Sunday, May 26, 2013

The Perfect World Doesn't Exist

Personal Outlook


“I cling to my imperfection,
as the very essence of my being.”
Anatole France, French poet and novelist

This will not come as a surprise to most persons: we reside in an imperfect world, and we are all imperfect beings. Now, anyone who is slightly aware of current events and who reads or views the news will find this statement not only self-evident, but also not worth debating. Such is true, but that knowledge does not prevent many individuals from acting and living otherwise.

Allow me to elaborate. Some individuals, notably those with the means and resources, can purchase a certain level of security and thereby insulate themselves from much of the messiness and misery of life common to most of the world. In some ways, they are attempting to limit any potential bad thing that can happen, which are numerous and many. Such is understandable; but one can only control certain things that are known and predictable, which is limited by our knowledge, particularly of unpredictable events.

Even so, such individuals, in their desire for security and predictability, act as if they are residing in a perfect world," one of their own design and making. This might not be a delusion, but it's certain an illusion; I think of the sad case of the singer Michael Jackson and his desire to live like Peter Pan in Neverland. Even so, he`s not alone in his desire, and there are many other examples of persons with lesser means who wear similar eccentricities or who hold similar desires for seclusion from society

While it's true that money can purchase a certain level of freedom from misery, and money can purchase a level of comfort, and money can insulate you from much of the ugliness and misery of the outside world that one might find objectionable, it cannot, however, build a "perfect" world. Doing so also leads to odd and unnatural behaviors; if you are wealthy it's called eccentric; if poor weird. The outcomes, nevertheless, remain the same.

One of such unnatural behaviors is that individuals striving after "perfection" sit in judgment, like a monarch on the throne, of those who behaviors, abilities, standard of living and all such things that money can purchase, do not meet their own. Such standards are subjective and often superficial, if not personal, but the person striving for perfection often learns and displays undesirable human behavious—ultimately, it cuts off the individual from human contact. The basis of modern human civilization is to not always act as completely independent agents but as individuals who are also social agents. Striving for perfection negates or certainly restricts such an ability, or more so, an action.

This might not at first seem obvious, but it is a human by-product of having faith in perfection as an achievable goal. Thus, it's not surprising that throughout history certain charismatic leaders raise the idea of building a better, more perfect society—a Utopia , if you will. Yet, there are no utopias, no real places where happily and agreeably individuals live together in harmony and peace; there are only places where humans rub together as individuals living in nation-states, sometimes in conflict, but often not. The idea of building utopia, which is a model of perfection, is a bad one; it always leads to totalitarianism and a loss of autonomy and liberty. Conformity is its ultimate goal

Once you understand, cognitively, that perfection is an unattainable philosophical or abstract standard, you can more easily live in this world—the only one that we know with certainty that exists.  Bettering the lot of humanity is not the same as striving for a perfect world; the latter carries the weight of judgement and destruction, whereas the former lifts the individual and society out of the miry pit.
****************
A version of this article was published at Perry J Greenbaum (December 5, 2012)

Five Stories Of The Week: Ending May 25, 2013


News & Commentary



Here are five stories that shaped my world this week:

Robots For The Elderly: An article, by Nick Bilton, in The New York Times says that robotic technology might serve as home aids for the elderly and others who are home-bound.

Bilton writes:
Researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology have developed Cody, a robotic nurse the university says is “gentle enough to bathe elderly patients.” There is also HERB, which is short for Home Exploring Robot Butler. Made by researchers at Carnegie Mellon, it is designed to fetch household objects like cups and can even clean a kitchen. Hector, a robot that is being developed by the University of Reading in England, can remind patients to take their medicine, keep track of their eyeglasses and assist in the event of a fall.
The technology is nearly there. But some researchers worry that we are not asking a fundamental question: Should we entrust the care of people in their 70s and older to artificial assistants rather than doing it ourselves?
Sherry Turkle, a professor of science, technology and society at theMassachusetts Institute of Technology and author of the book “Alone Together: Why We Expect More From Technology and Less From Each Other,” did a series of studies with Paro, a therapeutic robot that looks like a baby harp seal and is meant to have a calming effect on patients with dementia, Alzheimer’s and in health care facilities. The professor said she was troubled when she saw a 76-year-old woman share stories about her life with the robot.
“I felt like this isn’t amazing; this is sad. We have been reduced to spectators of a conversation that has no meaning,” she said. “Giving old people robots to talk to is a dystopian view that is being classified as utopian.” Professor Turkle said robots did not have a capacity to listen or understand something personal, and tricking patients to think they can is unethical.
That’s the catch. Leaving the questions of ethics aside for a moment, building robots is not simply about creating smart machines; it is about making something that is not human still appear, somehow, trustworthy.
Is that possible or preferable? The answer to both questions is a qualified yes, in that  it might be better to have some presence, although non-human, than none at all. Many elderly reside alone and are lonely. Similar to the reasons that many lonely people have pets as companions, robots can serve the dual purpose as companion and helper. It’s not an ideal solution, but one of many in today’s modern age.

Rules For The Wealthy: An article, by George Packer, in The New Yorker says that although much has been gained in the United States in the way of advanced technologies and the giving of more social rights to what were once considered marginal groups, including gays and women, the recent economic inequalities have made life more unfair and painful for a whole class of individuals.

Packer writes:
But when the results are distributed as unequally as they are at this moment, when the gap between promise and reality grows so wide, when elites can fail repeatedly and never lose their perches of privilege while ordinary people can never work their way out of debt, equal opportunity becomes a dream. We measure inequality in numbers—quintiles, average and median incomes, percentages of national wealth, unemployment statistics, economic growth rates—but the damage it is doing to our national life today defies quantification. It is killing many Americans’ belief in the democratic promise—their faith that the game is fair, that everyone has a chance.That’s where things have unquestionably deteriorated over the past generation. The game seems rigged—and if it is, following the rules is for suckers.
We usually think of greater inclusiveness as a blow struck for equality. But in our time, the stories of greater social equality and economic inequality are unrelated. The fortunes of middle-class Americans have declined while prospects for many women and minorities have risen. There’s no reason why they couldn’t have improved together—this is what appeared to be happening in the late nineteen-sixties and early seventies. Since then, many women and minorities have done better than in any previous generations, but many others in both groups have seen their lives and communities squeezed by the economic contractions of the past generation. Like almost everything else, the new inclusiveness divides the country into winners and losers. It’s been good for those with the education, talent, and luck to benefit from it; for others—in urban cores like Youngstown, Ohio; rural backwaters like Rockingham County, North Carolina; and the exurban slums outside Tampa—inclusiveness remains mostly theoretical. It gives an idea of equality, which makes the reality of inequality even more painful.
This is one of the largest problems plaguing America. And Canada, France, England, etc. You get the picture. When governments and corporations collude, conspire, co-operate together—you pick your word of action—in such a manner as to rig the economic playing field in their favour to such a degree that we are witnessing today, it makes following the rules less of an attractive option.

Reform Stalled In Iran: An article, by Thomas Erdbrink, in The New York Times says that two candidates from the scheduled June 14 presidential elections have been disallowed by the clerics, who essentially conform to the wishes of Iran's Supreme Leader.

