Never too late to change bad traditions

7 04 2008

NewsI don’t go to grocery stores regularly, so it was somewhat surprising when I approached the checkout line and saw television screens at every lane for people to watch. The only thing that surprised me more was that the lady in front of me was carrying totes to put her groceries in instead of disposable bags. It’s like the most obvious way to save resources that the U.S. hasn’t promoted for decades.

plastic bag

Finally, things are about to change. Countries across the world are banning or taxing the use of plastic bags, including Italy, Belgium, Germany, Switzerland, South Africa, and China beginning in June. Why customers have become so attached to their wasteful plastic bags, I’ll never know. Personally, I feel pretty bad any time I stuff a pile of them into a trash can. I think to myself, there has to be a way this could have been avoided. Finally, someone’s getting something right.

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Portuguese authorities lengthen cruise

3 04 2008

NewsThe Portuguese government interfered with the vacations of many as it detained the cruise ship Van Gogh in the Madeira Islands. The cruise was meant to be 93 days long, but unfortunately no one knows how long dealing with the legal troubles will take. Passengers were allowed to leave if they wished, but the majority have decided to stay and wait for the dispute to resolve.

Van Gogh

Many of the passengers are now wondering how they got into this mess. After handing out tens of thousands of dollars, how can they be betrayed by the ship’s owners? The entire dispute, after all, is between the owners of a Dutch company called Club Cruise and another called Travelscope. Unfortunately, the passengers simply got caught in the middle. Why Travelscope decided to catch the cruise ship during mid-cruise instead of waiting until after is anybody’s guess. Perhaps they thought it would be amusing to ruin the vacations of hundreds of people.

It pains me to think of anyone who might have to give the bad news: “Honey, our vacation is going to last longer than we expected. Sorry.”





Green fuel hypocrisy

12 03 2008

NewsFor years biofuel has been praised as an alternative fuel source to fossil fuels that is more readily renewable. It has also been key in efforts to reduce greenhouse gas production and potentially reverse production. However, all is not as it seems.

The use of biofuels is becoming increasingly controversial as the many side effects begin to show themselves. A majority of biofuels produced in the U.S. use crops like corn and rapeseed, which are of course grown on farms. Multiple reports show that the energy and resources used to prepare the land, grow the crops, gather them, then refine them in to fuels actually creates more pollution than is reduced by the biofuels created from the crops. In fact, some findings hint that, though biofuels may not not produce as many carbon emissions as fossil fuels, they often create more nitrous oxides, which are equally responsible for greenhouse gases.

They are also not nearly as cost effective, although that should be pretty obvious. We have to produce these ourselves, whereas fossil fuels are just waiting there underground for us to take. Our economy is already suffering (according to those who decide if the economy is suffering or not), so it’s debatable whether we should be venturing into unknown territory without first researching the multitude of consequences.

biofuel

More recently, it has been discovered that refinery plants often release oil byproducts into nearby waterways. Though the oil (in the form of glycerin) is labeled as “non-toxic,” the way it interacts with rivers and streams depletes the oxygen available to water life and wrecks the entire environment as a result. At least one endangered species (pocketbook mussels) has become extinct due to glycerin dumping by biodiesel plants.

Last but certainly not least, farms provide food for us to eat. Increasing numbers of them are disappearing as America becomes more urbanized, and more food products are being imported from other countries. As a result, food prices are rising constantly, and American deficits are ever-increasing. Is it really worth it to start a project like this that probably can’t be sustained for decades to come.

It is often called green fuel, labeled with the hype of the go-green revolution and the environmental awareness that’s all the rage right now. Perhaps the enthusiasm to encourage change and making a difference is blinding those who should be looking deeper beneath the surface to truly understand the consequences of their actions.

I am not suggesting that other better biofuels could or should not be researched. There is currently interest in algaculture, the farming of algae for use as biofuel. Unlike present fuel sources, algae grows quickly, cheaply and with little human interference. The goal right now is to be able to grow it efficiently and to be able to tap into its energy reserves, which is much more difficult than with current fuel sources. Eleven U.S. companies currently use algae in the creation of biofuels.





