Saturday, July 22, 2017

Leonard Cohen: Show Me the Place (2012)

Via: Youtube

Leonard Cohen sings “Show Me the Place,” which is the third track on his album Old Ideas, released on January 31, 2012. Show me the place where the suffering began.

Friday, July 21, 2017

The Happy Curmudgeon: Dreams of Peace

Moral Good 1:21
“Happy is the man…”

Photo Credit: ©2017. Eli G. Greenbaum

“Of all our dreams today there is none more important—or so hard to realise—than that of peace in the world. May we never lose our faith in it or our resolve to do everything that can be done to convert it one day into reality.”
Lester Bowles Pearson Acceptance Speech
Nobel Peace Prize, Oslo, Norway, December 10, 1957

“I suppose it is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer,
to treat everything as if it were a nail.”
Abraham Harold Maslow,
Toward a Psychology of Being (1962)

We are far away from peace today, since we read everywhere and all the time that conflict is all around us, the same conflicts for the same reasons that have started conflicts for thousands of years (i.e., land, resources, power, greed, etc.). Truth be told, politicians from the same countries have a knack for starting conflicts they cannot end, for making messes they cannot clean up. There are no stories of peace breaking out, but many of war and conflict and the threat that each pose for humanity.

We seem to be at a phase where we cannot find a way to get people together to end it; well, we are always stuck at this phase for one reason or another. So, peace cannot come until there is a serious effort to end the many conflicts around us. This will only take place when humans have exhausted their will to continue conflicts, to act violently, to feed their “impure,” albeit normal and common, impulses.

On one hand violence is abhorred; on another it is applauded. For many, “the hammer” seems the only tool to use, since everything under the sun—every human problem, every human himself—can be reduced to “a nail.” Some might call this a natural state of being, a part of practical politics. I call it madness. Most would agree if they would consider this statement, but most do not, since they are indifferent, asleep, fearful. Some, however, believe that war and violence are necessary; that the earth needs to cleansed of all that is evil.

Religions, notably the three Abrahamic faiths, would suggest that peace is achievable by giving oneself over to the norms of the religious life, adhering and following its traditions and its restrictions. In other words, peace is found only by leading a life devoted to the religious ways first told and taught thousands of years ago by a founding religious and spiritual leader. Some, perhaps many, find comfort and truth in such teachings and attempt such a way.

Others do not, including many who have tried and left the religious way of life; and view the idea of peace as living a moral life devoted to good that is not necessarily bound up in ideas primarily found in religious teachings and instructions. It might be better and far more beneficial to read Maslow’s book, notably his astute observations on the “higher human motives.” There is also a video interview from 1968 here.

Human ideas on the place of man in the universe have evolved over the centuries and decades. One example of such changing moral views is on slavery; another is on our views on animals; while another is on extending individual freedom. All three hold views that confer humans the right to think and act independently, with dignity, but also to treat animals fairly and justly, without violence.

It is a modern idea that both humans and animals have the inalienable right to live without fear, to live without repression, to live with dignity, to live in freedom in accordance to their essential being. In many places and during many times, regimes have, as Vaclav Havel says, “reduced man to a means of production and nature to a tool of production.” That they have done and much worse; and this continues unabated today and in the foreseeable future, until we decide that we’ve had enough.

Nature will survive man’s indifference and cruelty, since it is itself indifferent and is often harsh, if not seemingly cruel and violent. Nature lacks a morality, a moral center, but despite this can offer beauty.  Americans talk about conquering nature, likely as a way to achieve order. (Canadians, on the other hand, would rather accommodate themselves to nature.) Our own human natures are another matter; the most ambitious among us have taken on the role of political leaders.

As for these modern humans who rule over us, they have often failed to see the necessity of goodness, truth and justice clothed in humility and have made legit hatred, lies and deception bound in the large cloth of expediency and personal gain. The acquisition of wealth for wealth’s sake is the clarion call today; it sounds absurd, no doubt, but such is the way it is today and for the foreseeable future. Pile it higher and higher and make a cathedral of money.

