Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Net Neutrality: A Good First Step

by Madeleine Kando

The Federal Communications Commission's recent ruling to reclassify broadband as a public utility under Title II of the Telecommunications Act, is a step in the right direction, but probably will not break the stranglehold that the major ISP's have over our entire nation.

The FCC's new ruling prevents an ISP from offering 'paid prioritization', i.e. slow and fast lanes, depending on how much the content provider pays the ISP. Before Netflix gave in to the bullying tactics of Comcast, the largest ISP in America, streaming a Netflix movie was a pretty bad experience. This is a typical example of the consumer paying the price when network operators argue over money. Throttling and blocking are two other no-no's under the new rules and for the first time, open Internet rules will be fully applicable to mobile devices. In other words, the FCC now can regulate some aspects of how major ISP's conduct their business.

But one of the most important causes of the deterioration of broadband access in America, is the lack of competition. FCC chairman Tom Wheeler did not seem to have the stomach to confront that issue. Read more...

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Obama's Swagger

by Madeleine Kando

You don't have to be a movement expert to appreciate how President Obama moves. Black or white, American or not, he is the coolest guy that ever walked in presidential shoes.

Outside the US, especially in Northern Europe and Israel, Obama is a lot more appreciated than here at home. Whether this popularity has anything to do with his swagger is debatable, but it probably doesn't hurt. The American President's casual confidence may be viewed as a breath of fresh air, an anti-dote to the overly formal and stiff demeanor of some European politicians.

The definition of swagger is 'A demeanor of confidence, coolness, and togetherness. Someone with Swagger gives off an aura of comfortability with himself. It can also be shown in the person's walk.' Another, more illuminating definition is: 'I Don't Know, I'm White'. When asked where he learnt to walk the way he does, actor Denzel Washington, the ultimate swaggerer on the Hollywood scene, said: 'I don't remember, but it doesn’t work with your hands in your pockets'.

But swagger is more than just a walk. If you have Swagger you can wear jeans to the opera, a suit to the beach and people will think nothing of it. They'll admire your swagger. Obama knows how to up his swagger at the precise moment. Whether he kisses his beautiful wife at a basketball game, marches in a parade down Pennsylvania Avenue, or makes that last minute wave before entering Air Force 1, he does it all with grace and finesse.

It is not just the President that has Swagger. Watch the First Lady's awesome performance in this video to promote her "Let's Move" campaign, to encourage parents everywhere to get up and get moving with their kids.

Mr. Obama has done more talk-show appearances than other sitting presidents, appearing six times alone during his re-election campaign. White House aides say the president uses late-night talk shows to reach an audience that doesn’t always get its news from traditional sources. He uses the media to set certain misconceptions straight, promote his agenda and even though it seems like a contradiction, to remind the audience of what is important, of 'keeping your eye on the prize', when the line between entertainment and politics is starting to blur.

Some critics argue that his frequent appearances are at the expense of tax payer money and conservatives find his appearances unpresidential. Former President George W. Bush would not have been caught dead on late night talk shows during his presidency. It was beneath his dignity, but he also instinctively knew that he didn't have the swagger to pull it off. Read more...

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Ode to Amsterdam: Mecca for Culture and for Jazz

 Amsterdam has a reputation. Ignorant people allude to the city’s cannabis cafés and its red light district with a smirk, reducing its entire identity to a haven for hippies and sleazy tourists in search of free pot and sex. And they generalize this to the whole Netherlands.

It is true that Holland has always been exceptionally progressive, open-minded and tolerant of free-thinking. It has long been in the forefront of decriminalization of drug addiction, sex work, euthanasia and gay marriage, it has always been a haven for persecuted religious minorities such as the Huguenots and the Puritans (who went to Holland before ending up in Massachusetts).

But the glib stereotype does not do justice either to the city or to the country. For one thing, it is a zoning thing. Many countries zone “sin” in such a manner. Paris has Pigalle, the US has Las Vegas, China has Macao. etc. Read more...

