john hanning speke's 1863 map of central africa

One of the joys of researching is encountering the unexpected. Case in point is this map, produced in 1863 for the Royal Geographical Society, depicting the travels of John Hanning Speke through Central Africa:

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I discovered this map through JSTOR's archive of the Journal of the Royal Geographical Society (Article Link). Attached to a report by Speke on his return to Britain detailing his various encounters and exploits, the map itself was divided into 16 distinct pages. I decided to collate these pages together to produce the map above. Neat, huh?

city drawing series : kathy prendergast

City Drawings Series - London-n13 1997 pencil on paper 31 x 21 cm / 12.2 x 8.3 in. Click the picture for source.

City Drawings Series - London-n13 1997 pencil on paper 31 x 21 cm / 12.2 x 8.3 in. Click the picture for source.

City Drawings Series - Tehran-n44 1997 pencil on paper 31 x 21 cm / 12.2 x 8.3 in. Click on the picture for source.

City Drawings Series - Tehran-n44 1997 pencil on paper 31 x 21 cm / 12.2 x 8.3 in. Click on the picture for source.

Following yesterday's post is another contemporary example of map-art, this time from Kathy Prendergast. I first learned about Prendergast's work in Denis Cosgrove's article "Maps, Mapping, Modernity" (as posted in yesterday's post). Cosgrove's succinct writing does all the summarizing needed to introduce Prendergast's work:

Prendergast’s City Drawings (2001) trace the intricate and beautiful street patterns in the world’s capital cities while challenging their usual hierarchy of size and political or economic significance by removing names and indicators of scale.

take heart : ruth watson

Ruth Watson's Take heart (1999), Exhibited as part of The World Interrupted, a solo show at the Jonathan Smart Gallery, Christchurch, 1999.

Ruth Watson's Take heart (1999), Exhibited as part of The World Interrupted, a solo show at the Jonathan Smart Gallery, Christchurch, 1999.

I first heard of this art piece by reading Denis Cosgrove's essay on cartography and modern art in the 20th century. The essay is a brilliant piece of writing that expands the study of artistry and mapmaking beyond the early modern period. While the piece can be found at JSTOR, I have linked it here for your viewing pleasure

applying to grad school: conclusion

The first part was done: deciding to go to graduate school. The rest was a bit harder.

After I had successfully defended my master's thesis , my advisor asked what my plans were now that I had done that hurdle. When I told her of my inclination of going on for my PhD, she was super supportive. Her only word of advice was in carefully choosing were I would like to get my doctorate from.

Fit is important in choosing a graduate program. Not only do you have to consider if the potential faculty and department are able to support you the best that they can, but you have to wonder how you would fit into the program. Are there enough faculty members who are able to serve as your mentor? How does the university do in funding graduate students? Stipends? Travel/research grants? In providing academic resources? 

This is something I wholly neglected to evaluate until it was too late. I was only concerned with finding potential professors to work with, which also was done badly. I searched a random set of universities - schools I've heard of, schools I thought were interesting - and searched for professors through departmental faculty pages to see any potential interests. But since no other professors is really doing what I'm doing, it was an awkward process. In hindsight, after reading numerous forum posts from GradCafe after I had applied, the best bet would've been to contact professors and asked them. But I didn't and pressed forward.

If there is any takeaway from my experience, it's that I did a lot of things badly and got immensely lucky at the end.

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Applying to graduate school is expensive. You will normally pay $50-70 per application. As someone of limited financial means since leaving my old job, this constrained the number of schools I applied to. And even if you get rejected, that money will never be seen again. I do wonder why there isn't a greater movement to remove these application fees across the board. Yes, some schools do have fee-free applications for financially disadvantaged applicants, but this is neither consistent or readily advertised. If universities were actually serious about opening up graduate education to minutes and lower-income students, this needs to change. But it hasn't, and I was forced to charge this on my credit cards. 

Not only are fees a limitation, but so is asking professors to write you letter of recommendations. Even if application fees are not a barrier, asking your professors to write you 15 LoRs comes across as a bit much to me. But maybe it wouldn't be. Maybe your professors will be happy to write those letters. But I didn't know since I didn't ask them what a reasonable number of applications would be. I simply assumed six applications was "enough." I asked and had no issues on that account. But again, the professors I've asked I have worked closely with, and they knew what I was capable of. If you are thinking about graduate school, just keep in mind who you need to ask for LoRs and ask them what they process normally entails. Would've done me some good.