You can’t handle the truth

1 03 2008

NewsRecently, the Belgian author, Misha Defonseca, admitted that her best-selling auto-biographical work, Misha: A Memoire of the Holocaust Years, is actually not auto-biographical at all. The story tells of her orphanhood during World War II, her adoption by a pack of wolves, and her slaying of a Nazi soldier in self defense. Many people had questioned the validity of the tale long before now, but anyone who had seen her in person and heard the tale as she told couldn’t do anything but believe.

Misha

“This story is mine. It is not actually reality, but my reality, my way of surviving,” she has said. It is true that her parents will taken and killed by Nazis when she was a young child. She was forced to live with her adoptive uncle and grandfather, who treated her as the daughter of traitors. Her memoire is meant to recount her real story, perhaps in a metaphorical manner. “There were moments when I found it difficult to differentiate between what was real and what was part of my imagination.”

Her story reminds me of the acclaimed fantasy movie, Pan’s Labyrinth, about a mistreated girl in war-ravaged Spain escaping via her own imagination.

Personally, I think more people should write fictional works under the guise that they are non-fiction. For many people, this book was inspirational, poignant, and captivating. Why would we want to rob people of those? The only failing here was letting the guise fall. Misha had a rare chance to completely change the reality in which we all live. She had the power to change history as we know it and get away with it, for the good of all.

I truly believe that her determination to make this book auto-biographical deserves commendation. The dedication it must have taken to live your life as you wish it had been is unbelievable.

Unfortunately, now the only word that will continue to be used with this book is “fake.” I linked to the book on Amazon.com earlier in the post. Notice the first review reads “Too bad it’s not true,” and gives one star out of five. That is probably the worst reason to dislike a book I have heard in my entire life. Last time I checked, fictional does not equal worthless. Furthermore, the book can still be read as somewhat metaphorical non-fiction, although clearly most people can’t handle that. So the author made a mistake. Why can’t it be seen as a good mistake?

The most important thing is that the story comes from the author’s heart. Why can’t people find value in that?





The downfall of social networking

24 02 2008

FeaturesWhen I first joined Facebook, it was being hailed as the “anti-MySpace,” a social networking site without all the controversy, gaudiness, and induced obsession. At the time, the site had only just been opened to people other than college students, and the administrators were wary of keeping people in their respective realms. The site was meant to connect people within individual schools and businesses easily and securely. Then something happened.

People migrated en masse to Facebook from other websites. These same people cried that, while Facebook was sleeker and easier to use, it was too simple and boring. They wanted more interaction, more of a reason to spend hours on a site that wasn’t created with the purpose of entertaining. As a result, applications and widgets were added. Voila, Facebook became MySpace 2.0.

facebook

How did Facebook go so quickly from being the greatest new site on the web, the anti-MySpace, to a MySpace equivalent? The greatest irony of all lies in the article itself, which boasts of millions of dollars being invested in the many new features of the site. The features in question, though, are the destroyers of the sleek and secure design Facebook once had. Suddenly hundreds of outside businesses have access to millions of people via Facebook. Every application on the site asks to access your profile information before you can use it. That in itself should be a hint that everything is not quite as it seems. Advertisements now appear literally everywhere.

Even worse, Facebook is now getting the negative vibe previously only associated with MySpace. Millions of users in the U.K. have fled the site after a rash of criminal trials used Facebook profile items as courtroom evidence. People had accepted that MySpace was open to the public, but Facebook was supposed to be the more private of the two, only for the your own eyes and the eyes of those you allowed access to your profile. Instead, it turns out Facebook is just another risky, potentially life-changing network.

