Sunday, October 23, 2005

from the nytimes:
http://www.nytimes.com/2005/10/11/opinion/11small.html?th&emc=th

Dare to Bare

By MEREDITH F. SMALL
Published: October 11, 2005

"The diaper-free-by-three movement - and the three here
is three weeks, not three years - claims that babies need never wear
diapers again.

According to the Web site diaperfreebaby.org, diaper liberation comes
as caretakers develop an "elimination communication" with their
infants. "Elimination communication" is a fancy term for "paying
attention," in the same way we notice other stuff babies communicate
like hunger, tiredness or a desire to be picked up.

In this case, parents watch for the kind of fussiness, squirming and
funny faces that come before a baby urinates or has a bowel movement.
Caretakers should also pay attention to any daily routines that the
baby follows, like urinating after feedings or when waking up. At that
point, it's a simple matter of holding the baby on the pot, and pretty
soon he or she connects the toilet with its function, and the pattern
is set.

As an anthropologist, I know that this idea is nothing new. Most
babies and toddlers around the world, and throughout human history,
have never worn diapers. For instance, in places like China, India and
Kenya, children wear split pants or run around naked from the waist
down. When it's clear that they have to go, they can squat or be held
over the right hole in a matter of seconds.

Parents and caretakers in these cultures see diapers as not the best,
but the worst alternative. Why bind bulky cloth around a small child?
Why use a disposable diaper that keeps buckets of urine next to tender
skin?

The trick is that infants in these cultures are always physically
entwined with a parent or someone else, and "elimination
communication" is the norm. With bare bottoms, they ride on the hip or
back and it's easy to feel when they need to go. The result is no
diaper rash, no washing cloth diapers, no clogging the landfill with
disposables, no frustrating struggle in the bathroom with a furious
2-year-old.

I am ashamed to admit that, even though I've studied how babies are
cared for all over the world, it never occurred to me to focus on how
children in other cultures use the potty, or not. I certainly borrowed
all the other kinds of child-rearing behaviors that I admired from
other cultures like carrying my daughter all the time, co-sleeping and
feeding her on demand. And I was against the Western ideology of
making my child independent and self-reliant. I rejected the crib,
stroller and jump seat, all devices intended to teach babies to be on
their own. Instead I embraced the ideology of non-Western cultures and
opted for the closest kind of attachment I could get.

So why didn't I use that entwinement to free us both from diapers?

Because child-rearing traditions are culturally entrenched. The use of
diapers in particular is so engrained in Western culture that it's
almost impossible to imagine life without them.

Thanks to Freud, we also see the bathroom as a snake pit of
psychological danger, and believe that the only way to prevent
scarring a child for life is to let him or her come to the toilet in
his or her own time, assuming there will be a diaper pinned on for as
long as it takes. (I'm going to take a wild guess and say that the 75
countries that practice diaper-free training do not have a
disproportionately high number of obsessive-compulsive adults. Of
course, adults who were raised diaper-free may have other issues to
deal with, like a strange sensation whenever anyone makes a hissing
sound or the knowledge that at 7 months, a photo of you sitting on the
toilet appeared on the front page of this newspaper.)

We are also a bathroom-oriented culture. American houses these days
usually have several bathrooms, sometimes one for each bedroom, or
each person. And they are often color-coordinated, lavishly decorated
shrines to washing up and eliminating waste where everyone, even
children, would like to spend a lot of time.
...
"

Meredith F. Small, a professor of anthropology at Cornell University,
is the author of "Our Babies, Ourselves: How Biology and Culture Shape
the Way We Parent."
From the NYTimes, on international regulations of the Internet, and its repercussions:

Disingenuously calling for a "model of cooperation" in Internet governance in advance of the World Summit on the Information Society to be held in Tunisia in November, the European commissioner for information society and media is opening the door to Internet regulation while saying that "we have no intention to regulate the Internet."

This maneuver amounts to a call for the United States to depend on the kindness of strangers in maintaining basic infrastructure that underpins our national security and economy. Moreover, it threatens to whittle away the freedom of the Internet with a series of seemingly minor and well-intentioned compromises that begin with something that sounds as reasonable as a "model of cooperation."

