Thursday, April 29, 2010

Peaks And Valleys

Reason magazine science correspondent Ronald Bailey has an interesting article on resource peaks on the magazine's website, which examines not just the much-discussed "peak oil" problem, but also the possible coming peaks in lithium (necessary for manufacturing the currently most commercially viable type of high-capacity battery), neodymium (used in the manufacture of permanent magnets widely used in a variety of electronic and mechanical systems) and phosphorus (the mineral behind the explosion in agricultural productivity the world has experienced over the past 50 years). In each case, Bailey examines the potential economic, social, and environmental consequences of exhausting our supplies of these resources, before suggesting some possible technological workarounds that are either already in existence or currently in development, concluding that whatever problems may result from resource depletion, human ingenuity can likely provide solutions.

I'm certainly far from an expert on the technical aspects of these issues, but I find it difficult to share Bailey's entirely sanguine outlook. I don't doubt that we may be able to work around some, or even most, of the problems - engineers are pretty clever people. I am skeptical that in every case we will be able to find solutions that are economically viable on a large scale, or that avert disruptive or even disastrous potential conflicts (military or otherwise) over current supplies of key resources. Even if we find an alternate method of manufacturing every single device that requires neodymium magnets, for example, it is unlikely that all these alternate products will be as cheap as the ones we have now. This could create serious problems, both by widening inequality between haves and have-nots and by crimping worldwide economic growth by making current logistics and delivery systems which rely on technology and have helped fuel enormous economic growth over the past half-century scarcer and more expensive. If computer hard drives cost ten times what they do now to manufacture, for example, it would likely scale back the current capabilities of the internet, which I suspect could have a fairly deleterious effect on global trade in addition to curtailing the ability of bored college students to download porn and illegal music. Furthermore, we've got ample evidence that conflict over scarce resources is a major driver of warfare in today's world - look no further than the civil war in Iraq (fought as much over who gets ownership of the country's richest oilfields as over any cultural or religious questions), or the recent war in Sierra Leone (in which the country's diamond supplies both precipitated and bankrolled the conflict). I think there's good reason to worry that as a number of critical natural resources become scarcer, conflict over what remains of them becomes more likely, particularly that more people than ever before now live resource-intensive post-industrial lives.

Maybe it's the inherent bleakness of my worldview, but I feel that the problem of resource depletion merits at best cautious optimism, and more likely genuine concern. I'm not going to panic a la the back-to-nature movement, but nor am I going to put my faith wholeheartedly into the notion that the coming techno-utopia will solve all our problems. We may survive the great challenges of the next century, resource depletion among them, but it's likely to be as bloody, messy, and difficult a challenge as surviving the challenges of the last was.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Maybe This Particular PIG Just Needs A Different Shade Of Lipstick...

It appears the EU's plan to bail out fiscal bad apple Greece has failed to assuage the markets, and not surprisingly so; giving more free money to a government that is already spending what it has and more imprudently to "stabilize" it is the equivalent of putting new siding on a house with a termite infestation, a leaky basement, and a crumbling foundation - it's a superficial improvement that might fool a few uninformed people giving the whole structure no more than a quick glance from the street but won't do jack to reassure anybody with any incentive to give it a closer inspection. Unless the Greeks slash their out-of-control spending soon, which means partially disassembling their welfare state, any bailout they get is nothing more than another cheap patch on a dam that is precariously close to breaking. Given that Greece's political class seems to have little power to impose that kind of austerity on its spoiled populace, it seems quite possible that the country really might end up defaulting, and dragging other troubled economies (Portugal has already been hit with a bond rating decrease in the wake of Greece's troubles) down the toilet with it. It wouldn't shock me if this crisis is someday looked on as the beginning of the end for the euro zone - something that seemed unthinkable not long ago but appears more likely with each shock the markets take.