Erdbrink writes:
The exclusion of Mr. Rafsanjani and another thorn in the conservatives’ side, Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, could foreshadow even greater repercussions, analysts and commentators said. Since its founding in 1979, the Islamic republic has been characterized by opposing power centers competing constantly and often publicly, a back-and-forth that gave ordinary citizens and private business owners the ability to navigate between the groups.
Barring further surprises, the winner of the June election will now be drawn from a slate of conservative candidates in Iran’s ruling camp, a loose alliance of Shiite Muslim clerics and Revolutionary Guard commanders. That would put the last major state institution under their control — the first time since the 1979 revolution that all state institutions were under the firm control of one faction.
Analysts have long speculated — and some conservative clerics have confirmed — that the ruling faction is determined to abolish the office of president, which has served as a locus of opposition under the populist incumbent, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and before him the reformist Mohammad Khatami, who pushed for more personal freedoms. While by no means certain, it is now a greater possibility.
At the very least, the anti-climactic election campaign seems likely to further reinforce the alienation of the urban classes, which make up a large portion of the electorate and mostly gave up on politics after the suppression of the 2009 uprising following Mr. Ahmadinejad’s re-election, widely dismissed as fraudulent. A major boycott of the vote could further undercut the government’s already diminished legitimacy.
That well might take place as the people of Iran have grown weary and have become frustrated by the leader's archaic policies of repression and isolation. The clerics might wield some power, for now; but it won't and can't last indefinitely when the will of the people are not with them.

Brutality In Britain: The savagery shown in London by two men with declared Islamists views on a British soldier, 25-year-old Lee Rigbyis beyond the parameters of a hate crime or of criminal activity. That the two men were under surveillance by British security officials, and yet were allowed to continue on their merry way, is sad news indeed and shows a weakness in its intelligence services.

John F. Burns and Alan Cowell of The New York Times report.
New details of the attack in the southeast London neighborhood of Woolwich on Wednesday compounded the sense of outrage felt in Britain at its savagery.
The killers were described as having rained blows on the inert soldier before dragging his corpse into the street, roaming around and waving off would-be helpers with bloodied hands, cleavers still in their grasp, apparently intent on keeping the body on public display until the police arrived. One of the two men was caught on cellphone video warning bystanders that they would not be safe either until British soldiers were withdrawn from all Muslim lands.
One witness who spoke to the BBC said that the police had opened fire when one of the two attackers, cleaver still in hand, appeared to rush the officers. The episode appeared to bear some of the hallmarks of “lone wolf” terrorist attacks like the one last month at the Boston Marathon. Involving low-tech weapons and a spontaneity aimed at foiling pre-emptive discovery, they have been propagated in recent years by an array of Islamic militant Web sites that Western security experts have linked to Al Qaeda.
Such attacks have been urged as a means of striking back at Western nations, particularly Britain and the United States, in the face of their success in disrupting terrorist networks with high-technology tools, including drones and satellite- and computer-aided surveillance systems.
After hurrying back to London overnight from a European tour, Prime Minister David Cameron suggested in a statement to reporters that the country should emulate the example of Ingrid Loyau-Kennett, 48, a French-born Cub Scout leader whose actions at the site of the killing earned her hero’s plaudits in the morning newspapers. In broadcast interviews, Ms. Loyau-Kennett said she had gotten off a passing bus when she saw a body lying in the street, intending to offer first aid. Instead, she said, she came face to face with one of the killers, and kept him discussing motives in a successful bid to distract him until the police arrived.
“When told by the attacker that he wanted to start a war in London, she replied, ‘You’re going to lose. It’s only you versus many,’ ” Mr. Cameron said. He added, “She spoke for us all.”
Such includes me; the extremists can never win, because their religious ideology is based on hate alone. This brutality is a crime dictated solely by religious views, namely political Islam, and this should never be under-emphasized or swept under the rug. Britain, like other nations, has find a way to effectively deal with this brand of internal terrorism within its midst without derailing its Constitution—no easy task.

Yet, new problems demand new original solutions. At the very least, such extremist websites, which hold totalitarian ideological views, should be assiduously monitored and barred entry into all western democracies, using available means and laws, effectively cutting off the head of extremism. The technology exists; the political will to do so has to now follow.

Rioting In Sweden: An article, by Carolina Jemsby and David Bartal, in USA Today say riots, chiefly from unemployed immigrant youths, has continued since last Sunday in Stockholm’s immigrant suburbs. The rioting began after police shot and killed a 69-year-old mentally ill man.

Jemsby and Bartal write:
Since Sunday, hundreds of young residents of the suburbs of Husby, Jakobsberg, Hagsatra, Skarholmenset and others set dozens of cars on fire, damaged buildings — including schools and a police station — and battled with police. There were about 10 arrests, and one police officer was reported injured. Police spokesman Kjell Lindgren says at least 30 cars were set ablaze across western and southern Stockholm early Thursday. Firefighters said they have "never before seen so many fires raging at the same time."
Fire also destroyed a restaurant in Skogas, south of Stockholm. Government officials have called for calm while the rioters say they won't stop until there is a full investigation into the shooting death of a 69-year-old mentally ill Husby man last week who, police say, was swinging a machete as police attempted a house search. "Everyone must work to restore calm," said Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt.
On Wednesday night and into Thursday, hundreds of residents walked the streets to answer the appeal for calm. The unrest in poor, immigrant suburbs is only the latest to break out in Europe over the past decade following riots in Paris in 2005 and in London in 2011. But it has shocked both locals and those outside the rich northern country famous for its tolerance and generous welfare system known as the 'Swedish model,' a country also synonymous for its commitment to societal equality and justice.
Now, locals are wondering if Sweden has done any better than its European neighbors in assimilating its immigrant population, especially as administrations in the past two decades have been slowly dismantling the cradle-to-grave welfare benefits. That has led to rising income inequality that has hit the young and immigrants the hardest with unemployment running at 7% for the general population, and 16% among residents of foreign origin.
Economic inequality poses a problem not only in Sweden but elsewhere. While rioting is a useless exercise in unrestrained freedom—accomplishing little than destroying the neighborhoods in which the immigrants themselves reside—it does in the end raise both questions and awareness of problems that newcomers to an old, existing culture face.

That the unemployment rate for newcomers is double that of the general population is an important number, and it ought not be dismissed out of hand. Whether it’s discrimination or a lack of skills and education, such areas need be looked at more carefully by the government. Social peace is closely linked to employment, since employed persons generally want to keep working and ensuring the stability of social, political and economic infrastructures. The short answer to the problem in Sweden and elsewhere in Europe and North America are jobs, and preferably well-paying and satisfying ones.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Is The U.S. Becoming A Police State?

Human Freedoms

Forgive the provacative title; I will address that issue in a minute. First, consider this film clip taken from the American-made movie, Good Night, Good Luck (2005), it forms part of the journalistic life of Edward R. Murrow, one of America’s most known and respected journalists. Edward R. Murrow is played here by David Strathairn

It is based on one of the most famous broadcasts in defense of freedom in modern history. On March 9, 1954, Edward R. Murrow, produced a half-hour See It Now special entitled “A Report on Senator Joseph McCarthy.” The show culminates in the final video clip on the values of dissent in a democracy. It is a direct response to the hysteria of McCarthyism, the Red Scare, and the fear of Communism of the 1950s.

