Wednesday, September 02, 2015

Shame on us! :(

Maybe I should simply give up on understanding anything that goes on in this world.

Consider, for instance, the war in Syria.  And the refugee crisis:

When the numbers are in hundreds of thousands, we easily forget what every one of those fellow humans mean.  One of those who made it out of the country, but not alive, was this toddler:


The Guardian, from where I grabbed that photograph, reports:
The full horror of the human tragedy unfolding on the shores of Europe was brought home on Wednesday as images of the lifeless body of a young boy – one of at least 12 Syrians who drowned attempting to reach the Greek island of Kos – encapsulated the extraordinary risks refugees are taking to reach the west.
The picture, taken on Wednesday morning, depicted the dark-haired toddler, wearing a bright-red T-shirt and shorts, washed up on a beach, lying face down in the surf not far from Turkey’s fashionable resort town of Bodrum. 
That image haunts me. It should haunt every one of us.
Turkish media identified the boy as three-year-old Aylan Kurdi and reported that his five-year-old brother had also met a similar death. Both had reportedly hailed from the northern Syrian town of Kobani, the site of fierce fighting between Islamic state insurgents and Kurdish forces earlier this year.
 There is something seriously wrong with the world.  A world in which here in the US we are fixated on Donald trump's latest theatrics.  Nicholas Carr writes:
It’s worth asking, though, what kind of democracy is being promoted. Early digital enthusiasts assumed that the web, by freeing the masses from TV news producers and other media gatekeepers, would engender a deeper national conversation. We the people would take control of the discussion. We’d go online to read position papers, seek out diverse viewpoints and engage in spirited policy debates. The body politic would get fit.
It was a pretty thought, but it reflected an idealized view both of human nature and of communication media.
Seriously, is it worth calling ourselves the greatest country that the planet has ever known when we pay immensely more attention to Trump than to a grave humanitarian crisis that resulted in the three-year old dead, face down on the beach?  WTF!
Because it simplifies and speeds up communications, the formulaic quality of social media is well suited to the banter that takes place among friends. Clicking a heart symbol may be the perfect way to judge the worth of an Instagrammed selfie (or even a presidential snapshot). But when applied to political speech, the same constraints can be pernicious, inspiring superficiality rather than depth. Political discourse rarely benefits from templates and routines. It becomes most valuable when it involves careful deliberation, an attention to detail and subtle and open-ended critical thought—the kinds of things that social media tends to frustrate rather than promote.
As the NY Times notes, people have tweeted and Facebooked about that haunting image of the three-year old dead boy.  But, at best, people click "like" and move on to a video of a cat playing the piano.  We seem to have lost even the little bit of a common sense and a shared space where we engaged in deeper conversations.  What is wrong with us?

That was a toddler!  I have no hope that the image will make us collectively think about the four million refugees who are alive ... I give up.

A kid.
A three-year old.

Caption at the source:
 A Turkish police officer carries a young boy who drowned in a failed attempt to sail to the Greek island of Kos. 

When two elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers

It is that season again.

No, not autumn, but the crazy season when India and Pakistan violate their ceasefire agreement and use gunpowder to match the amped up rhetoric.  Compared to these two siblings, even the two Koreas seem to be getting along much better!

Let us count the number of years since 1947 when they gained their independence from the white supremacist colonial masters: sixty-eight.  A human born in 1947 will now be coasting along in retirement, while these two countries continue to behave worse than middle-school boys during recess!

The situation is so crazy that their mutual neighbor, China, is urging them to, you know, talk..  China, of all countries!  Yep, the same China that every single day seems to want to make the neighboring countries across its waters nervous and jittery.
China on Tuesday advised India and Pakistan to exercise restraint on the border, and try to resolve differences through dialogue and mutual consultation.
Of course, there is another reason for China to interject--it is getting ready for the grand parade and celebrations in Beijing "honoring the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II."  Pakistan is sending its president, while India will be represented by a second-tier federal cabinet minister.  Guess which country China favors? ;)
The stakes are high for China, which has committed to invest $46 billion in infrastructure and power development in Pakistan, and build an economic corridor which will link it to the Arabian Sea through the Gwadar port. New Delhi has reasons to worry about China's quest to obtain access to the Arabian sea, which touches the west of India.
The China funded economic corridor will also pass through Pakistan Occupied Kashmir, which India considers as its own territory. 
India and Pakistan are engaged in a "dialogue of the deaf," this op-ed notes:
Lurking under this neighborly rage are stereotypes that refuse to fade. India thinks Pakistan is an aging terrorism addict that keeps hitting up the world for loose change so it can get its next fix. Pakistan thinks India is an old uncle who has come into some money late in life but still doesn’t know how to dress. India says Pakistan is the pesky kid who is always picking a fight in the neighborhood. Pakistan says India is the real bully — and if you don’t believe it, go ask the other kids on the block: Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal. Still don’t believe it? Go ask the Kashmiris. India says no one should ask the Kashmiris anything because Pakistan has poisoned their minds.
The net result is a tragic bottom-line: "Three generations have lived either with war or the imminent threat of war."  Nothing else to show for these 68 years!
Are these two nuclear powers talking to each other, or are they two teenagers playing a game of dare?
Maybe it’s time India and Pakistan did away with the pretense that they want peace. Hundreds of miles of barbed wires on the border, countless searchlights and mile-long visa forms haven’t made us feel secure about each other.
What a waste of time, resources, and lives!  If only the leaders and the people of both the countries had instead spent their precious resources on human development.  If only!

