Thursday, May 31, 2012

On Camus

"But the narrator is inclined to think that by attributing overimportance to praiseworthy actions one may, by implication, be paying indirect but potent homage to the worse side of human nature.  For this attitude implies that such actions shine out as rare exceptions, while callousness and apathy are the general rule.  The narrator does not share that view.  The evil that is in the world always comes of ignorance, and good intentions, may do as much harm as malevolence, if they lack understanding.  on the whole, men are more good than bad; that, however, isn't the real point.  But they are more or less ignorant, and it is this that we call vice or virtue; the most incorrigible vice being that of an ignorance that fancies it knows everything and therefore claims for itself the right to kill.  The soul of the murderer is blind; and there can be no true goodness nor true love without the utmost clear-sightedness"  --Albert Camus, The Plague.

This spring I took one of the most rigorous classes of my academic career so far:  Twentieth-Century European Intellectual and Cultural History.  A lot of the thinkers and philosophers we read frustrated me with their ideas.  However, one of the only thinkers whose work I found immediately appealing was the Algerian author and philosopher Albert Camus.  He seems to have both a lucid and uncompromising understanding of the world unlike few people I have ever read.  I don't agree with everything he says, but I always like the questions he forces me to consider.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

On Ground Zero

One of the cool things about going to school in New Jersey is that I am only an hour's train ride away from New York City.  Growing up in northern Indiana, Chicago was the nearest big city, and it is one I still love.  I got to visit LA once, which was fun, but kind of a weird place--so laid back that I don't know how they ever manage to film tv shows on schedule there.  I've even gotten to see London and Paris and Rome.  But none of these big cities is anything like the sprawling monstrosity that is New York.  I've only been up a few times, but it has been delightful to play tourist and explore the city. 

My most recent visit was this weekend.  My sister is on Spring Break, so my mom took some time of work, and they came out to New Jersey to visit.  We did a whirlwind tour of as much of the city as we could.  One of the places that we determined to visit was Ground Zero, the memorial at the site of the 9-11 attacks on the World Trade Center towers

There is a security checkpoint before you can see the memorial--not quite as strict as an airport, though still reminiscent:  the x-ray's and metal detectors, those typical grey bins for everything in your pockets.  It was kind of eerie to experience a security check while thinking about how the attacks were carried out.

The memorial itself was all very well-done.  The grounds are very simple, but all with the same motif of towers and squares evoking the images that had defined the World Trade Center towers.  There are square blocks that serve as seats and long narrow paths to evoke the towers.  The lamp posts in the grounds are shaped like towers.  There are rows of trees planted, all surrounded by a paved square with a smaller square cut out for the trunk, kind of evoking the pools that are main part of the memorial.  There was a pear tree planted there that had survived under the rubble, been transplanted to Brooklyn where it "recovered," and then replanted at the site.  The first buds were just starting to come out on the branches.  It was all very well- thought out.

Then there were the pools.  They are massive.  But large as those cavernous mouths are, it is mind blowing to think that the towers that had stood there were even larger and impossibly high above it.  You can get lost watching the ceaselessly flowing water.  It is like watching fire or a waterfall.  I though about how many tears must have been shed because of the attack and how many are still being shed--how it changed our country, our society, and our world.  It is as though the earth itself is grieving because of all the pain the attacks brought about. 

At the bottom of the pools are holes into which the water is flowing.  They are haunting.  Always open.  Always dark.  Always swallowing up water.  In some ways, it is comforting:  the grief can flow away.  But in another sense it is bottomless.  There is no end.  And there is still a feeling that the land has been scarred; it is an open wound that still shows in the ground.  But in spite of that it is still majestic, stately, beautiful even in its way.  It pulls you in.

And around each pool, they have the names of all the victims engraved.  So many names, and all of them had a story.  There was one spot where I saw two people, a man and a woman with the same last name, and I couldn't help wondering if they were related, and how.  Husband and wife?  Mother and son?  Siblings?  Every so often there would be a flower over the names usually a white rose--someone nearby must have been selling them.  A couple of them were pushed into the names so that the roses stood up--a simple token, but very moving.  I also saw someone making a rubbing of a name.  I had to wonder, looking around, how many of these people were like me, tourists just taking in this piece of history, and how many knew or loved someone who had died there?