Such sentiments and fears ring true today, with the fear of terrorism resulting in a climate of fear and silencing dissent. It might be far worse today than it was in the 1950s, under McCarthyism [1950-1956], since it has resisted all forms of reason and rational thought, and has lasted since the terrible events of September 2001—more than 11 years ago.

As Mr. Murrow rightly pointed out: “Dissent is not Disloyalty.” Edward R. Murrow’s defense of liberty is described below:
We must not confuse dissent with disloyalty. We must remember always that accusation is not proof and that conviction depends upon evidence and due process of law. We will not walk in fear, one of another. We will not be driven by fear into an age of unreason, if we dig deep in our history and our doctrine, and remember that we are not descended from fearful men— not from men who feared to write, to speak, to associate and to defend causes that were, for the moment, unpopular.
This is no time for men who oppose Senator McCarthy’s methods to keep silent, or for those who approve. We can deny our heritage and our history, but we cannot escape responsibility for the result. We proclaim ourselves, as indeed we are, the defenders of freedom, wherever it continues to exist in the world, but we cannot defend freedom abroad by deserting it at home.
The actions of the junior Senator from Wisconsin have caused alarm and dismay amongst our allies abroad, and given considerable comfort to our enemies. And whose fault is that? Not really his. He didn’t create this situation of fear; he merely exploited it—and rather successfully. Cassius was right. “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves.”
Good night, and good luck.
Similar things are taking place today; cynical men and women, not only in the U.S., but in Canada Britain, France and Israel are exploiting the situation. Consider this: Hendrik Hertzberg writes about the length that the U.S. will go to prevent terrorist attacks—yet ignore the deaths from gun violence—in an article (“Preventive Measures”) published in The New Yorker: “In the United States since 9/11, Islamist terrorism has resulted in the deaths of thirty-seven people. During the same period, ten thousand times that many have been killed by guns wielded by their countrymen or themselves.” The only rational conclusion, then, is that American legislators are not really concerned about the value of human lives.

Then there is the recent announcement that the U.S. Justice Department, as CNN says, “secretly collected two months of telephone records for reporters and editors at The Associated Press,” the news agency reported.

The CNN article, by Matt Smith and Joe Johns, says:
The records included calls from several AP bureaus and the personal phone lines of several staffers, AP President Gary Pruitt wrote. Pruitt called the subpoenas a "massive and unprecedented intrusion" into its reporting.
"These records potentially reveal communications with confidential sources across all of the newsgathering activities undertaken by the AP during a two-month period, provide a road map to AP's newsgathering operations and disclose information about AP's activities and operations that the government has no conceivable right to know," wrote Pruitt, the news agency's CEO.
The AP reported that the government has not said why it wanted the records. But it noted that U.S. officials have said they were probing how details of a foiled bomb plot that targeted a U.S.-bound aircraft leaked in May 2012. The news agency said records from five reporters and an editor who worked on a story about the plot were among those collected.
The subpoenas were disclosed to the news agency on Friday, Pruitt wrote. In all, federal agents collected records from more than 20 lines, including personal phones and AP phone numbers in New York; Hartford, Connecticut; and Washington, he wrote.
"We regard this action by the Department of Justice as a serious interference with AP's constitutional rights to gather and report the news," he told Holder. Pruitt demanded that the department return all records collected and destroy all copies.
The U.S. attorney's office in Washington responded that federal investigators seek phone records from news outlets only after making "every reasonable effort to obtain information through alternative means." It did not disclose the subject of the probe.
"We must notify the media organization in advance unless doing so would pose a substantial threat to the integrity of the investigation," it said. "Because we value the freedom of the press, we are always careful and deliberative in seeking to strike the right balance between the public interest in the free flow of information and the public interest in the fair and effective administration of our criminal laws."
This is shameful and a weak defense of an action that explicitly goes against the U.S. Constitution. In addition, something rings false about the statement from the Justice Department in defense of an intrusive action; after all they are infringing on an important constitutional right, namely, freedom of the press.

So, what is really behind all this surveillance, then? The advocates of a surveillance society will argue that such is necessary and proves the effectiveness of the American’s ability to stop terrorist attacks; yet, we can never really know if that is indeed the case, since we are not privy to the actions and thinking of the state security organizations. They, after all, work under a cloak of secrecy.

There’s more disturbing news, this time against the constitutionally protected right to free assembly. An article, by Jed Morey, in the Long Island Press, says the military has been granted legal authority to unilaterally act against civil-rights movements and protests, which are constitutionally protected. This comes after a previous law, NDAA 2012,  granted the executive branch to indefinitely detain U.S. citizens without due process.

In response to this draconian measure, the article says, “Last year, Bruce Afran and another civil liberties attorney Carl Mayer filed a lawsuit against the Obama Administration on behalf of a group of journalists and activists lead by former New York Times journalist Chris Hedges.”.

Morey writes about the latest law:
Bruce Afran, a civil liberties attorney and constitutional law professor at Rutgers University, calls the rule, “a wanton power grab by the military,” and says, “It’s quite shocking actually because it violates the long-standing presumption that the military is under civilian control.”
[…] 
Another of the plaintiffs in the Hedges suit is Alexa O’Brien, a journalist and organizer who joined the lawsuit after she discovered a Wikileaks cable showing government officials attempting to link her efforts to terrorist activities. For activists such as O’Brien, the new DoD regulatory change is frightening because it creates, “an environment of fear when people cannot associate with one another.” Like Afran and Freedman, she too calls the move, “another grab for power under the rubric of the war on terror, to the detriment of citizens.”
[…]  
Despite protestations from figures such as Afran and O’Brien and past admonitions from groups like the ACLU, for the first time in our history the military has granted itself authority to quell a civil disturbance. Changing this rule now requires congressional or judicial intervention.
“This is where journalism comes in,” says Freedman. “Calling attention to an unauthorized power grab in the hope that it embarrasses the administration.” Afran is considering amending his NDAA complaint currently in front of the court to include this regulatory change.
I think, or at least I hope with unbridled optimism, that the U.S. Supreme Court will rule eventually against these laws, considering them unconstitutional. Even so, such anti-constitutional actions— and I have only enumerated a few that have taken place over the last few years—lend credence to the charge that the U.S. is technically close to being a police state, or at least becoming more authoritarian, more tyrannical, whose chief purpose evidence shows is serving the purpose and interests of Corporate America— as hard as this idea is for many Americans to consider, let alone believe. 

This current state of affairs, precipitated by fear and greed, has induced an uncontrolled chemical reaction, which is neither good for democracy nor for humanity in general. That civil liberties— starting immediately after 9/11 under the Bush Administration and continuing under the Obama Administration—have been impoverished is undeniably true. Let’s hope that such reactions stop soon.

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A shorter version of this article was originally published at Perry J. Greenbaum on October 19, 2010.

Five Stories Of The Week: Ending May 18, 2013


News & Commentary



Here are five stories that shaped my world this week:

Election Results In Pakistan: An article, in BBC News says now that Nawaz Sharif and his party, Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N), have won the general elections, he faces a number of challenges, not the least of which are economic and energy matters.

