Friday, November 25, 2005

Les horreurs de la traduction

En général, j'essaye de lire les livres dans la langue dans laquelle ils ont été écrits. Les trois exemples ci-après confirmeront la sagesse d'une telle décision.

Premier exemple. Dans un livre de Shirley McLaine, l'auteur raconte une anecdote: elle donnait une conférence dans un grand hôtel et, étant sortie pendant la pause pour aller aux toilettes, elle s'était fait intercepter au retour par un garde de sécurité. Comme elle avait oublié son badge d'identité («my ID» en anglais), elle n'a pas pu convaindre le garde de la laisser rentrer pour reprendre son exposé à la conférence. Le traducteur (ou la traductrice, je ne me souviens plus), n'ayant pas compris le sens de ID, a jugé bon de mettre en bas de page toute une tartine sur l'id et l'ego, Freud, etc.. Mme McLaine avait voulu, par cette anecdote, démontrer que, toute star qu'elle était, il y avait encore des gens qui ne le reconnaissaient pas. Traduttore, Traditore! [Ou en bon français: toute traduction est une trahison]

Deuxième exemple. Lu dans un livre traduit de l'américain: «Mais bien sûr que je vais le lui dire. Et ne m'appelle pas Shirley!». Là, je crois que c'est plus que de la trahison, c'est de l'arriération mentale. Du même ordre que ce dernier exemple: «Comment ça va? lui demanda t-elle en roulant les r.»

Quant à moi, je vous dis: «À bientôt!», en zézayant.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Grande gueule, petite cervelle

Mon meilleur ami au bureau est un Français, qui s’appelle Bernard. Je l’appelle Bernouille et il m’appelle l’Eggnog. Bernard est coquet et aime bien porter des chapeaux, dont il a toute une collection : chapeau melon, panama, etc..

En prenant l’ascenseur à midi pour aller acheter de la bouffe, je suis tombée sur Bernouille qui, cette fois-ci, portait un beau béret basque bien enfoncé sur le crâne. L’ascenseur étant plein, je n’ai pas pu résister à la tentation de le taquiner un peu. «Woah! Un béret! - hurlai-je - Et où est-ce que t’a mis ton accordéon et ta baguette de pain?». À peine les derniers mots étaient-ils sortis de ma bouche que je me rendis compte, horrifiée, que ce n’était pas Bernouille, mais un parfait inconnu qui me fusillait du regard. De fait, l’ascenseur tout entier me regardait avec de gros yeux.

Je vais aller me jeter dans le St-Laurent.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Buddha Boy, Weeping Virgin and other commercial miracles

Pilgims flock to see«Buddha Boy» said to have fasted six months

Thousands of pilgrims are pouring into the dense jungle of southern Nepal to worship a 15-year-old boy who has been hailed as a new Buddha. Devotees claim that Ram Bomjon, who is silently meditating beneath a tree, has not eaten or drunk anything since he sat down at his chosen spot six months ago.Witnesses say they have seen light emanating from the teenager's forehead."It looks a bit like when you shine a torch through your hand," said Tek Bahadur Lama, a member of the committee responsible for dealing with the growing number of visitors from India and elsewhere in Nepal.

Photographs of Ram Bomjon, available for five rupees from his makeshift shrine, have become ubiquitous across the region. "Far and wide, it's the only topic of conversation," said Upendra Lamichami, a local journalist. He said no allegation had yet emerged of Ram breaking his fast or moving, even to relieve himself. Santa Raj Subedi, the chief government official in Bara district, appealed to the capital, Kathmandu, for assistance in dealing with the influx of visitors, and for a team of scients to examine the case. Local doctors failed to reach a final conclusion, although they were allowed no closer than five yards from the boy mystic, declaring that they could confirm no more than that he was alive.

A trhiving market has grown in the once pristine forest, supplying pilgrims with everything from chewing tobacco and bicycle repairs to incense and sacred amulets. The ground is covered in litter. A fence was built around Ram's tree to prevent pilgrims prodding him, then a second, and now a third is planned, as well as a bus part, leaving Ram at the centre of an ever growing circle of rubbish.

