Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Being As Is - A Dharma talk


World media attention and inattention regarding Israel

With another ceasefire in the war between Hamas and Israel, and hopefully an end to these hostilities, there appeared an interesting and lengthy analysis of the nature and biases of media attention to Israel and the results in terms of attitudes regarding Israel, the Palestinians and other states in the region.

Below is an extended excerpt. If you are interested, the full article is linked to at the end.

"...How Important Is the Israel Story?

Staffing is the best measure of the importance of a story to a particular news organization. When I was a correspondent at the AP, the agency had more than 40 staffers covering Israel and the Palestinian territories. That was significantly more news staff than the AP had in China, Russia, or India, or in all of the 50 countries of sub-Saharan Africa combined. It was higher than the total number of news-gathering employees in all the countries where the uprisings of the “Arab Spring” eventually erupted.

To offer a sense of scale: Before the outbreak of the civil war in Syria, the permanent AP presence in that country consisted of a single regime-approved stringer. The AP’s editors believed, that is, that Syria’s importance was less than one-40th that of Israel. I don’t mean to pick on the AP—the agency is wholly average, which makes it useful as an example. The big players in the news business practice groupthink, and these staffing arrangements were reflected across the herd. Staffing levels in Israel have decreased somewhat since the Arab uprisings began, but remain high. And when Israel flares up, as it did this summer, reporters are often moved from deadlier conflicts. Israel still trumps nearly everything else.

The volume of press coverage that results, even when little is going on, gives this conflict a prominence compared to which its actual human toll is absurdly small. In all of 2013, for example, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict claimed 42 lives—that is, roughly the monthly homicide rate in the city of Chicago. Jerusalem, internationally renowned as a city of conflict, had slightly fewer violent deaths per capita last year than Portland, Ore., one of America’s safer cities. In contrast, in three years the Syrian conflict has claimed an estimated 190,000 lives, or about 70,000 more than the number of people who have ever died in the Arab-Israeli conflict since it began a century ago.

News organizations have nonetheless decided that this conflict is more important than, for example, the more than 1,600 women murdered in Pakistan last year       (271 after being raped and 193 of them burned alive), the ongoing erasure of Tibet       by the Chinese Communist Party, the carnage in Congo       (more than 5 million dead as of 2012) or the Central African Republic      , and the drug wars in Mexico (death toll between 2006 and 2012: 60,000      ), let alone conflicts no one has ever heard of in obscure corners of India       or Thailand      . They believe Israel to be the most important story on earth, or very close.

What Is Important About the Israel Story, and What Is Not

A reporter working in the international press corps here understands quickly that what is important in the Israel-Palestinian story is Israel. If you follow mainstream coverage, you will find nearly no real analysis of Palestinian society or ideologies, profiles of armed Palestinian groups, or investigation of Palestinian government. Palestinians are not taken seriously as agents of their own fate. The West has decided that Palestinians should want a state alongside Israel, so that opinion is attributed to them as fact, though anyone who has spent time with actual Palestinians understands that things are (understandably, in my opinion) more complicated. Who they are and what they want is not important: The story mandates that they exist as passive victims of the party that matters.

Corruption, for example, is a pressing concern for many Palestinians under the rule of the Palestinian Authority, but when I and another reporter once suggested an article on the subject, we were informed by the bureau chief that Palestinian corruption was “not the story.” (Israeli corruption was, and we covered it at length.)....."

Here is the full article:


Saturday, August 23, 2014


We often forget how much history, historical trends that are manifested in culture of peoples, in the nature of the relationship between land, culture and tradition, and historical attachments and enmities, continue to dominate the political, economic and military relations and conflicts that we see. This is true in the current conflicts in Ukraine, Russia and Eastern Europe, in the Middle East and in China and East Asia, to name just a few areas. Below is a very interesting exploration of these themes in an article titled, "From the Ashes of Iraq: Mesopotamia Rises Again."

"The dissolution of the colonial creation named "Iraq"   is now almost complete. Perhaps what comes next is a return to the past; not a brutal Islamic "caliphate," but something more basic.
Today, Mesopotamia is reappearing. The term is a Greek word meaning "the land between the two rivers."