The BBC article says:
Financial daily Business Recorder says the elections have given the country "a rare chance to reconstruct the country "which has to be harnessed and fully exploited to regain our due place in the comity of nations".As Mr Sharif comes from a business family, the paper argues this should help him "winning back the confidence and trust of the foreign investors".
Daily Times too feels that the "economy, particularly energy, needs immediate attention" and notes that "terrorism will remain a great impediment in persuading capital, domestic and foreign, to invest in the country".Pakistan has faced severe power shortages affecting its ability to bolster the economy. The Nation warns that "the monster of load-shedding (power cuts), and its concomitant evils, lies in wait for the PML-N government".
Writing in the Dawn newspaper, columnist Murtaza Haider says "the faltering economy, a near complete breakdown of the infrastructure characterised by power outages and fuel shortages, unemployment, terrorist violence… are some of the challenges that have to be confronted by the new government".Mr Sharif has promised to make a series of changes in governance to tackle these key issues. But some pundits are urging a cautious approach. "Thus, promising jobs for everyone in months, ending corruption in 90 days, and a quick end to load-shedding are the kind of promises that no government will be able to fulfil in a jiffy," Mr Haider adds.
Leading columnist Tariq Rahman also highlights power shortages and the economy as challenges for the new government in his Express Tribune article, but adds that it will have to take an inclusive approach in dealing with them.
This is not the first time Prime Minister Sharif has been in power; let’s hope that he has learned from past encounters with power and will now take a more inclusive approach, one that will benefit all peoples of Pakistan.

Making Bibi’s Bed in Israel: It is often the case that when political leaders stay in power too long, they become so arrogant that they lose sight of who placed them in power in the first place. Such is the case with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, who decided to install a double bed on a flight, costing Israeli taxpayers $127,000 at a time when regular Israelis face austerity measures.

In an article in The Guardian, Harriet Sherwood writes:
The revelation comes amid growing resentment over an austerity budget proposed by the finance minister Yair Lapid, a former TV personality who won popular support in January's election by promising to champion Israel's financially squeezed middle class. Up to 15,000 people demonstrated in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and other cities on Saturday night in an echo of the massive social justice protests that swept the country two years ago.
Following an outcry over the cost of installing a "rest chamber" on the chartered El Al flight, Netanyahu's office said that henceforth no sleeping cabins would be provided on short-haul flights to Europe. Initially, officials defended the move – disclosed by Israel's Channel 10 on Friday evening – in a statement that was immediately mocked by commentators for its detailed account of Netanyahu's schedule.
The statement said: "The prime minister took off for London on the night after Independence Day, in the course of which he attended a reception for outstanding soldiers at the presidential residence, the World Bible Quiz, a reception for diplomatic personnel in Israel and the Israel prize ceremony. The flight was booked for midnight after a day full of events, and afterwards the prime minister was to represent the state of Israel at a number of official international events, including meetings with the prime ministers of Canada and Britain. It is acceptable for the prime minister of Israel to be able to rest at night between two packed days as those."
El Al, Israel's national airline, was paid $427,000 for the charter flight, including the cost of the chamber. A smaller plane, without sleeping quarters, would have cost $300,000, according to Israeli media reports. Channel 10 pointed out that the Israeli president, Shimon Peres, who will be 90 next month, spent an 11-hour flight to South Korea seated in business class.
Writing in Yedioth Ahronoth, Israel's biggest-selling newspaper, Sima Kadmon said: "We thought that nothing could surprise us anymore when it came to the Netanyahus' personal behaviour. Well, we thought wrong. It turns out that King Bibi and Queen Sara are entitled to do everything … The double bed that was installed on the plane cost the Israeli public, which is buckling under the weight of the austerity measures, half a million shekels. Is there no shame?
No, not on the part of this “royal couple,” who have shown a great sense of entitlement. That they both lack empathy is quite apparent.  That they care only about the trappings of power is also apparent. It's unfortunate that Israel, a nation founded on socialist principles, has veered so far right, that it is now being led by a radical and arrogant man. The day that he steps down cannot come too soon for the state of Israel, which deserves a more rational and thoughtful leader.

Better Conditions In Bangladesh: An article, by Olga Khazan, in The Atlantic says that better working conditions in Bangladesh would cost consumers a nominal increase in clothing prices.

Khazan writes:
The dangerous conditions have been partly blamed on price-conscious businesses, some of whom go with the cheapest and often least-safe local suppliers at the expense of protections for workers. After a November fire that killed 112 workers, brands like Wal-Mart, Gap, and H&M refused to sign a new union-proposed safety plan, which would have introduced more rigorous safety inspections, saying it was “not financially feasible.”
That price pressure comes from consumers, too, though. In a story that's so darkly uncomfortable it reads like it's from The Onion—but is in fact from Bloomberg—a young British shopper explains how she loves her bargains even though she’s troubled by the plight of workers in developing countries: “It bothers me, but a lot of retailers are getting their clothes from these places and I can't see how I can change anything,” 21-year-old university student Elizabeth McNail said, clutching a brown paper bag from clothier Primark the day after a building collapse in Savar, Bangladesh, killed at least 381 people. “They definitely need to improve, but I'll still shop here. It's so cheap.”
This consumer cognitive dissonance raises the question: just how much more expensive would our clothes get if factories in Bangladesh were safer? There aren't many clear-cut studies on the matter because it would depend on how much the retailers passed on the price increases to customers, as opposed to taking a hit to profit margins. Scott Nova at the Worker's Rights Consortium, a Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group, made this calculation:
We have a general cost estimate for the renovations, upgrades and retrofitting of buildings that is needed across the industry in Bangladesh to make the factories safe. The figure is $3 billion. That translates to about 8 cents per garment at factory price. 
That $3 billion, Nova says, would go toward properly constructed fire exits and fire escapes, emergency lighting, proper alarm systems, electrical rewiring, closure of structurally unsound buildings, and the relocation of factories to safe structures. The impact to retailers' profits, he argues, would be minimal:
For a major retailer, with 5 percent of its production in Bangladesh, which is typical, the increased cost would be about four one-thousandths of a percent of total corporate revenue.A tiny fraction of one percent isn't much, but that's not the end of a t-shirt or tennis shoe's life-cycle:
It’s both wrong and a cynical ploy on the part of major retailers to blame the consumers. It’s up the corporations to change things; after all, they have the money and the power to do so, if they were so inclined. That major retailers say it’s not financially feasible” is an obvious lie when they rack up billions in profits; there is no other way of putting it when they bend the truth to suit their avarice. It raises the question on whether the major retailers really care about working conditions in such nations as Bangladesh. So far their silence on the matter tells us otherwise.

Breach Of Constitution In U.S.: An article in CNN and widely reported says that the American Department of Justice, as CNN says, “secretly collected two months of telephone records for reporters and editors at The Associated Press,” the news agency reported.

