Rear Window Ethics Rear Window Ethics: June 2005

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Hybrid-Hydraulic Power?

A small company in Deerfield has developed a hybrid-hydraulic powertrain that they say is much more efficient than the standard electric hybrid powertrains in cars like the Toyota Prius.

It's definitely a long way away, but this could be huge.

Story

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Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Canada Approves Same-Sex Marriage

Canada's Parliament passed PM Martin's bill allowing gay marriage nationwide. It was mainly a way to formalize what Canadian courts had essentially ruled on in most provinces.

What a thought! A national legislative body agreeing with the courts on something instead of threatening to re-write the constitution over a specific issue.

Martin had a great quote on the day: "We are a nation of minorities, and in a nation of minorities, it is important that you don't cherry pick rights. A right is a right and that is what this vote tonight is all about."

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Monday, June 27, 2005

American Exceptionalism vs. American Action

Remember when Jan Egeland suggested that Western powers were being "stingy" with their tsunami aid pledges? Remember when many Americans became hysterical over that comment, and blogs posted pictures of kids selling lemonade to raise money for tsunami victims with large headlines reading "WE AREN'T STINGY!"? People got so angry when a UN official simply stated that we could afford to do more.

A very interesting article today mentions the fact that many Americans think our country is more generous than it tends to be in actuality.

Polls over the last decade show most Americans believe 10 percent of the federal budget is spent on humanitarian and economic aid for the world's poor and that America gives more than any other country.

But the world's richest economy actually spends just over one half of 1 percent of its budget on aid to the world's poor, less per capita than every other wealthy nation.

"Americans believe they are giving a lot already and that they are giving more than other countries on a percentage basis," said Steven Kull, director of the University of Maryland's Program on International Policy Attitudes, which has compiled data on Americans' aid views.
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The United States was criticized for giving too little government aid after the deadly tsunami that hit Southeast Asia last year. U.S. President George W. Bush said America gave a lot more when private donations were included.

But even when private giving is counted, American aid on a per-capita basis ranks 19th out of 21 rich countries, according to Foreign Policy magazine's 2004 Ranking the Rich survey.
I certainly don't want to belittle any donation -- public or private, large or small -- made by people in this country, nor do I dare oversimplify the complexities of giving aid to some nations run by corrupt governments. There is, however, something fascinating about the American obsession with the feeling of superiority, as well as our anger towards those that challenge that "exceptionalism", both home and abroad.

To be sure, I love this country in which I live. I love that I can grow here, learn here, find work here, and eventually raise a family here -- all while enjoying freedoms that to many people in this world are only fantasies. But all my love for this country doesn't blind me into believing that it is superior in every way and thus has no obligation for improvement.

At the center of this issue is the division between those who think our best days are past us, and those who think our best days should be ahead of us -- visions of America as the land of Superman, Lady Liberty and "The Greatest Generation" and America as a future leader in charity, medical and scientific breakthroughs, and true social equality.

If we we are intentionally deaf to all criticism of our country, if we define ourselves exclusively by our selective, idealized past, if we balk at the notion that to be a truly great nation is to bypass self-satisfaction and continually strive to make our world better, then this so-called "city upon a hill" will slowly fade into obscurity.

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Friday, June 24, 2005

Dachau

As I mentioned a few times before, there was a deeply sobering portion of our otherwise fun-filled Europe trip. My brother and I felt the need to visit memorial site of the former Dachau concentration camp while in Munich, and though seeing the ruins of such a place was deeply disturbing, beholding the tourist-like spectacle of it might have been worse.

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I was amazed that the town of Dachau is active and fairly normal while sitting just outside the gates of a place that worked so many to death and sent so many others to death camps by rail. There's a soccer field next to the entrance to the camp, and one side of the camp's museum is bordered by a neighborhood of houses. I can't imagine living next to something like that.

I don't know what I expected as we pulled into the parking lot near the entrance, but a line of coach busses certainly wasn't it. The lot had the same feeling as many of the touristy sites we visited on the trip. There's a long gravel road that leads from the lot to the old camp gates, and while I think most people on that trail remained relatively quiet and serious, there was enough of the opposite behavior for it to stick out.



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At the front gates of the camp, near the rusted remains of a rail system that had sent so many to their death, two teenage girls stood primping and giggling before having their picture taken. There they posed, after they'd made sure to look cute, smiling in front of the gates of the camp.

Inside the gates the atmosphere was much the same. The distinct sound of laughter broke otherwise muffled silence on a number of occasions. Large groups of high schoolers on a class trip sat and ate their lunches next to a large sculpture memorializing the multitude of prisoners that starved to death on the surrounding grounds.



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As you can see, I took a few pictures. I was hesitant at first, but decided that I would photograph those images that were particularly powerful to me, as my own way of taking in the horrific reality of what was before me. I took pictures on the grounds, in The Bunker, and outside the gates, but I immediately stopped once we reached the sheltered enclave surrounding the crematorium.

