15 December 2005

Last night's (December 14) The Apprentice: Martha Stewart.

Dismissing Jim was a no-brainer. I think that dye had already been cast even before the interviews, where I must say Jim was more nonsensical then usual. The editors made some decisions that also cast some doubt on both Dawna and Bethany’s answers in the interviews. “How do you see the Martha brand?” was one of the questions, which is a no-brainer. A soft-pitch. Bethany then says, “I don’t know.” How ridiculous was that? Fortunately, there is one more competition and the interviews alone do not decide it, as Dawna might have been the hire.

I am baffled by Bethany’s choice of teammates. Jim and Ryan made perfect sense to me. Ryan was always correct until the last task, and even then he might have been bang on correct had Song Airlines made a different demographic the targets. Jim does beautiful work it is only when he has to interact with others that his value becomes suspect. Carrie is forgettable. So much so, that I do not remember a thing about her. Leslie, however, is a wonderful salesperson and she would have been my third choice. Leslie also strikes me as professional enough, or is it caring enough about her reputation and her portrayal on national television, that she would not hold a grudge. Carrie is neither professional nor concerned about being petty: it seems the definition of petty is characterized best by Carrie, not caring about how she is perceived instead opting to act out on a grudge. So, Bethany may be ruined by her poor hiring choice. But I think Carrie gave her a way out. When asked about the conflict in the car, Bethany should have immediately realized what was happening and fired Carrie. That would signal a level of professionalism to Martha that is normally hard to come by, especially in an interview format such as this. It would also provide a buffer for a close loss to Dawna. Bethany could then claim some staff troubles and also claim that she took some action, unfortunately not soon enough. The best candidate is not always the one that has the victory but the one that performs best, and firing Carrie might win some Martha points.
I am beginning to think Iranian President Ahmadinejad is being quite brilliant with his campaign against Israel. Please note that brilliance is not always accurate. It seems by ratcheting up the bellicose impression of Iran that is held in the West actually helps Iranian goals. In this current geopolitical climate there is no risk of an invasion against Iran. So, Ahmadinejad knows that if the West fears Iranian nuclear developments they will not result to a military option leaving only a diplomatic solution. In order to gain more concessions from the West he is making the Iranian threat as large as possible. See also the new Iranian action which solicits American contractors to help build nuclear facilities. This helps point the way to Ahmadinejad’s goal, nuclear power and the cheap power which fuels economic growth. Western concessions are also key to achieving this goal, as the nations can send the technology to Iran in an effort to maintain some control and surveillance over illicit reactors that could also be used for nuclear developments.

07 December 2005

The critics are for once unanimous and correct: Aeon Flux is a bad movie.

Besides the problems elaborated by the critics, there is a larger problem with the story and one that hits closer to home. Cloning is not bad, at least not for the reasons argued. The movie is a polemic against cloning, which is weird: MTV doing a movie that has at its core a message the Republican Party has at its core (does this answer the ‘liberal biased media’ hypothesis?: a Nader-esque answer that the disputants are both so conservative that any disagreement is really whitewashing?)

Conservatives and MTV think when a person is cloned, there is something else that transfers into the younger besides the elder’s genetics. This something is the X Factor, which some will call soul and others consciousness. In this movie the X Factor is manifest in dreams of previous incarnations and an accelerating unraveling of reality because those dreams are becoming worse.

This is nonsensical. Dreams spring from the brain and the changes that occur to the brain over a person’s life and not from a wellspring of data in the brain at birth. Dreams are the effect of environment and not of genetics. If dreams were genetic then they would be common to a species and not a specific DNA pattern, at which point they would not pose a threat to people. Dreams are material, the soul is not. What makes the soul so special is its immateriality, which then begs the question of how a copy of genes can also replicate a soul? A genetic copy could co-exist with its parent and they would still be unique individuals. They would have different ages, different memories, different experiences and even different souls. If the soul is so special and powerful and immortal then how can it be effected by mere mortals?

But there is a larger issue with this cloning problem. If it is true that cloning can capture the soul then that is exactly what makes cloning inevitable. The main villain of the movie shows that he wants to preserve the cloning procedure precisely because of its ability to capture the X Factor. The preciousness of the X Factor makes people want to capture that power. So, either way we have it, cloning will happen, either because it does reproduce the X Factor or because it does not reproduce the X Factor.

Once we come to a realization that cloning is inevitable then we can move beyond this debate and instead figure ways to make cloning safer and more ethical in its treatments of others.