Any society needs certain basics to enable it to function. If the United States had not created a postal service and post roads, for example, national commerce could not have developed. Airports and air routes, railways and highways are just modern-day post roads. The Internet is one more step in this evolution. It provides new tools for communication (supplementing regular mail with e-mail), buying and selling goods (electronic retailing with goods delivered by public and private mail services), financial transactions, and much more.

The Internet has become an integral part of the global economy, in large part because the United States has also provided the genius of our technology to other societies that use it to benefit themselves, including in doing business and competing with the United States. So it was only a matter of time before foreign powers began asking who should control the electronic superhighway on which they now rely for their national well-being, something that America has built, paid for and maintained.

Their eyes have turned to a California-based nonprofit organization created by the Commerce Department in 1998, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, that administers and keeps track of all Web addresses worldwide. Icann, as it is called, operates largely free from government interference - the Commerce Department has never overruled an Icann decision, believing that government should not become involved in Internet governance. And local authorities in other countries are free to set policy for their country-specific extensions (.ca for Canada, .de for Germany, etc.). But only Icann ultimately has the authority to allow a site onto the Net, or not, by virtue of its role of maintaining a master list of domain names. Imagine how much certain governments would covet such power.

American values caused the Internet to emerge and evolve as a medium of freedom. While there is a standard of transcendent decency that can and should regulate Internet communication in such matters as child pornography, there are standards of national self-interest that vary from country to country. China sees the Internet as part of its internal infrastructure and seeks to govern it as such, monitoring and censoring communications that include words like "liberty," "Tiananmen Square" or "Falun Gong," and going after dissidents who use the Internet.

Internationalizing control of a medium now regulated with a loose hand by a nation committed to maximizing freedom would inevitably create more of an opening for countries like China - a strong proponent of imposing some international supervision of Icann - to exert more pressure on internet service providers. More broadly, international regulation could enable like-minded governments to work in concert to deem certain thoughts impermissible online. It is all too possible that minority political or religious expressions would be widely repressed under a doctrine of the greater good imposed by a collective of governments claiming to know what's best, limiting what may be expressed online to whatever, say, the United Nations General Assembly, the European Union, or the Arab League, might deem reasonable.

Any society may, of course, choose to create its own balkanized domestic version of the Internet, an Intranet within its borders that it regulates as it pleases. It could then still do within its borders many of the things done by the Internet, like Brazil's online tax collection system, but would not enjoy the online privilege of worldwide interaction.

The Internet is an attractive commercial infrastructure for all societies, even oppressive ones. But the string attached to its creation by America is that it must be used within a context of freedom, both economic and political. That is a democratic value that we should not be shy about exporting. Accepting that commitment to online freedom should be the price that foreign governments must pay for the blessing of the Internet in their national economic lives.

Mark A. Shiffrin, a lawyer, is aformer Connecticut state consumer protection commissioner. Avi Silberschatz is a professor of computer science at Yale.
From a brilliant editorial in the Times this weekend:

Blueprints and Red Faces at Ground Zero - New York Times: "During his 18-year campaign to turn Albany into a Bras´┐Żlia-on-the-Hudson as some sort of bereavement therapy for his dashed White House ambitions, Rockefeller spent hour after hour looking in awed wonder at renderings of a city of dazzling white marble towers rising from the ruins of some 2,000 perfectly good homes he had ordered torn down.

In late 1962, hours before Rockefeller was to finally unveil to the press the big model of his project (and it was as much his creation as that of his court architect, Wallace Harrison) he was observed frantically trying to remove the tiny pieces of affordable housing at the margins of the mock-up, for fear it would spoil the look of his utopia.

Mr. Pataki made his most recent mark on ground zero because he objected to what the Freedom Center might or might not contain, not because he was displeased with the design of the Norwegian architecture firm Snohetta. Nonetheless, he swept the project off the board with just as regal a gesture as Rockefeller's.

Neither of these examples of the imperial uses of architectural patronage, it seems, has been lost on Mayor Michael Bloomberg. After being criticized for taking his eye off the ball when Goldman Sachs came close to quitting Lower Manhattan, Mr. Bloomberg has now signaled that he plans to take a much more visible role in shaping New York.

Messrs. Pataki and Bloomberg may or may not know it, but they are following a trail that takes them right back to the pyramids, not to mention mad King Ludwig of Bavaria, who bankrupted his country building ever more elaborate palaces, and Imelda Marcos, whose passion for monumental architecture was vastly more expensive than her better-known enthusiasm for footwear.

