Sunday, April 28, 2013

The Advantages Of The Family Meal At Home

Family Time

The Family Meal: This idyllic picture of the family coming together to eat a meal is hardly the norm today, if it ever was, in most homes in North America. Yet, eating together is important to get a sense of what everyone in the family is up to—and no electronic devices at the table.The less distractions the better to enjoy both the meal and, if possible, each other. Equally important, this might improve the level of conversation, always a good thing.

Aarticle  by G. Murphy Donovan in the New English Review says something so obvious that it has been  ignored in the digital age where electronic gadgetry acts as both nanny and teacher, often replacing the role that parents once held. We are talking here about the family meal, a time often dreaded by both parents and children.

Even so, families that eat together regularly can teach their children how to become better, more involved citizens. The kitchen, often the most-neglected room in the house, can serve as a training ground to raise culturally mature and well-behaved children:
The penultimate virtue of cooking and dining at home is education. Yes, education; not just about food and nutrition, but education about everything else under the sun. Parents are the first and best primary teachers. Some formal schooling might be necessary for a diploma or a credential, but those critical early years are only a job for the deuce that produced.
All learning begins with the process of separating wants from needs – moving from me to thee. With this, all kids need help; that’s why we call them children. True home schooling might be something simple as an hour at the market, an afternoon in the garden, and a meal together, once or twice a day.By the time kids reach their teens, all that parents have left is influence once or twice removed. If those early opportunities are missed, we waste our lives and damage theirs. Kitchen and dinner tables are the earliest and best school desks to educate and socialize children. If we’re too busy for this, we have to ask ourselves; what’s more important? If parents have no answers, those ‘at risk’ monsters should not be a surprise. ‘At risk’ kids are surely the sons and daughters of clueless and neglect.
Every parent assumes that a child might learn to behave from good example, but few consider that kids are just as likely to be influenced by poor role models – at home. Parallel epidemics of electronic autism, childhood obesity, hyperactivity, and attention deficit disorders might not be entirely coincidental or unrelated. Sometimes the most obvious solution hides in plain sight. How hard is it to say: “Turn the damn thing off, eat your chicken soup, and sit there; talk or listen until you’re excused?” If the food is good and the table manners are crystal clear, family dinning is a nourishing ritual for body and soul.
The process of education, as Socrates noted over two millennia ago, is simply a dialogue; one or more civil people exchanging embarrassing questions. Ideas are thought to be contagious in a congenial setting; a place like the dinner table, where the participants are fed well and therefore well bred.
Such arguments might sound to some individuals as elitist and a call to return to '50s America, or an attack on women's liberation  but they are neither. They are in fact reasonable and democratic and allow parents to transmit proper values to their children, most of whom are eager to learn; of course that only works if the parents themselves have an idea of what values they want their children to consider and follow.

I would think that kindness, consideration, respect and good listening abilities would be on every parent's list. Bringing up children who will become healthy contributors to society requires more than feeding them on demand. That's not only poor or lazy parenting, it's a losing proposition all around.

You can read the rest of the article at [New English Review]

This article was originally published on Perry J. Greenbaum (December 2, 2012)

Five Stories Of The Week: Ending April 27, 2013

News & Commentary

Here are five stories that shaped my world this week:

Muslims “On Trial” In America: An article, Aliyah Frumin, in MSNBC says that Peter King, a Republican lawmaker, wants more surveillance on Muslims, in the wake of the Boston bombings and shootings. 

Frumin writes:
President Obama cautioned the nation not to rush to judgment about the Boston Marathon bombers. But that’s not stopping Republican Rep. Peter King. King, who chairs the House subcommittee on Counterterrorism and Intelligence, is urging authorities to beef up their surveillance of Muslims in the U.S.  following Friday night’s arrest of bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.
Police must “realize that the threat is coming from the Muslim community and increase surveillance there,” the New York lawmaker told National Review. King—who spearheaded controversial hearings on the radicalization of Muslim-Americans in 2011—also told CNN that “we can’t be politically correct. I think we have to see, has radicalization extended into the Chechen community?”
This is the precise reaction I would expect from Republicans, who pander to emotions and hate: more surveillance, more restrictions on individual liberties, and looking for easy answers to complex socio-economic and political issues. Simply put, let's hope that Mr. King's prejudiced and simple views are not heeded.

2 Terror Suspects Arrested In Toronto: An article in CBC News says that police have arrested two individuals who were planning to commit a terrorist attack on a train between Toronto and New York; the suspects were apparently supported by al-Qaeda.
In a press conference that followed a report by CBC's Greg Weston, police named the two accused as Chiheb Esseghaier, 30, of Montreal, and Raed Jaser, 35, from Toronto. They have been charged with conspiracy to carry out a terrorist attack and "conspiring to murder persons unknown for the benefit of, at the direction of, or in association with a terrorist group."
RCMP officials said the two accused were plotting to derail a passenger train. Jennifer Strachan, chief superintendent of RCMP criminal operations in the province of Ontario, said the two suspects watched trains and railways in the Greater Toronto Area.
"We are alleging that these two individuals took steps and conducted activities to initiate a terrorist attack," she told reporters.
There was a specific route targeted, not necessarily a specific train, Strachan said, although she declined to reveal the route. According to a Reuters report, U.S. law enforcement and national security sources said the alleged plot targeted a rail line between Toronto and New York City. The two men arrested are not Canadian citizens but were in the country legally, police said Monday. Investigators would not provide any details about their nationalities.
The RCMP accused the two men of conspiring to commit an "al-Qaeda-supported" attack.
There is no connection between this planned attack and the recent attack in Boston. In this case, the men’s extreme views came to light when a Muslim immam alerted authorities, which shows that community is becoming more co-operative with the police and it serves their interests to do so. The CBC writes: “Toronto Imam Yusuf Badat, of the Islamic Foundation of Toronto, told CBC's Evan Solomon that RCMP officers said they received tips from the Muslim community that led to the arrests. RCMP spoke to community leaders before the news briefing held Monday. Badat said none of the community leaders that were present at the briefing had heard of the two men arrested.”