16 November 2005

There is an interesting story in the recent issue of Wired that merits discussion. It is about a Swiss company that is building camel jockey robots, so the slave-boys that currently do the jockeying can be freed and returned home to Sudan. Jim Lewis touches on some of the things this article makes me ponder, particularly when he writes, “But you can argue that progress unaccompanied by a keen ear for context is just a game of Whack-a-Mole. You pound out one problem and another appears right next to it.” But, Lewis needs to go further.

Even though the boys are being returned to freedom from a world of slavery, is this necessarily a good thing? First, we need to isolate the harms that are done to the boys, besides being slaves. Life is supposedly hard for these jockeys, they are malnourished, to keep the weight down, and their injuries are often left untreated. Would these harms exist in Sudan? Possibly. Many of the slaves from the Sudan are seized in the war-torn provinces. While there are some children in the nation that have some amenities we in the West might appreciate, these children are not the ones which are put into slavery. So, it is quite possible that these slave-boys would be malnourished and without adequate medical care either way. It also seems that these boys have the risk of living in a war-torn society if they were to remain or return to Sudan. A hardship compared to the relative stability of living in Qatar.

Now we need to compare the lives of a slave versus the lives of a free person. It is easy for us in the West to condemn the slave-master as evil and the free person as always better off. But is this necessarily so? There are some cultural values that might counter these assumptions of the greatness of freedom. We also have to wonder how free is a 4-year-old boy to begin with? How free is a 4-year-old boy in a war-torn society? How free is a 4-year-old boy in a war-torn society whose cultural practices often come under Western criticism? It seems a measure of transference is in effect here. We try to imagine our lives transposed into the life of a 4-year-old slave, but that is not an accurate measure as we do not know the reality of life as a free-boy or as a slave-boy. I am not arguing that slavery is good, rather that it is complicated and maybe we should pause for some reflection before knee-jerk reacting that they are of course better off as free-boys instead of as slave-boys.

We should also remember that people, even boys I suspect, are quick to attach identity to the place of suppression, so they can internalize the slavery not as the horror as we see it but as life, something to navigate. This is where Salecl’s discussion of The Shawshank Redemption can be useful. Most of the inmates had become institutionalized, looking to the prison life as a structuring force, and often when confronted with the very object of the desire, freedom, they would be consumed by the freedom often committing suicide or committing a crime to be returned to prison life. It is easy for us, as free-people, to look upon the slave-boy with the sympathetic eye, but maybe the slave-boy does not feel the oppression as we fantasize the slave-boy does.

So, what to do? Again, the solution is not to steal free-boys in Sudan away to Qatar, but the solution may not be to repatriate all the boys that are already in Qatar. The end of the article has a brief interview with Abdullah. Abdullah was a slave-boy who rode camels but now is too big to do so. But Abdullah does not necessarily want to return to Sudan, “But now, no. Any job, I can do it. I want to stay here, but when the robot came in there was no job for me.” His life is now in Qatar and maybe ripping him away from that would be just as violent as when he was ripped away from Sudan. The robots are probably good things, as they can be used to prevent the need for new boys, and maybe given the need to test and refine the robots, this moratorium will be the natural way of things. But there are reports of a planeload of boys being returned to Sudan without as much as a health exam. So, this may be another example of our good intentions gone awry.

01 November 2005

Two articles today have struck my attention, not only for their differences but also for their similarities. The first is Bruce Lawrence's description of his upcoming book of bin Laden's testimonials. The second is a review by Karen Olsson of a book that is now out about alien abductions, Abducted by Susan Clancy. I will not ruin the reviews implicit in these articles as they are easily found at The Chronicle Review and at Slate.

Alien abductions are not real, per se. They only seem real. The afflicted usually suffer from sleep paralysis which is when "the brain and the body desynchronize briefly before waking up." This moment is then interpreted as a break of non-natural origin. Why is it then interpreted as an alien abduction? This is where the Lawrence can help us fill in some gaps. Olsson explains that it is an attempt to find the purpose of life. Fair enough, but this merely explains the desire for an interpretation and not why this interpretation.

We should look at the role of the state. For bin Laden the state is the enemy, an enemy that does not rest on lines of identity. Lawrence shows how bin Laden thinks of himself as supranational, a modern day Nasser working to revive Muslims. But what would happen if bin Laden was in the majority of the system he criticized? What would he do if he did not have an appeal that rests along minority identity constructions? This is the question that can be answered by the alien abduction problem.

Most of those abducted are white and middle class. They are in the center and not on the margins, which is where bin Laden recruits. How do you raise a supranational army of those already in the center of the state system? You fantasize it as an actual supranational system, one that takes notice of you and not of the actual state system. What better way to elevate a sense of one's worth than to have a more powerful group than your current structure pay attention to you, a normally vanilla blended-in white middle class folk? It doesn't help that Hollywood shoves images of aliens and even of alien abductions into our popular culture. Like bin Laden's al-Qaeda tries to do, an extraterrestrial is a perfect counterweight to American primacy, not only abroad but also in our daily lives.