On the bright side of things, at least we have a canary in the coal mine of massive government debt and unsustainable entitlement spending - whatever happens to Greece, it'll give us some idea of what awaits the U.S. once the bills for the pork-gorging Bush and Obama administrations come due. Be not too cynical and thankful for small wonders.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Defending The Yale Faculty/Student Sex Ban

Libertarian blogger Will Wilkinson is incensed by a new Yale policy forbidding intimate relationships between faculty members and undergraduate students, not just those with an academic relationship as was previously the case, calling the ban "repugnant" and "paternalistic". Noting that most such relationships involve male faculty members and female students, he also equates it to a "denial of the autonomy of female undergrads". This is precisely the sort of situation that I find tends to elicit uninteresting, dogmatic responses from Reason magazine-type doctrinaire libertarians, and despite the fact that Wilkinson is usually a very nuanced and though-provoking writer, this rant strikes me as precisely that. The college years in middle class American life represent a somewhat uncertain middle ground between what is commonly conceived of as immaturity and what is commonly conceived of as adulthood, and the American university occupies a correspondingly uncertain place between those of a parental surrogate charged with nurturing and protecting its students and a private market entity whose only mission is to provide them with contractually designated educational services. They are, by dint of that position, somewhat paternalistic by nature, even if they are less so than high schools. In addition to the subsidized housing and living expenses, many provide free academic and personal counseling, guaranteed access to part-time employment via work study programs, health care, and a host of other support services in addition to purely educational goods. Anyone who's been to college will tell you your typical undergrad is not treated as a full adult in a wide spectrum of areas, nor expected to act as a full adult, and it seems to me that these norms are uncontroversial. Given that I don't really see a compelling reason to get upset about a limited imposition on undergraduates' already limited personal autonomy. Wilkinson's case is even weaker when you consider the ban as something that applies to faculty members rather than to students. Unless the social activity serves a clear business-related function, most companies forbid their employees from fraternizing with customers while on the job. Most people would have to concede that this is reasonable - in the case of most businesses, that's not what employees are paid to do, and with sexual liaisons in particular there is a not-insubstantial possibility that a company could be found liable for its employee's actions in a sexual harassment lawsuit. If you want to think of a university such as Yale solely as a business entity engaged in the provision of educational services to its customers, the students, as Wilkinson seems to, you have to either argue that such bans are unacceptable impositions on personal freedom in all cases (a really tough sell for me), or else clearly establish that that some portions of a student's undergraduate years do not constitute "company time", even though the economic transaction that defines the relationship between business and customer is ongoing throughout that period and legal liability is clearly an issue (perhaps an easier argument to make, but still not one I find persuasive). Do I have a "disgust response" when I see a lecherous, fifty-year old professor ogling a 19 year old sophomore? Yes. Do I acknowledge that my argument could be taken to extremes, and that a relationship between a 30 year old adjunct professor and a 27 year old graduate student is not the university's business if the two aren't working together? Yes. But neither of those answers mean that there isn't a sound logical rationale for banning some types of faculty-student relationship.

Underlying this whole issue is the fact that our laws render in absolute black and white many things which in reality shade from black through all shades of gray to white, and that maturity (sexual, social, financial, and otherwise) is one of these. Of course, a democratic society has to draw categorical lines somewhere, because we must determine at what point a person falls under the category of full adulthood, with all the rights and responsibilities thereof. Nevertheless one must admit that there's really no good reason why we ought to consider a 25 year old teacher involved with a 17 year old high school student a sexual predator who should do time and lose his or her career, and a 50 year old college professor involved with an 18 year old freshman a private matter between consenting adults. This is particularly true when one takes into account the fact that defining the threshold of adulthood as twenty years or so is comparatively speaking a very new sociological development - within the last 100 years it was fairly widespread for people in their mid- or early teens to marry in the United States and Europe, and in many countries around the world it is still commonplace. Human biology doesn't provide us particularly good evidence for our norms either - as everyone knows, by the biological definition of the term people reach sexual maturity far before they reach what our society considers adulthood.

