Monday, June 15, 2009

weekend meanderings

Had a fairly chill weekend. I spent most of saturday reading, relearning how to use exponents, and I went to the market with Jessica and Blessing to go grab some stuff for Jessica's party. The market was pretty cool. It's like what you see in th emovies sometimes where there are stalls packed on top of each oher selling all manner of goods and there is only space for traffic to go one way even though you try and make it work both ways. We picked up some stuff from there and left smelling of fruit and slightly decaying fish. The rest of the day was spent reading and hanging out with Aus in his room discussing something that didn't matter and watching thebig lebowski on repeat. Quite amusing.

Sunday was a day of reading also. Around 3:30 I went with Mr. Essien to go and pick up the cake and food for Jessica's party for later that day. The South Africa-Iraq soccer match was on at the chicken place where it took us a half hour to get food we ordered on saturday. Note: I like south africa's fast style but they play like some bitches, they're the first to call foul when a defender is remotely near to them but have no hesitation in crunching an opposing player or actually playing hard on the ball when they're in a position to score, so I was rooting for the Iraqis. The game ended 0-0 and we finally got our food and went to this bakery/hotel/restaurant off Asari Esoh Layout where we waited yet another half hour to get a cake that was ordered on Friday. Timeliness and punctuality aren't strong suits here...The party ended up being pretty cool, though. Jessica and Blessing spent the afternoon in the kitchen making Tex-Mex, Jessica's from Arizona. She made a pretty awesome guacomole and a nice salsa and we had Nigerian food from the chicken join for those who didn't like. I got to try Hocrhada for the first time, a milky, sweet rice drink, mixed with cinnamon from Mexico. Not bad stuff. Alvin got Jessica a band he heard outside the pool of his hotel. The band was good, but they're leader was a rather poor saxophone player making it hard to listen to for long. But overall a pleasant evening.

I finished "American Prometheus" and "Anatomy of Fascism", both of which left me deeply affected. The trial of Oppenheimer that stripped of him his security clearance really was a watershed moment that irretrievably sent America down a quite dangerous path and changed the relation of scientists to their work that exists even to this day. The book stressed that the revocation of clearance, due to his political and philosophical positions not only legitimized our primary cold war strategy of arms building and massive retaliation, which would only guarantee that the only things left on earth if we ever went to war with USSR would be some giant species of cockroach, but also tied the fates of scientists to private labs that were primarily funded by government (read: military) research and stressed that they had no right whatsoever to lend their opinions on the use of their creations, placing them in the role of simple engineers and technical advisors. This is still true to this day and has done more to encourage ass backwards policy, and has given scientists a shield to deny the true moral and philosophical questions that go into the research they perform. Oppenheimer, and other scientists in the early 50s, pushed hard for openness between the USSR and the US regarding their weapons stockpiles and nuclear technology and to come together to control both access to uranium and the technology. If we had taken those suggestions seriously, it is conceivable we would not have the massive problems we have with North Korea and Iran today concerning their use of the bomb.

The separation of scientists' views on their creations also has encouraged some existential questions within science, especially the social sciences. Planners have a pretty intense debate over what it is we actually do and what we stand for. As planners, we are literally social engineers. Is it appropriate to try and place ourselves in the role of a neutral "technician" or should we push towards a normative view of planning? Should planners advocate strongly for positions that we believe to be appropriate, or do we let policy and its implications be dictated from above, or below? How often are morality and philosophy even mentioned in science and engineering classrooms (I include the social sciences here)? It is a a shame and moral tragedy that these questions are not brought up more. I often wonder how engineers and others feel when they're working on a project that will be used to more efficiently kill people and how they have absolutely no right, in many cases, to even comment on what they believe the result of that use has been. Oppenheimer and others who worked on the atomic bomb are a unique case, in that the power they unloaded on the world is literally great enough to destroy every last thing on the surface of this planet, but that makes their treatment all the more horrifying and depressing. We could do a lot better if we allowed for a bit of ethics and thought before we continue to gladly go down the road of happy-go-lucky militarism...

PS- On an entirely separate note, Carl Friedrich Gauss, badass...if you don't know, look him up.

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