With both those out of the way, I then went on to do my applications. If there is one takeaway here, it's to read the instructions carefully and press forward. Fortunately, I did not screw this part up! Yay me!

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The application process finished in December. Everything was submitted on time, and my LoRs were sent on time. It was now to play the waiting game.It is around this time when I began reading GradCafe and other sites, and as I read more, I cringed more. So yes, read these sort of sites before you start applying. They're full of wise sages. Heed their advice!

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Of the schools I applied to, three accepted me and three rejected me. In hindsight, I chalk this up to my obliviousness to note how I would fit into these programs. One was a dream school that I applied to without considering the fact that the faculty members I needed were not entirely a good fit for my own research.

The three schools that did accept me were more close to me in the "fit" department. What made the difference to me was that Vanderbilt reached out to me: first my future advisor, then graduate students. What made me lucky was that my future advisor was animated to reach out to me (despite not having prior contact) and wanted to see my research first-hand. I imagine he would be busy enough to justify looking over GPAs and discarding those that would not interest him. But he looked into my application and saw something there. I really lucked out there, and I'm thankful for that. 

Not everyone will be so lucky. If there are any takeaways, it's these:

  • Contextualize your research interests into something larger. Since my research dealt with geography and cartography, I should have situated my own research into the wider history of science. 
  • Understand that your research is unique. As such, you will not find a future person of interest (PoI) who will do what you do. From what I've heard from various professors at Vanderbilt, having a graduate student apply doing the exact same thing as you is actually detrimental. Find someone who you admire and think can expand your research, not another you.
  • Aim High. Vanderbilt's graduate acceptance rate is on par with Yale. I purposely did not apply to any Ivy League schools out of a sheer sense of intimidation. If you have the money, try to apply to a top-tier program. You'll never know!
  • Contact your PoI! Seriously, it's necessary. Why? Because the department will discuss amongst themselves for graduate students, and if a PoI knows you, they will vouch for you. This is how students are accepted. Not by the "best" GPAs or "best" credentials, but by these intra-department discussions. That my advisor would reach out to me and vouched for me in these discussions only proves that I should've done this will all the schools I applied to. 

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In the end, I got into a great program. I just finished my first semester, and I'm very much looking for the next. While things worked out for me, they so easily could not. I do wonder where I would be if I was not accepted to any programs. Some on GradCafe have said they've applied multiple years before they got accepted to their dream schools. I don't think I would've been able to do that, and I greatly admire those who do.

I do not know where my journey in grad school will take me. But I'll be sure to keep this page updated with any news. 

applying to grad school: impetus

Last summer, I voluntarily became unemployment. It wasn't that my old job was particularly hard. Rather, i had graduated with my M.A. from North Texas earlier that May. Was I going to have a graduate degree and simply stay on in my tech support job? With a half-assed plan in place, and little-to-no savings, I quit after seven years there.

Through luck and the fortuitous friendship of my M.A. advisor and the person in charge of hiring me, I was able to find as an adjunct-instructor at a local community college. Was the pay good? Hah, no. But I figured it would be a good testing ground to see what I ultimately wanted to do with my life. Obviously I would teach history, but the question would be where and in what context. That is, do I want to continue on with my education to get my doctorate degree and brave the academic job market in a few years time? Or would I use my M.A. to finagle my way into a high school job and be content there? My heart wanted the former, while my brain told me to be realistic. At the very least, I could buy time with my adjuncting.

I wouldn't teach actual college students, by the way. I would instead teach high school students who wanted to earn college credit before heading off to a four-year university. Now I would actually interact with high schoolers and see if teaching high school would be something I want to do. 

Truth be told, I didn't know what to expect. But seven months in, I can say that I love my job. This is what I want to do with my life. And even if I "settle" to teaching at a high school, I can say that I would still be a happy man.

