Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Progress, Reality and Cynicism: Lessons We Learned From Millennium Development Goals

by Nomad

Back in 2000, the UN brought world leaders together to draw up a plan to make the world a better place. This year, fifteen years later, that effort was analyzed and the results might surprise you.

When the Paris Climate Change Summit came to its conclusion recently, it was easy to be a little skeptical about the level of commitment of the nations that pledged to address climate change. 
Preventing global destruction is not going to be a piece of cake.  
In fact, it will require nothing less than a re-tooling of the world's economy and the energy industry. 
Who knows if it is possible given the time constraints? It's easy to be cynical and defeatist when it comes to tackling such a huge problem. 

Critics claim this is all merely window-dressing. Just a bunch of timid self-serving bureaucrats making useless paperwork that's not even legally binding. There's no way, critics say, to confront and punish violators. 

Of course, this view automatically assumes that global progress can only be achieved by force, by a threat of punishment or by intimidation. 
But, to turn the tables on those critics, where is the evidence that that has ever worked? Simply because something is difficult shouldn't mean we ignore our responsibility. 

President John Kennedy, during one of the darkest periods of the Cold War, once warned about allowing hopelessness and defeatist to overwhelm us. (In this case, world peace.)

Thinking something is impossible makes it that much harder to address in a rational manner. In 1963, he told the graduating class at the American University that we must stop thinking war is inevitable. Mankind is not doomed, and we must not yield to the idea that we are gripped by forces we cannot control. 
"We need not accept that view. Our problems are man-made — therefore, they can be solved by man. And man can be as big as he wants.
No problem of human destiny is beyond human beings. Man's reason and spirit have often solved the seemingly unsolvable — and we believe they can do it again."
Even though the dream of world peace has not implemented universally even today, Kennedy's hard-nosed optimism is not wrong. Peace, he once said, is not a warm and fuzzy dream. It is a process. We make things harder by thinking that overnight we can solve all of the problems in the world, just by wishing and praying. 
While that may be a proper point to begin, just wishing for a better world isn't going to be enough.
It calls for a practical approach.

One of the problems is defining what it means when we say "a better world." What does that mean? Much better for a limited few, or slightly better for the majority?
In 2000, the UN General Assembly drafters of the Millennium Declaration had their specific notions and were determined to see progress in fifteen years. In that declaration, the representatives of all of the member nations recognized that:
" addition to our separate responsibilities to our individual societies, we have a collective responsibility to uphold the principles of human dignity, equality and equity at the global level. As leaders we have a duty therefore to all the world’s people, especially the most vulnerable and, in particular, the children of the world, to whom the future belongs."

Monday, December 28, 2015

Idaho School Fires Cafeteria Worker for Giving Free Lunch to Hungry Student

by Nomad

A story from Pocatello Idaho about a middle school cafeteria worker and her act of compassion which led to her termination.

Thanks to a school district, the children in Irving Middle School in Pocatello, Idaho learned a valuable lesson about empathy and compassion.
The message was loud and clear: 
Don't do it or you will be punished.

When school cafeteria worker ,Dalene Bowden, gave a meal to a 12-year-old student who told her she didn't have money, she never expected to lose her job. After her supervisor saw what happened, Bowden was reported. He then told her that she was to be put on permanent leave.  

Soon after that, a letter arrived from the school district  which explained that Bowden had been terminated for "theft involving school district or another's property and inaccurate transactions when ordering, receiving and serving food."
No other transgressions were registered or warnings of prior misconduct were noted in the letter. If there had been a history of employee related problems, there should have been some kind of list provided.
Additionally, there was apparently no arbitration process in cases of termination. All decisions by the school district seemed to both final and unchallengable.

The single-page letter reads:
Consequently, because of the nature of your actions, the District will not be maintaining your employment in any capacity.
Bowden offered to compensate the school district for the $1.70 meal, but that offer was rejected. In reaction to the school district's decision, Bowden has been forced to contact a lawyer.