Clearly, there is a psychological parallel between making a mark on the landscape and the exercise of political power. Both depend on the imposition of will. And among the dictatorial, who generally regard the individual as being of little account, there is an inherent appeal in seeing one's worldview confirmed by reducing entire cities to the scale of a doll's house in an architectural model.

Saddam Hussein, following in the footsteps of Hitler and Mussolini, was a determined builder. It was only his decision to invade Iran that stopped him from building a state mosque in Baghdad designed by Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown. And his Mother of all Battles Mosque, designed so that the dimensions of the minarets and fountains are a semiotic reference to the dictator's day of birth, has an unfortunate echo in the symbolism of the Freedom Tower, which is to stand at 1,776 feet, marking a different sort of birthday altogether.

Despite a certain amount of pious rhetoric about architecture's duty to serve the community, an architect has no choice but to establish a relationship with the rich and powerful. After all, they are the only people with the resources to build. And just as a salmon will make one exhausting upriver trip to spawn before expiring, the architect is genetically predetermined to go to any length to ensure he is able to turn his visions into glass and steel.

This is why Snohetta and David Childs (the architect of the Freedom Tower) and even Daniel Libeskind (whose grand title of 'master planner' of the site makes a mockery of his ever-shrinking role in the project) all still cling desperately to the shreds of the original ground zero proposal, despite all the humiliations and endless redesigns that have cost them their dignity, if not their integrity.

Before Mr. Libeskind first unveiled his grand plan, he was regarded as a serious-minded architectural intellectual, devoted to the arcane professional discourse that is understood only by initiates. But from the moment he went live on CNN in December 2002 and described how his design 'listened to the voices of ground zero,' he was a man transformed.

For an architect to talk in human terms like this might sound hollow at any other time or place. (It certainly sounds hollow in hindsight, considering all the political jockeying and lawsuits that followed Mr. Libeskind's Pyrrhic victory in the competition.) But for Mr. Libeskind to do so while standing in the World Financial Center's glass-vaulted Winter Garden, in clear view of the pit of rock and mud that was all that was left of the twin towers, was nothing short of electric. For a moment, he stopped being an architect altogether; he was offering an emotional response to a collective tragedy, acknowledging that this particular issue was too much for architecture by itself to handle.

"

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Study Says Software Makers Supply Tools to Censor Web - New York Times: "But a new report from the OpenNet Initiative, a human rights project linking researchers from the University of Toronto, Harvard Law School and Cambridge University in Britain, once again raises tough questions about the use of filtering technologies - often developed by Western companies - by autocratic governments bent on controlling what their citizens see on the Web.

Myanmar 'employs one of the most restrictive regimes of Internet filtering worldwide that we have studied,' said Ronald J. Deibert, a principal investigator for the OpenNet Initiative and the director of the Citizen Lab at the Munk Center for International Studies at the University of Toronto.

Myanmar now joins several nations, including China, Iran and Singapore, in relying on Western software and hardware to accomplish their goals, Mr. Deibert said.

Microsoft, Cisco and Yahoo, for example, have all come under fire recently for providing technology or otherwise cooperating with the Chinese government to enable it to monitor and censor Internet use.

In the case of Myanmar, the regulations and customs are quite clear. The Digital Freedom Network, a human rights group based in New Jersey, notes that among things forbidden by Myanmar's Web regulations, introduced in January 2000, are the posting of 'any writings directly or indirectly detrimental to the current policies' of the government. The rules also forbid 'any writings detrimental to the interests of the Union of Myanmar.'"
Although I don't agree with all of his conclusions, Robert Kaplan does a great job of outlining the constructive possibilities inherent in the American military apparatus, as related to the increased urbanization and density of population around the world. In his argument I see the need to keep National Guardspersons at the ready for unforseen disasters (a la Katrina or any number of recent natural disasters around the world) rather than deployed in ideological military combat.

This article is reproduced here almost in its entirety, but can be linked to above.