Tuesday, September 01, 2015

The meaning of life is ...

Perhaps it is just me; I think this is truly an interesting time in human history when it comes to thinking about god, religion, and the meaning of life.  ISIS, Boko Haram, and the Taliban trigger questions about Islam.  The various fanatical Hindu groups in India raise questions about coexistence of different interpretations of life.  Buddhist monks are persecuting Muslims in Burma.  It is a global war on religions and gods, though not on any particular religion on god.

Of course, here within the United States, too.  Consider this:
A county clerk in Kentucky who objects to same-sex marriage on religious grounds denied licenses to gay couples on Tuesday, saying she was acting “under the authority of God,” just hours after the Supreme Court refused to support her position. ...
Ms. Davis stopped issuing all marriage licenses after the Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage in June.
And this is after:
After the state’s governor told county clerks to issue marriage licenses to all eligible couples, Ms. Davis filed suit in federal court, arguing that she should be excused from the obligation, given her religious beliefs. A District Court judge ruled against her, as did the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, and she appealed to the Supreme Court.
I am impressed with the fight that the county clerk is putting up, though I thoroughly disagree with her belief that she can bring her faith into political administration.  She is not merely talking her faith but is following through in her actions.

Meanwhile, Catholics, who were warned by their religious leaders that abortion is "such a grave sin that it warrants automatic excommunication" are now told this:
"I have decided, notwithstanding anything to the contrary, to allow all priests for the Jubilee Year to absolve of the sin of abortion those who procure it and who also seek forgiveness," Pope Francis said.
I find all these developments interesting because whether it is the county clerk, or Francis, or me, we are all sincerely interested in figuring out what this life is all about.  I am always amazed at how much the vast number of "religious," whatever their religion is, do not seem to inquire into the meaning of life.

This bottom-line of the meaning of life is why I don't care much for the militant intellectual atheism that portrays atheism as science triumphing over faith.  Yes, there is reason and science involved in the understanding, but those militant atheists forget that even many science-trained people follow their faiths because of the meaning it gives to their lives.  It is not "scientism":
In recent years we've come to think of atheism as an evangelical creed not unlike Christianity. An atheist, we tend to assume, is someone who thinks science should be the basis of our beliefs and tries to convert others to this view of things. In the type of atheism that's making the most noise today, religion is a primitive theory of how the world works - an intellectual error without human value, which we'd be better without.
But this isn't the only kind of atheism. History shows that atheism can have a complexity that reaches well beyond our currently dominant version. Though many today seem unaware of the fact, by no means all atheists have wanted to convert others to unbelief. Some have actually been friendly to religion. Nor have atheists in the past always turned to science for inspiration. There have been many varieties of atheism.
I got to read that essay thanks to this note at the Economist; it refers to Karen Armstrong, "a former nun and best-selling writer, who became badly disillusioned with Catholicism":
She insists that the word God refers not to a true-or-false proposition but to a human quest for meaning and transcendence. 
Exactly.  Debating with believers about whether or not god exists interested me only when I was younger and way more of an idiot than I am now.  As I have gotten older, I find myself engaging in discussions with believers, who talk with me, on how they deal with the contradictions within their faith.  And, above all, to engage with them to find out whether they think about the meaning of life even within their own faith.  I am always disappointed that most believers do not seem to care much about that existential question at all and, instead, merely mouth the words in very unthinking ways.

All these, and more, will make the rest of my life on this pale blue dot exciting.  I truly "believe" in that and have "faith" that it will be a fascinating time ;)