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Regarding the News

An observation: given two people, it’s per­fectly pos­si­ble for their re­ac­tions to an event happening, an in­ci­dent occurring, or a de­ci­sion made, to be si­mul­ta­ne­ously com­pletely different, and yet both be rea­son­able and legitimate–that is to say, correct.

This applies as much to natural and man-made dis­as­ters and the results of ref­er­en­dums and elec­tions as it does to more minor in­ci­dents and events. Sneer­ing at those whose re­ac­tion is dif­fer­ent to yours is … not becoming.

One point of view might be more appropriate, or balanced, or generous, but: (a) any feel­ings of clear and straight­for­ward moral su­pe­ri­or­ity are likely mistaken; and (b) snig­ger­ing is never okay. (Related: The “Other Side” Is Not Dumb.)

Photographs I Like

Have come across some nice photo pro­jects recently:

On Marriage and Civil Partnerships

So it turns out there’s a sur­pris­ing number of quirks and weird­ness around mar­riage and civil part­ner­ships under UK law:

JFK on Capitalism versus Communism

Quite a few years ago when I visited the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum I was very much struck by one exhibit: JFK’s re­sponse in 1961 to a re­porter asking whether the Com­mu­nist system would “prove more durable than ours.”

The ques­tion and answer changed my think­ing about the Cold War. My think­ing was that it was a con­flict in which ide­ol­ogy really only mat­tered insofar as it af­fected mil­i­tary and geopo­lit­i­cal objectives. (So for example, some coun­tries were more likely to es­tab­lish an al­liance with the U.S.S.R. because they were more sym­pa­thetic to Communism.)

But here, on the day Yuri Gagarin became the first person to orbit the earth, was a serious ques­tion and a serious re­sponse about whether a method of struc­tur­ing the economy and or­gan­is­ing pro­duc­tion could be more ef­fi­cient and fruit­ful than the one adopted by the United States: the idea that po­lit­i­cal systems can differ, and should be judged, not only by their how they in­crease GDP or improve social justice, but also by how ef­fi­ciently they guide sci­en­tific progress.

The full exchange:

QUESTION: The Com­mu­nists seem to be putting us on the de­fen­sive on a number of fronts, now again in space. Wars aside, do you think that there is a danger that their system is going to prove more durable than ours?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, I think that we are in a period of long drawn-out tests to see which system is – and I think the more durable, not better, but more durable. We have had a number of ex­pe­ri­ences with this kind of competition. A dic­ta­tor­ship enjoys advantages, in this kind of competition, over a short period, by its ability to mo­bi­lize its re­sources for a spe­cific purpose. We have made some ex­cep­tional sci­en­tific ad­vances in the last decade, and some of them – they are not as spec­tac­u­lar as the man in space, or as the first Sputnik, but they are important. […]

I do not regard the first man in space as a sign of the weak­en­ing of the free world, but I do regard the total mo­bi­liza­tion of men and things for the service of the Com­mu­nist Bloc over the last years as a source of great danger to us, and I would say we are going to have to live with that danger and hazard through much of the rest of this century.

My feeling is that we are more durable in the long run. These dic­ta­tor­ships enjoy many short range ad­van­tages that we saw in the Thirties. But in the long run, I think our system suits the qualities, and as­pi­ra­tions of people, the desire to be their own masters – I think our own system suits better. Our job is to main­tain our strength until our great qual­i­ties can be brought more ef­fec­tively to bear.

From President Kennedy’s News Con­fer­ence 9, April 12, 1961.

A few other in­ter­est­ing tidbits from the press conference:

Climbing Puncak Jaya

To climb Indonesia’s Puncak Jaya (4,870m), you fly in a small air­craft to a village near the peak, then walk 5 days through “very dense jungle” with “regular rainfall” to reach the base of the peak. Reach­ing the summit re­quires another day, at which point, you’re: (a) about 500km from the equator; (b) sur­rounded by glac­i­ers (!); and (c) 4km from Grasberg Mine, one of the largest open pit mines in the world (map) (!!).

I suppose the workers get in and out of the mine via he­li­copter but there must also be some sort of road–? Climb­ing moun­tains isn’t sup­posed to be easy, but this does remind me of the Goon Show: “For a hundred miles Blood­nok and his party hacked their way through the jungle that ran along­side the ar­te­r­ial road.”

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