The Tigris and Euphrates Rivers   are the defining features, each arising in mountains far to the north of Baghdad. The rivers and their annual floods defined the landscape, the cycle of life and the worldview of civilizations. The deserts to the west and the mountains to the east and far north provided rough boundaries and were liminal spaces related to the center, but yet separate and apart, sunbaked and dangerous. Inside Mesopotamia was a cauldron.

From the Sumerians of the third millennium BCE through the Assyrian and Babylonian civilizations of the second and first millennia BCE, to the Abbasids of the eighth century CE and until the arrival of the British in the early twentieth century, the space called Mesopotamia   was the container for civilizations that rose and collapsed. Cultures invented writing and built the first cities, growing and shrinking in response to changing river courses and global climate. They conquered and were conquered, traded with surrounding regions, and formed a baggy but recognizable whole—what we call Mesopotamian civilization."

For the rest of this article see:


Friday, August 22, 2014

Not only does California face drought but there are more problems!

What are the consequences of tectonic uplift?

"Drought Is Causing the Western U.S. to Rise Like an Uncoiling Spring"

"File under apocalyptic imagery: The western United States' worst drought in possibly 500 years     is causing the ground to rise up like an uncoiling spring.

A new report     in Science from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at U.C. San Diego found that the massive loss of groundwater associated with the drought has caused a tectonic "uplift" of more than half an inch in California's mountains, with an average 0.15 of an inch across the west.
Sifting through ground-positioning data from GPS stations throughout the region, the researchers had discovered those stations had been moving upwards in recent years, coinciding with the current drought. Duncan Agnew, a geophysicist specializing in earthquakes and an author of the study, told Scripps     that the data can only be explained by a rapid uplift of the tectonic plate underlying the western U.S. (which, he stressed, has virtually no effect on the San Andreas fault and does not increase risk of earthquakes). "



More on journalism in Gaza

Here are the introductory sentences of a first-hand exploration of the nature journalism in Gaza and the middle-east (and the consequences for the actual reporting of the structural and functional aspects). If it tempts you, read the article.

"You’re seeing civilians dying and suffering in Gaza. You’re seeing the destruction Israel’s military operation against Hamas has caused.
You’re hearing from Israel that Hamas is firing rockets from crowded neighborhoods, using helpless Gaza civilians as human shields, forcing them to stay in their neighborhoods in defiance of Israeli warnings to leave.

Why aren’t you hearing that from Gaza? Often, it’s because reporters are afraid to tell you.
True, in some cases, it’s anti-Israel bias. In others, it’s bad journalism—covering the story you can easily see above ground, like destruction, misery, death and funerals, instead of digging for the real story: Why this is happening and how the powerful are operating behind the scenes or underground—again, literally. It’s the scourge of 21st century “journalism,” with its instant deadlines, the demands to tweet and blog constantly, the need to get something out there that’s more spectacular than the competition, and check the facts later, if at all. Add to that the cruel cutbacks by news organizations around the world. It all means that fewer and fewer reporters have to file more and more stories, and file partial reports while they’re working. It’s impossible. I allow myself the quotation marks around “journalism” because I’ve been a journalist for half a century (I started young), covering the region since 1972, and I fear my profession is not what it used to be, and not for the better."


A question Israelis ask

The following is an extended quote from an interesting analysis by Daniel Gordis regarding US - Israeli relations.

"When Islamic State executes an innocent American -- befuddled Israelis noticed -- Obama has the capacity for outrage and moral clarity. But in Israel’s conflict, even though Hamas is sworn on Israel’s destruction and has been killing innocent Israelis for years, the best that Obama has been able to utter is the standard 'Israel has a right to defend itself... (Israelis ask) "Why is Islamic State a 'cancer' while Hamas is a legitimate partner in a Palestinian unity-government, about which U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said, 'We will work with it as we need to'?...  To use the language of the Talmud, they’re essentially asking, 'Why was James Foley’s blood any redder than ours?'"


Thursday, August 21, 2014

New research suggests air travel may present more risks to infants than you thought.

This is a fascinating article and a must-read for anyone with very young children who will fly.