According to the school's website, Irving Middle School claims it is all about "kindness and community." 

Back in 2013, Principal Tonya Wilkes and the school's former principal Susan Pettit (who, in the capacity of human resource director, signed the termination letter) were all about "teaching students the importance of virtues and a sense of belonging and looking out for one another.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Why University Students are Becoming America's Latest Victims of Homelessness

by Nomad

Although we probably all have a stereotype of the homeless, a closer look often reveals that the victims are not so different than you or me. Here's one example.

The Newest Demographic

In this month's Rolling Stone, Rebecca Nathanson writes that our nation's best and brightest are quickly becoming casualties to homelessness. (see link below)
Last year, more than 56,000 students identified as homeless on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, form. But the real number of homeless students is almost certainly higher:
As remarkable and disappointing as that figure might seem, that number doesn't include those students who are ineligible to qualify as homeless because the lack of proof, (such as verification from a shelter.)

Additionally, the figure also doesn't represent the large number of college students whose living arrangements are unstable and insecure. To be sure that's a different form of homelessness, which may mean sleeping in one's car, a campus library or being a guest with friends.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Napoleon Explains Why Putin Sent Kisses and Hugs to Candidate Trump

by Nomad

A week or so ago, Russian president gave a positive assessment of Donald Trump. He called Trump "the absolute leader of the presidential race" and called Trump "a bright and talented person without any doubt." 
Putin added that he believed the candidate was "an outstanding and talented personality."
Oh, brother. 

Amid alll of those glowing reviews, there was apparently not a trace of a sarcastic smirk on that waxy face.

Some commentators claimed that Putin's remarks were quite sincere and that Putin respected "fighters" and wants "a manly adversary." 
(take that, vagina-welding Hillary!)

On the other hand, this quote by Napoleon might better explain Putin's reasoning.
Of course, if you look at it from Russia's point of view, Donald Trump in the White House could achieve what no enemy of the US could ever dream of.
In about six months.

If you were the leader of Russia, wouldn't you want Trump to be the next president of the United States?

Deathtrap: Winter in Aegean Sea Proves Lethal for Refugees and their Children

by Nomad

Despite the onset of winter weather, rough seas and icy winds, the narrow strait between Greece and Turkey continues to lure refugees and their children to their deaths.

Rough Times, Rough Seas

In the early hours of this morning, Christmas Eve, the Turkish Coast Guard received reports of an emergency at sea off Bademli coast in the Aegean Sea. Local news media states that a wooden boat filled beyond capacity with refugees had capsized in the high waves. From initial reports, 18 refugees  in an attempt to reach the Greek island of Lesbos have drowned. Six of  the dead were children.

For rescuers, such calls in the night have become routine since the refugee crisis began about a year ago. Few of the locals are shocked any longer. A kind of hopelessness has worn down any outrage.

Although winter here is mild by comparison to other nations further north, it's hard to overstress how treachous this crossing is during this time of year. Winter is simply not the time to travel between islands unless absolutely necessary. Since October, the local authorities have been warning the increased risks. That's not detered many migrant families from taking their chances with merciless seas and equally unforgiving weather.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Want to Spoil Your Happiness? Think About Money

by Nomad

In a search for true happiness, thoughts of money are a killjoy.

If you are- for some obscure reason- eager to ruin whatever bit of joy that life has to offer, an article from last May's Psychological Science has some advice. 
Think about money.

Studies have demonstrated that the level of happiness is dependent on that person's ability to appreciate and savor their experiences.  How much happiness you derive from living depends on what degree you are able to extract joy, awe, excitement, and gratitude- the full range of emotions- before, during and after your experiences. 

Psychologist Jordi Quoidbach and his research team from the University of Liege in Belguim devised an experiment involving nearly 400 adults coming from diverse backgrounds.
The participants were randomly divided into two groups. One group was shown an image of a stack of money while the other group was shown the same image blurred beyond recognition. Both groups were given psychological tests to rate their ability to savor pleasant experiences in general. 

