Out of curiosity, why is Saddam Hussein the only world leader who is routinely referred to in the mainstream press by his first name alone, rather than last? Saddam this, Saddam that. Nobody refers to our prez as “George” except when being diminutive. Oh. Just answered my own question.

Fake Ticket

My post Live Larger, Drive Smaller from a few days ago has drawn some very thoughtful responses. An anonymous interlocutor charges me with inexcusable vandalism for advocating the bumper sticker idea, and I answer flippantly that SUV ownership is a far more destructive form of vandalism; the stickers are easily justified. However, s/he has a point that vandalism is vandalism and that two wrongs don’t make a right.

Arakasi makes the point that a discussion with the SUV-owning neighbor would be more fruitful than a bumper sticker, and he’s probably right — if it didn’t turn into an argument.

But who’s got the cojones to face what would probably turn out to be an ugly confrontation and one-way passport to a bad relationship with your neighbor? So maybe this fake ticket (PDF) you can put under someone’s windshield is a better solution. It conveys the anti-SUV argument much more cogently than the bumper sticker, does a better job of making the recipient think, and is non-vandalistic.

I find myself becoming more vehemently anti-car with every passing day. In part, I’m sure it’s because I see the way car drivers treat bicyclists every day, like they don’t exist and don’t matter — a car will pull out in front of a bike without a 2nd glance just because they can, because we’re not big enough to run them down. It’s astounding. I find myself resenting cars for destroying the flow of the world, for clogging everything, everywhere. It’s a bit of an overly emotional reaction, I know, but it’s how I feel — that cars are one of our culture’s greatest problems, and I feel frustrated that there seems to be so little recognition of this fact, which seems plain and obvious. Just look around – cars own almost everything you see outdoors in the city.

I used to feel like over-population was the single largest threat to humanity, and that all of our other problems flow from overpopulation. I no longer feel quite that black and white about it – overconsumption and disregard for the shared property of the environment easily contribute as much toward our trajectory down the destructive spiral. Population issues are magnified and exacerbated by irrational consumption.

Switching from a car to an SUV for one year wastes as much energy as leaving your refrigerator door open for six years. As Americans / Westerners, we all consume much more than people in the 2nd and 3rd worlds, and Americans consume much more than Europeans. But what steams me the most is totally avoidable consumption – people who accept bags at the store even when they buy only a few items, people who don’t recycle, people who own SUVs without justification, people who drive when their destination is less than a few miles and they don’t have kids or other things to haul… so much consumption is irrational and totally avoidable.

Dutch archaeologists are uncovering many of the objects seen in Heironymus Bosch’s surreal art.

Live Larger, Drive Smaller

Cat amusement by laser has been patented since 1995 (thanks baald).

I’m changing the planet, ask me how!.

Which reminds me, I heard on Click and Clack (The Tappet Brothers) last Sunday that they’re running an anti-SUV info campaign. I respect that they have the cajones to take a stand from their position of respect and authority and media prominence. Way too rare. What rocks even more is that rather than just pointing to problems, they’re suggesting genuine, practical alternatives.

I really love Mozilla 1.1 and switched to it as a default browser the other day. But no matter what I do, it won’t seem to remember that I’m logged into LiveJournal, which makes commenting on other journals a big pain. It drops cookies all over the place. This is almost but not quite a showstopper. Next morning… scratch that, just switched back to IE. One more rev and Mozilla should be there. I like a lot of other things about it – tabbed browsing is wonderful once you get the hang of it.

Seeing Bill Clinton

Went to see Bill Clinton speak today. The J-School sponsored the event, but it was held in Zellerbach Hall. Cool to see Gray Davis, Orville Schell, and Bubba all onstage at once. Very inspiring. Listening to him really made me aware of how quickly we synopsize our feelings about leaders into a few summary thoughts. “Democrat. Two terms. Mixed track record. Kinda liked him, kinda not. Reputation tarnished by scandal.” It also made me aware of how our impressions of leaders are almost entirely governed by the sound bites and snippets the media choose to publish. But listening to him speak in complete thoughts, and without having to be on the campaign trail and sell himself, was fascinating. Lives of politicians are so complex, the issues so huge, the problems so multidimensional. The country was left with the impression of a kind of bumbler, and many people forgot just how intelligent he is. But his wit is so quick, his grasp of the big picture so vast.