The CNN article, by Matt Smith and Joe Johns, says:
The records included calls from several AP bureaus and the personal phone lines of several staffers, AP President Gary Pruitt wrote. Pruitt called the subpoenas a "massive and unprecedented intrusion" into its reporting.
"These records potentially reveal communications with confidential sources across all of the newsgathering activities undertaken by the AP during a two-month period, provide a road map to AP's newsgathering operations and disclose information about AP's activities and operations that the government has no conceivable right to know," wrote Pruitt, the news agency's CEO.
The AP reported that the government has not said why it wanted the records. But it noted that U.S. officials have said they were probing how details of a foiled bomb plot that targeted a U.S.-bound aircraft leaked in May 2012. The news agency said records from five reporters and an editor who worked on a story about the plot were among those collected
The subpoenas were disclosed to the news agency on Friday, Pruitt wrote. In all, federal agents collected records from more than 20 lines, including personal phones and AP phone numbers in New York; Hartford, Connecticut; and Washington, he wrote.
"We regard this action by the Department of Justice as a serious interference with AP's constitutional rights to gather and report the news," he told Holder. Pruitt demanded that the department return all records collected and destroy all copies.
The U.S. attorney's office in Washington responded that federal investigators seek phone records from news outlets only after making "every reasonable effort to obtain information through alternative means." It did not disclose the subject of the probe.
"We must notify the media organization in advance unless doing so would pose a substantial threat to the integrity of the investigation," it said. "Because we value the freedom of the press, we are always careful and deliberative in seeking to strike the right balance between the public interest in the free flow of information and the public interest in the fair and effective administration of our criminal laws."
This is shameful and a weak defense of an action that explicitly goes against the U.S. Constitution. In addition, something rings false about the statement from the Justice Department in defense of an intrusive action; after all they are infringing on an important constitutional right, namely, freedom of the press. I expect many lawsuits will be forthcoming soon against the Department of Justice.

Economic Revival In Japan: After two decades of stagnation in Japan, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has revitalized the economy; so say an article in this week’s Economist:
WHEN Shinzo Abe resigned after just a year as prime minister, in September 2007, he was derided by voters, broken by chronic illness, and dogged by the ineptitude that has been the bane of so many recent Japanese leaders. Today, not yet five months into his second term, Mr Abe seems to be a new man. He has put Japan on a regime of “Abenomics”, a mix of reflation, government spending and a growth strategy designed to jolt the economy out of the suspended animation that has gripped it for more than two decades. He has supercharged Japan’s once-fearsome bureaucracy to make government vigorous again. And, with his own health revived, he has sketched out a programme of geopolitical rebranding and constitutional change that is meant to return Japan to what Mr Abe thinks is its rightful place as a world power.
Mr Abe is electrifying a nation that had lost faith in its political class. Since he was elected, the stockmarket has risen by 55%. Consumer spending pushed up growth in the first quarter to an annualised 3.5%. Mr Abe has an approval rating of over 70% (compared with around 30% at the end of his first term). His Liberal Democratic Party is poised to triumph in elections for the upper house of the Diet in July. With a majority in both chambers he should be able to pass legislation freely.
Pulling Japan out of its slump is a huge task. After two lost decades, the country’s nominal GDP is the same as in 1991, while the Nikkei, even after the recent surge, is at barely a third of its peak. Japan’s shrinking workforce is burdened by the cost of a growing number of the elderly. Its society has turned inwards and its companies have lost their innovative edge.
Mr Abe is not the first politician to promise to revitalise his country—the land of the rising sun has seen more than its share of false dawns—and the new-model Abe still has everything to prove. Yet if his plans are even half successful, he will surely be counted as a great prime minister.
That he will, because the people of Japan have been waiting a long time to see some improvement in their way of life. China’s success has in many ways been Japan's demise as a leading economic power; China displaced Japan’s long-standing position as the world’s second largest economy, after the United States. It will interesting to see how well Japan fares in the next year or two under “Abenomics.”


Sunday, May 12, 2013

The Memory & Smells Of Food


Sense & Sensibility

"Memories, imagination, old sentiments, and associations are more readily reached through the sense of smell than through any other channel."

Oliver Wendell Holmes 


Beef Brisket: The smell of a juicy roast beef brisket, with potatoes and vegetables, only improves its taste.
Photo Credit: Evan Sklar/Getty
CourtesyEsquire
Mr. Holmes is right, of course. Of all the senses, smell holds the most memories. Some individuals can remember the smell of certain events as if he were there now. Smell is not only indicative of time, but also of place. The smell of smoke, for example, is pleasant at a camp-fire during the summer, or when grilling hot dogs, hamburgers or steaks on the barbecue, but not inside your kitchen when toast or a pot roast has burnt to a charcoal crisp.

Some persons can enter into a period  of time from decades past by sniffing a whiff of a particular fragrance, a perfume or a cologne. I always love the smell of a freshly mown lawn; I am not sure why, but it makes me happy, as does the scent of fragrant flowers. So does the smell of certain foods, like a chicken soup cooking on the stove-top; chocolate chip cookies baking in the oven; or a roast brisket with potatoes in the oven. Or a beet borscht with dill or baked salmon with Teriyaki sauce.

For some, if not many persons, the smell alone is so powerful that it can get the saliva juices going, beginning the gustatory experience. It's a sure bet to say that those who love food also love particular smells and relish them. That being said, you undoubtedly have your own pleasant memories of smells that draw you into a good place—a feeling of bliss. The company you keep and whether the meal was a particularly joyous one can and often influences the memory of it and the sensory experience. (e.g., I can still recall some exceptional meals I have eaten over the years, including one of a rack of lamb that was cooked to perfection.)

So, what is it about smell that makes such connections? Well, science offers an explanation, which makes perfect sense, and is easy enough to understand. In an article published in  PsychCentral, Rick Nauert writes about some noteworthy research at the Weizmann Institute in Israel:
Weizmann Institute scientists posited that the key might not necessarily lie in childhood, but rather in the first time a smell is encountered in the context of a particular object or event. In other words, the initial association of a smell with an experience will somehow leave a unique and lasting impression in the brain.
Given that many pleasant food experiences, and others such as the smell of a freshly mown lawn or the smell of fragrant flowers, occur in early childhood, the connection is made and sealed in the memory early in our history. And once these memories and associations are stored, they can be brought up for future use.

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This article was originally posted at Perry J. Greenbaum (November 12, 2012)

Five Stories Of The Week: Ending May 11, 2013

News & Commentary


Here are five stories that shaped my world this week:

Anti-Semitism In Hungary: An article, by Zoltan Simon, in BusinessWeek says that anti-Semitism has become more noticeable and vocal in Hungary, a nation with a long history of anti-Jewish sentiment.  This is taking place as the World Jewish Congress meets in Budapest, the nation's capital.

Simon writes:
Jewish leaders from around the world called on Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban to do more to stem rising antisemitism in the country as the premier urged “zero tolerance” for hatred. About 500 delegates of the World Jewish Congress started three days of meetings yesterday in Budapest, home to central Europe’s largest Jewish population. Antisemitism, including the rise of the radical Jobbik party, is “dragging the good name of Hungary through the mud,” WJC President Ronald S. Lauder said, with Orban in the audience.
Jobbik is the third-biggest party in the Hungarian Parliament. One of its lawmakers, Marton Gyongyosi, on Nov. 26 called for a list of Jewish legislators and government members who pose a “national security risk.” Jobbik held a demonstration on the eve of the WJC meeting in Budapest “to commemorate the victims of Zionism and Bolshevism.” More than 500,000 Hungarians, mostly Jews, were killed in the Holocaust, according to the Budapest-based Holocaust Memorial Center.
“Hungarian Jews need you to take a firm and decisive lead,” Lauder told Orban at the meeting yesterday. “They need you to take on these dark forces. They need you to be pro- active. They need your leadership in this fight.”
Hungary introduced an annual Holocaust memorial day under the previous Orban administration more than a decade ago and the current government banned Jobbik paramilitary groups and passed a constitution the Cabinet considers to be more effective in fighting extremism, the Hungarian leader said yesterday. The government blocked an anti-Semitic demonstration in Budapest last month and this weekend’s Jobbik protest took place after a court ruling overturned a police ban urged by Orban.
This is not free speech; this is free hatred, and it has no place in a democratic society. Prime Minister Viktor Orban has to do more, and if he doesn't, it could either mean that he has some unsaid sympathy for the forces of hatred, or that he fears political repercussions for taking a stronger, more visible stand against hated of Jews. The former makes him a closet anti-Semite; the latter a coward. Or perhaps the sentiments of Jewish-hatred run so deep in Hungary, and Orban can’t help but feeling the way he does. Let’s hope that this is not so.

