The End of History?

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In the last couple of years, various conflicts and issues have been emerging throughout the world. President Trump recently expressed his current sentiment regarding global affairs in an ABC Exclusive interview with journalist David Muir. “The world is a mess. The world is as angry as it gets,” said Donald Trump. The sheer lack of optimism and hope expressed in Mr. Trump’s statement is certainly troubling to many citizens around the world.

To those who are worried about the recent changes occurring over the past few years including the rise of far-right populism in the West, radical Islamic terrorism in the Middle East, and ethnic nationalism, do not worry. These processes are only minor setbacks in the development of an inclusive modern global society and offer opportunities for opposition forces to develop better strategies for future success. Although these changes may halt initial progress towards the development of more open societies, liberal democracies have shown to possess the greatest potential in providing global peace and stability over all other forms of governance.

Francis Fukuyama, esteemed professor, public intellectual, and author of various publications including The End of History and the Last Man, claims that there are no viable alternatives to liberal democracies. In his seminal 1989 essay titled The End of History? Fukuyama states, “the triumph of the West, of the Western idea, is evident first of all in the total exhaustion of viable systematic alternatives to Western liberalism”.

Fukuyama goes on to suggest that “what we may be witnessing is not just the end of the Cold War, or the passing of a particular period of postwar history, but the end of history as such: that is, the end point of mankind’s ideological evolution and the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government”. The ideology he is suggesting is one that takes on a broader characteristic, influencing social, cultural, political, and economic expectations within all levels of a society. In essence, one can view this ideology as a simple template that generalizes the organization and zeitgeist for a particular society.

Recent setbacks may pose some threats to liberal democracy at the moment including dwindling public support. “Across numerous countries, including Australia, Britain, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Sweden and the United States, the percentage of people who say it is “essential” to live in a democracy has plummeted, and it is especially low among younger generations”, writes Amanda Taub in The New York Times. This loss of faith in democracy may be partially explained by the lack of trust citizens have in the current political establishment. With this in mind, it becomes more obvious why citizens would back populist candidates claiming to be anti-establishment even though in many cases such candidates represent fringe ideologies on either side of the political spectrum.

Conflicts in the Middle East have resulted in political vacuums being occupied by terrorist organizations due to failed interventions. Regarding liberal democracy, some hypotheses are startling, “in fact, there is some evidence to suggest that democracy, and especially the process of democratization, can actually encourage terrorism,” writes Samuel Helfont in The New Republic. Interventions by the United States in Iraq, Libya, and Syria have resulted in the growth and expansion of organizations like ISIS in addition to increasing general political instability. Forcing democracy down the throats of developing countries is a messy endeavor resulting in larger global issues that impact the developed world, an example being the current refugee crisis.

Has democracy failed? No, by all means, these pitfalls do not stand up to the various successes of liberal democracy. As of today, three-fourths of the world experiences some sort of functioning democracy. The benefits of a free market system and the guarantee of human rights are both byproducts of adopting liberal democracy as an international framework for organizations like the United Nations, International Monetary Fund, World Trade Organization, and other various international alliances. Democracy is messy in nature, but that is exactly why democracy is the most sought after form of government in the world. With democracy, it is not a question about which side has the best militia or army, but which side offers the best solutions to many of the difficult challenges facing citizens.

The Region of Champions

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(If you want a photo of us in beast mode, click here.)

Well, it’s that time of year again. Time for Sherman Oaks C. E. S to go up against North Hollywood High School at the LADWP Regional Science Bowl Competition. After years of practicing, our school’s A-team is at its peak. As Brian Siegel, the team’s captain and best performer graduates this year, this might be the best shot S.O.C.E.S has at winning the competition against its various rivals. Being a member of Science Bowl, I believe it is my duty to not only honor the game but also my fellow teammates. I will do so in this blog post, after promising my captain and dear friend, Brian Siegel.

For those of you who don’t know, Science Bowl is a science and math competition held annually on both the regional and national levels. L.A. regional teams usually spend years preparing for a competition which culminates on a single Saturday in February. Such a team would include our own. Brian Siegel, Ryan Dinh, Conor Corcoran, and I have spent the last few years learning the most we can about our respective subjects.