Given all this, I'm okay with letting widely shared disgust responses - the so-called "ick factor" - keep certain markets taboo, to use Wilkinson's uncharmingly economic-reductionist term. I don't particularly want to see markets for pubescent pornography or prostitution flourish. Relationships between professors and college students aren't quite so repugnant as that, of course, and I'll concede (and even agree with) Wilkinson's point about the importance of developing personal autonomy in young adults, but if a university wants to ban such liaisons for whatever reason - practical, paternalistic, or anywhere in between - I don't really have an issue with it.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

That's Why We Need To Develop Ray Guns

In a new documentary on the cosmos, world-renowned astrophysicist Stephen Hawking concludes that intelligent extraterrestrial life probably exists, but that attempting to interact with it poses significant risks and might be extremely dangerous for humanity. I know he's a brilliant scientist and an equally gifted writer, but why is it treated as news when Stephen Hawking says this? It's a pretty intuitively obvious view of the prospect of interaction with alien life in my opinion, and one that's both shared by many other leading serious scientific thinkers and been fodder for science fiction of both Tarkovskian profundity and tinfoil robot cheesiness for decades. Unless we make a vast technological leap in the near future, we're not going to be visiting other solar systems any time soon, so it's likely that any species capable of interstellar travel would have a significant technological advantage over us. And unless the laws of physics function differently in other parts of the cosmos, it's likely that whatever technology they possessed would require resources to operate, which could make Earth valuable to them. It's possible they might view destroying humanity to extract Earth's valuables the same way we view killing earthworms to dig a coal mine - as no big deal, given the imperative of their own survival. Yeah, there's a high likelihood alien life would be dangerous.

However, given that humanity looks very likely to remain Earthbound for the forseeable future, and has its own problems here to worry about, I think that deciding whether or not to attempt to make contact with intelligent alien life is a dilemma we're unlikely to face. Extraterrestrials are more likely to contact us than the reverse, so we probably won't have much say in the matter, and unless we solve some of our more pressing resource and pollution problems I don't know how much longer advanced human civilization is likely to be around to be contacted. Whatever the number - five hundred years, or a thousand - it's likely an eyeblink in the vast temporal expanses of the universe, even if it's quite a while longer when considered relative to typical human lifespans. I'm not going to spend a lot of time worrying about it.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

More Than A Chip Off The Old Block

Economist Bryan Caplan, contemplating the idea of raising a clone of himself as his son for a new book, concedes that the idea is highly appealing, while confessing that many people are likely to find that prospect icky. Count me among them. Even leaving aside the bioethical problems - as far as I know, we still haven't succeeded in producing clones without serious genetic flaws that leave them more susceptible to a variety of congenital defects and significantly shorten their lifespan - the prospect of raising a genetic copy of one's self is problematic. For one, I think it likely that the parent and clone, sharing as they would however much of personality is due to genetic factors, would be likely to clash for that reason. I've often had trouble getting along with my mother in my life, and more often than not, it's on account of our similarities, not our differences - a flaw you dislike in yourself is even harder to tolerate in another person. Secondly, I suspect that knowing that one's child was genetically identical to one's self would somewhat warp our both our natural instincts and our socially conditioned attitudes as parents. Evidence seems to suggest that to be psychologically healthy, children must establish a personal identity distinct from that of their parents as they grow, and sharing the exact same genes would make that more difficult. Everybody has at some point met a son who is under excessive parental pressure to follow in his father's footsteps, or a daughter who is expected to live up to her mother's legacy - it seems that one of the mistakes to which we are vulnerable as parents is viewing our children not as distinct individuals, but as extensions of ourselves. An identical genetic profile would only exacerbate this problem. How would the cloned child of, say, a brilliant scientist, handle the implicit pressure to become a brilliant scientist him- or herself, given that everyone - the child, the parent, society in general - would expect that outcome? If such a child failed to live up to his or her genetic potential (and that's hardly unlikely, success generally requiring a combination of talent, luck, hard work, and opportunity), how would s/he handle failure? Finally, there's this problematic sentence:

I'm confident that he'd be delighted, too, because I would love to be raised by
This gets right down the heart of a rather thorny philosophical issue - the nature of the self, and how we perceive the selves of others. If you're confident, as Caplan apparently is, that the self is genetically determined, then yes, you can project your own preferences onto a genetic copy of yourself. I am not at all confident of this, and frankly, I don't see any reason to be. If I were to clone myself, the clone would grow up in a different time, with entirely different formative experiences, and I think it's pretty likely he'd end up a different person than I am - just as identical twins, nature's clones, diverge in some ways when they are raised in different environments.