InJustice In America: An article in The Economist says that President Obama needs to close Guantánamo and give the prisoners a fair trial or release them immediately. Continuing things as they are is a disgrace to America and its highest ideals. The fault lies chiefly with the American Congress.

The Economist writes:
Roughly 100 of the 166 detainees still in Guantánamo are now on hunger strike, and extra doctors were brought in this week to help with what the administration refuses to call force-feeding (see article). No matter what they have done, this is wrong. This newspaper has condemned Guantánamo as unjust, unwise and un-American for a decade. The spectre of prisoners denied either a fair trial or the possibility of release is Orwellian. Nothing has done more to sully America’s image in the modern world. They should be tried or set free, just as terrorist suspects are in every other civilised country.
Four years and three months ago, Barack Obama, in one of his first official acts as president, wrote an executive order to close the prison camp. This week he said Guantánamo “is contrary to who we are, it is contrary to our interests, and it needs to stop.” And yet it goes on. Some of the 166 have been there as long as 11 years, without ever even having been charged.
Most of the blame lies with Congress—with politicians from both parties. Mr Obama’s original plan to close the camp was scuppered by the Senate in 2009 when it voted, by 90 to six, not to let him use federal money to transfer the remaining prisoners in Guantánamo to a prison in Illinois for trial in a civilian court. Votes seldom get more bipartisan than that. In subsequent legislation Congress made it virtually impossible for detainees to be sent anywhere at all.
[...] 
Mr Obama and Congress have thus ensured that even the 86 detainees whom the administration has slated for release are stuck. The remainder, whom the Americans reckon have cases to answer, cannot be tried in civilian court because Congress has blocked that route, and the administration has given up trying to change its mind. With the Republicans now in control of the House, the chances of a reversal on that score look unlikely. Some are supposedly being tried by Donald Rumsfeld’s “military tribunals” at Guantánamo itself: but that process is so ugly and has run into so many legal difficulties that it has more or less ground to a halt. Sending them abroad for trial would not work, in most cases, either: the evidence is generally too weak or too tainted by torture (thank you, Mr Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney et al) to try them anywhere.
Yes, you can thank the inept Bush Administration for creating the judicial and legal mess that America finds itself in. But that does not mean it can't correct 11 years of mistakes. Since the prisoners have not had due process, its imperative that America release the prisoners now. It's the right thing to do, and improve America's international standing the world.

China's Cyber Attacks In America: An article, by David E. Sanger, in The New York Times says that the U.S. government has directly accused China of mounting cyber-attacks of American government computers and defence contractors.

Sanger writes:
While some recent estimates have more than 90 percent of cyberespionage in the United States originating in China, the accusations relayed in the Pentagon’s annual report to Congress on Chinese military capabilities were remarkable in their directness. Until now the administration avoided directly accusing both the Chinese government and the People’s Liberation Army of using cyberweapons against the United States in a deliberate, government-developed strategy to steal intellectual property and gain strategic advantage.
“In 2012, numerous computer systems around the world, including those owned by the U.S. government, continued to be targeted for intrusions, some of which appear to be attributable directly to the Chinese government and military,” the nearly 100-page report said.
The report, released Monday, described China’s primary goal as stealing industrial technology, but said many intrusions also seemed aimed at obtaining insights into American policy makers’ thinking. It warned that the same information-gathering could easily be used for “building a picture of U.S. network defense networks, logistics, and related military capabilities that could be exploited during a crisis.”
This is the threat of the modern age; theft by stealth. That the U.S. identified China as the author of much of the espionage directed against it is not surprising, given that China wants to become more of a military power. Instead of developing its own technologies, an expensive and time-consuming process, it wants to gain them by theft. It's important for the U.S., in this case, to both mount a strategy of protecting its vital interests and letting China know that it has been caught with its hand in the proverbial “cookie jar.”

The Greed Factor In Operation: An article, by George Monbiot, in The Guardian says something that many of us already know, namely, for the wealthy, it’s a matter of accumulating more with the aim of being on top of the heap, the king of the financial jungle, the pointed head of the pyramid. It’s getting more money for no other purpose than to be No. 1—a total waste of energy and a fool’s game. It's also, as Monbiot writes, “the politics of envy.”

For the wealthy, the greatest fear is that someone wants to take their money, thereby losing status and loss of identity. Monbiot writes about the power that money has over the monied class:
This pursuit can suck the life out of its adherents. In Lauren Greenfield's magnificent documentary The Queen of Versailles, David Siegel – "America's timeshare king" – appears to abandon all interest in life as he faces the loss of his crown. He is still worth hundreds of millions. He still has an adoring wife and children. He is still building the biggest private home in America.
But as the sale of the skyscraper that bears his name and symbolises his pre-eminence begins to look inevitable, he sinks into an impenetrable depression. Dead-eyed, he sits alone in his private cinema, obsessively rummaging through the same pieces of paper, as if somewhere among them he can find the key to his restoration, refusing to engage with his family, apparently prepared to ruin himself rather than lose the stupid tower.
In order to grant the rich these pleasures, the social contract is reconfigured. The welfare state is dismantled. Essential public services are cut so that the rich may pay less tax. The public realm is privatised, the regulations restraining the ultra-wealthy and the companies they control are abandoned, and Edwardian levels of inequality are almost fetishised.
Politicians justify these changes, when not reciting bogus arguments about the deficit, with the incentives for enterprise that they create. Behind that lies the promise or the hint that we will all be happier and more satisfied as a result. But this mindless, meaningless accumulation cannot satisfy even its beneficiaries, except perhaps–and temporarily–the man wobbling on the very top of the pile.
The same applies to collective growth. Governments today have no vision but endless economic growth. They are judged not by the number of people in employment – let alone by the number of people in satisfying, pleasurable jobs – and not by the happiness of the population or the protection of the natural world. Job-free, world-eating growth is fine, as long as it's growth. There are no ends any more, just means.
Who says that governments today are wise or even good at managing the nation’s wealth? Who says that most economists know anything about what is necessary for a nation to thrive and provide well-paying jobs to its citizens. Looking around at the level of unemployment around the world, the answer is that most don’t. And couldn’t come up with a meaningful or original idea, or strategy, if their life (or livelihood) depended on it. (One notable exception is Paul Krugman, the Nobel laureate and New York Times columnist.)

Fitzgerald’s passage, which aptly describes that period, is from the First Gilded Age. We are today living in the Second Gilded Age, which might be worse in its excesses and inequalities than the first. For the most part, western capitalistic nations are led by men and women who have got sucked in to the philosophy of GDP growth (who knows why?), free markets and austerity budgets—as if a nation was just one big household. It’s not and this is a poor analogy, and anyone who thinks otherwise is a fool.

