Monday, June 30, 2014

Perfection, Mistake After Mistake

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Limited Internet and Blog activity until August 1, 2014

Due to circumstances, will only have limited Internet and Blog activity until August 1, 2014.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Hillary Clinton's "Hard Choices"

For the past few weeks I have seen or heard much about Hillary Clinton's new book - and of course her "possible" Presidential campaign. And this is significant since, as even a critical review by Bret Stephens states,

"Hillary Clinton will likely be the next president of the United States, and why not? We live in an age of   will likely be the next president of the United States, and why not? We live in an age of choreographed reality, and hers is among the most choreographed of lives. Also, an age of the triumph of symbol over substance and narrative over fact; an age that demonstrates the power of the contention that truth matters only to the extent people want it to matter. Mrs. Clinton's career is testimony to these things as well."

To help us sort this out without/before reading the book, I offer two very different reviews of the book and her tenure as Secretary of State.

In the following friendly interview review on NPR, 

"Clinton, the former secretary of state and once and maybe future Democratic presidential candidate tell it, her new book "Hard Choices" isn't the kickoff to a 2016 campaign. She still hasn't made up her mind about another run for the presidency, she told Renee Montagne, co-host of NPR's Morning Edition. It's more a review of the decisions she made as the nation's top diplomat.
That the book looks backwards is proof, she said, that it's not a campaign document because, echoing a often used line of her husband, former President Bill Clinton, "I'm experienced enough to know that political campaigns are about the future, not the past."
But she acknowledged that the book tour gives her a chance "to work really hard to get out around the country to talk about what's on people's minds." In short, it sounds like she's embarking on another listening tour of the kind she used to launch her career in electoral politics in 1999 before she ran for a U.S. Senate seat from New York.
In any event, a review of her years traveling the globe as secretary of state during President Obama's first term gives her the chance to define her accomplishments even as her Republican critics ask, "What achievements?"

Here are some interview highlights:
Her accomplishments: To hear Clinton tell it, she helped rebuild the 
U.S. image in the world after the George W. Bush administration badly 
mangled it.
"The most important thing I did was to help restore America's leadership 
in the world. And I think that was a very important accomplishment. We were 
flat on our back when I walked in there the first time."
For the rest see:

In a different vein, Stephens contends,
"Mrs. Clinton, by contrast, doesn't really have a story to tell: Her book is an 
assemblage of anecdotes, organized geographically, held together by no 
overarching theme, or underlying analysis, or ultimate accomplishment. 
In April she was asked to name her proudest achievements as secretary. 
She fumbled for an answer, as well she might. There are none....

However one feels about Mrs. Clinton, she was the least consequential secretary of state since William Rogers warmed the seat in the early years of the Nixon administration. This is mainly the fault of the president for whom Mrs. Clinton worked, and of the White House hacks who had the larger hand in setting the tone and shape of foreign policy. Most everyone knows this, and most everyone doesn't want to admit it. So in place of a record we have a book.
Then again, Mrs. Clinton has, prospectively, the most consequential future of any secretary since James Buchanan (the last of her predecessors to become president). How does she secure her ambition?
There is a Platonic dialogue, the "Phaedrus," which observes that the surest way to forget is to write it down. Preferably in minute detail, at extravagant length. If there's a book you can consult, no need to remember it for yourself. "You have invented an elixir not of memory, but of reminding," warns Socrates, "and you offer your pupils the appearance of wisdom, not true wisdom."
Mrs. Clinton has produced a book that asks us to forget her tenure as secretary of state. It's going to be a blockbuster."
For the rest of the review see:

Monday, June 9, 2014

Peacemakers or anti-peacemakers in Israeli-Palestinian relations - who is who?