Next: A War Against Nature - New York Times: "With the global population now at six billion, humans are living in urban concentrations in an unprecedented number of seismically, climatically and environmentally fragile areas. The earthquake-stricken region of Pakistan saw a doubling of its population in recent decades, certainly a factor in the death toll of more than 20,000. The tsunami in Asia last December showed the risks to the rapidly growing cities along the Indian Ocean. China's booming population occupies flood zones. Closer to home, cities like Memphis and St. Louis lie along the New Madrid fault line, responsible for a major earthquake nearly 200 years ago when those cities barely existed; and the hurricane zone along the southern Atlantic Coast and earthquake-prone areas of California continue to be developed. More human beings are going to be killed or made homeless by Mother Nature than ever in history.

When such disasters occur, security systems break down and lawlessness erupts. The first effect of the earthquake in the Pakistani town of Muzaffarabad was widespread looting - just as in New Orleans. Relief aid is undermined unless those who would help the victims can monopolize the use of force. That requires troops.

But even using our troops in our own country is controversial: the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878 strictly limits the use of troops inside the United States. The Gulf Coast devastation has helped remind us that this law was enacted in a rural America at a time when natural disasters took a relatively small human toll, and such calamities were viewed more fatalistically.

In a nation and a world where mass media and the Internet spread the word of disaster so effectively, impassioned calls to do something can quickly erode constitutional concerns, political differences and worries over sovereignty. Just as Pakistan has now agreed to accept aid from its rival India, Iran accepted help from the United States Air Force after the earthquake in Bam in 2003. The very people who typically denounce the American military will surely be complaining about its absence should our troops not show up after a major natural calamity.

Indeed, because of our military's ability to move quickly into new territory and establish security perimeters, it is emerging as the world's most effective emergency relief organization. There is a saying among soldiers: amateurs discuss strategy, while professionals discuss logistics. And if disaster assistance is about anything, it's about logistics - moving people, water, food, medical supplies and heavy equipment to save lives and communities. We also have our National Guard, which is made up primarily of men in their 30's (many of whom are police officers and firefighters in civilian life) trained to deal effectively with the crowds of rowdy young men that tend to impede relief work.

The distinctions between war and relief, between domestic and foreign deployments, are breaking down. This is especially true within the Special Operations contingents. As democratization takes hold, and as feisty local news outlets arise in previously autocratic third-world countries, the military's Special Operations Command can no longer carry out commando-style raids at will.

In recent years, I have been a witness to a shift in emphasis from 'direct action' to the soft side of 'unconventional war': undertaking relief work in places like the southern Philippines and northern Kenya to win goodwill and, informally, to pick up intelligence on America's terrorist enemies. On a larger scale, the disaster relief provided by the aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln during the Indian Ocean tsunami probably did more to improve America's image in Asia in relation to that of China than any conventional training deployment.

So, how can the Pentagon become better at emergency relief without impeding its ability to fight wars? First, it must continue to train primarily for combat. Combat provides a vital esprit de corps, and the skills that are honed in preparation for combat are also the most valuable tools for disaster relief.

In addition, just as our Special Operations division has special units for select commando operations (like Army Special Forces who can deploy in the snow on skis from helicopters), it should likewise develop more niche capacities for missions like rescuing people from rubble and flood waters.

Also, the Central Command and each of the military's other geographic-area commands need to create permanent planning units to anticipate disaster responses in their spheres of responsibility. The diplomatic gains we make when our military arrives on scene can be vastly increased if those troops arrive quickly as part of an advance plan.

Finally, just as civilian nongovernmental groups are often needlessly antagonistic toward the American military, our troops are sometimes guilty of having a gruff attitude toward the civilian workers. If American soldiers want to be more effective and better liked abroad, they'll have to be able to work in a coordinated way with, or even alongside, nongovernmental groups like Doctors Without Borders and the International Red Cross. The Pentagon is a big fan of peacetime "combined ops" with foreign militaries, and this term should be expanded to include training with civilian do-gooder groups as well. (To its credit, the Navy has plans to experiment with this by embedding personnel from nongovernmental groups on its hospital ships.)

Will a new emphasis on disaster relief further strain an already overstretched military? No. Most of our deployments around the world, for either military or humanitarian efforts, involve small groups, perhaps several platoons. It is Iraq that's been breaking the system, and as we gradually lower our troop levels in that country, there will be more capacity for operations that provide significant diplomatic benefits.