To explain more about the mechanics of the game, each team usually assigns a member to one of five core subjects: math, physics, chemistry, biology, and earth and space science. After the member learns a bulk of his or her own subject, they can choose to pick up another subject. Ideally, all members should also know a little bit about every other subject. Over time, some members will be capable of learning each subject in enough detail to be dubbed a “generalist”. Our sole “generalist” this year is Brian, we are hoping that Ryan Dinh, future captain of Science Bowl, will adopt this position from our retiring captain.

Science Bowl is a fast-paced buzzer competition that pits two teams against one another. Questions are divided into toss-ups and bonuses. Individuals from both competing teams can answer toss-up questions, whereas bonuses are awarded only when a team member answers a preceding toss-up question correctly. Bonuses are vital since they can establish a team’s lead. Unlike toss-ups, bonuses are only for the team which correctly answers the preceding toss-up. Furthermore, team members can confer on bonuses in order to determine the most logical answer.

Last Saturday was the official scrimmage, held at LADWP headquarters in Downtown. As we carpooled to the competition, Ryan made an aside towards Conor, stating that he was keeping expectations low. The scrimmage began at roughly 9-o-clock. Most of the teams in our pool including giants like North Hollywood’s A-team and Harvard Westlake’s A-team performed subpar against our own expectations. That isn’t to say we were any better. Although we won all the rounds in our pool, most of them were relatively low scoring games. Ryan attributes this to the abnormal difficulty of the set of questions used while also noting the ease of the math questions.

The actual competition is going to be held on February 25. That gives us slightly over a month to finish our final studies. To some, this may not seem like a lot of time considering that most individuals spend years preparing, but you might be surprised with what some of our members can do. For example, Conor Corcoran, the earth and space science specialist on our team finished the last 142 pages of the earth science section of his textbook over winter break. Albeit, it was a break period, but I highly doubt most people would be motivated to spend most of their break studying about rocks, glaciers, faults, and weather. This is what makes Science Bowl members different from most other students, they love to learn on their own!

Our hopes are high this year as Stephen Ceaser stated in his Los Angeles Times article from the past competition, “The Sherman Oaks students did much better than expected, far surpassing last year’s team. They’re already gearing up for next year’s competition, where they expect to do even better”. Last year we finished 5th place, that’s right before stage! The goal this year is to beat both North Hollywood teams in order to capture the 1st place trophy.

Is it possible? It definitely is! Our school has been on stage twice in the last five years. At the very least we are going to win a trophy and I’m certain of this. Ryan just got his anatomy textbook, Brian is reading random Wikipedia articles on topics like organic chemistry until he goes to sleep, Conor is trying to finish the astronomy section before competition day, and I am going to finish the last three or four chapters of electricity and magnetism in my physics textbook. The dedication is there and we’re certainly hoping it pays off big on February 25. A team that has “done it 100% by themselves” will try to do it again and then some at the 25th annual LADWP Regional Science Bowl Competition.

Skid Row

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Tent encampments lined S San Pedro as I walked around the many menacing black and brown faces dotting the sidewalk. I walked briskly, trying to keep my head down to avoid the sights of this alien-looking place known as Skid Row. “Why?!” I asked myself. The word continued to be repeated in my head as my heart began to pound louder and louder out of fear. Yet in Pershing Square, young millennials were feasting on vegan donuts and downing cold brew coffee at the Historic Downtown Farmer’s Market. Two districts separated by a few city blocks but worlds apart.

The question still bothers me as I write this post, “why?”

Although Los Angeles has taken steps in attempting to resolve the problem of homelessness in Skid Row, gentrification is still a debatable course of action since some housing projects don’t accommodate the homeless population.

Some, including Steven Sharp, co-founder, and editor of Urbanize.LA suggest “we should be so lucky”. This statement neglects those who aren’t as lucky, the men and women who will be impacted by construction projects in the Skid Row district. Let us not focus on our own luck, but that of the unfortunate. Construction sites will cause homeless individuals near the area to disperse.

Sharp is aware of the conditions homeless face in Skid Row. “Men and women sleep and die in an environment littered with hypodermic needles, feces, urine, vomit and blood,” said Sharp. Later in the article, Sharp adds, “Skid row’s concentration of poor, desperate and often mentally ill individuals makes convenient cover for violent crimes”. With this in mind, why would anyway consider moving in?