Palastinians & Peace In Israel: An article in the Jerusalem Post says that the Palestinians want to return to the negotating table to revive peace plans that have been stalled since 2008.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas wants to negotiate peace with Israel and would like to see an offer of confidence-building measures, Spanish Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Garcia- Margallo told Israel’s President Shimon Peres on Tuesday.He spoke with Peres after meeting with Abbas in Amman on Saturday and explained to the Israeli president that his country wanted to help ensure that a two-state solution is reached.
“I had a meeting with President Abbas and I felt that he is willing to negotiate a peace process. He asked me to convey a message that he would like to see confidence-building measures regarding political prisoners and the problem of the settlements,” Garcia-Margallo said.“I transmitted to him and to the Jordanian authorities and now to you that you can count on Spain for any help we can offer to bring peace to this city, this city of peace,” Garcia-Margallo said.
He spoke amidst a renewed US push to rekindle direct Israeli- Palestinian negotiations, which have been largely frozen since December 2008. But the Palestinians have insisted that they will talk with Israel only when it stops West Bank settlement activity and Jewish building in east Jerusalem. Israel has refused to cede to that request and has instead called on the Palestinians to return to the negotiating table without preconditions.At a conference held by the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv on Tuesday, US Ambassador to Israel
Dan Shapiro said that direct negotiations were the only way to achieve a two-state solution. He urged both Israelis and Palestinians to take steps to create an atmosphere in which those talks could occur.US Secretary of State John Kerry spoke of a new economic initiative for the Palestinians to help create a better climate for talks, when he visited the region two weeks ago. He had promised to unveil that plan last week, but has yet to do so.
During their meeting, Peres told Garcia-Margallo, “Peace with the Palestinians is Israel’s policy. To overcome the remaining gaps, we have to negotiate, and I believe that the Palestinian Authority and its president, President Abbas, are a partner that we can and should negotiate with.”
It remains to be seen if Prime Minister Netanyahu sees things the same way. It's doubtful that he does, not really endorsing a two-state solution, which is the only possible road to peace. Using ancient history to justify a single Jewish state is politically impossible to implement; it has no support from the international community and is never likely to succeed. If politics is the art of the possible, it's important that the current government in Israel cede to rational thinking and not to religious zealotry. History has shown that the latter leads to deadly results, the former to peace. Choose peace.

No More Free Education At NYC's Cooper Union: An article, by Ariel Kamineer,  in The New York Times say that Cooper Union in the east Village of New York City will no longer officially give free education to its students, a policy decision that dates to its founding more than 100 years ago; the decision was met by unbelief by many staff and students:

Kamineer writes:
The decision ends almost two years of roiling debate about an education that was long revered for being “free as air and water,” and stood as the school’s most distinguishing feature, insulating it until now from concerns about the rising cost of a college degree.
Under the plan adopted by Cooper Union’s trustees, the prestigious college, based in the East Village, will continue need-blind admissions. But beginning in fall 2014, it will charge students based on what the college described as a steeply sliding scale, with those deemed able paying around $20,000, and many others, including those “with the greatest needs,” paying nothing. The change would not apply to undergraduates enrolled as of this fall.
“The time has come to set our institution on a path that will enable it to survive and thrive well into the future,” the board chairman, Mark Epstein, said in an announcement to students and faculty members in the college’s Great Hall. “Under the new policy, the Cooper Union will continue to adhere to the vision of Peter Cooper, who founded the institution specifically to provide a quality education to those who might not otherwise be able to afford it.”
Some students wept during the announcement; others left, declaring there was nothing more to hear. “I can’t even process this,” said Ashley Katz, 20, a second-year architecture student from California. “One of my professors came out and said, ‘Drape the whole school in black.’ ”
After the speech, opponents of the decision gathered outside the Great Hall, where Abraham Lincoln gave one of his most famous speeches, in opposition to the westward expansion of slavery, and staged what they called a walkout. Cooper Union opened in 1859, endowed by the industrialist Peter Cooper with valuable real estate and a mission of educating working-class New Yorkers, at no cost to them. Early on, some students who could afford to pay did so, but no undergraduates have paid for more than 100 years. Along with the nation’s military academies, Cooper Union was among the only remaining schools in the United States that did not charge tuition.
It's a shame that a philanthropist or two could not make a donation to cover the annual operating shortfall of $12 million, a pittance for many of the wealthy in New York City. Perhaps one of the Wall Street players could get together with others of his kind and write a cheque to Cooper Union, even anonymously. That would win some points on the street and keep a great institution operating according to the ideas and ideals of its benefactor, Peter Cooper, the 18th century industrialist and philanthropist who held progressive ideas, including that women ought to receive a higher education.

As a note of interest, there is another college in New York that offers free tuition, The New York Times says in a recent article by Ariel Kamineer:
But for New Yorkers, the closest free-tuition college is also the newest: Macaulay, the honors college of the City University of New York. With a home base in Manhattan but with students spread across eight other CUNY colleges, Macaulay uses the city itself as both campus and curriculum. And on top of waiving tuition for its elite New York students, it throws in a laptop, up to $7,500 for research, travel or internships, a “cultural passport” to many New York institutions, and in many cases housing subsidies, too.
Ethnic Clashes In China: An article, by Barbara Demick, in The Los Angeles Times says that ethnic Uighurs, who are Muslim, clashed with police in Kashgar, the country’s westernmost city, near the border of Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan; it left 21 people dead.
Demick writes:
Among the dead were 15 police and neighborhood security officers and six people that the state media described as “mobsters.’’ Kashgar, which lies close to China's borders with Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, has been a frequent site of violence between the dominant ethnic Han Chinese and the Uighurs, a Muslim minority. As is often the case, it was difficult to confirm details of the incident and the account offered up by authorities was vague., a website run by the Chinese government, reported Wednesday that three neighborhood security officers tried to confiscate knives from a family in Bachu county, on the outskirts of Kashgar. The “mobsters” were hiding in the basement of a house and ambushed the officers, taking them hostage, the website reported. When police responded to the scene, a gun battle broke out and the house was burned down.
The website said that 10 of the police officers killed were ethnic Uighurs themselves. "A preliminary investigation showed the mobster gang were planning to launch terrorist activities,’’ the report said.
China is not immune from terrorist activities, especially on nations that border it that are predominantly Muslim.


Sunday, April 21, 2013

Has The World Become More Dangerous?

Modern InSecurity

The world is a dangerous place to live; not because of the people who are evil, 
but because of the people who don't do anything about it.
Albert Einstein

Danger Ahead: The coyote's persistent,yet ill-advised, attempts to capture the roadrunner is similar to what is taking place in many parts of the world, where resources are poorly allocated and the end result in destruction and mayhem—eventually falling on the pursuer. No doubt, the coyote is obsessed with capturing the roadrunner; it would make more sense if he would buy a steak dinner at a fancy restaurant to meet his dietary needs. The best example of such irrational singular thinking in the political stage, of course, is the American gun lobby's obsession with both protecting and promoting the right to own lots of guns.