Greed in all of its forms and faces is at the center of it all; this is better left unsaid. It might make the greedy uncomfortable. After all, they are not a outwardly violent lot. Their tools are pen and paper or digital versions of it. Can one call it violence if no one is physically hurt? if no one lays hands on your person? if it only leaves permanent marks on your psyche? on your ability to work? There is that kind and there is the everyday greed called normal business practices that does lead to great loss of life.

Whom does it profit? Financially and economically, it profits many, it seems, with very little consequence (whether legal, social or moral) to their perfidious and unethical ways (“all things are lawful” when you are the ones who make the laws). After the public outrage subsides, there is often a public inquiry, a few are fined, even less are indicted and even less go to jail, but no real or significant changes are ever made. Things return to “normal.”

A good part of normal in the world of economic transactions is to follow the Objectivist principles of Ayn Rand (a proponent of laissez faire capitalism, or pure capitalism, and an opponent of altruism), and apply these to business, at least superficially. Never really a good idea, since there is much more to business than reason, including human relations, which often defy cold, calculating reason. Yet, this fact alone is sufficient to make her the hero of extreme libertarians, who view reason and self-interest as solely sufficient to conduct their lives.

But the majority of humanity is pro-social and wants to be helpful and get along; altruism is not only normal, it is normative. That some don’t view the world and human relations in this way is not only exceptional, it is an exception to the way that most people view the world, an exception to most people's ideals. The sad fact is that the opposite appears true today; that one must think only of one’s self and no one else.

When this seems the norm, which it is in many cases, you have unthinking, thoughtless man “scratching and fighting” his way to the top of the pyramid, which is what it takes to be at the top of a system built solely for financial gain. Such a model is unsustainable, yet it continues along the same fault lines of human greed and human self-interest (without any enlightenment to moderate it). Most, however, will fail in their climb to the top, despite putting in great and many years of effort, but some will no doubt “succeed.”

It’s truly nasty brutish stuff. I hardly think that it’s worth the effort, even in my younger years it was a turnoff. I found it far better to work on other things that can elevate or at least better the human condition. An example is becoming a self-actualized individual, which is a lifetime devotion, a way of thinking and of being.

This used to be religion’s calling and strength, its universal appeal, while also providing both answers and comfort to all of humanity. Yet, how can it be so when religion gets into bed with politics, despite dire prophetic warnings of long ago of what would occur in such a relationship. And politics with big business. “What a tangled web we weave…;” religion has not only welcomed big business, it itself has become big business, thus making a mockery of all that it ought to be. The rich are admired much more than the poor, no matter their personal ethics or morality.

Is it any wonder that the union of religion and politics can provide no real answers for any of the problems it has created, even if such were their chief desire, which today seems more doubtful than ever. The “business as usual” approach offers little consolation. I guess that it is never too late to return to what it should be saying and doing, but this will take great effort in apprehending and understanding, with the risk of offending the rich and powerful. Toward this effort. I recommend an excellent opinion piece, by Prof. George Yancy, in The New York Times entitled “Is Your God Dead;” June 19, 2017.

As much as this is important, there are deeper concerns that need airing; it is about another side of Christianity, notably as practiced in America, one that does not speak about peace and love. It is true that in a large and established religion like Christianity, one can find many sets of beliefs; one that I find particularly problematic is Armageddon, a violent showdown, in Israel, to end the world, which takes literally the prophetic passages in the New Testament’s book of Revelation and the Old Testament’s books of Daniel and Ezekiel. Such a worldview informs the everyday thinking of many Christians (notably dispensationalists, a group who make up about one-third of America’s 40–50 million evangelical Christians) in so many ways—this is hardly a recipe to end conflict and bring peace to the world.

But it might explain America’s preoccupation with Israel (e.g., Christian Zionism), and how it views its relationship, one that is based in the end on a final battle of good versus evil—one in which one-third of the earth is destroyed and two-thirds of Israel. It is important to say that there is no mention of America in the Bible, since America did not exist and was not known to exist when the Bible was written and codified. Yet, Americans view their nation (as well as Russia) playing a prominent role in what is referred to as “end times prophecy.” This might explain, on some level, why the U.S. (and perhaps also Russia) cannot acknowledge the need to rid the world of nuclear weapons.

