August 08, 2011

The costs of battling EMF ignorance

The current mini-furor over wi-fi networks in schools is right up there with opposition to vaccinations and excessive concerns over food allergies as far as stupid mass hysterias of our time, and it's a shame to see the Canadian Green Party leader sign on. It's only below those in significance because there there are actual human lives at risk if we over- or underestimate the risk, respectively.

Skeptic North's Erik Davis has been doing a fine job on the debunking, so I'll leave that, only adding that every second politicians waste on made-up health threats like this, or Fukushima radiation in Ontario crops, or whatever the next one down the pipe will be is a second they could have used to educate Canadians about real threats we need to have a national dialogue on, like what we owe the earth if we sell the oil out of the tar sands and raise global temps another degree or two thereby.

The schools angle, is of course, particularly insidious, because, whether wi-fi helps the education process or not (and I'm sure, when it comes to retrofitting old schools with modern technology, it probably does), the amount of time that principals and teachers spend calming and persuading jittery parents and their kids is time wasted from, you know, actually useful stuff. I'm sure in every school board in the country there are earnest people trying to make a teachable moment out of this, but I'm sure it's hard.

(There is also, as Davis takes pains to point out, a real cost to having people with potentially serious anxiety-based or psychosomatic or unknown-cause disorders wasting their time trying to rid their lives of something like wireless that is highly unlikely to be responsible for their conditions, instead of searching for an effective treatment.)

Posted by BruceR at 09:20 AM

August 02, 2011

Quote for the day

Adam Kirsch, in TNR:

A society that can only be saved by heroes is not going to be saved: there will always be far more selfish and corrupt people, and good but ineffectual ones, than martyrs. Someone such as Sophie Scholl, the twenty-one-year-old who distributed anti-Hitler pamphlets in Munich knowing it would lead to her death, deserves everlasting praise for redeeming the honor of humanity; but she knew full well that she was not going to stop Hitler. It took the Allied armies and many millions of deaths to do that.

The terrain on which a country can fight for its destiny is not morality but politics. It is only after politics has totally failed—as it did in Germany in 1933—that each individual is thrown back on his or her own moral resources. And it is on political grounds, not moral ones, that America can justly regard itself as protected against the kind of irrational fears that Hentoff and Roth expressed, and that many Jews may sometimes share. It is not that every “ordinary American” is a better person than every “ordinary German” was eighty years ago, or that there are not, out of our 300 million people, enough potential Capesiuses or Eichmanns to commit the same kind of crimes—not necessarily against Jews, but against some despised and feared enemy.

Reassurance lies, rather, in the fact that American society is well-defended against the kind of sicknesses that allow, or require, such crimes to be committed. The names of those political sicknesses are well known: anti-Semitism and racism; militarism and the love of conquest; contempt for law and civil rights; the exaltation of authority; ideological frenzy. These are what allowed the Nazis to take power in the first place...

Posted by BruceR at 01:58 PM

Seeing everything twice

A good riff by Ron Rosenbaum on what is possibly my favourite, now 50 years-old, novel, Catch-22.

I do think there's not as great a distinction as the critic sees between Heller's masterpiece being either an anti-war or anti-God (ie, anti-life) novel. I would hope I read Heller all those times correctly, and that his point is that living, like dying, is basically horrible at its essence, but only wars can bring out the horribleness of both in all of their purest intensity. I met my own Milos and Major Cathcarts in Afghanistan, and have no doubt that they are universals in war and peace (in other words, the state of war doesn't change human flaws, it just gives them more license) and that Heller's condemnation of all of that too-human venality when confronted with a godless world was not meant to be tied to any kind of Second World War-limited critique.

Posted by BruceR at 01:25 PM

In order to save it

David Frum on the current crisis in American conservatism. He's right, of course: even if I'd suggest the current ruling plurality of American Republican congressmen are closer to reactionaries than radicals. And to call them conservatives is an act of purest elision, as the recently barely-averted economic crisis showed. And they'll be back.

Posted by BruceR at 01:14 PM

Can we just all concede she's lying now?

New photos of the eight-month "pregnant" Sarah Palin. At this point, it all comes down to who you're going to trust: her or your lying eyes.

PS: Note also, once again, that ubiquitous US-Israel pin, which she has consistently worn everywhere since her days as governor for some reason of her own I can't begin to fathom.

Posted by BruceR at 12:47 PM