Monday, May 18, 2009

Dreaming of electric jellyfish

Scene from last night's dream: I found a jellyfish in the sink that my father had given me. It looked dead, and I felt bad for forgetting about it. I picked it up and took it over to a freestanding bin that was filled with water had a rounded opening on its front face, which had also been a gift from my father. I tossed the jellyfish in, and it swelled up and began flitting around. When it touched the front open panel, the edges of the opening glowed and there was an electric spark (like the force fields in Star Trek). Water splashed out, all over the floor, but the jellyfish couldn't get out. I had a vague sense of menace or danger from the jellyfish, were it to escape. I went to get a sponge to clean up the water. I have no idea what it means, but I like the vivid imagery.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

The torture debate

I've been following the discussion of the "enhanced interrogation techniques" in the last few weeks, in part because of the involvement of some psychologists in crafting these techniques for the Defense Department. In an interview on NPR, one of the military psychologists involved states that these interrogation techniques were fully justified in view of the need to protect America against future terrorist attacks -- in his view, psychologists are not constrained to "do no harm", but rather that they should do "the most good for the most people." The involvement of psychologists in these harsh interrogation practices has been the cause of a strong response within the American Psychological Association, including a restatement of their stance against torture, and a revision in the code of ethics for psychologists. Now there is a call for an investigation into the American Psychological Association's ethics task force, with the accusation that this task force was biased in favor of the Defense Department and that the ethics policy was crafted to conform to Pentagon guidelines. The debate over these harsh interrogation practices has generally focused on two questions: Are these practices morally and/or legally justifiable, and do they work? Let me leave the first question aside for the moment; important as it is, I want to unpack the second question. In general, the "do the techniques work" discussion has been narrowly focused on whether these techniques provide useful intelligence and whether they are necessary for getting such information. That is, do detainees spill the secrets (of other operatives and future attack plans) when they are waterboarded or held in stress positions, and would they have done so if they hadn't been waterboarded or held in stress positions? There has been a significant conflict between those like Cheney who argue that important intelligence was gathered through harsh interrogation techniques that saved thousands of American lives, and the recent testimony of an ex-FBI agent who said that these tactics were unreliable and ineffective. I would argue that torture does not reliably result in accurate or complete information, but rather, the person says whatever they think will make the pain stop. That *might* include useful information, but it might also be incomplete or even be false. President Obama (among others) has also questioned Cheney's reading of the relevant documents, challenging the notion that these techniques were necessary or effective in gathering information. But what seems to be missing in this discussion is what the effect is within the broader international context. If the wake of the Abu Ghraib scandal, there was a great deal of discussion about how these abuses would foster or enhance an anti-American sentiment and might inspire more to join terrorist groups. If our harsh treatment of detainees inspires more to join the ranks of terrorist organizations, then wouldn't it be possible that these interrogation tactics served not to save American lives, but to endanger them?

Monday, May 11, 2009

Weekend activities

On Friday and Saturday, I finally got back to my textile studio after a long hiatus. I did some straightening up and putting things away to clear working space, and then I started a lacy stitched scarf. I laid down a sheet of adhesive, water soluble stabilizer, put various ribbons and yarns on the stabilizer, and then laid another sheet of water soluble stabilizer on top. I used rayon ribbons, chenille yarn, recycled silk sari yarn, and some other fun yarns as well, in a mixture of jewel tones. Then I stitched a grid pattern over the whole thing to keep it all together. As an experiment, I decided to free-motion stitch over the grid pattern in circles with metallic thread (purple and gold). I'm not sure how much it will show up, but I wanted a kind of delicate texture of circles over the gridded structure of yarns. I won't know how it will look until I wash out the stabilizer. I also think I made the scarf too short, so I may cut it apart and insert some sections of more open ribbon work to extend the length and give it more drape (I suspect all the stitching will make it a bit stiffer). I didn't finish the circles because the gold thread kept tangling -- I broke 3 needles, and decided to quit after that. But it was great fun, and I can't wait to get back to it. I'll put up some pictures when I'm done.

Sunday, Q and I laid out the pavers for the pathways in the back garden (we had the vegetable garden part enlarged, and now it needs some hardscaping). We started out with the idea of a symmetrical design, but it evolved into a more flowing, organic design which looks fabulous. Yay for Q's design skills! The garden looks so much better with the pathway lines running through it. We still have all the hard work of digging the pathway and setting the pavers, but I think it will look terrific when it is done. And then I can put in the vegetable garden. Yay for tomatoes and basil and carrots and eggplant and beans and . . .

On an unrelated note, can someone explain why I still have some of my 10th grade chemistry worksheets? What on earth made me decide to keep them? Am I allowed to get rid of them, or do they constitute some kind of important memorabilia?

Only two more weeks until the semester is done. I have so many papers to grade by then!

Sunday, May 10, 2009

New blogging project

In honor of Mother's Day, I just wanted to let you know about my new blog, Memories of My Mother, where I will be posting weekly explorations of memories of my mother. This project represents an exercise in mindfulness, as I spend some time each week reflecting on my mother's life. In addition to the regular blog posts, I'm raising funds toward a college scholarship in her name at Montgomery College(as part of the Women's Studies Scholarship program). All net proceeds from sales of my handcrafted goods in my Etsy shop will go toward the Nancy Driessel Stearns scholarship fund. Right now, there is only one item in my Etsy shop, but more will be listed in future, so check back regularly to see what I have available. The project is described more fully on the blog, so if you are interested, pop over and read about it there. Feel free to post comments, if you are so moved. There are links on the blog to subscribe via a reader or via email (to have new posts emailed to you), as well as a link to my Etsy shop (on the right hand menu).

Happy Mother's Day!