In such a way of thinking, part of God’s plan to redeem mankind is to destroy a large part of it and rebuild a new kind of people, one that would be more obedient and faithful. After all of the death and destruction, there would be a thousand-year messianic reign of peace; the third temple will be rebuilt and animal sacrifices will begin again for reasons that are not entirely clear. There are many problems with such a scenario, not least of which is “the need” for billions of people to die, including children and babies—all necessary to satisfy and placate a vengeful and angry God. Is there no other way?

This sounds as it were right out out of the annals of modern sci-fi, part of what is called dystopian fiction, but it is in the Bible, a story that is thousands of years old. After all, what such describes is a nuclear holocaust of unprecedented proportions. There is nothing good about it. The future will show that holding on to nuclear weapons is the wrong decision, the wrong choice. If the fear of annihilation doesn’t work to convince world leaders, what will? The world is in a very nervous state, full of anxiety. Some would say despair, given the direction that we are going.

Here’s a thought. It is time for nations like Canada, which has no nuclear weapons, to take a greater leadership role in world affairs, taking to heart the words of Lester B. Pearson almost 60 years ago. This is the model that the world can now apply. It is about dreams of peace. I know that it is an impossible dream, but it is a dream about a future the now does not exist or seem possible. But it might, if only …

Lester B. Pearson was prime minister of Canada between 1963 and 1968. He was a member of the Liberal Party.

Abraham H. Maslow was an American psychologist, best known for his hierarchy of needs, which culminates in an individual who has reached self-actualization. 

—Perry J. Greenbaum, July 21, 2017

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Maria Callas: Puccini’s ‘O mio babbino caro’ (1965)

Maria Callas [1923–1977], soprano, performs the aria, “O mio babbino caro” (Oh, my dear father), from Giacomo Puccini’s opera, Gianni Schicchi (1918); the libretto was written by Giovacchino Forzano, based on an incident from Dante’s Divine Comedy (“Inferno;” Canto XXX). This one-act comic opera, Puccini’s last, writes Sameer Rahim in The Guardian, “is only an hour long. It is the concluding part of a trilogy (Il Trittico) that also comprises Il Tabarro, a melodrama set on a Paris dockside, and Suor Angelica, set in a 17th-century convent.” It premiered at New York’s Metropolitan Opera on December 14, 1918. This performance, conducted by Georges Prêtre, is with the Orchestre National de l’ORTF, in Paris, in May 1965. As for an explanation of the aria, it is a simple youthful declaration of love (Lauretta, the daughter of Gianni Schicchi, for Rinuccio), its purity in contrast to the general atmosphere of deception and double-dealing. For those interested, there is a review (December 14, 1975), by Harold C. Schonberg, in The New York Times [here]. For your pleasure, you can enjoy more of Maria Callas at London’s Royal Festival Hall on November 26, 1973 [here]; this formed part of her farewell concert tour (1973–1974). Callas gave her last public performance in Sapporo, Japan, on November 11, 1974.
Via: Youtube.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Not For, Not Against

False Dilemmas

“He that is not with me is against me;
and he that gathereth not with me scattereth abroad.”
Jesus of Nazareth,
Mathew 12:30, The New Testament, circa 30 CE

"It is with absolute frankness that we speak of this struggle of the proletariat;
each man must choose between joining our side or the other side.
Any attempt to avoid taking sides in this issue must end in fiasco.”
Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, leader of the Bolsheviks,
speech made on November 3, 1920

“Every nation, in every region, now has a decision to make.
Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists.”
President George W. Bush,
speech before the U.S. Congress, September 20, 2001

Is it possible to have a view that is not for an idea, a person or a thing and yet, also, not be against it? In other words, neither for nor against. There might be other choices or options besides these binary choices. There might be a host of options.

For example, I am neither for religion and religious belief nor am I against it or the practice of it. I participate in many of the traditions and rituals of Judaism, the religion of my youth. Yet, while doing so does not greatly or generally inform my worldview, it does have an important place in my life and in my thinking. While I can and do understand and appreciate the importance of religion, I myself am not overly religious. At the same time, I am not a committed atheist.

You see, it is complicated, as are many such difficult questions of life. Going from the particular to the general, my example of the complexities of religious belief can also describe many things that others might find important. That I do not actively support an issue, an idea, a cause does not mean that I am against it. This might mean that I have no interest in it, or that I have some interest, or that I have not sufficiently examined the evidence, or that I have changed my views (in the face of new evidence, often overwhelming), or that I remain unsure, unconvinced of the argument’s veracity or validity. 