Last month, it was the sighting of the Weeping Virgin Statue in Ho Chi Minh City. (

Since Saturday night (31 October 2005), hundreds of people flocked outside the Notre Dame Cathedral to see for themselves the “tear,” which was reportedly a white long stain, on Our Lady’s visage, causing long queues and traffic jams lasting for hours in the area. “The statue, which stands outdoors, has not been cleaned for some time, so a stain on the Blessed Lady’s face after the rain is understandable,” Sai Gon Giai Phong newspaper quoted Huynh Cong Minh, head priest of the Notre Dame Cathedral, as saying.

Minh, along with his subordinates, showed up on the spot that night, confirming the story was a mere rumor, but still failed to disperse the credulous crowd. “It is a wild rumor or even a lie. People did not see clearly in poor lighting at night, but they kept talking about it, and the rumor spread like wild fire,” said Nguyen Cong Danh, chairman of HCMC Catholics Uniting Committee.“We Christians adore the Virgin Mary, but we should be extremely cautious with such claims, not circulate it and cause disorder,” he added.

Local police were deployed Sunday to stop cars and motorbikes from entering the area to ensure visitors can still have a look at the Mother Mary in good order.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Sunday Prayer

From Imagine (Torture and the Geneva Convention) by Larry Beinhart (

Imagine if someone in your family, or a friend, or a neighbor was beaten to death by a gang who wanted information about something they didn’t know anything about.

On Sunday, March 23, 2003, captured US pilots were shown on Iraqi TV. They didn’t have hoods over the heads. They were completely dressed. None of them wore leashes. Neither then, nor afterward, were they threatened with sodomy.

American reaction was instantaneous.

Donald Rumsfeld got on CBS and said to the world, “The Geneva Convention indicates that it's not permitted to photograph and embarrass or humiliate prisoners of war. And if they do happen to be American or coalition ground forces that have been captured, the Geneva Convention indicates how they should be treated.”

President George. W Bush, in a press conference said, “I expect them to be treated, the POWs I expect to be treated humanely. And -- just like we're treating the prisoners that we have captured humanely. If not, the people who mistreat the prisoners will be treated as war criminals.”

From this, we at least know that the president and the secretary of defense know what the Geneva Conventions are. Indeed, Mr. Rumsfeld seems to have a very fine appreciation of the niceties and the details, an understanding that even embarrassment and humiliation are wrong, even in such a seemingly innocuous way as photographing them. Both the president and the secretary expected the rules to be observed. In the spirit and in the letter.

The president clearly understood that people who violate the Geneva Conventions could be tried for war crimes and was announcing his intention to do exactly that.

Although, at the moment that they made those statements, they were running a war in the country next door and they had decided that over there the Geneva Conventions did not apply.

Imagine, if you will, that you are an Iraqi. You have a captured American pilot. You know that American jets will be bombing your city later this afternoon. If you could only find out what their targets are you could move the women and children – maybe even the old and the sick – out of harm’s way. You might be able to save hundreds, perhaps thousands if you only knew where the bombs would strike. Your children are in the city. Your grandparents. Your cousins. The girl you loved when you were twelve years old, who married someone else and is now the mother of two lovely twins.

You could save them, if only you could get that American pilot to talk.

Five hundred pound bombs are weapons of mass destruction. They quake the earth. They darken the sky.

They’ve already killed so many of your people. There would be pain in your questioning, but it would stop short of that “accompanying serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death.” You would have taken “taken such steps as surveying professional literature, consulting with experts …” lots in Iraq, and, apparently, in the US too, “ … or reviewing past experience,” living up to the standards that were signed off on by Jay S. Bybee, then US assistant attorney general, afterward appointed to the federal appeals court. What’s some mere discomfort, to one pampered Westerner who murders with impunity from 5,000 feet in the air. You’re doing simply what needs to be done.

In August, 2002, the Justice Department issued a memo to the White House that said if a government employee tortured a suspected terrorist “in order to prevent further attacks … necessity and self-defense could provide justifications and would eliminate any criminal liability.” In addition to the Geneva Conventions, the US has signed an anti-torture treaty and has it’s own war crimes law. However, according to the Pentagon, “in order to respect the President’s inherent constitutional authority to manage a military campaign [the prohibition against torture] must be construed as inapplicable to interrogations undertaken pursuant to his Commander-in-Chief authority.”

Now envision an imaginary place. Beyond power politics and assumptions about who the good guys are and who the bad guys are.