Perceptions can easily influence the way we view the world; and today it seems like a dangerous place. But is it really? I am not questioning about individuals who reside in the world's most dangerous nations or territories, including Somalia, Afghanistan, Sudan, Iraq and the Democratic Republic of Congo, to name the leading hot-spots for personal insecurity and instability, according to the 2012 Global Peace Index put together by the Institute for Economics and Peace, based in Sydney, Australia.

It's obvious that individuals residing in nations which received the lowest ranking for peace have every good reason to take personal security more seriously. In such places one can never be sure of one's safety; one can never take it for granted. So in a type of paradox, citizens residing in such places might not be happier but they might enjoy life with more gusto and enthusiasm than those of us residing in safer cities and communities. It might be Carpe diem, or pluck the day of its offerings. [From the Greek poet Horace's Odes Book I, and made popular by Byron.]

In his book, The Better Angels of Our Nature: The Decline of Violence in History and Its Causes (2011) Steven Pinker notes that violence is decreasing over-all in the world. Now, this is not an obvious conclusion, notably if one's only source of information is the daily news. Madeleine Bunting in The Guardian writes in a book review, in November 2011, shortly after the book was published:
One of the most contentious is the claim that the decline is in part the outcome of a unique European enlightenment, which extended the scope of human reason. Equally contentious, he seems to suggest that the decline of violence is evidence for a concept of human progress – although Pinker concedes that progress could be fragile and reversible. Whatever else this book is about, it is raising a kind of intellectual standard for liberal humanism at a time when it imagines itself besieged by doubters and critics.
 This is what the philosopher John Gray disagrees with and in his review he argued that Pinker was stuck in a contradiction that "afflicts anyone who tries to combine rigorous Darwinism with a belief in moral progress".
There is no doubt that Pinker is on a sort of crusade here and he makes clear his target: "a large swath of our intellectual culture is loath to admit that there could be anything good about civilization, modernity and western society." His response is this massive tome, a counterblast against the pessimism of our age, which is so full of gloom at the possibility of climate wars, global warming and nuclear proliferation.
Prof. Pinker is right on the mark when he defines our age as marked by pessimism. There is much to be critical about modern civilization, particularly if you reside on the other side of the divide. Small wonder, Prof Pinker's book has met with criticism. Even so, his conclusion has to be viewed in the broader canvas of history—from biblical times until the modern age. In relative terms, that is compared to other more brutal ages, ours is an age of civilized individuals and nations. In personal terms, depending on where you reside, including if you reside in a poor, urban area in inner-city America, your sense of security might be no different than the teenage boy residing in Mogadishu or Juárez or Kinshasha. There is no decrease in violence. None at all.

There are a number of factors that contribute to making a place dangerous, most notably lawlessness, a weak judiciary, corruption and lack of economic opportunity. When individuals have nothing to eat and can't find the legal means to obtain sustenance, through work and employment, many will resort to crime for survival as a means to feed their families. Many others don't and they live lives of quiet desperation.

One of the chief roles of governments is to ensure societal security, which leads to personal security and confidence among its citizens. If that is lacking, so is the confidence in the international community to invest in business and other commercial ventures, both which raise the socio-economic levels of a society and create jobs and other opportunities for a better life. In other words, business creates jobs and opportunities, which employ persons,and thus make urban areas safer and more productive. Dangerous places often do not do that.

It must also be said that, despite having much to be concerned about, there is much to be optimistic about our age. There is a good blueprint, so to speak, of how to model peaceful societies. If you look at the 2012 Global Peace Index once again, you will note which nations are at the top of the list: the top seven nations are Iceland, Denmark, New Zealand, Canada, Japan, Austria and Ireland. Now, there are a number of things that one can point to as why these nations are relatively peaceful, including rule of law, lack of corruption and economic prosperity. Most either went through the European Enlightenment or benefited from a close relationship with Great Britain. Another is that these nations have social peace, arranged through its social and economic policies. In such liberal democracies, the needs of the many are given somewhat more weight than the needs of the few.

Some might be surprised to find that the United States ranks 88th on the list, one ahead of China. Not so, when one considers the high level of violent crime found in too many major cities, or suburban towns,  including almost weekly reports of shootings at schools, shopping malls, places of work and other public places—the question on why this has become normative is not seriously asked by American legislators. As is the need for greater impartial research on the connection between violence on TV, films, videos and on-line games and its influence on the surrounding culture. 

Even so, the United States is one of those anomalies that give researchers and scholars work, and increase the level of extreme rhetoric on political websites. It well might be that America's myths of Individualism, Exceptionalism, the Wild West, Manifest Destiny and the Gun Culture of Violence have all, if not unequally, contributed to the political decisions that influenced the nation's social and economic policies.

As a Canadian who has lived in the U.S., I could never understand why so many otherwise intelligent individuals place so much emotional energy into defending the need to own a handgun, a weapon whose only design and purpose is to kill; I sense that such Americans, numbering in the tens of millions, don't trust their government, and hence the reference to the Second Amendment. Even so, for those who agree with America's culture in most if not all respects and reside on the good side of the Divide, there is no better place in the world to live than America.

I, on the other hand, prefer Canada.


This post was originally published on Perry J. Greenbaum (December 17, 2012). It remains relevant today.

Five Stories Of The Week: Ending April 20, 2013

News & Commentary

Here are five stories that shaped my world this week:

Maduro Wins In Venezuela: An article, by William Neuman, in the New York Times says that Nicolás Maduro has won a narrow victory during federal elections last week to replace Hugo Chavez as president; the win itself might not be surprising, but the narrow victory definitely says much about what voters want and think.

Neuman writes:
But the thin margin of victory could complicate the task of governing for Mr. Maduro, emboldening the political opposition and possibly undermining Mr. Maduro’s stature within Mr. Chávez’s movement. His opponent, Henrique Capriles Radonski, refused to recognize the results, citing irregularities in the voting and calling for a recount.
Mr. Maduro, the acting president, narrowly defeated Mr. Capriles, a state governor who ran strongly against Mr. Chávez in October. Election authorities said that with more than 99 percent of the vote counted, Mr. Maduro had 50.6 percent to Mr. Capriles’s 49.1 percent. More than 78 percent of registered voters cast ballots. “These are the irreversible results that the Venezuelan people have decided with this electoral process,” Tibisay Lucena, the head of the electoral council, said as she read the result on national television late Sunday.
Mr. Maduro gave a defiant speech that suggested little willingness to make concessions. “We have a just, legal, constitutional and popular electoral victory,” he said.Mr. Capriles was equally defiant. “We are not going to recognize the result until every vote is counted, one by one,” Mr. Capriles said. “The big loser today is you, you and what you represent,” he said, referring to Mr. Maduro.
Meanwhile, there were also signs that the strident, Chávez-style anti-American message that Mr. Maduro used during the campaign would now be set aside to improve Venezuela’s strained relations with the United States.
This is a likely scenario, given the vote, which undermines the idea that Maduro can continue Chavez's anti-American rhetoric and policies. The newly elected president lacks the “cult of personality” that surrounded his predecessor.