It does not take a doctorate in economics to know that all three measures favoured by neo-cons have fundamental flaws for good governance. And yet this foolish child’s game of rewarding the wealthy to see who can gain more toys (or money)— played by adults with the minds of children— persists to this day and, more so, is glorified not only in the financial press, but also in the major media.

U.S. Pledges Aid For Syria: The U.S State Department said on Wednesday that it will give $100-million in aid to Syria during its humanitarian crisis, precipitated by a civil war that has been continuing for two years.
The United States is providing an additional $100 million in humanitarian assistance to support those affected by the violence within Syria and the more than 1.4 million refugees across the region. This new funding is in addition to the nearly $25 million in food assistance for Syria announced by Secretary Kerry in Istanbul April 21. The United States remains the single-largest contributor of humanitarian assistance for the Syrian people, and with today’s announcement, is now providing nearly $510 million in humanitarian assistance.
The United States reaffirms our support and appreciation to those countries hosting refugees, and commends their efforts to provide protection and assistance to all who are fleeing the violence inside Syria. The United States recognizes the significant strains on local populations and the economic impacts of providing aid to refugees, and commends the hospitality of the citizens and governments who are welcoming refugees into their communities. We call on all governments to continue keeping their borders open to all who are fleeing the violence in Syria.
Today’s $100 million announcement will support the activities of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), both within Syria and as part of the regional refugee response in Jordan, Turkey and Lebanon. 
This is good news and the right measure of support.  

Sunday, May 5, 2013

What Ever Happened To Trudeau's Just Society?

Liberal Values

Ithis video clip (CBC Television News; Date: Dec. 21, 1967) of a news conference in Ottawa, then Justice Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau [1919-2000] of the reigning Liberal Party of Canada, announces sweeping changes to Canadian society in an omnibus bill that liberalizes many of the normal human desires that we now take for granted including sex, procreation and divorce.

The CBC writes:
"There's no place for the state in the bedrooms of the nation." Those unforgettable words made famous by Pierre Trudeau in 1967 caused a tidal wave of controversy that rippled across the entire nation. Trudeau's Omnibus Bill brought issues like abortion, homosexuality and divorce law to the forefront for the first time, changing the political and social landscape in Canada forever.
Conservatives to this day  hold Trudeau with contempt for these measures and others, such as multiculturalism, patriating the Constitution (1982), bilingualism and other liberal values that made Canada more tolerant and more inclusive. Even so, it was precisely such measures that brought Canada into the modern age and made it a better, more open and more secular democratic society. I have always admired Trudeau for having the courage of his convictions, even though I might not have always agreed with everything he said or did. I certainly admired his powerful intellect (his motto was "reason over passion"), his sense of humour and his sense of style.

Too many of today's politicians take themselves too seriously, lacking a true sense of self.  In my estimation, Trudeau was the best prime minister of the twentieth century. Academics in history, political science and international relations, in 2011, ranked Trudeau as the fifth-best prime minister in Canadian history.

On April 6, 1968, Trudeau became leader of the Liberal Party of Canada, where in his acceptance speech he used the phrase a Just Society, a phrase that would forever distinguish his political career. Pierre Elliott Trudeau, born in Montreal, my home town, was sworn in as the 15th prime minister of Canada on April 20, 1968; he then called a snap election for June 25, 1968, which he won, easily beating his Conservative opponent, Robert Stanfield. In sense, Stanfield was on the wrong side of history; Stanfield lacked the charisma needed for victory, as the times were changing, and Trudeaumania swept across Canada.

One of Trudeau's foreign-affairs accomplishment was establishing diplomatic relations with China early in his mandate, in 1970, many years in advance of the United States, and becoming the first Canadian prime minister to officially visit China, doing so in 1973.

I had the pleasure of meeting Trudeau when he was Prime Minister of Canada in 1974, when I was 16, at a downtown Montreal hotel. Although he had a security detail, they actually let a few of us go up and meet the prime minister as the red carpet was rolled out. I thought it was a great honour, even managing to have a brief chat with the prime minister. Another interesting note: I resided in the Mont-Royal riding in which Trudeau was my M.P.; when I turned 18, he always had my vote. 

I can't say the same for any Canadian political leader today, excpet perhaps his son, Justin Trudeau, the newly elected leader of the Liberal Party of Canada. Perhaps history will repeat itself, returning Canada to its rightful place as a liberal, tolerant nation.

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A version of this post was originally published at Perry J. Greenbaum (March 24, 2013)

Five Stories Of The Week: Ending May 4, 2013


News & Commentary



Here are five stories that shaped my world this week:

Chemical Weapons In Syria: An article in The New York Times raises the question on how much the United States ought to get involved in this mideast internal dispute, and it is in every way internal, and in every way a dispute. For the Republicans the answer is always simple: military intervention.
The lawmakers’ comments came after revelations last week that the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad, is believed to have used chemical weapons against his own people. On Sunday, several leading Republicans — including Senators Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and John McCain of Arizona, both of whom are members of the Armed Services Committee — used appearances on television talk shows to warn that failure to intervene in Syria would embolden nations like Iran and North Korea.
“If we keep this hands-off approach to Syria, this indecisive action toward Syria, kind of not knowing what we’re going to do next, we’re going to start a war with Iran because Iran’s going to take our inaction in Syria as meaning we’re not serious about their nuclear weapons program,” Mr. Graham saidon the CBS News program “Face the Nation.” Mr. Graham added, “There’s nothing you can do in Syria without risk, but the greatest risk is a failed state with chemical weapons falling in the hands of radical Islamists, and they’re pouring into Syria.”
Mr. Obama has previously said the use of chemical weapons in Syria would be a “red line” that would set off an American response. On Friday, one day after his administration disclosed that it believes Mr. Assad’s forces have used sarin gas against Syrian citizens, the president called it “a game changer.” The White House has said it wants to establish who used the weapons and whether their use was deliberate or accidental before deciding whether a red line has been crossed.
So far, the United States has taken limited military steps in Syria but has sent supplies like night-vision goggles and body armor to the rebels fighting the Assad government. Now Mr. Graham, Mr. McCain and others would like the United States to do more, possibly by arming the rebels or establishing a no-fly zone to neutralize Syria’s air defense, though they disagreed on the particulars.
That Syria’s government might be using chemical weapons against its people should come as no shock in a two-year-old civil war that has claimed more than 70,000 lives and displaced many more; all such wars lead to much death and destruction, including of innocents. There is a danger in both doing something (arming rebels, many of whom are Isalmists) and not doing anything (chemical weapons falling into the wrong hands, i.e., Islamists). Such is the conventional view, and it is not without merit. I think that there are other views, one that will not lead to American ground troops in Syria, a foolish idea that will lead to negative unintended consequences.