"The latest victim of the anti-normalization campaign is an exhibit in Pittsburgh that would have featured artists from Israel and the Palestinian territories. The Jewish Chronicle   reports:
A local art exhibition that was to be an exercise in progressing beyond the rhetoric of Israeli/Palestinian politics instead has become a fatality in the cultural war against Israel driven by the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS).
“Sites of Passage: Borders, Walls & Citizenship,” scheduled to run at the Mattress Factory museum on Pittsburgh’s North Side from June 1 to July 27 — with a corresponding exhibit scheduled to run at Filmmakers Galleries in Oakland from June 6 to Aug. 1 — was the culmination of a joint multimedia project begun a year ago and featuring the work of three Israeli, three Palestinian and three American artists.
The trouble began when a website promoting the exhibit used terms such as “collaboration” and “dialogue” to describe the exhibit, drawing the wrath of anti-normalization Palestinians. The Israeli group then withdrew from the event to protect the Palestinians, who then also withdrew, forcing the event to be cancelled.
Tavia La Follette, who curated the exhibit, praised the Israeli artists for trying to defend their Palestinian counterparts, who were being threatened online:
After the Palestinian artists were accused on Facebook of normalizing relations with Israel, all three Israeli artists — Emmanuel Witzthum, Dror Yaron and Itamar Jobani — withdrew from the exhibition to allow the Palestinians to remain in the show, said La Follette, adding that what was supposed to be a celebratory party at her home last weekend, “turned into Camp David.”
“The Palestinian artists said, ‘We can’t be in this show,’ so the Israelis withdrew,” she explained. “The whole idea behind the project was to move it beyond political rhetoric. But we need to protect the Palestinian artists. It shows the integrity of the Israeli artists that they pulled out of the show.”
The Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI), the branch of the BDS movement that pushes the cultural element of BDS, explicitly opposes cultural events that bring Israelis and Palestinians together as equals  :
Such events and projects, often seeking to encourage dialogue or “reconciliation between the two sides” without addressing the requirements of justice, promote the normalization of oppression and injustice.  All such events and projects that bring Palestinians and/or Arabs and Israelis together, unless the Israeli side is explicitly supportive of the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people and unless the project/event is framed within the explicit context of joint opposition to occupation and other forms of Israeli oppression of the Palestinians, are strong candidates for boycott.
The turn of events around the art exhibit demonstrates yet again how the BDS movement turns back progress that could build trust and understanding. If artists can find enough common ground to create the work that would have appeared at the exhibit, then others can tread the same common ground in other areas of life."

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Suffering - in animals

Though suffering, in many permutations, and its "causes", are a focus of Zen practice, of Buddha Dharma, usually our focus is on human suffering. Nevertheless, if we reflect on it we can see that animals suffer. An interesting excerpt from an upcoming book explores some aspects of this, including the various uses of psychotropic medications. Here are the article's conclusions:

"In acknowledging parallels between the mental health of other animals and ourselves, we always run the risk of anthropomorphizing—projecting human emotions and desires onto nonhuman creatures. But it's impossible to imagine the experience or motivation of animals without using our own perspective. The trick is to anthropomorphize well—to interpret their behavior and emotional lives on their own terms, as accurately as possible.
When it comes to the animals dearest to us, this may mean, for instance, working harder to gauge our cats' opinions of particular houseguests, taking our dogs on more challenging walks, giving the hamster more places to hide or removing a bullying turtle from the tank.
Helping animals to overcome their emotional distress can be exhausting, expensive and, as my experience with Oliver taught me, both heartbreaking and uplifting. I can't imagine it any other way.

—Adapted from Dr. Braitman's new book, "Animal Madness: How Anxious Dogs, Compulsive Parrots and Elephants in Recovery Help Us Understand Ourselves," published on June 10 by Simon & Schuster."

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Income inequality, political culture and economics - unintended consequences?

There has been a lot of dialogue about income inequality recently. Now we have some counter-intuitive research results about the relationship of political culture, political policies and income inequality - and proposals for reducing inequality.

"Why Democrats Are Focused on Inequality: Liberal Metros Face the Worst of It

U.S. metro areas that voted for Obama tend to have higher levels of inequality and segregation" 

"As my CityLab colleagues and I have noted before, there is a strong association between density and liberal politics. In election maps broken down by county, nearly every big metropolitan center is painted blue, with red concentrated in the outer suburban rings surrounding these centers and in the rural parts of the country..."

“The fact that Democrats represent districts that are (on average) more unequal than Republican districts suggests that the parties may have such divergent views on income inequality in part because their members (and constituents) have divergent experiences of income inequality.' This was true on the level of congressional districts, and it remains clear for metropolitan-level voting patterns as well."


"The Blue-State Path to Inequality

States that emphasize redistribution above growth have a wider gap between lower and higher incomes.

"...When politicians get fixated on closing income gaps rather than creating an overall climate conducive to prosperity, middle- and lower-income groups suffer most and income inequality rises. The past five years are a case in point. Though a raft of President Obama's policies—such as expanding the earned-income tax credit and food stamps, and extending unemployment benefits—have been designed to more fairly distribute wealth, inequality has unambiguously risen on his watch. Those at the top have seen gains, especially from the booming stock market, while middle-class real incomes have fallen by about $1,800 since the recovery started in June 2009.
This is a reversal from the 1980s and '90s when almost all income groups enjoyed gains....
Our view is that John F. Kennedy had it right that a rising tide lifts all boats. It would be better for low- and middle-income Americans if growth and not equality became the driving policy goal in the states and in Washington, D.C."

It is worthwhile reading the complete articles if you want to further explore the subjects of the excerpts.