There’s a judge there. Almost divine in his wisdom and authority. And all these people – imaginary and real, the torturers and the men who sent them to it – come before him.

Let us imagine what he would say.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Little Buddha

On Wednesday, my mother moved into an old people's home. With all our fights and yelling and pouting for the past few years, I guess she felt compelled to move out and I have to admit I felt relief when she told me of her decision. Her new place is called: Résidence La Providence. She has a very nice room, relatively large and bright, with a private bathroom, for which she pays about 800 Canadian dollars a month, including three meals a day and cable for her TV. On every floor, there is a library, a huge parlour/game room, a laundry room. The dining room is on the ground floor, next to the beauty salon, the billiard room and the dépanneur/mini-mart. There's also a daily programme of exercice and dancing classes, and green plants everywhere. A cleaning lady comes daily to vacuum, empty waste baskets, clean the bathroom, etc. Pretty good deal.

In the evening, I took my son Forty (the breakdancer) to visit her. As we walked around the place, he was pleased with all the amenities, the cleanliness, until he saw the tenants shuffling around on their canes or walkers. The shock on his face! By the time we reached Grandma's room, he was composed again, and he even fixed her TV/DVD/VCR setup and showed her how to use the shower in her bathroom, but once we were back in the car, he cracked! Teary eyed, with trembling voice, he expressed his horror: «How can we let her stay here? We have to move her back right away! Have you seen those poor old people? They have nothing to look forward to, all they do there is wait for death! If I had to live there, I'd kill myself!». I tried to point out to him that it was Grandma's decision to move out, that when she was at home, she didn't do much either, she never went out, while here she would be forced to leave her room at least three times a day to go to the dining room, but he was not convinced. As he was wiping his eyes, I said: Let's wait for a month, to see how she copes and if she's not happy there, we'll take her back.

That night, as we walked the dog together, he said: «You know, as we were leaving, Grandma said: come visit me often! but what she meant is: don't forget me», and I could see him wiping his tears again in the dark. I was so touched by his compassion for his grandmother: it reminded me of the life of the Buddha, when He left his royal palace and discovered sickness, suffering and old age for the first time in His life. Forty's distress is similar to the Buddha's. I feel so lucky to have witnessed such a moment and privileged to be part of his life.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Paris brûle t-il?

L’autre jour, en arrivant un peu à l’avance à mon cours d’espagnol, je suis tombée sur une discussion entre la prof et une des étudiantes sur les émeutes en France. La prof est espagnole et l’étudiante allemande. Elles condamnaient toutes deux les émeutiers, bien sûr. La prof était particulièrement dure à leur égard : Pourquoi sont-ils venus en France s’ils ne veulent pas s’intégrer? S’ils veulent préserver leur culture musulmane, ils n’ont qu’à rester chez eux. Comme je les écoutais en silence, la prof s’est tournée vers moi : «What do you think?» a-t-elle demandé.

Je ne prétends pas connaître tous les arcanes de la situation des banlieues en France, ni toutes les subtilités de la politique intérieure française. Je ne peux que parler en tant qu’immigrante, ethnie, éternelle minoritaire. Parce que la prof et l’étudiante sont blanches, elles ne peuvent comprendre le vécu des non-blancs qu’au niveau intellectuel, et jamais au niveau des tripes. J’ai essayé de leur décrire l’humiliation et l’oppression constantes qui pèsent comme une chape de plomb, 24 heures sur 24, sept jours par semaine, 365 jour par an, sur tout individu appartenant à une minorité ethnique, surtout si sa peau est plus foncée que celle de la majorité. Il se fait arrêter à tous les coins de rue; il doit montrer ses papiers à tous ceux qui les lui demandent; il doit ouvrir ses sacs, ses valises, se faire fouiller et interroger à tout bout de champ; quel que soit son âge, il se fait tutoyer par le moindre planton à tous les guichets; dans les magasins, où il est servi en dernier, il est surveillé de près par les vendeuses et se fait réprimander s’il touche à quoi que ce soit; il se fait prendre dans toutes les rafles et considéré d’office comme coupable, etc. Peu importe sa nationalité, son lieu de naissance, le nombre d’années vécues dans le pays, il sera toujours le bougnoule, le chinetoque, le youpin, le paki. J’ai des amis français que je connais depuis presque 40 ans; quand je vais chez eux, je suis toujours présentée comme «notre amie Machin, la petite Vietnamienne», alors que les Blancs auxquels je suis présentée sont simplement Jean Dupont, Marie Dubois, jamais «notre ami TrucChose, le petit Français».

