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Saturday
Nov142009

Language of War

The rhetoric of war is one way that nationalism tries to make support for war equivalent to patriotism.Soldiers are referred to as "serving their country" or "defending our freedom". But at least for the last half century this has not been true. Soldiers have served the foreign policy of various administrations, but invasions of Vietnam, Grenada, Panama,Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and less visible actions in Iran and Columbia have in no way "served our country".

When soldiers are killed they are referred to as "sacrificing their lives". They certainly risked their lives, but only suicide bombers sacrifice their lives. When soldiers die, this is not success but failure: they are there not to die but to kill.

If indeed the Fort Hood shooting was a  deliberate jihadist act, it was an attack on enemy troops, not terrorism. Or are drone attacks on enemy fighters and civilians terrorism? Or is terrorism a question of who does it?

Wednesday
Oct282009

Schmalhausen's Law

Ivan Ivanovich Schmalhausen was a Soviet evolutionary biologist working at the Academy of Sciences in Minsk. In the 1940's his book "Factors of Evolution" appeared and was denounced by T.D. Lysenko, whose neo-Lamarckian theories of genetics were then on the ascendancy. At the close of the 1948 Congress of the Timiryazev Academy of Agricultural Science it was revealed that Stalin had endorsed Lysenko's report to the Congress in which it was affirmed that the environment can alter the hereditary makeup of organisms in a directed way by altering their development. Schmalhausen was one of the few who affirmed his opposition to Lysenko and spent the rest of his life in his laboratory studying fish evolution and morphology.

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Wednesday
Oct282009

Sorpresas, Errores, y Dudas

En la decada de los 1930, el marxista británico J.D. Bernal llamó por la creación de una ciencia de la ciencia, virando todos los métodos cientificos hacia la propia ciencia para que podemos determinar concientemente cómo desarrollar la ciencia y crear su agenda...La sorpresa es inevitable en la ciencia porque estudiamos lo desconocido como si fuera lo conocido. Lo desconocido sí se parece mucho a lo conocido, de modo que la ciencia es posible. Pero tambien difiere a lo conocido de modo que la ciencia es necesaria y el sentido comun no basta. Durante mi vida la ciencia ha visto muchas sopresas...

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Wednesday
Oct282009

One Foot In, One Foot Out

*Most of us entered public health for a mixture of reasons: the urgency to alleviate the suffering in the world combined with an intellectual concern for the scientific problems of infectious and chronic disease, poverty and inequality, and the organization of health service. We are professionals. But unlike other professionals we cannot maintain a detached neutrality...*We are also workers. We are hired to create and apply knowledge within the constraints set by our employers. But we are a special kind of worker in that our labor is not completely alienated from us: we are really concerned with the product of our labor, with what it does in the world, unlike the employees in an ammunitions factory who do not seek out that job for the joy of helping to kill people...We are activists, critical of the way society is run and we work to change policies in many areas of life. But our activism is not limited to the correction of today's abuses. We also stand back from the immediate to theorize, analyze, contemplate, ask how our present struggles contribute to or detract from the long haul.

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Wednesday
Oct282009

“Cuba's Accidental Revolution”

The transition toward a sustainable agriculture in Cuba was no accidental revolution but the result of struggle between different views of development within the process of inventing the appropriate relation between an evolving socialist society and the rest of nature. The groundwork was laid in the 1960's and 1970's when labor law protected agriculture workers from pesticide poisoning by regular screening, micropresas were dug to make water available, and Fidel was circulating Rachel Carson's “The Silent Spring” among his friends. The Instituto Nacional de Sanidad Vegetal was experimenting with polyculture in their field plots in Guines de Melena, the Institute for Fundamental Research in Tropical Agriculture was examining the potential of ants as biological control agents, researchers at the Institute for Citrus Research were discussing integrated ecological agriculture. The Voisin system of rotational grazing was being introduced into dairying. In the 1970's, Cuban ecology was emerging fro the more classical colonial descriptive botany and zoology. A Communist Party nucleo of museum workers prepared its case for an ecological approach to development against the common dismissal of ecology as sentimental nostalgia for a golden age that never really existed.

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