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Archive for May 2008

Cluster Ban Treaty Approved

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Cluster bomb ban treaty approved

More than 100 nations have reached an agreement on a treaty which would ban current designs of cluster bombs.

Written by omnologos

2008/May/28 at 23:51:05

Posted in Ethics, Humanity, Politics

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Straw Men vs. Obama

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(UPDATE: a shortened version of the text below has been published in the Letters section of the International Herald Tribune, May 25, 2008)

Truly there must be something powerful in Barack Obama’s message for the US Presidential Campaign of 2008, if critics are so busy setting up flawed arguments about his heritage, or foreign policy ideas.

First we had Luttwak’s improbable stint as a Shari’a scholar, somehow “demonstrating” that Obama’s Muslim father would be a liability… in the Muslim world. And now, how do N Thrall and J J Wilkins criticize Obama’s suggestion that, in foreign policy, talks are better than wars-by-proxy?

Why, they try to make a rather esoteric analogy with a Kennedy-Khrushchev summit of 47 years ago (“Kennedy talked, Khrushchev triumphed“, IHT, May 23).

Never mind that Obama has never suggested starting off by meeting face-to-face with the Presidents of Iran or Hamas, for example; that the world is vastly different from 1961’s; and that as anybody living in the real world knows very well already, the Administration of President George W Bush has engaged in talks with “America’s enemies” such as Lybia and North Korea.

And rightly so! Well, if Messrs Thrall and Wilkins are so convinced that the mere act of talking brings huge risks of being considered “too weak”, perhaps they should suggest closing off much of the State Department.

A flawed argument is also known as a “straw man”. Well, I for one think there have been enough of those scarecrows set up, especially against Obama. Please, can we have now some serious political discussion instead?

Written by omnologos

2008/May/23 at 06:01:13

Republican Alert: Major Presidential Speeches Warning

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The Economist quotes outgoing Republican congressman Tom Davis:

When Bush tries to articulate a vision, he will butcher the Gettysburg Address. Obama, he will make an A&P grocery list sing.

Obama has already managed to star in a “presidential speech” in Philadelphia, when challenged about race. The risk for McCain is to inspire more exceptional performances, eg about women (after attacks on Michelle Obama) and white working-class poverty (if remarks of Obama being too sophisticated for his own good keep coming).

Yet more signs that this is going to be a sedate campaign, with two candidates simply too nice to each other to inspire any enthusiasm…

Written by omnologos

2008/May/21 at 22:15:38

Posted in Politics, USA, USA 2008

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Pistorius: Everything’s Good

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I will try to explain in detail why I do not agree with those who reacted negatively to the news that Pistorius will be given the opportunity to attempt qualifying for the Olympics.

And no, I will not use emotional arguments.

There are several objections I have heard, and none of them stands up to scrutiny. Some say that the artificial legs give Pistorius an unfair advantage: well, then it’s not a matter of preventing him to compete, rather to help hilm design legs without unfair advantages.

Others declare their opposition to the use of any “non-natural equipment” at the Olympics: shall we then also prohibit hi-tech swimming gear, and super-special running shoes? Or at least make sure everybody uses the same gear, and the same shoes.

In truth, there already is a “mechanical device” that allows people with disabilities to compete with all others: that is, glasses. I am extremely short-sighted myself: I would be almost blind, if I had not the good fortune of being born in an age where the right type of correcting lenses are available.

Unfortunately many others, for example those forced to move on wheelchairs, have no such luck (yet).

Now, is there anybody willing to say that short-sighted people ought not to compete for example in archery, as glasses could provide unfair advantages compared to “normal people”? After all, the ability to focus at large distances is very important in some sports and it can happen (as it happened to me) that glasses or contact lenses correct vision to 11/10.

Years ago, by the way, a female archers has been allowed to compete from a wheelchair…

What’s’ so different, in the Pistorius case? The fact that glasses are known and accepted by all, even in everyday life, while artificial legs are good at the moment only for running, look “alien” to most and therefore raise a certain fear of the “new and different”.

But in that case the problem is not with Pistorius, rather with those who are still not accepting the possibility that even if “running” means “on two legs”, still doesn’t necessarily mean “the same legs you were born with”.

Others still worry that the Pistorius will set a precedent, and the IOC has opened a dangerous door unto the unknown. Such “precautionary principle” is very dangerous in general (none should use bathrooms at home, for example, since that’s where most of the accidents happen), and in this particular case, too simplistic.

What will happen, in fact, after the decision favourable to Pistorius? Other amputees will try to follow, and the IOC and the International Athletics Federation will finally define the standards necessary for the approval of an artificial leg.

Therefore, scientific and technological research will focus on creating artificial legs more and more similar to natural ones, which in all likelihood will translate into better models intended for use also in everyday life.

And so even putting aside the emotional considerations around the Pistorius case, it is time to loudly cheer for Pistorius: just as years ago for Bosman, who courageously and tenaciously demolished an entire slave system, I mean the European market for football players.

Written by omnologos

2008/May/19 at 22:23:42

Posted in Olympics

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Israel at 60: Celebrate or What?

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Among all the postmodernist rubbish, there may be one good idea: “what we say about any given subject is always constructed, and there are only partial truths“. All the more so about Israel and the whole Palestine, where if there is one thing that never changes, is the conviction of people on both sides to be speakers of the whole truth, completely disregarding the others’ arguments: and thereby guaranteeing there will be no progress whatsoever.

I have my own ideas on what should be done and by whom. But there is little point in arguing who’s wrong and who’s right. Personally, I believe they are right those (where they come from) whose actions bring less suffering, less deaths, and less instability.

Written by omnologos

2008/May/18 at 20:59:34

Posted in Israeli / Palestinian, Politics

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Don’t Stop Digging

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After an earthquake, and after the quake (or perhaps, the quakes) in China this month, talks of ”too much time has passed for anybody to be still alive” chillingly keep coming back.

It is actually known since the Messina earthquake of 1908 if not longer, that humans can survive well beyond what we can imagine. Hope should never die, or at least for three weeks. Certainly not after just a handful of days.

Dig, dig, dig: nothing else makes sense, right now.

Written by omnologos

2008/May/18 at 12:45:24

Posted in China

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In Space, Nobody Can Hear You Explode…

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In a recent op-ed, James Carroll expressed his worries about a space arms race, comparing it to previous military build-ups into strategies such as aerial bombings (“Preventing a race in space“, IHT, May 14).

But the actual issue is the potential deployment of weapons not in outer space, rather here on the ground.

Nobody has the technology to build a spaceship Enterprise or a Battlestar Galactica. All we can do is send satellites into fixed orbits, and any change in height or inclination is very expensive.

An orbiting satellite is bound to follow a particular path eveybody can calculate in advance (and shoot at with arbitrary precision): more a sitting (or shall I say, circling) duck than the potential location for any kind of weaponry.

Written by omnologos

2008/May/17 at 17:20:42

Posted in Astronautics, Space

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