Si vous n’avez jamais connu d’autre pays que celui où vous êtes né et où vous avez vécu toute votre vie, mais où l’on vous fait sentir tous les jours que vous n’êtes pas accepté sur le même pied d’égalité que vos compatriotes et que vous ne le serez jamais, n’y a-t-il pas lieu de désespérer? Surtout si vous avez 20 ans et que vous réalisez que votre horizon est bouché et qu’il n’y aura aucune alternative à ce scénario de médiocrité et d’infériorité qui constituera votre lot pour le reste de votre vie.

Pourquoi venir en France si vous n’y êtes pas bien accueilli, demande la prof d’espagnol. Parce que vos parents y sont venus poussés par la misère et le chômage dans leur pays, et que la France (et toute l’Europe d’ailleurs) n’a rien fait pour les en dissuader, ayant besoin de main d’œuvre bon marché. La politique d’intégration de la France repose sur des sentiments de culpabilité post-coloniale et de bonnes intentions idéologiques, elle est sciemment aveugle aux différences raciales, ethniques, religieuses, et constitue donc un catalyseur de bombes à retardement socio-politiques, puisque la population française plus conservatrice n’a pas suivi. J’ai vécu une dizaine d’années en Europe et une vingtaine d’année en Amérique du Nord. Je sais qu’il est impossible, sinon difficile, pour un immigrant de se fondre dans la société européenne, ou de ressentir simplement un sentiment d’appartenance. En Europe, on a l’impression que toute l’histoire du pays est déjà écrite par la race majoritaire, et qu’elle s’est arrêtée à la fin de la deuxième guerre mondiale. Le dossier est clos. Tout apport immigrant ne sera qu’un post-scriptum, ou une note dans la marge. Alors qu’aux États-Unis ou au Canada, les immigrants peuvent mettre la main à la pâte et contribuer directement à bâtir une société commune avec leurs compatriotes d’adoption. Bien sûr, je me fais encore constamment demander ma «vraie» nationalité et je sais que je ne serai jamais considérée par les «pures laines» comme une Québécoise à part entière. Mais je peux imaginer qu’un jour, un Nguyen ou un Ben Talloum sera Premier Ministre du Canada. Tout est théoriquement envisageable. Ce qui est impensable en Europe.

Je ne sais pas si le mouvement de révolte se répandra en Europe ou sur d’autres continents. Ce que je peux prédire, c’est que chaque fois qu’une minorité ethnique, religieuse, sociale ou autre est opprimée de génération en génération, sans espoir et sans recours, il arrivera inévitablement un moment où la coupe débordera, où le dos du chameau se cassera, où la poudrière explosera. Cette fois-ci, c’est les beurs en France, demain ce sera peut-être les paysans chinois dont les terres ont été saisies par le gouvernement pour faire place à des usines, des gratte-ciel ou des barrages, ou peut-être les musulmans du sud de la Thaïlande qui sont d’origine ethnique malaise et qui rêvent de sécession.

Mise à jour - 17 novembre: Comme suite à mon texte décrivant l'humiliation permanente des non-Blancs dans un pays de Blancs, je reproduis ci-après le récit d'un père qui confirme mon analyse:

L'humiliation ordinaire, par Alain Badiou, , philosophe, professeur émérite à l'Ecole normale supérieure, dramaturge et romancier.
Le Monde - Article paru dans l'édition du 16.11.05

Constamment contrôlés par la police. De tous les griefs mentionnés par les jeunes révoltés du peuple de ce pays, cette omniprésence du contrôle et de l'arrestation dans leur vie ordinaire, ce harcèlement sans trêve, est le plus constant, le plus partagé. Se rend-on vraiment compte de ce que signifie ce grief ? De la dose d'humiliation et de violence qu'il représente?

J'ai un fils adoptif de 16 ans qui est noir. Appelons-le Gérard. Il ne relève pas des "explications" sociologiques et misérabilistes ordinaires. Son histoire se passe à Paris, tout bonnement.