One of the most famous examples of “for/against” reasoning in history is when Jesus of Nazareth made this argument in the New Testament, the chief historical account of the seeds and beginnings of Christianity. He uses emotional language as a means to to compel/encourage the Judeans, his coreligionists and fellow Pharisees, to join him in his messianic mission “to proclaim liberty to the captives” (see Isaiah 61:1; Luke 4:18).

The record shows a few did; most did not, at least not openly (see John 12: 42). We do not know all of the reasons why most did not. It might have been as simple as they did not view him, the Galilean from Nazareth, a man raised outside the power centre of Jerusalem, as the messiah, as the man who would eventually bring peace to the world, starting with their world of Judea. That he did not then and there fulfill his messianic mission must have been disappointing to the large crowds who head him speak.

Modern Christian teaching taken from this parable, however, is that those who did not join the side of Jesus thus rejected his message, his teaching, and thus hindered his earthly mission for heavenly justice. This kind of thinking has inculcated modern Christianity (sometimes taking on the form of Manichaeism); it is thus no surprise that this phrase is invoked during times of crisis as a rallying cry for action and the meting out of justice or vengeance. This suggests that they hold a view of Jesus as a zealot.

Often, this means violence and violent action will be justified as a solution.

It is no surprise, then, that Vladimir Lenin (who was aware of Christian teachings) used such a code phrase in a a speech in the middle of the Russian Civil War (November 1917–October 1922), and in the crucial days leading to the formation of the Soviet Union, which eventually became an autocratic one-party communist state. To use a more recent example, President George W. Bush employed such polarized language shortly after the terror attacks of 9/11 in the U.S. He did so with a purpose in mind: to prepare the nation and the American people for invasion and war.

In doing so, political leaders are appealing to a socio-religious history known by their citizens, as a basis to support their actions, which they naturally view as “imbued with righteousness.” The results have all been disastrous, or to use Lenin's words, taking sides has had the opposite intended effect: “end[ing] in fiasco.” So, the next time someone uses this rhetorical device, you can know that it is being used to bring about emotional dualistic thinking, which is also called binary thinking: either/or; for/against, good/evil, etc.

This does not mean that you have to think this way or that you have to be drawn into an argument that is polarized, politicized, or militarized. There are times when you have to take sides—such as defending liberal democracy, particularly in regimes that deny it—but far less than political and religious leaders say or would like you to think or believe. One must also be aware of false dilemmas, which present a solution to a problem with only two choices.

Often this is not the case; often there are many choices, many possible solutions.

Some view this as wishy-washy or weak or indecisive. I view this as being thoughtful, as being a critical thinker, as being careful, gathering all the relevant facts, and not being swayed by emotions. You will not be compelled to do so by fiery speeches, or by appeals to nationalism, or by talk of vengeance from the bully pulpit; you will know that this is the right thing to do. It will be “your own mind” that you make up.

—Perry J. Greenbaum, July 17, 2017

Saturday, July 15, 2017

A Defense of Liberal Democracy, Again (2017)

Politics of Freedom

A handful of times, I repost articles that I wrote; this is one of those times. I originally posted this article, “A Defense of Liberal Democracy,” on Monday September 17, 2012—almost five years ago. I read it again and agree with the general sentiment, thus there is little reason to change anything, other than to add that China lost a courageous voice of conscience and a principled champion of truth and human rights in the death Thursday of Liu Xiaobo [1955–2017], the Nobel Peace Prize winner (2010), who was not allowed by the Chinese government to appear in Oslo, Norway, to collect his prize and make a speech. Xiaobo died from liver cancer while in custody (he was not allowed to travel outside China to get treatment); he was 61.

There is a good opinion piece, by Xiaorong Li, in The New York Times (“Liu Xiaobo’s Unflappable Optimism;” July 13, 2017) on Liu Xiaobo’s decades-long fight to open the doors of liberal democracy for the Chinese people, which includes working on and signing Charter 08, a document calling for human rights, “a blueprint for fundamental political change in China in the years to come.” Dr. Liu (he earned a doctorate in literature) fought the good fight and he planted the seeds; now it is up to others to continue to do the necessary good, including working to free his widow, Liu Xia, who has been under house arrest since 2010.  I highly recommend that you read an excellent piece, by Perry Link (“The Passion of Liu Xiaobo; July 13, 2017) in The New York Review of Books.  