Bombs In Boston: An article in CBS News says that two bombs set off at the Boston Marathon, on Monday, an international sporting event,  killed three individuals and injured an estimated 180 others, many of whom were left without limbs.
The fiery twin blasts took place almost simultaneously and about 100 yards apart, knocking spectators and at least one runner off their feet, shattering windows and sending dense plumes of smoke rising over the street and through the fluttering national flags lining the course.

When the second bomb went off, the spectators' cheers turned to screams. As sirens blared, emergency workers and National Guardsmen assigned to the race for crowd control began climbing over and tearing down temporary fences to get to the blast site.

A pool of blood formed, and huge shards were missing from window panes as high as three stories."They just started bringing people in with no limbs," said runner Tim Davey, of Virginia. He said he and his wife, Lisa, tried to keep their children's eyes shielded from the gruesome scene inside a medical tent that had been set up to care for fatigued runners, but "they saw a lot."

Hospitals reported at least 144 injured, at least 17 of them critically. The injuries ranged from cuts and bruises to amputations. Many victims suffered lower leg injuries and shrapnel wounds. Some suffered ruptured eardrums. At Massachusetts General Hospital, Alasdair Conn, chief of emergency services, said, "This is something I've never seen in my 25 years here ... this amount of carnage in the civilian population. This is what we expect from war."
In this case, things moved quickly. The initial question was whether this was a domestic act of terrorism or one that involved foreign agents, a fact that would soon be determined by the various American intelligence agencies working on this case. It didn't take long. On Wednesday, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) released video and still images of two suspects, one wearing a black cap, and the other wearing a backwards white cap; you can view the video and images here on the FBI site.

The FBI then asked for the public's help. The Boston suburbs of Watertown and Cambridge, become a battleground later that evening; in a violent confrontation between police and the two suspects; police shot and killed Tamerlan Tsarneav, 26 (black cap); his younger brother, Dzhokar A. Tsarnaev, 19 (white cap) was captured later that day in what can best be descibed as a massive manhunt. Both brothers, who had been in the United States for several years, were Chechens originating from one of Russia's former republics. One or both had earlier killed a Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) campus police officer, who was sitting in his patrol car at the MIT campus.

The three victims killed by the bombs are Boston University graduate student Lu Lingzi, Martin Richard, 8, of Boston, and Krystle Campbell, 29, of Medford, Mass. The MIT campus police officer shot and killed is Sean A. Collier, 26, of Somerville, Mass.

Self-Publishing In America: Although it was initially dismissed as vanity press, self-publishing is now a growing trend. An article, by Leslie Kaufman, in the New York Times says self-publishing gives individual authors more control of their books.

Kaufman writes:
As digital disruption continues to reshape the publishing market, self-publishing — including distribution digitally or as print on demand — has become more and more popular, and more feasible, with an increasing array of options for anyone with an idea and a keyboard. Most of the attention so far has focused on unknown and unsigned authors who storm onto the best-seller lists through their own ingenuity.
The announcement by ICM and Mr. Mamet suggests that self-publishing will begin to widen its net and become attractive also to more established authors. For one thing, as traditional publishers have cut back on marketing, this route allows well-known figures like Mr. Mamet to look after their own publicity.
Then there is the money. While self-published authors get no advance, they typically receive 70 percent of sales. A standard contract with a traditional house gives an author an advance, and only pays royalties — the standard is 25 percent of digital sales and 7 to 12 percent of the list price for bound books — after the advance is earned back in sales.
The large publishing houses will still have a role to play in publishing, now that they have “seen the economic light” of self-publishing, but the future holds that they will have less power, as will the agents representing writers. This is a good thing, as popular appeal will ultimately decide which authors do well.

Hunger In Greece: An article, by Liz Alderman, in the New York Times says more children in Greece are going to school hungry. The article cited the example of an elementary-school child picking through the trash cans at school.
“He had eaten almost nothing at home,” Mr. Nikas said, sitting in his cramped school office near the port of Piraeus, a working-class suburb of Athens, as the sound of a jump rope skittered across the playground. He confronted Pantelis’s parents, who were ashamed and embarrassed but admitted that they had not been able to find work for months. Their savings were gone, and they were living on rations of pasta and ketchup.
“Not in my wildest dreams would I expect to see the situation we are in,” Mr. Nikas said. “We have reached a point where children in Greece are coming to school hungry. Today, families have difficulties not only of employment, but of survival.”
The Greek economy is in free-fall, having shrunk by 20 percent in the past five years. Unemployment is more than 27 percent, the highest in Europe, and 6 of 10 job seekers say they have not worked in more than a year. Those dry statistics are reshaping the lives of Greek families with children, more of whom are arriving at schools hungry or underfed, even malnourished, according to private groups and the government itself.
Last year, an estimated 10 percent of Greek elementary- and middle-school students suffered from what public health professionals call “food insecurity,” meaning they faced hunger or the risk of it, said Dr. Athena Linos, a professor at the University of Athens Medical School who also heads a food assistance program at Prolepsis, a nongovernmental public health group that has studied the situation. “When it comes to food insecurity, Greece has now fallen to the level of some African countries,” she said.
This is both surprising and not; surprising to those economists and politicians who faithfully believe that market forces will take care of everything, and not surprising to individuals who are struggling to make ends meet, which are increasing in number. What has started in Greece will move across Europe, to Spain, to Cyprus and eventually to other EU nations. What's the solution? Governments surely don't know. If they did, we wouldn't be reading these stories today, would we?

Musharraf In Pakistan Flees Arrest: An AFP article in the Hindustan Times says that former Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf fled the court with his heavily armed security team, ignoring an arrest warrant from the court.
Pakistani court on Thursday ordered the arrest of former military ruler Pervez Musharraf, who immediately drove to his farmhouse on the edge of Islamabad, where he was guarded by police commandos. Musharraf faced no resistance from a heavy security contingent at the court in Islamabad when he left the premises after the judge ordered his arrest over his controversial decision to dismiss judges when he imposed emergency rule in 2007.