Entre le 31 mars 2004 (Gérard n'avait pas 15 ans) et aujourd'hui, je n'ai pu dénombrer les contrôles dans la rue. Innombrables, il n'y a pas d'autre mot. Les arrestations : Six ! En dix-huit mois... J'appelle "arrestation" qu'on l'emmène menotté au commissariat, qu'on l'insulte, qu'on l'attache à un banc, qu'il reste là des heures, parfois une ou deux journées de garde à vue. Pour rien.

Le pire d'une persécution tient souvent aux détails. Je raconte donc, un peu minutieusement, la toute dernière arrestation. Gérard, accompagné de son ami Kemal (né en France, Français donc, de famille turque), est vers 16 h 30 devant un lycée privé (fréquenté par des jeunes filles). Pendant que Gérard fait assaut de galanterie, Kemal négocie avec un élève d'un autre lycée voisin l'achat d'un vélo. Vingt euros, le vélo, une affaire ! Suspecte, c'est certain. Notons cependant que Kemal a quelques euros, pas beaucoup, parce qu'il travaille : il est aide et marmiton dans une crêperie. Trois "petits jeunes" viennent à leur rencontre. Un d'entre eux, l'air désemparé : "Ce vélo est à moi, un grand l'a emprunté, il y a une heure et demie, et il ne me l'a pas rendu." Aïe ! Le vendeur était, semble-t-il, un "emprunteur". Discussion. Gérard ne voit qu'une solution : rendre le vélo. Bien mal acquis ne profite guère. Kemal s'y résout. Les "petits jeunes" partent avec l'engin.

C'est alors que se range le long du trottoir, tous freins crissants, une voiture de police. Deux de ses occupants bondissent sur Gérard et Kemal, les plaquent à terre, les menottent mains dans le dos, puis les alignent contre le mur. Insultes et menaces : "Enculés ! Connards !" Nos deux héros demandent ce qu'ils ont fait. "Vous savez très bien ! Du reste, tournez-vous – on les met, toujours menottés, face aux passants dans la rue –, que tout le monde voie bien qui vous êtes et ce que vous faites !" Réinvention du pilori médiéval (une demi-heure d'exposition), mais, nouveauté, avant tout jugement, et même toute accusation. Survient le fourgon. "Vous allez voir ce que vous prendrez dans la gueule, quand vous serez tout seuls." "Vous aimez les chiens ?" "Au commissariat, y aura personne pour vous aider."

Les petits jeunes disent : "Ils n'ont rien fait, ils nous ont rendu le vélo." Peu importe, on embarque tout le monde, Gérard, Kemal, les trois "petits jeunes", et le vélo. Serait-ce ce maudit vélo, le coupable ? Disons tout de suite que non, il n'en sera plus jamais question. Du reste, au commissariat, on sépare Gérard et Kemal des trois petits jeunes et du vélo, trois braves petits "blancs" qui sortiront libres dans la foulée. Le Noir et le Turc, c'est une autre affaire. C'est, nous raconteront-ils, le moment le plus "mauvais". Menottés au banc, petits coups dans les tibias chaque fois qu'un policier passe devant eux, insultes, spécialement pour Gérard : "gros porc", "crado"... On les monte et on les descend, ça dure une heure et demie sans qu'ils sachent de quoi ils sont accusés et pourquoi ils sont ainsi devenus du gibier. Finalement, on leur signifie qu'ils sont mis en garde à vue pour une agression en réunion commise il y a quinze jours. Ils sont vraiment dégoûtés, ne sachant de quoi il retourne. Signature de garde à vue, fouille, cellule. Il est 22 heures. A la maison, j'attends mon fils. Téléphone deux heures et demie plus tard : "Votre fils est en garde à vue pour probabilité de violences en réunion." J'adore cette "probabilité". Au passage, un policier moins complice a dit à Gérard : "Mais toi, il me semble que tu n'es dans aucune des affaires, qu'est-ce que tu fais encore là ?" Mystère, en effet.

S'agissant du Noir, mon fils, disons tout de suite qu'il n'a été reconnu par personne. C'est fini pour lui, dit une policière, un peu ennuyée. Tu as nos excuses. D'où venait toute cette histoire ? D'une dénonciation, encore et toujours. Un surveillant du lycée aux demoiselles l'aurait identifié comme celui qui aurait participé aux fameuses violences d'il y a deux semaines. Ce n'était aucunement lui ? Un Noir et un autre Noir, vous savez...