As described in their academic paper, their paper, Money Giveth, Money Taketh Away: The Dual Effect of Wealth on Happiness, the researchers found that people who had been shown photos of money scored significantly lower on the tests.

Monday, December 21, 2015

The Farewell Gift from the "Fair Lady of the Hill"

by Nomad

One woman's last bequest will help provide shelter to Australia's homeless youth.

Last Friday, in a small ceremony, the final request of Lily Fardell, known locally as the "Fair Lady of the Hill" was formally carried out.
I'm sure you've never heard of her. After all, she wasn't a celebrity and lived a pretty average life.
Mrs. Fardell, a resident of the city of Newcastle, (the second most populated area in the Australian state of New South Wales),  died earlier this year at the age of 96.

Her four-bedroom, three bathroom home, the historic Pacific House, was located in the prestigious suburb called "The Hill." 
And what a splendid home it is.
The home itself was built in 1871 and was sold to a couple living in nearby High Street. It originally housed Thomas Smith, a pioneering Newcastle builder who served on Newcastle council and was elected mayor in 1896.
With her husband, Noel, Lily moved to the Pacific House in 1958. Both of them were teachers. They were the actually the second owners of the wide-verandah home which looks out upon King Edward Park.
Pacific House became renowned for generosity and acts of charity and by all accounts, her home was filled with decades of pleasant memories.
When the Christmas carols were on across the road, she would host 40 friends who would sing along, drink tea and enjoy the odd tipple of good wine.
In so many ways, it was all that a home should be. A place of shelter where good things are shared with family, friends and even strangers.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Conservatives and the Fear of Alexis de Tocqueville

by Nomad

Sounds like a good description of the politics of Republican conservatives to me.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Allies and Enemies: How America's Saudi Arabian Double Standard Mocks the Fight Against ISIS

by Nomad

There's no question that ISIS is an embodiment of barbarity and a perversion of Islam. However, some critics of Western foreign policy in the Middle East might ask: Is Saudi Arabia- an ally- really all that much better?

One of the most perplexing and exasperating problems for anybody trying to create a sensible approach to the Middle East has been determining who your foe and who your friend actually is.. at any given moment.  

For Western policy makers, absolute impartiality is not an option. Attempting to please implacable enemies, like Israel and Iran, is an exercise in futility. And this, in turn, forces countries to choose based on criteria that seems as unstable as the shifting desert sand.

Concessions have to be made to keep everybody happy but with the rise of the brutality of the ISIS caliphate, the US and the West, in general, are forced to confront its irreconcible double standard. Does being a Western ally entail nothing more than shared self-interests?  What happened to shared core values and principles that defines "us" from "them"? 

Hundreds of Workers in Juarez Mexico Fired by US Company for Asking for $7...a day

by Nomad

Start giving Mexicans workers a living wage and the first thing you know there won't be an immigration problem at all.
"Hundreds of workers at the Lexmark plant in Juarez have been fired after they walked off the job last week, asking for raises, the right to unionize as well as other demands.
According to the Spanish-language website sinembargo, the labor dispute started back in early November, after workers asked for a raise of six pesos, or roughly .34 cents a day.
Lexmark, an international company producing printer cartridges, now pays workers a maximum of 70.10 pesos per day, or $4.03 daily."

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Bloomberg: Price Gouging Pharma CEO Shrekli Arrested on Securities Fraud Charges

by Nomad

It was really only a matter of time before Martin Shrekli's wings were clipped. And nobody's crying for him.

From the "it couldn't happen to a nicer guy" files...

This year, Turing Pharmaceuticals AG, CEO Martin Shkreli outraged the public sensibilities by raising the price of a HIV treatment drug from $13.50 to $750. 

Shrekli initially scoffed at the firestorm against the decision. He took to Twitter and other social media to essentially give the middle finger to anybody that criticized him.
When the controversy grew louder, he vowed to lower the price. However, it was later reported that he had failed to do so. His critics- which ended up being most of the nation-claimed that Shrekli had never had any intention of lower pricing at all but it was just a ploy to quell the growing public anger at both his greed and arrogance.