Change Of Views In Iran: An AP article, by Nasser Karim, published in The Huffington Post says that potential presidential candidate Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani has stated that Iran is not at war with Israel, depsite previous statements to the contrary made by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Karim writes:
Iran’s influential former president says his country is not at war with archenemy Israel, the media reported Monday, in the latest departure by a high-profile politician from the strident anti-Israel line traditionally taken by many senior Iranian leaders. The remarks by Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani follows calls from figures across the political spectrum to repair the damage to Iran’s international reputation they said had been caused by outgoing President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who called Israel a doomed state and questioned the extent of the Holocaust.
Several of them, including Rafsanjani, are considered possible contenders in June elections to replace Ahmadinejad as president. “We are not at war with Israel,” said the ex-president, quoted by several Iranian newspapers including the pro-reform Shargh daily. He said Iran would not initiate war against Israel, but “if Arab nations wage a war, then we would help.”
Comments on Iran’s policies on Israel must tread a fine line. While it’s possible to question Ahmadinejad's remarks, it’s dangerous to be seen as contradicting Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, who has called Israel a “cancer” in the region.
The remarks are unable to herald any significant changes in Iranian policy, but may indicate the assessment of politicians that Ahmadinejad's particular brand of strident anti-Israel rhetoric may hurt him with many voters. Rafsanjani is considered a political centrist, attractive to some reformists but not a candidate who would challenge the dominance of the clerical establishment. He has not ruled out a run at the presidency himself, but is more likely to throw his considerable influence behind a center candidate and may be burnishing his moderate credentials.
Clerical conservatives, who once backed Ahmadinejad but turned on him after he challenged the authority Khamenei in 2011, also want to distance themselves from the president.
I disagree with this writer’s analysis that “the remarks are unable to herald any significant changes in Iranian policy.“ In a place like Iran, airing such views does send a signal to the international community that Iran wants to change its previous ill-advised course, and possibly establish some sort of (initally perhaps low-level) diplomatic relations with Israel.

Such would be good news, both for the peoples of Iran and Israel, who I sense long for good diplomatic relations, both with Israel, and more important, with the United States. This might be a harbinger of things to come.

Parliamentary Brawl In Venezuela: An article, by Jorge Rueda, in ABC News says that parlimentarians became more aggresive than is typical in legislative debate, taking to physical violence over the much-disputed election results.

Rueda writes:
Venezuela's postelection tensions erupted into a brawl between lawmakers Tuesday night that left at least one opposition member badly bruised and bleeding. Pro-government legislators started throwing punches after members of the opposition coalition unfurled a banner in the National Assembly protesting a postelection ban stripping opposition lawmakers of most of their legislative powers, opposition lawmaker Ismael Garcia told The Associated Press. Video showed groups of legislators shoving and pushing each other on the floor.
Assembly member Julio Borges appeared on an independent television station soon after Tuesday night's brawl with blood running down one side of his swollen face. The opposition said at least 17 of its allies and five pro-government deputies were injured.
Pro-government legislators appeared on state TV accusing opposition members of attacking them.
The opposition has refused to accept President Nicolas Maduro's narrow April 14 victory, saying the government's 1.49 percent margin resulted from fraud like votes cast in the names of the thousands of dead people found on current voting rolls.
In retaliation, the government-dominated assembly has barred opposition lawmakers from public speaking and sitting on legislative committees. Tuesday's fight was the second in which opposition legislators said the other side attacked them for protesting the ban. Since the election the government has arrested dozens of protesters, mostly students. Most have been released but many say there were subjected to physical abuse and humiliation while detained.
There might be truth in the opposition's accusations of an unfair election and the anger is not only informed the actions of students who normally and easily take to such protests, but also to elected officials, Given that the elections have already taken place and the decision made by Venezuela’s electoral body, there is little likelihood that the results will either be reviewed or over-turned.

This makes for a political unstable period in Venezuela’s history. But such tactics might be necessary in a corrupt regime to persuade President Maduro.to incorporate some of opposition members into his cabinet.

May Day Protests In Europe. An article, by Felicity Morse, in The Huffington Post reports on the many worker protests happening around the world:
May Day protests are taking place on the streets of Europe, Tokyo, Jakarta, Moscow and Bangladesh, as people around the world mark International Workers' Day. In Greece, a general strike by the two largest trade unions, GSEE and ADEDY, in protest against the tough austerity measures are severely disrupting public services, including hospitals and transport.
Ferries and trains are at a standstill and hospital staff have walked out as hundreds of Greeks gather on the streets protesting against the highest unemployment in the EU.
According to statistics released on Wednesday, 27.2% of Greece's workforce are unemployed, and 59.1% of the under-25 age group are out of work, seeking employment. It follows a bill approved by parliament on Sunday which will leave 15,000 civil servants out of work by the end of next year.
Alexis Tsipras, the head of the Syriza opposition party, joined the thousands workers marching through Athens, holding banners. One sign calls for solidarity with foreign workers, the plight of which hit the headlines last month after farm foreman opened fire on a group of migrant strawberry workers who were protesting after not being paid for six months. As many as 29 strawberry pickers, mostly Bangladeshi immigrants, were injured in the attack with seven taken to hospital.
Police in Spain are also bracing for anti-austerity protests after rioting on the streets last year.
While In Germany Labour union representatives and other groups marched in support of fairer employment conditions and a minimum wage.Protests were also seen on the streets of France. The unemployment rate in France rose again last month, with 3.2 million people out of work.
Bangladeshi garment workers are protesting on the streets of Dhaka, the nation's capital, demanding better working conditions after a building collapsed. The death toll has now passed 400 with scores more still missing. Many are demanding the death penalty for the owner of the building, who has been arrested after going on the run from police.
May 1st, or May Day, is traditionally a day when workers take to the streets to celebrate their victories, including more on-the-job rights, better pay and better working conditions. This year, in the face of brutal austerity measures that many European governments have imposed, there is little to celebrate.

A symbol of what’s wrong with the world current form of capitalism can be found in Bangladesh, home to many of the world’s clothing factories—where slipshod construction and the need to make a fast buck gets in the way of proper construction codes and standards. The working conditions are retrograde and inhumane, reminiscent of 19th century America and Britain. For the wealthy western purchasers of cheap labour, all is fine in the world of commerce. Human life, in their estimation, is cheap. That’s capitalism, baby!

First Website In The World: It was twenty years ago, on April 30rd, 1993, that the first website was launched on what became known as the World Wide Web, an information network that has become so much part of our lives that it seems that it has already been with us.

In an article in Forbes, Larry Magid writes:

The web was far from the first Internet service. The Internet itself has been around since the late sixties. But until the advent of the web, the net was mostly the province of scientists and engineers. Even by the early nineties, when the web was opened up to civilians, it was dauntingly complex. In my 1994 book, Cruising Online: Larry Magid’s Guide to the New Digital Highways, I wrote “I’m not sure which is more difficult, trying to describe the Internet or learning to use it.”
In that book, I described a myriad of web applications including Gopher, news readers and Internet Relay Chat, all of which were eventually replaced by web technology.:On April 30th, 1993, the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) announced that it was creating the World Wide Web “to make an easy but powerful global information system” that ”consists of documents referring to each other by links.” The source code from the “web” was made available on a royalty free basis. CERN has re-posted what is believed to be one of the first websites and is sharing a copy of an early advertisement about the web. The web itself was invented by British physicist Tim Berners-Lee.
If the web has done anything, it has empowered people and allowed worldwide communication. It has removed the power from the state and from major media, de-centralizing authority, The state, true to its nature, continues to try to control the web through clumsy and foolish legislation, often unethical. But this too will ultimately fail for the same reasons that all inhumane actions fail. It does not serve the needs of the majority of people.