A propos des lycées, des surveillants et des délations : j'indique au passage que lors de la troisième des arrestations de Gérard, tout aussi vaine et brutale que les cinq autres, on a demandé à son lycée la photo et le dossier scolaire de tous les élèves noirs. Vous avez bien lu : les élèves noirs. Et comme le dossier en question était sur le bureau de l'inspecteur, je dois croire que le lycée, devenu succursale de la police, a opéré cette "sélection" intéressante.

On nous téléphone bien après 22 heures de venir récupérer notre fils, il n'a rien fait du tout, on s'excuse. Des excuses ? Qui peut s'en contenter ? Et j'imagine que ceux des "banlieues" n'y ont pas même droit, à de telles excuses. La marque d'infamie qu'on veut ainsi inscrire dans la vie quotidienne de ces gamins, qui peut croire qu'elle reste sans effets, sans effets dévastateurs ? Et s'ils entendent démontrer qu'après tout, puisqu'on les contrôle pour rien, il se pourrait qu'ils fassent savoir, un jour, et "en réunion", qu'on peut les contrôler pour quelque chose, qui leur en voudra ?

On a les émeutes qu'on mérite. Un Etat pour lequel ce qu'il appelle l'ordre public n'est que l'appariement de la protection de la richesse privée et des chiens lâchés sur les enfances ouvrières ou les provenances étrangères est purement et simplement méprisable.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Our faith in science

The following text, by Tenzin Gyatso, 14th Dalai Lama, is published in today's New York Times.

SCIENCE has always fascinated me. As a child in Tibet, I was keenly curious about how things worked. When I got a toy I would play with it a bit, then take it apart to see how it was put together. As I became older, I applied the same scrutiny to a movie projector and an antique automobile.

At one point I became particularly intrigued by an old telescope, with which I would study the heavens. One night while looking at the moon I realized that there were shadows on its surface. I corralled my two main tutors to show them, because this was contrary to the ancient version of cosmology I had been taught, which held that the moon was a heavenly body that emitted its own light.

But through my telescope the moon was clearly just a barren rock, pocked with craters. If the author of that fourth-century treatise were writing today, I'm sure he would write the chapter on cosmology differently.

If science proves some belief of Buddhism wrong, then Buddhism will have to change. In my view, science and Buddhism share a search for the truth and for understanding reality. By learning from science about aspects of reality where its understanding may be more advanced, I believe that Buddhism enriches its own worldview.

For many years now, on my own and through the Mind and Life Institute, which I helped found, I have had the opportunity to meet with scientists to discuss their work. World-class scientists have generously coached me in subatomic physics, cosmology, psychology, biology.

It is our discussions of neuroscience, however, that have proved particularly important. From these exchanges a vigorous research initiative has emerged, a collaboration between monks and neuroscientists, to explore how meditation might alter brain function.

The goal here is not to prove Buddhism right or wrong - or even to bring people to Buddhism - but rather to take these methods out of the traditional context, study their potential benefits, and share the findings with anyone who might find them helpful.

After all, if practices from my own tradition can be brought together with scientific methods, then we may be able to take another small step toward alleviating human suffering.

Already this collaboration has borne fruit. Dr. Richard Davidson, a neuroscientist at the University of Wisconsin, has published results from brain imaging studies of lamas meditating. He found that during meditation the regions of the brain thought to be related to happiness increase in activity. He also found that the longer a person has been a meditator, the greater the activity increase will be.

Other studies are under way. At Princeton University, Dr. Jonathan Cohen, a neuroscientist, is studying the effects of meditation on attention. At the University of California Medical School at San Francisco, Dr. Margaret Kemeny has been studying how meditation helps develop empathy in school teachers.

Whatever the results of this work, I am encouraged that it is taking place. You see, many people still consider science and religion to be in opposition. While I agree that certain religious concepts conflict with scientific facts and principles, I also feel that people from both worlds can have an intelligent discussion, one that has the power ultimately to generate a deeper understanding of challenges we face together in our interconnected world.