I've never met Caplan, and it feels unfairly judgmental to say this, but his preference for raising a genetic copy of himself, rather than a conventionally conceived child that's only partly him, and his confidence that this arrangement would be good for the child as well as for him, strike me as somewhat narcissistic. I've yet to have a child myself, so of course I can't say much about how the experience changes a person, as all my friends who do have children attest. But from where I sit, at least, it seems unfair to unduly burden one's child with one's own preconceptions and expectations, even when that child is not carrying one's exact genetic legacy.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Say Hello To The VAT

President Obama has stated that a European-style VAT tax is still an "option" for helping to close the budget deficit. That should be re-phrased. It's not an option - it's a necessity. There is simply no way to pay for a comprehensive personal-and-corporate welfare state of the sort this Administration has brought into being merely by taxing the hell out of people whose incomes are more than $250,000 a year. If Obama has realized that, bully for him, but it puts the lie to his campaign promise not to raise taxes on middle- and lower-income earners, who are more likely than the rich to feel the pinch when the prices of consumer goods begin to climb precipitously. The Senate is likely also correct in declaring that this tax, if enacted, will be a significant drag on consumer demand and hence on economic growth, but if they were concerned about that, they ought not to have voted for the stimulus bill, Obamacare, TARP, etc. The Democrats have enacted a lot of expensive legislation over the past two years - it's only fair that they be the ones forced to present the bill to the voters.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Outrunning Stereotypes

As Yahoo Sports columnist Michael Silver documents in this column, Toby Gerhart of Stanford, projected as a high pick in this weekend's NFL Draft, is fighting one of the most persistent and annoying stereotypes in American sports - the idea that white players can't excel at sporting endeavors that require a high degree of athleticism, such as being the featured running back for an NFL team. As far as racial implications go, this belief is doubly pernicious. For accomplished white players playing positions perceived as "black", it creates additional barriers to success by engendering skepticism among coaches and talent evaluators (and not just at the NFL level Silver documents - it wouldn't surprise me if one reason there aren't more Toby Gerharts is that promising white runners are often moved to other, more "white" positions by high school or college coaches). Worse, however, is the implication for black players - the idea that only blacks can effectively play positions that demand elite athleticism dovetails with old, racist stereotypes that while black athletes excel solely because of natural ability, their less-gifted white teammates must rely on "smarts", "savvy", or "dedication" to compete. Pretty much everyone who makes it to the NFL, white or black, is an elite athlete (though some more than others), and with the exception of truly rare genetic freaks, anyone who succeeds at that level has to be smart and dedicated as well. I remember Michael Jordan saying that one of the things he always resented about people talking about how great a natural athlete he was was that it slighted all the hard work and mental effort he put into mastering the game of basketball. Here's hoping that Gerhart succeeds as a white running back the same way a guy like Warren Moon succeeded as a cerebral black quarterback, and drives another stake into this rather annoying stereotype. And here's hoping that if he does so in a manner reminiscent of, say, Jerome Bettis, people will make that comparison rather than the more racially obvious John Riggins or Mike Alstott ones.

Sunday, April 18, 2010


An Australian publisher has had to recall an Italian cookbook containing a recipe for spelt tagliatelle with sardines and prosciutto that called for "freshly ground black people". Are Australia's Italian cuisine enthusiasts revealing their deep-seated racial prejudices, or is it just an unfortunate typo? You decide...

Thursday, April 15, 2010

The Supreme Court And The State Of Liberal Jurisprudence

In the wake of John Paul Stevens' announced retirement from the U.S. Supreme Court, Slate legal columnist Dahlia Lithwick has just written a new column lamenting the unfortunate plight of the liberal law student, who is doomed to watch the process to replace Stevens unfold knowing that whoever his appointed successor turns out to be, he or she will not be an unabashed progressive nor an unapologetic defender of "living constitutionalism". Lithwick argues that the right-wing equivalents of such candidates have no difficulty being appointed to the court under Republican administrations, and that Republicans in Congress and conservative institutions in the media like Fox News have effectively tilted the playing field to the right when it comes to judicial appointments.