Except...except I still had that itch, that desire to get my doctorate degree. My experience as a M.A. student is not entirely analogous to others in that 1. I was a part-time student and 2. did not really partake into the clique of graduate students that predominated North Texas.* I wasn't able to graduate in two years on account of work-related changes and training. But despite the time constraint and the anonymity I felt with the department, I loved graduate school. It's simplistic to say if it was "hard" or "easy." It was challenging, but I love a challenge. I found a good topic to write about, and while funding from UNT was non-existent, I did the best I could to research my thesis. Researching topics, grappling with historiography, and writing are things I also loved. And I would not be able to do any of that in a professional setting if I went the high school or community college route.

My philosophy was this: I could either do this now, or live with the regret of not having tried. The worst-case scenario would be that I would be rejected from all the schools I've applied to. In which case, I transition from adjuncting to full-time teaching. I took the plunge and applied in the autumn of 2016. 

In the next post, I will expand on the application process. What schools I applied to, and what I learned (belatedly). I will also end on a very optimistic note. Stay tuned!

 

 

Totten: Eternal Enmity

In his Jan. 18 post “Iran’s Hostage Victory,” Michael Totten displays the same blindness typical of many hawks in their disdain and loathing of both Iran and the possibility of a détente with Iran.

Totten begins his post eye-rolling Bernie Sanders’ suggestion on restoring diplomatic relations with Iran:

During Sunday’s Democratic primary debate, Senator Bernie Sanders argued that it’s time to bring Iran in from the cold. “I think what we’ve got to do is move as aggressively as we can to normalize relations with Iran,” he said.

If Iran had a representative government, if it wasn’t ruled by Ayatollah Khamenei, his dark theocratic Guardian Council and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, the United States and Iran would restore normal relations almost as a matter of course.

Iran would, in all likelihood, take its proper place as one of America’s premier allies in the Middle East alongside the Kurds and the Israelis. The extreme and often fantastical anti-Americanism so endemic in the Arab world is far weaker among the Persians, Azeris and Kurds who make up the Iranian nation.

Iran right now is like Poland under the Warsaw Pact—a would-be friendly nation occupied and ruled by a hostile regime. Good and proper relations will have to wait until the government is overthrown or reformed out of all recognition like Vietnam’s current communist-in-name-only government.

Now, my response isn’t to defend Iran. It is beyond any doubt that Iran is the perpetrator of many human rights abuses: ranging from the persecution of Baha’is and homosexuals, to sponsoring Hezbollah, and liberal use of torture against prisoners of conscious. That can’t be denied.

But for the sake of consistency, why doesn’t Totten advocate ending diplomatic relations with Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, or Egypt? Those same abuses can be pinned on nominal American allies. But he doesn’t. And he shouldn’t.

Breaking diplomatic relations from other states is rarely a good idea. Yes, the circumstances behind the 1979 Iran Hostage Crisis were unique. But Totten is not advocating the continued situation with Iran because of the hostage crisis of 1979. Rather, he’s angry (rightfully so!) that Iran is unjustly imprisoning someone today. And while his anger is warranted, you do not base your foreign policy on those concerns. 

The United States and Iran have shared interest in the region; namely, the destruction of the so-called Islamic State. And while the 2015 nuclear deal’s ramifications are yet to be seen, the upside is that Iran’s pursuit for a nuclear weapon has been stymied for the foreseeable future. In contrast to McCain’s infamous rendition of Barbara Ann to Bomb Iran, President Obama was able to accomplish the same goal without another disastrous war in the Middle East. 

The prospect that diplomacy may work and may be a force for good is frightening to Totten and the still-extant neoconservative punditocracy, where it is forever 1938 and Obama is another Neville Chamberlain. Iran is an evil and must be dealt with post-haste!

But what is truly mind boggling is that these well-meaning (if woefully wrong) pundits have their equals in the conservative inner-circles of the Islamic revolutionary vanguard of 1979. Ayatollah Khamenei and his ilk also have memories of the United States that mirror the boogey-men of Totten’s fevered imagination. From Mosaddegh to America’s support for the tyrannical Pahlavi dynasty and Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Iran…well, you get the idea. 

It’s easy to imagine what Khomenei would think of making peace with the United States. Why would he support dealing with a regime that has openly talked about bombing his nation for the last three decades? That surrounds his country militarily? That could theoretically exterminate his population in half an hour? And that is complicit in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iranians?

For all the faults Iran has done to the United States, it does not compare to what we have done to Iran.