Police guarded the main gate of the luxury property and blocked off access to Musharraf's street but did not push back a huge bevvy of TV trucks and other media camped outside the gate. Dozens of supporters gathered outside to denounce the decision, shouting "this is injustice," and "long live Musharraf" as senior members of Musharraf's political party swept inside the house for talks, an AFP reporter said.
Musharraf's defence lawyer Qamar Afzal earlier confirmed the court's decision. "The judge Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui ordered that the interim bail is dismissed," he told AFP. A senior police official said on condition of anonymity that normal procedure would have been an immediate arrest at the court, but no effort appeared to have been made to detain him there. "Since he left the court and nobody arrested him there his house will now most likely be declared as sub-jail and he will be put under house-arrest," he said.
This event is revealing for a number of reasons, the least of which is that the former president was indicted in the first place, a rarity in western democracies. That he was able to flee, essentially without resistance from authorities, shows that the normative story that the rich and powerful live under different rules reamains true today, as it always has. Sadly, that is unlikely to change, whether in Pakistan or America.

& One More, Its Importance Cannot Be Over-Empasized

Democracy Failure In The U.S.: An article, by Jonathan Weisman, in the New York Times spells out the failure of American democracy in the U.S. Senate's non-passage of  a fair and reasonable gun-control bill.

Weisman writes:
In rapid succession, a bipartisan compromise to expand background checks for gun buyers, a ban on assault weapons and a ban on high-capacity gun magazines all failed to get the 60 votes needed under an agreement between both parties. Senators also turned back Republican proposals to expand permission to carry concealed weapons and to focus law enforcement efforts on prosecuting gun crimes.
Sitting in the Senate gallery with other survivors of recent mass shootings and their family members, Lori Haas, whose daughter was shot at Virginia Tech, and Patricia Maisch, a survivor of the mass shooting in Arizona, shouted together, “Shame on you.” President Obama, speaking at the White House after the votes, echoed the cry, calling Wednesday “a pretty shameful day for Washington.”
Opponents of gun control from both parties said that they made their decisions based on logic, and that passions had no place in the making of momentous policy. “Criminals do not submit to background checks now,” said Senator Charles E. Grassley, Republican of Iowa. “They will not submit to expanded background checks.”
It was a striking defeat for one of Mr. Obama’s highest priorities, on an issue that has consumed much of the country since Adam Lanza opened fire with an assault weapon in the halls of Sandy Hook Elementary School in December.
Actually, the NYT has not quite understood the importance of this bill's defeat. It's much more than a personal defeat for President Obama, as much as this is painfully true; it's a failure of Americana democracy. When the U.S. Senate failed to muster the courage to pass a reasonable, fair piece of legislation, for no rational reason, it revealed that it is now a chamber of ignorance, bought by special interests. I don't make this statement lightly.

Remember this day in history; it will become a day of shame, as President Obama intimated; the U.S. Senate, backed by powerful special interests, blocked sensible legislation to control hand-guns. The people's representatives failed in their mandate to act on the will of the people—in an act of extreme and exceptional cowardice—undermining the very foundations of democracy.

I would like to add one more opinion piece, written by Gabrielle Giffords, who knows intimately about gun violence. This is one of the best, most honest pieces I have read on the subject. Ms.Giffords captures my sentiments completely and whole-heartedly. This ought to be read by those cowards in the Senate, who voted against the best interests of the nation. Truly, shame on you. Here's an excerpt:
SENATORS say they fear the N.R.A. and the gun lobby. But I think that fear must be nothing compared to the fear the first graders in Sandy Hook Elementary School felt as their lives ended in a hail of bullets. The fear that those children who survived the massacre must feel every time they remember their teachers stacking them into closets and bathrooms, whispering that they loved them, so that love would be the last thing the students heard if the gunman found them.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Answering A Fool Is A Fool's Game

Foolish Ignorance

If fifty million people say a foolish thing, it is still a foolish thing.
Anatole France [1844-1924]
Nobel Laureate in Literature

A nar ken fregen mer frages in a sho vi a kluger ken entferen in a yor.
Yiddish proverb

Ignorance might not be bliss, but it does confer a degree of certainty on persons who lack both knowledge and the desire to attain it. But it is neither an ideal state nor a benign one, as you shall soon see. Such describes the fool: not interested in learning, not interested in attaining knowledge, nor of facts and truth, nor of the moral life. It might be that such certainty is inversely proportional to one's education and learning, but such is not always the case. When such a person has a faith, whether religious or secular, to support his arguments and beliefs—whatever they might be—you can be assured that he entertains no doubts.

His certainty is certain; his rightness right. No intellectual or rational arguments can unlock the door to a freer self. He is in prison of his own choosing, of his own design; he might even be happier and more cheerful than most, having found a life's plan to follow. I can see how a poorly educated person, with limited mental and intellectual abilities, would find attractive and comfortable the simple and reductive explanations—a few passages of doctrine explaining everything. Not that I advocate for ignorance; I never do. Yet, it surrounds us and we often bump into it.

So, what does one do when confronted with a fool? Does one try to persuade and argue, using rational and factual arguments to dissuade? to educate? You can, but it will likely not succeed for the reason that a person under the "spell" of simple faith doesn't allow his mind to take in new facts. Any argument that runs counter to the ideology of faith that he supports and has entrusted his whole being to, which greatly informs his identity, is immediately considered false, and thus discarded. In the mind of the fool, all those who don't hold similar ideas and don't believe similar articles of faith are, well, "foolish." You will walk away frustrated, perhaps confused and even a little angry.

Such a point is made in Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Letters and Papers from Prison (Ed. Eberhard Bethge, 2000). Eberhard Bethge, a German Christian theologian who was implicated and imprisoned by the Gestapo in the plot to assassinate Hitler in July 1944, and who after the Second World War worked tirelessly to bring Bonhoeffer's work to the public's attention, writes in the "Prologue":
So, the fool, as distinct from the scoundrel, is completely self-satisfied: in fact, he can easily become dangerous, as it does not take much to make him aggressive. A fool must therefore be treated more cautiously than a scoundrel; we shall never again try to convince a fool by reason, for it is both useless and dangerous. (7-8)
There's more. Further on, Bethge writes that we shouldn't mistake the fool's stubbornness for independent thought or independence of mind; quite frankly, it's often the opposite. The fool is under a delusion and lives in a world of illusion:
One feels in fact, when talking with him, that one is dealing, not with the man himself, but with slogans, catchwords, and the like, which have taken hold of him. He is under a spell, he is blinded, his very nature is being misused and exploited. Having thus become a passive instrument, the fool will be capable of any evil and at the same time incapable of seeing that it is evil. Here lies the danger of a diabolical exploitation that can do irreparable damage to human beings. (8)
Therein lies the danger. You can and should condemn the words of a fool, notably if he is a public figure. But as for private dialogue, it's a waste of time. Given his lack of moral development, it's best to leave the fool alone, much in the same way that one does not approach a mad dog.