Color me skeptical. The responsibility for appointing judges to the Federal Bench (including the Supreme Court) falls on the Senate, which, while it may be somewhat more conservative than the electorate as a whole, is an elected body which responds to political pressure from the voters. If someone like Goodwin Liu has difficulty getting confirmed for a Federal seat, and isn't on the SCOTUS short list, it's most likely because his views are sufficiently liberal that forty-one Senators feel uncomfortable enough with him that they either won't vote for him or won't cast a cloture vote to end a filibuster on his behalf. While it's obvious that he'd never get the vote of red state stalwarts like Jeff Sessions or Tom Coburn no matter what he did, those Senators aren't in-of-themselves a sufficient bloc to scotch a nomination - he could only fail to be confirmed if he were opposed by moderates like Olympia Snowe and Scott Brown as well. That kind of by definition puts him too far left of the political mainstream to be a viable candidate. The fact that left-wing law students don't have anyone on the court they can look up to is unfortunate for them, but it's not because conservatives have gamed the process. It's because liberals have failed to persuade sufficient numbers of voters of the correctness of their jurisprudential philosophy to shift the political mainstream to the left and bring about the election of a more liberal Senate.

As for Lithwick's contention that right-wing jurists do not face the same obstacles to confirmation, it's plain wrong. Just ask Robert Bork. Lithwick (and many other liberals) may think of Bush II appointees John Roberts and Samuel Alito as "far right", and perhaps by the standards of the readership of a left-leaning publication like Slate they are, but in the American mainstream they're moderate enough that they could win appointment. It's this disconnect from the real political mood of the country, rather than an outright slant to the facts, that is the real problem with the so-called "liberal media".

Monday, April 12, 2010

Quote Of The Day

Apropos of my earlier post on Greece and the idealism behind the euro, today's quote comes courtesy of H.L. Mencken (whom, I should mention, I appreciate more and more the older I get and the more of the political process I observe.):

An idealist is one who, on noticing that a rose smells better than a cabbage, concludes that it will also make better soup.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Greece And The Future Of Euro-Idealism

The Euro-zone countries have agreed on a low interest loan package to bail out Greece, which, at least for the time being, delays but not obviates the need for what is likely to be a nasty sociofinancial correction for the debt-ridden country. The problem, as Johnson and Boone point out in their article, is that this package doesn't solve the underlying problems that gave rise to Greece's current predicament. The country still has an unsustainable GDP-to-debt ratio, and is still hampered by a sputtering economy and massive government liabilities which appear politically impossible to reduce. Bailing them out sends a strong message to countries which are heading toward similarly dire financial straits (Portugal, Italy, etc.) that they needn't worry about getting their own fiscal houses in order. And while E.U. bureaucrats are apparently perfectly willing to order a transfusion to keep the current euro zone intact and send the bill to taxpayers in Germany and other strong northern European economies, it appears that the taxpayers themselves are none-too-pleased about it. Take these three realities together and the future of the monetary union appears rocky at best. How long can it endure while citizens in Europe's wealthiest countries are made to toil to subsidize the indolence and profligacy of their neighbors?

Truthfully, the euro always made more sense as a Pan-European ideal than it did as an economic policy. Bad things tend to happen when you de-couple the monetary situation of a country from intrinsic economic development and render it instead dependent on foreign influences over which it has no control, as the history of interwar Germany attests. That situation was somewhat different, and I'm not saying that modern Germany is endanger of reverting to fascism because its citizens resent footing the bill for Greeks who want to retire and start drawing overgenerous government pensions at fifty. But I do think we're likely to see a decline in pro-E.U. feeling, and the idealism that gives rise to it. Conversely, I expect that nationalist and isolationist sentiment in Europe, which despite a few upticks has for the most part been in steady decline since the end of the second World War, is likely to begin to rise again, and the fact that robust economic powers like Germany are monetarily lashed together with economic basket cases like Greece is going to make that problem worse, not better.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Why I Hate The Masters