The site where thousands and thousands of bodies were disposed of in as quick a manner as possible was enclosed in a beautiful wooded garden complete with a winding path which itself is surrounded by scores of small memorials. As I walked around the building, past the old shooting range where so many were executed, past the multitude of small flowery gardens, thousands of birds sang together so beautifully.

The crematorium itself, complete with a gas chamber that was (by most accounts) never used for mass murder, stood surrounded by such placid, natural beauty. We four stood there slightly dazed, a few with tear-stained faces, when a couple came up and asked my sister in broken English if she could take a picture of them standing in front of the open ovens of the crematorium.

It was a haunting moment. A horrible moment. Even in that small vestige of peace surrounding a building of such grave consequence, the feeling that we were simply at another tourist attraction swelled up around us and tainted the moment forever.



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After that we quickly exited the front gates of the camp and made our way down the gravel road toward the parking lot. As we walked, stone-faced, hoards of tourists -- young and old, of all nationalities -- walked towards us on their way to the camp. Many of them were smiling and chatting away as if they weren't on the same road upon which so many had marched to their deaths.

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Thursday, June 23, 2005

Frontline: Private Warriors

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I got around to watching the most recent Frontline, entitled Private Warriors. In it, a Frontline reporting team follows private contractors in Iraq, both specializing in industry/infrastructure as well as private security. The level to which we depend on these private companies, their supply lines and their security teams is simply staggering, and the lack of transparency and accountability in their mission is deeply disturbing.

Watch the program now, online, here.

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Wednesday, June 22, 2005

The Most Delicious Disaster Ever

My friend Changmo saw this and noted that the article is at its best when you read it out of context:

"Firefighters closed off several streets and used hoses to wash away the sugary goo."

"What was unsettling was that the fluid just kept coming...it was quite a lot of fluid."

Snapple, while made from the best stuff on earth, apparently isn't made from the most structurally sound stuff on earth. Still, I bet it would have been fun to see it ooze all over everything.

AP: Giant Popsicle Melts, Floods New York Park

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Lobbyists HEART Bush

In an entirely unsurprising article today, the Washington Post quoted some of the biggest firms on K Street as saying that the presidency of George W. Bush has been a petrie dish of sorts for their industry -- allowing it, nay, encouraging it to germinate, expand and thrive while the rest of the American economy sits in a continued slump.

And it all makes sense. Clearly if ever one group of Americans needed help getting their voices heard in Washington, it was board members of multi-national corporations. It breaks my heart to hear CEOs, down on their luck and destitute, say to me, "You know, Travis, sometimes I feel like those politicians in D.C. just don't care about me at all," right before they hop in their Aston-Martin and head on over to the picnic at Dick Scrushy's house.

It's not surprising, and it's certainly not encouraging, but read it anyway just so you can have your daily fix of vomiting up in your mouth.

Washington Post: The Road to Riches is Called K Street

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Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Europe Pics

I got back from my trip a few days ago and have spent the time sleeping and moving Joc into her new apartment (which she will immediately leave for the summer, ironically). So the trip was wonderful, and everyone we met was generally great.

The one thing I really really wanted to write about was our visit to Dachau concentration camp, which was very powerful, very unsettling, and very strange as a "tourist" site. I'll elaborate on that later this week.

Anyhow, here are some of the pictures I took once we left Paris.

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Clay and myself availing ourselves of the biggest beer haus in Munich.

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A view from the fortress on the cliffs over Salzburg, Austria. The most beautiful city we visited, in my mind.
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The canal in Strausberg, France, once you get out of the really touristy part near the Cathedral.
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Salzburg at night from our hotel window looking over the canal.
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A view from a little cafe in Austria at the top of a low-lying ridge in the Alps.

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Thursday, June 09, 2005

Paris

We're leaving Paris today to travel to Munich. It's been lovely, and we're going to swing back here after the German leg of the trip.

Biggest things I've noticed while being here:

1) Americans can either be very polite and congenial to Parisians, or they can be bastards. I've seen multiple instances of Americans frantically raising their voices to scream "you don't speak English either? What's wrong with you people?" or some variation thereof. At the same time, with my limited middle school French knowledge, the Parisians really appreciate my attempt to speak their language.

2) Open container laws are for pussies. Being able to buy a bottle of wine and sit in a park to drink it leisurely is completely underrated. And for the homeless here, it allows them to drink without the aid of a crumpled paper bag like back home. It's a win-win situation for everyone.

(Then again, Bostonians with no open container laws might be dangerous...)

Some pictures I've taken while I've been here:

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The clock facing the river at the Museé d'Orsay

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Just some terraces facing the Seine

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I forget who this is and who sculpted it, but it was at the Louvre (which is insane and too large and too full of people, never go there).

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These are the kind of idiots I'm hanging out with all day long. It's great.

We're off to Strausbourg and Munich now. Apparently "weir trinken Bier" is just what it sounds like, and we'll be doing much of it.

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Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Bon Voyage!

I will be on vacation in Europe over the next two weeks or so, and won't be posting with any kind of regularity. I'll probably get some pictures up at some point, however, as well as any fun stories I have.

Time to see how much I remember from 8th grade French...

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