His main talking point was globalization, and he had a lot to say on that. One of the most interesting things he pointed out was how we took the long view towards Japan and Germany, and poured resources into those countries to help shape the world for the future. If we had just won WWII and left it at that, our relationship to Germany and Japan today would be very different than it is. So what about Afghanistan? It’s not enough to bomb it further into oblivion, and it’s not enough to eliminate Al Qaeda (efforts he supports completely). Taking the long view, we have to pour resources into the Middle East to foster freedom of thought, education, etc. That kind of thing costs us peanuts, and has a huge pay-off for the future. But how much are we talking about that now?

He also made an unusual point about exhaustion. All of our senators and congresspeople, and in fact all the leaders of the world, live under such heavy workloads and under so much continual stress that the world is basically run by walking zombies. Scary thought.

I had felt non-committal about going to this thing, but was really glad I did.

Also got to hang out before the event with the founder and editor of Wired Digital. Had a very interesting conversation about what kind of media is successful today. Now that everything is so specialized – people have 100 TV channels and infinite web sites to choose from – the really successful publications are super specialized and all about lifestyle. Yoga magazine has a huge circ and is fat with ads. U.S. News and World Report is sinking out of view. Slashdot (tech specialized) is doing great, but Plastic (general topics) is struggling. Etc. etc. Interesting.

Debate != Dissent != Unpatriotic

Very good interview with Susan Sontag at alternet, giving her a chance to comment on the firestorm that arose from her controversial essay in the New Yorker just after 911. It is appalling to me how patriotic, non-pacifistic people can be labeled unpatriotic traitors just for expressing counter opinions.

The War on Dissent

Many thanks to (actually, a friend of his) for pointing out this great article at The Globe : The War on Dissent. If you’re afraid the media isn’t telling the whole story, and that censorship is alive and well in America right now, please forward this URL around.


What does one do when some of one’s beliefs happen to coincide with those of a person one considers to be the embodiment of evil? There is a dissenting faction in America that has long believed that U.S. support of the Israeli occupation of Palestine has deep moral problems. There are those of us who have long been troubled that U.S. sanctions on Iraq are responsible for the death of 5,000 innocent souls PER MONTH for the past 11 years. We have believed these U.S. involvements to be problematic long before we ever heard the name “bin Laden.”

So now bin Laden has made his speech, citing the hypocrisy of America, the hypocrisy which allows us to view some innocent lives as expendable and others as precious. How can an informed person read his words and not acknowledge that he is at least partially correct? Acknowledging that he is right on some points does not require one to agree with his methods. Let’s just leave that out of it and stick to the facts.

It’s like thinking Heidegger is a great philosopher while leaving his Nazism aside. Except that it’s current and real. At this point in the game, and for a long time to come, it will be impossible for America to acknowledge any wrong-doing in the world theater, because we have dug in our heels, and entrenched our righteousness, no matter how wrong some of our foreign policies may be. This is an extremely difficult time for the voice of dissent in America, at a time when to say anything against America is considered tantamount to a lack of patriotism. The fact that some of bin Laden’s points are correct will be utterly squelched in the media is frightening me. American Journalists are already being fired for saying “unpatriotic” things. We are in grave danger, and not just from Al Qaeda. We are in danger of undermining our own principles of free speech and self-criticism.

I predict that, over time, this issue will create deep rifts in the American political landscape.

Update: I’ve been asked what I meant about journalists being fired recently for speaking their minds. This article at the Washington Post describes the situation pretty well.