This post was orginally published on Perry J. Greenbaum (September 3, 2012)

Five Stories Of The Week: Ending April 13, 2013

News & Commentary

Here are five stories that shaped my world this week:

Ethnic Tensions In Myanmar: An article by Thomas Fuller, in The New York Times says that as Myanmar moces toward democracy it has to deal with rising ethnic tensions wihin its borders, as minority groups fight for recognition and power.
As a measure of the difficulties of national reconciliation in Myanmar, a visit to the Kachin region is a sobering reminder of how much hatred and mistrust exist between the majority Burman and the ethnic minorities who live in the country’s highlands. After 22 months of resurgent fighting with Myanmar government troops, young people openly talk of independence.
Churches across the Kachin region are organizing prayers and 24-hour fasting periods in support of the Kachin Independence Army, which has been retreating in the face of attacks by the Myanmar military. “People are committed to this fight,” said the Rev. Samson Hkalam, a leader of the Baptist church in Myitkyina. Young men who were previously skeptical of the Kachin Independence Army are volunteering to join, Mr. Samson said. “It’s a miracle — the people’s spirit and motivation,” he said.
Two years ago, when President Thein Sein inaugurated Myanmar’s first civilian government in five decades, he announced he would give top priority to national unity. But religious rioting in central Myanmar in recent weeks and the pessimism expressed by many minority leaders have underlined the depth of the fissures in Myanmar society.
The resumption of fighting in Kachin in June 2011, breaking a 17-year cease-fire, aggravated longstanding grievances, snuffing the flickers of hope that the end of military rule would bring greater autonomy to the Kachin region.“We are angry, we are sad, and we feel alone,” said Tsin Ja, a teacher in a village outside Myitkyina, the capital of the region. “Democracy has been a loss for us.”
This is often the outcome of nations that move from authoritarian rule to democracy; the long-standing animosity between various ethnic and tribal groups become unleashed in the light of liberalization and democracy. It's up to the ruling powers to reduce the tensions; one way is to incorporate minority factions within the ruling government. This measure is often ignored and the results are predictable.

Banking In Canada:  An article, by Bill Curry, in The Globe & Mail looks at how Canada's largest bank is trying to save money; it has laid off 45 workers and outsourced these jobs to India. Normally, this would not get much attention, but this time the bank might have underestimated the anger on the street. The bank in question is Royal Bank of Canada (RBC), but that matters little; it could be any bank or financial institution, or large corporation, who all operate in similar fashion.
RBC came under fire on the weekend after allegations emerged that Canada’s largest bank contracted iGate Corp. to handle the outsourcing of certain technology jobs, and the firm was using temporary foreign workers to displace RBC technology staff. The bank denied those claims, and said it does not get involved in the hiring practices of the companies it hires.
However, officials with Human Resources and Skills Development Canada (HRSDC) say the government is now taking a closer look at some of the bank’s statements, along with the paperwork iGate submitted in an application to use foreign workers. The government did not elaborate on which statements are being looked at.
“An investigation is under way and HRSDC officials are currently reviewing the labour market opinions submitted by iGate in great detail, based on apparent discrepancies between RBC’s public statement and information which has previously been provided to the government,” said Alyson Queen, a spokeswoman for Human Resources Minister Diane Finley. The controversy stems from a decision by RBC to outsource the technology operations of its Dexia investor service business to iGate, which operates mainly in India. 
In preparation for the outsourcing, iGate stationed 21 employees at RBC to learn Dexia’s technology systems. About 45 RBC employees are affected.
The chief problem here is one of morality. The bank's blind devotion to its policy to save a buck or two (while reporting billions a year in profits) at the expense of the human beings it employs (and then summarily dismisses) leaves them open to justifiable criticism. This will eventually blow over, the government will do nothing of consequence; and the bank's executives will continue their merry ways, not understanding what the fuss was all about.

Thatcher's Legacy In England: Margaret Thatcher [1925-2013], who was Britain's first female prime minister, ruling between 1979 and 1990. died on April 8th; she was 87. An article in the Financial Times says what many already know; she was a tough leader with an iron will, who considered her views as predominant. Such was both her strength and weakness.
The UK’s first female prime minister transformed a sclerotic British economy, all but neutered the trade unions and endeavoured “to roll back the frontiers of the state” with a policy of offloading the great nationalised industries and selling council houses to their occupants. Abroad, she was the indomitable leader who won victory over Argentina in the Falklands war, who decided that Mikhail Gorbachev was a Soviet leader she could “do business with”, and who inspired a respect for “Thatcherism” as a political philosophy that was never quite matched on the domestic front.
The flipside of her courage, toughness and radicalism was an arrogance, obstinacy and remoteness that became more marked the longer she clung to office. She centralised power to a degree not seen before in modern Britain. One result of the way she dominated government was her failure to heal the wounds opened up in her own Conservative party over her plans for a poll tax and her negative approach to the UK’s role in Europe. Yet such was the force of her presence that what came after her was defined in terms of her absence.
Born in 1925 in Grantham, Lincolnshire, Margaret Hilda Roberts was the younger daughter of a corner-shop grocer, Alfred Roberts, and his wife Beatrice. He was a self-made man, a Liberal alderman and a father whose tenets of integrity, hard work and self-reliance were strong influences throughout her career. His younger daughter’s self-belief manifested itself early. Told by a teacher how lucky she was to have won a poetry-reading contest, the 10-year-old Margaret replied: “I was not lucky. I deserved it.”
Such is telling; she had a high sense of self; she also had an odd and cozy relationship with Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, whom she defended, despite his obviously horrible human-rights record. She had other friends and admirers. Prime Minister Thatcher's influence extended to both American President Ronald Reagan and to a lesser degree to Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, both conservatives. All had a hand in tearing up the Social Contract, and writing a new one that led to the New Economy. In such an economy. unemployment has remained high, not only in Britain but in all other nations that believed, with perfect faith, in privitization and the market economy.