Though the research focuses on international travel, the information in the article is important for any flights. And there are valuable tips and precautions which may save the life of an infant. Please take the time to read it or pass it on to others to whom it might be useful if there is any possibility that an infant will be flying soon.

http://online.wsj.com/articles/new-study-focuses-on-in-flight-risk-to-infants-1408574702?tesla=y&mg=reno64-ws    j

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Monday, August 18, 2014

Re-Direct Virus - A Dharma talk


Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

A statement similar to the above title is often attributed to Albert Einstein and also to Basic Text of Narcotics Anonymous. No matter the source, the point is significant.

This point was also raised in an interesting comment by political economist Michael Munger:

"My friends generally dislike politicians, find democracy messy and distasteful, and object to the brutality and coercive excesses of foreign wars, the war on drugs, and the spying of the NSA.

But their solution is, without exception, to expand the power of "the State." That seems literally insane to me—a non sequitur of such monstrous proportions that I had trouble taking it seriously.

Then I realized that they want a kind of unicorn, a State that has the properties, motivations, knowledge, and abilities that they can imagine for it."


Do we ever act insane? If so, what to do when we discover this?


Saturday, August 16, 2014

Ants help reduce carbon in the atmosphere; can we learn from what they do?

Recent research findings show that ants help promote global cooling and  "Given that ants underwent a great diversification and biomass expansion over the Cenozoic, a speculative implication of this research is that ant enhancement of Ca-Mg silicate dissolution might have been an influence on Cenozoic cooling."

If we can discover how ants do this and use these processes, we may be able to significantly impact the reduction of carbon in the atmosphere, and the resulting global climate changes.

See below for the article abstract:


A recent news article summarizes the paper in this way:

"... ants radically accelerate the breakdown of some important minerals into chemicals that suck carbon dioxide—a byproduct of burning fossil fuels—out of the atmosphere to form new rocks. "


A recent news article summarizes the paper in this way:

"... ants radically accelerate the breakdown of some important minerals into chemicals that suck carbon dioxide—a byproduct of burning fossil fuels—out of the atmosphere to form new rocks. "


Monday, August 11, 2014

Alternatives - here are interesting estimates regarding tunnels in Gaza costs

"...Hamas, which invested between $1 million and $10 million for the construction of each tunnel.
The (Israeli) military estimates it cost Hamas $90 million to build the 32 tunnels that were uncovered.
The average tunnel requires 350 truckloads of construction supplies—enough to build 86 homes, seven mosques, six schools or 19 medical clinics, the Israeli military says.
Most of the cement and other materials used for tunnel construction was smuggled into Gaza through existing underground passageways from Egypt used to bring goods into the territory, said Guy Inbar, a spokesman for the Israeli military's department that oversees humanitarian aid to both Palestinian territories, Gaza and the West Bank.
Some tunnel-building materials also came from aid earmarked for development projects by international aid agencies in Gaza or were purchased on the open market when Israel allowed some imports into Gaza starting in 2010."


Not As Seems, Not Other Than

Two Dharma talks


Friday, August 8, 2014

Watching in Sadness - Is this the Next Escalation in Ukraine - Russian "Peacekeeping" Tanks?


Is the UN a party to the Gaza conflict between Hamas and Israel? Is there a way for the UN and UNRWA to actually foster peace and reconciliation rather than being a party to and perpetuator of the ongoing conflict?

The ongoing Gaza conflict has brought the UNRWA (the UN Relief Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees) into the spotlight, both in terms of its schools as refuges for those fleeing the fighting and its schools as storage places for the rockets used by Hamas to start the violence and also, according to some reports, as places from which to fire rockets at Israel.