Like bin Laden's project, alien abductions blend a measure of faith with the mundane. This faith aspect is what allows people to cling to the project even in the face of skepticism and counter-arguments. But this faith serves a deeper purpose belied by the previous sentence. Not only does the faith aspect allow one to exist in the face of these skepticisms, but exactly because of the skepticisms. As more and more skepticism is unleashed against those that do believe the stronger their sense of righteousness and faith grows. In a way it is the naysayers like myself that make them so committed.

So, what to do? How about instead of insisting on their incorrectness, we grant them what they seek most, validation. Validation of their experiences as marginalized. Even though they feel this way this does not mean they are impotent, which is the distinction that needs to be hit home. This it seems to me is a hard sell, but a more conciliatory posture would be prudent here.

31 October 2005

There is a funny story today on Mcsweeney's (http://mcsweeneys.net) called "The Legend of Me" by Jack Handey. Now we recommend everyone read this story. It is funny, yet Handey is on to something important, especially in international relations thought.

There is a school of thought that likes to think of themselves as distinctly non-realist who say we should not react to threats because those threats are the byproducts of our interpretations and not of reality. For example, Chinese military modernizations need not be countered with more militarism because we interpret Chinese modernization as hostile, when instead it is merely a buildup of defensive means. The same has been said of Iraq, North Korea and even Iran. Now this article is not a pithy dismissal of these authors as naive or sophomoric because for the most part we think they may be correct and at worst have something valuable to give us pause.

However, the fact that these aggressive actions may simply be the byproducts of our own aggression does not mean that we need to sit idly by. Let us return to the opening metaphor. Maybe the Mummy is not a monster but yet a misunderstood, ugly, foul-breathed soul. So, we should consider it. But, it is the naive mother that when seeing the Mummy approach does not usher her children inside for safety's sake. Just in case the Mummy is not misunderstood at all, or maybe it is just a bad day or maybe his halitosis really is that bad.

Here is the thing with the critique of realism: even though we cannot accurately obtain reality that does not mean all ends well. There are still dangers out there. Sometimes they are our own creation. For example, while it may be true that the Second Reich was created by abusive conditions set upon Germany at the conclusion of World War I, that does not mean we should have sat idly by allowing Hitler to rampage. Maybe we did create the monster, but once the monster breaks out of the closet it is time to act, and often violently.

Iraq had demonstrated a history of violence to the international order (although dispute about which actions were actually violent is credible) but what Iran and North Korea have done to be deemed belligerent we are unsure. It does seem that these nations' modernization programs (not just nuclear weapons) are defensive in nature. These might be prime examples of where a moment of reflexivity is the prudent action instead of instant demonization and opprobrium.

28 October 2005

The Beginning

So, here is the beginning of the StoopidNoodle team’s blog. Who is StoopidNoodle? Maybe the better answer is what is the purpose of this presence on the internet? We are all already on the internet but yet this location is special for us. Our mission has two directions, in two seemingly different directions. We will attempt to link these pulls and show how maybe they are not so disparate. So, here are the two quotations we came across that define this location and then we will return for a brief discussion.

“It is in response to this practice [“pull[ing] away form a mimetic theory of art and attempt[ing] to construct in its stead an interpretative model “ – SN] that contemporary theory must situate itself: not outside of interpretation but in the hidden places of negotiation and exchange.” Greenblatt, Stephen. 1987. Capitalist culture and the circulatory system. In Murray Kreiger, ed., The aims of representation: Subject/text/history (257-73). Stanford, CA: Stanford UP. 272.

“I still hope that my rethinking of some foreign policy questions can be incorporated into a vibrant progressive movement. Indeed, I’d argue that a strong defence of pluralistic, democratic societies needs to be an essential, perhaps a defining, [sic.] component of any genuinely progressive politics in today’s world.” Abramsky, Sasha. 2005, April 10. Whose al-Qaida problem? Online at Open Democracy. www.opendemocracy.net. Obtained October 6, 2005.

So, we will run the gamut here. Sometimes our discussions will only reflect one of these directions and sometimes it may reflect both, even though it may only hold to one. We reserve the right to clarify and add to our mission later as time and you teach us new things.

Your job? Yes, we here at StoopidNoodle feel that there is a role to be played by the audience instead of merely by us. You are encouraged to comment and provide feedback and keep us honest and true to our missions. Maybe along the way we can all educate each other and maybe make life a bit easier and better for us all.