Projects like the one “planned at San Pedro and Winston streets, would convert the remainder of a building that already is partially in use as live-work lofts”. This isn’t a project geared towards helping the homeless residents of Skid Row. In fact, “plans call for 14 penthouse units on its sixth floor, including 12 units with private roof decks”.  Rather than solving the problem, projects like this will either end up displacing the homeless population or flop due to insufficient interest. Instead, developers should consider investing in low-income housing projects to offer homeless residents a chance of obtaining their own shelter. Another project “on 5th Street, would provide 160 small studio apartments – including 28 for military veterans”. In contrast to the project at San Pedro and Winston, 5th Street will offer basic amenities to its residents for lower rent.  

“Adaptive reuse projects such as these take vacant, blighted properties and create new housing without the sting of displacement,” said Sharp. True, depending on what the projects are and who they attract. Building penthouses in Skid Row is ridiculous when most of the district’s residents are suffering. It may not be as profitable, but helping the homeless by reincorporating them into society will increase employment and improve living conditions for all. Sharp agrees “rather than segregating those perceived as socially undesirable, we should be weaving skid row back into the cultural and economic fabric of the city”.

It’s hard not to feel sympathy for a young black man sleeping on top of a thin piece of cardboard on the sidewalk. He has nothing. No hopes, no dreams, no family. It’s even harder to imagine such a sight in a global city like Los Angeles during this day and age. Maybe it’s just a consequence of inevitable socioeconomic inequality. Then I remember the quote on Rodney King’s grave, “can’t we all get along”. The solution is no easy one, but we’re all humans. We can all individually show our compassion for these unfortunate souls through simple acts of kindness. Go out and buy a homeless person lunch, donate your clothes to those who don’t have any, volunteer at soup kitchens, the list can go on. Compassion might simply be all we need.  

 

The Nobel Prize, Nanotechnology, and the Future of STEM

 

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“The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences has decided to award the 2016 Nobel Prize in Chemistry…,” read Göran K. Hansson, Secretary General of the academy as many chemists around the world sat listening attentively to the much-anticipated announcement. Wednesday morning three scientists received the faithful call.  Jean-Pierre Sauvage, Sir J. Fraser Stoddart, and Bernard L. Feringa were chosen to receive the title of Nobel laureate “for the design and synthesis of molecular machines”.

Molecular machines are of interest to nanotechnologists, chemists, and physicists alike through their possible applications. Although the machines these three scientists have made include interlocked rings and “nanocars”, these advances are only stepping stones for further advancement in the field of nanotechnology, a field with practical applications ranging from medicine to water and wastewater treatment. Along the way, inspiring future scientists to solve such puzzles.

“Scientist on the Nobel Committee, and Feringa himself in an interview, emphasized the practical applications had not yet been worked out, but perhaps they were being overly modest,” said Josh Fischman, senior editor for Scientific American. The prize winners were in no search for new and practical applications of their research. Like most scientists, they did it for the sake of curiosity.

Each scientist is credited with creating his own molecular machine. Jean-Pierre Sauvage created his machine by interlocking “two ring-shaped molecules to form a chain” in 1983. This may not seem like a machine to most of us, but according to the Nobel Committee for Chemistry it fits the definition of a machine since it has two parts which can move relative to one another.

Eight years  later in 1991 another scientist, Sir J. Fraser Stoddart created a molecular wheel and axle type machine. “He and his team threaded a molecular ring onto a thin molecular axle and moved it to different parts and then back,” said Fischman. The wheel could move up and down the axle as heat was applied to different areas of the axle.

By 1999 a molecular motor was made by Bernard L. Feringa. Building on the idea of added energy, Feringa got his “molecular motor blade to spin in one direction, overcoming the basic random movements of molecules,” said Fischman. Recently in 2014, Feringa got the same type of motor to spin at a rate of 12,000 revolutions per second! Combining multiple motors and axles together, his team built a “nanocar”.

This may all seem fascinating and cool, but what can these tiny machines do for us? Well, molecular machines and other advancements in the field of nanotechnology are being used right now in materials, electronics, sustainable energy, and much more. Their applications are growing rapidly as nanotechnology continues to grow in popularity.

Recently in the news, researchers have found a way to use nanofibers to trap crude oil and thus clean up oceanic oil spills. In June, Olga Oksman wrote an article in The Guardian about using nanoparticles in fighting life-threatening diseases like cancer. One scientist is even using nanotechnology to build a better menstrual pad! These are just three of the many hundreds if not thousands of applications of nanotechnology.  