With greater attention we now have more information about UNRWA and its long relationship with Hamas. Below are some excerpts from the following article:


"But Gaza under Hamas is a place with only two basic industries: aid and terrorism. These are much entwined, and not solely because Hamas controls Unrwa's staff unions in Gaza, where in 2012 a Hamas-affiliated slate swept 25 of 27 seats. In effect the U.N. group subsidizes Hamas. Among U.N. agencies in the Middle East, Unrwa is the largest employer, with a regular budget for 2014 of $731 million, and a total budget that, with emergency appeals, tops $1 billion.
The agency has roughly 30,000 staff on its payroll, almost all Palestinian. Some 12,500 work in Gaza, home to 1.2 million Unrwa-registered refugees, who account for about two-thirds of Gaza's population. The U.N. agency's welfare programs relieve Hamas of many of the costs of servicing the enclave it controls as its launchpad for terror."
"Thus unencumbered, Unrwa has ensured its own survival by transforming itself into the patron of Palestinian grievance, conferring refugee status down the generations, an unusual practice. The agency's website reports that since 1950 its roster of registered refugees has grown from an original 750,000 to 5.3 million—a sevenfold increase, all eligible for the Unrwa dole. For the Palestinians, this has been ruinous, fostering within an otherwise enterprising culture a crippling sense of entitlement and dependency."
"According to State Department historical data, the U.S. since Unrwa's inception has given the agency funds totaling $4.9 billion (closer to $7 billion in constant 2014 dollars).
In 2011 the agency opened an office in Washington run by two former U.S. government insiders: Matthew Reynolds, previously the State Department's assistant secretary for legislative affairs, and Chris McGrath, previously a media-events director for Sen. Harry Reid. The job descriptions include representing the U.N. agency's interests to the State Department and monitoring Congress on a daily basis to yield an "advocacy strategy dedicated to optimizing Unrwa's relations with Congress."
Thus U.S. tax dollars fund Unrwa officials now lobbying in Washington to obtain yet more money for an agency entwined with the rocket-launching, tunnel-digging rulers of Gaza. "
Is there a way for the UN and UNRWA to actually foster peace and reconciliation rather than being a party to and perpetuator of  the ongoing conflict?

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Life and death in the Muslim world

The ongoing killing of Christians and other non-Muslims such as the Yazidis, and even Muslims of the "wrong" sect, has escalated in recent months throughout the Muslim world with only limited mainstream media attention. Would media attention make a difference? Would it result in action that would reduce the killing? What sort of action would be appropriate and skillful? By whom? I do not know.

Here are the excerpts from a recent review article that was sent to me:

"One of the most ancient Christian communities in the world, that of Iraq—which already had been decimated over the last decade, by Islamic forces unleashed after the ousting of Saddam Hussein—has now been wiped out entirely by the new "caliphate," the so-called Islamic State, formerly known by the acronym "ISIS."

"Despite all these atrocities, exoduses, and even genocides, the mainstream media seems to spend every available moment airing images of displaced Palestinians and demonizing Israel for trying to defend itself. Yet Israel does not kill Palestinians because of their religion or any other personal aspects. It does so in the context of being rocketed and trying to defend itself from terrorism.
On the other hand, all the crimes being committed by Muslims against Christians are simply motivated by religious hate, because the Christians are Christian.
It is to the mainstream media's great shame that those who slaughter, behead, crucify, and displace people for no other reason than because they are Christian, rarely if ever get media coverage, while a nation such as Israel, which kills only in the context of self-defense, and not out of religious bigotry, is constantly demonized."


update 8/07/14 - here are new recent reports and attention - let us see what results:



Wednesday, August 6, 2014

A second itteration of Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

In the midst of ongoing political controversy regarding net neutrality, we have new wrinkles in the internet and FCC concerns. Here are some excerpts from a recent article:
"Racial spoils are making a comeback at the Federal Communications Commission after being put mostly to rest in an important 2006 reform.
The latest sign is a quiet, nonpublic vote by Chairman Tom Wheeler and his two fellow Democrats to approve a waiver for minority entrepreneur David Grain, allowing him a 25% discount in this fall's spectrum auction—a nice windfall."
"From the moment Bloomberg News reported the David Grain waiver two weeks ago, the focus has been on Mr. Grain's political giving. He was a big Obama bundler and lately has been generous to South Carolina Rep. James Clyburn, whose daughter is the FCC's Ms. Clyburn. The importance of donations can be overstated, though Mr. Grain would have been a poor businessman not to start writing checks long ago to prepare to greet any goodies that might venture his way.
In any case, he may be a fine person (everybody says so), but his windfall is coming straight from the taxpayer's pocket. The episode also adds a perverse luster to Mr. Wheeler's record of finding new ways to bring unflattering attention to his agency. He came to his job with rare technological and business chops, and knowing his industry's Washington landscape inside-out. Like a lot of appointees who look good on paper, he turns out to be a clumsy politician whose clumsiness now threatens to metastasize into a full-blown scandal."
For the full article see:

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Bodhisattva's Vow 8/3/14


Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

The title's Latin phrase is often translated as "who watches the watchman?" or "who guards the guardians?" 