The Guardian writes:
As Britain learnt to come to terms with the idea of "no such thing as society", unemployment shot up under the Conservatives to levels not seen since the Great Depression. The figures show how it lags behind the economy - even after the recession was over, many were unemployed.
Much has been made in the media of her being a grocer's daughter; that is indeed a fact, but it is noteworthy that she hardly followed her father's liberal views. No, Thatcher had higher aspirations, to remake Britain to what it is today: a nation that favours the wealthy. By her short-sighted policies, Britain lost many vital manufacturing  industries, and employment dipped. Her policies remade Britain into a financial and service economy, which the wealthy applaud, chiefly since it benefited them by increasing their wealth. It's no surprise that London has become one of the world's largest financial centres.

Good Bugs In Humans: An article in The Economist says that many bacterial bugs that were considered bad for humans are now considered necessary and good in preventing diseases.

The Economist's Babbage writes about what is now called the field of consumer microbiomics
First, as some common unfriendly bacteria rapidly evolve resistance to antibiotics, an overreliance on such traditional cures is being questioned. Second, research is challenging the cherished idea that having fewer bugs in the environment is healthy. Indeed, there is growing speculation that an obsession with cleanliness is leading to a steep rise in allergies, asthma and other inflammatory and autoimmune disease. Finally, the notion that "infecting" people with bacteria might be a good thing is entering the popular consciousness.
Fecal transplants, where bugs from a healthy person's gut are introduced to one infected with pathogens, have been gathering much attention from the press in recent times. Surprising to some, but rather intuitive to others: many women already tackle yeast infections of Candida albicans by applying yogurt containing live cultures of Lactobacillus acidophilus directly to the vagina.
But humanity could do much more to domesticate bacteria. For the next obvious step is to incorporate bugs into all manner of household and consumer products. This should be a breeze given people's willingness to do much in the pursuit of vanity. Take the mouth. Twice a day humans do battle, attacking it with bristles, abrasives, flossers, surfactants, antibacterials, fluoride and alcohol—to little avail. A few hours later our funnels are as foul as before. Some companies are already turning to bacteria for help. Lactobacillus paracasei, for instance, has been shown to stave off the harmful Streptococcus mutans, a cause of tooth decay. And one company has even created a toothpaste containing L. paracasei. Much innovation is also under way in using a combination of strains of bacteria in lozenges or chewing gum to fight throat infections, gum disease or bad breath.
As we gain a better understanding of how the human body works—chiefly through the mapping of the human genome, which was completed in 2003— and the body's interaction with bacteria that sits in our bodies, we have gained new knowledge on how this bacteria can help us. "The human microbiome is all the microorganisms that reside in or on the human body, as well as all their DNA, or genomes," says the National Human Genome Research Institute, part of the national Institutes of Health.

Within the next decade,  it will become cost-effective (about $1,000) to have a personal genome mapped and transferred to a computer for easy access for use by physicians and other health-care professionals. This will be a great medical advance.

U.S.'s Kerry In Korea: An article, by Jill Dougherty, in CNN says that U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry landed in Seoul, South Korea, on Friday to attempt to defuse tensions in the region over North Korea's planned ballistic missile test; Kim Jong-un, North Korea's leader has made a number of increasing bellicose statements in the last few weeks against its southern neighbour, the U.S., and Japan.

Douherty writes on whether the nuclear threats emanating from the North can be taken seriously:
Pentagon intelligence assessment suggesting North Korea may have the ability to deliver a nuclear weapon on a missile has set off a flurry in Washington, with top officials trying to play down concerns about the capabilities of the Pyongyang regime.The Pentagon's intelligence arm has assessed with "moderate confidence" that North Korea has the ability to deliver a nuclear weapon with a ballistic missile, though the reliability is believed to be "low."
First disclosed by a congressman at a hearing Thursday and then confirmed to CNN by the Defense Department, the assessment by the Defense Intelligence Agency is the clearest acknowledgment yet by the United States about potential advances in North Korea's nuclear program.
The United States calculates that a test launch of mobile ballistic missiles could come at any time. But a senior administration official said there is no indication that missiles that North Korea is believed to be readying for tests have been armed with any nuclear material.
The surprising development comes amid heightened tensions on the Korean Peninsula. North Korea has unleashed a torrent of dramatic threats against the United States and South Korea in recent weeks, including that of a possible nuclear strike. 
Kerry's Asia trip will include visits to China and Japan. The tour comes at a time when all three countries have new leaders.It's the first time the Obama administration is engaging with all three countries in the same trip, the State Department said.
One of the positives that could come from Kerry's visit to the region is that the U.S. can build closer ties with China, who is also growing increasingly disenchanted with North Korea. That China has a new leader, Xi Jinping, might prove to be a good thing, open to the possibility of working together with the U.S. and South Korea to put diplomatic (and other) pressure on Kim Jong-un to prevent him from continuing such inane actions that will result in nothing good for him and other North Koreans. Although Kim is an inexperienced leader, it's unlikely that he wants to start a regional war, which would lead to unnecessary death and destruction.

That North Korea is using threats to cut some monetary deal with the U.S. is also likely; the nation is cash-starved and many of its citizens are starving and malnourished. Yet, now is not the time for the U.S. to make any concessions; it's incumbent that North Korea do so first, for calm to prevail, before the U.S. returns to the bargaining table.

Sandel on Market Forces: An article, by Edward Luce, in the Financial Times looks at the views of Michel Sandel, the popular philosopher, who brings a moral view to both politics and economics. Prof. Sandel of Harvard University draws huge crowds wherever he speaks, from Brazil to China.

Luce writes:
But what is it that draws so many people in such diverse countries? Sandel thinks about it for a minute. We are already on our starters. Sandel seems uninterested in his salad. I drain my cup of soup. “There is an enormous hunger to engage in big questions that matter,” he says finally. “I find this in all these places I’ve been travelling – from India to China, to Japan and Europe and to Brazil – there is a frustration with the terms of public discourse, with a kind of absence of discussion of questions of justice and ethics and of values. My hunch is that part of what this is tapping into – the books, but also the lectures – is that people don’t find their political parties are really addressing these questions.”
I ask him about his latest book, What Money Can’t Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets (Penguin), in which he argues that the US and other countries are turning from market economies into market societies, as Lionel Jospin, the former French prime minister, once put it. Sandel argues that we live in a time of deepening “market faith” in which fewer and fewer exceptions are permitted to the prevailing culture of transaction. The book has infuriated some economists, whom he sees as practitioners of a “spurious science”.
He has been at loggerheads with the profession for many years. In 1997, he enraged economists when he attacked the Kyoto protocol on global warming as having removed “moral stigma” from bad activity by turning the right to pollute into a tradeable permit. Economists said he misunderstood why markets work. Sandel retorts that they know the price of everything and the value of nothing. To judge by his sellout lecture tours, he has clearly tapped into a larger disquiet about the commodification of life.
Now, economists generally don't like to attach words like "morality" to political-economic considerations, arguing that such ideas as market forces, like any other force of nature, has no morality; it is in a great sense amoral. Concomitant with this faith in markets, and it's every much a faith, is that it's self-correcting.