Fluidity and flexibility now define military affairs. There is no better example than Pakistan, a country always on the brink of dissolving into chaos, which would result in our having to place Special Operations forces in great numbers inside the tribal groups and agencies along the Afghan border. In any case, hunting down Al Qaeda in its lair will be impossible without the goodwill of the local population. That attitude can be generated by relief work of the kind taking place in Kashmir. It's the classic counterinsurgency model: winning without firing a shot. And it's what the future of the American military will be increasingly about."

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

a fantastic editorial published in the new york times, reproduced here almost in its entirety:

Dare to Bare - New York Times: "According to the Web site diaperfreebaby.org, diaper liberation comes as caretakers develop an 'elimination communication' with their infants. 'Elimination communication' is a fancy term for 'paying attention,' in the same way we notice other stuff babies communicate like hunger, tiredness or a desire to be picked up.

In this case, parents watch for the kind of fussiness, squirming and funny faces that come before a baby urinates or has a bowel movement. Caretakers should also pay attention to any daily routines that the baby follows, like urinating after feedings or when waking up. At that point, it's a simple matter of holding the baby on the pot, and pretty soon he or she connects the toilet with its function, and the pattern is set.

As an anthropologist, I know that this idea is nothing new. Most babies and toddlers around the world, and throughout human history, have never worn diapers. For instance, in places like China, India and Kenya, children wear split pants or run around naked from the waist down. When it's clear that they have to go, they can squat or be held over the right hole in a matter of seconds.

Parents and caretakers in these cultures see diapers as not the best, but the worst alternative. Why bind bulky cloth around a small child? Why use a disposable diaper that keeps buckets of urine next to tender skin?

The trick is that infants in these cultures are always physically entwined with a parent or someone else, and 'elimination communication' is the norm. With bare bottoms, they ride on the hip or back and it's easy to feel when they need to go. The result is no diaper rash, no washing cloth diapers, no clogging the landfill with disposables, no frustrating struggle in the bathroom with a furious 2-year-old.

I am ashamed to admit that, even though I've studied how babies are cared for all over the world, it never occurred to me to focus on how children in other cultures use the potty, or not. I certainly borrowed all the other kinds of child-rearing behaviors that I admired from other cultures like carrying my daughter all the time, co-sleeping and feeding her on demand. And I was against the Western ideology of making my child independent and self-reliant. I rejected the crib, stroller and jump seat, all devices intended to teach babies to be on their own. Instead I embraced the ideology of non-Western cultures and opted for the closest kind of attachment I could get.

So why didn't I use that entwinement to free us both from diapers?

Because child-rearing traditions are culturally entrenched. The use of diapers in particular is so engrained in Western culture that it's almost impossible to imagine life without them.

Thanks to Freud, we also see the bathroom as a snake pit of psychological danger, and believe that the only way to prevent scarring a child for life is to let him or her come to the toilet in his or her own time, assuming there will be a diaper pinned on for as long as it takes. (I'm going to take a wild guess and say that the 75 countries that practice diaper-free training do not have a disproportionately high number of obsessive-compulsive adults. Of course, adults who were raised diaper-free may have other issues to deal with, like a strange sensation whenever anyone makes a hissing sound or the knowledge that at 7 months, a photo of you sitting on the toilet appeared on the front page of this newspaper.)

We are also a bathroom-oriented culture. American houses these days usually have several bathrooms, sometimes one for each bedroom, or each person. And they are often color-coordinated, lavishly decorated shrines to washing up and eliminating waste where everyone, even children, would like to spend a lot of time. "

Saturday, October 01, 2005

artphoto - contemporary art magazine: "'The Land itself,' Tiravanija emphasized, 'is not connected to anything and that's what's interesting about it. ' And this can be understood in many ways. Above all, Tiravanija's initiation of The Land project resists the normative and prescriptive aspects which accompanied many earlier utopias. The Land is a concrete Utopia, but it is also first and foremost a self-imposed Utopia, one that is not rooted in intransigent beliefs on how others should live. Thus, The Land stands as a pertinent illustration of what a utopian project can be once grand theories have been moved aside: a feasible, practical, but even more importantly, subjective Utopia."
It just occurred to me the extent to which Darwinism - itself based on Adam Smith's writings about economies and related ideas of survival of the fittest, etc. - naturalized Capitalism as a "normal" or "natural" social system. As its cultural hegemony has increased, non-capitalist nation-states seem increasingly "unnatural" and thus the call to forcibly overturn those regimes is supported by the seeming "unnaturalness" of their social systems.