But to Totten, while may think it’s Munich 1938 all over again, our past against Iran is irrelevant. Iranians will just have to get over ancient history.

The point is not that two wrongs make a right. Peace is not going to happen when one side completely capitulates to the other. That’s a fool’s errand. Instead, the first steps to peace are always tentative: one side gives, the other side reciprocates. Pride and reactionary factions on both sides would rather want war than admit their mistakes.

To their credit, both Barack Obama and Hassan Rouhani have made those first steps despite the opposition. That the Iranians quickly released US navy sailors after their capture shows what diplomacy can accomplish. 

Diplomacy isn’t always going to work. And that’s okay. There are no easy answers, and peace is hard for both sides. But war is even harder. Totten may fret that Iran isn’t perfectly compliant with his image of what it could be. But as the saying goes, the perfect is the enemy of the good. And of course, good is better than our current situation.

One hopes that the future American and Iranian leadership continue the work accomplished this last year. Peace depends on it.

the idealization of pope francis

Last week, my father spoke highly of Pope Francis. He said "Me cae bien." (He's fine by me). Now, if you knew my father, this is extremely out of character. Since a child in rural Mexico, he was vehemently anti-Catholic and flirted with Evangelical and Charismatic Christian churches. And given the long history of the Catholic Church in Mexico, who can blame him for his attitude? 

My father was not impressed by Pope John Paul II, and much less by Pope Benedict. But Francis? He's fine by me. I thought hell had frozen over.

But Pope Francis has that effect on people. Many of my fellow atheists and liberals have been swayed and enamored with Francis. Unlike his predecessors, Francis hails from Latin America and brings in a new perspective on a euro-centric religious organization. The actions of Francis in the early days of the papacy showed a man more committed to the poor, vulnerable, and shunned than the pomp of Benedict's red Prada shoes. Instead of an insular body out of touch from the realities of modernity, Francis showed that he was at least listening. 

The amount of goodwill Francis had generated among skeptics and critics is astounding. And indeed, some of this is warranted. While the Republican party still clings to antediluvian denial on climate change, Francis's Laudato Si was a clarion call to all Catholics to combat climate change. That Francis has spoke critically on the pervasiveness of poverty was also welcomed by his nominal leftist critics. And let's us not forget his role in bridging US-Cuban relations.

Clearly, Francis is living up to the hype.

But let's be honest: has Francis change one doctrine, one tenet of Catholicism? Has Francis signal a change to redefine Catholicism stance on marriage?

No. 

But there is widespread disappointment over the meeting between Pope Francis and Kim Davis by many liberals, as exemplified here in Slate. There is a difference between giving the Pope credit in voicing concerns on issues like poverty and climate change, and idealization: the latter is inherently unstable as it ignores that Francis has never wavered from his view on religious liberty or same-sex marriage. So how can we be disappointed over nothing? 

Regardless of what you think of Kim Davis and the reactionary attempts to make her a martyr, one cannot claim that the Papacy had a position resembling that of the pro-SSM side in the US. Where would anyone get that idea? Or the idea the Catholic Church was going to break with centuries of tradition over this issue? Again, the idealization of Francis led to delusions of the reality of the Catholic Church. 

I do not say this to be harsh. As a former Catholic, a portion of me is still moved by Mass, by Catholic hymns, and the antiquity of the Church. I will admit that I am sympathetic to the Catholic Church, if I can never actually bring myself to believe again. Nonetheless, even my sentimentality doesn't cloud the reality of the church's stance on gay marriage, on divorce, abortion, contraception, and sex. These positions have not changed while Francis has been pontiff, and they are positions I reject whole-heartedly. 

Maybe Ross Douthat is correct in saying that the West is not entirely secular. Maybe that can go some length into describing why Francis has had such a hold on even nominal skeptics like myself or my father. But even if that is the case, and even if Francis is fine by you, do not be taken: the Church hasn't changed at all.

 

onwards and forwards

It took me long enough, but I finally have my Master's degree in History.

Now what? 

Find a job, that's what. I keep telling myself that whatever job I find will only be temporary, and that I will eventually complete my PhD in History. But I cannot predict the future, so a successful job search may mean that I will forever be a teacher. Not that there's anything wrong with that, mind you. But it's just odd that, back in high school, I would have never imagined myself as a teacher. Funny how life leads us into strange and new directions.