It soon became part of the political debate. A spokesman for Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders returned campaign donations from the CEO saying they could not accept to money “from this poster boy for drug company greed.”
Donald Trump - of all people- called Shrekli a "spoiled brat."

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Horny Moses: Why Biblical Literalists Really Have Some Explaining to Do

by Nomad

When people say they believe every word of the Bible, they may not know very much about the history of the sacred text they claim as the direct word of God. 

As Moses climbed down from the mountaintop with his ten commandments, the amazed Israelites noticed a great change in his appearance. The question is: did Moses have newly white hair? Or did he had a pair of horns on his forehead?

The answer to that depended on which period of history you lived in. For most of us, it's not a subject we would normally dwell on. But those who claim the Bible is the infallible Word of God, the question presents some thorny problems.

Moses with Horns

Above is a detail photo of a statue from the end of the Middle Ages. This statue of Moses was sculpted by Michelangelo between the years 1513–1515. Today, it sits in the church of San Pietro in Vincoli in Rome.

You might see something a bit peculiar if you study the photo closely. Along with his flowing beard and tablets in his arms, the Prophet Moses has a pair of goatish horns on his head.
One could be forgiven for thinking that Michelangelo was shooting at a statue of Lucifer.
But no, that's the Hebrew lawgiver Michelangelo carved.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Russian Sanctions on Turkish Fabric Imports Halt Production of Anti-Turkish T-Shirts

by Nomad

With relations between Turkey and Russia at an all-time low, T-shirt designers in Russia are learning about the peculiar twists of globalization.

In need of a good irony fix? Well, Nomad does house calls!

You may have heard about the falling out between Russia and Turkey after the downing of a Russian bomber which had likely violated Turkish airspace for all of 17 seconds. One pilot was killed by rebels conducting target practice on parachuting Russians. 

Both sides had their own versions of what happened and things got meaner and nastier. A "stab in the back" was how the clearly-flustered Putin put it. Erdogan claimed to right to defend his national airspace.

Tit for tat snipes quickly were followed by the imposition of trade sanctions.
That's no small matter either.
In 2014, trade between the two countries amounted to $31 billion, and in the first nine months of 2015, to $18.1 billion. Turkey Russia’s eighth largest trading partner, while Russia is Turkey’s second largest trading partner, after the European Union. For different reasons, both economically-troubled nations do not need this hiccup.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

The Re-Greening of the African Continent: How African Leaders Came Together to Save the Planet

by Nomad

African leaders recently announced a new regional initiative to tackle one of the world's more important environmental threats.

During the recent Climate Summit 2015 in Paris, leaders from ten African nations came together to launch an initiative aimed at restoring 100 million hectares or about 400 thousand square miles of degraded or deforested land.

Countries that have agreed to join the AFR100 initiative include:

• Democratic Republic of Congo | 8 million hectares
• Ethiopia | 15 million hectares
• Kenya | Committed, but finalizing hectare target
• Liberia | 1 million hectares
• Madagascar | Committed, but finalizing hectare target
• Malawi | Committed, but finalizing hectare target
• Niger | 3.2 million hectares
• Rwanda | 2 million hectares
• Togo | Committed, but finalizing hectare target
• Uganda | 2.5 million hectares

The project, AFR100 (African Forest Landscape Restoration Initiative) has been endorsed by the African Union and its promoters hope to reach this goal by 2030.  

One billion dollars in development finance and more than $540 million in private sector impact investment has been earmarked to support the restoration.
The announcement was made during the Global Landscapes Forum at the Conference of Parties (COP21) in Paris, where forest landscape restoration is a key ingredient of the global movement to adapt to and mitigate climate change. Commitments made through AFR100 build on significant climate pledges made by many African countries to support a binding global climate agreement.
The threat is immense, endangering not merely people and wildlife in the region, but the entire planet.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

History and Texas Anti-Abortion Laws Show How Futile and Dangerous Conservative Efforts Are

by Nomad

A new study in Texas about self-induced abortions underscores that truth that conservatives have long denied. Making something illegal won't make it go away and could have unintended consequences.