Before we left, my mom, my sister, and I huddled together to pray for families of people who had died.  It was all a very heavy experience.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

On Awareness

Did you know it's internet blackout day?  Sites all over the internet of censored their own content as an indication of what the web might be like if internet censorship is passed into law.  The web is abuzz with opinions on SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) and PIPA (Protect IP Act): two bills that seriously threaten intellectual and creative freedom on the internet.  The trickiest things about the bill is that it markets as self as defending rights (note the very conscious usage of the word "Protect"), but the way it goes about this could not only technically undermine the way the internet currently functions, but would actually hamper creative artists and freedom of speech, and would put control of web content into the hands of the government and big business.  I've posted some of my thoughts on the bill here before, but if you are interested in learning more, there are lots of ways to learn about these bills:

The Electronic Frontier Foundation's one page guide to SOPA: here
and their explanation of how this affects internet freedom of speech: here
reddit's technical examination of SOPA and PIPA: here
Dyn's explanation of some of the practical problems with implementing these bills: here
Information on protesting: here
You can always try Wikipedia, but since it's participating in the blackout, finding those quick easy answers may not be that simple.

And of course, if you, like almost everyone else on the internet, feel like voicing your opinion on this issue, be sure to tell not just to tell your friends, but the people who will actually be deciding on these bills.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

On Finality

I just returned twenty-eight books to the library.
This means I can finally relax.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

On Internet Censorship.

Any of my readers who also follow my tumblr, A Breath of Fiction, have probably noticed the large black bar covering the title of my site with the words "Stop Censorship." The following is an open letter to Dick Lugar, US Senator from Indiana, regarding the PROTECT IP Act currently being proposed in the Senate.  I also sent this letter to Dick Lugar via his website, since I don't think he is a regular reader of my blog.  A simple overview of the bill and some of the issues surrounding it can be seen here.

     *     *     *

Mr. Lugar,

It is my wish to bring to you some of my concerns regarding the PROTECT IP Act that is being proposed in the Senate.  I am know that there are good intentions behind this Act, but I am also aware that there are other intentions that have gone to work in shaping this proposed law, and that those intentions may not be to the benefit of the majority.

I believe that the PROTECT IP Act would do more harm than good if passed into law.  A number of internet engineers have raised concerns about what the technical effects of such regulations would be.  I must defer to their expertise on these issues, but I think it worthwhile to consider the possibility that the implementation of this bill could possibly destroy that which it is allegedly meant to protect.

It seems to me very revealing if you look at where much of the support is coming from for this bill.  It is coming from large businesses and organizations.  These are the companies who are most threatened by the entrepreneurship that the internet affords. What this Act truly protects is big business, and with the "Occupy" movement protesting against the system of exploitation and inequality that companies such as these have created, a bill such as this which could be seen as strengthening the position of the vilified 1% would simply  confirm everything that these people are protesting against.  One of the inherent difficulties in approaching the complaints of the "Occupy" movement is the lack of any proposed solutions to the problems of which they complain.  I do not envy your job as a politician in dealing with such a mess.  However, just because there is no proposed solution, does not mean you should simply say "Let them eat cake" and give people reasons to be angry. If such complaints are not taken seriously, people will begin taking matters into their own hands.  That is a danger that I do not think most people, least of all politicians, would want to face.

Perhaps I have become a bit melodramatic, but I firmly believe that these are issues that must be addressed.  The internet is a place for freedom of expression, one of the few places where creativity and innovation may still blossom uninhibited and find a responsive audience. For all its good intentions, the PROTECT IP Act would hurt that creativity innovation--qualities which have been characteristic of the American spirit.
Mr. Lugar, one of the goals you express in your Lugar Doctrine is that the US should encourage democratic institutions. The PROTECT IP Act threatens our own democratic institution.  This is something that I hope you will have the insight to see.  You have been serving our state and our country for longer than I have been alive.  I am sure that as one of the most senior members of the US Senate, your wealth of experience would make a strong statement if you stood in opposition to this bill.

In closing, I know that there are many factors and many constituents that you must consider as you make your decision regarding the PROTECT IP Act.  My own hope is that you will see that this bill is not in the best interest of the majority, but of course, you must do what you feel is right.  You have my prayers as you continue to do a very difficult job.


Gregory Fox

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More information on opposition to this bill and what is being done to oppose it can be found here.  Of course, contacting your senator is one of the most direct ways to oppose internet censorship.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

On Justice

I am a middle class, white, male American.  This makes me one of the most privileged people in the world.  I did not have any say in this.  I was simply born.