—by Perry J. Greenbaum, July 13, 2017

John Locke [1632–1704]: Locke, considered the Father of Classical Liberalism, writes in Essays Concerning Human Understanding (1689): “New opinions are always suspected, and usually opposed, without any other reason but because they are not already common.”
Photo Credit: Painting by Sir Godfrey Kneller (1646–1723); Painted in 1697. Currently at the State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia
Source: Wikipedia

It is a sad commentary of the state of political awareness that liberal democracy, whose ideas of government emanate from the Enlightenment thinkers of the 18th century, need a defense, let alone an explanation, here in the West. Yet, it does. For one, liberal democracy is not the same as the Liberal Party, although the latter assuredly uses ideas drawn from the former. The words liberal, liberalism (from the Latin liberalis) and liberty all come from the Latin root liber; to be free. To be liberal means to be an individual free from restraint, chiefly from the state in its imposition of laws and religious edicts that restrict the individual from free expression, free association and free movement; for some regimes that is a bad thing, leading to chaos, civil disorder and public immorality. Such are some of the arguments put forth by opponents to liberal democracy and they need be examined. 

While various groups within the western tradition tend to argue about how much freedom is necessary— when does free speech cross the line and become hate speech?— no one would argue against the idea of liberty. The idea of liberty and liberalism is a fundamental belief of all western democracies. An important clarification is in order. There is a mistaken belief in the mass culture that individualism belongs solely to conservative or libertarian thinkers, and that calling someone “liberal” is an invective in that such individuals subscribe to statism; such is not necessarily true. For example, in many areas I am a liberal, in others conservative, and yet I agree wholeheartedly to the ideas and ideals of liberal democracy in the classical sense, which holds views contrary to the Divine Right of Kings, to the establishment of state religion and to economic protectionism.

The centrality of the individual informs much of the writings of liberalism; in fact, a great part of the European Enlightenment was centred on the need to free humans and grant them with individual rights and responsibilities, which until then was granted by "divine decree" only to monarchs. It took hundreds of years to arrive at the point we are at today where civil rights and human rights take centre stage; there is a lot of discussion on human rights and civil rights, but little real desire lately by western states to encourage its adoption by the many non-western nations. That point is worth noting; it and the reasons why this is so will be taken up in another essay.

Generally speaking, governments subscribe to either universalism or individualism. A great part of the European Enlightenment was based on the idea that free individuals who would think on their own, by using reason and their intellectual powers, would become active participants in civil society and in the political process, having distinct rights and responsibilities. Society would greatly benefit by harnessing the collective powers of individuals acting thoughtfully and morally as mature individuals, unshackled from superstition, myth and unmerited authority. (In Maslow's level of  psychological development, such an individual has reached a level of self-actualization.) The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy has an excellent explanation, beginning with the fundamental thinking of Immanuel Kant:
Kant defines “enlightenment” as humankind's release from its self-incurred immaturity; “immaturity is the inability to use one's own understanding without the guidance of another.” Enlightenment is the process of undertaking to think for oneself, to employ and rely on one's own intellectual capacities in determining what to believe and how to act. Enlightenment philosophers from across the geographical and temporal spectrum tend to have a great deal of confidence in humanity's intellectual powers, both to achieve systematic knowledge of nature and to serve as an authoritative guide in practical life. This confidence is generally paired with suspicion or hostility toward other forms or carriers of authority (such as tradition, superstition, prejudice, myth and miracles), insofar as these are seen to compete with the authority of reason. Enlightenment philosophy tends to stand in tension with established religion, insofar as the release from self-incurred immaturity in this age, daring to think for oneself, awakening one's intellectual powers, generally requires opposing the role of established religion in directing thought and action. The faith of the Enlightenment – if one may call it that – is that the process of enlightenment, of becoming progressively self-directed in thought and action through the awakening of one’s intellectual powers, leads ultimately to a better, more fulfilled human existence.
Thinking for oneself and awakening the intellectual powers can and does lead to a more fulfilled human existence. So, for the last hundred years, the centrality of the individual has defined modern society, which has led to the great and wide-ranging innovation and discovery evident in western societies. All that we now take for granted is due to a large degree to the influences of western liberal democracy. That point cannot be overemphasized; and freedom is the hallmark of the modern age. The modern man is free from any collective responsibility, apart from the associations that he willingly chooses to form. The modern man has a right to reject associations, including religious ones. Likewise, the individual has a right to join ones voluntarily and without compulsion in any way, whether explicit or implicit.