Republican leaders in Texas are jubilant about their attempts to close down Planned Parenthood clinics  in their state. When deciding to cut off Medicaid funding for the organization, Governor Greg Abbott led the charge even to the point of breaking federal law. The rush is on now to close down to remaining abortion clinics in operation. 
Planned Parenthood, as most people know, is not solely an abortion provider. It also provides valuable reproductive health care services for women. Inevitably, there will sooner or later be consequences for half-baked policy.

But then this is Texas where, when it comes to conservative bombast, there are no holds barred.Conservative crazy comes at a two-for-one price there. Republican president candidate Canadian-cum-Texan Ted Cruz called Planned Parenthood "an ongoing criminal enterprise."

JEB! couldn't understand why it was necessary to spend half a billion dollars for women's health issues at all. Apparently nobody has explained to JEB (the "smart" Bush) that women make up 50.8% of the population and 43.5 million of those women have children. These mothers gave birth to 95.8 million children. Somebody forgot to inform JEB that the health of women naturally has an impact of the children they have.)

Rep. Steve Stockman not long ago contributed his excuse for cleverness with a bumper sticker campaign which linked two seemingly unrelated issues close to the hearts of Texas right-wingers: Guns and fetuses.
The stickers read: 
If babies had guns, they wouldn't be aborted. 
This was matched with pro-choice signs that read: 
If my vagina could fire bullets, you wouldn't regulate it.
Who could possibly argue with logic like that?

Saturday, December 5, 2015

With One United Voice: The First Stirrings of the Women's Rights Movement in 1850

by Nomad

When the Founding Fathers declared that a government earns its true legitimacy from the consent of the governed, they hadn't counted on women taking it to the next logical step.

The 1850 Women's Rights Convention

Recently I uncovered this interesting quote by an early American reformer/activist named Francis Dana Gage.  The name isn't as familiar to the general public as it should be. Even by modern feminists, she is largely forgotten. 
That's a pity.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

The Year Emma Morano was Born

by Nomad

When Emma Morano was born, Queen Victoria, now weary with age, was still on the throne and William McKinley was president. 

The other players were rehearsing in the wings.
The youthful Albert Einstein had just entered university and, Morano's fellow countryman, Guillermo Marconi was still working out the details of his wireless communication device. The Wright brothers were flying kites in Dayton, Ohio.
Mohandas Gandhi was a just young lawyer in South Africa. Adolf Hilter and Benito Mussolini were just a pair angry teenagers and Franklin Roosevelt was a sheltered young man of Hyde Park privilege, preparing to go to Harvard.

In the year of her Morano's birth, Henry Ford had a falling out with Thomas Edison and started his own enterprise. He called it "The Detroit Automobile Company." The term, "automobile," had only been coined earlier that year in an editorial in The New York Times. A year later, after only twenty vehicles had been built, the company went bust.

In 1899, visionary inventor Nikola Tesla in his laboratory in Colorado Springs told an interviewer:
Life is a rhythm that must be comprehended....Everything that lives is related to a deep and wonderful relationship: man and the stars, amoebas’ and the sun, the heart and the circulation of an infinite number of worlds. These ties are unbreakable, but they can be tamed propitiate and begin to create new and different relationships in the world, and that does not violate the old.
Telsa looked deep into the future and saw a fantastic era in human history about to begin. It was a time of profound optimism. It was impossible not to feel that every problem could be solved and things from here on out would steadily improve. 

Nevertheless, when Morano entered into this world, there were no televisions, no radios, and the motion picture industry was in its infancy. There were no airplanes in the sky and no highways crisscrossing the land and lassoing cities. 

The average life expectancy in Italy- Emma's home- was only 44 years. For an Italian woman today, that figure has nearly doubled to 85.2.