Last year my job search was, to be blunt, a failure. Looking back on it now I feel that there were many mistakes made during the interview processes. But I did discover a few things during all that about what principals are looking for at prospective teachers. 

I was confident given my good grades in History, and my performance on the TExES Social Studies exam. I don't think my knowledge of the subject is in doubt. Rather, what principles care about is on how to manage a classroom, how to deal with parents, how to make lesson plans. Not really the subject at hand.

On one level, this makes all the sense in the world: a teacher must do much more than simply lecture. We simply do not appreciate the entirety of what a teacher has to do. I wasn't at all surprised by these questions. Makes sense. But surely, you would have expected something about competency on the subjects, no? 

Whatever is the case, I didn't get a job last year. So the search continues again. This time I have a Master's degree, and more teaching positions to choose from.  And I have the added bonus of applying at community colleges!

We'll see what new opportunities come my way, but even with last year's troubles, I remain optimistic.

grad school - a couple of thoughts

So, I'm now into my third semester in graduate school, and so far I'm managing my own. Having a 4.0 is nice, and my work in my three study courses is coming along nicely.

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However, this is the first time that I'm going full-time to school; the previous two semesters were part-time only. In taking these three study courses, I'm now able to appreciate the different styles (for lack of a better term) among my professors, regarding their assumptions in the study of history. 

My first professor (also my advisor) focuses on systemic institutions and assumptions that permeate all levels of society, even into the most innocuous aspects. People are trapped by these forces and assumptions, and by realizing our biases, we can come closer to understanding past decision making and the resulting consequences. In this perspective, the works of structuralism (especially of Foucault and Derrida) takes center stage as analytic tool in studying the past. As my advisor's focus is on Orientalism - the Western perception and assumptions towards the Orient - it isn't a surprise that this is the primary means to analyze the past. This includes trying to observe the historian's biases when analyzing texts and material from another society. It is not simply to let the text "speak for itself," but to also be vigilant toward's our own biases. I can say that studying under her has helped tempered my earlier, skeptic-influenced ambivalence towards post-modernist thought.  

In contrast, my second professor eschews the "systemic" notion of history, and looks at individuals. As a semi-famous military historian (and certainly one of the top military historians anywhere), he can appreciate trends and patterns - commonalities - in the history of European warfare. However, he tries to focus much more closely on individual decisions, individual factors that swing the entire course of history from one end to another. In studying WWI under him, the old notions I had of WWI - that the war was inevitable due to long-term trends - are being challenged. The more I read, the more I realize that a Bismarck or any competent leader would not have let war come at all. Rather, the leadership - political and military - fucked up. And fucked up a lot in institutions that did not promote merit or good ideas, in societies plagued by class antagonisms, in a ambivalent adoption of new technologies and falling back on old tactics, and on the contradiction of wanting a decisive victory in the face of trench warfare. Even with these trends, bone headed mistakes and hesitations led to this. So with this professor, the human factor looms large.

And there's the third course. This course deals with Mexican-American and Chicano history. As a Chicano myself, you would think that the style taught here would be to my liking. You'd be wrong about that. From my readings and my observation of the professor, the entire field of Mexican-American history is wrapped up with Chicano and Latin American activism. Now, in their defense, Chicano and Borderland scholars have shed a lot of light of systemic prejudices against Hispanics - from the use of quarantine in South Texas to the use of eugenics to sterilized "troubled" Mexican youths in California to showing that Mexican-Americans were lynched at a higher rate than blacks were. That anger is there, and that anger towards the past is actually justified, unlike the fears of conservatives towards something as tame as affirmative action. Nonetheless, when I hear from this professor that a writer should be more emotional and condemnatory towards an injustice, I feel uncomfortable. History should not be synonymous with polemics. While the course is interesting, I am better able to articulate why I'm unsettled by Chicano studies in genera.

If anything, I do find that the three courses have helped me understand the nuances and contradictions among these different threads. What am I to make of it? Or what am I to choose, I can not say.

egpyt's presidential elections and liberal activists

As mentioned in the New York Times, the presidential elections in Egypt have seen the Muslim Brother candidate Mohamed Morsi and old Mubarak-apparatchik Ahmed Shafik emerge as the two leading candidates; as a result, a runoff will be held to determine Egypt's first democratically elected President. More interesting (at least to me), is the reaction of the liberal wing of the Egyptian revolution who are piqued at the thought that either a Muslim Brother or Mubarak stalwart will lead the country.