I've never been a big fan of professional golf, and I rarely if ever pay attention to the PGA Tour. For the most part, my attitude toward the sport is a question of exquisite indifference, but there is one part of it that I actively dislike - The Masters tournament, and the venue that hosts it every year, Augusta National Golf Club. Why? Because, in the face of the withering and thoroughly justifiable criticism golf has received over the years as a patrician endeavor for rich, well-connected white men, Augusta National not only continues to embrace the problematic values of the sport's past but, without any apparent irony, declares the tournament it hosts "a tradition unlike any other". Much as I detest misogyny and elitism, I don't really have a problem with a private golf club deciding it doesn't want to admit women, or "riffraff", or whatever - but I can't abide one that does so, while at the same time pompously declaring itself a national sporting treasure and insisting that visitors tread its course as if it were sacred ground. Philadelphia Inquirer sports columnist John Gonzalez pretty much nails the prevailing attitude at Augusta National in this column (I particularly enjoyed the underwhelmed reaction of the little boy, cutting through the bullshit and mutual self-delusion of adults as only one with a child's eyes can). We really are talking about grown men whacking around little white balls with metal clubs here - an activity that, viewed by someone from a culture to which golf was unknown, would appear an absurd waste of time and resource. To enjoy it, or even to celebrate it, is one thing, and I don't begrudge that to golf fans - but to treat it with the reverence of a papal procession is ridiculous. The English say that soccer is a gentleman's game played by thugs, whilst rugby is a thug's game played by gentlemen. Golf, at least as played at Augusta, is a weekender's game played by pretentious twits.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Reflecting On The End Of An Era

Among the events that transpired while I was off traipsing around Japan was the trade that sent Donovan McNabb from the Eagles to the Redskins. As an Eagles fan, I was rattled by the news even though the team had been shopping McNabb for weeks and it hardly came as a surprise. This is partially because I will no longer be able to root for one of my favorite Eagles players of all time, but even moreso because it has caused me to reflect on just how quickly time and opportunity can slip away.

McNabb more than any other player has defined the Eagles over the past decade, and like many sports fans who devote entirely too much time to their favorite team, I've found that the Eagles' fortunes have often influenced my own moods and habits, particularly in the autumn when there's a game every Sunday to set either a good or a bad tone for the remainder of the week. I remember with crystalline clarity the day on which he first became an Eagle - I was a high-school senior making visits to prospective college choices, and on the weekend of the 1999 draft I was visiting Colgate University in upstate New York, along with my mother. I remember sneaking out of the hotel at which we were staying on a rainy Sunday morning to tune the radio in her battered gray Subaru to a sports station, in order who to find out who the Eagles (who had the second pick, after the expansion Browns, by dint of having been the league's worst team the year prior) had picked. I wasn't surprised when I heard the news (it had been reported as nearly a fait accompli prior to the draft), nor as disappointed as many of my fellow fans, who wanted Texas RB Ricky Williams - mostly I was just hopeful, and a bit ashamed that a cohort of sports-radio-nitwit Eagles fans had embarrassed themselves by booing the pick. When he didn't start to begin the season, fans were almost as upset, but when he finally did take the reins in the season's tenth game, we began to see why the team had thought so highly of him.

Over the years, we watched McNabb mature from a dazzlingly talented but unpolished young phenomenon into a solid veteran quarterback without ever quite achieving the legendary status that at times seemed within his reach. From the beginning, he was a dangerous scrambler and improviser, with a stubborn, strong-legged strength that made him very difficult to bring down and deceptive speed that made him a threat to go forty yards with the ball under his arm any time he decided to tuck it down and run with it, but unlike most quarterbacks with those sorts of athletic gifts, he also appeared to have everything it took to succeed as a passer. In his first few seasons, I thought he was going to be the next Steve Young, and in 2004, his best season, it looked like he might have reached that level. Sadly, it didn't turn out that way, as injuries, inconsistency, and off-the-field controversy (some legitimate, but most contrived or blown out of proportion by an agenda-driven media) continued to dog him and he never really quite put it all together the same way again. As everyone knows, he never won the Super Bowl, and only sniffed it once, briefly, in 2008 after his one trip to it in that one great season. What portion of this was bad luck, and what portion can be laid at the feet of either McNabb or the Eagles' front office, is one of the great unanswered questions about his time as an Eagle.