In 1959, the father of nanotechnology, physicist Richard P. Feynman gave a speech to the American Physical Society titled, There’s Plenty of Room at the Bottom. At the end of his speech, Feynman offered $1000 to any young scientist who could build a motor no larger than 1/64 of an inch on each side! Today’s molecular machines are “about one-thousandth the width of a strand of human hair”. Within less than 60 years, scientists have made machines 4000 times smaller than Feynman’s tiny motor challenge! These promising signs may seem encouraging for those interested in pursuing a career in nanotechnology.

“Donna Nelson, a chemist and president of the American Chemical Society… also notes this particular area, tiny machines, ‘will be fascinating for kids. They can visualize it and imagine a nanocar. This comes at a great time when we need to inspire the next generation of scientists”, Fischman reports. As the need for jobs within technology, engineering, and computer science increase with time, STEM majors are growing in demand. Kids of all backgrounds regardless of race and gender will need to have the passion and skills to go after these high paying jobs. As Carl Sagan said, “Every kid starts out as a natural-born scientist, and then we beat it out of them. A few trickle through the system with their wonder and enthusiasm for science intact”. It’s the job of scientists today to keep that natural curiosity alive for future generations.  

Syria and Terrorism, What’s New?

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The Syrian people have been rampaged by war for over five years. As the death toll continues to climb toward a half-million, hope begins to diminish amongst civilians. Recently, both Russia and the United States agreed to a Syrian ceasefire. Secretary of State John Kerry and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov signed the agreement a little over a week ago.

Although some hoped that the ceasefire would last, the U.S. believes Russian aircrafts have hit aid convoys near the city of Aleppo.

The situation in Syria is quite a messy one. Multiple belligerents including the Syrian government, rebel militias, Russia, the U.S., ISIS, and etc… have been in conflict with one another for years.

After much failure, the U.S. needs to take a different approach to bring an end to the violence in Syria.

The obvious question is, how can we lessen the conflict? In part two of his interview with Democracy Now host, Amy Goodman, Noam Chomsky discusses the Syrian civil war and terrorism. 

Chomsky begins by acknowledging the severity of the war. “The only slim hope, for Syria is efforts to reduce the violence and destruction,” said Chomsky.  Part of Chomsky’s proposed solution is to cut off the flow of arms into Syria.

The U.S. has supported rebel militias in Syria since the war’s beginnings. By allowing arms to enter a volatile situation such as that in Syria, the U.S. risks aiding not only the rebels but the opposition as well.  In fact, there is evidence to show that Jabhat Al-Nusra (Al-Qaeda in Syria) is being funded by our allies, Qatar and Saudi Arabia, possibly with U.S. dollars.

Instead, Chomsky says “,there should be far more support going simply for humanitarian aid”. For which he is not wrong, but it’s hard for humanitarian aid to reach the many refugees when U.N. aid trucks are being bombed.

A clear solution, increase aid and decrease weapons, simple!

Wrong, if this was the answer the war would’ve ended years ago. Chomsky adds “,these efforts should be made to cut off the flow of jihadis from the places where they’re coming from”.

Terrorism is a large component of the conflict. Organizations like ISIS have been involved in the war for years. Terrorist groups can attract masses of disillusioned young men in fighting for their cause. Yet the U.S. continues to do the same thing, attack terrorist strongholds without identifying and eradicating the roots of terrorism.

“It’s much more dramatic to say, ‘Let’s carpet bomb them,’ or ‘Let’s bomb them to oblivion,’ or ‘Let’s send in troops.’ But that simply makes the situation far worse,” said Chomsky.

This post-9/11 world of ours has reached unimaginable proportions. Everyone knows the idiom, “you can’t fight fire with fire”. Well, it applies even when countries are confronted with the threat of terrorism.

The U.S. has been in a war-on-terror ever since 9/11, over 15 years. Although there have been a few successes including the killings of major terror leaders such as Osama bin Laden, Mohammed Omar, and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the impact of global terrorism has only increased.

In most cases after U.S. intervention, foreign countries are left in rubbles. Political vacuums are filled with radical ideology. This is how ISIS got its start from the Iraq war.