Big news right now is the Moroccan Fouad Mourtada facing three years in prison for creating a profile of the younger brother of the Moroccan king. Creating profiles of stars and celebrities is already a common practice around the world. As a result, prominent Moroccan bloggers are showing solidarity by posting the following text on the blogs:

Today, Tuesday, February 19, is the fourteenth day of Fouad Mourtada’s imprisonment. He committed the error, but not the crime, of creating a Facebook account in the name of Prince Moulay Rachid. This account contained no insults against the Prince nor was it the instrument of any swindling attempts. His name was immediately given wide publicity by the authorities, in breach of the presumption of innocence he’s supposed to enjoy, and he alleges having been beaten and mishandled during his arrest. He initially had trouble finding a lawyer willing to defend him. The trial, due to begin on February 15, has been postponed to February 22, while his habeas corpus application has been rejected.

(…)

For this reason, this blog will be on strike on Tuesday, 19 February as a gesture of solidarity with Fouad Mourtada and the other prisoners of opinion currently jailed in Morocco.





No human trait deserves less tolerance in everyday life than intolerance

13 02 2008

FeaturesTwo Tunisians and a Dane have been arrested in a plot to kill Kurt Westergaard, one of several creators of the widely controversial cartoons featuring depictions of the Prophet Muhammad. This is the second time Danish investigators have foiled a “terrorist” plot since the initial release of the cartoons in 2005. Kurt Westergaard is 73 years old.

There are clearly differing opinions on the depiction of Muhammad. The controversy is based on several writings in Muslim texts, which warn against idolatry. This obviously isn’t a case of religious depiction for worship, however. No devout Muslim would worship a cartoon depicting Muhammad with a bomb strapped to his head. The majority of Muslims tolerate depictions of Muhammad as long as they are meant specifically to honor Muhammad and do not claim to recreate his actual appearance.

This is the cause of the controversy – the cartoonists doing the exact opposite of honoring: dishonoring. (Because I’m just on a roll with the opposites)

Certain Christian sects have similar traditions of not depicting religious figures to avoid idolatry. However, we have not heard outcries from them due to either the widespread disrespect of the image of Christ or the worship of his image rather than his self. Either they have simply given up hope that religious idolatry could be stopped worldwide, or they have learned of something called cultural and religious tolerance. It is fair for Muslims to call the rest of the world out on an issue of disrespect. However, there is a point at which it becomes extreme. The fervor surrounding the release of the cartoons would have suggested a prophet had been assassinated, not simply drawn.

Muslims around the world dislike the fact that the words “terrorism” and “Muslim extremists” are used interchangeably and rightfully so. Only a fraction of terrorists are Muslim, just as a fraction of terrorists are Christians, cultists, atheists, and so on. However, in order for the rest of the world to lose the connotation, many Muslims need to make an effort at tolerance. Islam has not taken control of the entire world yet. One cannot control the path that a man’s pencil takes on paper halfway around the world. The man was 73 years old. If the Muslim texts are literally correct, he will rot in Hell. But why take the time to try and put him there yourself, when all you’ll be doing is adding another blemish to Islam’s image as a religion of extremists?

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Protests in Britain after the initial release of the controversial pictures





Happy Safer Internet Day!

12 02 2008

HolidaysToday is the fifth annual Safer Internet Day across Europe. Public events and school programs took place across the continent warning both children and parents of the many dangers on the internet. A large part of the programs warned about virtual friends and online acquaintances who may not always be who they pretend to be. Unfortunately, they all fail to recognize the biggest danger of the internet: the internet itself.

The internet is known far and wide as a killer of at least three South Koreans who remained online until their deaths, a stealer of time and money, and an unequal replacement for live social interaction. I thought it was fairly obvious that there are bad people in the world. I also thought it was fairly well-known that there are bad people on the internet. A government shouldn’t have to have a day dedicated to encouraging parents to control their children. If the parents wanted all the information they could have… well… just looked it up on the internet. What European continent (because Americans aren’t involved in this) needs to understand more is the negative effect the internet can have on the population as a whole. After all, governments should be focused more on the whole than the individual. It’s up to the individual to realize that a stranger on the internet isn’t any different than a stranger in the real world, unless of course the stranger on the internet is controlled by a computer, in which case the individual needs to learn to differentiate between reality and fantasy.