Other moderate and liberal candidates like Amr Moussa, the Nasserite Hamdeen Sabahi, and the former Muslim Brother Aboul Fotouh did not gain enough votes to proceed to the runoff. Indeed, the two former frontrunners of the race, Moussa and Fotouh, are now out of the race. In the case of Fotouh, it seems liberal support for the candidate eroded with the Salafists endorsement of his candidacy. Thus, liberal support buoyed Sabahi's candidacy to propel him to be on par with that of Fotouh. And while the combined votes of Fotouh and Sabahi would put them in a clear plurality of the vote, the Egyptian voting system doesn't care for such ad hoc rationalizations.

Moderate and liberal voices were overshadowed by the organizational skill of the Brotherhood should not come to anyone's surprise. As mentioned by this special from Al Jazeera, this Muslim Brotherhood has had organizational success in parliamentary elections since the beginning of Mubarak's regime. And they are the most organized and largest non-state actor in Egypt. And while the revolution itself was led by liberal and leftist activists, the inability of these activists to speak in a single voice like the Brotherhood doomed their candidate(s) of choice.

However, the success of Shafik may come as a surprise since the revolution sought to remove the ancien regime of Mubarak. But this is not that surprising once you think about it. It was never clear if the majority of the Egyptian people actually supported the revolution. Not to mean they thought Mubarak was awesome, but that they were neutral with regards to the revolution. The revolution has had an economic and social cost to Egypt: the lost of tourism has sunk an already beleaguered economy, and the constant protests, clashes, and riots of the past year and a half has created a yearning for "normalcy" on the part of many Egyptians. They want security and jobs, and the revolution-as-a-phenomenon has created a situation counter to that. This is the situation that Shafik tried to tap into by stating that the "revolution is over". The chaos of the revolution has ended.

Of course, the dictates of the second-place candidate does not end a revolution. It'll be interesting to see how far Morsi goes if he does win the run-off vote. If so, the Muslim Brotherhood will now control the presidency and parliament, able to pass any legislation they will wish to pass. How they interact with the military (much less the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces) is to be determined.

So what's next of Egypt's liberal activists? Well, the defection of many Fotouh supporters to Sabahi has led to Shafik being the second-place winner. Assuming that this election fosters a new era of Egyptian democracy, and not a continuation of autocratic rule, liberal and leftist activists should follow the example of the Brotherhood and do a better job at organizing at a political level. Yes, the liberal activists were at the forefront of the revolution, with the Brotherhood joining the protests once Mubarak's power became untenable. But as seen in the parliamentary elections, liberals and the left could not even hope to compete against the Brotherhood. And the decision to boycott the election proved to be disastrous. Yes, they showed their displeasure at Islamists controlling the legislature, but they don't have any say in the matter. What did that accomplish?

Let this election be a lesson to the Egyptian left. Hopefully, next time (if there is a next time), some semblance of unity can emerge to actually shift the course of the election. In the meantime, they will need to decide if either Morsi - the Islamist - or Shafik - the face of the old regime - is the lesser to two evils.

on writing

I try to post here more often, but I feel that I don't have much to say. I have ideas, I have opinions, but when I start to write them down here, I second-guess myself. Do I actually know what I'm talking about?

At the same time, I'm astounded as to how often I read the opinions and thoughts of pundits that are worthless. They know very little, they fail to fact-check, and they are so damn sure they are right. How can they be so confident despite being wrong so often? And they get paid for it? It's mind-blowing.

You can chalk this up to the Dunning-Kruger effect, but I feel that what makes people so enamored to the writings of know-nothing pundits is that these pundits are so confident. The whole industry of political blogging feels like some large echo chamber, where people reinforce their beliefs day in and day out.

"Damn learning! I want to read more on how I'm already correct, and how they are wrong!"

Maybe this is why, despite my liberal proclivities, I am turned off by the liberal blogosphere. I am more fascinated with the ideas of anarchists, communists, and the marginalized left than I am with those loyal stewards of the Democratic party.

