Saturday, April 24, 2021

The Good Country Index

If you are like me, you don’t associate the word ‘good’ with a nation. That word is usually reserved to qualify people, or food or the weather. Some countries are considered ‘good to live in’ because of the weather or quality of life, but Simon Anholt, the creator of ‘the Good Country Index’ has something completely different in mind when he brands a country as ‘good’.

What makes a country rise to the top of the ‘Good Country Index’, is how much it contributes to the welfare of the entire planet. Conversely a ‘bad’ country does the opposite. The Index measures how much each of the 163 countries on the list contributes to the planet, and to the human race, through their policies and behaviors.

Most governments feel that their responsibility is to their own citizens, not the planet. ‘Make my country great again!’ is what many leaders hear from the people who voted for them. But often, this means that other countries, including the planet itself, are getting worse in the process. Anholt advocates for a new ‘culture of governance’, which he calls ‘the Dual Mandate’.

“One day soon, the casual nationalism that characterizes almost all political and economic discussions will seem as outdated and offensive as sexism and racism do today. Leaders must realize that they're responsible not only for their own people, but for every man, woman, child and animal on the planet; not just responsible for their own slice of territory, but for every square inch of the earth's surface and the atmosphere above it.” (From the Good Country website).

This, in fact, makes Anholt’s Index the first global ‘watchdog’ of its kind.

It really makes a lot of sense, since the most important challenges facing humanity right now are global in nature: Problems like global warming, migration, human rights and poverty, do not recognize borders; they cannot be solved on a national level, no matter how well-off a country is. The Good Country Index is interested in how MUCH countries are doing, not how WELL countries are doing. Read more...

Monday, April 19, 2021

A review of Mama’s Last Hug: Animal and Human Emotions

In his latest book, Dutch primatologist Frans de Waal continues to show beyond any doubt, that animals are not only sentient and intelligent creatures, but have an emotional life that is as complex as ours.

The book opens with a heart wrenching description of a dying chimpanzee called Mama, the matriarch of the colony at the Royal Berger Zoo in Holland.

She receives a visit from Jan Van Hooff, an 80 year old Professor whom she has known for 40 years. As she recognizes him, her whole face turns into a huge smile. She strokes his grey hair, puts her large hand on his shoulder and makes yelping sounds to show how happy she is to see him. Then, like my own 100 year old mother did, when I went to see her before she died, Mama curls up again into a ball. The brief visit took all the strength she could muster at that moment.

De Waal doesn’t leave any stone unturned when it comes to debunking false beliefs about primates and humans. The fact that we descend from an ‘apelike’ ancestor, does not mean that the primates of today are a more primitive version of us. The evolutionary history of the bonobos, chimpanzees and gorillas goes as far back in time as our own. They are not our evolutionary parents, a more primitive version of us, but have separately evolved for as long as we have.


What made Mama the Alpha Female of the Colony? In one of his famous Ted Talks: ‘The Surprising Science of Alpha Males’, de Waal explains that the qualities that make a good leader are not strength and bullying, but traits like generosity, peacekeeping and empathy. Mama had those traits in abundance. She was what de Waal calls ‘the consoler in chief’. She was the boss because she broke up fights, knew how to compromise and make coalitions.  Not only was Mama the boss, she was also the focus of intense male attention. By describing the colony’s sexual habits, de Waal shows us that we are not the only species capable of impulse control. Mama’s admirers did not openly fight to have 'a go at it': they knew that by allowing one of them that privilege, the price was to receive a grooming session afterward. If one of them broke the rule, there was hell to pay. Read more...

Saturday, April 17, 2021

Do we need more Religion?

I recently came across an article by Andres Oppenheimer titled “Churches, Religion Losing Followers Around the World” (Sacramento Bee and Miami Herald, April 13 ‘21). He, in turn, quotes Shadi Hamid’s article titled “America Without God” in the April 2021 issue of The Atlantic
Neither of these pieces is earth-shattering, but I will use them as a prompt for some comments about religion. 
To quote Oppenheimer and Hamid: “The decline of religions in the western world is leaving a huge vacuum.... Human beings by their very nature are searching for meaning...and that won’t change....The danger now is that religions will be replaced by secular political fanaticism....If religions aren’t around to teach us basic values - you shall not lie, you shall not be indifferent to oppression, etc. who will do it instead? Christianity, Islam and Judaism (should) reinvent themselves... (They) offer us ancient tales of wisdom....they can serve as a much-needed moral guide...(if) they adapt to modern times. (Otherwise,) their decline will continue and dangerous secular radicalism will take their place.” 
The only thing which Oppenheimer and Hamid got right is that “human beings by their very nature are searching for meaning,” and truth, I should add. That is what philosophers and scientists have been doing for thousands of years - from Plato’s Idealism and Aristotle’s Metaphysics to Darwin’s theory of evolution, Twentieth Century Existentialism, Socialism and Einstein’s Relativity Theory.  Read more...

Monday, April 5, 2021

US Presidents Ranked

by Tom Kando

So we have a new president (thank God!). 

As an inveterate list addict, one of the numerous lists with which I have often played is that of US presidents. I look up rankings done by experts such as Arthur Schlesinger Jr., and I also try my own rankings based on a bit of knowledge, some research and a lot of ignorance. 

Joe Biden is our 46th president. His predecessor, Donald Trump, can unequivocally be ranked as the worst president we have ever had. 

Beyond that, I divided our forty-five past presidents into four groups: 1) The twelve best presidents. 2) A group of eleven “pretty good” presidents. 3) A group of eleven not very good presidents. 4) The eleven worst presidents. I then ranked all forty-five men: 

Group 1: The Twelve Best Presidents: 
Tied for 1st place: Lincoln (1861-65) and FDR (1933-45) 
3rd place: Washington (1789-97) 
4th Jefferson (1801-09) 
5th Madison (1809-17) 
6th Eisenhower (1953-61) 
7th Clinton (1993-2001) 
8th Obama ` (2009-17) 9th Kennedy (1961-63) 10th Truman (1945-53) 
11th John Adams (1797-1801) 
12th Theodore Roosevelt (1901-09) 

You may ask: What are my criteria? It is impossible to get into that, of writing a twelve-volume encyclopedia. 
Just a few comments: Note the large presence of the Founding Fathers in this first and most excellent group. (Washington, Jefferson, Madison and John Adams). Lincoln’s and Franklin Roosevelt’s prominent positions go without saying. Theodore Roosevelt does not rank as highly as his distant cousin Franklin. However, his legacy, as the leader of the progressive movement, is respectable. Eisenhower and Clinton benefitted from presiding over the country during prosperous times, to which they themselves contributed. Obama and Truman inherited problems which they handled extremely deftly. Kennedy’s role is largely inspirational, as his promise was tragically cut short.  Read more...