One of my first teachers of science was the German physicist Carl von Weizsäcker, who had been an apprentice to the quantum theorist Werner Heisenberg. Dr. Weizsäcker was kind enough to give me some formal tutorials on scientific topics. (I confess that while listening to him I would feel I could grasp the intricacies of the full argument, but when the sessions were over there was often not a great deal of his explanation left behind.)

What impressed me most deeply was how Dr. Weizsäcker worried about both the philosophical implications of quantum physics and the ethical consequences of science generally. He felt that science could benefit from exploring issues usually left to the humanities.

I believe that we must find a way to bring ethical considerations to bear upon the direction of scientific development, especially in the life sciences. By invoking fundamental ethical principles, I am not advocating a fusion of religious ethics and scientific inquiry.

Rather, I am speaking of what I call "secular ethics," which embrace the principles we share as human beings: compassion, tolerance, consideration of others, the responsible use of knowledge and power. These principles transcend the barriers between religious believers and non-believers; they belong not to one faith, but to all faiths.

Today, our knowledge of the human brain and body at the cellular and genetic level has reached a new level of sophistication. Advances in genetic manipulation, for example, mean scientists can create new genetic entities - like hybrid animal and plant species - whose long-term consequences are unknown.

Sometimes when scientists concentrate on their own narrow fields, their keen focus obscures the larger effect their work might have. In my conversations with scientists I try to remind them of the larger goal behind what they do in their daily work.

This is more important than ever. It is all too evident that our moral thinking simply has not been able to keep pace with the speed of scientific advancement. Yet the ramifications of this progress are such that it is no longer adequate to say that the choice of what to do with this knowledge should be left in the hands of individuals.

This is a point I intend to make when I speak at the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience today in Washington. I will suggest that how science relates to wider humanity is no longer of academic interest alone. This question must assume a sense of urgency for all those who are concerned about the fate of human existence.

A deeper dialogue between neuroscience and society - indeed between all scientific fields and society - could help deepen our understanding of what it means to be human and our responsibilities for the natural world we share with other sentient beings.

Just as the world of business has been paying renewed attention to ethics, the world of science would benefit from more deeply considering the implications of its own work. Scientists should be more than merely technically adept; they should be mindful of their own motivation and the larger goal of what they do: the betterment of humanity.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Jim Kunstler is a God

In his blog "Clusterfuck Nation" [], Jim Kunstler gives the best explanation I've ever read for the Iraq War:

The cry across the land grows increasingly shrill: "THEY LIED TO US!"

For going on three years, the American public, especially on the political left, has been complaining that the Iraq War was some kind of a shuck-and-jive. The Bush government pulled the wool over everybody's eyes. They ran a vicious propaganda operation. We were fooled by all those fairy tales about WMDs, Saddam and Osama, and African radioactive yellowcake.

Now, through the fog of the Valerie Plame affair and the indictment of Scooter Libby, the cry is reaching a crescendo: "THEY LIED TO US!"

Being a Democrat myself, and therefore nominally in opposition to Bush-and-Cheneyism, one has to contend with all sorts of embarrassing nonsense emanating from one's own side. In Sunday's New York Times op-ed section, for instance, Nicholas Kristoff wrote: "Mr. Cheney, we need a stiff dose of truth." I'm sorry to tell you this Nick (and the rest of my homies), but what Jack Nicholson's character said in that court martial movie some years back still applies: you can't stand the truth.

If the American public could stand the truth, we would stop calling it the Iraq War and rename it the War to Save Suburbia. Of all the things that Bush and Cheney have said over the last six years, the one thing the Democratic opposition has not challenged is the statement that "the American way of life is not negotiable." They're just as invested in it as everybody else. The Democrats complain about the dark efforts by Bush and Cheney to cook up a rationale for the war. Guess what? The Democrats desperately need something to oppose besides the truth. If they would shut up about WMDs for five minutes and just take a good look around, they'd know exactly why this war started.

When the American people, Democrat and Republican both, decided to build a drive-in utopia based on incessant easy motoring and massive oil dependency, who lied to them? When tens of millions of Americans bought McHouses thirty-four miles away from their jobs in Boston, Atlanta, Minneapolis, and Dallas, who lied to them? When American public officials adopted the madness of single-use zoning and turned the terrain of this land into a tragic crapscape of strip malls on six-lane highways, who lied to them? When American school officials decided to consolidate all the kids in gigantic centralized facilities serviced by fleets of yellow buses that ran an average of 150,000 miles per year per school, who lied to them? When Americans trashed their public transit and railroad system, who lied to them? When Americans let WalMart gut Main Street, who lied to them? When Bill and Hillary Clinton bought a suburban villa in farthest reaches of northern Westchester County, New York, who lied to them?