Another problem I find in updating this blog is that I have a hard time maintaining my focus on my writing. I may have an idea in mind, but I then go about making outlines to organize my ideas around. It seems I need to forgo that entirely and just write from the top of my mind. Edits can come later.

So I'll try to update this more often. But who knows.

an ode to the optical disk drive: or why blu-ray is doomed

Engadget: Apple's officially over the opti cal drive, for better or worse

A common theme I notice about the lamentations over the removal of ODDs from the Mac Mini is the desire for Apple to install Blu-Ray ODDs into Macs and MacBooks. But what percentage of people actually play movies on Blu-Ray disks?

I would imagine that many more people peruse the DVD selection of a Redbox than buying the latest Blu-Ray movie from Best Buy. Maybe I'm letting my own personal anecdotal experience affect my outlook on this "controversy" as I don't have a big screen TV, much less a blu-ray player. But I feel that Blu-Ray was a moribund format on arrival, doomed for failure as a result of the convenience of online streaming.

Sure, the engadget editiorial is correct: downloading a 50gb rip of a Blu-Ray disk is going to take a while, even on the best ISP network in the US. But how many people actually download (legally or illegally) a Blu-Ray film versus a standard DVD rip or standard definition flick?

I can see Blu-Ray living on as the go-to format for installing games, especially in next-generation gaming consoles. But the fact that Apple more or less succeeded in distributing their new OS without a physical delivery system, I see the removal of ODDs from the Mac Mini not as an act of hubris on Apple's part, but simply stating the obvious: the Optical Disk Drive's days are numbered.

idealism and reality: rand paul's troubles

After winning the Republican primary to be the party's Kentucky Senate candidate, a series of interviews - one with NPR and another with the Rachel Maddow Show - left Rand Paul in a bit of trouble. The issue concerned his views on a section of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. In summation, his views are that the federal government does not have the constitutional right in legislating who a private business may or may not choose as patrons - if the business owner decides to refuse service to a person of another race, it was within his right as the property owner to do so.  This is in keeping with the libertarian view that a key function of government is to protect the rights of property owners and the right to free speech of its citizenry.

In theory, the community at large (leveraging their collective might as consumers) could boycott the discriminatory business owners and hurt him economically as a protest against his opinions. In the libertarian viewpoint, this is a self-correcting mechanism that does not require governmental involvement and zero infringement on the property rights or freedom of speech of anyone person...in theory, at least.

The problem with Paul's (and libertarians') view on this issue is that it makes several assumptions:

  1. Government is an entity separate from the wider society that has a set (if arbitrary) role in protecting "natural rights" - rights that include the protection of private property and free speech but not freedom from unjustifiable discrimination or injustice; essentially,  government has no right to protect the welfare of a minority group due to an arbitrary demarcation of responsibility and duties libertarians adhere do.
  2. The notion the wider society would actually be opposed to the discriminatory actions of the hypothetical business owner and be bothered to actually boycott the hypothetical business. For example, we all know that many goods on sale at your local discount store are made in sweatshops that abuse the rights of their workers - how are the boycotts against these sweatshops and Wal-Mart working out? They're still in business (and thriving) despite years of knowledge of these practices.
  3. The notion that property rights are more important than the right of a citizen from being discriminated against.

While these views may seem reasonable to Paul and his ilk, these ideological views are completely out of touch from reality. It is easy to say that people will unite and protest against unfair business practices if these practices are known in the open; but when the situation emerges, how many people will actually partake in the boycott? And what is to be done when nearly every business in the hypothetical community are also discriminatory as well? Who will protect the minority group from this?

It is easy for an idealistic libertarian to tout how, if given the chance, he would march along side Martin Luther King Jr. and the Civil Rights movement in condemning racism...only after the fight for equal rights has been mostly won already. An idealistic libertarian does not have the burden in having an internal debate over the rampant racism and discrimination against blacks and other minority groups pervasive throughout the entire country and the rights of business owners in choosing whether or not to discriminate. When faced with a situation that causes this type of conflict between one's ideals and one's common sense, it is always troubling. Fortunately for most libertarians, they do not have to face history in their day to day lives.

Unfortunately for Rand Paul, he now needs to balance his idealism and reality. It will be interesting to see how he proceeds from here.