Friday, April 19, 2013

The El Paso Problem

My grandma's grandfather, Helaman Pratt, first went from Utah to Mexico in 1875 and his descendants have been wandering back and forth over the border ever since. My grandma herself spent her growing-up years as far south as Mexico City and as far north as southern Idaho--with many of those years spent in the area around El Paso, Texas. 

Now, the borders around El Paso were defined in the mid-1800s by the Rio Grande. But as my grandmother told me when I was a child, the river never did know or care that it was a border. So from time to time, it's up and changed course.

Which creates an interesting dispute: where does the border go when the river shifts?

You could look up past disputes and find several different answers from several different negotiations. But if you were the judge, what would be your initial impulse?

Does the border remain at the place where the river was when the border was first negotiated? Or is it better to just say the border moves when the river does?

There are more complicated options, of course, for those of you who prefer detailed jurisprudence. Are there other factors which need to be taken into account to determine whether the old course or the new course of the river should be followed? Should the new border somehow split the difference between the river's old and new courses? Etc.

I think this is a fascinating problem. I would love to hear your responses: where should the border go when the river shifts and (perhaps more importantly) why?

Thursday, April 18, 2013

April Fools' Day in an Information Society

Holidays tend to either express or invert the values of their culture. A simple example of this is Mardi Gras/Carnival and Lent in Catholic cultures--one holiday to acknowledge the excess the culture works against; another to showcase the values of restraint and repentance the culture strives for. In the Jewish holiday calendar, built in an agricultural society, the pairs are similar but with the values almost reversed: feast days celebrate the abundance the culture strives for; fasts give a picture of that joy overturned.

This April 1st, half of what I saw on Facebook was a barefaced lie. It was glorious. As usual, Google itself contributed a generous budget to developing elaborate April Fools' Day jokes. For one day, the Internet's aspiration of granting instant access to reliable information was tossed upside down. Carnival for an information age.

I think April Fools' Day will only get bigger and more important as the internet continues to shape our culture. It's a holiday well-suited for our age.
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