In this reasoning, the needs of the individual are placed above those of the collective, and such explains the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In short, the centrality of the individual is sacred in modern thought. It also explains why so many modern novels have as their central thesis “the search for meaning.”

In nations which have not undergone the European Enlightenment, which are the majority of the world's nation-states, the individual is not considered as central as the state, or collective, to the needs of civil society. In simple terms, the individual serves the needs of the state. Such describes Second Temple Judaism, feudal Christianity and the many Islamic states operating today; it also describes Marxism and Socialism. All of these systems of thought, although differing in their approaches to governing, share a common and overarching belief in the need for a central authority to govern the people.

Thus, in such societies, the role of the individual is in service of the state and to benefit its overarching ideology or religion; there is no decision on the part of the individual on whether or not he "believes" in the tenets of the faith. He has no choice about it, at least outwardly and publicly. And in return the state promises to take care of all his needs—both material and spiritual—in a "cradle to grave" way of life. For those of us born, raised and educated in the West, with its traditions of individual rights and responsibilities, with its use of reason and intellect, with its rational approaches to problem solving, such pre-modern thinking seems reactionary, if not circumscribed, restricted and authoritarian.

Yet, for many of  the persons raised in a collectivist society, the centrality of the individual is a foreign, unknown and unwanted idea; it seems  “selfish” and “heretical.” Yet, the need for liberty is strong and some individuals in collectivist societies, notably intellectuals with access to other ideas, want to live the liberal life; once they get a taste of individual liberty, they enjoy it. If they can, they leave the restrictions imposed by their societies, never to return. Individual liberty is that intoxicating, that freeing.

Now, I am a firm “believer” that the ideas and ideals of western liberal democracy are the best for humanity, that these represent an evolution of ideas over thousands of years. Again, what we see in nations like Canada, the United States, England, France, Israel and Germany is the incorporation of European Enlightenment thinking into the political, social and economic norms of their societies. States that have not undergone the transition to modern nation-states will find these ideas suspect and troubling. Such explains why in economic-rich nations like Russia and China, which have successfully incorporated capitalism as their economic system, there is resistance to grant more political autonomy to its citizens; it will take some time for such nations to consider the necessary reforms to their political systems to make them more open, more transparent.

In other nations like North Korea, Iran and Saudi Arabia, foreign ideas are considered “foreign”and likely dangerous to the rights and well-being of the ruling class; these regimes are considered authoritarian. This is not to say that such nations like Iran cannot ever become liberal democracies; they can—eventually. For example, there is a tradition of liberalism in Iran, but its citizens will need help from NGOs to draw attention to the human-rights abuses in Iran. As Shirin Ebadi, Nobel laureate (2003) and human-rights lawyer, says:
All defenders of human rights are members of a single family. When we help one another we’re stronger. It is important to give aid to democratic institutions inside despotic countries.
Although I disagree with her on many other political matters, I agree with Ebadi on the above. Nothing more can be said other than such measures often strengthen liberal democracy everywhere. That is a good thing.

Friday, July 14, 2017

The Happy Curmudgeon: Helping Others

Social Education: 1:20
“Happy is the man…”

Photo Credit: ©2017. Eli G. Greenbaum

“He who knows that enough is enough will always have enough.”
Laozi [6th to 5th century BCE], 
Dao De Jing, Ch. 46

We seem to understand more and more about less and less, which includes how to raise children to become good citizens of the world. There is always The Golden Rule, which has universal applications; within its central teaching are found ideas like it’s better to be kind and helpful to each other; when someone needs a helping hand, you offer it; or that it’s good to know when you have had enough. The chief implicit premise, and it’s a good one, is that you not only do no harm, but also alleviate suffering when it does occur.