By not negotiating with terrorists, the U.S. loses flexibility when dealing with the issue of terrorism. The lack of options may force our leaders to take desperate measures when participating in the Syrian conflict.

I am not suggesting that the U.S. begin negotiating with terrorist leaders, I only suggest that they consider the causes of terrorism, but that’s not all. Furthermore, I think the U.S. should make it harder for terrorist organizations to advertise their message of hate and thus lessening its outreach to troubled youth.

Chomsky cites the efforts taken by Britain when dealing with IRA terrorism in the late 20th century. “As soon as Britain finally began – incidentally, with some helpful U.S. assistance at this point – in paying some attention to the actual grievances of Northern Irish Catholics, as soon as they started with that, violence subsided, reduced”.

Maybe we should drop the weapons and really think about finding a new solution, a solution that will take us in the direction of understanding.

 

 

The Worst Threat Ever Faced by Humans

 

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With much talk about national security this election season, world-renowned scholar and intellectual, Noam Chomsky talks with Democracy Now! host Amy Goodman about the global threats of nuclear proliferation and climate change.

Chomsky’s most recent book, Who Rules the World? came out this May. The book examines the dangers of valuing power over democracy and human rights. As Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump fight over non-substantive issues such as emails and tax returns, Chomsky tries to remind us of threats far greater than the likes of terrorism and immigration, threats that deserve more of our attention.

Threats like nuclear war and global warming are very much present in today’s society and countries such as the U.S. should be taking a stronger stance on such vital issues. But with increased spending, many climate change initiatives are left unfunded. “U.S. military spending is almost as great as the rest of the world combined, technologically much more advanced,” said Chomsky.

Presidential candidate, Donald Trump believes that “the biggest threat to our country is nuclear [war]” This is very much true, but that’s not to say we don’t have any involvement in the threat. “Right now, it – just last year, it was moved two minutes closer to midnight because of the two threats that you mentioned, stayed there this year,” said Chomsky referring to the Doomsday Clock of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. That leaves us at three minutes to midnight! In fact, besides 2015, the last time the clock was set at three minutes was in 1984. We are faced with the same threat as that seen during the Cold War.

The U.S. and Russia continue the arms race by attempting to modernize their nuclear arsenals. In the process, they plan on adopting a new generation of smaller nuclear weapons. Although this may seem like a step in the right direction, it is not. Adopting smaller nuclear weapons would just increase the incentive to use them especially as tensions between the two superpowers increase.

Recently, scientists have discovered that the Arctic ice mass, once assumed to be stable, is melting much faster than initially thought. Yet this isn’t the only natural disaster facing the globe right now. “Right now already, about 300 million people in India are on the edge of starvation from drought, which has been going on for years,” said Chomsky.

To put it in perspective, the population of the entire United States is about 325 million. Imagine 92% of the U.S. population facing drought and starvation. You would expect everyone around the world to hear about it, but have you recently heard about the drought in India?

The answer for most is no, and this is not surprising. “It’s pretty remarkable to see how the worst threats that the human species has ever faced, the most important decisions it must make – and soon – are virtually absent from the discussions and debates,” said Chomsky.

Most of the news networks have been focusing their coverage on the presidential campaigns. With breaking news headlines like “Donald Trump Attacks Hillary Clinton”, some may even start to question whether there is anything new going on in the world?

Although issues such as global terrorism and migration crises may have some importance currently, global warming and climate change can’t be ignored and deserve more coverage in our news.

For example, many news networks talk about the Syrian refugee crisis and its impact on western Europe. Many scientists would predict migration crises worse than that seen in modern times as natural disasters continue to impact the lives of people around the world. “If people think there’s a migration crisis now, they haven’t seen anything,” said Chomsky. In this scenario, the victims aren’t just Syrian refugees, but living beings (humans included) across every continent. And its impact is not just felt in Europe, but throughout the globe.

Overall, it’s hard for most people to be frightened by nuclear proliferation and climate change. One can easily imagine being in a cafe, sipping coffee, and then running for the door in an attempt to save one’s life. But it’s threats like nuclear war and climate change, threats that are unknown to most of us that pose the greatest threat of all. Maybe it’s not for us, but for our children, our grandchildren, our great grandchildren that we take the step towards peace and pay more attention to the issues that truly matter.