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Demography is Destiny - Part Two

In my previous post, I argued that when it comes to variations in violence and murder rates, AGE explains more than just about any other variable. In other words, Auguste Comte was right when he said that demography is destiny.
2. Today I want to show the importance of demography in another related area, namely (im)migration and population shifts. This, too, is something that threatens  a lot of people today, something quite topical in the aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo bloodbath and the incessant chatter about  terrorism. Many Europeans fret about the “Arabization” of their continent, and many  Americans fear the “Latinization” of their country.  The reaction in both cases is Eurocentric Christian nativism. Europeans are marching and rallying behind nativist leaders such as Marine Le Pen and Geert Wilders. Some,  like Hungary’s Jobbik Party, attack gypsies. In the US, many Republicans  want to evict millions of Hispanic immigrants. The unifying theme on both sides of the Atlantic is:  “Save Western civilization.”

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Demography is Destiny - Part One

Our last three posts have been about Charlie Hebdo, terrorism and Islamic immigration. There has been excellent response by readers. The present post is also related to those topics.

The title of this piece is usually attributed to Auguste Comte, the father of Sociology, and I want to show  how   true it is.

Two of the things  which the media never let us forget  are:
(1)   terrorism/crime/violence/war and
(2) immigration.
These  two issues  are related, as in the Charlie Hebdo case, because some of the violence is committed  by Muslim immigrants to places like France.

Western societies, foremost among them the United States, are in a never-ending search for the explanations and solutions to  this dual problem, always  trying to implement a variety of  policies. Experts are  pulling their hair out trying to explain crime and violence. The explanations and  policies range from various criminological fads, all the way to war.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

What Animals Can Teach Us about Right and Wrong

by Madeleine Kando

This post is dedicated to my daughter Aniko,
who never needed to learn how to be compassionate.
I only wish there were more people like her.

One of the loftiest qualities of humans is their ability to distinguish right from wrong. We call it morality. Without a sense of morality, we would soon descend in a state of anarchy, where no one is accountable for their actions. Some societies are already on the brink of anarchy, the so-called 'failed states' of the world, where citizens are never sure whether they will live or die any day of their lives. Morality is the glue that binds people together, it creates the space where the give and take between people takes place. Without it, life would be worse than death since being dead at least doesn't cause someone to suffer.

But why do we aspire to be moral to begin with? We want to be healthy, happy, free of pain, that is understandable. We call these 'natural' desires, but why do we desire to be moral? A biologist would ask: What do we gain by it? How does it serve our survival as a species? Thomas Hobbes thought he had the answer by saying that the natural state of man is "warre of every man against every man" and to prevent people from hacking each other to death, they needed to have a moral code. Obviously Hobbes didn't believe in man's innate goodness.

That is pretty much how our culture has branded human nature over the past few centuries. We are selfish bastards who have developed a system which forces us to cooperate with each other by submitting to a self-imposed structure. Thanks to our superior intellect, we have escaped the fate that nature imposes on the world, the cruel, barbaric law of the jungle that all species is subject to. With the help of philosophers like Malthus who anticipated Darwin's principle of the struggle for existence, it is widely accepted as a law of nature. This view leads one to assume that if you are nice, you are a patsy.

But just because we have irrevocably painted ourselves in the corner of selfishness, doesn't mean that we don't have the capacity for compassion. Primatologist Frans De Waal explains in Good Natured-The Origins of Right and Wrong in Humans and Other Animals, 'In the same way that birds and airplanes appear to defy the law of gravity yet are fully subjected to it, moral decency may appear to fly in the face of natural selection yet still be one of its many products.' Read more...

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Charlie Hebdo and Europe’s Inability to Get Angry - Part Two

In my previous post, I asked whether the European opinion leaders had lost the capacity for anger when Europeans are under attack.

Obviously, there are still plenty of people in Europe who are capable of anger. These are the politically incorrect. They are the rednecks. They are the equivalent of what Jerry Falwell used to call the “silent majority.” They represent the political RIGHT. Many of them support very unsympathetic characters, some of them with fascistoid tendencies. They are “populists,” often nativists, and racists. They follow demagogues such as Geert Wilders in Holland and his equivalents elsewhere. France has Marine Le Pen, fretting about the Arabization of her country. Hungary has its Jobbik movement, a sinister fascist group that has lynched gypsies. There are the people who recently attacked, damaged and burned mosques in Sweden. There are the people who have been marching  to kick immigrants out of Germany. It is noteworthy that xenophobia is strongest in the EASTERN part of Germany, precisely where there are the fewest immigrants. These groups are the equivalent of America’s Tea Party and its Republican Party. Read more...