Hang up and drive and other myths

Posted in Liberty at 15:53 by RjZ

Most likely you’ve seen the bumper stickers: “Hang up and drive!” It’s such a common sentiment that several states (and nations) have laws banning individuals from operating a cellphone while driving. Typical nanny-state attitude; control what people do and they won’t hurt themselves. It’s also entirely inconsistent. We don’t ban smoking in cars, even though a dropped cigarette is an accident waiting to happen. We don’t ban radios or iPods although fiddling with them has gotten me into some close calls (and I am sure I am not alone). We don’t ban screaming children in the back seat or puppies in the front.

Worse still, while many think cellphones contribute to accidents, new evidence doesn’t bear this out. According to the New York Times, a University of Berkeley study shows no increase in accidents in spite of the great increase in cell phone use.

I saw another bumper sticker once: “I drive like you do.” We all make mistakes out there. It’s your responsibility to drive carefully and pay attention to those who are not. Let’s hope everyone else does when you’re the one not paying attention.

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Your history or mine?

Posted in Society at 11:21 by RjZ

Intended for publication 10 August, 2007. Sorry for the delay.

History isn’t consistent. It shouldn’t be a surprise that what we take as an accounting of what happened is strongly colored by our culture and not a little bit by what we want to hear. Yesterday (9 August, 2007), NPR had a story about Rudi Bohlmann. Mr. Bohlmann was on one of the very first ships to sail to Nagasaki after the second atomic bomb attack. In NPR’s story he describes the stench and destruction in visceral detail. At the end of the story, reporter Curt Nickisch, says that Mr. Bohlmann remembers the bombing as “above all, the end of the war. It meant that he could return to the family farm.”

And that’s just how it was taught to me too. The United States dropped two atomic bombs on Japan, starting the atomic age, and killing several hundreds of thousands of people, but they did so to end the war. It was a horrible thing, of course, but at least it ended the war. The United States made the courageous decision to execute such a horrendous act in an effort to spare lives. That’s how I remember learning about the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and that’s how I’ve heard from others too.

Thing is, that’s not what people around the world learned about it. While generations of U.S. Americans imagined pained decisions and proud patriots doing what they have to do to save people everywhere, Soviet citizens, for example, felt that they had already forced the end of World War II by invading Japan and that the U.S. was sending a clear message about the power they possessed. My colleagues in Germany shared a similar view and would occasionally mention that it was ‘typical’ of Americans to flex their muscles even without justification.

Then-General Dwight D. Eisenhower wrote of his misgivings about dropping the bombs “Japan was already defeated and that dropping the bomb was completely unnecessary, and secondly because I thought that our country should avoid shocking world opinion by the use of a weapon whose employment was, I thought, no longer mandatory as a measure to save American lives.” General Douglas MacArthur joined Eisenhower. Pacific Fleet Commander Chester Nimitz declared the “atomic bomb played no decisive part, from a purely military view, in the defeat of Japan.”

I can’t remember when I first discovered this other way of seeing the bombings, but I was surprised to learn that we might not be heroes engaged in the necessary evil of dropping the bomb. I won’t suggest schools must ensure history is strictly politically correct or that the lofty goal of reporting it without bias is even a very likely end. Indeed, whether Hiroshima and Nagasaki we’re actually justified is still debated. Perhaps the best thing to notice is simply the very fact that there are quite possibly more than a couple of interpretations of the ‘facts’ we’re presented in school or even in the news.

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Experience finally matters?

Posted in at 7:43 by RjZ

I don’t know much about Barack Obama. About all anyone hears though are questions and doubts about his experience. Just for example here, here,here, and here. Many of editorials defend him, and others attack, but for the headline reading public, we’re given the same question over and over again.

Experience is hardly a huge asset when you consider that only two U.S. senators have ever been elected president without stopping off as Vice President. Their convoluted records make them nearly unelectable by the general populace. Meanwhile, I don’t remember questions about the experience of governors Carter, Reagan and George W. Bush dogging their campaigns.

One could argue that experience, including his time as U.S. senator will be of great help to Obama and that he might actually have learned something about foreign policy while living abroad (Indonesia) that George W. wasn’t able to pick up from his brief travels outside of U.S. borders (a whole four countries, including travel with his father in 1975). Actually, I am not sure experience in the U.S. government is an advantage or an obstacle to better governance, but I would love to know why it matters so much for Obama and clearly didn’t for George. Is it because we’ve finally seen just what a mess can be made by someone who really doesn’t have any experience?

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