According to such views, it's the individuals, humans, who decide through their actions the moral outcomes. This is a powerful argument, but it might not be true for all cases. When society, governments in particular, subscribe to an idea such as a market-driven economy, they are in fact making a moral choice, envisioning how society ought to operate, chiefly and ideally as individual agents with "enlightened self-interest."

Of course, this has not always been the case, nor should it be, since humans are, by design, inherently selfish. So, it's more complicated than economists, with their teams of data and data points, can freely admit. It's about promoting individual dignity, compassion and social cohesiveness.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Exploring Deep Waters

The World's Oceans

If we were logical, the future would be bleak, indeed. But we are more than logical. We are human beings, and we have faith, and we have hope, and we can work.
Jacques-Yves Cousteau

The sea is everything. It covers seven tenths of the terrestrial globe. Its breath is pure and healthy. It is an immense desert, where man is never lonely, for he feels life stirring on all sides.
Jules Verne

Looking at these stars suddenly dwarfed my own troubles and all the gravities of terrestrial life. I thought of their unfathomable distance, and the slow inevitable drift of their movements out of the unknown past into the unknown future, 
H.G. WellsThe Time Machine

Exploring the Ocean Deep: The Alvin submersible in 1978, a year after first exploring hydrothermal vents. The three-person vessel allows for two scientists and one pilot to dive for up to nine hours to a depth of 4,500 meters (15,000 ft).
Photo Credit: NOAA, 1978
Source:Image ID nur07549.

Like many curious minds, I was always interested in understanding the unknown. When I was a young boy, I loved to read such books as Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea (Jules Verne), The Time Machine (H.G. Wells), and the Foundation Trilogy (Isaac Asimov). These books coincided with my interest in exploration of the unknown, both above and below.

While I discussed space exploration in a previous post (see The Space Race), I have yet to address my interest in the underwater world. Between 1968 and 1975, my family and I watched The Undersea  World of Jacques Cousteau, which became our entree into his world. It was a privilege to enter it, to see his love and respect for the natural beauty of the oceans and the beautiful and often strange life it nurtured. 

He was one of my heroes, an inspiration to many of us who valued not only discovering the myriad beauties of the sea, but also the protection of the ocean and all it held. Captain Cousteau, who passed away in 1997, was indeed an inspiration to my generation growing up watching him on television, chiefly because he gave us a glimpse in to the fascinating underwater world. His pioneering work continues.

Much has to be done. Even today, we know very little about the undersea world, says World Ocean Census, compiled by The Cousteau Society:
Even now, at the beginning of the 21st century, 95 percent of the world’s ocean basins and seas has yet to be explored (some put this figure as high as 98 percent). Part of the reason is simply the global ocean’s vast size: it comprises approximately 71 percent of the planet’s surface and covers 361 million square kilometers (139 million square miles). And there is more to the world’s ocean than meets the eye – a vast story unfolds below the surface. The global volume of ocean water is 1,370 million cubic kilometers (329 million cubic miles), with an average depth of 3.8 kilometers (2.4 miles).
The deepest ocean trench areas extend 10.5 kilometers (more than 6.7 miles) below the sea surface. And if the obstacles of size, volume and mass were not enough, other deterrents to exploration – darkness and pressure – greatly increase the challenge, cost and risk for those who dare to venture below the surface. Only recently have technological advances allowed scientists to successfully tackle the physical challenges of exploring dark ocean extremes at intense pressures.
The world's oceans, considered one body of water, truly remains the Great Unknown. What is known, however, is our effect on it. Despite what the sea has had to bear from humanity, including industrial waste and toxins, overfishing, and  it has continued to give us what humans need, including water, minerals and food. But many of the world's leading organizations that monitor the health of the world's oceans are raising concerns that we need to change our ways, lest we destroy our finely balanced eco-system. 

One of the chief issues is over-fishing, says National Geographic's Paul Greenberg in Time for a Sea Change (October 2010):
Too many hooks in the water. That’s the problem with today’s fisheries. Working from small pole-and-line boats to giant industrial trawlers, fishermen remove more than 170 billion pounds of wildlife a year from the seas. A new study suggests that our current appetite could soon lead to a worldwide fisheries collapse.
It sounds sensationalistic, but I suggest that you read the article in its entirety. Business as usual is not a serious option, if we want our children to enjoy the benefits and the beauty of the ocean. Outdated industrial-age large-scale fishing practices are killing fish and other wildlife needlessly, says Oceana, an international organization whose motto is "Protecting the World's Oceans": 
Destructive fishing practices that include driftnets, longlines and bottom trawlsare ruining ocean ecosystems by indiscriminately killing fish and other wildlife, including seabirds and marine mammals. Each year, more than 16 billion pounds of bycatch are thrown overboard thanks to wasteful fishing techniques.
Bottom trawls drag heavily weighted nets along the ocean floor in search of fish or crustaceans in a practice akin to clearcutting a forest in order to catch a rabbit. Centuries-old habitats such as coral gardens are destroyed in an instant by bottom trawls, pulverized into barren plains. Endangered sea turtles drown on longline hooks while sharks have their fins sliced from their bodies, which are then tossed overboard.
The solution is available, and it always is, if we use our imagination and believe that we have a problem, one that requires a humane solution. We often suffer needlessly for lack of imagination. "The sea, once it casts its spell, holds one in its net of wonder forever," Cousteau says.

Yes, there is a certain magic or mysticism in the language, words that might put off scientists. Yet, it's a poetic language full of imagination and wonder, both of which are  necessary in finding viable solutions to the many problems that beset humanity. This leads to the suggestion that science fiction can free the mind from its facts-based imprisonment. These novels gave us hope and imagination, little of which is evident today in the public discourse. We are fearful of imagination, possibly for the same reasons that we fear the unknown. 

Equally important for consideration is that we live in an age that has become highly practical and utilitarian in its thinking. As well, there is a call for immediate solutions to problems that have taken years , if not decades, to solidify. Even so, imagination is not the enemy, but might form part of the solution. 

A version of this article appeared on Perry J. Greenbaum (November 22, 2010).