Some people have great surpluses. Sometimes they give a fraction of it to charity through some trust or foundation. I am thankful that such foundations exist, particularly those that benefit health, education, arts and culture. Americans are generally a charitable people—including helping those who are deemed less fortunate—giving $373 billion to various charities, equating to almost 2% of the nation’s GDP. As much as foundations and corporations are important philanthropists (donating $75 billion, 10.4%), the majority of charitable giving in America comes from individuals (donating $268 billion), almost three-quarters of the total.

There are interesting statistics found on the state of charitable giving in the U.S. at the site, The Philanthropy Roundtable. One is that religion, education and marriage influence and encourage people to give generously. Moreover, those who give also tend to volunteer. Another interesting statistic is that the U.S. is the most generous nation in terms of charitable donations, followed by Israel and Canada. The full top-ten list can be found here.

Some call helping out others, giving a hand up, socialism or communism or, gasp, wealth redistribution. These are fancy words that most people don’t really understand, but think and say they do. I am not one of those who understands economic policy, but I do understand helping others and the need to do so. Governments have a place in helping others, and they ought to do what they can in providing social services such as health, education and food supplements. They tend to do so, however, in proportion to how people in power see this as important, as necessary.

This requires leaders, the political and business elite, who view equity as important and instrumental when formulating government policy. This idea, however, no longer seems popular today in Washington, but program cutting for the most vulnerable citizens of America does have widespread support, even though there is no rationale for it. (Pettiness is never a good reason.) Apparently, it must be the lower classes that are “sucking America dry,” and ”Making America Less Great Again.” Once again, it might prove that facts and politics don’t go well together; it is likely they never did, but this becomes increasingly more evident today.

How does one then explain the poor, the working poor, the sick poor, the veteran poor, the disabled poor, and the poor who would like to work but can’t find a job? Then there are the many elderly poor who worked all their lives, for decades, and yet ended up poor in their final years—such an ugly outcome despite following the advice of financial planners and experts. Things didn’t work out in the end.

Some people are born under a lucky star, and some are even born into wealth, starting off at great advantage. Most are not. You might even conclude, as hard as this is to believe today, that not all poor people are “shiftless lazy bums.” That the problem of poverty is not solely a result of indolence, or making bad decisions, or being spendthrifts. Of course, for some this might be true, but probably not as many as some like to think.

Such is the “gospel truth,” say the wealthy Republicans who like to take from the poor and give to the rich. They are an unusually cruel lot, even by conservative standards, and even by old Republican standards. They have taken the phrase, “God helps those who help themselves,” to new levels of meaning, including believing that it is a biblical injunction. (Note: It is not found in the Bible, although a majority of Americans (82%), including a similar percentage of Christians (81%), think it is. Biblical illiteracy is to blame.)

This is an America by kakistrocacy, ruled by the worst. It is hard to believe that this will lead to any positive outcome. It is hard to not believe that this will lead to the absurd situation where the government helps mostly those who do not need help, and who never know when they have had enough. This is the New America, which replaced the Old America decades ago. But it is far better that you find out for yourself, in your area of the world, what’s what.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

NBC Symphony Orchestra: Beethoven’s “Eroica”(1939)

Via Youtube (RS3D Archive)

The NBC Symphony Orchestra, under the baton of Arturo Toscanini, perform Beethoven’s Symphony No 3 in E-flat major, opus 55Sinfonia Eroica (“Heroic Symphony”), which was first performed publicly in Vienna on April 7, 1805. This particular recording was as a live public performance before 1,400 people at NBC studio 8-H on October 28th, 1939; it was originally released on the Victor album M-765. This is a restored recording using RS3D technology.  For some background on how the NBC Orchestra was formed, there is a wonderful article in The New Yorker [here]. It also explains what this famous Italian conductor brought to the orchestra and to American audiences in New York. America’s gain was Europe’s loss, and a great loss it was when authoritarianism, and in particular fascism, overtook the continent. (Toscanini remarked: “Promises no longer exist. They don’t remember today what they said yesterday. It’s shameful!”). It always is when this takes place, when people begin the process of forgetting what is important, and replacing it with what is not. Once a way of thinking and seeing (and being) is lost, it is lost forever. This is the beginning of sadness.