What happens if no one is able to watch the watchmen? What if the watchmen are resisted and actively fought against?

See the following cautionary report.

"Forty-seven independent inspectors general who oversee the Obama administration are accusing officials of blocking their access to government documents, warning of “potentially serious challenges” to their authority.
"Refusing, restricting, or delaying an Inspector General’s access to documents leads to incomplete, inaccurate, or significantly delayed findings or recommendations, which in turn may prevent the agency from promptly correcting serious problems and deprive Congress of timely information regarding the agency’s performance," the inspectors general wrote in a letter   to the House and Senate Oversight Committee chairmen and ranking members."

Interestingly, at the same time as this is being reported to Congress, "On Monday, Vice President Biden touted inspector generals as a crucial tool to fight corruption in a speech to African heads of state in Washington.
“There is also a need to have in every government agency what we in the United States call, and it could be different in every country, we call it an inspector general,” said Biden. 
“Someone who is able to roam through every department, like here in the United States, the Defense Department, the IRS, the Treasury Department writ large, the Department of Interior, to be able to look at the books, to be able to look at everything that's transpired with independent eyes. People who cannot be fired,” he continued. "
Does Vice President Biden know not of what he speaks, does he assume that no one knows what is so or, worst of all, does he simply have no shame?
For the full details see this article:

Interesting recent history - coalitions of the left, right and political islamists

An interesting analysis of the recent history of political coalitions, and the potential ideological dilemmas and conflicts posed by these in the US and UK is found in

Double Bind: The Muslim Right, the Anglo-American Left, and Universal Human Rights   by Meredith Tax.

There is an extended excerpt from this book at 


Below are 2 quotes from that excerpt.

"Historically, the left has stood for certain values—at least in principle: separation between religion and the state; social equality; an end to discrimination against women and minorities; economic justice; opposition to imperialist and racist wars. In the last ten years, however, some groups on the far left have allied with conservative Muslim organizations that stand for religious discrimination, advocate death for those they consider apostates, oppose gay rights, subordinate women, and seek to impose their views on others through violence. This support of the Muslim Right has undermined struggles for secular democracy in the Global South and has spread from the far left to feminists, the human rights movement and progressive donors.
The far left’s embrace of Islamic fundamentalism mirrors distortions about Islam put about by anti-immigrant conservatives—the far right talks as if all Muslims were potential terrorists, while the far left talks as if salafi-jihadis represented all Muslims. Both ignore the fact that the vast majority of Muslims are like everybody else; they just want to survive and live their lives in peace. Very few of them support the interpretations and actions of salafi-jihadis, who no more represent all Muslims than the American Nazi Party or English Defence League represent all Christians."
"If solidarity with feminists and progressives in the South is essential for any hopeful political project in the North, so is defence of secular space. Since the end of the Cold War, secular spaces all over the world have come under siege by various forms of fundamentalism, and the instrumentalization of religion for political gain has become a problem in regions as varied as Eastern Europe, Central Asia, South Asia, Africa, South America, Western Europe and North America. In all these places, religious identity politics has muddied discussion of class, racism and discrimination against women and sexual minorities. Democratic governance is based on the idea that the authority of the state is delegated by the people rather than coming from God, and separation of the state from religion is essential to democracy because gender, religious minority and sexual rights are issues whenever human rights are limited by religion, culture, or political expediency.
In order to cut through the double binds described above—so we can defend ourselves and others against terrorism and counter-terrorism, empower civil society, promote universal human rights and strengthen democracy—we must think about both solidarity and secularism. These are not the only social remedies needed in a world torn by conflict and poised on the brink of ecological disaster, but both are essential to our ability to move forward."