You want truth, Progressive America? Here's the truth: the War to Save Suburbia entailed an unavoidable strategic military enterprise. Saving Suburbia required that the Middle East be pacified or at least stabilized, because two-thirds of the world's remaining oil is there (and in case you haven't figured this out by now, Suburbia runs on oil, and the oil has to be cheap or we couldn't afford to run it). The three main oil-producing countries in the Middle East, going from west-to-east are Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and Iran. We had serious relationship problems with all of them at various times, and they with each other, leading at frequent intervals to a lot of instability in that region, and consequently trouble for us trying to run Suburbia on cheap oil (which they sold us in large quantities).

After nineteen religious maniacs from the Middle East, mostly Arabs (though unaffiliated officially with any state in their actions) flew planes into our skyscrapers and a big government building, we had to kick someone's ass. We decided to start by kicking the ass of Afghanistan, where one particular mischievous maniac, Mr. bin Laden, had set up operations connected with 9/11. It wasn't enough. We never could find Mr. bin Laden, Afghanistan wasn't really in the Middle East, and whatever else they were, the Afghans weren't Arabs. We had to find somebody else's ass to kick to reinforce the idea that religious maniacs unaffiliated with any particular state could not pull off lethal stunts like 9/11 without bringing substantial pain down on their own home places. To put it plainly, we had to kick some Arab ass. We picked Saddam Hussein's Iraq. Not because he had anything to do with 9/11-- which we couldn't pin on any Muslim nation -- but because Saddam's Baathist regime was Arab, and the same general religious brand as the guys who did 9/11, Sunni Muslim, and because Saddam had already proven to be a freelance mischievous maniac quite in his own right over the years, worth getting rid of, and most of all (from a strategic point-of-view) because Iraq was the perfect place geographically to open a US police station in the Middle East. It was right between those two other troublemakers, Saudi Arabia and Iran, and setting up an American military presence between them, it was hoped, would moderate and influence their behavior, and discourage them from doing anything to interfere with the indispensable supplies of oil that we desperately required to run our beloved, non-negotiable Suburbia. It was even hoped, by a band of extreme idealists in the US Government, that in the process of setting up a military presence in Iraq, we could convert this troubled, fractious nation into a peaceful, cohesive, beneficent democracy, establishing a shining example, blah, blah. . . . But such is the nature of idealism.

I apologize for taking two long paragraphs to tell you the true origins of the War to Save Suburbia, but it was, after all, only two paragraphs, and the truth is sometimes not so simple. The American people have gotten exactly the war that they bargained for. The outstanding obvious question is not by what wicked and recondite means the War to Save Suburbia got started, but how come once started, we did such a poor job of resolving it, specifically why, after nearly three years, our vaunted technological mastery couldn't get the electricity running more than a few hours a day in Baghdad, why we let squads of redneck moron enlisted personnel beat up on prisoners and videotape their own antics, and why we can't even get the oil equipment in good enough shape so the Iraqis can sell us the oil we still need to run our non-negotiable way of life?

So, as a card-carrying Democrat and as a Progressive who would like to see his country successfully adapt to the changing realities of the world, I propose we stop making ourselves ridiculous by whining about being lied to, because we've only been lying to ourselves. We walked into the War to Save Suburbia with, as the old saying goes, our eyes wide shut.

So that's why!!!!

A lack of sleep makes you "fat, stupid and sick", according to German scientists [].

Sleep researcher Professor Juergen Zulley from the Regensburg University Hospital in Bavaria said: "It makes you stupid because suffering from sleep deficiency diminishes your memory. Sick, because too little sleep can damage your heart, circulation, stomach and intestines. And fat because while we are sleeping are [sic] bodies release a hormone that reduces appetite.

"If the release of this hormone is interrupted because we are not getting a full night's sleep then we quickly feel hungry which causes most people to head straight to the fridge," he said.

I sleep about 2 to 4 hours per day. That explains it!