In a world more and more marked by the knowledge of inequality and injustice, my comfort could almost be considered a crime.  Perhaps it should be considered a crime. The only thing is that it is people of my status doing most of the complaining.

I have had some difficulty respecting the complaints of the "Occupy" movement in America.  Certainly there is tremendous inequality of wealth in America.  It is unjust.  It is wrong.  But I feel like American's don't have any right to complain.  Certainly, the economy is awful and people can't find jobs.  But people in America, except for very rare cases, don't starve.  There are places where people can find shelter from the elements if they are willing to look for it.  But for billions of people in the world, that is not the case.  America has an inordinate proportion of the worlds wealth  It seems selfish and narrow-minded to ask the extremely wealthy to lower their standard of living when the moderately wealthy are unwilling to lower their own.

Of course it is more than just inequality of wealth that the "Occupy" movement is protesting.  It is protesting hundreds, perhaps thousands of things.  That is the key to both its power and its inefficiency.  Many people are protesting a system of exploitation:  the same system exploiting the average American as is exploiting the citizens of less prosperous and industrialised nations.  Soon, if things do not change, people will start trying to smash the system.  The problem is that no one has proposed any solutions.  That is perhaps the biggest reason why it should be taken seriously.

In some ways, I think I may be too much of a moralist to be a social activist.  The way I look at human nature, I am not confident in the ability of any system to solve our problems.  Some are probably better than others, less likely to promote certain wrongs, but humans have this brilliant way of finding new ways to do evil. I think that I, like George Orwell said of Charles Dickens, believe that if everyone just behaved decently, we would have a decent society.  And it usually takes more than a protest to change people's hearts.  Of course, people like Martin Luther King Jr. and Gandhi were pretty effective in their times.

This is my way of saying that we live in a terribly broken world.  That brokenness pains me.  I feel the guilt of centuries of sin.  And it pains me that I have no idea how this world can be fixed other than the extreme difficulty of one person at a time.  I am more and more convinced that there can be no positive social change without negative personal change.  But I long to see that change.

Today, however, whether fair or unfair, I am comfortable.  I am blessed.  I am happy.  I am loved.

I am thankful.

Friday, November 18, 2011

On Humanity

I grow more and more convinced that there can be no positive social change without negative individual change.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

On Nature's Fury

A little over a week ago, it began snowing here in New Jersey.  Coming from northern Indiana, I was not too freaked out about snow in October.  It seemed a little early, but I also didn't expect that it would hang around too long.  And it hasn't.  After a week, nearly all of the snow had nearly all disappeared.  But it was what the snow did while it was around that was eventful.

Around 4:45 last Saturday, my building lost power.  This was something of a surprise, but since I had been hearing branches cracking under the weight of the snow outside, I figured that a power line was down, and that later that day, things would be sorted out.

At 11:00 that night, I was still reading by flashlight, and the next day, twenty-four hours after the power had gone out, my roommate and I left our apartment to crash at the home of a commuter and fellow grad student.  Apparently, either because of the heaviness of the wet snow or because of trees already weakened by the aggression of hurricane Irene, there was significant damage done throughout the Northeast.  Far more branches came down in this snowstorm than were amputated by the hurricane (though admittedly, fewer trees were uprooted).  It was bewildering to be outside afterword.  A few still-green trees of summer were coated in snow, others had been torn apart, branches stood topsy-turvy where they had fallen like upside down trees, young maples had their leaves completely stripped off and stood like rows of spears in the snow, and scattered everywhere in the sky and on the snowy ground were the brightly colored leaves of Autumn.  It was like walking around in an expressionist painting.  There was no way to make order out of the chaos you saw.  No doubt, the clean up crews had a similar problem.  In the process of attempting to restore power and clean up debris, Drew was completely shut down for four straight days.

The four of us who took refuge together in a Jersey suburb for two days, took advantage of the opportunity for an impromptu fall break, watching lots of movies, going bowling, and carving pumpkins.  The unexpected break was definitely a relief from the academic demands on my brain.  And even with those two days of relaxation and minimal productivity, since I didn't have any classes and only one day of work, I managed to get an entire week ahead on homework--definitely a blessing.

However, the question that everyone keeps asking is what natural disaster will strike next.  In a little over two months since moving to New Jersey, I have already experienced an earthquake, a hurricane, and a snowstorm hailed to be a sort of freak of nature.  Perhaps an ice storm, or a late tornado.  Some people are convinced that a volcano will spontaneously form in the region.  Only time will tell...