Despite the fact that he never won it all as a member of the Eagles, and displayed a frustrating and baffling tendency to slip into deep funks at times, I always enjoyed rooting for McNabb in a personal way that I rarely enjoy rooting for professional athletes. He played hard and courageously (once famously throwing four touchdown passes on an ankle, it was discovered after the game, had been broken in the second quarter), and handled with near-consummate class and professionalism a succession of overblown "crises" that began with his booing on draft day and continued through his run-ins with Rush Limbaugh, the NAACP, and Terrell Owens. He never carped or criticized his teammates publicly, even when he had good reason to. And, unlike many high-profile athletes, he came across as genuine in his interactions with fans and media, without being a jackass. Professional athletes often seem to adopt as their public face either the self-promoting narcissism of an Owens or the glossy, patently artificial sheen of a Michael Jordan or Tiger Woods, but McNabb was neither of those - I honestly got the feeling that the guy we saw in interviews - earnest, optimistic, generally mature and even-keeled but occasionally goofy or irritable - was the real guy. If I met T.O. or Michael Vick in real life, I very much suspect I wouldn't like them much as people, but Donovan always came across as the kind of guy I could get along with.

Now, he's gone, and his era as the Eagles' starting quarterback - an era that spanned the entire decade and more from 1999-2010, during which I started and completed college, moved around relentlessly (to two different countries nonetheless), changed jobs, apartments, social circles, and girlfriends numerous times each, and progressed from a high school kid to (possibly, finally, belatedly) a real adult, with adult worries and concerns and responsibilities - is over. He'd been around so long, and my life has changed so much in the time since he'd been around, that on some level it felt like he was a Philadelphia institution that would endure forever, the way Fairmount Park or the Art Museum or traffic on I-95 seem they will. Nothing, of course, is forever, and Donovan McNabb has now become the latest piece of my young adulthood to depart. I wish him all the best with the Redskins (except when they play the Eagles), I'll always remember the highlights of his tenure with the Eagles fondly, and I am excited to see his promising successor, Kevin Kolb, take the field next year. None of that lessens the sadness of seeing a good thing end, however.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Religious Freedom In Quebec

The Premier of the province of Quebec, Jean Charest, has proposed sweeping legislation that would ban Muslim women from giving or receiving public services (which in Canada would include things like visiting the doctor or attending university classes) if they are wearing veils. I find the spread of French-style religious discrimination to North American shores disturbing. Canada has always concerned itself somewhat less with freedom of expression than the United States (see its speech codes, of which Ann Coulter recently ran afoul), but like the U.S., it is a multicultural nation founded by, and populated by the descendants of, immigrants from a large number of countries, not the ancestral homeland of a particular ethnicity like so many of the nations of Europe. Indeed, many of the Canadians I've met in my travels are proud of their nation's multicultural heritage. As such, I fail to see how any government there has a legitimate interest in forcing immigrant women to assimilate themselves against their will to Canadian cultural norms in the sphere of personal dress. A free, pluralistic society may have cause to intervene in the cultural practices of an immigrant community when those practices are materially and patently harmful to the rights of individuals (e.g., female genital mutilation, blood feuds, etc.) The veil, as distasteful as I find it as a westerner, is just a piece of clothing, and one that Muslim women in North America wear by choice, if they choose to wear it at all. It does not remotely rise to those standards, and it is hard for me not to believe that discomfort with Islam and the cultural associations of the Muslim world in general do not have something to do with legislation like this.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Back To Work

I'm back from vacation, somewhat less rested than usual as I spent most of my time away from work escorting my friends Tom and Irene on an energetic tour of several of Japan's main sites, but ready to start blogging again. As soon as I've gotten some rest, that is...