Thursday, May 21, 2015

I am a Closet Dancing-With-The-Stars Watcher

So On May 19, Rumer Willis and her professional partner Val Chermkovskiy won the 20th installment of  Dancing with the Stars.  Rumer is the daughter of super stars Bruce Willis and Demi Moore. A close second were singer-songwriter Riker Lynch and his professional partner Allison Holker. In third place were Iraq war veteran and amputee Noah Galloway, superbly coached and accompanied by Sharna Burgess.

This very popular American reality show, now completing its 20th season on ABC,  pairs up a dozen professional ballroom dancers with a dozen celebrities who usually don’t dance very well, and they compete with each other, receiving scores from a few judges. Each week one of the competing couples is eliminated, until only one survives - the season’s champion. Read more...

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness

Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness: Thomas Jefferson’s holy triad. Democratic man’s three most sacred values, right?

Sometimes, when we want to say that something has great value, we call it sacred and we say that it is “more sacred than life itself.” But what is the relationship between Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness? Is there a hierarchy?

Some - for example Patrick Henry and the  New Hampshire’s motto - say that Liberty is more important than Life itself. Such professed idealism implies that it is your OWN life which you would be willing to sacrifice for freedom. But to most people, it makes a big difference whether the life to be sacrificed for a greater good is their own or somebody else’s.

Life is a poor example of a “sacred value,” even though linguistic convention often puts the words “life” and “sacred” together. Read more...

Monday, May 18, 2015

An Ode to the Letter A

It has come to my attention of late, that we, as writers, don't give enough credit to one of the most undervalued letters in the English alphabet: the letter A.

Let's face it, we misuse, abuse and overuse many letters, but the A is like the Angus of letters. For one thing, it has various pronunciations, sometimes it sounds like 'ey', sometimes like 'uh', sometimes like 'aw'. It is like a chameleon. It changes from 'mat' to 'mate', from 'glass' to 'glaze' and from 'hat' to 'hate', depending on which vowel it keeps company with. It even has to do the work of other letters when people become lazy in their pronunciation, like in 'whateva' or 'seeya'.

It is as selfless as Mother Theresa, coming to the rescue when a person is not sure what to say: 'aaah… let me see'. Or when someone has an epiphany: 'aaha', an orgasm: 'aaaah', feels sorry for someone: 'aaw', or just pretends to understand something complicated: 'ah (yes)'.

Singers use it to practice their voice, without even considering paying the A a decent living wage. Doctors diagnose throat conditions, again at no extra cost to them, knowing that the A has no collective bargaining power. Can you imagine if the A went on strike? The consequences are too horrible to contemplate. I couldn't finish this essey without committing orthogrephic mistekes. The Spanish language would particularly be in trouble, with their feminine endings and the poor Hawaiians wouldn't be able to talk at all, since most of the consonants in their language fell overboard when they came to Hawaii in their canoes. Besides, everybody would get lost on the islands, since all the streets have names like Kal'ia'iou'amaa'aaa'eiou. Read more...

Monday, May 11, 2015

Why Does Wisconsin Hate the Poor?

I came to America many moons ago and although I never got used to the utter lack of care for people who are in need, I tacitly came to see it as 'a fact of life'. But now, an attempt by conservative politicians to further humiliate poor people has gotten me so enraged, that I had to write something about it.

There is a hot new trend in several states to try to limit what type of food people on Food Stamps are allowed to buy and at the vanguard of this food-policing idiocy, is Wisconsin's Governor Scott Walker.

Under the guise of benevolently steering ignorant food stamp recipients towards a healthier diet, the Wisconsin Legislature has introduced Assembly Bill 177, to override a Federal rule that prohibits such restrictions. If you are poor and you live in Wisconsin, expect to be spied on by fellow shoppers, store managers and government undercover agents to make sure that you don't carry offensive items in your shopping cart.

One of the many foods that would be verboten by the Wisconsin food police, are any type of shellfish. As if a person who is allocated $1.40 per meal would want to spend it on such an expensive food item. Another 'no no' is one of Wisconsin's most abundant products, cheddar cheese. The insanity of it all boggles the mind. Have a look at this glossy pamphlet of WIC approved foods. The amount of man hours put into its production could have fed quite a few needy families. According to a study, it would cost the state of Wisconsin $56 million, to put this new proposal into effect. Nobody knows where this money is supposed to come from, but $56 million could provide food stamps for an additional 37,000 low income residents. Read more...

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Universal Basic Income: An Idea whose Time has Come

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the United Nations in 1948, is the first global expression of rights to which all human beings are inherently entitled. It includes the most obvious right of all, that we are all born free and equal and have a right to life, liberty and security of person.

But how can we be secure without having the means to meet our basic needs? Or do those basic human rights not apply to the homeless, the working poor or the children who suffer from food insecurity? Rising income inequality and the loss of jobs puts more and more people in that category.

Trading work for income seems to be harder and harder to implement. From self-check in at airports to self-cleaning toilets, automation has replaced human labor, to the point where 'work' has acquired a new meaning. In some areas of the economy, it is no longer connected to activities that traditionally provided 'income, which means that less and less people benefit from economic growth. (The Rise of Robots – and Decline of Jobs – Is Here)

Over the past four decades wages have been flat, because substituting capital for labor through automation is increasingly attractive to companies. Owners of capital are getting richer, while workers are getting poorer. Even in areas that we think require the 'human touch', like teaching or cutting hair, if broken down into small enough steps, automation is gaining ground. Taxi drivers, airline pilots and journalists might soon be a thing of the past. Read more...

Monday, April 20, 2015

America Needs a National Water Policy

 A little over two years ago, my sister Madeleine Kando wrote a piece on this blog, Water: An Endangered Species? As her title indicates, she was addressing an issue all too familiar to many of us - water scarcity. She hit the nail on the head when she wrote that “the biggest threat to the supply and availability of water and as such to life on earth, is the trend towards privatization of water resources.”
 I now pick up this issue, which has only become more acute since then:

This past winter has been one of two opposite extremes, climatewise: Back East, there has been record-breaking precipitation. The snow which accumulated around my sister Madeleine’s house in Boston reached as high as her roof.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

The Mentality of Mass Murder - Part Five: Towards Armageddon for the Human Species, or the Golden Age?

This is the final part of a five-part review of The Killing Compartments; The Mentality of Mass Murder (Yale University Press, 2015), a new book by Abram De Swaan, Professor Emeritus of Social Science, University of Amsterdam. (Page numbers referenced are for the e-version of the book). Due to its length, the review is broken up into five parts. I hope you read it all.

Abstract: The book under review offers a profound analysis of the phenomenon of Mass Extermination. There are four types: The Conqueror’s Frenzy, Rule by Terror, the Loser’s Triumph and the Megapogrom. De Swaan provides rich and vivid case studies from past and current history. The author refutes the fundamental fallacy of situationism, which suggests that we are all potential mass murderers. He does this with a four-level analysis, the levels of macro-sociology, meso-sociology, micro-sociology and psycho-sociology. Human societies go through both the civilizing process AND the de-civilizing process - regression towards barbarism. I conclude with some speculation about the future of our species and its potential for survival as well as for self-destruction. Read more...