part in the opposite direction of the Christian message (or something like that). I feel that the goals of the academic pushes for increasing (the ever-undefined) diversity are a bit like that. But I am fundamentally opposed to the view that one can fight racism, sexism and the like, by counting race and gender---whatever way it goes it is still discrimination. We are all better off fighting for universal human rights and, in the context of academia, pushing for universal or at least wider appeal of the fields that have cornered themselves in very hermetic subject matters.

As Graham Greene used to say, "there are many countries in our blood, but only one person". To "countries" I would add "cultures" and "phenotypic traits".

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online ethics

It's 2009, and since I am not partying like it is 1999, I have been going through tons of magazines I subscribe to but did not have time to read in the past year. This morning I read the September issue of Scientific American on Privacy and Security. Actually, not a very interesting collection---unlike the recent special issue on Darwin which is a must-read. But, in any case, it got me thinking. Yes, it is true that the concept of privacy is changing in the XXI century. More and more people, especially teenagers, put all sorts of private material on their facebooks and the like. Privacy experts (and parents alike) warn that such lack of privacy can incur a hefty price when the time comes to apply to universities or for jobs. Indeed, the Internet does not forget, and we all have heard of the cases when good candidates get turned down due to the tabloid nature of their online profiles. Of course people should probably be more clever about what they put online, but shouldn't the rest of us also update our behavior? I mean, while we can eavesdrop on conversations in restaurants, for instance, it is not polite to do so. In fact, society looks down on peeping toms. So why is it acceptable for an admissions or hiring committee to look into a candidate's private profile or blog? The fact that we can, does not mean we should. Of course I am not naive to think that some people won't, but we need to update our online ethics to look down on people who peek into people's online personae without being invited to do so.

P.S. I am in several admissions and hiring committees, and never look at the facebook profiles or personal blogs of any candidates, unless they mention them on their application materials.

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